Monday, November 24, 2014

Hope is a gift from God

Hope is a gift from God for us in the bleakest of times.
Our reading from the Hebrew Scripture today was from the book of Isaiah which was written by at least three prophets over about three hundred yours.  The reading came from the third writer and from the time when the people had returned from exile to Jerusalem.  They had been hoping that things would be the same as before they left. But history has shown that things were never the same again.  The Temple had to be rebuilt and that took hundreds of years.  It was only completed about eighty years before it was torn down again.  Worship for the people changed when they were taken into exile. They thought that to worship properly, they had to worship at the temple. Suddenly, they were in a foreign land with no hope of worshipping God in the Temple.  They had to learn new ways of worshipping God. When they returned, they still did not have the temple that they had hoped for.
Hope for Christians, is about looking for the new thing God is doing and preparing for that thing rather than looking back to what was in the past. Christian life is an ongoing journey. It is not a short trip then back to what was. Things are never the same as before however much we hope for that, so one of the things we need to be prepared for is change. Like the budding shoots on the fruit trees, what brings you hope?

This Advent, may we hope that we will get better at hearing the pain of others so that we will work to bring them more hope through encouragement and care. 
Rev Julianne Parker
for full sermon see sermons page

The sun will be darkned

In ancient writings
the sun, moon and stars
combine to herald the coming
of the new age.
The laws of physics are cast aside
as the sun draws its blinds,
the moon withholds its light from the earth,
and the stars are swept into glowing heaps,
having fallen from the sky.

Outrageous metaphors,
emblazoned in the heavens
to signal cosmic events
and to fanfare the advent of the Son of Man;
whatever that means.
Something to do with Jesus,
and what he came to do,
and be. Something to do with
defiant love, reckless compassion,
and a quixotic commitment to justice, peace
and hope.

It could happen.

© Ken Rookes 2014

Monday, November 17, 2014

Christ the King

Feels rather 'Monty Python' really

the reign of God available now

" a progressive Christian reflecting on the themes of the “Reign of Christ” and the upcoming themes of Christ’s (first and second) coming during Advent, I will conclude with a quote adapted from John Dominic Crossan’s book God and Empire:
The Second Coming of Christ is not an event that we should expect to happen soon,violently, 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."

The Holy mystery we call God

Many scholars have pointed out that the birth narratives in Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels were only written 80 years or so after Jesus’ birth and so may not be authentic. This may be so, but there must have been something about the man Jesus that led people to believe that he really did come from such a humble background.
Another point is that one of the reasons we are told for Jesus coming, was to set people free. The royal family is one of the least free families around. They do not live full lives. They are under constant scrutiny. Their lives are severely restricted by what we say they can and cannot do. We have much more freedom and as Christians should ask ourselves what we are doing to these fellow humans in demanding that they spend their lives playing out the roles that we assign for them, even if they are well paid to do it, rather than allowing them to be who God created them to be.
Both the reading from Hebrew Scripture and the one from the Gospel talk about God being aware of the injustice and bullying that goes on in our societies.Christ the king, the judge, the ones who sorts the sheep from the goats, the dispenser of eternal joy or eternal punishment. All nations will be gathered before him, not just Jews or not just Christians. People who have never heard of Jesus will be rewarded because they behaved with justice and compassion. They worshipped God by treating others with respect even when they were unaware that this was what they were doing.
Scripture was not written for stories to be read in isolation. This reading from Matthew follows immediately after the parable of the talents. For centuries the church has interpreted this story consistently with God favouring the rich and talented rather than from the underside of Jesus showing how greedy those with much are and how poorly they treat the less well endowed.
It is unbelievable that we who are called to follow Jesus could have accepted the interpretation we were given of this parable and closed our eyes to the social justice implications in it. We always knew that talents were units of money. Why was it treated as a metaphor?  The final two verses tell us that what money the third man had was taken from him and given to the one who had most. It has ever been thus that the rich benefit at the cost of the poor and in the Western World, the gap between the rich and the poor is ever growing.
The story tells us that the slave knew that his master reaped where he did not sow and gathered where he had not scattered seed. These are exploitative actions. No one deserves to take advantage of other people’s labour in these ways. It confirms the suspicions we might have had about how the other two who received the money had been able to make such exorbitant profits for their master.

In the Emerging Church, the concepts of every member ministry and the priesthood of all believers are coming to be one of the main defining elements. Each one of us has the responsibility to decide how we choose to see and follow Jesus Christ. We no longer want to behave either like sheep or like goats. We are called to ponder the revelations brought to us and act accordingly from our relationship with the Holy Mystery we call God.
Rev Julianne Parker
(for full sermon see sermons page)

The Righteous

consists not so much
in keeping oneself free from
all manner of sin and impurity,
(although this could be a consequence for some),
but in living in ways that are governed
by divine principles
of generosity and love.

The sort of foolish care
that treats prisoners with dignity,
recognises strangers as fellow pilgrims,
and offers food, clothing and water
to the least among the forgotten.

The kind of reckless defiance
that befriends the embarrassing,
confronts institutional cruelty and fear,
and supports the claims
of the homeless and the refugee.

The improbable commitment to one’s neighbour
that builds community, creates hope
and strives towards justice.

These, the parable tells us,
are the things that determine
who is truly righteous.

© Ken Rookes 2014

Monday, November 10, 2014

What an alternative!

"Jesus teaches and lives a new way of blessing: for the poor, the humble and defenceless, for peacemakers and the merciful. On this path we learn what it means to love our enemy!

It is this vision that makes Jesus’ teaching in the Gospel so essential and practical. Either we learn to love our neighbour, or we will destroy ourselves.

Some have said that this teaching is too difficult. It is challenging. It may even make us look foolish. You’d have to admit a slaughtered Lamb is not as alluring as the great beasts – any four year old will tell you how fascinating dinosaurs are. But that is the point. The beasts of prey, the empires that spill blood, are dinosaurs; by contrast Jesus offers a role model for a new defenceless future. Can we say that Returned soldiers who know about the blood and tears will recognise the murdered Jesus in their past; and will they also seek to find a way into his future.

This came into sharp focus in the first meeting of the World Council of Churches in Amsterdam in 1948 – where participants, facing the destruction of the world war declared they we willing to live without the defence of weapons.

This is the contribution Christian faith can make to an Australia that is trying to come to grips with its ANZAC identity. The church has profound gift to offer here: a new imagination that no longer treats war as a necessary burden and a tragic necessity. It offers a liberation that shows up all violence  to be a mistake, a failed experiment.

Grasped by such anew imagination we will have courage and energy to point forward to a new Australia where people ae no longer fearful of people arriving in boats, who dress differently, or are of another faith. Most important, we will be encouraged to engage those who are related to the original inhabitants of this land.  

What an alternative!

Here we may join the great choir of creation to sing together at Jesus’ meal, trusting that his will be the final victory.

As we experiment with this new imagination, let us gather at his table, people of every culture, every colour and creed.

May we be drawn onto the path of those first defenceless disciples, saints, martyrs, learning to trust their non-violent discipleship, and becoming prophets of a world made new; a world inhabited by a community of peace.

And by that, you (!), become a sign of the new future offered by Christ Jesus, the slaughtered Lamb.

And to that, let all say AMEN!. "

Rev Dr Wes Campbell (see sermons page for full sermon)

The ten talents

Gelijkenis van de talenten doolhof // Parable of the talents maze

feathering our own nests

Most of us have accepted what we were told, that we are expected to make the most of our talents. Then we will be given more according to how responsible we have been. This story was not about natural gifts. It is about money and possessions. Talents were gold coins.
I was in a group discussing this when someone said, “I feel sorry for the guy who was only given one. He obviously did what he thought was best with it.” The room went quiet and all eyes swung to see who had spoken. The comment had set us thinking. Someone else said, “I feel sorry for him, too. Neither of the others helped or encouraged him. He was obviously afraid. Maybe he had reason to be. Maybe he was inexperienced in such things. The master showed that he didn’t have much faith in him by giving him the least. He knew the master was demanding. Perhaps the master had told him that he thought he was hopeless, as my father used to tell me.”
A third person in the group spoke up. “I don’t understand this story. My experience and understanding of God and Christ are just not like the master in this story. Jesus didn’t condemn those who had less. That’s what the world does! And to reap where you did not sow and to gather where you did not scatter seed is to rob the people who did the work in sowing and scattering.”
Another person in the group lived on a farm on the outskirts of a major city. She told of how people had helped themselves to their sheep and how orchardists in their district had trouble with people helping themselves to the fruit. She said, “I can’t see Jesus doing that to people. What if we have been wrong in assuming that the master in this story is representing God? What if the point Jesus was making is that this is the way the god of this world works?”
There was a stunned silence as we all re-read the passage. Then someone said, “This is the way the economy has been run in recent years. People are expected to work hard to make more because the more people earn, the more the government gets through taxes and the more managers get in their salary packages. The rich are getting richer and what the poor have is being taken from them. Like the master here, some people in our community think all poor people are lazy, whatever the cause of their poverty.”
This is not a story about ability. It is a story about money and the pressure to make more money. We have been guilty of trying to make it “nice” by interpreting it metaphorically. We can know this because the next part of the gospel story is about Christ judging the sheep and the goats on the grounds of how they treated the poor, fed the hungry and thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked and visited those who were sick or in prison.
Could it be that, in doing what he did, the third man was taking a stand against the system which exploited poor people? This story may have been different, even in our usual interpretation, if they had all worked together to achieve what the master wanted. Maybe the two more able servants could have offered to mentor the third.

The Global Financial troubles are a reminder to us that we are not called to feather our own nests, but to see how we can best help those with no nests. Christ continually challenges us to question assumptions as we follow his way. May you receive many blessings as you contemplate this.
Rev Julianne Parker
(for full sermon see sermons page)

Making a Profit

Across the centuries many have hailed
the Parable of the Talents, so called,
as a divine endorsement of commercial enterprise.
The worshippers at mammon’s various temples:
the merchant bankers,
the stock brokers,
the importers, the exporters,
the buyers and traders,
the investors and actuaries;
must all love this yarn.

Central to the tale is buying and selling
and making a profit,
all of which become the means
by which the nerve, ingenuity and commitment
of three servants are tested by their master.
Sits a bit awkwardly, though,
with the “eye of a needle” line delivered elsewhere;
among the teacher’s more usual misgivings
about riches and possessions.

Unique among the yarns
recounted by the master story-teller,
this one assesses fruitfulness
in terms of astuteness and monetary gain;
more commonly it is gauged by acts of love,
forgiveness and peace-making.

Not that there is anything intrinsically wrong
with making a modest profit.

© Ken Rookes 2014 

I posted another poem about this parable last week, getting ahead of myself. It is called 'Reckoning.'

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

With a rapture, with a shout!

Love the last line of this one. :)

BEHOLD, the Bridegroom cometh: go ye out
With lighted lamps and garlands round about
To meet Him in a rapture with a shout.

It may be at the midnight, black as pitch,
Earth shall cast up her poor, cast up her rich.

It may be at the crowing of the cock
Earth shall upheave her depth, uproot her rock.

For lo, the Bridegroom fetcheth home the Bride:
His Hands are Hands she knows, she knows His Side.

Like pure Rebekah at the appointed place,
Veiled, she unveils her face to meet His Face.

Like great Queen Esther in her triumphing,
She triumphs in the Presence of her King.

His Eyes are as a Dove's, and she's Dove-eyed;
He knows His lovely mirror, sister, Bride.

He speaks with Dove-voice of exceeding love,
And she with love-voice of an answering Dove.

Behold, the Bridegroom cometh: go we out
With lamps ablaze and garlands round about
To meet Him in a rapture with a shout.

-Christina Rossetti 1830-1894

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

a choice that matters

"The theme of an oil shortage suggests the present plight of many Christians. In a recent work on ministry with young adults Terry Hershey observes, “For many who are searching for meaning today, the church is not effectively addressing their crisis of meaninglessness, trivialization, or alienation. However they may define spirituality, many people are engaged in a true spiritual struggle, a battle against exhaustion, bewilderment, and estrangement. In response, they may search for direct and countervailing experiences, a sense of presence, a compelling teaching or discipline to lean on.” 
Those of us at work in the vineyards of the historic mainline denominations hear much these days about shortages—shortages of members, of money, of energy. Our lamps seem to be burning dimly. Could the issue be less one of members, money or even energy and enthusiasm and more one of whether something is at stake in our faith? Is the gospel the truth about which a decision must be made? … Or is it like the thousand other choices to be made in a consumer society? Having oil in our lamps today may have something to do with a renewed confidence in the gospel as an invitation to new life, and to a choice that matters."
(Anthony B. Robinson, in The Christian Century; online) 

different ways of seeing God

More different ways of seeing God have emerged with Charismatic, Liberation and feminist theology, and Progressive Christianity entertaining a great variety of expressions of faith.
We are nearing an ending in our journey to freedom from the oppression of literalist understandings of the Bible and from the temptation to worship the Bible rather than the God it points us to. We are coming to the time of being asked which God we are going to choose to follow and worship in the land we are entering, a land of internet and as yet undreamed of scientific discoveries, of healing and health. Tickle points out that in each of these major new things, some old stuff gets thrown away but much is kept, maybe as it is or maybe in an adapted form. It may take many decades for this process. Will God love you less for one decision or another? If you choose to stay worshipping the written word rather than the more dangerous way of following the Word made flesh in Jesus will it matter? It is up to you to decide.
The message of the Gospel reading for today is about being readying ourselves, about being prepared for what is ahead. We, as Christian people, as a nation, as a civilisation, are in a time of turmoil between what was and what will be. We can learn from past times of upheaval that there will be a time of relatively settled peace in years to come.
The young women who were invited to be bridesmaids would have known what preparation was needed for the role. Their lamps needed to be full of oil if they were going to be able to fully participate in the celebrations ahead. We are invited to continue the journey under God’s leadership. What preparation can we do to ensure we are ready for what is ahead? While we may be leaving behind Biblical literalism, I believe every member ministry is becoming more important.

Some suggest that it is the oil of God’s goodness with which our lamps need to be filled. When Moses asked to see God’s glory, he was shown God’s goodness which surely includes justice, mercy and love. Meister Eckhart, a Christian mystic put it that we have “not been created for small things.” May God help us discern which God will bring us renewed freedom in the Emerging Way.
Rev Julianne Parker
(for full sermon see sermons page)


In the parable of bridesmaids
bringing light to the wedding celebrations,
it is their state of preparedness
that finally determines
who will gain entry to the banquet.
We can work the maths out
on the fingers of two hands.
Five go in; five are knocked back.
For the girls in the story
it was flasks of spare oil
that made the difference,
keeping their lamps burning, shining bright,
and keeping the invitation current.

It appears that gospel invitations
to come to banquets, to follow Jesus,
to attend wedding feasts,
are all invitations to live truly.
Stay awake, be ready.
Prepare yourself,
discipline your body, train your mind;
carry sufficient oil – whatever that might be
for you. Keep your Swiss army knife handy.
When you find the invitation extended,
determine to accept it.
Grasp hold, enter in, live to the fullest
and love in the extreme.

© 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; ...