Reflection Sunday 21 June 2020
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
Reflection Sunday 14 June 2020
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).
Minister of Campsie Earlwood Clemton Park Uniting Church Congregation