Being found on The Third Way


St George’s Dunsborough

Sermon for Epiphany 6 (February 16) 2020

Deuteronomy 10:12-22

Psalm 119:1-8

I Corinthians 3:1-9

Matthew 5:21-37

In Busselton’s Queen Street, there is a statue of the Wadandi warrior Gaywal. You know the history of Gaywal and George Layman. The two men got into an argument at Wonnerup over the allocation of damper and Layman pulled Gaywal’s beard. In Noongar culture, this was a grave insult to such a senior law man. Gaywal retaliated by spearing Layman who died. In revenge, Captain Molloy, the Bussell brothers and a posse of soldiers hunted down any Noongars they could find and killed at least seven.

It’s sad that this is all history tells us about Gaywal – at least, as far as I can find out. Was he an effective bridge between black and white? Did he proudly resist the colonisers?  We don’t know.

Gaywal: courtesy Busselton-Dusnborough Times

But the story of his end, killing Layman and being killed himself is well attested. The story fits a pattern that is described in this morning’s Gospel: if you feel angry and lash out madly, the situation will escalate into in the hell of violence, often in a flash of  time: from Layman pulling Gaywal’s beard to the end of the killing spree was less than a week.

Jesus knows our humanity well. He recognises that all of us feel anger. He himself was angry with the buyers and sellers of sacrificial animals and the moneychangers in the Temple.  He expressed that anger vigorously, but none of the merchants was harmed. There was no violence.

But if we human beings fail to recognise our feelings of anger, two things may happen: One possibility is the explosion of violence like that around Gaywal. A Palestinian today, angry that his village has been simply taken over by Israeli settlers, may fuel his anger and end up in a suicide vest. He leaves behind him the hell of grieving families on both sides.

The second possibility is that we will push the anger down, suppress it deep inside ourselves. If we do that, the anger certainly won’t go away. It will fester and end up with hotly felt grudges. Sometimes, people will push their anger down and dowan, and suddenly lash out madly at everything around.  Bystanders and the person themselves ask, Where did that come from?

Jesus, as our physician, diagnoses similar reactions to sexual desire. If feelings of desire are acted on in an uncontrolled manner, people are damaged, injured, sent to hell, the victims of violence. How sad the reasons that Harvey Weinstein and Rolf Harris are household names. Or sexual feelings may be suppressed, just like anger can be, and the poison that grows in that person may result in the abuse of children or women. Jesus names this too as violence, as hell, because of the life-long injury it causes.

Jesus expects us to be mature human beings. We prevent violence by acknowledging our feelings, rejoicing that being human is to be a feeling person. We name the feeling and then act on it appropriately: channelling sexual desire into loving our spouse and family, and channelling anger into fighting for justice. Being mature for Jesus means being thoughtful, mindful, about our emotions.

Just imagine for a moment if Gaywal had overcome his surprise and anger and mindfully offered his beard to be pulled by Layman a second time? Is it possible that George Layman would have reflected on his action, realised that he had profoundly insulted Gaywal and both men backed down? Imagine the power of that positive action, refusing to use power to injure.

There are times when it is appropriate to act like that. We are usually so taken by the injustice of situations that we, like Gaywal and most people, demand justice for ourselves or others. I call the alternative pre-emptive forgiveness. We say to ourselves, I’m angry. I may even be justified in being angry. But, in love, I refuse to escalate the situation into violence, so I am offering forgiveness even if the other person has not recognised their wrong-doing.

If we read further on than this morning’s Gospel in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus paints some pictures of pre-emptive forgiveness for us. ‘If someone compels you to carry their gear for one mile, carry it for two.’ (Matthew 5:41) There was no law permitting Roman soldiers to make you carry their pack. It seems they just did it because they were bigger and tougher. They were the occupation forces. It would be natural if you carried out the task as minimally as possible, pretending their pack was too heavy and dropping it on the ground, finding all sorts of ways to do what you were ordered in a passive-aggressive manner.

The result of your minimal obedience?  The old bitter tensions between occupiers and occupied would just carry on, maybe made worse by this understandable reluctance. Jesus sees it as an opportunity for pre-emptive forgiveness. Why not carry it gladly, with good grace, and offer to carry it a second mile?  How that would surprise the soldier. To be seen as a fellow-human instead of just a hated Roman.

Or another scenario Jesus paints, ‘If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other to be slapped too.’ (Matthew 5:39). Someone slapping your face is a special kind of violence. It implies not only aggression, but also a rebuke, a put-down. The slapper has put himself or herself above the person they are slapping, turning them into a child or a non-person.

It’s natural either to retaliate or to freeze. In response, you want either to be violent or to run far away. Jesus suggests another way, a creative way of pre-emptive forgiveness. Imagine the power of saying, ‘Hit my other cheek as well.’ You’re not accepting the slap; you’re creating a space for the other person to think again and maybe to apologise. There’s no guarantee that it will work, but there is a guarantee that if you retaliate, the violence will continue. If you freeze, the slapper has licence to go on being violent to you.

The whole story of Jesus on the Cross is about turning back the powers of violence on themselves: not fighting back like Resistance fighters against the Romans, and not ignoring the wrongs done to him. This way of pre-emptive forgiveness wins the day on the Cross.

This is what writers like the South African theologian Walter Wink call The Third Way: not fighting back and escalating the violence, and not freezing or running away, leaving an injustice unanswered. This ‘Third Way’ is operable to us Christians even though at first glance it may sound difficult. It is open to us, because as Lucy has said over the past two sermons: we are blessed, we are salt and light. God’s power and Spirit is already flowing through us. When we find a way to pre-emptively forgive, it is God’s Holy Spirit acting through us.

Our task is to use our imagination to enact this pre-emptive forgiveness. Each situation demands a different – and creative – response.

I invite you to see Jesus reaching out to you – his presence with us in bread and wine – and pre-emptively forgiving us. By his generosity to us, we are strengthened to pass that forgiveness on when people cross us. By his generosity to us, we are empowered to love.

Called in love


St George’s, Dunsborough

Epiphany 2, January 19, 2020

Sermon

Isaiah 49:1-4
Psalm 40:1-14
I Corinthians 1:1-9
John 1:29-42

He put a new song in my mouth,
    even a song of thanksgiving to our God. (Psalm 40:3)

At every church I have attended singing is controversial. For some, like me, music is one of the most important aspects of our worship. Singing as a congregation binds us together. It releases dopamine and serotonin which we experience as pleasure and well-being, oxytocin, which makes us feel closer to each other, and endorphins, which make the body feel good and – important for me – they provide pain relief.

Some people call all these singing hormones the ‘messengers of joy’. This morning’s readings together are clear about what brings us joy: it is being called by God. God is always calling people, God never gives up, God invites people to love God and to love neighbour. God calls us and so we sing.

God calls every person. Not necessarily to the ordained ministry or to a specific role in the church. He doesn’t necessarily call everyone even to be a member of the church, but there is no doubt that everyone and everything is being called by God.

You will remember Lucy in her sermon here last Sunday spoke of the baptised Jesus being God’s beloved, and so all human beings are God’s beloved. God calls every creature into his love.

I know for a fact that you have been called, because I see you here in church. You have responded to the invitation of God to be part of God’s people.

For some of us, it is a long time since we have acknowledged this call. We’ve grown accustomed to our part in the church and forgotten how exciting it is to have been invited into God’s circle. It’s a bit like a long marriage.

I remember Archbishop Geoffrey Sambell, a bachelor actually, who gave the same sermon at every wedding including ours. His advice to us was to keep the courtship alive beyond the warm glow of the wedding ceremony. A marriage of 40 years, 50 years, still needs the flowers, the kisses, the outings together, the tender words, the household chores done, just as it did during the engagement!

Similarly, do we keep the courtship alive in our relationship with God? Do we take time to remember how exhilarating it was when we first found God? Or more accurately, when God found us. Even if for some of us, those early times in our Christian walk seemed to be a battle, there was still an excitement about it, the sense of being caught up in something as big as the Universe.  

You know your story, and I invite you to take some time this week to re-visit it. It’s important, because God called you to be the real ‘you’, the best ‘you’ possible.

Like those early disciples, Andrew and Simon Peter and the others, you were called to spend time, to ‘abide’, with Jesus. You were called to ‘come and see’ where Jesus abided, where Jesus stood, what his orientation on the world was. You were called into the presence of Jesus, and being in that presence, that ‘abiding’ transformed you.

For those of us who became Christians when we were teens or young adults, we sometimes don’t realise how much Jesus’ presence in our lives changed us, because it is mixed up with our natural maturing into adults. I don’t know how different I would have been had I not let the influence of Christ become part of my life.

You see, the extraordinary thing about this process of being called, being transformed, is that is God who takes the initiative. It is all grace. We don’t have to believe this or believe that; we don’t have to behave this way or that way; we simply abide in Jesus’ presence and let that wash through us.

What changes God will make are hard for us to see. They are God’s actions working through us, and we may not even recognise what we have done in loving God and loving neighbour.

The Christians at Corinth must have been encouraged when Paul’s words were read out to them:

 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind. (I Cor.1:4-5)

The same is true for you. ‘In every way you have been enriched in him’. And for me. I was pleased and surprised once to be accosted at a farewell party. ‘You don’t know me,’ this person said, ‘but just by being here, the way you were, was an important ministry to me.’ I had no idea, still have no idea, really, what he was talking about. But it doesn’t matter. We are called to be God’s servant, and it is God who calls the tune. We just sing to it.

We can rely on God to keep God’s side of the romance going.

What we can do is refresh the feelings. Not only were we called, we are called. You know when the display on your mobile phone starts to fade, you touch the screen and it ‘refreshes’.

We need to do our part, touching our story, refreshing the courtship. Just as in a human romance, we have to continue to bring flowers, tender words, household chores, time to eat together, affirmation of love at least once a day, and our willingness to be changed by the other person, for our lives to be entangled with each other’s. 

§  Not real flowers, probably, but flowers of worship. If we are genuine about responding to the call of God, we will make it a habit to share with God and with other Christians regularly. There was a time, not so long ago, when keen Christians would try to come to a service every day. Being realistic, I would encourage us to try to meet for worship weekly. For some I know, fortnightly or monthly makes more sense, the point being that we continue to cultivate the habit of regular worship. And our experience of worship should be like our experience of flowers. In worship, we experience something of striking beauty – the music again, the words of the liturgy, the painted glass windows – so that we are lifted out of ourselves into an exceptional place, a place where God may make himself present to us.

§  The tender words we bring are those we speak in prayer. It may seem trivial to say the same kind of words to God that we say to our lovers and friends, but often our prayers should be tender statements of how we are feeling in God’s presence.

§  the household chores are the duties we undertake for the church. Some of you are deeply involved – in Parish Council, on different rosters, keeping the Op. Shop open, taking on the big tasks. All of us can choose to do something big or small, and whether it is managing the Family Centre or tidying the pews after a service, it’s done out of love – for the Church, true, and for God.

§  the special meal we eat together, us and God, is the Eucharist. There is so much going on in this meal. We are fed. We recognise God who comes out of his limitless dwelling place to nurture our bodies.  In eating together, we connect with God, with all human beings, especially the hungry, and with all the created universe. The bread and wine are our survival rations, and we respond to them with thanksgiving.

§  We say ‘I love you’ to God by opening ourselves every day to the presence of God. As a priest I am committed to saying the Daily Office, Morning and Evening Prayer, which includes reading the Bible daily. I struggle to do it well, especially after being unwell last year. But whether we have a daily Quiet Time or whether we remember God’s presence simply by saying Grace at meals, we respond to God’s call by deliberately making those moments every day, intending every morning to live in God’s presence.

§  and our response to God’s invitation to abide in him, to soak in him, to let him wash through our lives and to change us. It can be frightening to realise that God wants to go on changing us. Even if those changes are for the better, we have inbuilt inertia when it comes to change. But God does get entangled in our lives. God does change us, and we praise God for it!

So in all those ways, flowers, words, chores, eating together, affirming love, being changed, we touch our unique stories of being called, in the past and in the present, so that Jesus can ‘refresh’ us, and we can sing – literally or metaphorically – ‘the new song in our mouth, even a song of thanksgiving to our God’.

The Hope of the New Creation


SERMON FOR THE 23RD SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

November 17, AD 2019

St George’s Anglican Church, Dunsborough

Gospel:

The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke,
[Chapter 21 beginning at verse 5].
Glory to you, Lord Jesus Christ.

And while some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” And they asked him, “Teacher, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?” And he said, “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them. And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once.”

10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. 12 But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. 13 This will be your opportunity to bear witness. 14 Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, 15 for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers[c] and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. 17 You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your lives.

For the Gospel of the Lord.
Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.

 

 

Most mornings I walk to the beach with our dog Lottie. There’s something healing about the gently surging waves of Geographe Bay. Its appearance changes from day to day; some days it is calm, on other days the light refracts into bright colours, red, greens and golds.

Some days, walking near the beach is disturbing. Stinking seaweed covers the sand and I’m not sure if that’s a natural process or not. Sinkholes appear in the sand where there was solid sand before. The sea seems to be eating the coast despite the best efforts of the City of Busselton with groynes and trucks bringing loads of sand.

You’ve probably seen the maps predicting greater storm-surges eroding our coastline. It’s sad enough that by 2040 Stilts near us may be under water, but much sadder will be the disappearance of whole cities like Venice and Bangkok, even whole countries like Bangladesh. The Indonesians are building a new capital on the island of Borneo, starting even while Joko Widodo is President, because parts of Jakarta are already under water.

There’s too much water in some places. In other places, there is stubborn drought. The WA Government has built desalination machines with the capacity to deliver half of our water supply… otherwise we would be thirsty.

In Queensland,  northern New South Wales and California, wildfires burn pretty much year-round. Polar ice is melting at never-before rates.

In St Paul’s language, creation is groaning. It’s not my job to tell you where to place your opinion on the climate change emergency, although I’ve probably hinted what mine is!

There’s a story about a speaker who advocated sustainable living, liveable cities, green transport, planting trees and gardens and renewable energy – the list went on. An angry voice from the back called out, ‘And what happens if we create this better world and there wasn’t a climate emergency?’

It is definitely my role to remind you of the preciousness of creation, God’s gift to us and our responsibility to God for it.

I believe that we Christians should have a binocular view of creation: through one lens, we should delight in the beauty of the world, marvel at its wonders, be thankful – more than that, be deeply grateful – for creation as our life-support.

Out of gratitude, we are called to be like our Creator. We are called not just to be grateful, but to be creative, too.

With the Psalmist, we praise God for creation:

O Lord, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom have you made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures
. (Psalm 104 24)

Through a second lens, we should be aware of all that disturbs us about the degradation of the natural world. Whether or not the climate is about to go over some tipping point or not, our response to the damages we see should be one of repentance. Part of our joyful penance is learning how to look after the earth better.

God commands the man and the woman in Genesis:
Fill the earth and subdue it. Take control of the all living things on the earth. (Genesis 1:28a)

Some scholars say that a better translation is:
Fill the earth and look after it. Take up your responsibility for all living things on the earth.

God is not telling humanity to exploit his creation by force; God is saying that our unique position as the dominant species means we have a responsibility to help creation flourish.

We do this partly by being creative people. Some of us take dyed cotton, cut and sew the material to make prayer-quilts, which are not just beautiful objects, but part of our worship: they embody our intercessions. The prayer-quilts respect the environment: some of the fabric is recycled. All of them are designed to last.

Someone among us searches for digital images to help us worship and these are projected. They create an atmosphere and they suggest links with the readings and themes of the day’s worship. Finding and choosing the best images is a time-consuming and creative task.

Not only do our musicians create beautiful sounds to lead our singing, we lift up our voices and blend them together to express our praise together. In music, in particular, we worship as one. Every time we sing or listen to the musicians, we create something new that has never existed before. Each performance creates something from nothing. Each act of creation is exercising our image of God; we are creative as God is creative.

Today’s readings give us every reason for hope.

It’s true, as we heard in the reading from Matthew, that our politics can mess up everything, from implementing Brexit to killing the Great Barrier Reef. Jesus could be confident in predicting the time when the politics in Judea were so bad that the Romans would come and wipe out Jews. In A.D. 70, the Roman army hammered Jerusalem and razed the Temple to the ground. They wrecked the built environment and severely damaged the natural world. They nearly succeeded in erasing every Jew and every trace of Jewish culture from the face of the earth.

We look around the world today – to Great Britain, to the U.S., to Turkey and Syria – and we see the devastation bad politics brings. Just when we think things couldn’t get any worse in Syria, they do. On current trends, if politicians and others don’t act, the Maldives in the Indian Ocean, and Kiribati and Tuvalu in the Pacific, will disappear under the waves.

And it’s easy to be depressed about this. ‘According to a new U.N. report,’ comedian Jay Leno says, ‘the global warming outlook is much worse than originally predicted. Which is pretty bad when they originally predicted it would destroy the planet.’

But Isaiah forcefully reminds us that this is God’s creation, not a human creation. God cares for it. God will act. God invites us to do all that is needed to help the planet flourish, and the human contribution does really matter, but ultimately the earth and the heavens are in God’s hands!

‘Behold, I create new heavens
and a new earth. …
‘Be glad and rejoice forever
in that which I create…’
(Isaiah 17a and 18a)

We Christians are in a different position than others who care about the environment. We believe that the heavens and the earth, the Bible’s shorthand for the Universe, will end up better than it is, better than it started. Some Christians believe that God will destroy this Universe and make another. I don’t think the Bible supports this view. I believe that the new heavens and the new earth will be this Universe, perfectly restored. That way makes a place for human beings ‘raised,’ as we will be ‘to eternal life’, perfectly restored, like the new Universe.

We could choose to disregard the firm intention of God and live in despair. Or we can reach out our hands and receive from God hope as a gift. When you reach out your hands for communion this morning and receive little pieces of God’s creation, some bread and wine, I invite you to see them as God’s gift to you of hope.

We, as Christian people, can re-frame the way we think about the environment. For us, it is not doom and gloom, even when it appears so. If there are challenges, we can see them as God’s invitation to do something, to put into practice all those things we know as individuals and as communities that will help creation flourish.

And then as St Paul says to the Christians at Thessalonica, ‘Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus.’ (I Thess. 5:18). In everything give thanks. This is the key. We give thanks for the opportunity to counter the effects of pollution. We give thanks for those who work with us to see that the environment can flourish. We give thanks for the works of beauty made by artists and craftspeople.

We rejoice, because this side of the new creation, we will continue to learn about our worlds. Astronomers have discovered planets in far-off star systems that may support life. Material scientists, physicists and chemists are making new theories about the science of consciousness; how our physical brain does not explain our mind, that wondrous world of thought and creativity.

Dogs, horses, cats, bobtails , magpies – when we meet them we often feel they are just as aware of us as we of them. They seem to have a mind, a level of consciousness, too. Some scientists even theorise that there is consciousness in every atom, it’s built into the building blocks of the Universe.

Then there’s the research at The University of WA showing how trees communicate, both through the fungus between them, and by sending scents into the air to warn other trees of insect attacks. Trees also give out a fragrance which is healing for us humans.

Exciting ideas.

And above all, we give thanks for the breath-taking works of the Creator as they are: the cool air of Ngilgi Cave, the red colour of the bottlebrush, the beguiling scent of crushed sandalwood, the jaunty gait of a running emu, the endless play of light and dark in our galaxy.

If you have A Prayer Book for Australia at home, look up the wonderful ‘Thanksgiving for Australia’ written by Bundjalung Aunty Lenore Parker She is an indigenous Anglican priest and her prayer goes like this:

God of holy dreaming, Great Creator Spirit,
from the dawn of creation you have given your children
the good things of Mother Earth.
You spoke and the gum tree grew.
In the vast desert and dense forest,
and in the cities at the water’s edge,
creation sings your praise.
Your presence endures
as the rock at the heart of our Land.
When Jesus hung on the tree
you heard the cries of all your people
and became one with the wounded ones:
the convicts, the hunted and the dispossessed.
The sunrise of your Son coloured the earth anew,
and bathed it in glorious hope.
In Jesus we have been reconciled to you,
to each other and to your whole creation.
Lead us on, Great Spirit,
as we gather from the four corners of the earth;
enable us to walk together in trust
from the hurt and shame of the past
into the full day which has dawned in Jesus Christ. Amen
.

 

 

 

 

Scandals and faith


SERMON – ST MARY’S, BUSSELTON/ST GEORGE’S, DUNSBOROUGH

September 30/October 7, 2018.

Pentecost 19/20
Saint Francis

I Corinthians 1:17-31

Mark 9:38-50

In the name of the living God + Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

The land where Jesus lived, the land of Palestine/Israel, consists of the Jordan Valley, which is a little bit green, and rocky hills and dry landforms. Jerusalem was the only city in Jesus’s day, so for the most part, there were no roads. Even the Roman road avoided Jerusalem and crossed the Jordan into Galilee in the northern extreme of the province.

The topsoil was thin, and there were always rocks that poked through the topsoil. If you weren’t watching, these obtruding rocks would trip you up. A rock like this was called a skandalon. We get the English word ‘scandal’ from this Greek word. A ‘scandal’ is something, like one of those rocks, that crops up unexpectedly and makes us stumble or fall. A scandal like the child abuse scandals can make us lose faith; we don’t trust the person involved anymore, we feel betrayed and we re-consider what we think of the person’s character.

38410784-rocky-hills-of-the-negev-desert-in-israel
Skandaloi – rocky hills of the Negev

In this morning’s epistle and gospel, scandals are there, but somewhat hidden in the English translation. We hear of ‘obstacles’ to faith.  We hear how Jews are stopped from believing because the signs are wrong. Gentiles are stopped from believing because they don’t think Christian preaching measures up to their sophisticated world of philosophy. Or in the original Greek, the lack of proper signs is a skandalon, a scandal for Jews, the lack of wisdom is a skandalon, a scandal for Gentiles.

The signs were an obstacle for Jews believing. They indicated the wrong sort of Messiah; the Jews wanted a political or military Messiah, the sign of the cross indicates a Messiah for whom love and forgiveness were the winning combination, not defeat of the Romans and the unity of the Jewish nation.

The Gentiles looked for wisdom, the sort of wisdom they found in debates and complex philosophy. We know that the New Testament has depths of interpretation and meaning, but the Gentiles at the time heard only a simple and direct preaching of the cross.

Having tripped up on the issue of philosophy, the Gentiles then found other factors to be scandalised about. Christians appealed to the poor and weak, not to the masters and house-holders and the powerful. How could that make sense in a patriarchal world where the more power you had the wiser you were, and the wiser you were the more powerful? Women and slaves and children had little power. They could not possibly be wise, could they?

So the question Paul poses to us 2,000 years later is this: what is skandalon for us? What crops up unexpectedly to prevent you from believing, or believing more fully? For you, it could be – I know it is for some people – that the cross is a scandal. If Jesus was exterminated like a criminal, wasn’t that losing rather than winning? For you it could be, as it is for some people, that the cross is ugly, that Jesus’s people, tax-collectors and prostitutes, are not proper advertisements for God.

What obstacle do you trip over?

Let us turn to Mark’s Gospel where Jesus paints a picture of sin creating a skandalon. If your hand is a skandalon, cut it off. We don’t need much imagination to envisage our hand becoming a scandal; imagine the sins we can do with our hands – theft, murder, assault, fiddling our tax returns.

Perhaps we have to think a little harder to imagine our eye becoming a scandal, but we know from other things Jesus said that it is not only what we look at, but how we look, that can be a scandal, an obstacle to our faith. Looking at others’ spouses sexually, with lust, looking at valuable property enviously, in other words using our eye to desire things that if we possessed them would be harmful to others and ruin ourselves – that can become a scandal.

But what is this second sort of skandalon? This is not being tripped up by our wrong expectations; this is being tripped up by our own sinful actions. Imagine someone using his hand to enter fraudulent details on the internet, then he feels guilty for stealing. He is tripped up looking at himself as a thief, as a sinner, as guilty. Uh-oh! He should cut off his hand, perhaps by restricting his internet access, then repent, repay the money and re-consider his desire to be ahead in money or material things. Otherwise he will slide into a hell of self-recrimination, self-loathing and become so self-absorbed that he is unable to be in relationship with others. The path to ruin is too easy a story to write.

Jesus makes us squirm by compelling us to ask ourselves what we trip over with the actions of our hand and our eye. What ruinous actions could be our obstacles to faith?

The gospel today gives three remedies for skandalon; three prescriptions for removing these obstacles to faith.

The first is accepting a cup of water because of our faith. If we can’t be kind to others, Jesus suggests we reflect on the kindness of others to us. What does that mean? How does that recall us to our Christian standards and believing? What does their kindness say about the possibility of Christ working through that person, and through ourselves?

The second is a little strange on the surface. Jesus says, ‘Have salt in yourselves.’ Don’t lose your saltiness. There is a cluster of good things, like salt, that we should take into ourselves that will restore us to faith.

Recall the fire, the sharp burning taste, that is in salt. Allow the fire of appropriate criticism to burn away our inclination to turn away from God. It may be a member of your family or a stranger in the street, but when someone criticises our actions, we should welcome it as from God himself.

Secondly, let the strangeness of the Gospel change us. We say we are trying to be more like Christ. The implication is that if we hear something in the Gospel or in the words of other Christians that seem strange, that may well be because it points to unfamiliar characteristics, unfamiliar because it is not yet part of us, but is part of the Gospel. Welcome the strangeness of the Gospel.

Thirdly, a little sprinkle of salt affects the taste of the whole meal. Let the Gospel spread through the whole of your life so that every aspect reflects the love of God.

Last Thursday we celebrated the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi, a hero and mentor of mine. Francis grew up thinking the church then, 800 years ago, was a scandal. Its main focus was wealth and the power needed to protect that wealth. For example, there was a large Benedictine monastery up the hill from Assisi. When Benedictine property anywhere in the region was threatened, the monks would down their farming tools, their hoes and scythes, and pick up swords. Even the Pope had a large and busy army.

As a cloth merchant, Francis had experienced firsthand how bishops loved the finest cloth for their vestments! Many of the clergy were squeezing peasants for land rents and whatever other corruption with which they could enrich themselves.

The church then was a scandal. St Francis did three things: firstly, he embraced poverty as a way of life. This meant for him that he constantly experienced the generosity of others. Francis believed that when he experienced people’s generosity he was experiencing God’s generosity through them.

Secondly, Francis could be weird, screwy, pazzo as his fellow Italians said. From

Francis & crucifix Brisbane
Saint Francis embraces the Christ on the cross – wooden sculpture in the guest house. Society of St Francis, Brisbane

eccentric dress to over-the-top acted parables, like spinning at a crossroads until you were dizzy to decide which way ahead. But there was gospel in his madness. In dressing down like the worst beggar, Francis reminds us of our constant concern about our appearance and what it says about ourselves. Not necessary in God’s kingdom.

 

In spinning at a crossroads for direction, Francis reminds us how little control we have over our own decisions. For him this points to the need for greater and greater trust in God.

Thirdly Francis was constantly doing little random acts of kindness, bidding people peace, smiling, listening, leaving behind little scraps of gospel wherever he walked, salting the world with hints of Jesus.

What we need to do to hear the gospel through the scandals will be different than Francis in the 13th century. But just like Francis, just like this morning’s readings we too need to:

  • Have salt in ourselves.
  • Allow the kindness of others to reveal Christ; and when other criticise, let that reveal Christ too.
  • Scatter little signs of gospel everywhere we go.

These are the ways to peace with God and with each other.

Peace be with you!

 

Entrée for the Sabbath


Sermon Preached at

St George’s, Dunsborough

22 July 2018 (Ordinary Sunday 16)

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, according to Saint Mark.
Glory to you, Lord Jesus Christ.

[Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 NRSV]

30 The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34 As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
… … …

53 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. 54 When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, 55 and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.

For the Gospel of the Lord,
Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.

 

In the Name of the Living God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

This morning’s reading is like a three-course meal without the main course. The compilers of the lectionary obviously thought it is a good idea occasionally to have prawns au tire-bouchon and tiramisu, and no meat and veg in between!

The missing verses tell the stories of the feeding of five thousand, plus women and children, and Jesus walking on water. Both are important stories showing us a great deal more about who Jesus is. We could spend several sermons on each of those stories.

But today we are directed to the prawns and ice-cream, I think for good reason. The first section, the entrée, describes the busy apostles returning from healing and teaching, and telling Jesus the good news of their achievements. It then describes the crowd, so busy they had ‘no leisure even to eat’.

The apostles try to escape to a desert place by themselves, but the crowd walked faster than the sail-boat and arrived before the apostles.

There’s an expression, ‘compassion fatigue’, which you have probably heard. If you care for people, there’s a cost. If you are constantly caring for people, day in, day out, then you can become exhausted. ‘Compassion fatigue’ does not apply only to social workers. There are people in this congregation who care for an adult child with challenges, whether at home or living independently (the child, that is), and that’s a burden. There are people in this congregation who are at this church every day, meeting the people who come to the Op. Shop, caring about strangers. That’s a burden. There are people on the Manna & Mercy roster every week. That’s a burden.

I’m not complaining, or inviting you to, although sometimes a good whine is a healthy response. What I’m saying is that people care for others, all of us do, and it carries a cost. We get tired. We get burnout. Just like the people in this morning’s gospel, the few apostles and the many in the crowd. And sometimes we get to the point where we believe ourselves indispensable.

Jesus may be having a joke at our expense when he says that crowd were ‘like sheep without a shepherd’. We all feel, as leaders, that we must be there for the sheep. Without us, who knows what would happen? But really?!  most of us have been on Australian farms and we know about sheep without a shepherd. They’re fine. They can eat and drink and lie down to sleep on their own. They don’t need a full-time shepherd.

We get busy caring, and that’s good. But we must at least be aware of compassion fatigue.

I get the impression that the apostles were almost desperate in their search for peace and quiet!

The Jewish concept of ‘Sabbath’ can be helpful. We take it for granted that time is divided into weeks of seven days, but, historically,  this seems to have been a deliberate innovation of the Jews.
A seven-day rhythm, with six days of work and one day of not working; six days of work and one day of rest.

You and I grew up when there was no Sunday shopping, no movies were shown, there was no football. It may have been easier back then to keep the work-rest rhythm, but even then, you needed the right attitude, the right reasons.

The Old Testament gives two reasons for Sabbath. Exodus says, ‘Six days you shall labour, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work … For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.’ (Exodus 20:9-11)

In other words, we rest after working because God rested after working.

Deuteronomy gives a different reason. ‘You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.’ (Deuteronomy 5:15)

We are not slaves. We are free to not work. Our freedom is a gift. Therefore we should keep the Sabbath as a way of showing our thanks to God.

b32ae23062086952c359254e1e917480
Peaceful Sabbath (courtesy artsncraftisrael.com)

To this day, Jews make a big thing out of Sabbath. They begin the holy day with a special meal on Friday night, gathering all their family. The men wear their yarmulke, the kippa, which reminds them that there is a God above. The women light candles, they bless God, they put aside all their work and their cares for 24 hours. If you are grieving for a loved one, mourning is put on hold for that time. Jews don’t work on Sabbath. Some Jews don’t even light fires on Sabbath, so that they don’t cook, they don’t turn on lights, they don’t start their motor car. They live within 100 paces of the synagogue so that the walk doesn’t count as work! But the point is not the detailed regulations, it is the spirit of Sabbath which is so important.

Sabbath is not about self-care. It is that, but it is much more. To take and enjoy the gift of Sabbath is to honour God.

My challenge for you this morning is to find or review your regular Sabbath practice.

There are excellent retreat places in WA. I would encourage you to stay several nights in the guest house at New Norcia, meet the monks, join in their daily prayers and bask in the atmosphere of prayer and retreat. Koora, out of Southern Cross, is a comfortable place literally in the desert, run by two Anglican clergy. Maybe an annual visit to a place like these, or St John of God Retreat House in Shoalwater could be part of your life.

Or just spend half an hour in the pews here, or in old St Mary’s when you are in Busselton. We take so much care to maintain these buildings, and that’s part of their purpose.

 

Yallingup 210718
Yallingup beach yesterday

 

It’s no good going down to the beach and sitting there if all we do is think about the ones we care for, worry about what we need to do next. That’s not Sabbath!

It’s no good finding a place away from home to stay if we end up doing the same housework we do at home. That’s not Sabbath.

I remember my Mum doing all the housework on our farm, on her own, before mod. cons. She washed clothes in a copper and squeezed them through a washboard. She cooked for seven of us on a wood stove. She cleaned without an electric vacuum cleaner. Then every summer, Dad would take us all away on holiday to Busselton or Albany. Mum commented once that on all these holidays, she washed clothes, cleaned house and cooked without a break.

But I also remember Mum religiously dropping everything every Saturday to play sport. For Mum and Dad, tennis, and later bowls, became her Sabbath. She parked us kids somewhere appropriate for our age and made sport her means of being refreshed as carer.

Your Sabbath should be regular, planned, and have an element of ritual. It is important that you put yourself in a different place where you cannot be reached, physically or emotionally, by the ones you care for.

Maybe a regular movie, or reading fiction, can be elements of your Sabbath. Certainly, a holiday like a cruise can be an annual Sabbath where you are physically cut off from the ones you care for, and others care for you.

So, go and find a desert place, a Sabbath rest, and leave the worry about the sheep to the Good Shepherd.

When we untangle all the busy-ness of the first half of this morning’s Gospel, the coming and going of apostles and many others, we find an invitation to be refreshed by God in our caring.

God knows, like Jesus, we will be back in the fray again soon enough. So we come to the dessert, the tiramisu, the pick-me-up. We imagine people all over the region rushing to bring their sick to Jesus. We know that feeling. But there’s a little detail in the tiramisu that stands out to me. The sick could ‘touch the fringe of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.’ (Mark 6:56) Scholars believe this ‘fringe’ is the leather strap Jesus, a good Jew, used to tie his tefillin, the little prayer boxes, on to his forehead.

The healings, it seems, happened because Jesus prayed habitually. In other words, Jesus was conscious of God working through him, and this enabled him to heal many.

We aren’t Jesus. Again, this is a little hint not to care for others in our own power. We may not wear the tefillin, but we should wear the habit of daily prayer, and remember that our power to care is not really ours. It is God, working through us. And that is a matter for thanks.  That’s the sweetness in the dessert.

 

 

Christian bird song?


Sermon preached at

St Mary’s Busselton on

October 2, 2016, for the Feast of St Francis,

at the Blessing of the Pets.

Scripture readings: 

Colossians 3:12-17
Matthew 10:8-15
**********
In the name of + the living God, Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
**********

You are very welcome to this service. Thanks for bringing your owners with you. I hope you enjoy being here with other animals, and you don’t find that Labrador too big, or that cat too smelly!

There’s a wild story about Saint Francis of Assisi, preaching and birds. Today we mark St Francis’ day, technically on October 4, and this saint, who lived 800 years ago, has a large part in our hearts. We like him partly because he seemed to have a special rapport with you animals.

The story starts with Saint Francis preaching. Saint Francis had a beautiful voice. In fact, one of the brothers, who used to be known for his elegant, resonant beautiful speaking voice, thought he was the best speaker in Italy, until he heard Saint Francis and was so spell-bound he joined the Brothers.

587493564
St Francis preaching to the birds. Bardi Chapel – Italian School, (13th century) – Santa Croce, Florence, Italy

But on this occasion Francis was having trouble. A group a swallows was making a racket. ‘Little Sisters,’ St Francis said, ‘no-one can hear the words of the Gospel because of your noise. Please be quiet until I have finished my sermon.’ And they were. And so were the people. They were so moved that they wanted to follow him, leave their town, and become wandering preachers like him.

‘Don’t be in a hurry,’ St Francis, ‘and don’t leave, and I’ll arrange everything for your life with God.’ So St Francis set up the Third Order, which consists of Christians who want St Francis as their guide in Christian living, but who, unlike the Brothers, live in their own homes and get married. This Third Order still exists. My wife Rae and I are members of it.

But after this sermon, St Francis set out on the road again. He saw ahead of him a vast throng of birds. There were thousands of birds, maybe tens of thousands, more than you could count, maybe more that you could make with computer graphics. In any case Francis was impressed with such a mob of birds.

He told his companions to stop while he went ahead to preach, this time to the birds. He told this huge crowd of birds how much God loved them, because God had created them. He told them how thankful they should be for being able to fly and for being well insulated with two or three layers of feathers. They also should thank God for the air to fly in, and for the fact that they didn’t need crops to live. ‘You don’t sow or reap, and God feeds you and gives you the rivers and springs to drink, and trees and high mountains to make safe nests.’

The birds then opened their beaks and stretched their necks and reverently bent their heads to the ground. Their singing and movement showed St Francis how much they’d understood.

St Francis then made the sign of the Cross and let them leave. They followed the Cross Francis had signed. Some went to the north, some to the south, others to the west, the rest to the east. They sang magnificent songs, marvellous songs, as they flew off.

The birds set an example to us, to live according to the Cross of Christ, and to go in every direction, thanking God that we depend only on him, like the birds, trusting God to provide enough for each day, and singing our beautiful song, the song that tells the story of Jesus.

Our beautiful song is our song, our own song. There’s a legend about an African tribe that african-art-street-a-eececce-130355-2says a pregnant woman listens to the child in the womb and learns a song that is unique to that child. She teaches the father-to-be the song, then she teaches the midwives who sing it as the child is born. As the child grows up, each time the child falls and hurts herself, the village gathers around and sings her song. When she does something wrong as an adult, she is brought face to face with those she has wronged, the villagers form a circle around her and sing her song. The song is sung at the person’s funeral, and then is never heard again.

Our own song: one that our loved ones sing when we need healing or restoring. Wouldn’t it be wonderful?

The song each bird sang as it flew in one of the directions of the Cross was its own individual song. At the same time, each song fitted in with the songs of all the other birds. It was in close harmony with the song of the community.

In the same way, our own song with its individual story of God with us, with each of us, harmonises with the song of the community with its story of Jesus who came among us to share love.

So when we sing ‘All Creatures of our God and King’, we are singing the song that was originally St Francis’ own song. It’s now the community’s song, and we sing it along with the whole community. But we also make it our song. We remember the times we have been awed by the night sky and we sing,

‘Thou silver moon with softer gleam, O praise him. …

Thou rising moon, in praise rejoice,

Ye lights of evening, find a voice. O praise him.’

 

When we get to,

‘And all those of tender heart,

Forgiving others, take your part, O sing ye Alleluia’,

we can remember a time in particular when we forgave another, or when we were forgiven even though we were filled with shame and remorse.

I’m now going to make the sign of the Cross over you, and your owners can watch. When you leave, at the end of the service, you can go in the direction of the Cross that is your path, thanking God for God’s provision for you, and continue loving and forgiving your humans. As you go, go singing your wonderful song.

+  As you go to the north, or to the south, or to the west, or to the east, do not be guilty of the sin of ingratitude, but travel with God’s love and with your song. Amen.

Two Women and the Whole Armour of God


ST GEORGE’S ANGLICAN CHURCH, DUNSBOROUGH

SERMON 23 AUGUST, 2015

I’d like to introduce you to two women I’ve been spending a lot of time with lately. Two women who wore the whole armour of God in very different ways.

They are the Australian musician Dorothea Angus and the founder of the Little Sisters of the Poor, Frenchwoman Jeanne Jugan.

I am researching both women and writing feature articles on each, hopefully to get them published in suitable magazines.

Dorothea was British-born but came to Adelaide with her parents when she was six just after World War I. She got a scholarship to study piano at the Elder Conservatorium, probably enrolling in 1928 alongside Miriam Hyde, who turned out to be a famous composer.

The classmates made a pact to swap their new compositions with each other every year; and they kept to this pact for decades. Dorothea made more than 250 broadcasts and recordings on the ABC, and many of them were pieces by Miriam Hyde.

Dorothea’s piano teacher, Brewster Jones, died, and her scholarship ended. Her new teacher was the noted organist John Horner. Under his tutelage, Dorothea fell in love with the organ, and in 1938 was giving recitals in Adelaide and Sydney and enthusiastically received as ‘Australia’s top organist’. But getting a job was harder.

St Peter’s Cathedral in Adelaide, it seems somewhat reluctantly, eventually appointed Dorothea in 1936 as ‘Assistant to the Precentor.’

Now the organist at St Peter’s was J.M. Dunn who had been Cathedral organist since 1891 – a run of 45 years! The year Dorothea was appointed to the staff Mr Dunn died. His assistant Canon Horace Percy Finnis became the new organist. But this priest was also the Precentor and Bishop’s Vicar. It’s not hard to imagine the talented Dorothea, frequently, but anonymously, being called to the organ keyboard, or to lead choir practice, and for Canon Finnis to take all the credit.

Dorothea Angus 2_webIn any case, Dorothea’s mentor, John Horner, was on a visit to Perth, and heard that Perth College was looking for someone to play the organ for Chapel and to teach all the music in the school, and he persuaded the Principal, Sister Rosalie and Archbishop LeFanu that Dorothea was the right person for the job.

Dorothea arrived in 1938 and found the music at Perth College to be chaotic and was desperate to go back to Adelaide. Two things stopped her: the coming war, and a growing friendship with Sister Rosalie. This was a friendship of opposites: Dorothea was always stylishly and fashionably turned out, Sister Rosalie was an old-fashioned Anglican nun always in habit with veil and wimple.

Sister would often slip into the Studio late in the afternoon while Dorothea practised and sit quietly in a corner. The two women had big personalities and big ambitions. From my interactions with Dorothea, I imagine they talked about faith in an energetic and purposeful way. Dorothea was always a little prickly; always ready to take down an opponent in argument.

Later on in life, she was sick in hospital, and I visited her. As soon as she caught sight of my collar across the ward, she yelled, ‘I don’t want a stupid priest. I’m not dead.’ I enjoyed the banter. But it was sad that such a talented woman had put up such a defensive shell around her, an armour that was not really the armour of God, but armour that came from being so hurt by the church that she dared not let it happen again.

Jeanne Jugan also experienced being silenced by the church. Jeanne was born in 1801 in a small fishing village in Brittany. She nearly married in her twenties, but told her mother, ‘There is some work that God has for me to do that has not yet been revealed.’

In her forties, she was sharing a house with two other woman in the beginnings of a prayer community. One day Jeanne found an elderly blind woman and brought her back home. She carried her up the steep spiral stairs to their apartment and gave the old woman her bed. Jeanne slept in the attic. She had discovered the work she was called to do: in community care for the elderly who would otherwise be on their own.

To support this ministry, Jeanne took a basket and began walking and begging money for her elderly people. People responded to Jeanne’s request by giving generously. The work grew. In only three or four years, they had opened several houses around Brittany. Women were being attracted to be part of this ministry.

The three founding women were working out a Rule of Life for their little community. A shiny new parish priest Auguste le Pailleur arrived in their village. He became spiritual director to the other two women. When the Rule of Life, which was partly a Constitution, was put into action, there was an election for Superior. Jeanne Jugan was elected without question. She was in everyone’s mind the one who had started this work.

Father le Pailleur used his authority as parish priest and deposed her, and put Marie, one of the other women, in her place. He then had himself declared as sole Founder of the Order.

The Sisters acquired a large property for their motherhouse where they could train the large number of young women coming to join. The property was called La Tour. Le Pailleur decreed that Jeanne would no longer go about begging for the order, but would live at La Tour-St Joseph among the postulants and novices, with no rank or recognition. Jeanne stayed there until her death 27 years later.

When they had completed their Chapel, the Bishop came and they had a large celebration. After the Mass, the Bishop sat with all the Sisters around him in a large circle. He spoke. Then Father Le Pailleur spoke. He talked about their beginnings. He mentioned all the founding Sisters by name, one by one, all except Jeanne. It was as if she wasn’t there, and had never been there.

Only once in that 27 years was there any official recognition of her presence. The Sisters had been given the chance to earn rent from one of their properties. A rich benefactor had warned them that they really needed to make up their mind about this because their identity depended on it. The Sisters were divided. Some argued that the rents were God’s way of making sure they were provided for. Others believed that if they came to rely on rents they would forget that they were dependent every day on God.

Someone remembered Jeanne Jugan in the novice house. They called her to the meeting, even though she wasn’t formally part of the council; she hadn’t even formally been professed as a full member of her own Order. They gave Jeanne the casting vote, and her signature appears on that one document. Significantly Father le Pailleur’s signature is not on that document.

Then Jeanne returned to the novice house. Those who remembered Jeanne afterwards remember an old tall peasant women with piercing blue eyes. They remember how joyful she was. They remembered how she joined in their work and their recreation. They remembered the advice she gave them about being ‘little’: if they were going to be of real help to the old people in their care, they had to be genuinely little with the little people, not be ladies condescending to do good.

In her forced retirement, being pushed away into the ranks of the least important members of the Order, Jeanne discovered how to put on the whole armour of God. She refused to be bitter, as most of us would be tempted to. Instead, she went into that silence, that withdrawal, to find God, to find joy. Then, with a twinkle in her eye, she discovered she was actually in a position to pass on her values to every new member of the Order as they came through the Novice house.

She died on St Joseph’s Day 1879, which was also Father le Pailleur’s feast day, so there was no announcement of her death. The next day, Father le Pailleur sent out a circular letter to all the houses of the Little Sisters of the Poor, thanking them for their good wishes and congratulations on his feast day. There was no mention of the death of the Founder of the Order.

The story does end well. The villain of the piece, Auguste le Pailleur, was eventually removed from his position as Superior and sent to a convent in Rome for the rest of his days. One wonders whether he found the same joy in his forced confinement as Jeanne had in hers.

Jeanne was recognised by 1902 as the Founder and first Sister of the Order. She was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1982 and Pope Benedict made her a Saint in 2009.

You and I are unlikely to be beatified and canonised. We are the wrong denomination, for a start. But Jeanne Jugan reminds us to use the whole armour of God not as a defence against the world, but as a way of turning the world’s attacks into new opportunities for being close to God.