Here we worship God in Eucharistic-centred worship, with all the rich liturgy and symbolism that the tradition of the Anglican Church offers, using both time-honoured and contemporary music, enjoying liturgy that is both creative and traditional, and being intentional in our care for those in need and for the environment.
We acknowledge the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation, the traditional custodians of the land on which the Church of the Ascension is built.
Vicar: Fr Walter McEntee
Office: (03) 9802 4863; firstname.lastname@example.org;
378 Blackburn Rd, Burwood East, 3151; corner of Blackburn Rd and Witchwood Cres.
AUSTRALIA DAY Deuteronomy 8. 7-13, 17-18 25:1:2015
On the Kokoda track in 1942, a comparatively tiny force of Australian largely untrained militia, with help from Papuan Infantry and “Fuzzy-Wuzzy Angels,” fought the most significant battle by Australians in World War 11. Such was a testing time for all Australia, when sterling qualities of national character emerged, such as raw courage, sticking to the task and to your mate, and, ‘ave a go.
True greatness met and matched the formidable forces poised to take out Port Moresby, from which airfield, the enemy hoped to bomb Oz from further helping the USA war effort. True greatness meant that petty squabbles, self-preservation, self-pity, narcissism, were put aside in answering the call to serve and save our nation’s life. As silent submarines and ships groped through pitch-black waters, as men manned outposts under enemy fire, as Kittyhawks and Catalinas lifted off, it seemed as if a strong hand held them all steady. Such was the time for national greatness. I may be naïve, but does war make saints and peace makes sinners? Advance Australia fair this long weekend. Advance Australia where? Whither are we now bound, we who are so favoured, so blessed, so prosperous, so free? Where is the dynamic to call forth a renewed greatness?
I suggest there can be no greatness, individually or nationally, without 1) a new humility, 2) a new humanity and 3) a new hope for today and tomorrow. A new humility, an honest recognition that we are not as clever as we would like to think. For example, TV harmony programs may select computerized, ideal marriage partners, but cannot create happiness. We decry the Chinese One Child policy, but the Australian birth rate is now down to 1.5 babies per mum, and falling. We can transplant hearts, but we cannot mend them when broken by domestic violence. We can guide a spacecraft to an orbital space station, but we cannot guide the rising generation to be involved in making this good earth a better place. Solomon-wise, we dumbclucks thought we had got Aboriginal children off petrol sniffing with Opal fuel. Now, they are higher than ever sniffing deodorant and glue. True greatness is a recognition of how very small we are before the Fates that play, and how great is our God: “Unless the Lord builds the house, we labour in vain who build it.” (Ps.127) Is it not time that we clever folks fell on our knees to cry, “O God, help us to live, for, apart from you, we may as well be dead. Breathe on me, breath of God, fill me with life anew.”
A time for a new greatness calls for a new humility and a new humanity, a deep, heartfelt compassion for all people, because they matter. My people came here as penniless, assisted immigrants. Today, we will sail out to listen to the plaintive cries of whales singing on the ocean floor, but we won’t hear the cries of human souls in ocean refugee camps. When will we stop treating people as refugees, as problems, as “illegals,” as “queue jumpers,” when there is no queue to jump? How can we embrace moderate Muslims, who feel their faith is under attack from fundamentalist elements, such as their own Islamic caliphate overseas, but also from unkind, unwelcoming Australians over here , so that they may settle to contribute to a decent, dignified life, as was given my equally Irish foreign family 150 years ago? If only we could forget labels of colour, class and creed, as see each one as a creation of God, of wondrous, infinite value and potential. This is all the more important in our cold, mechanistic age, which largely depersonalizes the human touch, where shareholder profits come before persons, where the fast turn-over takes priority over the welfare of workers, where our young have untrammelled access to violent pollution porn and to pills, powders and syringe.
At seventy-one, I may seem just a grumpy old man to you, who burn with a fierce hatred of injustice and a passionate concern for all humankind. But, we do get so het up at the unimportant; we strive at a gnat and swallow a camel. Someone had quipped that the priest and the levite in Jesus’ story could not stop to give first aid to the beat-up man, because they were hurrying to yet another meeting, this time, a meeting of the Distressed travellers’ Association. We can so easily hurry past the bleeding travellers in Australian life, past the issues that really matter, and, like the participants on that first Good Friday descending from Mt Calvary, say, “I had no hand in this.” It is so easy to be an empty-headed waffler at parties and at rubber-bridge and prattle “Yeah! Oz is a you-beaut country” while lives are tossed on the scrap-heap and real cries of despair go unheeded.
Fifty years ago, Donald Horne wrote The Lucky Country? As an indictment of Oz. He wrote, “Australia is run by second-rate people, who share its luck, based on rich natural resources.” His wake-up call warned that “Australia had succeeded more by good luck than by good management, and, as a people, we were completely disengaged from the important social and political issues of life.” Where are we now? Now is the time for renewed greatness, to remember the lord our God, with a new humility before him, with a new humanity in his name, and for a new hope for today and tomorrow. Only as we heed that call to the ancient people of Israel (in today’s first reading), sounding across the centuries to us now, can our optimism be truly grounded and our hopes and dreams be fulfilled: “forget not the Lord your God.”
As Nathanael sat under his fig tree in last Sunday’s reading, may we sit in peace under our native gum, to pray and then to work for a country, where all barriers of race and status are no more, a land prosperous not just in dollars, but in the desire for justice, fair-play and human-rights for all, a land where every child, native born or immigrant, has a chance to grow in health of body, mind and spirit, enriched with the ever-expanding fruits of educational opportunity and high medical standards, a land where greed and corruption cannot survive in the broad sunlight of truth, a land where God is given God’s first and rightful place that all may enjoy their God and glorify their God forever.
FEAST of the EPIPHANY 4 January 2015 Matthew 2: 1-12
Six centuries before Jesus, in 597 BCE, the Jews were deported from the southern kingdom of Judah to Babylon, which is present day Iraq and Iran. The conqueror, King Nebuchadnezzar had philosopher-astrologists called magi, who taught that the whole universe was interconnected. So, any remarkable light in the heavens meant a corresponding remarkable event taking place on earth. Then, the king had a terrifying dream that none of his magi could interpret. Daniel, one of the deported Jews, did interpret the dream. As a consequence, he was promoted from slave to head magi. Over years, he taught the Zoroastrian magi about Israel’s God, and the promise given of a Messiah, who would come to restore Israel-Judah centuries later. (‘aster,’ as in Zoro-astr-ian, was the word for ‘star.’) The magi would carry this promise for centuries to the time of Jesus’ birth.
By the time that Matthew’s school or group wrote the Gospel that bears his name after 70CE, many of the Chosen Jews had rejected Jesus as Messiah and had abjured early Christianity, while many Gentiles (that’s our forebears) had accepted him. For an example of fidelity, Matthew drew on his memory of the aristocratic, scholarly diviners of oracles, who had faithfully followed the star of destiny at the birth of Jesus some seventy years before.
As eastern king-makers, the magi knew how unpopular Herod the King was, and how the Middle East wished to throw over the detested Roman oppression. (Our Bible dating of the birth-date of Jesus is quite erroneous). Herod died in 4BCE. Around 2BCE, a conjunction of planets came into Aries. Jupiter, called the “Royal, Kingly planet,” and Saturn, which represented the Jews, together formed a light as bright as an exploding supernova. The magi read the phenomena as a new King of Israel, and, in Matthew’s account only, after centuries of waiting for this world-shattering event, journeyed four months to greet the new-born king.
At Jerusalem, they made one wrong turn. In the belief that a royal prince would be born in a royal palace, they sought advice from King Herod. Herod, an Arab warmonger, had been given the title “King of the Jews” forty years before by the Roman conquerors. He was to be their brutal Rottweiler. He was now a sick old tyrant, tottering on an unstable throne. He would have heard that Jewry awaited a God-appointed ruler, who would come to establish the Kingdom of God. Paranoid, homicidal, he had murdered his mother, his wife, three sons and uncles to forestall any takeover by another. The Roman Emperor, Augustus, had joked that it was safer to be Herod’s pig than to be his son, as the would-be Jew would not eat pork. Herod will slaughter the innocent Bethlehem babies in his mad determination to preserve his title and his turf.
Innocently, the magi asked Herod “Where is the child born? We observed his star rising.” Somewhere alive in Australia today, a young person’s star is rising, who will, one day, be our governor-general or president. It could be Manaya, Ava, Sam, Daniel or Elizabeth from our parish. Daniel is aptly named for a life in the lions’ den of politics. Being no frequenter of Temple, panic-stricken Herod appealed to his Hebrew scholars and asked from where would the usurper spring? When they replied it was from Bethlehem, Herod gasped, for Bethlehem had been the birth-place from which the valid King David had once come. Herod shook violently at the thought of a contender. He feared that his own star would lose its own place in his self-appointed firmament.
We have a marvellous, designer God, who worked in an intricate manner, namely by ordering an empire-wide census, to get a woman-with-child to Bethlehem, to fulfil the prophecy of Isaiah, “a young woman will give birth to a son, Emmanuel, God-with-us,” in royal David’s city. (Isa.7:14) We Christians do not have a copyright on Jesus. As saviour of the world, Jesus is not someone whom we alone have rights to. Isaiah again wrote, “Nations shall come to your light and kings will come to the brightness of your dawn.” (60:3) Jesus is fulfiller of promise, not only for Jewry, but for all the world. Hence, Matthew puts his last Gospel words in Jesus’ mouth, “Go, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them, teaching them everything I have commanded you.” (Matt. 28:19-20)
Is God calling us to try yet again to urge and encourage our own fallen-aways to come along to Eucharist? Is God calling us to go in search of the Chr-easters, the Christmas and Easter comers, the “see-you-again-next-year” folk, to welcome them?
When old-born Herod heard, “he was frightened and all Jerusalem with him.” (Matt. 2: 3) from the outset, the people were antagonistic but, moreso, apathetic to the Good News come. It was only five miles from Herod’s palace to Bethlehem, but, at the wise men’s news, no Jew bestirred himself to follow the magi, who had journeyed a dangerous fifteen-hundred miles. The Chosen seemed to be personally unconcerned. The Jewish holy ones showed no desire to investigate the Saviour’s birth, when he came to be embedded amongst us. They had lost sight of what they had been waiting so long for. In view of the world-changing magnitude of what was happening, they were so caught up in their own world, for example, arguing how many steps could a Jew take on the Sabbath, or just how did Jonah survive inside the big fish?
Could this ever be us? Together with the scribes, has the dynamic cutting edge of our discipleship become dulled by our weekly, ho-hum, boring predictable Eucharist? Do we pop along on Sundays to get an inoculation of religion to prevent us catching the real thing? If a prophet arises amongst us, some saint with a fresh dream, a way to make our Christian faith more energetic and alive, will we leap to its support? Perhaps it is Christy and Saku’s hopes through music or Marion’s with her group.
“When the magi saw the star again, they were overwhelmed with joy.” (v.10) But, at Bethlehem, instead of a royal court, the magi found a smelly stable; instead of a regal queen, they found a puzzled young mother; instead of finding grandeur, they beheld grinding poverty. They, who possessed the world’s oldest knowledge, had to recognise a babe with the eyes of faith. They knew that a king had no need of gifts. Their gifts said, “We have come to worship you, but you are the treasure far more worthy than these symbolic baubles. Yet we still offer gold, as an acknowledgement that you are of David’s royal line, frankincense, to be burned in Temple worship, for you are a priest, and bitter myrrh, an embalming oil, to foreshadow your death, for the shadow of the cross falls across your crib.” Mary may have wished normal gifts, like disposable nappies or nappy rash cream, but nothing will be normal again. The magi saw through the sleeping child to someone who, one day, will rule the world, for which the Herods craved but never achieved.
Years later, Pontius Pilate will be a Herod who slays the Son of God. Yet the voice of his Gentile soldier at the foot of Calvary will aver, “What have we done? Surely, this was God’s Son.” (Matt. 27:54) His resurrection above death’s temporary power will assure God’s salvation is set, is open for all people, in all places, for all time. Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory.
Fourth Sunday of Advent December 21 2014 Luke 1. 26-38
The ancient world had no notion of x and y chromosomes, that a virgin birth can only bring forth a female offspring. Yet, Luke today tells us that a male Jesus will be born without a human father, and that he will be a Messiah king of the House of David, come to reign forever and ever, alleluia, alleluia… Creator God decided to come to us in person to call us back to loving kindness. God had previously sent holy prophets, but they had been spurned and slain. God said, “I will have to go myself, gift-wrapped as a tiny human, to be born exactly as one of them. I will have to experience everything that they do from the cradle to the grave to teach them the proper response to make to all life’s encounters.” So, Jesus is the only one fortunate enough to have selected his own mother.
We don’t know how many maiden’s doors did angel Gabriel knock on, only to be thwarted by knock-backs such as these: “Let me get this right, Angel, I already know that we Nazarenes are not kosher in pure Jewish eyes, because we associate with Gentiles. We’re told that little good can come out of here, to change the world view. I won’t risk stirring the possum further. No thanks.” Or the response may have been: “If I’m not stoned to death by public disapproval for having conceived a child out of wedlock, you want me to be an unmarried mother, ridiculed and reviled by tongue-wagging whisperers, trying to live in this narrow, straight-laced Jewish community? Thanks but no thanks.” A third may have said, “Angel, you tell me that I’ll be pregnant by God, but no one else has had the message. I may be favoured but God, but my saying Yes to you will find no favour with them.”
In reality, the whole heavenly world held its breath, for all God’s plans for redeeming and saving humanity hung on the answer of a slip of a teenage girl. Gabriel spelled out the coming conception “The Holy Spirit of God will overshadow you with a powerful presence.” Did Mary, the now troubled teen, the child-mother-to-be, really understand what was asked of her? Mary had planned an unbroken courtship; the year betrothal commitment with Joseph was a sacrosanct ritual; it was a definite promise of mutual fidelity, and then, the white wedding, the most wonderful day in her whole drab, Nazarene life. Now, you spoilsport, God! You want to change all this for the poor lass! Not only would every door be slammed in her face, if she was let live, on top of this, her spunky monkey, Joe, may crack a psycho. His male ego may be wounded by his having been cuckolded by some sneaky, shady bludger. He may be so shamed, he may send her away to a lonely life of squalor, poverty, disgrace. Mary may have thought, “I’m not that sort of a girl, to become a single mother, to have that unfeeling fool, Father Walter, come to the Magdalen home to spout arrant nonsense like ‘Hold your head up high, till you find the bluebird of happiness again.’”
Mary may have said, “Angel, you’re asking me to bring forth the Son of the Most High God, who is come to take back the Throne of David, in a land where the brutal Roman Taliban are in bloody charge. If I say Yes, I will soon be cradling his lifeless body. Angel, who on earth would want to mother such a toxic, danger-prone child?”
Single Mary simply asked confusedly and curiously, “How can this be? How can what God wants be done? It’s beyond my comprehension.” Then she surrendered, she submitted herself, her will, her life, entire and whole and perfect. Without compromise, a fourteen-year-old made God’s will her own will to become the human bearer of Christ to the world. Mary acknowledged, “Here I am, the bond-slave of the Lord. Let it be with me according to your word. It’s not what I had planned, but what God wants to help the world get better not bitter, that matters. ”
Mary allowed her already healthy relationship with God to challenge such a lowly lass to grow into the unique person that God had created her to be. Shortly after, when Mary, carrying a tiny embryo Jesus, met her relative, Elizabeth, a foetal john Baptist leaped in Elizabeth’s womb. Now, to Mary, her son’s divinity was proven. Mary could praise God, even though the child to come will make her life so difficult.
This Christmastide, the same angelic felicitation “Rejoice, highly favoured,” is addressed to us. Unlike Mary, we may not do anything special to deserve the call that God gives us, when God chooses us for any task. If we say “Yes, be it done to me,” God will make us “full of grace,” worthy for mission, with open, spontaneous, generous hearts. Mary’s mission was to give Jesus to every generation of the human family. This is our calling, too, to give him to the contemporary generation. The world tells us that God’s favour is to be found in ease, pleasure, prosperity. The world tells us that God’s favour is promised by the televangelists , that God will bless us with health and wealth and happiness if we pray more and pay more. This was not Mary’s experience. What of us?
At present, Australia mourns incidents in Sydney and in Cairns, and grieves with victims of unspeakable, brutal terrorism overseas. Candles have been lit by the thousands to say that light has more right to exist than darkness. These candles will burn down and burn out. It is up to us as disciples of the Christ light, come into this world that first Christmas, to catch fire from the Christ who comes, and to bring something of this fire and light into our own lives, and into the lives of those for whom this Christmas may not be a feast of joy, but a time of darkness still. That is what “Here I am, let it be with me according to your word,” may sometimes mean. Amen.
ALL SAINTS DAY November 2 2014 Matthew 5: 1-12
In the ancient pre-Christian calendar, the last evening in October, the last night of the Northern Summer, the night when pagans lit bonfires to remind the weak sun to come back after Winter, that night was a night to stay indoors, for, it was the night that witches and bad-spirited wizards stirred in dark time, and worked pranks and worrisome spells. To appease the spirits in their haunting time, and to avoid becoming the object of their tricks, pagans offered them treats. But, unscrupulous villagers dressed as witches and goblins crept around stealing the treats, so tricking the real witches from their treat-sops.
When the Christian Church emerged, it was a bit nervy about having a night to celebrate “ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggety beasties, and things that go bump in the night,” so, the Church transferred the Feast of All Saints from May to November 1. All Saints was then called All Hallows, as in “hallowed by your name,” which means “may you name be kept holy.” So, the evening of All Witches became All Hallows’ evening or Halloween.
Five days later, as little South Australian loyalists (No convicts here!) we used light a bonfire, just as the pagans once did, atop of which was a straw-stuffed guy, and we would chant: “Remember, remember, the fifth of November, the Gunpowder Treason and Plot. There be no reason why the Gunpowder Treason should ever be forgot.” Then, the guy was lit, later to be joined by a straw effigy of the Pope. The bayed chant from the Protestants was a little more pointed: “A rope, a rope, to hang the Pope, a piece of cheese to toast him; a barrel of beer to drink his health, and a right good fire to roast him.” The chants reminded us of Guy Fawkes, a Catholic fanatic, who came close to sainthood with his fellow conspirators, when, possibly at the instigation of His Holiness, they tried to blow up the English ruling class and parliament in 1605. The bonfire recalled the burning of the conspirators’ drawn-out entrails (while possibly still alive) as part of the execution rite.
In between celebrating Halloween on Friday 31st and remembering a mad bomber on Wednesday 5th, comes the Festival of All Saints. Why? On the one hand, while fearsomely dressed kiddies sought ‘trick or treat,’ and punters threw millions at galloping ponies, and the State paid Bernie Ecclestone a further $50 million so petrol heads could sniff benzene; on the other hand, in this sometimes madding, psychiatric-ward-world, mere six-year-olds cry for a caliphate, and clamour childishly to send someone they do not know called Obama to Hell, and, mind-sickened Guy Fawkes-like fanatics encourage gullible nobodies to don suicide vests. In between the two, we need to be reminded of something more uplifting, that godly people called saints, as a great harvest of present and past humanity, have chosen to grow in God’s goodness to holiness, and have chosen to further grow their personal holiness to halo-ness.
In the main, saints are unheralded, uncatalogued real people, who enliven the Church with a quiet witness, that bubbles up from deep down. They can be family, parents, rellies, certainly self-sacrificing, devoted teachers or nurses. Saints provide a mirror by which we see them at their brightest and best. In them, we glimpse what God intended us to be, finer, kinder, healthier, got-together selves. Saints are like windows through whom the wisdom of God and the radiant warmth of God streams out into the dark tunnels of life, to help defrost ice-cold hearts. Saints did not simply endure hardship, faint of heart, in dungeon, fire and sword, to go through passion to ecstasy. They chose to run against the tide with all their might, and died, but they triumphed because they gained a visceral belief that their God was with them, step by step. Saints are common people, with an uncommon destiny, who have moulded their lives on the model of the beatitudes, today’s Gospel, to make them, by their constant practice, be-happy-attitudes.
When the world lay broken and bleeding in the aftermath of 9:11, there presented a wonderful chance to show how saints hoard no hurt as if it were gold. 9:11 gave a wonderful chance for the West to show the East the lived values of the beatitudes. If only the Western world leaders had said, “We truly did not know you folk were hurting so. We are so sorry we let this unhappiness mount up. Can we talk to try to understand the drives and passions that made you respond so, and try to work on reconciliation and mutual forgiveness?” These world leaders needed to take to heart the words, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” These world leaders needed to know that nowhere in the be-happy-attitudes is a blessing for bloody retaliation. But, they were leaders of the world of the jungle, and they spat like ignorant hillbillies, “We’re coming after you with infinite justice. We’ll smoke you out of your holes and get you running.” At this, the whole Muslim world, both moderate and overzealous, gasped, “Infinite justice? Infinite anything is reserved to holy God alone. Who do these great Satanists think they are?” Far from reducing world terror, the seed of payback sown seems subsequently to have accelerated the foul spread of worse forms of terror.
Brother Jesus practised what he preached. He came into a world grown sad, bad, mad. He held out his innocent hands to help, and the world nailed them to a cross. He died, but the death dealers in a hate-blinded world had not the last word. With magic from deeper down, he came back to life at Easter. He held out his nail-pierced hands to Peter, the denier, and to Thomas, the doubter, but his first words were not “Let’s go and gut the Romans for what they did to me,” as ours might be “Let’s go and take out the Isil radical jihadists and the Boko Haram.” Instead, Risen Jesus said, “Peace be to you, who allowed this to be done to me; peace be to you, who brought about a Guy Fawkes-like end for me.” Today, he cries, “Blessed are you merciful Ascensionists. Blessed are you wounded peacemakers, who, in your homes or at work, refuse to extend any cycle of violence done you. Blessed are you, who seek always to win over those who love you less, perhaps your partner after an air-clearing blow-up, by loving kindness. Blessed are you, as every day you strive to turn the Gospel beatitudes into constantly lived out, be-happy-attitudes. Blessed are you, Ascension saints-in-the-making, for the only difference between a dead saint and a live sinner, is that every saint had a good past, and every sinner has a good future. So, go to it! Be a shining light in a darkening world, and make your future bright as you strive to return our beautiful world to its original, Eden-like goodness. Amen.
FOURTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST Matt. 18: 21-35
I believe that I have told you before, that (in William Manchester’s book) at the end of World War 1, Winston Churchill pleaded for a magnanimous gesture to send shiploads of food to starving Germany, prostrate at the mercy of the vengeful victors, only to be howled down derisively. On hearing this from a hospital chaplain, a temporarily blinded German soldier shouted, “I am going into politics!” Corporal Hitler proved to be a maniac of ferocious genius and most virulent hatred.
In 1919, the Allied victors met at Versailles. One boasted they would “squeeze the German lemon till the pips squeak.” At the alleged peace conference, that forced a vindictively ridiculous treaty on Germany, to strip her of her industry, armaments and her colonies, Australia gained the northern half of New Guinea, the former Kaiser Wilhelmsland. The treaty forced the fallen foe to pay war reparations on an impossibly crippling scale. The unforgiving hatred meant that the treaty was merely a suspension of hostilities for twenty years. A prescient cartoon of 1919 has the top-hatted victors strut smugly from the signing, only to pass a baby crying, with his back tattooed ‘class of 1940,’ the cannon fodder of World War 11.
Real forgiveness was shown by Nurse Edith Cavell, daughter of an English vicarage, shot for helping Allied soldiers flee. When they removed the blindfold, it was seen that she had been crying, but she left us the words, “I realize that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.” (Last words 12 Oct. 1915)
In today’s Gospel, goody-goody two-shoes Peter, keen to impress Jesus, asked “How often should I forgive? Seven times?” Perhaps he suffered a fractured relationship, some deep hurt with someone, that he had thought was done and dusted, until he met his allegedly forgiven enemy again, and found he had to begin his forgiving all over. He had expected Jesus to smile, “You little Bobby-Dazzler! You could not act more nobly than to forgive seven times.” Not so. Jesus seemed to say, “No, Pete, you need forgive, re-peat, Pete, an unlimited number of times, until the matter is completely forgiven.” So, Jesus told the story of a king, who, auditing his accounts, discovered a colossal, unpayable discrepancy. Yet, in response to his crooked official’s pathetic pleading, he remitted the enormous debt. The king then expected his generosity would affect the freed debtor’s behavior towards others. But the forgiven knave had learned nothing from the king’s kindness, and throttled an underling for repayment of a trifling sum, demanding with menaces, “Pay what you owe!” Furious at his heartless behavior, the king took back his generous spirit and became as mean as the disgraced official. The unforgiving official had demanded standards from another which he was not prepared to fulfil himself.
How very different is our good God! Are we ever as forgetful of what an immeasurable debt that our God-in-Jesus forgave, erased by leaving happy heaven to come amongst us at such great cost? Sometimes, in the daily cut-and-thrust of life, the hardest place to be compassionately patient is in our own home. We can grow to be so critical of others, yet be very easy on ourselves. We can be wide-eyed to others’ tiny faults, yet have a great beam in our eye towards our faults. We may think others’ speech is arrogantly discourteous, yet we excuse our own as candid frankness. When others stand up for themselves, we see selfishness, yet, in our case, we are always indisputably right; “I won the argument.” How sad. We practice miserly thrift, and deny our partner any little joy, any innocent frippery, but we call it meanness in them, when they don’t reciprocate as we think they should. If we treated one another with the same understanding charity with which we usually treat ourselves, ours’ would be such a happier world.
Sometimes, we hear a defeatist phrase: “I can never forgive. I can never forget.” If such self-pity is entertained overlong, it will fester and intensify as long as the hand of forgiveness is withheld, as long as we choose to poison our spirit and destroy our capacity to love. If, in the dark cellar of our mind, we play and re-play the real or supposed hurt over and over, we choose to remain bitter, resentful, ever but a tinder-spark away from explosive anger. We may not be able to forget: true. That may be too idealistic, too unrealistic. We will remember, but still choose to forgive. Forgiveness draws a line under the horrid occurrence, once and for all. Peter had yet to do this. Forgiveness means we may now be able to break out from the ice-box of bitterness that freezes us in the past and destroys any hope for future peace and joy.
From the Gospel story today, we learn that we cannot sincerely receive God’s forgiveness unless we show forgiveness to one another. God’s inflow of mercy to us must coincide with our outflow of mercy to others. In the Lord’s Prayer, we ask “Forgive us our sins AS we forgive others.” “AS” means in proportion to, in the extent that we first forgive others. If we ask this prayer with any unresolved bitterness, division, resentment in our hearts, we are really asking NOT to be forgiven. We are really asking God NOT to help us bridge the chasm to cross over to the broad, sunlight uplands, to shake off the burden we have needlessly carried overlong, the burden of painful memory, consumed with hatred and vindictiveness, and find the blessed relief and freedom to devote all our future energies to loving.
“How often should I forgive, as many as seven times?” if you are still counting how many times you’ve forgiven someone, you’re not really forgiving them at all; you are simply post-poning full, unconditional forgiveness, like those foolish world leaders in 1919. “Not seven times, but seventy-seven times” is Jesus’ teaching. He means, of course, don’t even think about counting forgiveness. Just do it!.
THIRTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST Matt. 18: 10-20 7:9:2014
On 9:11:2001, ‘the day the world changed,’ a perfectly formed cross of metal shards sheered away as the World Trade Centre collapsed, and just happened to plant upright in a pit of twisted metal and rubble. Immediately, someone painted “God’s House,” and exhausted rescue-workers and emotionally-overwhelmed heroes used the site to pause and pray and receive healing, for the 3000 lives lost to internal terrorism.
Then, in the USA, added to this man-made devastation and loss of life, came Nature’s turn with Hurricane Katrina. Where once were homes and buildings, was sodden landscape of water-wrecked earth. Where once was law and order, was anarchy and greedy looting, which caused further havoc everywhere. Where there was once happy communities, were hundreds dead, and those alive were homeless, possession-less and despairing. Government was leaden-footed. In the richest country in the world, thousands joined the pitiable refugees of the world, seeking shelter, food, lost family members.
The words of today’s gospel are: “Where two or three are gathered (among the ruins) in my name, I am there among them.” At Ground Zero, an indication that God was there, in the heart of that man-made tragedy, was the strange metal that had speared down to become a saving cross in a place of peace for the valiant fire-fighters, construction-workers, and rescue personnel, many grieving the loss of loved ones and workmates, as they searched among the ruins.
And, in the aftermath of Katrina, armed looters were outnumbered by lovers of people, who put their lives on the line, to rescue and comfort victims, and then came an enormous out-pouring of donations and supplies and helpers, such as the world had never seen.
A third story: From Dachau concentration camp in 1943, six prisoners escaped. Retribution was swift and brutal. Randomly selected, twelve people were hanged slowly. As they struggled in their death throes, a tortured cry was heard from the prisoners’ ranks, “Where is God?” and a second prisoner answered, “God is hanging there.” Our Christian belief convinces us that our good God, as Jesus, took our flesh, suffered and died just like that. (Have we softened the scandal of the Cross? Today, the cross dangles as a diminutive ornament from necks, ear-lobes, even from belly-buttons. Had Jesus been electrocuted, would we have little gold electric chairs around our throats? Or a guillotine? We may thus tame the reality of Jesus’ excruciating end, but the fruits of what he did in our lives cannot be so commercially soothed).
The aftermath of such a human evil as terrorism, or a natural disaster such as Katrina, shows us that God is never absent. “Though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death,” I must know that where there is shadow, there must be light to cause it, the light held aloft by some Good Samaritan , some kindly pilgrim, coming to our aid to lead us safely home.
The disasters make us realize that life is a matter of choices. Q. What led the towers, built unsound, and the people savers, to act as they did? What led the looters and the lovers? What led the camp-murderers and the indomitable Jewish spirit? It was the choices they made. Are we fully aware how vital we are? That we are exemplars, icons of Christ; by our choice of the paths we take to “take care, that you do not despise one of these little ones.” These “little ones” include the vulnerable, the weak, the elderly and the infirm, which the world may regard as undesirable, to be thrown on the scrap-heap of the world. Our God never says, “We’ve got the ninety-nine sheep. Let’s not worry about the odd one that has gone astray from the flock.” If s/he finds it, s/he rejoices over it more in the aged, the refugee, than over the ninety-nine that never went astray.
Today’s gospel has a second theme for the smooth-functioning of this Ascension colony of Heaven: The Gospel offers a practical approach today, how to try to resolve with loving correction, any niggling nastiness that causes a blip on a parish happiness radar. Here’s a f’instance: For twenty years, I have been a sort of unofficial MC, called to the cathedral for celebrations. At a recent function, I moved to direct a processional group of clergy Brown’s cows to their seats in the chancel, only to be barked at by the Ridley deacon, with a curt “Sit down, Walter!” (He is ending his year’s placement at St Paul’s). A few weeks before, the same omniscient divine had confronted and challenged my Colleen over a homily she had just given, he, a student, and she, with a doctorate in Theology. Of course, like a chastened dog, I sat down like a shot, only to think, “He’ll be in his first real parish next year. If he treats people like that, there will be tears and embarrassment galore.” I thought, “Should I say something? Should I try to point out his jarring attitude? Or should I squib it and let him learn in the university of hard knocks? Should I just paper over the cracks and pretend there is no problem, and carry on as if everything is normal, as it’s not really my problem to butt in? He must have a mentor? (As it was, I didn’t see the chap after service, so…)
But, has it any result on me? With an unresolved situation of anger and pain, I will mull over how I have been treated. The anger I swallow will fester and become destructive of my peace of mind, and this will become manifest in my het-up relationships with others, while the instigator may be blindly oblivious to what he’s done.
The Gospel today gives us Jesus’ take: we must try to work on reconciliation for the sake of community harmony, but always to treat the alleged offender with dignity and respect. To reach out in love to someone who has hurt us is costly, because it takes courage, honesty, humility, tact. We must always do something for parish harmony (and, in my case, for the deacon’s future and inner peace). If he continues with a bossy, know-it-all, impervious attitude, he will maim his ministry and get many backs up, needlessly. If we try to engage with someone, if his heart is closed to wider learning, closed to any other point-of-view, it is damaged, and he will be incapable of receiving the joy of new discovery. To harden one’s heart against another human is bad; to harden one’s heart against God’s Spirit speaking is a calamity. Jesus tried and tried to reconcile and was repulsed, refused, rejected, but he went on to show a greater example, the Cross. If we so strive to reconcile, we will be closest to him, even at a similar cost. At least we will know we have tried to sow the seeds of peace in the churned-up furrow of life in trust, that, somewhere down the long field, who knows how the Holy Spirit of Jesus may move that one, to hear again our word, to reflect on what we once said, and let grace build on nature, that he and we both may eventually find the peace that the world cannot give. Thanks be to God who gives us the vrictory.
TWELFTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST Matt.16: 21-28
In one of my most torrid junior years, when my education was completely interrupted by my schooldays, the class was divided into three: the crème de la crème, the cowering crawlers, and the hopeless cases, called Woopville. The only time I was called out from Woopville was at the command “Come out here, McEntee, you idiot! Hold out!” Thwack!
After three years’ ministry, Jesus’ disciples were still largely in Woopville, until Jesus asked, “Who do you say I am?” And, from somewhere, Peter summoned his slim faith resources to say,
“Please Sir, me Sir. You are the Christ, the Messiah.” Immediately, in Jesus’ estimation, he rocketed across to the crème de la crème, so Jesus could beam, “You are the rock on which I can build. You are the rock to hold my community firm and without wobbling.”
At once, the Jesus team began to plan their takeover strategy, now that Jesus was the anointed heir to the throne of King David, charged now to restore Israel to its former military greatness. In buzz groups, their fertile brains fertilizing, they envisioned their conquering King Jesus, astride a warlike charger, leading a phalanx of warrior angels to worst the collapsing ranks of hated Romans, to cleanse the holy temple of profanity, to install there the godly rule of justice, love and peace.
These deluded disciple Woops could not see that Jesus held an exact opposite view of how his kingdom, his way, his reign, his way, would come about. He will contest with the Pharisaic and scribal experts as an unkempt, dusty Bedouin, and with no military force. He will challenge their deeply-rooted, fixed legal positions and powers and they will appear to win at the cost of his suffering and death. Worse, he invited his disciple team to lose their lives along with him. But, the combined suffering (so he promises) will lead to ultimate glory.
Peter, his faith only partial, his ideas pre-conceived, like a clucky mother hen, was appalled. He rejected Jesus’ nonsense plan, his intended suicide mission. “Heaven forbid! This must not happen to you. A conquering Messiah, yes. A suffering Messiah makes no sense.” Jesus realized that Peter the Rock, the rock to which the ship-wrecked cling, is crumbling into a shifting, sandy stumbling block. “Peter, you’re thinking human thoughts, not God’s thoughts.” But the horror that Peter tried to stop did happen, and Jesus’ cruel choice for Calvary’s cross was crucial for us and for our salvation.
God did not cause the death of Jesus, but God cannot prevent it, because our God-given free-will now means God must watch a beloved child, Jesus, as scared as anyone can be, as he was put to death. We may not be responsible for the happenings in our life, but we are responsible for the attitude we bring to the suffering: bitter despair or hope, selfishness or generous large-hearted acceptance. On Calvary’s cross, Jesus shows us acceptance of injustice when meted out to us. On Calvary’s cross, Jesus shows us how to change cold judgment of sin into warm forgiveness and to give folk a chance to renew themselves.
St Paul wrote a peculiar phrase in Colossians 1. 24: “I rejoice that I can suffer for you in my flesh, I am filling up what is lacking in the sufferings of Jesus for the sake of his body the Church.” We are celebrating or commiserating the outbreak of World War 1, the war to end all wars. One war later, heroes were once again called to rise to greatness. On the Melbourne memorial to ‘Weary’ Dunlop, one of the many saints in the medical corps, are the words: “He restored morale in prison camps, he gave hope to the sick, and eased the anguish of the dying. He became a lighthouse of sanity in a universe of madness and suffering.”
Jesus’ gospel paradox is: by taking up our cross to try to fill up what is lacking in compassionate care to help complete Christ’s mission in our contemporary world, by choosing to lose any of our selfish aspects of life and by not clinging to them, we will invite the same suffering Christ met. We are not pain-loving masochists, yet as we seek to be an icon of Jesus and to imitate him, we must learn to duck as we’re going to catch the dead cats and rotten tomatoes thrown, but, we will save our life for eternal life. That is, it will cost us everything to give us everything.
How do we respond to our specific call-commitment to care? to contribute our individual and collective unique wonder-person to the betterment of the world? How do we respond to the call to light even a single dim candle of encouragement in an otherwise midnight blanket of brutal darkness? How do we respond to Christ’s call to communicate the glorious richness of Christ-likeness, when life does not go the way we planned and we feel kicked in the guts, when we’re down? How do we respond to Christ’s call for help when we have that blinding migraine, that nagging neuritis, that is all but driving us out of our mind and robbing us of our sleep? How do we respond to the call to do more, when disappointing bad news pulls us down almost to a state of nervous exhaustion with so much work not done? How do we respond to Christ’s call with smiling pardon when lemon-lipped criticism and icy-tongued opposition stifles our dreams and would shrink our generous heart?
Heaven forbid! This must not happen! But it did happen for him and it does happen for us. The struggle to take up our cross, we all face in some shape or form. There are many calls we don’t like answering, but, which we know, we have to do, to be faithful to our pioneer and perfecter of the faith, Jesus. When we do, we grow as a real person of character and integrity, which is the way to true happiness. This way first brought Jesus to Calvary, but then led to Easter Day. Shoulder your cross again, and you will find he will be hanging in there and, tragedies will be transformed into triumphs and stumbling blocks will become stepping stones. He’s promised that, and who am I to dispute that?
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost Matt. 14:13-21 3 August 2014
Jesus had just been driven from his hometown life and synagogue worship by kill-joy Taliban-like puritan Pharisees. He was grieving the death of his stalwart supporter, John Baptist, brutally murdered by envenomed Herod. Heart-broken, mentally, physically drained, Jesus needed a quiet space away from the public gaze and craze to ponder his own endangered future. But, the thoughtless “gimme, gimme” crowd decided he was playing hide-and-seek, as, in demanding droves, they descended on him, clamouring for benefit from his proven exceptional powers. The disciples sought to throw a protective cordon around their rabbi: “Spare yerself and us, Jeez. Send these annoying hypochondriacal pests away. They ask everything and give nothing.”
No way, Jose. Generous Jesus drew deeply on reserves of compassion, care, concern, he had been amassing since first he realized he could be the long-promised Messiah. He gave himself completely to the sick-poor, ministering, uplifting, reassuring, until it was evening. By now, guts were growling with hunger in the bellies of the unfed, and dog-tired whippersnappers whined weary with want. There was no handy 7:11. So, Jesus simply said “You give them something to eat.” He knew it was no use handing a religious tract to a person who was battling for bread, and he knew there is always more than enough human resources to hand to match any need.
In John’s account, disciple Phillip desponded “Six months’ wages wouldn’t feed this lot.” A more reliable Andrew ferretted out a young lad with his picnic satchel of five barley loaves and two dried fish. Jesus borrowed the lad’s ludicrously small lunch to show that aid should come from us, at which the disciples questioned “What’s he up to, with so little among so many?”
Only the lad’s brow was innocently unclouded. He seemed to know that the God-made human, who could count the numberless stars he had made, at 588 quadrillion in the Milky Way alone, that God-man could easily feed a hungry crowd with almost nothing. At Ascension, are we the doleful disciple, or, are we the smiling lad, who, with a germ of hope, trusted Jesus to do wonders. Do we look at our typical Anglican parish in decline, fling up our hands at our pathetically insignificant resources and fewness of incoming youngsters, and cry, “Five meagre loaves and two fish, what are they among so many future needy? Why do we bother? The last one out blow out the sanctuary lamp! The situation is hopeless.” At the last Wednesday discussion group, I quoted the Rev’d Thomas Arnold of Rugby School, who died in 1842. He desponded “I could sit and pine and die. The Church of England as it now stands, no human power can save.” That was 170 years ago. And here you are! There’s a dance in the old dame, yet.
Jesus took the wholly inadequate offering of the one lad’s lunch, as shortly, in our Eucharist, we will take up our offering, our Sunday offering of time, talents, efforts, expense, and, to any short-fall, he will make abundance. Then he will send us out in the power of his spirit to live and work to his praise and glory. The little we have, if freely, unreservedly given, in his hands, will always be more than enough. We sing TIS 599: Take my lips and let them be filled with messages from thee, take my intellect and use every power as thou shalt choose. Take my will and make it thine, it shall be no longer mine, take myself and I will be, ever, only, all for thee.”
How came the marvel of multiplication munificence? It may have been as the Gospel tells and Jesus just gave out the foods. Or, it may have been the miracle of changing selfish folk with paws closed tight into enlarged, open-hearted and open-handed sharers. In truth, everyone had come with their own picnic basket, but were not prepared to open and share them. As Jesus looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the stale loaves as he will do again at the Last Supper, a Heston Blumenthal type mouthed “Yuk! Hold on Jeez. Dried rolls alone are not kosher, Darl. I’ve got some anchovies and olives and mascapone custard.” Someone else chimed in “I have some tiramisu dip and scallopine mango chutney,” while a third averred “I’ve seen Margaret Fulton do wonders with these prawn skewers and Singapore noodles with sun-dried tomato gnocchi. Get some of this inta ya.” And the miracle of sharing happened.
Please continue to open your individual picnic basket of talents, qualities, gifts. Please continue to share your energies and unique empathy as happened in the parish last night (the mid-year Christmas dinner). You may think your offering trivial. Let Jesus surprise you with new miracles of multiplication with what you freely give.
Jewish Jesus knew from learned Scriptural prophecy that the Messiah would suffer a horrible, unjust death. But understanding of a sure and certain resurrection to life renewed, was a shadowy, undeveloped hope in Pharisee thought. King Saul had used the Witch of Endor to summon up the shades of dead Samuel, but no one had ever come back. As Jesus faced his enforced leave-taking from his still weak, lack-lustre team, at his Last supper, he felt he had to leave a ritual, by which they would remember him, by which they would re-tell his words, stories and the miracle ways in which God had worked through him. Just as Jesus had taken up the lad’s loaves, so he took up the fragments of Passover matzos and the cup of wine dregs, all that was left of the meal, gave thanks and said “I want you to eat and drink this and be thankful. I am truly with you whenever you repeat this rite.” Then he washed their feet, and added, “I want you to eat and drink my bread/body and my wine/blood to empower you to do this, this act of kindly, loving service.”
Here we are. We come Sunday by Sunday to bring what we may misguidedly believe are mere fragments of ministry, of failures, (some better than others), of joys we have caused, (of laptops we have wonderfully given!) and Christmas Dinners we have prepared and shared. We come to offer them as the best we have to offer and to ask by our holy communion with him, by our holy connectedness to him, by our holy nourishment from him, that, in the coming week, we will be empowered to become the nearest thing to Jesus we can be, a conduit through which his help and healing may reach out to all we meet; that, in the coming week, although perhaps, jaded and unwell, we will never feel like saying “send the crowds away so they may go to Knox or The Glen or St Vinnies, or..to buy food and receive solace for themselves.” We will instead hear and heed Jesus’ words “They need not go away, you give them something of what you have become, me-in-you, and then we will know “all ate and were filled.” Go to it with God; you cannot do better than that. Amen.
PETER AND PAUL John 21: 15-22 29 June 2014
Sometimes in life, perhaps after an emotion-tearing sadness, we cry in gut-wrenching pain “I can’t take anymore.” The disciples were here, reduced to so wimpish a weak state, by betrayal, denial, forsaking Jesus, by not standing up to protest when Pilate put that dastardly vote “Whom do you want? Jesus or the terrorist?” The wusses would not own how their weakness had partly caused Jesus’ death.
Confused, even wild at the waste of three good years with failed, dead Jesus, they looked back to the good old days, before life became so complicated by the crucifixion trauma and resurrection turmoil, and decided to go fishing on Easter Day. Jesus, the fake, would not bother them again. Never. Not one of the disciples believed they now had a mission to carry on failed Jesus’ work.
Suddenly, Jesus came to them. There he was, the betrayed one facing his for-sakers. Impulsively, impetuously, Peter leaped from the boat and waded ashore to him, to a wet breakfast. (Here begins the gospel account today).
Part of the disciple band was relieved that he seemed to be still in good shape, and willing to talk to them. But, another part whimpered like a beaten hound: “Oh, no. Not you again. We failed you before. Be reasonable. Leave us alone.” But Jesus is unreasonable. Rather than wait for the spineless jelly-livers to believe the witness of the women on Easter day, “He’s alive again,” Jesus made the first move to renew the broken relationship to change their failure into fruitfulness again.
In Gethsemane, Jesus’ being was so convulsed with the mental struggle to bend his human will to his mission, he sweated blood droplets at the thought of the horror in store. He sought comfort, consoling companionship to help confirm his resolve to go on. He asked them “Please watch with me, support me with the strength of your prayer.” Three times he asked them, but, shickered with Passover wine, Peter and the team fell into hog-like slumber. Then, in their half-sober state, in the chaotic, noisy, pressure-filled arrest, everything unravelled. Jesus was taken.
Later in the hostile setting of the high priest’s house, when Jesus, being pulped by soldiers, looked up for someone to help, to intervene, to stick up for him, Peter was instead terrified by a servant girl, and, snarling like a cornered animal, he lied three times he knew the victim.
So, on Easter Day, on the sea-shore, Jesus came to cancel the stain of Peter’s denials. Jesus probed Peter, no, no more is he Peter, the Rock. Rocks are forever. Rocks are indestructible. Peter, the Rock, has cracked open, has powdered into dust by denial.
Now, Jesus calls him “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” And Peter answers “You know that really I’m your friend.” No, not good enough, Simon. Yet, Jesus gives him a new assignment: “Feed the young vulnerable flock, those who need the milk of Gospel nourishment.”
Jesus tried again: “Do you love me more than these?” Perhaps Jesus swept his hand towards Peter’s disciple-friends, or towards his fishing boat. “You were so quick to fish once I was gone, you stinker, Simon. Are you now prepared to give up all of this for the work of helping to shape my more mature members. If you can, tend my sheep.”
Then came a third crushing call to reverse the three denials: “Simon, do you even care about me?” This grieved Peter. It broke him, and he whispered hoarsely, “You know all things. You know that I love you.” At this, Jesus called Peter back to the fight. “I re-commission you as shepherd-carer of my community. Now, Peter, restored, prove my trust in you.” And Jesus ended, where he had begun three years before: “Follow me, fully this time.”
Unreasonable Jesus makes similar unreasonable demands on us. We may have been starry-eyed about our level of commitment to ministry. Now, he says to us, everyone, “I really want you Peters, to tend and feed my Ascension lambs.” Or, change the example back to the sea: “I want you to be out-reaching fishers of folk 100%,” or, will we settle for being mere keepers of the parish aquarium, here, and not out there? Jesus says to us, “I want you to move from balcony spectator in the parish, move to participant in this my God-appointed group. I need you, because, face facts, I depend on you. I have no one else to turn to.” Jesus calls us, strengthens us every Sunday, with word and beautiful singing, and feeds us with the sacrament, that we may feed others. May the ever-unreasonable Jesus stir us up, excite us to any un-met need. Will we answer with Peter, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you. Where to Lord, you and me, together?” and we will hear him say “Follow me.”
Homily for Harry Bates John 14: 1-6, 27 11 June 2014
At his last supper, facing certain death, Jesus gave his friends a vision of heavenly hope to bolster their faith. He said “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God. Believe also in me.” To Bev, Sarah, Paul, Karen and their families and to all of us, Jesus gives us a hope gently leading us and holding us, through the days that are to come, giving us a vision that there is something more, when there may be little song in our hearts.
In these recent years, Harry faced cancer. He saw it as a word, not as a sentence. This knowledge focused Harry’s vision, invited him to sniff out life’s priorities, first and foremost, his family and friends. He did not let his illness have power over him, for his spirit was greater than what may happen to it.
As once an out-of-doors plumber, Harry had seen clouds pass the sun, but the cloudy days of sickness were no match for his sunny disposition and industry, (like climbing a ladder to check gutters, not three weeks ago).
In the Gospel reading from John 14, Jesus gives us four images. First, he tells us that Heaven, where Harry is, consists of many dwelling places, many rooms, with never a ‘No Vacancy’ sign for anyone. There is room for everyone who leave this waiting-room world at an early stage of development, or, who, like Harry, was called to walk through the valley of the shadow of death in much riper, golden years.
In his long love romance with Bev, raising his loved ones and lovely ones, Harry saw much life. In the children’s early years and in the grandchildren’s growing-up, there were sometimes overcast moments: the lost playlunch, the torn school uniform, bedtime tantrums, chicken pox, and worse, getting sick in the spotless car; surely not in the HD with leather trim. In the many rooms of Paradise, the promise is, there will be an inexhaustible one-hundred-fold happiness, which nothing can mar, where nothing will be stereotyped or ordinary.
Secondly, Jesus tells us “I go to prepare a place for you,” a place where we shall all happily, exactly fit, a place where we shall enter in, in the capacity we may enjoy heaven, that is, in the capacity we have learned to love here below. When a person dies, some may ask “What did he leave behind?” When a person dies, the angels of God ask “What did he send ahead?” Harry’s true self, the personality he had honed, the person he grew to become with Bev and family, that person, in all his lovableness, will enter into his eternal reward.
Jesus told stories of people given talents, qualities and endowments down here, who were asked to trade with them. The reward for diligent service here, was to be given more service hereafter. Bev, don’t expect one day, to find Harry in a static heaven, lazing on fluffy clouds in a nightie, casually plinking a harp. Harry’s busy life may go on, somehow installing heavenly piping and fixtures as the plumber he was here below. There will surely be tasks and aspirations that Harry wished to do, but the onset of illness frustrated these hopes and dreams. His heaven may be a place of completion, of satisfaction, of a job well done, in the company of other busy, but, overall, much nicer people than we sometimes meet in this vale of tears. All the while, Harry will grow in blessedness, all the while, he will tend to even further perfection, to fill the room given him completely, all the while, being changed from glory into glory.
Thirdly, heaven is a place where our own folk are, and, Scripture tells us that recognition remains. As Harry died in Knox, we prayed “Come to his aid, saints of God. Come out to meet him, holy ones of heaven.” Among these will be Harry’s parents and siblings, departed this life before him, come out to walk him into the celestial city. We would be the most miserable of folk were we not comforted by this sure and certain hope of meeting in a better world, those we have lost in this. We believe that, with the morn, with the eternal dawn, Harry will see those angel-faces smile, which he has loved long since and lost awhile.
Harry has walked on through the Valley of the Shadow of Death with an even more certain hope. He had long believed in the certitude of the close presence of the Risen Christ, who triumphed over death by rising that first Easter. Harry had the belief that, where there was shadow, there must be light to cause it, and Jesus, the Light of the World, was nearby, to take him by the hand, to lead him safely home, calling gently, “out of your pain and distress, come now; enter into your reward, good and faithful servant.” Some folk die seeing a hopeless end. Thank God, Harry saw an endless hope.
Lastly, Jesus tells us we shall attain heaven by trusting him. When we cannot see the way forward through pain or tear-filled eyes, he assures us in the Gospel words “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” He doesn’t merely say “I will point you the way.” He gives us all an in-built global positioning system, a special instinct to follow his direction: “I am the way to follow. Come as you are. Take my hand, Harry. I will lead you surely, safely on.” Harry reached out in death’s darkness and found the hand of God, who led him towards the breaking of his eternal day.
God of compassion, wrap your healing love around Bev and family so they may bravely leave Harry in your care, and give them strength to face the lonely days that are to come. With these thoughts, let us comfort one another. Amen.
TRINITY Sunday 15 June 2014 John 2: 1-11
From Cana’s miracle, may I try to speak to two points. For those whose loved one has gone aloft, may I speak to friendship and to those married may I speak to that state, or as the old radio serial used begin “for those who are in love and for all those who can remember.”
In olden days, a bride’s ring was incised “in Christ and thee, my love shall be.” As marriage begins, we need to invite in the Christ of Cana, to walk with us and talk with us, to make the partnership grow better and become more mature, like good wine ageing in the oaken cask.
At first, the joyful wine is freely flowing as we feel our love was pre-planned in Paradise, and was meant to last for eternity. At first, our marriage or friendship may be like the six stone jars. We are brimful of happy expectation, joyful enthusiasm, and constant surprise at what may happen. Ours is a deep and mutually satisfying relationship that continues to develop into something wonderful through a life-long commitment. But commitments don’t keep us; we must keep them, constantly injecting into them new vitality and new enthusiasms, for as long as life is long. This takes a lot of work, for none of us is an angel at the outset. It means everyday, we make a conscious choice to love, and, if hard times come, the choice we once made, backed by present promises, will help us keep on changing the mere water of attraction into luscious, heady, new wine.
As we course along life’s way, we may become distracted from the one person, and other frenetic interests, perhaps a hectic social life, may distract our focus. We may become so preoccupied with work or sport or whatever, that the pace of life we set means less time for working couples to concentrate on their relationship. We may be sadly drained of necessary loving response. Our attention response to the other’s needs and interests may become glaringly empty; we may cease communicating with the vim we used to do.
An example: on the way home from work, he remembered “Lord, it’s our marriage anniversary.” So, he grabbbed a wilting flower bundle and thrust it at her. “Here, Darl.” And, she burst into tears. “I’ve had a helluva day at work, the kids have trashed the house, and now you come home drunk.”
Our patience with the other’s idiosyncracies may dry up with impatience. After an exchange of hot words, hubby concludes, “I was a fool when I married you.” She: “Yes, Dear, but I was in love then, and didn’t notice.” God forbear that one may selfishly conclude “There’s nothing left in this arrangement for me,” and give up.
Among friends or in marriage, imperceptibly, our former loving responses to the cry of a needy soul, may grow slow or glaringly empty; our idealism to be there for them always may ebb away. In both relationships, marriage and friendship, as at Cana, people may say “Tut. Tut. There is no joy any longer in their togetherness. Their wine has run out.” The temptation is strong, to walk away. How did this emptying, this ending friendship come about? How have the wedding bells been muffled? How true was the cryptic social page headline “Lifelong friendship ends at the altar.” .In marriage, it may be chill winds of unkindness or the weight of a growing take-it-for-granted attitude that works against the happiness. She has pointed it out forty-million times, but he still leaves his jocks on the floor, where he stepped out of them, and she festoons the shower cubicle with drying panty-hose, while he, with soap in the eyes is searching among the dangly bits for a towel.
And, it’s amazing how there’s always just one sheet of toilet paper left on the roll. In our early days, we may have sweetly tolerated these selfish acts as merely thoughtlessness. Alas, now, it gets under our skin. We may begin to trawl the past for filed away resentments against one another. We may nurse grievances and rehearse what we will say to that pig if we get an opportunity: “Just you wait, ‘Enry ‘Iggins, just you wait.” Gradually, it becomes impossible to un-spill the spilled wine.
How else does the wine run empty? We may become nonchalant about constantly uplifting and affirming the other, with affection, praise and gratitude. How long is it since we said to our beloved “You little bobby dazzler?” “You little trimmer?” Perhaps the political incorrectness of referring to “little” scared us off. How long is it since we said “You look a million dollars?” We may forget that continual thoughtfulness is the new wine that refills empty friendship. For example, he wants a quiet unwind to sink a slab and watch the women’s beach volleyball, and she brings home a noisy gaggle from Probus to go feral over paid parental leave. Never get stuck in bitterness. Always get better, not bitter. Talk it out, sort it out. Before sleeping, find that hand in the darkness, clasp it and own, “I was wrong. I’m sorry.” Here, the one person we must change is ourself.
At Cana, the wine-taster averred, “We usually ply the drunks with cheap plonk when they’re sozzled, but this is really top wine; you’ve kept the Grange Hermitage till last. You will keep the good wine coming if you continually choose to want to spend time with the one person you would most like to spend it with. No, fellas, you can’t have sixteen wives, although the marriage charge seems to say you can have four better, four worse, four richer, four poorer. In marriage, you will keep the good wine coming if, everyday, you choose to make your life-long commitment a continual state of falling in love, of being in love, and never falling out. You will keep the good wine coming if, everyday, you say with hugs and kisses, “I love you,” and mean it more and more every time, and so make the courtship intoxication continue down the years. In both friendship and married state, even though there may be few magic moments of total agreement on everything, nonetheless, we go on, trying to respect one another, we go on trying to trust one another, we go on trying to understand one another for as long as life is long, and longer still, as marriages are made in heaven and should ripple on into eternity. We go on choosing to turn the wine scarcity into the real stuff, that is, heart-stopping, wonderfully full-bodied wine, wine of surpassing plenty and quality, in friendship and in married love.
Thanks be to God who gives us the victory.
SIXTH SUNDAY of EASTER John 14:15-21
It may seem unreal today, but, in the late 1940s I was raised by fallen women from the Magdalen refuge. My fertile mother had romped home first in the maternity stakes, with five kids under six years. The Magdalen refuge women would stay overnight as carer-nannies. Today, Jesus promised “I will not leave you orphaned.” But, as a three-four-year old, at nights, I felt completely abandoned and orphaned. Around my street-corner bedroom, car lights dashed like Min Mins. Monsters creaked corridor floorboards. I hoped they had already eaten the baby and wouldn’t want me. It was no use crying for comfort. The Magdalen ladies had loved grandfather’s whiskey too much to hear me.Yet, Jesus promised “My Father and I will come and make our home with you.” In hindsight, I felt I had missed out on a home as a toddler.
Many years later, I missed out again on a home when I allegedly excommunicated myself to a cool place in hell by turning from the Church of Rome. Two of my sisters refused to speak to me for quite a long time, and, by then, as our poor mum’s carers, they had clouded her demented mind. If nothing else, the Romans could be good haters. When one finally spoke, it was to accuse “You killed our mother,” even though it took another fourteen years after my defection for her to go to glory.
Being a bear of small brain, I had believed that, ultimately, all things work together to the good to them that love the Lord, so, as a Catholic Judas, I left open the door to my family, hoping that time would heal the fracture. Sadly, they were not interested. I had to leave them to wander among the nostalgic tombs of their former glory of once having a ‘real’ priest in the family. But now, he had gone over to the dark side as a false priest, called Anglican.
I felt this again recently, when I answered a sick call to Cabrini. The family wanted a blessing for the sick. I put on a yellow robe against infection as is normal. I invited the family to join me around the bed, but no, they stayed at a distance. I gave the lady the full works, no no-frills here. As I left, the son said, “I hope it will work, as she’s Catholic.” I said, “But hospital rules are: you should have called your own priest.” “Yeah, but the doc said: what mum’s got is catchy. We didn’t want Father Bill to catch it from her, so we called you in.”Today, Jesus promised “I will not leave you orphaned/desolate,” as I felt when I was a baby, and then, as an unwanted black sheep, and now, as a not quite right Cabrini priest.
Next Thursday, Ascension, when Jesus morphed back into God in heaven, his disciples blindly felt as I felt, he was abandoning them as orphans, for, who could possibly replace the living, loving, likeable friend they had in Jesus? But he assured them, with a cast-iron guarantee, saying, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you, forever.” Jesus’ very vulnerable group had been woefully found wanting before. Now, Jesus would place on them, the responsibility for evangelizing the whole world with the Advocate’s assistance. What is this other Advocate but the Holy Spirit of Jesus. Since no one has ever seen the Holy Spirit, some conjecture that it’s a merely benign presence, like an older people’s Santa Claus, in whom we only half believe. The Spirit is the bright side of God, the warm side of God, the loving side. It is the same intimate companion that Jesus was when alive; it is a close presence, a consoler and comforter, the very same as if he was living and breathing with us still, which he truly is.
The Holy Spirit of Jesus will help us prise open the closed chambers of unhappy memories and stored hurts to face up to the scarring selfishness of others, so that, with help from on high, I may deal maturely with them, to forgive them in a truly Christian manner, to turn my pain into pearls of happiness.
When I have difficult decisions to make, the Holy Spirit of Jesus is a lamp of guidance to my feet and a light to my path, to help me untwist the perplexing knots, such as why should bad things happen to good people? The Holy Spirit of Jesus comes at times of sad sorrow and heart-rending grief comes with consoling words and warm hugs comes like a divine handkerchief to dab away the sound of gentle sobbing, and then, to call me to be a compassionate carer and a replacement Jesus to all others., to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.
Lastly, we used trip the light fantastic toe to the tune, “What the world needs now is lerv, sweet lerv. It’s the only thing there is too little of.” Today, Jesus promises: “if you lerv/love me, you will keep my commandments and be loved by my Father, and I will love you.” By commandments, Jesus doesn’t mean the ten do’s and don’ts; the ten are held today to be like a school test paper, two out of ten to be attempted. And anyway, it is a little difficult to find an ox or an ass to covet in Burwood East, these days. By commandments, Jesus means the guidelines he has given about following the way he taught, such as the Sermon on the Mount.
Let me end: Encouraged by the Holy Spirit of Jesus, will we realize that the world needs lerv, sweet lerv, as never before, and really strive to do something to bring it about, or will we continue to raise front fences of fear, and slam shut security doors of suspicion on one another, so that I choose to remain isolated, an orphan, a stranger alone? God forgive me, if I do. Amen.
THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER Luke 24: 13-35
A week ago, we remembered the defeated withdrawal from the enemy occupied area of ANZAC Cove. Today, we hear of two disciples reeling defeated from the enemy occupied area of Jerusalem As they left, the disheartened ANZACS possibly slipped into “iffing.” “If only there hadn’t been the ridges to climb at Gaba Tepe. If only Mustafa Kemal had not been the magnificent enemy commander.” As they left Jerusalem, the disillusioned disciples plunged into their grief-filled “iffing.” “If only Jesus had not valiantly charged the Sanhedrin trenches head on.” “If only his traitorous friends had spoken up in his defence at Pilate’s kangaroo court.”
In the fading evening light, a third person drew alongside to keep company with the vanquished. “What’s up, guys? Why so upset?” It was like saying in 1916: “You’re back from Gallipoli? It must have been a picnic there compared to the Somme.” The lads on the troopship departing Gallipoli in 1915 confided: “We had hoped to take the heights to get to Constantinople. But now, our hopes are buried with the nearly 9000 lads we left behind. I hope to God they didn’t hear us go,” And the disciples confided: “We had hoped he was the one to liberate Israel with the sword. But now, our hopes have been buried with him in humiliation. His death is the tragic end to the dearest hope of our nation.”
The two disciples failed to recognise Jesus on the road with them. When they had last seen him, he would have been a bloodied, misshapen pulp, marred almost beyond human recognition.
Why did Risen Jesus not lead his disciple band joyfully cart-wheeling into the Jerusalem Temple, to celebrate his victory over death? That would surely have packed in the crowds. Churchill had rejoiced at a victory:
‘Six weeks ago, Herr Hitler said to his divided cabinet, “In three weeks, England’s neck will be wrung like a chicken’s.” Some chicken. Some neck.’
The glory roll of the Risen One is strangely, quietly, domestically private. Strangely, he was seen only by his own. On the road, the stranger told them: “Bless my heart. You just don’t get it, do you? Can’t you see? All the fuss was necessary.” He explained that, far from a Gallipoli catastrophe, the death of the Messiah was the anticipated outcome of his heaven-sent mission. The stranger may even have quoted Psalm 22 (from the cross), which, written 1000 years before him, described in detail his passion and execution with amazing accuracy, and ends with the words: “future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn,” to Burwood Easterners. Deliverance, NOT failure.
At Emmaus, the trio sat down to cold cuts, bread and wine. The two asked the stranger to say grace. He took up the bread, and they possibly gasped at the nail scars and yelled “Houla bloody boula! It is really he.” In this tantalising table moment, full recognition exploded their brains and burned into their hearts. The stranger had led them from the indefensible trench of disappointment to full revelation, from utter confusion to full clarity, as his Easter gift.
As happens in our Sunday Eucharist, on the road, Risen Jesus had given the pair the Liturgy of the Word and given the pair the Eucharist at the table. The pair had walked the sunset road that led them to glorious dawn.
Where are we? We could well feel we are back in the Gallipoli trenches under an occupying power. This is the power of selfishness, disappointment, heartbreak and despair. Try as we might, we just cannot pack up our troubles in our old kit bag, and smile, smile, smile, because we are continually smashed by the shrapnel shower of trouble in relationships, by Neanderthals at work, from the loneliness of life alone, or sickness in the family, from domestic appliances that go phut and we wait, but the repair person just doesn’t come. These troubles may so fog our minds, that we fail to recognize Risen Jesus, and turn to him for help.
At Gallipoli, Anglican chaplains tried to bring the presence of God to the mud and blood-filled shell holes, but, they found most of the men unchurched, and, for the churched, Matins had little meaning. It just did not speak to the diggers’ ghastly situation of suffering, dysentery, endemic fear and death. But the chaplains found that Holy Communion did. Communion brought them the comfort of a real presence of one who had plumbed the very situation they were in, one, who gave no vague, fuzzy hope, but real power to lift them from their Emmaus road of Gallipoli despair and fear.
In this homily, since I have swapped my civvies street stories for khaki and jungle-green, would you bear one more martial example? One war later, Australia’s army was away, when the 39th militia was sent hastily to Kokoda. Newly-weds promised to write every day to remind one another, that whatever the couple did, they would be together in spirit. Weeks passed. His letter stopped. Fear, uncertainty, dark thoughts gripped his wife. Daily, apprehensively, she read the casualty lists. One day, she plumped down the shopping after work, to fumble for the door key, and he opened it. How different he looked after his terrific ordeal on his Emmaus track, but his presence was real. With no prior notice, the veterans from the Battle for Australia veterans had been given leave. She gasped with delight, then let cry a whoop as fans would, who once watched Cazaly pull down a screamer in the time-on period, with scores equal, right in front. That is what we should try to make our Eucharistic presence be.
Weekly, Risen Jesus walks beside us in the gloaming that may descend on us on our Emmaus road. He comes as a presence, a companion, able to offer tender concern, so that our hearts burn within us. He comes to speak to our frazzled minds, when our hearts are downcast, when there seems no easy answer, no quick fix, no glib solution to life’s pressing imponderables. Thank God, that, as happened to the disillusioned disciples and the boys at Gallipoli, we know he is near in the breaking of the bread, and, with his presence, we may yet do marvels. Unto him who can turn all our sorrowful sunsets into joyful sunrise, be all honour and glory, forever and ever. Alleluia. Amen.