Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Godspell clip

Who warned you . . .?

It is possible to go through the motions

with baptism. Like getting overwhelmed

by a raft or unresolved feelings

at an evangelistic rally, (remember them?)

and joining the throng of decision makers

at the front “where a trained counsellor

will come and talk with you.”

It seemed real enough at the time.

Perhaps it was. The Baptiser named John

knew how easy it was, in the drama

of the moment, to make the short journey

down the aisle to that pregnant space

in front of the stage.

Depending only upon the prophet’s power of

persuasion, John never had recourse

to the massed choir softly singing multiple verses

of “Just as I am, without one plea. . .”

At his riverside rallies, the Baptiser

certainly had his share of people

for whom the word “repent”

was suitably vague and imprecise.

Some of the religious leaders, we are told,

were also transported by the moment

and came down the front to sign their decision cards

and to be baptised. There they were met with

the less-than-welcoming epithet, “brood of vipers,”

and a call to a true turnaround.

They were told that their impulse must be genuine,

and that their apparent change of heart

must be evidenced in the real and tangible fruits

of lives transformed by God’s Spirit.

Otherwise, said the prophet, it’s a waste of water,

and no guarantee at all

that the wrath to come will be averted.

© 2010 Ken Rookes

John the Baptist worksheet


A bit spooky but John was a bit challenging


St John the baptist and JC

love is the power

We often settle for less because we are not willing to take a tumble, we are not willing to stand on our heads, we are not willing to listen for the smallest, most tender voice.
           The one who is coming into the world this Advent season is not an all powerful leader or an arrogant master. The one who is coming into the world kneels at the feet of his friends, washes them tenderly, and goes to his death with one last request: "You must love one another."
           Love is the power that makes things, that allows things to cohere, to coalesce, to reconcile. Love is the power that creates out of the chaos and questions of the wilderness a restored and resurrected world. Love is the power that answers our Advent longing.          

Monday, November 29, 2010

For the First Sunday in Advent - Year A (Matt 24:36-44)
God of the unexpected moment,
bringing form out of chaos;
separating light from the dark;
breathing life into your human creation;
enliven our hearts,
fill us with your expectant Spirit.
Break in on our world
like a flood, like a thief.
Separate the day of the age to come
from the night of our human darkness:
come in your unexpected hour.
-- Jeff Shrowder

For the Second Sunday in Advent - Year A (Matt 3:1-12)
(in Haiku form)
One voice
telling the world,
"The kingdom is quite near":
shouting, out in the wilderness
"Turn now".

Who shouts
"Prepare the way"?
Who calls the world to change -
and seeks to have it turn around
to God?

This sharp,
prophetic, voice
which calls, is sent from God;
a messenger for him who is
to come.

How then
shall I prepare?
Joining in pious haste,
those leaning on ancestral faith
long past?

No, Lord:
let me reflect
the way you dwell in me:
living outward, bearing your fruit
each day.
-- Jeff Shrowder

For the Third Sunday in Advent - Year A (Matt 11:2-11)
Liberating God,
break into the prison which we build
around the life you give us.
We are busy and expectant,
preparing to celebrate;
too busy to heed the cry of the Share Appeal,
the Smith Family, the homeless young
and others we would push aside.
We are busy and expectant,
preparing to celebrate again the birth
of the one who would bring good news
to the blind, the lame and the poor;
preparing to celebrate again the birth
of one pushed aside,
into a cowshed, out of the way.
We too, are blind and lame and poor...
Restore us, healing God.
-- Jeff Shrowder

For the Fourth Sunday in Advent - Year A (Matt 1:18-25)
We journey through Advent,
with our expectations and hopes;
our reasonable and ordered lives
conforming to the social boundaries
set layer by layer around us.
You confront us, O God,
with events and circumstances
which are not what they seem,
and we are disturbed
by the prospect of embarrassment,
of public disgrace.
Yet in this shame,
is wrapped your hope for the world,
God with us,
in an unexpected way.
-- Jeff Shrowder

For Christmas Day
Light shining
in a darkened cave:
cloth bindings carefully enfold
new life.
A borrowed birth place declares
"Christ is born!"

Light shining
in a darkened cave:
cloth bindings carefully folded -
A borrowed burial chamber declares
"Christ is Risen!"

Loving God,
thank you for the Christ child,
thank you for the risen Christ,
in whom you have shown
that you cannot bear to be separated
from a world that would separate itself
from you.

That nothing can separate us
from your love,
we give you thanks and praise. Amen.
-- Jeff Shrowder

Monday, November 22, 2010

Be ready, therefore.

There is only one way

for a person to be ready,

only one thing that person should be doing

when Jesus comes.

One thing that he,

who called himself the Son of Man,

expects of his followers at any time.

He set it forth in plain Aramaic

on more than one occasion,

that is, if the gospels are to be believed

and not merely taken literally.

One thing.

It is the singular mark of discipleship,

the sign that a person has listened,

truly heard,

and been shaped by the words, the actions,

and the friendship of the coming one

It is he same thing that directed the course

of the Son of Man’s surprising life;

he who continues to come to his own.

This always-present one defiantly embraces

the costly consequences of his choice.

This one thing makes a person ready

for abundance in living,

and fulfilment in dying.

The fumbling and grace-dependent followers

of He who comes, know that they, too,

must be caught up into the generous

and sometimes painful work of love;

this one thing that declares our readiness

to receive him.

© 2010 Ken Rookes

Light the first candle

We know the schedule: four Sundays … the second one for a church tea, the third one for choir concert, and then the pageant for culmination. We may have a schedule -- but in fact the new world is coming at "an unexpected hour" (Matthew 24:44). The rush of God’s rule is impending, and Christians are "on the alert." This is not Orange Alert in fear; it is, rather, glad expectation. These readings ponder both preparation and expectation.
The preparation is delineated in Romans 13. Paul urges the avoidance of "reveling, drunkenness, debauchery, licentiousness, quarreling, and jealousy" (verse 13). The mad rush of "Christmas preparation" drives us to self-indulgence and enough fatigue to make us edgy and quarrelsome. The alternative for Paul is to be unlike the world and not consumed by our "desires."
The preparation may match the expectation. It is expected, with the coming of God’s rule, that there will be disarmament and no "learning of war" (Isaiah 2:4). Along with the big arms race there are many lesser "wars" -- in church, family, and community -- that require disarmament. The psalm invites a yearning for peace: "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem" -- and Baghdad, and Kabul, and Canterbury (for Anglicans), and Geneva (for Presbyterians), and Wittenberg (for Lutherans), and Azusa (for Pentecostals). And Rome, maybe above all for Rome. Waiting for peace means preparation for peaceableness. Advent is a chance to receive a world quite unlike this one. It will be given! 


There is a scene in C. S. Lewis' The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe where the children, learning that Aslan is not a man but a lion are not only startled but down right alarmed. "Is he – quite safe?" Susan asks. "I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion." "That you will, dearie, and no mistake," replies Mrs. Beaver, "if there's anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they're either braver than most or else silly." "Then he isn't safe?" Lucy asks. To which Mr. Beaver responds, "Safe? Don't you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you."

Safe? The God of fierce love and determined mercy? The God of unlooked for judgment and unrelenting justice? Of course he isn't safe. But he's good. And knowing that makes all the difference.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Royal priesthood

In declaring our allegiance to Jesus Christ as the only King, we are saying "no" to any social system that divides us up into lords and commoners. But note carefully how Jesus brings an end to such inequalities. Jesus does not say there will be no more royals, he says there will be no more commoners. We will all be royals. Psalm 8: You crowned humans with glory and gave them dominion over the work of your hands. Psalm 113: God raises the poor from the dust and gives them a place with princes. 1st Peter: you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood. Christ the King raises us up to reign with him.

Not only are we to refuse to bow to any power that does not model itself on the Prince of Peace and King of Justice, but we are in fact to model those attributes ourselves. We are to be Kings and Queens in the world, Kings and Queens who create beauty and peace, who make justice, and who take on the crown of thorns to journey with those who suffer and who have not yet found their dignity as royal people under the Kingship of Christ. The reign of Christ has begun. We have King who not only lays down his life for us, but who raises us up and enthrones us as his people of royal dignity to share his glory for ever and ever.


Shakespeare on Kingship

"For God's sake, let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings;
How some have been deposed; some slain in war,
Some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed;
Some poison'd by their wives: some sleeping kill'd;
All murder'd: for within the hollow crown
That rounds the mortal temples of a king
Keeps Death his court and there the antic sits,
Scoffing his state and grinning at his pomp,
Allowing him a breath, a little scene,
To monarchize, be fear'd and kill with looks,
Infusing him with self and vain conceit,
As if this flesh which walls about our life,
Were brass impregnable, and humour'd thus
Comes at the last and with a little pin
Bores through his castle wall, and farewell king!
Cover your heads and mock not flesh and blood
With solemn reverence: throw away respect,
Tradition, form and ceremonious duty,
For you have but mistook me all this while:
I live with bread like you, feel want,
Taste grief, need friends: subjected thus,
How can you say to me, I am a king?"

Quote from Richard 2nd

In light of that litany of political disasters, what are we to say on the Festival of Christ the King. As much as comparing Jesus Christ to Henry VIII or the future King Charles or William makes me cringe, Christ the President, Christ the Prime Minister, and Christ the Premier I struggle with as well. But the assertion that Christ is King was never meant to be a comparison to the secular images of power. It was meant to be a stinging critique of empires and governments.

One of the reasons Christians were so viciously persecuted by the Roman empire was because their assertion that Christ is Lord and King was understood very clearly to imply that Caesar was not worthy of such titles. The festival of Christ the King was only added to the church calendar in 1925, and part of the impetus for it was that Mussolini had been ruling Italy for three years, Hitler's Nazi Party was on the rise and the western world was gripped by the great depression. In the face of the rise of dictatorships, in the face of the pushing of religion out of the social sphere and into the private, Pius IX called on the church to assert that nevertheless Jesus Christ is King of the Universe and reigns for ever and ever. 

God and Empire

quoteadapted from John Dominic Crossan’s book God and Empire:
The Second Coming of Christ is not an event that we should expect to happensoonviolently, or literally. The Second Coming of Christ is what will happen when we Christians finally accept that the First Coming was the Only Coming and start to cooperate with its divine presence.
In other words, on Reign of Christ Sunday, we are invited to remember that the “Kingdom of God” or “Reign of God” — to which Jesus constantly pointed — is as fully available now and always as it was 2,000 years ago. The question that remains each Reign of Christ Sunday is whether we will choose to live as if the one who reigns is not Caesar, but God.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

In Paradise

I could never get much excited by the notion

of Paradise / heaven / the hereafter.

It sometimes seems to be a construct of the church,

attached to the teachings of Jesus

and distracting us from his command

to get on with the work of love.

At best, it is a bit-player, thrust

on to the centre-stage, to claim the spotlight.

There it assumes the role

of an all-controlling Master of Ceremonies

through whom ecclesiastical authorities,

popes, priests and everybody in-between,

direct the thinking and the behaviour

of the masses. If you want to get there,

as opposed to the other place,

remember; we hold the keys!

It suited, too the civil authorities

with its message of divinely ordered patience.

No need for revolution, in Paradise

you will receive your reward / recompense

for all the indignities, pains and brutalities

suffered during your earthly sojourn!

In Luke’s story of the passion

the word is placed upon the lips

of the cross-suspended Jesus,

as he responds to the justice and compassion

of a fellow criminal. Truly I tell you,

today you will be with me in Paradise.

To die with Jesus; perhaps this

is the proper meaning of Paradise.

© Ken Rookes.

Friday, November 12, 2010

From Brad

These writings, in the Hebrew apocalyptic style, can be seen to come from times of extreme hardship, when human hopes are crushed by overwhelming catastrophe. Isaiah 65 evokes the catastrophe of the crushing of Jerusalem in war and deportation, and Luke’s reminds us that it is written during the Roman occupation and crushing of the Judean insurrection. You can be optimistic in good times, when there is enough food, enough peace, and time to enjoy family life. Few people have experienced directly the violent disruption seen in Germany, Russia and Poland, or Vietnam last century.  If you came recently to Australia, full of hope but surrounded by strangeness, prejudice and discrimination, that must come close to what we would call tough times. Even after Black Saturday, where the destruction was great, it did not compare with the deaths of millions, and the decades of suffering and humiliation of the last 100 years.
Those are the conditions in which Isaiah’s spiritual insights were formed. It is a truism that in enormous suffering comes insight into God’s life amongst us. The other side is that in times of plenty, hearts grow hard and the Spirit seems so far away as to be forgotten by whole populations. Lest we forget.    Brad

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Cosmic correction

  This hope for an Ultimate Cosmic Correction is not only a Christian hope. I think it's an innately human hope rooted in our sense of and longing for a Future and Final justice. For every Kurd gassed by Saddam Hussein, for every girl in Darfur gang-raped by janjaweed militia, and for every homeless person who wanders America's streets. I think this is why Psalm 98 for this week summons not only "all the earth" (98:3,4) but all creation (98:7,8) to celebrate the expectation of divine judgment. Many people think of divine judgment in negative terms; the psalmist rejoices in it, for at long last "God will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity" (98:9). That will be a good day, not a bad day.
           How will all this happen? I have no idea. We needn't know the details of the "last days" described by Isaiah, Jesus or Paul. I like CS Lewis's analogy of actors in a real life drama. We don't know everything about the play, whether we're in the first or last act, or even which characters play the minor and major roles. In our ignorance, we have no idea when the End of the play ought to come. But the plot will find fulfillment, even if our limited understanding right now obscures it. Perhaps the Author will fill us in after it is over, but for now, says Lewis, "playing it well is what matters infinitely."


The visible reminder of Invisible Light.

Oh light invisible, we praise Thee!
Too bright for mortal vision
We see the light but see not whence it comes
O Light Invisible, we glorify thee.
T.S.Eliot 1888-1965
Choruses from the Rock (last lines


   It helps, now and then, to step back and take the long view. The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work. Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
   No statement says all that could be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection. No pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the Church's mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
   This is what we are about: we plant seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capabilities.
   We cannot do everything and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for God's grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders, ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.

-attributed to Oscar Romero 1917-1980


Not one Stone

Monday, November 8, 2010

Prophets and other dreamers

Dreaming aloud as the perplexing words

of the strange and mysterious God

dance to their unique rhythms;

catapulting into the prophet’s

conscious thoughts and out again.

Words, this time, of hope;

encouraging affirmations of renewal,

with the troubled times retreating

into non-memory.

For the once great city

there is a promise of restoration,

of joy and delight; and of blessings

that will become for all an invitation to life.

Words of domestic contentment;

people dwelling in houses

they have toiled hard to build,

and granted the greatest of all

signs of hope, the birth of a child.

The words continue their unconstrained dance

singing of enjoyment and satisfaction in old age;

and of planting vineyards with the expectation

of enjoying their fruit. “You plant grapes

for your grandchildren,”

a winegrower once told me.

The words dance crazily as they tell

of wolves and lambs feeding side by side,

and of lions and oxen

sharing the same bale of hay.

At his point we know that the dreaming

has taken over from reality,

and that what really counts

is the abiding presence of the God

who answers even before she is called.

© 2010 Ken Rookes

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The locust

There was a locust

when I went outside yesterday.

It saw me coming and hopped away,

landing near the recycling bin.

“G’day,” I said.

“G’day,” it replied.

“Are you all alone?”

“Yes.” it answered.

“I was expecting about

five hundred thousand billion

of you blokes.”

“No, there’s just me,”

“Where’s the rest of them?” I asked.


I paused for a moment,

reflecting on the situation.

“In that case,” I said, gesturing

towards my lush, green garden,

“You might as well go ahead, then.”

© 2010 Ken Rookes

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Will you follow me?

Effectively Jesus is saying “Will you follow me?” And what these blokes are doing is asking more and more questions to avoid answering that one question from Jesus.

“Will you follow me?” “Do you think it’s right to pay taxes or not?”

“Will you follow me?” “Can you explain the resurrection for us?”

“Will you follow me?” “Do you believe in miracles?”

“Will you follow me?” “What do you say about the authority of the bible?”

“Will you follow me?” “What do you think about sex outside of marriage?”

And Jesus explodes. “You’re not serious. You’re just playing games. You’ll just keep asking questions and keep asking questions to avoid facing the one question that really matters. “Will you follow me?” You’ll always make out that you just need it all clear in your mind before you can make a decision but there will always be one more question.”

Genuine questions will always be welcomed by God if we are asking them from a position of committed discipleship. Those who have already said “yes” to Jesus question and are actively following him and growing in faith and maturity can ask anything they like. Jesus encourages their questions because it is part of the road to growth and fullness of life. But if your questions are just a way of avoiding the real issues. If you stand on the outside and use questions only to try to undermine Jesus’ credibility and put off facing up to the implications of what he’s on about, the response will be different. Like with the sadducees he’ll answer for a while, but it won’t be long before he puts the tough question to you. And then its on your response that your right to keep asking questions rides.

a cartoon from Richard

re Job 19

In today’s reading, Job’s worship is an expression of faith so forged by bitter experience that it seeks to chisel the protest of its existence into stone as a testimony for all time. Against the ephemera of what we value in today’s society, there is no doubt in my mind that such faith, chiselled into the stones of our church buildings, can still prompt the search for God.

The 19th-century artist and critic John Ruskin understood something of this when he wrote: “The greatest glory of a building is . . . in that deep sense of voicefulness, of stern watching, of mysterious sympathy . . . which we feel in walls that have long been washed by the passing waves of humanity.”

As we stumble across church buildings that persistently present themselves to us, we might ask: “Why are these Christian buildings here, what is their meaning, and how do we access it?” The remote churches that I visit on the North York Moors present such questions eloquently.

The small and steadfast congregations that worship in them keep alive the light of faith that prompts further enquiry, and challenges the assumption that we live in a post-Christian, secular age. But the same is true of other areas where I work, such as housing estates that are also “remote”, in the sense that they are a long way from access to the benefits of a share in prosperity and of protection against hard times.

This is the witness that challenges the limitations of an age that longs for value, but is obsessed with questions about price.


When younger, I thought there was an answer to every problem. And for a time, I knew many of the answers.
I knew about parenting until I had children.
I knew about divorce until I got one.
I knew about suicide until three of my closest friends took their lives in the same year.
I knew about the death of a child until my child died.
I'm not as impressed with answers as once I was. Answers seem so pallid, sucked dry of blood and void of life. Knowing answers seduces us into making pronouncements. I still have a few friends or acquaintances who are 100 percent sure on most anything and are ready to make pronouncements on homosexuality, AIDS, marriage problems, teen-age pregnancies, abortion, sex education, or whatever is coming down the pike. But when we get shoved into our valley of the shadow, a pronouncement is the last thing we need.
A friend wrote recently, 'I too get Maalox moments from those who know. I'm discovering that wisdom and adversity replace cocksure ignorance with thoughtful uncertainty.'
More important and satisfying than answers is the Answerer. 'Thou art with me' - that's what we crave. There may or may not be answers, but the Eternal One would like very much to be our companion.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Sadducees

The Sadducees

I have some sympathy for the Sadducees,

for whom there was no resurrection.

They believed that this grounding place

of dust, decay, wind and uncertainty,

was where the true action was;

not in some future and otherworldly realm

where the dead are revived, renewed,

resuscitated and raised to somehow

continue the privileged work of living.

When the body dies, so does the soul.

Angels and other spiritual entities?

They simply don’t exist. Reward or

punishment beyond the grave? Forget it!

It’s what happens here that counts.

They, too. were Jews, these Sadducees:

children of Abraham who took their faith seriously.

They shared the Pharisees’ insistence

that the law must be obeyed,

and that the well-being of the nation depended upon it.

In the temple’s courts one day, these sceptics

enjoyed a spirited debate with one, Jesus,

an untrained teacher from the north.

According to the testimony of gospel-writing

historians, the itinerant rabbi clearly took the points.

Nearby scribes, they also tell us, were deeply

impressed by the power of his arguments,

and concurred. Some of us heretics, however,

are still considering the matter.

© 2010 Ken Rookes

The storm

Haiku of stillness After a long day telling stories, parables, Jesus needs a break. Suggests a boat trip. Let us cross the lake; ...