Tuesday, August 27, 2013

true hospitality

“In a world of terrorism and war, school shootings, road rage, and pervasive anger and discontent, it is no wonder that concern for safety and security frequently triumphs over hospitality to the stranger,” Wadell admits. Yet this environment “is toxic for the hospitality and generosity that enables us to see the poor, the homeless, the hungry and the needy, immigrants and refugees and prisoners, not as dangerous threats, but as Christ’s presence among us.” It diminishes our humanity, for we “are created for the communion and intimacy that are the fruit of an ever-expanding love.” Precisely in this culture of fear we must see hospitality as our Christian vocation, “because it is through hospitality that we offer the most compelling witness of who God is, who we are called to be, and what the world through God’s grace can become.”

meal of kindness

What a difference there is between this reading and the ethics surrounding us in our current Australian politics!

Since we ourselves are human beings, we must set before others the meal of kindness no matter why they need it – whether because they are widows, orphans, or exiles; or because they are brutalized by masters, crushed by rulers, dehumanized by tax-collectors, bloodied by robbers, or victimized by the insatiate greed of thieves, be it through confiscation of property or ship-wreck. All such people are equally deserving of mercy, and they look to us for their needs just as we look to God for ours.

-Gregory of Nazianzus d.389
Oration14 On the Love of the Poor, quoted from J. Robert Wright, 
Readings for the Daily Office from the Early Church

economics of compassion

But in the second part of the story, the ground shifts, the earth moves, and we find ourselves in an entirely different orbit. Jesus now turns to the one who is giving the banquet, the one who functions as Jesus’ patron, and pulls the rug out from under his entire enterprise. ‘You ought not invite people to banquets in order to seek their favour’, he says. One ought not invite one’s patrons. ‘Indeed’, says Jesus, ‘you should not even invite potential clients, those from whom goods and services might be extracted in return for one’s own favour’. ‘When you are preparing a banquet,’ he says to this fellow (and I can see his jaw drop even now), ‘invite only the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.’ In other words, invite only the ‘untouchables’, the very lowest echelon of society, those who are neither patrons nor clients, those for whom there is no economic status at all. Why? Because they could never repay you in a million years. They could never repay you in a million years . . . Can you feel the ground shift? Can you see the tear in those old wineskins? Here Jesus calls the whole system of patron and client into question. He rejects, utterly, the morality of a system whereby people are valued only insofar as they have something to exchange. Only insofar as they are willing to exploit and be exploited. Only insofar as they are able to reduce themselves to relations of usefulness. And he does so on the basis of what can only be called a vision of messianic justice: a strong belief in the patronage of God for all people, a radically different kind of patronage which is given freely and without condition of response. A patronage which gives even the ‘untouchable’ ones a sacred status as children of the Most High God.
Garry Deverell from http://laughingbird.net/ComingWeeks.html

Monday, August 26, 2013

Everywhere I look

Do not neglect to do good
and to share what you have,
for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. Hebrews 13:16
Everywhere I look
I see words, hear a voice
that calls me to love my enemies,
to bear fruits of justice,
to live the grace,
to welcome the strangers,
to visit the prisoner,
to forgive without counting,
to have compassion on the wounded,
to care for my neighbour,
to extend generous hospitality,
to not be afraid,
to treat my fellow mortals
with dignity and respect,
to gather treasure in heaven
and not upon earth,
to guard the interests of the weak,
the vulnerable, the widow and the orphan,
to give the cup of cold water
to the one who thirsts,
to offer food to the one who hungers,
to be a servant,
to make peace,
to be the least,
to follow Jesus.

Everywhere I look.

And these blaspheming party leaders
who tell me they are Christian,
want me to vote for them
so that they may deal cruelly
with the weeping and broken ones,
in order that boats might be stopped.

© Ken Rookes 2013

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

What is God really like?

There is a subtle difference. It runs deeply into our assumptions and attitudes. What is God really like? What if God’s chief concern is not to be obeyed, but something else? What if God’s chief focus is love and care for people and for the creation? Then the focus moves from God’s commands to God’s people and world. It is as though God is telling us to get our priorities right. Commandments, rules, guidelines, traditions, laws, scriptures are also subordinate to that purpose: love. God’s focus is not self-aggrandisement as it is with so many who have power and wealth and want to keep it, but generosity and giving, restoration and healing, encouraging and renewing. When any of these means (commandments, laws, scriptures) cease to be seen in that light, they become ends and we find people in absurd conflicts about whether they help someone in need or obey God. When those become alternatives, something has gone terribly wrong, IF you believe God’s chief concern is caring concern for people.
This story is almost a parody of Jesus’ opponents. How absurd to object to someone being made well! How absurd to imagine God would be more worried about having the sabbath commandment protected than having people healed! We need to see that the story had that function: to contrast the two approaches. It is, in that sense, using stereotypes. It would be most inappropriate, in fact, directly offensive, if we were not to see this and to start caricaturing Jewish leaders and Judaism on the basis of this story.

The garden of Love

·        William Blake

I went to the Garden of Love.
And saw what I never had seen:
A Chapel was built in the midst,
Where I used to play on the green.
And the gates of this Chapel were shut,
And Thou shalt not, writ over the door;
So I turn'd to the Garden of Love,
That so many sweet flowers bore,
And I saw it was filled with graves,
And tomb-stones where flowers should be:
And priests in black gowns, were walking their rounds,

And binding with briars, my joys & desires.

Young man, old man, young woman, old woman, rise up

Jesus of Nazareth, that living Word of God, still comes to us wherever we are, touches the bier on which we find ourselves being carried along by our culture and speaks to directly us: “Young man, young woman, I say to you rise up.”
 Jesus comes our way to resuscitate the dying and to wake the dead.
      In our weakness and weariness he comes to wake the dead.
      If we become puffed up, confusing self importance with life, he comes.
      He comes to us when we sink into resentments, bitterness, or apathy.
      In our post-modern flirting with a life devoid of firm ethical values, he comes to us.

He hates to see death claim us.. He comes to all those biers and coffins which we foolishly may have decorated, and pretended to be “the good life,” and says to us:

“Young man, old man, young woman, old woman, rise up.”

Monday, August 19, 2013

Put them to shame

Put them to shame, Jesus:
those pompous guardians of Sabbath law
whose self-enforced enslavement
causes them to overlook things of wonder,
grace and beauty.

Put them to shame, Jesus:
the offence-takers who kill hope
and close their eyes to love’s possibilities.
The law has not saved the woman,
bent and broken for eighteen years;
she is also a child of God.

Teach them, Jesus,
that liberation and truth will not be denied,
and that grace abounds and extends,
unconfined by our fears
or the hardness of our hearts.

Put them to shame,
Jesus; put them to shame.

© Ken Rookes

One certainty

See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant. Jeremiah 1:10

The emergence of a civilization delivers one certainty,
and only one:
that it will one day fall.
This cycle of rising and decline happens slowly;
a stop-motion animation
condensed into narrow chapters
in a one-volume history of the world.
The boy-prophet, Jeremiah, was appointed,
according to the ancient text,
to preside over such comings and goings
among a handful of middle-eastern nations;
including his own.

Nationalism, it seems, matters little to God.
This unorthodox divinity cares nothing
for notions of national destiny;
still embarrassingly popular in our own steadily unwinding era.
National pride is yet conscripted
to provide delusional justification for all manner of greedy,
shameful and violent activities.
The planet and its people continue to weep beneath the burden.

The promise of national restoration flashed unexpectedly
among Jeremiah’s layered images of dark destruction,
bringing glimmers of hope.
Two and a half millennia later the darkness is denser,
and hope’s shadow is all that remains.

© Ken Rookes 2013.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

I have come to bring fire!

A passage like this provides an opportunity for reflection on centres of powerful influence in our local communities. What are these gods? We need to name them. For some they will still be in families. Liberation will come as they learn to say no to family authorities, whether in real life outside or in the real life of the mind. Grace invites us to stand on our own two feet, to say No, to grow up, to be born again. If you touch on this, be prepared to ensure there is support for those who dare such a change. It can be lonely and painful.
For others the gods run them in their workplace or across the counters of commerce or in the obsessions of advertising. Gods are always bigger than particular people. This is about more than addressing individual loyalties. Ultimately it is about the vision of justice and peace for all which we celebrate in the feast of the eucharist. The radical inclusiveness of that meal and that vision is a fellowship of sacrifice in which we nourish ourselves from a broken and poured out life. Perhaps the best commentary on today’s passage is, indeed, the breaking of the bread.

stark naked

Because Francis took bolts of cloth from his father's business, selling them and giving away the money, his father brings a legal suit against Francis.
But the day's surprises had just begun.
With remarkable composure, Francis rose from his place and approached the bishop. “My lord,” he said, raising his voice, “I will gladly give back to my father not only the money acquired from his things, but even all my clothes.” With that, Francis slipped through a side door of the cathedral, only to appear moments later stark naked, standing before the bishop and holding out all his clothes, with a cash purse placed on top of them. The astonished bishop took the garments and the money, handing them over to an acolyte.

Francis now turned to the crowd and said, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand. Until now, I have called Peter Bernardone my father. But because I have proposed to serve God, I return to him the money on account of which he was so upset, and also all the clothing which is his, and I want only to say from now on, 'Our Father, Who art in heaven,' and not, 'My father, Peter Bernardone.'”
-Donald Spoto
Reluctant Saint: The Life of Francis of Assisi

Monday, August 12, 2013

By Faith

Strange stuff, faith;
elusive, too. Across the millennia
we mortals have tried to quantify it
and make it into some sort of device
by which we claim the almighty’s attention.
Then, as if we have a particular right
by virtue of some contractual arrangement,
we use it to force the divinity’s hand so that he,
(historically speaking, it tends to be a ‘he’),
our captive deity,
will give us what we require of him.
Thus by faith we pray earnest letters of request
to our santa god, hang our eager stockings
and wait for them to be filled.

No, that’s not fair;
I’m being overly cynical and I apologise.
By faith we see through closed and prayerful eyes,
and with eyelids opened we peer beyond earth’s dust;
to behold a tantalising vision of all that could be.
All that is good, and full of virtue,
all that is possible, and full of hope.
This shall come to pass,
should enough people truly trust themselves
to the ungraspable spirit-wind’s unknowable future.
With this faith they whisper their request:
your will be done, and enter into that rare place
where neither life nor death matters;
and where grace is the truest hope,
and all that is possible is love.

© 2010 Ken Rookes

Came looking

Came looking

God the failed gardener;
sleeves rolled up,
hands roughened and calloused
from clearing the stones
and building them into walls and tower.
Blistered with digging and hoeing,
skin darkened from all the pruning
and all the sun,
came looking;
but the vineyard is unfruitful.

Came looking
among the empty branches;
among the fear and the voting
and the credit cards,
among the accumulators, the manipulators
and the gate-keepers
among the networks and the systems
and the tent-cities,
among the indices and the vaults
and the shock-jocks,
among the editorials and the card-gamers
and the judgement-sitters,
among the candidates and the slogans
and the low denominators,
among the investors and the magnates
and the number-gatherers,
among the light-thieves, the chance-dealers
and the hope-stealers.
Came looking.

God, the failed gardener
came looking
among the sad empty branches
for some generosity, some love
and some mercy;
but the vineyard is unfruitful.

© Ken Rookes 2013

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

treasures in heaven cartoon


Instead of worrying about yourself, care for others ...

 "Don't worry about your life," says Jesus.
           "Don't be afraid."
           Instead of hoarding money, give it away. Instead of worrying about yourself, care for others. Beyond all your prudent planning for the cares of life, abandon yourself to a fatherly God who is all-powerful and intimately personal. After you've hedged every bet and calculated every contingency, enjoy the beauty of the morning birdsong and the glory of a field of flowers. Having fretted over a life of worries, whether artificial or genuine, consider an act of faith. Live like what you believe is actually true. After you've run yourself ragged like a godless "pagan" (12:30), says Jesus, rest in the knowledge of a benevolent Being.

dealing with wealth creatively

We should probably begin this passage with the preceding verse, which speaks of seeking the kingdom and receiving what one had been anxious about. Certainly the opening verse sets the framework for what follows. God wants to give us the kingdom! That needs unpacking. It means God wants us to benefit from what will happen when God’s will finally triumphs. To long for the kingdom is to long for something which is promised and promising. Our ultimate hope then rests in God’s own being as one who wants to give. This is trust which sets us free.
It sets us free to deal with wealth creatively. 12:33 speaks of selling property and using the proceeds for others. Today this is complex, but the principle is simple. The complexity of our situation can be our camouflage for inaction. The reality is that we need to address the underlying possessive anxieties which our world has a way of escalating. When we do so, then we can be free to let our wealth go and use it (as wisely as our best caring strategies determine). This is both something which grace generates and something where the sequence is not automatic. Grace needs a shove because the sophisticated rationalisations for selfishness create heavy drag.

a ticket to heaven

The generosity Jesus urges is not an accumulative good-deed-doing, banked earnings to buy you a ticket to heaven, but a rush of self-forgetting, a joyfully celebrative generosity that empties its purse without worries of a harsh future.

be afraid, be very afraid!

It is somewhat ironic that in our gospel reading Jesus opens with the words, “Do not be afraid, little flock,” and then goes straight into the words that we are perhaps more afraid of than anything else Jesus ever said, “Sell your possessions, and give away money to the poor.”

Afraid of it? Well I am. I’m afraid of it because I don’t do that much of it. I’m afraid of it because I’m scared that maybe we are supposed to take it literally, that maybe we are supposed to give away all we own. All of it. Afraid that maybe every CD I buy, or each meal in a restaurant or the new clothes dryer, is a sign of my lack of faith in God, of my unwillingness to give it all away and trust God to supply what I need for life.

I can wriggle out of my discomfort to some extent, especially in this case. Clearly it says it is God’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom, therefore sell and give. It doesn’t say sell and give in order that you might receive the kingdom. And while that’s true that doesn’t entirely dampen down the uneasiness.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

They shall be like snow

In times beyond remembering,
when stories were told and not written,
the gods were believed to hold in their collective hands
the keys to the future: the rains, fertility,
harvest and so forth.
And so, in order to keep the gods happy
and pleasantly disposed towards humankind,
holy places were marked out with stones,
altars were erected, idols sculpted, festivals declared,
solemn assemblies called, animals sacrificed,
dances cavorted, entreaties wailed and offerings made.
No evidence can be found as to the effectiveness
of all this religious activity,
but the practitioners were no doubt convinced,
that, had their pious processes remained undone,
life would have been more of a struggle than it was.

The Yahweh-God of the Hebrews, however,
wryly observing that religious devotion
could be a convenient cloak for less than pious attitudes; 
radically declared that she/he
was not much interested in such adorations.
This strange God preferred to be pleasantly surprised
by a people’s concerns for justice,
goodness, generosity and compassion.
“When this happens,” this straight-talking God declares,
“White shining divine grace shall abound in human affairs,
to overcome all the sins and the fear,
and, in the midst of the darkness,
bringing hope.”
  • © 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; ...