Monday, May 26, 2014

Ascension deficit disorder

Ascension

 
The way Luke tells the story
in his two-volumed tome,
the ascension and resurrection of our Lord
was really the one event, neatly book-ended
by the two men dressed in dazzling white
who sneak up suddenly beside the disciples.
I presume that the need for two figures
is to avoid the possibility that, if there were only one,
he might confused with the risen Lord himself.
Handy with their rhetorical questions,
the men become a useful literary device,
proceeding to explain to Jesus’ followers
what is really happening.
The ascension is an awkward story, really;
necessitated by a physical resurrection,
and the subsequent need to dispose of a body.
This, in turn, is required by Luke and Matthew
to give apparent substance to the reality and wonder
of divine presence,
experienced long beyond the days
when Jesus walked and worked and lived among them,
recklessly living out his message of all-conquering love.
It is experienced still.
John does not concern himself with the ascension,
and Mark, at least in his shorter ending,
is prepared to settle for the ambiguity
of an empty tomb.

© Ken Rookes

power and glory

Two things, power and glory, stand out from the readings for today. In Acts, Jesus told his followers they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came to them and many times Jesus used versions of the word ‘glory’ in his prayer in the John reading. What do these two words, “power” and “glory” mean to us when we use them in relation to the Church and to God? Do they have similar or different meanings for us from when they were used to describe the British aristocracy? We have added them to the “Lord’s Prayer” when we say, “For thine be the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever, Amen. They are not there in the Bible [Matthew 6:9-13] and are not said in the Catholic tradition. When and why did we add them? Was it when our position in life was understood to be appointed by God, when the oldest son in the aristocracy inherited the land, the second went into the military and the third son from the manor house automatically went into the church with a guaranteed income and parish for life?
The power and glory of God are vastly different from the power and glory of the world and it is easy for us to lose sight of this when we are surrounded and seduced by the propaganda of materialism and military might. We have been accused of being head people who think too much about religious matters rather than feeling them and becoming wholeheartedly involved in glorifying God. But sometimes we haven’t thought enough. We have accepted what we have been told through the words of hymns and Biblical teaching. If we think about it, we might see the difference.

We have been given power through the Holy Spirit to discern God’s glorious goodness and where we can carry that into the community to help bring the Way of God to fruition. Trust the disturbing thoughts and feelings of this power to lead you in glorifying God.
Rev Julianne Parker

Monday, May 19, 2014

Forgotten?


That was forty years ago, but those two still from time to time say, “Remember when our parents forgot us?” If an incident that lasted under three hours can have such an impact on a life of nearly fifty years, is it any wonder that God goes to such lengths to assure us that we are never forgotten or abandoned by God even if we may think we are? The people of Israel felt that God had forgotten them but God’s reply in Isaiah 49:15,16 reminds us that even if a woman forgets the child she has given birth to, God will never forget us because God has carved us on the palm of God’s hand.

An ad on TV has a small boy separated from his mother in a shopping mall. He looks distressed and begins to cry. The caption reads, “If he is this upset at losing her for a few minutes, image what it would be like for him to lose her for life.”
Jean was recovering from a cold and she and Rosy had finished for the day by about 4pm, so they told the men they were heading home to have the evening meal ready for them when they arrived. Nearly three hours later, the men arrived home and they realised nobody had the children. They were just beginning to panic when the phone rang and a small voice said to Jean who had answered it, “Mummy, we can’t find you. Where are you?”
The reading from Acts reminds us that in God we live and move and have our being. If this is so, it is impossible for God to abandon us. Elizabeth Barrett Browning puts it this way, “Earth’s crammed with heaven and every common bush afire with God; but only those who see take off their shoes; the rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.” In many ways, we are conditioned to focus on the blackberries rather than the bush. Our materialistic culture encourages us to see what is in this for us instead of seeing the fruit as a sign that the bush is aflame with God, that earth is crammed with heaven and precious to God.

For many it is easier to believe life on earth is hell. For many the worries and cares of life are crushing the life out of them. They are weighed down by grief, need and debts unaware of how the Spirit cares. These are times when all we can do is cling to the words of Jesus, “I will not leave you orphaned.” [John 17:18] and of Paul, “In God we live and move and have our being,” [Act 17:28]

Rev Julianne Parker

If you love me

 
There must be at least fifty ways
to declare your love.
Some decide to sing it,
shaping it with verse and melody
into a song, beautiful and profound;
or, borrowing words from a poet,
recite it with drama and passion.
Others make it into a dance,
enacting with rhythm and movement
the intentions of heart and mind.
You might employ the red swelling bud of a rose,
perhaps a ring crafted from gold, or silver;
or even chocolates, hand-made and wrapped in foil.
You can spray it, multi-hued, upon a waiting wall,
whisper it in private by the glow of a candle,
shout it, unashamed, with joy;
or weave it into a cheerful scarf.
You could write it with a roller pen;
if you prefer, use quill and ink on parchment paper,
with X-es on the bottom.
It can be painted with pixels,
pulsating with light on the screen of a computer;
you might post it in a blog,
solicit lots of likes on Facebook,
or even print it off and pop it in the mail.
You might make a clever video,
upload it to Youtube, and hope that it goes viral.
Your message of affection can be carved earnestly
into the bark of a tree,
or spelled out in a blooming daffodil surprise,
emerging from the earth when Spring comes.
You could raise your arms
to the swelling chords of an electric organ,
with fingers splayed towards the imagined heavens;
or speak of your devotion ecstatically
in the languages of angels.
But in the end,
neither the words
nor the manner of their expression
seem to amount to much at all;
If you love me, the Carpenter said,
you will do what I say.

© Ken Rookes 2014

Monday, May 12, 2014

The house with many rooms

 
At home
in the house with many rooms;
the writer of the fourth gospel
crafts a joyous and welcoming picture
of oneness with God,
(however she/he is conceived).
An image of the hereafter?
Perhaps; I used to read it that way.

At home
in a God who is called love,
and with a God at home in us.
At one with creation, generous and true,
woven into and emerging from
the dusty fibre of our fragile planet.
There may be life somewhere else,
but we do not know it.
United into the great body of humankind,
one with our neighbours, our sisters and brothers.
One in faith, one in doubt;
joined together in the shared pain,
the struggles, the tears and the fear.
Hoping anyway.

At home
in this house with many rooms;
but not quite.


© Ken Rookes 2014

Do not let your hearts be troubled

It is not surprising that the writer of Psalm 31 pleaded with God “Do not ever let me be put to shame.” It is humiliating, shameful and painfully degrading to be shamed. God of Love doesn't treat us like that. Bullies often do, or at least try, to shame others! There are many victims of bullies in our families, communities, schools and workplaces who would plead for God to deliver and speedily rescue them and keep them safe from such treatment.
Much of our Christian culture is based on guilt rather than shame and much of the Church’s culture is based on relieving guilt. But shame plays a much greater part in our societies than we may acknowledge.
Guilt says, “I recognise I have done something wrong, something bad.” Feelings of guilt are relieved by forgiveness, atonement and penance; God’s forgiveness and that of others and our-self. Shame says, “There is something fundamentally wrong with me. The concept of original sin links into shame.
The gospel reading is frequently used at funerals to comfort the bereaved beginning as it does with Jesus saying, “Do not let your hearts be troubled”. This could be another place in our Scripture where the message has been distorted by the insertion of chapters and verses. They place artificial divisions in the story.  The last verse in chapter 13, and so in the verse immediately before our Gospel reading today Jesus said to Peter, “Very truly I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times.”
Peter had been proud to think that he was willing to lay down his life for Jesus. His response to the sound of the cock crowing was probably shame. He would have felt that he had let himself and Jesus down.  Jesus’ remark, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God and believe also in me,” were possibly directed at comforting and reassuring Peter.
The writer of the epistle was reassuring all who had known the shame of rejection. He was encouraging and inviting them to find out for themselves that God is good and welcoming, that they were precious in God’s sight. Perhaps we could change from assuring people that their sins are forgiven and encourage people to know that they are made in the image of God, that God does not shame us.

Don’t let your hearts be troubled and don’t let them be afraid. God has plenty of room for us all!
Rev Julianne Parker
see sermon section for full sermon

an answer to Thomas

Thomas’ heart is troubled.  He’s worried and concerned about all this talk of Jesus going away.  So he asked that fateful question, “How can we know the way?”  Jesus’ statement about being the way, the truth, and the life is a response to a question by Christians, and Jesus’ answer is directed to Christians and is about Christians. Of course, Jesus’ followers wouldn’t have called themselves to “Christians” yet; but, as we learn in the book of Acts, “The Way” was one of the earliest names for Christianity.
Part of what Jesus was doing was offering comfort to Thomas: “Don’t worry, Thomas.  You know me. When I’m gone, just continue to ‘do the works that I do.’ Follow the path I have set forth with my life, and you’ll be following the way.”  So perhaps I wasn’t so wrong all those years ago to find comfort in John 14. But Jesus’ instruction doesn’t end there.  Included in Jesus’ pastoral assurance is the challenge to keep on following the way of Jesus even when it’s difficult.  The best summation I’ve seen of this perspective is by the pastor, writer, and spiritual director Eugene Peterson.  Peterson encapsulates Jesus’ point in John 14 by saying, “Only when we do the Jesus truth in the Jesus way do we get the Jesus life.” Isolating only the so-called “Jesus truth” yields a disembodied orthodoxy: all the right words with no behavior to make the words believable.  More important is the “Jesus Way” of loving God and loving neighbor.
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlgregg/2011/05/lectionary-commentary-%E2%80%9Ca-progressive-christian-reading-of-john-146%E2%80%9D-for-sunday-may-22-2011/

A bit of a challenge

"When my daughter tells me I’m the best daddy in the world, and there can be no other father like me, she is speaking the truth, for this comes out of her experience. She is honest about it; she knows no other person in the role of her father. But of course it is not true in another sense. For one thing, I myself know friends who, I think, are better fathers than I am. Even more importantly, one should be aware that in the next house there is another little girl who also thinks her daddy is the best father in the world. And she too is right. In fact as the level of the way the two children relate to their two fathers, no one can compare the truth content of the statements of the two girls. For here we are not dealing with the absolute truths, but with the language of faith and love. …
The language of the Bible is also the language of faith….The problem begins when we take these confessions in the language of faith and love and turn them into absolute truths. It becomes much more serious when we turn them into truths on the basis of which we begin to measure the truth or otherwise of other faith claims. My daughter cannot say to her little friend in the next house that there is no way she can have the best father, for the best one is right there in her house. If she does, we’ll have to dismiss it as child-talk!"
Christian theologian Wesley Ariarajah
from http://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlgregg/2011/05/lectionary-commentary-%E2%80%9Ca-progressive-christian-reading-of-john-146%E2%80%9D-for-sunday-may-22-2011/

the Way, the Truth and the Life

"Thomas is the first to make a statement and then ask the question that is our question: How can we know the way?
Jesus' response to this question is one that has caused enormous suffering and harm through the centuries.
But I think we have not read his response for the plain statement of truth that it is. Jesus first says:
I am the way, and the truth, and the life
And then he says:
No one comes to the Father, except through me
Now, if we simply substitute for the "me" in the second statement with who Jesus says "me" is - the "I am" in the first statement, we get:
No one comes to the Father, except through the way, the truth, and the life.
That statement, I think, is NOT grounds for slaughtering non-believers in Jesus, or forced baptisms, or worrying that non-believers have been condemned to everlasting damnation. It is, I think, a plain statement of the simple truth that the life to come will be a way of truth and life - and thank God for that. And, since Jesus has said that he will come and take us to himself, we can trust that we will not be abandoned and left on our own to find this impossible-for-us-to-be-nothing-but-truth-and-life way."
http://www.holytextures.com/2011/04/john-14-1-14-year-a-easter-5-sermon.html

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Shepherds and doors

 
So many doors,
colours, sizes, shapes;
some swing from the left,
others from the right,
some slide.
Inwards opening,
outwards swinging;
so many choices.
Which doors are for me?
Will it be the journey within,
beyond,
or both?

The fourth gospel
designates the Good Shepherd as the gate,
a door through which
his sheep might enter into life.
When I passed through that door,
many years ago,
I was told by some earnest sisters and brothers
that there were certain doors
to be avoided for fear of one’s eternal life.
These well-meaning friends insisted
that those who travel through such doors
will be lost.

So many doors,
so many dangers.
I went through one anyway.
Had to;
too many questions,
too many doubts.
And maybe,
just perhaps,
notwithstanding all the warnings,
it was the Shepherd
who was waiting at the other side.

© Ken Rookes 2014

Monday, May 5, 2014

The way we see God

Two readings set for today are about the way we see God and therefore the way we may see ourselves and others. The writer of the Psalm said, “The Lord is my shepherd”. This is probably the best known psalm in our culture. In John 10:7, Jesus said, “I am the gate for the sheep.”
Most people who love this Psalm have never seen a shepherd. It is popular because of what is offered to the reader. It says that the writer believes God will look after him and provide for him generously. He sees God as offering rest, relaxation and restoration, protection, comfort, support and esteem, reassurance, hope and contentment. We get words like “pastor” and “pastoral care” from this image. It is good to be taken care of when we need care. It is not so good if we rely on such care when we could be taking care of ourselves and others.
We could equally see the things listed as being offered by a Mother to her children, or by anyone who cares. It is what the image represents that is more important than the image itself.
The image of “The Lord is my shepherd” may imply we are sheep to be led and fed and kept safely in a shed. But life in all its fullness that Jesus spoke about is more than that. When Jesus said, “I am the Gate’, He wasn’t implying that we live in a gated community, safe and secure from the poor of the world.
Images of God are not statements of all God is. God is so much more than we can ever imagine. On this Mother’s Day, you may like to reflect on the Wisdom of God and the Spirit of God which in Hebrew Scripture are always feminine. In Isaiah 54:5 is the image of God being a husband to widows and deserted women. In Hosea God is likened to a mother.

We are invited to ponder how we see God and how that impacts on the way we live and behave towards God, others and ourselves.
Rev Julianne Parker