You give them something to eat
I wonder if the people who were fed that day in Galilee wondered where all the food came from? Did they ask how it got here to this deserted place? Did they ask who made and provided all this bread? Did they wonder who had caught and cooked and brought enough fish to feed thousands of people?
Do you ever think about where your food comes from? I was at a picnic last Saturday for rescued greyhounds and their owners. It was held in a field on a hillside near Nowra. It was a lovely warm day more like Summer than the middle of winter. People shared their food with each other. As I ate an egg sandwich, I wondered whether this was an egg from hens that are caged in battery farms or an egg from a free-range farm? Have you ever thought about where your food comes from? Next time you are biting into a steak think about where it came from? On what farm was the animal raised? What food was it fed? Did she grow up roaming the fields eating green grass or did she spend her whole life being fed meal in a dirty confined feed lot?
All our food has a source. It comes from somewhere? It doesn’t come out of thin air or magically appear. There are costs in producing it and getting it to your plate. Sometimes it comes from round the corner perhaps from horticultural gardens on the fringes of cities and sometimes from overseas from the other side of the world. Food scarcity and food security are very big issues that the world is facing. For those who are concerned about the environment and global warming there are great concerns about food production. Each year thousands of acres of land in Australia no longer are arable due to salt leaching and soil erosion. Rain forests controlling the earth’s climate are logged, burned and turned into agricultural land to meet the world’s demand for beef and palm oil etc. Even Ireland with its ‘40 shades of green’ is becoming concerned because climate change is causing irregular rainfall and mini droughts thus effecting Summer food production. Polluted seas are increasingly becoming choked with rubbish and effecting marine life. Fish numbers are diminishing.
When the disciples raised the issue of hungry people far from home in a deserted place, Jesus replied, "They need not go away; you give them something to eat." They replied, "We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish." And he said, "Bring them here to me." Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.
You give them something to eat – Jesus was concerned for the welfare of the people, but he said to the disciples, “You give them something to eat.” We all know the miraculous story and how the food was multiplied. It causes people to ask how did Jesus make that happen? Who is this? That was then but today people still need to be fed. What might this story tell us today about feeding those who are hungry? I am very pleased that our congregation is involved in the recycling and redistribution of food through the Second Bite program and Coles Supermarkets, delivering food to people who are struggling without employment or access government allowances. As disciples of Jesus we are still doing what Jesus asked us to do, we are giving people something to eat. But we also have to be concerned about where the food comes from and the costs to the environment and the welfare of animals, poultry and fish in food production.
God gave us a beautiful world to care for and each other to love and care for. We can change our eating habits. For example, we can eat less meat or no meat. We can eat food only from sustainable sources and sources that ensure the best practices in animal welfare. Farmers can change the way they produce food and they can change the food they produce. They need government support to change so that they can maintain their livelihoods. Even city dwellers can find ways of producing food from creating or joining community gardens, growing more vegetables in their gardens or in pots on their verandas or on their window ledges.
Who is this God who has given us such a beautiful world? Who is this God who breathes life into every living thing? Who is this God who says to us - care for the world? Who is this God who says - you give them something to eat? Who are we who would destroy this world? Who are we that would treat animals without care? Who are we that would withhold food from the hungry? Let us take responsibility for the spiritual production of our food, which is means caring ethically and environmentally for soils, waters, air, animals, poultry, crops and people.
Dear Lord, We thank you for the blessings of food, water, shelter, family and well-being. As we enjoy healthy food, we will think of those who struggle to feed their families every day. You taught us to pray. As we say “Give us today our daily bread” we make that prayer also for the millions who go hungry every day. You fed the hungry. Inspire in us the commitment to follow your example, showing compassion in action and sharing what we have with those who have less. You cared for all. Help us to remember your command to love one another. Help us to see you in each of our brothers and sisters – especially those who are in need. You are the Bread of Life. Strengthen us as we work for justice in the world. Help us to stand in solidarity with the poorest of the poor. You came so that we could have life and have it to the full. Our prayer is that this might be true for all. We pray that communities and governments recognise our shared responsibility to be more just in sharing the world’s resources. Help us to care more deeply, live more simply and share more fully. Amen
(A Prayer for Food – Caritas Australia)
Photo: County Cork, Republic of Ireland (My name is Dubh which means black in Gaelic - Cattle are more than a number on a tag, each one is known by name by God and loved)
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52.
The kingdom of heaven is like…
Most evenings, since the beginning of the Covid-19 Pandemic, I go for a walk with our dogs. We were walking home in the dark on Monday night and suddenly I got a waft of a wonderful familiar fragrance. I couldn’t see it, but I could smell it. It was Jasmine. Every time I have walked past since whether in darkness or daylight, I have stopped for a moment to breathe in the sweet fragrance of Jasmine.
In a society fixated with outward appearances, beauty, size, wealth and power, this week’s reading reminds all who ask, “What is the kingdom of heaven like?” that the kingdom of heaven/kingdom of God is something that is not easily recognisable or plain for all to see. It is like seeds sown in the dark earth; something that is at work without being noticed; something hidden from sight; something present but not always perceived. The kingdom of heaven may not be found in the things that we invest so much of our lives and energy into, nor may it be something that awaits us when we leave this life but in the parables Jesus is certainly telling us that the kingdom of heaven is here and now. So how do we turn our attention to the ways of the kingdom of heaven? How do we grasp the life of the kingdom?
When we see falling attendances at church services and churches closing and being sold, one could be tempted to conclude that the dream of the kingdom of heaven is over or it is just a fantasy. But the parables remind us of the hiddenness of the kingdom and encourage us, despite the outer appearances of a church that is shrinking, that the kingdom of heaven is still very much alive and growing. Seeds are still being sown, watered and nurtured and will produce an abundant harvest. The parables remind us not to equate the church with the kingdom of heaven and remind us to look outside the church for the signs of the kingdom at work and to look in unexpected places, even in small, dark and unimportant places by the world’s standards.
I listened to conversations with Sarah Kanowski on ABC Radio this week as she interviewed Rebecca McCabe, who recently left the Sisters of Mercy having been a nun for 26 years. Rebecca McCabe said that now that she is out of the life of the convent she has had more scope to explore her spirituality than she ever did. She said, "It was like there was a security there that held me, and I needed to step outside that to gain my own agency to redefine who I was and to re-evaluate — I suppose at the deepest level — what's meaningful in life." It seems strange to hear someone say that, yet sometimes we have to stop and search for that seed of life again and nurture it and be nurtured by it. How tragic it would be to spend our whole life in the life of the church and yet not grasp what the kingdom of heaven is about. How tragic to be consumed by power and wealth and beauty and numbers and miss the kingdom. How tragic to be driven by fear or busyness or ego or by the demands and expectations of others and not have the time to slow down, to stop and smell the flowers of the kingdom.
Prayer: Loving God, as I walk through this life may I smell the flowers of the fields as well as those that bloom in the garden. May I notice the flowers along my path; the flowers on the sunny hillsides and even the flowers in the dark valleys. May I notice those hard to find flowers in deserts and dry times in my life, and on the cold lonely winter days of my life, as well as in the Spring, Summer and the Autumn of my life. May I be aware of your kingdom all around me and may I give my attention to your ways and find your life and let your kingdom grow in me, within me and all around me. May I be a blessing sown in your garden, a sweet fragrance of life. Amen.
Photo: Flowers in the Burren, and Poulnabrone Dolmen, County Clare, Republic of Ireland
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43.
“Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”
Nurturing Spiritual Intelligence
I am interested to know what you have learned over the last few months. What have you learned about yourself? What have your learned about the world we live in? What have you learned about God? How has this effected your life and the way you now live?
The disciples asked Jesus to explain another parable to them. By now we know that the parables are not to be interpreted literally. Biblical experts tell us that Matthew may be tailoring his Gospel for his readers and the contexts in which they are living. Matthew Gospel is said to be written for Christians from a Jewish background. Perhaps they were confused about the other Christians, those from Gentile backgrounds. Perhaps they were uncertain about who was and who was not a Christian. Perhaps they suspected the beliefs, practices and freedoms of these Gentile Christians. Were they really Christians? How could they tell? So, a parable about wheat and weeds and the eventual harvest is something to ponder upon. In Matthew 7:15,16a Jesus says, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits…”
Whether in parables or explanations or other teaching, Jesus is moving us beyond an understanding of things with our mind to an understanding of the heart. Christianity is foremost a religion of the heart. By that I don’t mean that it is just an emotional religion but rather the ways of the kingdom of God are not always understood with the mind instead they
are cherished and nurtured in the heart.
There is an awakening of the heart, an awakening to the Spirit. Paul in Romans 8:12-25 reminds his readers that life is to be lived in the Spirit and not according to the flesh. The Spirit sets us free from slavery and the Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. What does this all mean? How does one live in the Spirit rather than in the flesh? How does one live in the heart as well as in the mind? For those born of the Spirit how do we achieve spiritual transformation or how do we move from spiritual infancy to spiritual maturity?
Today, we hear a lot about artificial intelligence and its use in the world. For example, thousands of people have been effected by what is known as Robodebt. Centrelink used a computer system to calculate how much individuals had been overpaid over a period of seven years. But with some missing information or incorrectly programmed into the system thousands of people were forced to pay back money leaving many in severe poverty and very distressed. The Commonwealth of Australia is now facing a class action claiming that unlawful debts were raised against hundreds of thousands of people. Machines are only as good as the intelligence they are programmed with by humans.
There are many types of intelligence in the world. For success in life and business we are told we need both intellectual intelligence and emotional intelligence. For Christians surely the most important kind of intelligence to seek is spiritual intelligence. We need to do all we can to nurture our spiritual intelligence for the sake of our own spiritual transformation and for the transformation of the world.
As the children of God, as seeds of the kingdom of God sown into this world, we need all the wisdom, all the spiritual intelligence we can find so that we may influence this world for good; that we may live lives of kindness and compassion,
of love and mercy and grace and justice and produce a rich harvest of life well
lived for all creation.
How have you been nurturing your spiritual intelligence? Spend some time slowly pondering a couple of verses in today's reading, allowing the Spirit to speak deeply to your heart.
For the wisdom that fashioned the universe
and can be read in the earth’s dark depths
and in heaven’s infinity of lights
thanks be to you, O God.
for the wisdom of teachers before me
and their words and imaginative seeing,
for the wisdom of those I have known
and their silence and humility of speech,
and for wisdom’s wellspring in my own soul
and in the soul of every human being
from which ancient truths and new realisations
thanks be to you.
Let wisdom unfold in my own heart and mind
and in the men and women of every nation.
Let us see the foundations for a new harmony
within us and between us,
the foundations for a recovered unity
with the earth and all its creatures,
for the ground of life is in you, O God,
the ground of all life is in you.
-from Sounds of the Eternal by John Philip Newell
Photo: Bandon River, Co. Cork, Republic of Ireland
Hearing and receiving the word of the kingdom in our heart
In life many of us want to live with certainty and security. This is often what drives and motivates us. But in the spiritual life certainty and security are never promised. Today we look at one of the parables of Jesus to hear what Jesus offers those who seek to follow him.
Have you noticed that there is quite a difference between the letters of Paul and the teaching of Jesus? Paul says it as he understands the truth to be; whereas with Jesus we are often left guessing and wondering and asking, “What is he really saying?” Those of us who approach Christianity as a religion seeking certainty tend to gravitate towards Paul and many church leaders point seekers towards Paul’s letters so that they can find the ‘truth’ for themselves. But why does Jesus not give us the facts so that we can see them clearly and speak the word so that we can understand the truth more easily? This is one of the mysteries of Christianity. I remember from my Bible College days in England in the 1980s the Principal of Cliff College always stressing that faith is caught not taught. Jesus’ parables invite us to step into another life, the kingdom of heaven, to open our hearts as well as our minds, to be blown by the wind of the Spirit, to let go and be carried along by the waters of the river of life.
Crowds of people were coming to hear what Jesus had to say. So many were coming that he had to get into a boat while they sat on the beach listening. But not everyone who heard his words understood what they meant, nor did they allow them to take root in their hearts.
Jesus begins the Parable of the Sower by saying, “Listen!” And he told them many things in parables, saying: "Listen! A sower went out to sow (Matthew 13:3). At the end of the parable Jesus concludes, “Let anyone with ears listen!" Later, Jesus explains the parable to his disciples and again Jesus begins by saying, "Hear then the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:18).” And in verse 19 and 20, Jesus tells the disciples what it is all about. It is about hearing the word of the kingdom and receiving it in our heart.
We may come to understand that in our minds but receiving the word of the kingdom in our hearts means opening our hearts and allowing the seeds to settle within them and to extend their roots deep within them. This is a process that we need to nurture through meditation, contemplation and prayer. For some who hear the word of the kingdom the evil one snatches the word away; for some the word does not develop roots deep into the heart and when trouble comes what is sown dies; for others the cares of the world and the lure of wealth take over and the word is rendered powerless, it chokes and dies. But the word of the kingdom sown in good soil (in the heart of one who hears and understands it) bears much fruit in the form of a well lived life.
The heart is not the place where we feel things, our emotional centre. Cynthia Bourgeault says the heart is ‘… an organ for the perception of divine purpose and beauty.’ Thomas Moore says, ‘... the heart is the ground of wisdom and the anchor of a spiritual existence.’ (cited from the foreword to ‘The Wisdom Way of Knowing’ by Cynthia Bourgeault).
Hearing and understanding the word of the kingdom in the heart is different to hearing and understanding it with the head. A religion of the head tends to see things as right and wrong, true and false, orthodox and unorthodox, truth or heresy, Christian or non-Christian, but a spirituality of the heart that is sown with the word of the kingdom is sown with seeds of grace and love, mercy and kindness, compassion and understanding and this heart is nurtured by the water of life, the wind of the Spirit and the light of the eternal kingdom of God and blossoms into a life that is lived to the full.
Eternal Light, shine into our hearts,
Eternal Goodness, deliver us from evil,
Eternal Power, be our support,
Eternal Wisdom, scatter the darkness of our ignorance,
Eternal Pity, have mercy upon us;
that with all our heart and mind and soul and strength
we may seek your face and be brought by your infinite mercy
to your holy presence; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(A prayer by Saint Alcuin of York -730-804)
Photo: Dock Leaf - Ireland (Flower or Weed or both?)
The secret of the kingdom of heaven
(Scripture reading Matthew 10-24-39)
Matthew 10:27 What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.
In the method of Bible study called Lectio Divina we read the bible reading a few times in silence, noting any words or phrases that catch our attention. Sometimes, I find a word or a phrase or verse that I can’t seem to get past.
I usually try to see it in the context of the rest of the passage and try to work out what it may mean from that context or from the whole context of Scripture. But sometimes I just wonder about the words themselves and if there is a deeper meaning that requires me to stop with these words and spend time
alone with them and let them speak to every part of my being. This happened this week when I read Matthew 10:27 – ‘What I say to you in the dark, tell in
the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the house tops.’
What do these words mean? What you hear in the dark, tell in the light –
What you hear whispered to you, shout it aloud to all from the house tops.
In Matthew 13:10-11 the disciples ask Jesus why he speaks to people in parables? Jesus answers, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.” Sometimes I wish Jesus was a lot clearer about what he meant and I am sure that those who followed him, whether closely, as his disciples did, or the crowds of people who flocked after him, also wished that Jesus used a bit more ‘plain speaking.’
In this passage today Jesus says some things that sound outrageous: like bringing a sword to the earth not peace and about setting members of families against each other. Seemingly Jesus is using hyperbole. Jesus greatly exaggerates to make a point. He shocks our sensibilities, our common sense understandings, to make us think, to make us really think, and to contemplate what Jesus refers to as the secrets of the kingdom of heaven.
The secrets of the kingdom of heaven are things that become known to us,
not from the discourses of daily life saturated with the influences of racist
rhetoric and economically driven by the media or political power, but from the
dark places of silence and stillness, from whispers on the wind, from echoes in
our memories and from the Scriptures as they open mysteriously to us. These
deep things we learn about the kingdom of heaven (God) which can only be
earned in the dark are to be expressed to the whole world. We are to express
them through who we are and by our lives to witness to the secrets of God; to
witness to the secret of the life that is present in all of life. This place of
darkness, this place of whispers is where the kingdom of heaven breaks through
nto this our life. This place is found by those willing to lose their lives for Christ’s
sake. Those who take up their cross and follow Jesus will live because they die.
In the words of the Sufi mystic Jalaluddin Rumi – ‘Die before you die.’
Die before you die so that you may find the life of the secret of the kingdom of heaven.
As light gives way to darkness
and the busyness of day concedes to night’s stillness.
As conscious thought surrenders to dreams
and our bodies long for rest
we pause to listen
for the beat of your Presence in all things
pulsing in the light of distant galaxies
sounding in the depths of our soul
vibrating in each vein of earth’s body.
One Sound as vast as the universe
one universe filled with Presence
one Life within every life.
In the darkness of night
in the stillness that surrounds us
in the unknown depths of our being
we pause to listen.
-from Praying with the Earth: A Prayer book for Peace by John Philip Newell
Photo: Rock Of cashel, County Tipperary, Republic of Ireland
Matthew 9:36 - When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
If what we see in the world does not elicit a compassionate response from us then we are just not seeing with the eyes of God, but more than that, we are not allowing God to move through us and out to the world; we are not letting love flow.
“In the name of God, the most gracious, the most compassionate…” is how many Islamic prayers begin. God is named as merciful and kind, gracious and compassionate. Cynthia Bourgeault in her book The Wisdom Way of Knowing says that in the Christian West we are accustomed to rattling off the statement “God is love” as if love were a preexistent absolute. She says love does not just flow out of God, like water flows from a Spring (God being the Spring and love being the water), but God is that love itself. God is not just loving, God is love itself. God the compassionate is compassion itself.
Cynthia Bourgeault goes on to say that our job, as humans, is to give
“birthing” and “body” to the names of God so that what is invisible
becomes visible. We are midwives of the Spirit. True compassion always
flows in loving concrete action.
Jesus sent his disciples out to heal and release, to free and liberate the lost sheep, people who were harassed and helpless, like sheep without
shepherd; that they may know the ‘divine aliveness.’
Prayer: God the most merciful and kind, God the most gracious and
compassionate,flow from us in endless love. May we, through our lives
give “birthing” and “body” to your holy name of love and that all the
world may know your divine aliveness. Amen.
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."
During the week I was sorting through some books and I found a book that gives a brief account about how each Suburb in Sydney got its name. Our congregation comprises of three churches in three different suburbs: Campsie, Earlwood and Clemton Park. Campsie is named after Campsie Fells and Campsie Glen in a beautiful picturesque part of Stirlingshire, Scotland. Clemton Park is named after Frederick Clements who lived in the area and manufactured a family health restorer named Clements’ Tonic. You can still buy Clements’ Tonic Liquid in pharmacies today. It is a herbal remedy that claims to assist athletes recover. Earlwood was a farming area first known as Forest Hill, then it became Parkstown and finally Earlwood in 1905. It was named after a former mayor of Canterbury called Earl and after two brothers called Wood who had a pig and poultry farm on Wolli Creek. I thought it interesting that Earlwood is a combination of two different names originating from two totally different stories: local politics and farming.
As I reflected over the last week about reconciliation, I have thought how little there is in Australian vocabulary, for example in place names such as the names of Sydney suburbs that mention or acknowledge the first nations peoples and the cultures that have been here from time immemorial. Many of the place names come from lands far away and from people who settled on land taken from the first nations people.
So many of our names only reflect the history of those settlers stretching back 232 years. Few names reflect the rich cultural history stretching back into time immemorial. Likewise, when I think of the vocabulary used in Christian circles today in Australia I see very little that reflects the coming together of First Nations peoples and their cultures and dreaming and beliefs with the religion of those who have settled in Australia since 1788.
I guess this does not surprise me because in the history of the Christian Church it has been the vocabulary and language of the dominant that has been retained and the vocabulary and language of the ‘heretics’ has been marginalised. From my own background the richness of Celtic Christianity and its deep connectedness in the environment in which humans live has been marginalised in favour of ‘right’ doctrines and creeds and dogma that emphasise what to believe rather than how to live. A Christian discourse that has developed in Australia over 232 years without the vocabulary and language and influence of first nations peoples and their cultures and dreaming and beliefs and without influence from the natural environment of Australia seems to show to me that we have a very much imported Christianity rather than an organic Christianity rising from Australian earth. We have brought our gods with us rather than finding our God is already here.
So called ‘Western’ thinking permeates so much of church life, saturated with colonialism, Christendom and empire. The history of the church in Australia is dominated by a story of church and state hand in hand destroying first nations peoples and their cultures. The church may have stepped back overtly from this relationship of destruction but covertly and embedded in the rhetoric of Australian Christian discourse are still woven themes that reflect the darker sides of colonialism and empire which are expressed in consumerism and lack of environmental care, growing divisions between the richest people and the most disadvantaged peoples etc. We may be rightly appalled with mining company Rio Tinto, whom we heard in the middle of reconciliation week had destroyed a sacred indigenous site that is thousands of years old; but where are our own deep connections to this ancient land and to the influences of the wisdom and cultures of its first peoples?
Sadly the church has often taken what is known as the great commission to make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and in many ways enforced it as part of the programme of colonising culture upon colonised peoples all over the world. It seems to have forgotten that "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me (Jesus)” and thinks all authority has been given to it the church to do as it sees fit and it has forgotten the Jesus of the Gospels, the Jesus who loved and liberated people, the Jesus who promises to be with us always, to the end of the age and replaced that Jesus with a Jesus that demands all to leave behind their cultures and rich connections with the world in which they live and to leave behind their connections with the mystery of the Creator going back to time immemorial and to accept the Jesus culture riddled with consumerism and colonialism.
Just as the name Earlwood draws together two stories into a name and uses the names of three people to construct the name, the Christian Church refers to God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit –three persons. The word Trinity is not used in the Bible, but the term to baptise in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit comes from Matthew 28:19. In naming God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, that does not mean putting a restriction on our faith around which we build fences that protect us from the dilution of our faith, rather it is an opening up the diversity of our understanding and experience of God, that God is not just found in the words of the bible or the doctrines and creeds of the church but in the world around us and in all people and in all creation. It tells us that God values relationship, loving relationships; that relationships are at the heart of God. Jesus says, “... and go teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. What is the commandment of Jesus? To love one another as I have loved you. Love is expressed through mutual relationships not through doctrines and dogma. We have a long way to go in Australia when it comes to reconciliation between our First Nations peoples and all who have come later. In reconciliation we may together discover that God was always here waiting for us to discover God here in this, God’s place.
(Photo: Tuggerah Lake, NSW)
On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there,
he cried out, "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who
believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, 'Out of the believer's heart
hall flow rivers of living water.'" Now he said this about the Spirit, which
believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because
Jesus was not yet glorified.
This year Pentecost and Reconciliation Sunday are both celebrated on the same day. Today, I spent some time talking with one of the many wise people in my congregation. I was reminded of my first experiences of the Spirit and how those experiences were expressed in reconciliation between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland. As the Holy Spirit touched peoples’ lives many who had been virtually enemies stretching back for generations were transformed by the presence of the Spirit in their lives. When I came to Australia in 1987 I was disappointed or at least I could not relate to Christians who emphasised the power of the Spirit but who seemed to have no concern for reconciliation between the Indigenous peoples of Australia and those who had come since 1788. While my experience in Ireland was one of communities being transformed by love; my sense here was that there was still a long way to go before Christians would open their eyes and hearts to the suffering of the Indigenous peoples, much of which was caused by Christians who were sure of their own rightness before God and that they held the truth and knew God’s will. So much damage has been done to others by those who claim to know God’s will and act in God’s name.
Jesus stood at the Temple at the centre of Jewish religion and instead of calling people to the Temple, he called them to himself. Jesus said,
“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in
me drink. As the scripture has said, 'Out of the believer's heart shall
flow rivers of living water.'" Jesus was referring to the Spirit.
Jesus described the experience of the Spirit to be like rivers of living water
flowing from one’s heart. I wonder what that might be like, to have river
s of living water flow out of one’s heart? My greatest experience of the Spirit
is that of being overwhelmed with love. Imagine a river of love, a river of
kindness and compassion, of understanding and acceptance, of inclusion
and oneness, of repentance and forgiveness, of grace and justice flowing
from the hearts of all people. What a wonderful world that would be -
where even enemies become reconciled, where the dispossessed are
restored to their land, where their cultures are treasured and protected,
where their spirituality and wisdom are woven into the lives and actions
of those who have dispossessed them.
May the Spirit flow like rivers of living water from all our hearts.
God of love, you are the Creator of all things.
We acknowledge the pain and shame of our history
and the sufferings of our first peoples,
and we ask your forgiveness.
We thank you for the survival of Indigenous cultures.
Our hope is in you because you gave your Son Jesus
to reconcile the world to you.
We pray for your strength and grace to forgive,
accept and love one another,
as you love us and forgive and accept us.
Give us the courage to accept the realities of our history
so that we may build a better future for our Nation.
Teach us to respect all cultures.
Teach us to care for our land and waters.
Help us to share justly the resources of this land.
Help us to bring about spiritual and social change
to improve the quality of life for all groups in our communities,
specially those disadvantaged.
Help young people to find true dignity and self-esteem by your Spirit.
May your power and love be the foundations
on which we build our families, our communities and our Nation,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(Wontulp Bi-Buya Indigenous Theology Working Group 13 March 1997 Brisbane, Qld).
Reflection Sunday 24 May 2020 Acts 1:1-14
As we think about the effects of Covid 19 in the world there are many harmful effects.
At this stage no one knows how many people will die from the corona virus and how long it will last.
No one knows what the full impact with be on world economies and on the lives of people,
especially the poorest and most vulnerable peoples in the world.
At the same time many people are also reporting many positive effects of the lockdowns
and are reflecting or their lives and re-evaluating their priorities.
How are the economic systems impacting on the way we live our lives?
Why are things the way they are? What can we change?
What are some of the things that I can change in my life to make it the life that I want to live?
In the church while many are greatly missing gathering for worship others are enjoying the space to reflect on their lives and the world we live in. This time has forced us into spending time reflecting on the life of the church. Why have we been too busy in the past to spend time in deep reflection? Why is this? What is it that we allow to drive the church? Why is it now that without some of those drivers that we are beginning to look at church life from a different perspective? Perhaps we are now beginning to look at church life more as outsiders look at our churches rather than as insiders?
One of the things that has worried me in recent weeks is to hear how ministers and lay people who hold responsible leadership positions in the church report that they are getting busier and busier as each week passes. There is new work to do. New ways of doing work are increasing. There are more meetings online. As well as sitting in front of screens attending online worship services we are also attending church business meetings online even on Sundays. I have scheduled two Zoom
meetings for this weekend: one on Saturday and one on Sunday
morning. Where is the day of rest?
For me these are warning signs. These are warning signs that we may swap one life of busyness
for another life of busyness. There will always be far more that needs to be done than we can
achieve especially if we are dealing in the needs of people. We may again miss the opportunity
o reflect, to set time aside for stillness and silence; to be alone with ourselves and to be alone with God.
Stillness and silence are so important for us, for our lives and relationships and for our relationship with God.
In the Scripture reading for this week, Jesus tells the disciples to wait, to wait for the promised Holy Spirit,
to stay in the city until they have been clothed from on high. Acts 1:4,5 While staying with them, he ordered
them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. "This," he said, "is what you have
heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit not many days from
now." Similarly, in Luke 24:49 - Jesus says, “And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay
here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high." And so we read in Acts 1:12-14 - the
disciples returned to the city and went to an upper room and they constantly devoted themselves to prayer,
together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.
I remember older versions of the bible using the word tarry – tarry a while in the city. The word tarry is often
used negatively in sentences. It is seen as wasting time. In a world driven by economic systems, there is no time
for tarrying, for dilly dallying, for day dreaming, for reflecting deeply, for stillness and silence; yet it is in the stillness
and silence that God is found. Look at Elijah’s experience of God in 1 Kings 19: 11-13 – The word of the Lord came to
Elijah saying,.. “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was
a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was
not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake
a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped
his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said,
“What are you doing here, Elijah?” To tarry a while in stillness and silence is never time wasted.
It may be purer worship; what God is longing for us to do and what our souls are crying out for.
We spend a lot of time talking at each other and listening to hurtful words that do not come from the well of life -
words that are spoken out of fear and desperation, words that are used to control and intimidate and to get others to do what we want. These are not words of life. These are not words that come from a place where one has met with the
source of life. One thing that I have learned from Narrative Therapy is that what a person really means or desires is not
always conveyed in words. What are the silences saying? What is it that is not being said? What is said between the lines?
The silences need to be unpacked gently and carefully; and coaxed out so that one listens with empathy and deeper
understandings are formed. Then in that stillness a richness grows between people. It is the same with stillness and silence in God’s presence. Like the disciples and Jesus’ family who devoted themselves to prayer, stillness and silence is a prayer in itself - waiting for the promised Spirit.
Prayer: Be still and know that I am God. Let your prayer this week be one of learning to sit still in silence. Perhaps focus on your breath or on the sound of the wind, watch the branches blown by the wind. Try it for one minute. Next time try it for longer. See where this prayer takes you.
Song: ‘The Sound of Silence’ by Simon and Garfunkel