Who is this?
In last week’s Gospel reading we heard that Jesus and the disciples had no time to rest because people continuously came to Jesus, day after day, looking for healing, seeking salvation.
This week we hear that even though Jesus crossed to the other side of the sea… a large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. So… Jesus went up the mountain and sat there with his disciples and when he looked up and saw a large crowd coming towards him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?”
The story then continues with the well known ‘Feeding of the five thousand’ before Jesus withdraws again up the mountain because he realises that the crowd want to make him king; before coming back down to the shore and the account of Jesus walking on water.
Who is this Jesus? Who is this that turns five loaves and two fish into enough food to feed a multitude? Who is this that walks on water?
Who is this? The crowd thought Jesus may have been a prophet or a king, perhaps the disciples were left just wondering, who is this?
Who is this? This is not a bad question to ask. This is not a bad place to be on the spiritual journey. During this current Covid-19 lockdown in Sydney I have spoken to some people who are busier than ever and I have spoken to some people who are bored out of their minds and to
others who are worried about having no income and what the future
holds. Whatever our situation let us ponder this question: Who is this?
We may need some help to ponder this question? We can spend a
whole lifetime tossing this question around in our minds, approaching
question from an entirely intellectual stance and end up knowing a lot
about Jesus but perhaps not knowing Jesus as we might know a close
friend or lover.
In Colossians 2:9,10 Paul writes: For in Christ the whole fullness of
deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in Christ… (read
this several times, sit with the words, notice the words rather than
trying to understand them with the mind). What does this mean
about God’s relation to us and our relation to God? How are we
connected? What is this fullness? Who is this that dwells within
us in fullness? Ask the question, but instead of thinking about it,
be still, be silent, listen… Who is this?
We tend not to like silences in this day and age. Many of us find
silence very uncomfortable. We don’t want to sit still and listen
and watch and observe the world around us. We are easily bored,
wanting mental stimulation or to be entertained or challenged.
For those who have too much free time during a lockdown perhaps
this could be a good opportunity to look within, to face some of
the things that stop us from living life to the full, that deflect us
from exploring the fullness within because we are scared of what
may come up from our past. But remember beyond all that pain
and shame there is a full life within us wanting, willing to live,
awakening us to (its) presence and mystery and wonder.
Who is this?
Photo: Clonmacnoise, County Offaly, Republic of Ireland
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56.
Do we live our life or does life live us?
Jesus 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. Mark 6:31
One thing people notice when forced to lockdown due to Covid-19 is how much time they seem to have compared to their usual busyness. The busyness is like a drug, an addiction; some hate it, some love it. Some people hate the busyness because they feel they are not living their life. They feel they are living someone else’s life. They feel that life is flying past them, that time is running out. Some people love the busyness because it prevents them asking tough questions about life, they like that they don’t have to face themselves and ask what is it all about? What is the meaning of life?
People can get very busy as followers of Jesus. Jesus’ disciples were exhausted. People continuously came looking for healing, looking for life. They didn’t even have time to eat. Even when they tried to get away by boat to a quiet deserted place for some rest, people recognised them, and hurried to get there before Jesus got there. They were lost like sheep without a shepherd. They were hungry and wanted food. They were ill and wanted to be healed. They wanted life. They knew Jesus had something and they wanted it, desperately.
A question I have been reflecting on is this: Do we live our life or does life live us? At first glance that question sounds like we are being hoodwinked, being tricked; taken for a ride, that somehow life could be using us, conning us, that we are not in control. Have you ever
screamed aloud, “It’s my life and I’ll do what I want’? We feel we
should be in control of our life, masters of our own destiny rather than
some mysterious force using us or stealing our life away.
What is more important, our life, or the life that lives through us?
Let’s add a couple of Scripture verses to our time of reflection:
Jesus said, I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. (John 10:10)
Jesus said, those who try to make their life secure will lose it,
but those who lose their life will keep it. (Luke 17:33)
Jesus said, I am the way and the truth and the life. (John 14:6)
Paul wrote, and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.
And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God,
who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20
What do these verses say to us about life? Is life something we can possess?
Is it really ours? What is this life that Jesus speaks of and offers us?
Jesus, the word of life, comes into this world opening up something to us,
connecting us to the source which is life itself, to God. God is more than
the giver of life, God is life, the one in whom we live and move and
have our being. (Acts 17:28)
So, I ask the question again, do we live our life or does life live us?
We are we one with this life. Whether we live or die, this life will
always be with us. Remembering that, even in the busyness,
may just be our salvation.
May this source, this endless life, flow out through us in rivers of living water. Amen
Photo: Galway, Republic of Ireland
Love lays down power, power takes up love.
King Herod heard of it, for Jesus' name had become known. Some were saying, "John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him."
Today’s reading is a story about the use of unjust power. It is heartless and brutal. What a mean man Herod was to take a life simply to save face!
If front of his guests Herod dare not back down from granting a request to his daughter, especially after he had boasted that Herodias could have anything she wished even up to half his kingdom. So, when Herodias said she wanted John’s head Herod had to follow through with his promise. Not to do so would have made him look foolish in front of his guests. Been seeing as maintaining power at all costs was the most important thing, the unfairness of an unjust execution without trial was of no consequence.
The story of John the Baptist's execution is the negative consequence of speaking truth to power. John had confronted Herod in much the same way as Nathan the prophet had confronted King David about his adultery and murder of Bathsheba’s husband hundreds of years beforehand. Unlike David who repented in response to the word of God, King Herod did not repent. Instead, he had John the Baptist imprisoned and eventually beheaded. Herod had turned his back on God’s ways. He thought of himself as above the laws of the land and above God’s laws.
The call to repent is not just a message for the people of the villages, it is not just about personal salvation, the call to repent is for all rulers: for kings and queens, presidents and prime ministers and all in authority.
So often religion is a consolation for people, something we escape to from the world into, a place where we can find peace and calm, safety and comfort.
The religion of John the Baptist and Jesus was no safe option, no sanctuary from the world, no promise of freedom from violence or escape from the world. In fact, those who took up the words of Jesus and put them to practice in their lives would find themselves thrust into many situations that were out of their control and in situations that led to imprisonment, torture and death. According to Paul writing in Ephesians 6:12 they were confronting not flesh and blood but the cosmic power of the present darkness and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
King Herod heard rumours about Jesus. “Some were saying that John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason, these powers are at work in him." The inclusion of this verse gives a hint about what might be to come: that Jesus may be raised from the dead. In a sense Jesus is John the Baptist raised from the dead in that the voice of God cannot be silenced and the ways of God cannot be obliterated. Evil cannot overcome good, good will always come back. Good can rise out of evil but evil cannot rise out of good. As Martin Luther King said, “We shall overcome, we shall overcome one day.”
Those in power do have more than one choice. They can use their power to oppress, to control, to kill, to destroy, to keep people in poverty; or they can use their power to love, to ensure a just and equitable society for all people.
Power did not choose love that day, neither did power choose justice. In order for the world to change, power must take up love. Love involves justice and fairness. It means putting the rights of others above our own pride and place and position. Love lays down power and power takes up love.
Photo: Cahir Castle, County Tipperary, Republic of Ireland
2 Corinthians 12:2-10 Mark 6:1-13
2 Corinthians 12:9, 10 but God said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness." So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.
St. Paul discovered an amazing secret of the Gospel: that power is made perfect in weakness. Paul realised that when he was weak, he was actually strong because that is when God’s grace flowed out from within him.
Jesus’ disciples discovered this secret of the Gospel when Jesus sent them out to preach among the villages. He sent them out with very little: sandals, a staff and authority over unclean spirits. He sent them out in weakness, they were vulnerable and dependent entirely on the hospitality of others. Jesus did not send them out with great power. In their weakness the power of God shone through. If they had been strong in themselves the power of God would not have been seen. It was in their weakness that they experienced God’s strength. It was when they were weak, that they were really strong in God’s power.
Why would anyone be content with weakness? We spend our lives trying to be strong and avoiding weakness? We want to be strong, wealthy, healthy, successful! No one wants to be thought of as
weak. We want to be winners not losers.
Barney Zwartz of John Mark Ministries says,
“Weakness is at the heart of the Christian message,
(its) a paradoxical and liberating truth…”
Irish Catholic priest Daniel O'Leary says, “This is what love does.
It gives away its power. It renders itself destructible.
All this runs against the grain of our
competitive and controlling nature.
How can weakness be understood as the
secret of true love?"
Spend some time reflecting on the power that comes through weakness.
2 Corinthians 4:18
Seeing with the eyes of the heart
4:18 … we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.
The other day I was sitting outside in the sun reading a book. Suddenly I had a huge urge to sneeze. When I sneezed, my whole body contorted and was propelled upwards by the force of the sneeze, as if an invisible power had taken hold of me and shaken me. As I sat back down, I could see droplets falling down all around me, shining in the sunlight, like a fine mist. I was amazed at how much moisture there was. No wonder we have been told to stay at home if we have a cold, or to make sure we sneeze or cough into a tissue. At that moment I could see how easily colds and flu and Covid-19 can spread.
There is so much in this world that we cannot see. There is so much that is invisible to the human eye. Just because we cannot see it does not mean it is not there. Air for example: we are constantly breathing in and out air, without seeing it. We can see the trees swaying in the wind, but we can’t actually see the wind. We can only see the effect of the wind.
Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 4:18 … we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal. For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
In 1 Samuel 8 -The people of Israel wanted to be like the other nations. They wanted a king to rule over them and fight for them. They wanted a king they could see not a God whom they could not see. They rejected God and chose a man. They chose to live by sight not by faith. They had their minds fixed on temporal things, not on eternal things,
As followers of Jesus, we are reminded to see as God sees, to see the world as Jesus saw the world, to see ourselves as God sees us, to see with the Spirit, to see with the eyes of the heart.
In the gospel reading today it appears that despite the amazing things that Jesus did, there were people who could not see what he did as good. … people were saying, "He has gone out of his mind." And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, "He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons." How could they say it was Beelzebul? How could they say he had gone mad? One of the strangest things in the world is that no matter how good a person is, no matter how good the things they do are, there are always those who will oppose. Those who oppose are often those who have the most to lose or those who want to hang onto power in some way. Their power and place and privilege are threatened. This is found in religion too where some want to control the lives of others and hang on to power. We like to put people in boxes. We like to give people labels. We diagnose people as mad. When we do so we are not seeing as God sees.
As those who are part of the church, we must ensure that we are seeing as God sees, to see as Jesus saw the world, to see with the Spirit. Some people call this seeing with the eyes of the heart. Seeing from a place of love, from a place of kindness, from a place of wonder, seeing that originates in grace, seeing with compassion and understanding, seeing without judgement, without bias, without labelling and without categorising. Seeing with acceptance.
To see with the heart*, we have to move from seeing with the ego of the mind. Sometimes we are full of our own importance, our own opinions, our ways. Sometimes our ego is threatened, and we fight back, retaliate, dismiss, put down the other and at other times our ego feels so small we give up and run away. When we acknowledge our ego and the trouble it can cause us and others, we then can pray to God that we might see with the eyes of the heart. This does not mean that we will see all things clearly or know all things, but instead see with the eyes of love. This is something to learn, to practice. It requires humility, following the example of Jesus, who humbled himself and became human like us, who humbled himself even to death on the cross.
Today, as we gather around the table of Christ as his sisters and brothers, and we take his body and blood, we humble ourselves as Christ humbled himself for us.
Lord let me see. Lord, let me see as you see. Open the eyes of my heart. Open me to love. May grace and love flow freely from within me, and when I am rejected or face opposition because of love, remind me that it is not me that who is being rejected but you. Lord, let me see. Let me see with the eyes of my heart. Amen.
* Seeing with the eye of the heart - See 'The Wisdom of Jesus' by Cynthia Bourgeault
Photo Murragh County Cork, Republic of Ireland
Combined Service with Galilee and CECP congregations
Campsie Uniting Church - Sunday 30 May 2021
John 3:1-17. For God so loved the world
Do you have a favourite number? Does your cultural background have a favourite number?
Does that number have magical or spiritual significance? Is it considered lucky?
The favourite number of the ancient Irish people was the number three. I think this is funny because it is very hard for us Irish to say the number three. Most of us tend to pronounce it as ‘tree.’ We have trouble with our Hs, so we tend to say ‘turty tree’ rather than thirty three. Nevertheless, I want to talk about three things today:
Firstly, today’s Gospel reading is John 3:1-17 and I especially want to look at verses 16 and 17…
John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 3:17 "Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
Do we love the world as God loves the world?
Secondly, today is Trinity Sunday. What does Trinity mean to you? As Christians when we use the word Trinity, we are expressing the mystery that God is three in one, three persons but one God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I want to look at how the understanding of God as Trinity became the foundational model of communicating the Gospel in ancient Ireland and get us to think how our ancestors received the Gospel in our homelands.
Thirdly, today we are meeting to thank God for the wonderful refurbishment of this church which we share together. How might we together communicate the Gospel here in Campsie? How might we present God as one in three, a God who loves the world?
1. For God so loved the world….
The New testament Greek word for world is kosmos. Sometimes the word is used positively and sometimes negatively depending on its context. The world can mean the ordered universe created by God; a wonderful place of stars and planets and black endless darkness, of sky, sea and land, of birds, bees and butterflies.
The world can mean all the people of the world. The world can also refer to the ways of the world, meaning the ways that humans stray from God, the ways humans treat each other: our violence and hatred, our hunger for power and wealth and desires dominate and control others. So, it is used both positively and negatively. Whatever it means in John 3:16, there is one thing we can be 100% certain about and that is that God loves the world. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 3:17 "Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
God loves the world. That means God does not just love Christians, but all people, even ‘sinners.’ God loves all animals, birds, fish, insects, the tiniest organisms, plants, flowers and trees, rocks, mountains, valleys, rivers, seas, lakes and rainforests, deserts, grasslands, glaciers and ice caps and everything else in all creation.
If God loves the world and God loves us so much that he gave his only son that we might share in God’s life, surely the challenge for us as followers of Jesus is to ask ourselves, do we love the world? Do we really love the wonderful world that God has created, or will we continue to live without care for the environment, destroying and polluting and causing mass extinctions? Will we close our ears to the cries of Palestinians, to the cries of the first peoples of this land, to refugees, to those who are becoming poorer and poorer? Do we love as God loves? For God so loved the world…
2. Trinity – Three persons, One God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit
The Trinity is not just a doctrine or a way to understand God. The Trinity is about knowing God and living in God, living in love. The three persons of the Trinity are a family of love, constantly giving and receiving love and pouring love out throughout the world.
In around 432 AD Saint Patrick led a mission team to Ireland. Patrick is acknowledged as the main missionary who brought Christianity to the Irish. Patrick was no stranger to the land of Ireland. As a young boy he had been captured on the mainland of Britain and taken by boat across the Irish sea to work as a slave. He spent six years out on the green lush grassy hills minding sheep before returning to Britain. Alone for much of the time with only sheep, wild animals and rain and cold for company, he developed a warm and close sense of the immanence of God’s loving presence. Much of his day was spent in prayer with God who lived and slept with him. So, when Patrick returned as a missionary, he knew a lot about Ireland and the Irish to whom he brought the Gospel. Patrick knew their culture and language and their beliefs about their gods and goddesses. He knew that they loved nature and that they had a great sense of the sacred and spiritual around them.
Patrick knew that the Irish were fascinated by the number three. The Irish loved stories and riddles and jokes with three parts. Three was a spiritual number and the gods and goddesses were grouped in threes. One of their most revered gods was called Lu and even today the festival of Lughnasadh is celebrated in August, not just in Ireland but around the world, as a harvest festival. Lu was supposed to have three faces. So, Patrick and his missionaries presented their understanding of God as three in One, like the God who has three faces.
St Patrick is said to have used a native plant the Shamrock to express the Trinity. Each leaf of the Shamrock is made up of three parts or three leaves on one leaf.
The gods and goddesses of Ireland were fierce warriors and often cruel and unpredictable and indifferent to people, but the God of Patrick was a unity of three bound together in love. The Irish also practised human sacrifice and cannibalism but Patrick presented God as one who did not sacrifice the lives of others but a God who loved us so much that he gave his own son to die for us. The God of Patrick was a God who sacrificed himself on our behalf, a God who loves us thoroughly, endlessly and always. The Irish did not just understand God as a Trinity they began to live their daily lives aware of the immanent presence, protection and guidance of all three persons of the Trinity by day and by night.
The Three who are over me,
The Three who are below me,
The Three who are above me here,
The Three who are above me over there;
The Three who are in the earth,
The Three who are in the air,
The Three who are in the heavens,
The Three who are in the great pouring sea.
I lie down this night with God,
And God will lie down with me;
I lie down this night with Christ,
And Christ will lie down with me;
I lie down this night with the Spirit,
And the Spirit will lie down with me;
God and Christ and the Spirit
Be lying down with me.
Because of the Gospel, Ireland became a much less violent place, human sacrifice and cannibalism ended and so did the practice of slavery. Christian communities were communities of love and peace, where strangers were welcomed and hospitality offered to all, that all might come to know the God who loves the world.
When the Gospel first came to your ancestors whether Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Tongan, Fijian, Filipino, Nepalese etc., why did they respond? What did they respond to? What was different about the God the missionaries spoke of to the gods and goddesses of your homelands?
One thing that I have learned is that my Celtic ancestors were in many ways like the ancestors of our Pacific Islander brothers and sisters. Their gods were fierce and unpredictable and human sacrifice was a way to try to appease the gods and like the Irish, cannibalism was practised. There were both good and not so good things that the missionaries brought and did but one of the most important things in the message of the missionaries was that they introduced the people to a God of love who loved the world so much that he sent his son to this world and gave himself in love for us. Love wins in the end.
I asked a Korean friend of mine why she thought Koreans initially responded to the Gospel and she said Korea had been invaded and oppressed by China and Japan for hundreds of years, they were poor. They were open to the new technology, new medicine, new science. They identified with the biblical stories, with the God who was on the side of the oppressed people of Israel and Koreans wanted to be free from their bondage and they identified with Jesus who was on the side of the poor and marginalised, who loved all people. I read elsewhere that the Gospel smelt like freedom to Koreans. In the last 65 years South Korea has gone from being one of the poorest countries in the world to being one of the wealthiest. But now with the wealth and Western influences many of the younger people are leaving the church and pastors are asking how do we share the Gospel with the richer younger generation so that they respond?
One of the ways the missionaries to Ireland were different to the missionaries to the South pacific and South East Asia was that the missionaries to Ireland did not come with the power of empire they came only with the love of God. They did not come to civilise the people only to love them.
And so thirdly, I come to my last point. Today we are meeting to thank God for the wonderful refurbishment of this church which we share together. We are here together today because our ancestors responded to the Gospel and especially to the good news that God loves the world. How might we together communicate the Gospel here in Campsie? How might we present God as one in three, a God who loves the world? How might we communicate that God is a God who loves the world: the environment, the animals, birds, fish, seas, waters, air and land and all its people? How can we communicate this to our Chinese sisters and brothers and to all the people who live here from all over the world?
I suggest that what we are doing today is a great starting point. We are meeting together to worship the One God, three persons in One God. We are Galilee and we are Campsie Earlwood Clemton Park and like the family of the Trinity is bound together in love, let us be bound together in love, the same love that God has for the world, revealed to us in Jesus and communicated to us through the Holy Spirit. Let us use this day to get to know one another, to understand one another, to appreciate our different and rich cultures, to meet new people, to learn new languages, to experience different food, but most of all to see in the faces of one another that the God who lives in me and lives in you, who loves me and loves you, is the God who also lives in and loves our neighbours here in Campsie. Let us commit ourselves to loving one another and loving the people in Campsie that they may know the love of God in Christ. Amen.
Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up."
The religious leaders then said, "This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?" 2:21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body.2:22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
Notice here that John adds that it was only after the Jesus’ resurrection that the disciples remembered what Jesus had said and then they fully realised that Jesus meant the temple of his body. In Mark’s Gospel after Jesus’ arrest, he was brought before the High priest and chief priests and they had witnesses there testifying against Jesus. The witnesses referred to these very words that Jesus spoke they said, “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’ But even on this point they could not agree.
Jesus was building a new temple just as he was creating a new covenant with the whole creation. We are the temple of his body but not only us the whole creation is. Celtic Christians believed that not only does Christ suffer in the suffering of people, but the suffering of creation is also the suffering of Christ. As the human race we continue to hurt and destroy not only people but all God’s creation. The whole creation is calling out for liberation.
In the words of the Lord’s Supper Jesus institutes a new covenant, a covenant that is marked by his own blood and his own body, a covenant that proclaims Jesus’ endless and undying love not just for his followers but for all people, for all creation. Jesus could not be more committed, for he has given his life. He has laid down his life and he offers his life to us. The life he gives us is resurrection life. Even death cannot extinguish this life.
We are invited to share in Jesus’ supper, where he offers us his body and blood. The communion service reminds us that we do not literally drink his blood and eat his flesh, but we feed on him by faith in our hearts with thanksgiving.
In Mark’s Gospel on the very night that Jesus makes this covenant with his disciples, a covenant that involves the giving of his life; those very disciples betray him, desert him and deny him. They betray, desert and deny the very one who has laid down his life for them. We know what happened next. We know of Christ’s resurrection, but will we still betray him, desert him and deny him. How will we ensure that we don’t? Feed on me in your hearts with thanksgiving. Don’t just think about it take it into your hearts, the centre of your being, that part that is at one with God and live from there, be raised with Christ to live that life eternal, that everlasting life, that life in the everlasting love of God.
As we share in the Lord’s supper, as we take the wine and the bread, we too are being included in the new covenant. We are being built into the temple of Christ’s body and sustained within by Christ’s blood running through our veins. We are offered the totality of Christ’s life.
Photo: The Rock of Cashel, Coounty Tipperary, Republic of Ireland
The bread and water of life
Many years ago, I attended Subiaco Church of Christ in Perth. Every Sunday they celebrated the Lord’s Supper. Each week a different elder would introduce the Lord’s Supper with some words, pray, break the bread and pour the wine; and pass the bread and wine throughout the congregation. It was simple, short and I found it very meaningful. I liked it very much.
For those who are hungry and thirsty for life, Jesus says I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty... If anyone is thirsty let them come to me and drink. Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water. (John 6 and John 8) Jesus gives the bread of life and the water of life in abundance. Jesus invites all to his table to receive the bread and water of life. Are you hungry? Are you thirsty? Come for all is ready. Come for life in all it fullness and abundance is here for you.
Prayer: Loving God, we thank you for your child Jesus, the Word made flesh, who lived among us full of grace and truth. Forgive us that we try to satisfy our hunger and thirst with temporal things and settle for forms of religion that do not give life. Give us a hunger and thirst for your life, for grace and truth, for compassion and kindness, for forgiveness and mercy,
for love and more love than we can imagine.
Like Celtic Saint Columbanus we pray, “Let us desire Christ
like people who are ravenous… let us always drink of Christ
with an overflowing love, let us always drink of Christ with a
fullness of longing, and let the sweet savour of his loveliness
ravish us.” Amen.
Photo: Hore Abbey, Cashel, County Tipperary, Republic of ireland
"What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God." But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be silent, and come out of him!" And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.
There is a short story titled ‘The ones who walk away from Omelas’ by Ursula Le Guin. I heard about it on the radio during the week. Professor Glyn Davies was speaking with Philip Adams on Late Night Live, talking abut poverty and life’s lottery. Glyn Davies says that for those born into poverty it is very difficult to get out of it. Those born in poverty are very likely to end up living in poverty their whole life long.
Omelas is a lovely town by the sea and everyone leads a very fulfilling happy life, but everyone shares a dark secret. Locked away in the basement of a house is a little child without light, in poverty and in the worst possible conditions. Everyone in the town knows that this is the price of their happiness and each person has to come to terms with it and decide what is right for them; whether to keep on living their fulfilled happy lives at the cost of continual suffering to one child, to put it out of mind; or to get out of town. The author poses the moral question – if you have had a fortunate life how do you feel about those who haven’t and what are you going to do to make a difference? She asks what would you do? Would you walk away and say I cannot live with this bargain that this child lives in the basement in order that I can be happy. But does walking away change things?
How often it is that people remain trapped because of secrets and cannot walk away. Someone else or a group knows something about them and they live in fear and shame. Australian of the year Grace Tame describes how a teacher, a pedophile, kept her trapped and cut off from her family, manipulating and controlling her, sexually abusing her until finally she told another person the terrible secret of her life, then she was free of her abuser but is still recovering from the trauma.
On the ABC news this morning there was a follow up story in response to Grace Tame’s award, written by Isabella Murray another survivor of child sexual abuse Isabella Murray writes… It took me 57 years to "come out" with a secret I thought I'd take to the grave. A friend had come over for a meal, my husband had gone to bed and we started talking "secret women's business". We were talking about men's behaviour and something in me just cracked. I broke open as I told her how, at the age of eight, I was constantly sexually abused by my oldest brother. It all came pouring out, as I wept and snorted for hours. The next morning, my husband found me asleep on the couch, wrapped in blankets, looking like I'd been in a car accident. I had no choice but to tell him too. The next day, my friend came to me and said, "I'm here to talk any time you like". Without that, I think I might have stayed in that awful black hole forever. I think she saved me. But not every conversation goes that way. And that needs to change.
Isabella went on to say … Perpetrators thrive on their victims remaining under cover. My oldest brother would say to me, "you've done a dirty, bad thing, and if you tell anyone, they'll know what a dirty, bad person you are". It never occurred to me that I wasn't the bad and dirty person. A survivor telling their story is not enough. We need feedback, anything to start that conversation. When we're not afraid to discuss this issue in polite society, then, and only then, will we have perpetrators on the run. Until that time, those who sexually abuse children will always have the upper hand.
Isabella Murray concluded… If we keep this a secret, nothing is going to change, for me or anybody. …But I need my experiences to be acknowledged and I want you all to know and talk about these difficult issues. It is the only way for social and cultural change to happen. As Tame says, #Let Me Speak — but please, speak back to me. Response from the listener is as important as the telling. That is where the healing really starts. The damage to this long lifetime can never be healed, but can possibly be soothed. But I cannot do it on my own.
What I find most surprising about our Bible reading today is that there was something hidden in that Synagogue that day – perhaps something that had been hidden for a long time. Something that was not noticed. Perhaps later people said, “How come we did not notice that?” So often we do not notice things until they are brought out fully into the light. And that is what Jesus does. He brings things into the light, out into the open, secrets are exposed, truth is revealed. Jesus brings awareness.
As Jesus’ words are spoken in the Synagogue a man stands out. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God." But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be silent, and come out of him!" And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.
When Jesus says, “Be silent.” He is not telling the man to shut up. He is not telling the victim of the possession to keep quiet. Jesus is telling the unclean spirit to be silent. For it is the voice of the unclean spirit that has dominated and controlled the man’s life up to this point. Jesus is telling the abuser to be quiet so that the survivor’s voice can be heard. In church we can often wittingly or unwittingly maintain the voice of the abuser and keep a person trapped in an awful secret and in an awful lonely and dark impoverished life
As we reflect on the reading today. I do not feel a call to go searching for, exposing and casting out demons; rather I feel a call to walk in the light, as individuals but perhaps more importantly as a congregation. To walk in the light of truth and openness and honesty, that we may all be truly free and all fully alive. Churches and congregations must be places of light and hope for the world, especially for those who live with dark secrets to tell. Churches must be places of truth and healing, a reflection of God consciousness.
‘Circle me Lord’ A Prayer by David Adam
Circle me, Lord. Keep protection near and danger afar.
Circle me, Lord Keep hope within. Keep doubt without.
Circle me, Lord. Keep light near and darkness afar.
Circle me, Lord. Keep peace within. Keep evil out.
Photo: West Cork, Republic of Ireland
1 Samuel 3:1-10 Finding One’s Voice
In the past I have had a recurring dream or rather nightmare. In my dream I am in trouble. I am about to drown or suffocate or be mugged or murdered. I try to call for help but I can’t get the word ‘help’ out. I open my mouth, but no words come, not even a scream. I can’t find my voice. It is a terrible feeling of helplessness. It makes me think about how I would react if it were really happening. But it is not only in violent situations that I can’t find my voice, there are often times that I get frustrated that I can’t find the words to say to express what I believe, or to express my opinion, or the wisdom that has come to me.
How do we find our voice? By that I mean giving voice to the best that is within us and acting on the best that is within us. Speaking and acting from the light that is within us.
From the story of Samuel as a young boy learning to hear the voice of God, we too learn the importance of listening for God speaking to us. Samuel wasn’t just a good listener to God, Samuel went on to be one of the most important prophets in Israel. Not only did he hear what God was saying, he acted on what he heard and he articulated to the nation what God was doing. Not only did he find his ears for God he also found his voice for God.
One of the most famous sayings of George Fox, the founder of the Quakers was, “Let your life speak.” George Fox, believed that each individual has the capacity for direct dialogue with God. God, he believed, appears to us through a divine inner voice, an inner light shared by all. Revelation from God would occur if people joined together in silence and opened their hearts to the divine voice within. Fox taught that if we can achieve stillness of Spirit, God will speak to us out of the silence, and by heeding the voice of God our lives will speak to others through our actions. Actions and well chosen words were what was most important for George Fox in voicing what God was saying.
How does one find one’s voice? How does one express or articulate what God may be saying to us? Or is this only for prophets and preachers? One of the authors of the book ‘Get up off your knees,’ (a collection of preacher’s sermons about U2), said in the acknowledgements at the beginning of the book that she was grateful to her Bishop for encouraging her to follow her dream of completing a PhD for in doing so it helped her to find her voice. It give her a means of articulating what was within her, of putting it out there for others to hear.
A PhD, an essay, letters to the editor, letters to politicians, letters to colleagues, letters to friends, sermons, participating in discussions, writing books, writing poems, writing songs, singing, drama, art, craft, dance etc. All these things give us vehicles to find our voice.
Living what we believe through our actions also gives voice to the ways of God. Acting out of truth and justice, peace and love, speak forth of a God who is loving and just. It’s about bringing out the best that is within us. In doing so we are nurturing our common humanity.
Have you ever felt that your life wasn’t speaking for you? Or that you had something within that you wanted to express to another person or to the world, but you just could not articulate it? Have you ever felt that God had said something to you, something that was helpful for the world but you just can’t get it out? What stops us from finding our voice?
Sometimes, fear prevents us from speaking up or speaking out. It stops us from writing that book, displaying our art, risking loving another person. I think that one of the ways of overcoming fear is by being able to articulate it. Saying, ‘I am afraid’ is a great start. It may not be what others want to hear. But getting it out from within is a great help. Squeezing out the fear can be quite painful and potentially embarrassing. But being able to squeeze out those words can be such a relief. An understanding friend might then ask, “Where did this fear come from?” or, “How did this fear get a hold of you?” or “What is it that is causing you to be fearful?” or, “What effect is the fear having upon you?” “Are there times when the fear was not there?” Again, putting it out there, articulating it, helps us to give voice to our desire to be rid of the effects that fear is having upon our lives.
We can find our voice by articulating first our fear and when our fear is out there, rather than in here, then our voices can speak forth of the freedom and joy of God. Our voices can speak out the truth we know within. From the depths of our being we can voice the praise of a liberating God and we can say ‘I am a child of the most wonderful liberating God.’
As you called your disciples, open our ears to your calling, open our eyes to your presence, open our hearts to your love; that we may hear you, and hearing you may love you, and loving you may serve you.
We have come to listen to you, O God: not only with our ears, but with our heart, and with our mind, and with our whole being.
Open us, that we might receive the truth that you speak to us.
Photo: County Galway, Republic of Ireland
Minister of Campsie Earlwood Clemton Park Uniting Church Congregation