Monday, September 29, 2014

Vineyard violence

He told many stories.
One centred on a vineyard
where opportunistic tenants flout the law;
employing violence
to intimidate their way to wealth.
Nothing new, here.
That tradition goes back to Ahab,
and far beyond; the ruthless grabs
for property and power.

They continue, gathering pace.
In our time the violence
may be more subtle; it is no less real
or cruel. It springs from corporations,
boardrooms, banks, and speculators;
as commodities, goods and services                                                                                                                
are traded and sold,
along with the poor.
Land is snatched,
forests are stripped and burned,
and people are moved on,
along with other inconvenient life-forms.
The earth is gouged and torn,
while mines and factories pour their despoliation
into clouds, rivers and oceans.

The storyteller told his tale
as an allegory of the fruits of generosity and love
expected from those who find themselves
in the divine kingdom.
Its catalogue of ascendingly violent acts
was, of course, made up;
a literary device designed to engender outrage
among his hearers.
The violence that attends our planet
and its peoples, however,
is bleedingly real.

There are, at story’s end,
two assurances: that the cruel and brutal
will receive justice,
and that those who are otherwise unworthy
will be graciously included.
We can only hope
that these promises might be true.

© Ken Rookes 2014

I press on towards the goal ...

There are some church members who say they have lived good lives and kept the commandments. They have spent their lives doing the right thing and maybe thought that they “should be alright when they face their Maker”. Some have read their Bibles diligently, tried very hard to practice what they have learnt and do what is right. But they have had no passion in their lives and little joy and peace. They have lived from a sense of duty. While Christians say there is more to it than that, many are unsure about what the more is.
It is to people such as these that Paul was speaking in the reading from Philippians 3. In all the worldly ways, Paul qualified as a righteous person, blameless under the law. Paul had grown up in the vineyard of Jesus’ parable. He had benefitted from all that implied. He was born into a good family which carefully followed the religious laws. He was of the right race, the right tribe, the right religion. Paul had been brought up in the sheltered monoculture of a walled vineyard. What more could there be to life! Surely this is how God intended people to behave.
It is certainly what the people in the vineyard had come to think. They so valued all that they had produced in the way of religious dressings that they were not about to part with even a small part of it as tribute to the owner and provider. What they had produced had become more important to them; the buildings, the dogma, the creeds, the fancy paraphernalia, their feelings of self-righteousness and above all, their embellishment of the guidelines God had given them to live by.

When the stories of the life and teaching of Jesus reached Paul and made a claim on him, as they must have done for him to have reacted so violently against them, Paul rejected them wholeheartedly. They were like the messengers from the landlord who had come to collect what had been agreed upon with the tenants of the vineyard. Paul even saw it as his duty to reject the teachings of Jesus, and persecute those who dared follow that man. To mix metaphors, Jesus became the stone Paul rejected that was to become the cornerstone of his life.
Rev Julianne Parker
for complete sermon see sermon's page

Monday, September 22, 2014

Is God with us or not???????

We are all in the desert of Sin with that question on our lips: is YHWH near us or not?
We Christians simply cannot stop asking this question, nor should we. Yet, our demands for some sort of sign of God's presence—a tortilla chip with the face of Jesus, an ancient cloth with a blood-stained portrait magically projected on it, a whirling sun in the former Yugoslavia, a crutched-filled grotto in rural France, a huge cathedral in Mexico on the site of an appearance of the Virgin Mary to a lucky peasant, and on and on—seem somehow pathetic. In our scientific age, where only conclusive proof will do, such experiences give in to the times. Books about proofs of heaven hit bestseller lists, but are little better than modern Lourdes, places that offer certainties that finally cannot be obtained. The answer to the question, "Is YHWH near us or not" is not yes or no. The answer is the question itself that I must continue to ask because I want to conform my living to the ancient truth that God is there, and that God still calls people to follow the narrow way. Any proof finally is in the pudding; when I see people offering themselves for others, when I witness acts of courage beyond anything I could ever perform, when I am able on those rare occasions to transcend what I would rather do for myself, then the question arises again: "Is YHWH near us or not?" Others may say, well, those acts of courage arise from a deep well of human longing, a rich humanity and need no divine explanation. I choose otherwise. For me, YHWH indeed is still near us, but I do not need some external signs of that presence to convince me.

Chagall, Moses and the rock

Title: Moses Striking the Rock and Bringing Forth the Water
[Click for smaller image view]

Which did the will of his father?

The reading from Matthew tells of Jesus being challenged by those in power about the validity of his teaching and his authority to teach. This is a scenario we have seen played out many times since the issue of climate change was first raised. Over and over the people in power, the people who have stood to lose most if new ways were implemented, have sought to discredit the prophetic voice and have challenged the authority of those who have spoken out.
Matthew went on to Jesus telling a story about the two sons. Both were asked to do something. One said he wouldn’t go to work in the vineyard, but later changed his mind and went and the other said he would go and later changed his mind and did not go. Twice Jesus asked those listening about this. First he asked, “What do you think?” in other words, he was asking how his listeners saw this situation. Then he asked, “which of the two did the will of his father?” Which of them did what was right?
What does this story mean to you? In light of Climate Change issues, we can see this story as the way the Australian people have behaved with the issue of climate change. First many people were reluctant to move towards taking responsible action towards adjusting for climate change. They had classic grief reactions in that they were shocked and denied what they were hearing. But later they came to believe that what they were hearing and experiencing were real and so were willing to do what was asked of them for the best possible outcome.
Now, under new leadership, they are behaving like the son who said he would do what his father wanted and then did not. The government of Australia has going back on the promise to do something about emissions which speed Global warning.
The reading from Philippians [2:1-13] urges us to ‘do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit and let each look not to your own interests but to the interests of others’, sound guidelines for dealing with all ecological issues.

As Christians, we have an obligation to care for God’s creation and keep it safe into the future. But doing things because we are obliged is never a good reason. Our reasons, to be successful, needs to come from a deep passionate understanding of all things other, the whole of Creation and the mystery we respect as God.

REv Julianne Parker 
for full sermon see the sermons page

All the time, questions.

They assembled their questions
and laid them before him.
Some wanted answers,
reaching towards enlightenment;
for others the goal was to snare and entrap.
Some questions were honest, others devious;
a few asked after truth,
for others the answers were of no account.

Who is he,
why has he come?
By whose authority,
when is the hour,
which is the way,
who can be saved,
what do these things mean?
Who is my neighbour?

The man poses questions of his own.
He does not wait for an invitation;
he asks, who are you, what will you be?
Will you come and love,
and weep, and give?
Will you stand? If you fall,
will you rise and live?
Will you dare?

all the time, questions.

© Ken Rookes 2014

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

Monday, September 1, 2014

Myth, par excellence.

Myth, par excellence.

Our intention is to gather
some suitably approved historians;
direct them to collect the stories,
interrogate the documents,
and compile them into a seamless narrative
(We will, of course,
be downplaying the embarrassing bits
and other parts that might discomfort us.)
Thus we shall create for ourselves a History
that we can be proud of.
With some further prodding and kneading,
some teasing-out and coaxing,
and with suitable invocations of the Divine,
we shall recite our story and rehearse it
until it solidifies into a Myth.
A real one, grand and inviolate,
upon which we can build
our tribe / religion / nation.

In ancient Israel,
a remembering meal
is appointed, prepared
and written into law.
This annual repast,
laden with food and symbol,
commemorates a journey
to freedom and nationhood;
one which is tragically interleaved
with dying and grief.
A Passover meal,
to celebrate a divine passing over;
salvation and life for the chosen ones.
For others, sorrow, bitterness
and death.

But that’s okay,
we will cope;
as long as nobody questions
the Myth.

© Ken Rookes 2014

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; ...