Jesus is his Mama’s boy…

Do you ever open your mouth, and your mum pops out?! Unnerving isn’t it!

So often I hear Sue Sampson coming out of my mouth. Her compassion for refugees, her frustration of inefficiency, her hatred of injustice, her defiance of the patriarchy and certain political leaders, her love of trashy TV and always the glass of wine…There’s rarely any doubt that I am my mother’s daughter.

And in this morning’s gospel, we encounter something similar: Jesus, God’s Son is very much Mary’s boy. Did you notice?

When Mary discovered she was carrying the saviour of the world in her body, she burst into her song of liberation and justice – the one we call the Magnificat. With the Christ inside her she was able to see the world as it really could be, as it really should be, where the hungry are filled, the proud are brought low and the humble take their place; the rich are sent away empty, and the poor are provided for. I wonder how often she sang that song as Jesus grew. I wonder if she sang it to him at bedtime or bath time. I wonder if she sang it while he was a baby, a boy, a teenager, and an adult. I wonder if she maybe even sang it as she knelt at the foot of his cross.

Obviously we don’t know but hearing this morning’s gospel passage it is clear to me that it became very much part of Jesus’ DNA because by the time we join him at the ‘level place’ this morning he is preaching it for himself, almost word for word: Blessed are the poor, Blessed are the hungry, Blessed are those who weep, Blessed are the hated. Woe to the rich, woe to those who are full, woe to those who are spoken highly of.

Yep, Jesus really is his mama’s boy.

And just as Mary’s Magnificat makes for uncomfortable listening so too does the same message when it comes out of Jesus’ mouth, particularly for us…because we are way more among the ‘woe’s than the ‘blessed’s. But what can we do about that, because simply by birth we are fortunate enough to be counted with the rich and rejoicing and not the poor or hungry. And yes, we can give away what we have. We can try to share our power and our privilege. Of course we can, and we must, but the thing that struck me about these lists this week is the first point – blessed are the poor, for theirs, yours, is the kingdom of God.

And isn’t the point of following Jesus, isn’t the main point something about building God’s Kingdom here and now, spotting where it is cropping up and joining in. Didn’t we sign up to this Jesus movement to live in and extend God’s Kingdom and invite others to join us there too?

Blessed are the poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God.

If that is true – and Jesus says it is – then perhaps we should not only try to give up our wealth, but we should also be hanging out with those who are genuinely poor. If we want to experience the kingdom of God, that is where we will find it.

This week, many of you know, I went back to the prison at Perth Airport to visit our friends Ned, Aref and Javad. That place is like staring into the depths of hell. It is sterile and inhumane. It is devoid of compassion or friendship. It crushes spirits and sends hope away empty. It reflects all that is bad about humankind and shows a terrifying side of what one human can do to another and what one political system can inflict on those who are most vulnerable.

All three of our friends are in a bad way at the moment. Ned is being denied access to mental health treatment that he so desperately needs and is protesting that by refusing food. Aref, usually so full of hopeful expectation had really dropped his head. And eloquent and beautiful Javad broke my heart when he told me, ‘I own nothing, I have nothing, not even these clothes I wear, because at any point [these guards] can take it from me, so nothing I own is mine. It’s theirs’. He went on to say ‘you can live without food for weeks and you can live without water for days but you can’t live without hope, even for a minute so I am not living. I am just breathing’.

Blessed are the poor and hungry for yours is the kingdom of God.

Sitting at the gates of hell with these men reveals the kingdom of God. And I don’t know how that happens or even really what that means but I do believe it to be true. The detention centre does not feature in God’s Kingdom – the exclusion of refugees or boat people – the blind eye we turn to those who are literally starving themselves to death – those things are not aspects of the Kingdom of God but by being alongside these guys, by standing in solidarity with them, we somehow glimpse something of another way. A new world.

The needs of Javad and Ned and Aref make me feel paralysed and powerless. They bring me to the end of myself. And then, in that paradox, there I find God. Reaching the end of ourselves meant that many of you turned up at the centre yesterday and protested their treatment. Reaching the end of who we are meant several others came and lamented here at mass or joined in online or in our homes or are planning to go to the edge of humanity and sit with those guys in their cell and listen to their stories. And as we do, so we enter a new dimension of the Kingdom of God. I don’t know how that works, but it does.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian, describes the Magnificat as ‘the most passionate, the wildest, the most revolutionary song ever sung’. Here on the mount Jesus sings his version of it, with his whole heart. As we seek to follow Him, may we find our own song of revolution, and may we sing it with all we have and all we are and as it changes us so may it also change the world. Amen.

Truth.

Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.

And before you were born, I consecrated you.

I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.

You shall speak whatever I command you.

Do not be afraid.

These words from our Old Testament reading this morning were a promise to Jeremiah, but when we read them alongside our Gospel reading, I think they could just as easily be written for Jesus. And even for us too.

Have you ever wondered about the conversation God might’ve had with the Trinity before God the son was conceived in Mary’s womb?  What did the divine parent say to Jesus – did Jesus receive a mission, was the plan shared, was there a specific plan, and when he was born as a human baby did he remember it, or did it come back to him as he grew. Or did he only know he was the son of God when he heard it proclaimed at his baptism? Was it as much of a surprise to him as it was to the others, gathered on the riverbank that day?  The truth is, we don’t know but, by the time we get to this scene in the synagogue, Jesus certainly does know.

The spirit is upon ME, Jesus says.

And he knows exactly what his purpose is.

The spirit is upon ME, to preach good news to the poor, bring sight to the blind, win release for captives, smash oppression and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.

Whenever Jesus became aware of his call, whenever he figured out what his life’s purpose was, he knew it by the time he stood up to read those scrolls that day, in his hometown.

And all spoke well of him and were amazed at the words that came from his mouth.

The synagogue was packed; word had got out that this itinerant preacher was coming home; he’d been doing amazing things all over the place and now it’s our turn to see him perform miracles and do great things for us. And he stands up and speaks with such boldness, such prophetic truth and everyone was amazed.

Isn’t this guy Joseph’s son?

Didn’t our children go to lessons together?

Aren’t his family sat right over there?

All were amazed at him.

So, what changed? How come, just 6 verses later, all in the synagogue were filled with rage?  They got up, drove him out of the town and led him to the brow of the cliff so they might hurl him off.  Why was there such a turnaround and such a strong, murderous reaction to what he was saying?  They had known Jesus as a child. But had they really known him? Because here he is telling them he is a prophet, here he is suggesting – pretty boldly – that he’s the messiah. Isn’t that what they want? Isn’t that who they have been waiting for?

Jesus comes to the synagogue with this great message – a message that is good news for the poor, sight for the blind, freedom for those in captivity, liberation for those who are oppressed – and everyone loves it – and then Jesus says, no prophet is accepted in his hometown. Basically, there’s nothing I can do for you here. Ouch.

Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing. But it is for the poor and the blind and the incarcerated and the oppressed. And they don’t like that because they want it to be for them. They want the goodness all for themselves. And isn’t that a condition of the human heart. As it was for them, how often is that true for us too?

Things switched dramatically in the temple that day. From amazement to vicious death threats. A total 180. And it seems that the crime Jesus committed, over and over, the one that sentenced him to death – first here in the synagogue and later at the cross is summed up in one word: TRUTH.

Jesus told the truth and people didn’t like it. Speaking the truth won’t win you friends, and it will threaten to get you killed. And it is the right thing to do. The only thing to do.

Jesus’ message of good news is really good, but it also means raises some uncomfortable truths. Jesus’ message causes us to examine ourselves and acknowledge we aren’t the ones who are poor, blind, incarcerated and oppressed. Jesus’ message invites us to join the ranks of those who willingly give away some of our own privilege in order that others may thrive and grow and live. It means we need to hold onto those Old Testament promises made to Jeremiah and Jesus, and us – that we were known by God before our very conception, that we are consecrated and called for a holy purpose, that we have a job to do, that we must speak out truth and love, just as we are commanded, and without fear because God is with us.

Jesus’ listeners in first century Palestine, in his hometown, only heard the deeply unsettling truth that God favours the poor and the oppressed. And it made them murderous. But the bottom line is that this is the truth. And we are not poor. But God shares God’s work with us. And we have the enormous and profound privilege of being able to become God’s hands and feet and mouthpiece in this generation. We can choose to be amazed by that invitation and take it. Or we can put ourselves first and turn it down. We can take truth and live with it, or we can try to kill it.

Later this morning we are going to pray God’s blessing upon our young people as they return to school, to a new school year, to a new school for some of them. I am going to pray that they know they were called and set apart before they were even conceived, for works of greatness, and that they might fulfil them, even today, even as children, even in their hometown. I’m going to pray that they will speak boldly, caring first for the poor and the oppressed. As you pray for them too, may you also know that you were born for works of greatness and that your greatest work is to care first and foremost for the poor and oppressed, following after the example of Jesus, and may this truth be the truth that sets you free.  Amen.

Christmas in Summertime

Christmas in Summertime!

I arrived on Australian soil on 1st September 2021, spent 29 days in quarantine, got married on the 30th, and was licensed to St Paul’s Beaconsfield on 4th October. My feet didn’t really hit the floor and, before I knew it, we were knee-deep in Advent, and making plans for Christmas.

I had assumed Christmas was Christmas, wherever you found yourself that day. How wrong I was! I also assumed Christmas here would be the same, just considerably warmer. Again, wrong.

The first indication that I was no longer ‘walking in a winter wonderland’ was the sight of 6 huge inflatable kangaroos on a nearby balcony (apologies, “6 white boomers”, according to Rolf Harris). The second indication was slightly more ecclesiological…as we collectively studied long-range weather forecasts to see if the arrival of the sheep from the local urban farm would be cancelled, for fear of heat stroke. The shepherds in our nativity sang ‘Waltzing Matilda’ and the Angel Gabriel greeted Blessed Mary with a ‘G’day’, rather than a Hail, Mary!  Mince pies and mulled wine after the nativity service were replaced with ice poles and cold sangria. And I sweltered under my vestments, rather than being grateful to them for keeping me warm.

Christmas day hit 43 degrees. We valiantly still cooked a ‘traditional’ Christmas dinner of turkey and all the trimmings, but we cooled off in the sea, and wore sun hats instead of Santa hats. And not a single person even considered whether it might snow this Christmas.

And then there was the sudden threat of a community-based COVID outbreak, and, with about an hour to spare, we decided to move all services outside – for safety, and because we could.  I can’t imagine that would have been as positively received on the Northeast coast of England, where temperatures barely rose over freezing.

I added new carols, of Australian descent, into my repertoire and missed singing about Bleak Midwinters but, would you look at that: on a clear, starlit Christmas eve, in the dark of night, with candles lit, and a choir singing, our Lord Jesus Christ was born among us.

God incarnate.

Immanuel.

Born to each of us, just as he was that first Christmas.

And then, suddenly, it really didn’t matter where we were, who was there, or who was missing. What really mattered was that God was there, is there, always will be there, here, with us. Regardless of the weather or the location.

Joy to the world – the whole world – the Lord has come. Alleluia.

Water into wine…

John 2: 1 – 11

I wasn’t here too long before I got the reputation for being a lover of prosecco. In fact, my reputation preceded me, and when I was handed my first glass of fizz within moments of being licensed, I knew I was in the right place. But I’m no wine connoisseur. And I say that tentatively because I am aware I now live in wine country. Fortunately for me, I am now married to one!  Craig and I spent our delayed honeymoon in Margaret River, touring several breweries. On our first stop we had no idea what we were doing. We basically liked what we liked…and got smashed.

On our second stop we did the same until this one night, where I went to sleep, next to a non-wine-expert but woke up next to a top-class sommelier! Craig, being unable to sleep, had done some research and now knew vast amounts about wine. And our search for the Cape Mentelle 2018 cab sav began. Because that’s the best wine in WA. Suddenly our wine tasting became about notes on the nose and something about the front of the tongue. Craig’s appreciation grew…and I continued to get smashed…just on better, posher wine. And I’ve been thinking about that as I’ve read this week’s gospel reading. And there is so much that is good in this passage.

My favourite thing is that we are on day 3 of a 5-day wedding festival; everyone has been drinking; Jesus could’ve served vaguely fermented grape juice, who would’ve noticed? But, instead, Jesus’ miracle serves up the best wine in the land.  And that is what God is like – abundant, extravagant, generous, always giving, always outdoing us with grace and mercy and blessings and good things.  We come grovelling for a drop of vinegar, almost, and Jesus pours out bottles of Cape Mentelle upon us.  Isn’t it wonderful to worship a God of abundance, who gives more than we can ever ask or imagine?

And as another act of abundance…

Jesus changed water into wine for EVERYONE, not just the few.  He didn’t just make a couple of bottles for the 1st century equivalent of the top table.  He made 180 gallons of wine – that’s around 900 bottles – so there would be enough for everyone; enough for this party, and the next – enough to give away – enough for everyone to enjoy…and to hear where it came from.

But here’s the clever bit…In this story we have water, and we have wine – water, the symbol of humanity and wine, the symbol of divinity.  In this miracle we see an audacious claim from God – the source of all miracles – we see that as simply as Jesus can change water into wine, so God can change Jesus’ humanity into divinity and that, in turn, we too can be changed from our brokenness and sin into a person of holiness, wholeness and beauty. 

That is the real miracle: not that Jesus changed water into wine, but that Jesus can change us from broken to whole, from fearful to bold, from hurt to healed, from alone to belonging, and that all this happens in and through the relationship we are offered, from Christ, every single day. 

This gospel story is not really about weddings or alcohol.  It is a signpost that points to who Jesus is, what life will be like with him, and what his kingdom stands for.  Jesus is one who offers transformation.  And he begins with the transformation of water into wine.

Water is good, of course.  We need it for life, we are made of it, and we can’t live very long without it.  It is the most basic of necessities, but wine…wine is a symbol of more – in the bible, wine is used to symbolise life and abundance, extravagance, joy and celebration.  So Jesus has come to transform that which is good and important, into something that is even better.  Life, but life in abundance.

The six stone water-jars that Jesus instructed the stewards to fill with water were there for ritual purification and washing.  They were there so the wedding guests could keep Jewish law.  Jesus takes that ritual water and turns it into something beyond the law.  The Law isn’t bad.  It is good, and pure.  But Jesus came to transform it into something that was not just good, but joyful, God-centred, grace-filled, welcoming, loving, accepting.  Because of Jesus, ceremonial washing was no longer needed.  We are already clean.  We are already good enough.  We don’t need those water jars any more.  We can use them for wine – the best wine – because being accepted by the Living God is a real cause for the best sort of celebration. 

This is a message for those whose life is like water–good, nourishing, and life-sustaining.  And the message is ‘it’s good to be good, but it’s even better to be great and joy-filled and to know the unconditional love and acceptance of Christ’.  Come on in; the wine is delicious!

God wants so much more for us than our dutiful commitment.  God wants us to live fully; to laugh and enjoy life.  To look into the ritual water-jars that we think are needed to make us acceptable in God’s sight, and to find that they are full of wine, and it is for us. 

God is full of divine extravagance.  The absolute scandal of following Jesus is the discovery that when we go to the source of living water, and choose to drink, we find that it becomes posh, expensive, delicious wine as it touches our lips.  Our God is not interested in duty or ritual purification; our God offers us abundant life, filled to the brim and overflowing with love.  We have already been washed in the waters of baptism – we are clean, once and for all; the future is wine!

And I wonder how often people look at Christians and don’t see this abundant life, this unconditional welcome, this huge outpouring of love.  I wonder how often people look at us and think that our faith is one that looks more like something that turns wine into water, not the other way around…and that is why we need to repeatedly return here, to this altar, to mass, and ask Jesus for a top-up, a refill, of His divinity, in exchange for our humanity.  In every mass, we have the opportunity to have the water of our lives, transformed into the abundance of wine.

May we be transformed, and may we be agents of transformation in this world, because we have tasted life in abundance, and now have abundant life to offer, unconditionally, to all.  Amen.

The Baptism of Christ

I love a fun fact. Don’t you love a fun fact?

Did you know that elephants are the only mammal that can’t jump, or horned lizards squirt blood out of their eyeballs to ward off predators?! Butterflies taste with their feet and cows moo with regional accents and have best friends. Did you know that?

Did you also know that there is the same amount of water on the earth now as there was when the earth was formed? Some websites tell you this means the water you drink is likely to contain dinosaur wee from some point in time, but I have a way better thought… how about this… some of the water you drink today, some of the water you swim in, or the water you were baptised in, might just be the same water in which Jesus was baptised. How about that?

When I first realised water was recycled over and over since the dawn of time – raining down into rivers, sweeping out to seas, evaporating into clouds and beginning again – and the atoms making up my own glass of water could be part of the water the spirit brooded over back in Genesis One, or that Moses parted or Jesus was baptised in – when I first realised that, I blissed out on that for a good amount of time and here we are, this morning, right back by the river Jordan, with John and our Lord waist deep in that water, and I’m back there again.

Imagine that moment…

People, filled with expectation: is John the messiah we’ve waited for??

John’s cryptic answers and strange clothing. His mentions of fire, water and spirit.

Herod, breathing out murderous threats.

And people queueing to get into those waters, die to sin and come out the other side – dripping on the riverbanks.  And then along comes the Palestinian carpenter, Joseph’s son, wading into the water. John sinks him under and then it happens.

He’s lifted out of the water, the heavens open; the spirit descends, visibly, like an actual dove and there is the voice…

You are my son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.

An epiphany

And Jesus is baptised in water that has been around since the dawn of time.

And so are we.

At each baptism service, I think ‘what one thing do I want this family to know today’. What one thing? And often it’s this: even though you can’t see the heavens open, or the spirit descend like a dove – even though you can’t see it, and probably can’t hear this voice of God saying ‘you are my son, you are my daughter and I love you’ – please know that is exactly what is happening today. That’s what I want every baptism child and family and supporters and godparents to know.

And that’s what I want you to know today too.

Jesus is baptised…and the epiphany that he is God’s son is revealed to all who were there and to all who heard about it, then, and down through the ages, in the pages of scripture.

And we, many of us, were also baptised in water – maybe even some of the very same molecules. The very same H20.  And on that day, and since, have we seen the heavens opened over us and the spirit descend on us? Have we too heard the voice of our creator, the source of life, declare those words over us – you are my child, I adore you. Whether you’ve seen it or heard it, do you know it?

The other thing I try to communicate at baptisms is that we only do this once, don’t miss it, I say. Stand on your chair, turn to the back, don’t miss it, it’s a one-off – we believe in one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. Don’t we? Well, this week, I think I’ve changed my mind a bit. I mean, I do still believe in one baptism – that once is absolutely sufficient and all that’s needed – regardless of whether my parents brought me just to ‘get me done’ or for the party afterwards. I do trust the power of the sacrament that one baptism is entirely adequate – way more than adequate, actually. But I believe it is enough, because it begins a process – it begins an act of belonging, believing, adopting, and loving that goes on right until we meet God face-to-face.

We only baptise once, because God keeps on baptising and baptising us, over and over.

In baptism we are washed clean, made children of the living God, and told we are utterly beloved, that God is pleased with us. And that is not a one-off event. Every day, every second of every day, we are transformed, sanctified, made holy, and loved. Always loved by God, always well pleased of God. So yes, baptism is a one-off event, it only happens once but that is because it happens continually – over and over – every day.

I don’t think I’ve read that somewhere and I haven’t searched to find a theologian who agrees with me, but it sounds like the kind of grace that the source of all Love would extend, over and over; that God would be constantly baptising us into God’s family as an act of love and unconditional acceptance.

Whether we share the same molecules in our own baptism that Christ was drenched in at his – whether it’s splashes of the same water or not, the truth is that it is the same God tearing the heavens apart, lavishing God’s spirit upon us and pouring out affirmations of love and belonging. The same love, the same promises, the same parenting, the same holy acceptance.

And as a reminder of that, and a reminder of our own baptism, I’m going to give you the opportunity to encounter it again – a soaking and an outpouring of the lavish and abundant love of God…

‘We give you thanks O God that you have called us by name, and we are yours

We thank you for the promise that we are your sons and daughters, your children – that you love us and are pleased with us.

Pour out your spirit, like a dove – bless and sanctify this water so that as we remember our baptism, so we may know your love for us all over again.

May the promises of our baptism be refreshed, and the rewards of our baptism be renewed – over and over.

Through Jesus Christ our Lord, after who’s example and at who’s command, we are baptised. Amen’

Remember your baptism and be thankful.

Amen.

Christmas Morning – who are you in the story?

A few weeks ago, you might remember me saying I came up with my sermon on a Wednesday. And I felt smug. And then, on Thursday something happened that meant I had to do a total rewrite. I think I even said something like ‘that’s the last time I write a sermon as early as a Wednesday again’. You would think, wouldn’t you, that with this being so recent, it might’ve taught me a lesson? You would think that, wouldn’t you? so how come, by Wednesday this week, I had churned out 3 sermons.   Then, on Thursday morning, I went along to our meditation session, and the Spirit, or Peter, or both (in holy cahoots) shot me clean between the eyes with a new stunning truth that I simply must preach, so here it is…

Peter shared with us some incredible words from Fr Richard Rohr and his community – Fr Richard is a Franciscan roman catholic priest who writes extensively and beautifully about contemplative spirituality, and he writes this…

‘When we speak of preparing for Christmas, we’re not simply waiting for the little baby Jesus to be born. That already happened two thousand years ago. We’re forever welcoming the Universal Christ, the Cosmic Christ, the Christ that is forever being born in the human soul and into history’.

Friends, today, we celebrate the birth of a real-life baby, born in Bethlehem, in the City of David.  Born more than 2000 years ago, but also being born and reborn, down through history, and born here, today.

And this morning, our gospel reading tells us one of the fuller accounts of the Christmas story. And the thought that the Christ might still being born now, led me to consider…if Christ is still being born today, that means the holy nativity is not just a time and place in history, but it is an event, a process, that IS happening here, in Beaconsfield, as it did in Bethlehem. And if that is true, and I believe it is, then which role might you be, in this gospel account…so I invite you to suspend all you know of this story as we ask God’s Spirit to reveal it afresh to us, here and now.

First, we meet joseph. Faithful, afraid, confused but diligent joseph. Are you like joseph? Not quite sure what it is that God wants from you, but just placing one foot in front of the other; trying to hear from God and trying to do whatever it is that God might ask. Always trying to step back so that Christ gets the true spotlight but pottering away and serving as if your life depends on it. Because it does. Are you joseph?

Then we see precious Mary, blessed Mary, carrying the Christ in her body and being willing to present him to the world. Bold, fierce, Mary who dared to say, ‘here am I, God’s servant, let it be to me according to your word’. Mary who allowed Jesus to change her body, mind, soul, will and life, in order that the world might be changed. Are you, like Mary, in with both feet? Past the point of no return. Pressing forwards to live entirely for God, unable to do anything other than show Christ to the world – even if it costs you all you are? Are you like Mary?

And then we have the shepherds, living in the fields. Shepherds, in first century Palestine, were regarded as dirty, untrustworthy, lawbreakers.  They were excluded from the temple because they couldn’t keep the purity laws.  Their word was inadmissible in a court of law.  They were unbelieved and looked down upon for not being at home at night to care for their family.  Having a shepherd as a son or husband was a bit of an embarrassment.  Can you resonate with them? Do you feel like you too are out on the fringe somehow? Like God would never want to know you? Like you’ll never quite be enough? Well, if you are one of the shepherds, hear this: it was to you that the first announcement of the birth of the baby was made. But of course, it was! God favours shepherds, these cant-be-trusted, can’t-be-believed, dirty shepherds.  The angels told them they were to be given good news of great joy, for all people.  So, they went and found Mary and Joseph, and the child.  And then they told the world; they told anyone who would listen, about this new-born baby AND ‘all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them’.  Who’s not listening now? If you feel like a shepherd, you are favoured!

Or are you an angel? A messenger of God, giving glory to God; an evangelist, a spreader of good news. Can you not help but tell others about Jesus? Are you an angel? Is that what is being born in you on this nativity?

And then there is Jesus. Wow. We can’t possibly be Jesus, can we? Except isn’t that the point? To grow more and more into the likeness of Christ and the likeness of who we are created to be?  Well, this was the real kicker, and for this I need to return to the words of Richard Rohr who dares to suggest this… ‘God [is] waiting for us to wake up! You know, as if we’re asleep in the manger, not Jesus! Jesus is alive in our midst…’ he says, ‘What if we’re in the manger and God is already awakened in our midst and we’re so fallen asleep, we’re so unconsciously asleep that God is sort of looking for “someone [to] get up and help bring the gifts into the world?’ Could we, could you, be Jesus – not asleep in the manger, but fulfilling the will of God to bring the gift of life and light to the world, here and now?

So, whether you relate most closely to a member of the holy family, or one of the angelic choristers, or the fringe-dwelling shepherds, may the Christ be born and re-awoken in each of us today.  Let’s awaken to what God is doing in us and what God is seeking to become in us. Alleluia, amen.

Christmas Eve according to Bette Midler…

I love a Christmas song.  Since moving here the hot Christmas thing is the craziest thing to get used to – jingle bells in the supermarket aisles while the AC is blasting out and the sweat is dripping will probably never become normal. And I’ve heard some new and unique takes on the Christmas story – Santa’s sleigh being pulled by 6 White Boomers was a bit of a surprise and tonight’s Silver Stars is a welcome addition to my carol repertoire. I never knew there was a song to tell me when to make my Christmas gravy (you’ve missed the day, if you didn’t know either….) but there’s one song that has followed me here and that is Bette Midler singing From a Distance… You know it?

It’s a nice song – IMO Cliff Richard did it well but Bette does it best. I especially like her little drummer boy section and the joy to the world ending is simply brilliant – but it’s not right.   I’m sorry Bette – your theology is totally wrong.  Your song tells us big unhelpful lies.  And I’ll tell you why.

She beautifully sings God is watching us, God is watching us, God is watching us… from a distance.  And that’s just not true.  And tonight’s gospel reading tells us why…

In the beginning was the Word – Jesus. And the Word was with God and the Word was God.  And the Word – Jesus – became flesh and lived among us.

The Word became flesh and lived among us! Or the way one paraphrase version of the bible puts it…The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood.

God is not watching us from a distance at all!  God is near, so near, in skin, alongside, with, eye-to-eye – not far away and looking down upon.

And that is the beautiful profound promise of Christmas; because of Christmas, where God put on skin and came and lived among us, we are not alone, being watched from a distance.  We are totally WITH.  Always accompanied by God, in Christ.

Last Christmas, and this Christmas, have really been sideswiped by a global pandemic, and even though we are currently safe within these borders, we are still – many of us – spending Christmas without our favourite loved ones.

There are many of us who will have an extra space, or two, or more, at our Christmas dinner tables.  Even this week, I have sat with a newly bereaved widow, waiting to bury her beloved husband, and I’ve had conversations with people who are dreading Christmas, or even have cancelled it, because they feel like they just can’t face it on their own, or with their person missing. 

And maybe that Christmas loneliness is familiar to you, maybe even years on.  And I want you to know that you are seen and known and loved.  And I want you to also know that God is not far off, even if it feels that way.  God is not watching us from a distance.  Not at all.

Because of Christmas, God is watching us, right up close and personal; right around our dinner tables, right here, right now; and, more than that, God is not just here and now, but is also there and there and there and everywhere.

God is with those who are away from their families this Christmas, and with the prisoners in their cells and the doctor carrying out emergency surgery; and with the patient; and with the woman who will see nobody.  God is with the refugee who is far from home and no longer knows where home is and is with the person surrounded by family but who feels entirely alone, even in the midst of chaos and business.

But here is the beautiful truth; because of Christmas, God, in Christ, is so near.  So near.  God is in the candlelight and the gift wrapping; in the turkey dinner and the Christmas pudding. God is alongside the barbie and at the beach and whatever else you Australians get up to on a bright sunny hot Christmas day! God is in all the celebrations and the post-dinner swim or snooze. God is in every bubble in every glass and completely in the little tradition that is unique to your family, and your family alone.  God is even in the gravy you should’ve made on 21st!!

Whether you are approaching this Christmas with absolute joy, or slight trepidation; whether your Christmas promises to be the best one ever, or be tinged with sadness; or most likely all those things – don’t listen to Bette Midler.  Her song is great. Her perspective is interesting but she doesn’t really know what she’s talking about.

God is not watching us from a distance.  God is right here, up close, eye to eye, heart to heart, soul to actual soul:

The word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory; the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

So. May you know it afresh, or for the first time ever, this Christmas.

May your day, your week, your year, be filled with the light and life, the glory, the grace and truth of the Christ-child.  And may you know that God has come near, and lives right here, among us, because of love for you. And because God is DELIGHTED to do so.

Joy to the world, the Lord has come.  Alleluia.  Amen.

Magnificat!!

Luke 1:39-45 [46-55]

When I told my stepson I was going to bible study this week, he said, ‘don’t you know the bible yet? I would’ve thought you would know it by now…’ Well, after a couple of hours exploring this morning’s passage, I can categorically tell you, and him, that no, I don’t know the bible yet, but I am very much enjoying swimming deeper in the pages of scripture.

This morning’s words are so familiar to me and among my very favourite in the whole bible. I have many of them tattooed on my body. Those words accompanied me during some really significant moments in my faith journey; ‘let it be to me according to your word’ was the final kick I needed to get me to ordination. ‘He has filled the hungry with good things’ was the directive to open a soup kitchen. The Magnificat gave me the name for my dog, Maggie, and the whole thing has made me fall in love with Mary but as we talked this week, we saw new things.

We began a few verses before where our gospel reading starts, with the terrifying angel Gabriel appearing to Mary and telling her the divine plan. In Gabriel’s visit, he broods over Mary. He broods over her, just like the holy spirit broods over the waters in the dawn of creation. Isn’t that amazing? God is up to God’s incredible work of creation again. The angel appearing to Mary isn’t just a work of redemption or hope or salvation – although it is those things. Gabriel’s announcement to Mary is a work of creation – it is the dawn of the new creation, and it begins in exactly the same way.

And what is this new creation? Well, according to this wonderful song of Mary, the new creation will be characterised by a complete turnaround of events. The old order of things will be changed, and a new system will be established.

In this system, the currency is mercy; with incredible strength the proud are scattered; the powerful are no longer the ones in charge because the lowly are lifted up to take their place; the hungry are full; the rich are poor; AND ALL FUTURE GENERATIONS are provided for. That is not just a system that is a bit better than the old one. It is a brand-new creation, a creation of peace, to the very ends of the earth. It makes the old order unrecognisable. Complete change.

You know, my favourite Magnificat is that until 1986 it was against the law in at least two countries to read the Magnificat aloud, in public.  In Guatemala and India, the government banned the public recitation of this passage because they recognised the revolutionary nature of it.  They saw this song of Liberation encourages the oppressed to take a stance, to say NO to the systems that keep them poor and hungry, to rise up and challenge all that is wrong in the world, and they were afraid.  They thought it was so subversive they were afraid that if the poorest people heard it, there might be an uprising.

That’s amazing to me.  World leaders, even in most of our lifetimes, saw and recognised the potential for radical and enormous change, prophesied by a poor, teenage, peasant girl, and they were so afraid they tried to silence her. 

Mary’s account of God’s promises of mercy does not make easy listening to those who are satisfied or comfortable in this world; it is the poor who are seen, lifted up, filled and helped by the Almighty, whereas the powerful are brought low and the rich are sent away empty.  That has a real impact on us because we are not part of the two-thirds world that live in poverty.  It is not going to be one of our children to die in the next ten seconds, or the ten after that, or after that, from malnutrition.

There is enough currency, enough food and wealth and power for all people to live well but redistributing it requires a revolution. It means we must have and keep less, give more away, in order that others may have more. And that’s not a popular option. But as a people who are rich and full, we need to take our place in the revolution and make this promised new creation a reality. It seems like an impossible feat on our own, even as a whole church gathered.  Anything we can give, or do, is just a drop in the ocean.  What could we possibly do to help? 

Well, perhaps we can turn to blessed Mary for our example.

The angel told Mary she had been given the Christ; that He was inside her body and the world was going to be different because of her carrying Him and bringing Him to the world.  Mary took Jesus into her body, became the God-bearer, and with Him living inside her she proclaimed the Magnificat.  When Mary welcomed Christ into her body, her response was for her whole being to magnify the Lord and then she was able to see the world as it really can be. Mary takes on, as her own, God’s resounding NO to the fatality of oppression. 

Because God, incarnate, was living inside her, sharing her blood stream, she was transformed and through new eyes she was able to see the world differently; the systems and structures of the world will be changed.

And every Sunday we gather to receive the body of Christ – to literally take Jesus into our body.  Mary carried Jesus in her body. She became the God-bearer.  And in the Eucharist, we carry Jesus in our body too.  As we become the God-bearer – and take Christ into our body this morning, and every time, will we also open our eyes to see the promised new creation of the Divine Creator?  Will we commit to doing whatever we can to work with God to bring these promises about? Will we say no to oppression and an almighty yes to liberation?

Mary’s proclamation describes the dawning of the new creation; the world where Heaven and Earth collide.  And Mary isn’t the creator of this new age; but she is how God brings it about.  And this can be true for us too.  We don’t need to bring Heaven to Earth in our own strength.  Indeed, we cannot. But neither do we get to shirk our responsibilities in the transformation of this generation. Indeed, we must not.

So, what will you do with the Christ you take into your body today, and every time you approach this altar? How will you present him to this world? As Mary said, the mighty one has done great things for me. That’s true for each of us, isn’t it? The mighty one has done so many great things for us. What will we now do for the mighty one in return?

Amen.

Hope is Fierce!

Luke 21: 25-38

Wednesday night, just gone, I had a particularly bad night’s sleep and at 4am I found myself forming a sermon for this morning. Pretty pleased with myself for completing this task so early in the week I fell back to sleep with a smug grin. It was an ok sermon as well – advent is about waiting, I don’t like waiting, what things shall we do while we’re waiting – that was the kind of gist of it. Pretty solid. Maybe I’ll save it for next year, I certainly cant preach it today because on Thursday morning I woke up to some awful news from back home and it resonates so deeply with this morning’s apocalyptic gospel reading that I knew a complete rewrite had to be in order…

‘There will be … confusion by the roaring of the sea and the waves’, Jesus said

On Wednesday afternoon, this week, at 2pm GMT – just as we were beginning what for me was that sleepless night, 28 people died in the English Channel, while trying to cross from Calais to the UK in a small inflatable boat – the biggest loss of life by drowning in the Channel in many years.  The BBC reported 27 deaths: 17 men, 7 women, 3 children, but there was also an unborn child, because one of those women was pregnant and that child’s life counts, and was lost too, so the number is 28. Two of the passengers survived, and only one of those who died has so far been identified: 24-year-old Maryam Nuri Mohammed Amin – a Kurd from Northern Iraq, who was travelling to the UK to surprise her fiancé.

She messaged him as the dinghy began to lose air and sink. She told him the boat was deflating and they were trying to get the water out of it. He said, ‘she was trying to reassure me in her last message and give me hope that the authorities were on their way to rescue them, but the help came too late’.

She was trying to give him hope.

‘There will be distress’ Jesus said

On Thursday, this week, it was the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and the start of a campaign called 16 Days in WA.

16 days in WA draws inspiration from the global movement for 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence to create change in culture, behaviour and attitudes that lead to violence against women and their children.  Politicians took to social media with their slogan ‘don’t be silent when you see violence’, to encourage ordinary residents, like us, to speak up when we see violence or disrespect towards women.  They want to bring hope to those women and children who are trapped in domestic violence, or controlling relationships. They want to give hope that there is a way out.

Today is the first Sunday of advent and our theme is hope.

Friends, there are some truly horrific things happening in our world today; I don’t need to tell you that. Climate change, global warming, war, racism, oppression, the buying and selling of humans, huge inequality between the rich who just get richer and the poor who die of their poverty. There’s injustice all around, and there is prevalence of fear; total gut wrenching, crippling fear.

People are fleeing for safety and are dying in their attempts. And in the 21st century we are still having to educate people, or commit ourselves, to speak up against violence and disrespect where we see it. It beggars belief.

And yet, I can’t get away from hope! I can’t move without being bombarded by the blessings of the creator. Just like the fig tree in this morning’s gospel, so hope is sprouting her own leaves everywhere I look. She is all over the place and she is a magnet, a real draw, irresistible in her approach and totally beguiling!

People are being drawn to our community and are encountering the source of all Love. We are recognising afresh that we are standing on holy ground here and this is a place where healing and wholeness spring up, even through the cracks in solid concrete, and there is nothing we can do to tame it or to stop it. I am thankful for that which has gone before and al that has led to this point – the good and the bad. I am grateful for the hard slog you lot have put in. And I am hopeful, so hope-filled for our future together because I feel like, what we are waiting for here is a time of rejoicing, a time of jubilee. ‘Our redemption is near’ – that’s what Jesus calls it. I can’t help feeling absolute hope, even in the midst of some real shit.

Hope is a fierce beast.

She texts her frantic fiancé, saying help is on the way.

She refuses to be silent in the face of violence.

She flees abusive partners when her life is in danger.

She turns a convict-built hostile place, designed as an asylum for women, into a glorious vibrant arts centre (I discovered that piece of heaven on earth this week too!).

And she stands, defiant, when the dangers and difficulties and darkness of this world threaten to overwhelm her.

‘When these things begin to take place’, Jesus says, ‘stand up and raise your heads’

My 4am sermon was right – advent is a time of waiting. But it was also so wrong. It’s not a time where we need to fill the space of that waiting with all this activity. It is a space in time where we need to simply stand. Stand up. Raise your heads. Hope is coming. Hope is on its way. And hope will not disappoint us.

And if hope leads us into action, all the better. If hope encourages us to speak out or speak up or make change or resist change then go with it. Let hope take you by the hand and lead you in the paths she walks.

And as we encounter those who are without hope right now, may we offer ourselves to be bringers of it.

Stand up, raise your heads, hope is drawing near. Amen.

Christ the King 2021

John 18: 33-37

I need to prefix today’s sermon with something of a caveat, on this day when we ‘celebrate’ that Christ is King. Much to my mum’s disgust, I am no monarchist, and maybe the echoes of Kingship and ruling and authority grate on you too. But can we try to shelve those strong emotions briefly because Christ’s Kingdom is no dictatorship or oppressive regime – everything we know about ruling and authority is entirely other in Christ’s rule. Thanks be to God. So with that in mind, fasten your seatbelts and let’s dive in.

We had a wonderful time this morning, didn’t we?!

All manner of amazingness happened at South Beach and we loudly and publicly declared – in word and action, that CHRIST IS KING. Josie proclaimed Jesus as her King and made some profound promises to try to follow him and we who are baptised, reaffirmed them too. And today, the church worldwide reminds herself, and her community that Jesus Christ is King – King of the World, King of the Church, our King.

So the gospel passage is kind of peculiar, don’t you think? A bit jarring. Maybe some context might be useful…

This passage comes immediately after the events of the last supper.  Jesus has told his closest friends that the time has come for him to be handed over to be killed.  Judas has left, collected his blood money, and is lying in wait for the moment of betrayal.  Jesus and his disciples have wandered across to the gardens nearby, and as they walk, Judas leads a heavily armed detachment of soldiers and religious leaders to meet him.  As they come face-to-face with Jesus, they fall to the ground in his presence, and then gather themselves.  They capture him, beat him and hand him over to certain death…and that is where our gospel passage this morning begins.  A beaten and bloodied Jesus is before Pilate and asked ‘are you the King of the Jews?’. 

And Jesus doesn’t answer the question.  He just stands, broken and half-naked, and asks a different question ‘Do you ask me this on your own, or did others tell you about me?’.  In this whole exchange he frustratingly never answers the question.

And I don’t know why, because he totally could. 

YES! I’m the King of the Jews. Yes, I’m the ruler of all the kings of the earth. I’m the alpha and the omega.  He doesn’t tell him that just as he is being presented before the jeering crowd today, soon He will be presented before the Ancient of Days and given his true Kingship. 

He doesn’t tell Pilate all the things he’s done… I’ve healed the sick and raised the dead.  I’ve eaten with outcasts.  I’ve spent time with the hated and kissed the untouchables.  I’ve called out lies and falsehood and injustice.  I’ve taken the lowest and the least, the uneducated and the hated and empowered them to pass on my message to generations to come.

But he doesn’t say any of that. He just gives this elusive answer…  ‘my kingdom is not from this world’, he says, and how right he is.  His kingdom was not like the kingdom of Caesar or Pilate or Herod; a kingdom that operated on violence and oppression and the ruling classes trampling on everyone else.  It was, and is, entirely other.

It is a kingdom based on truth, not on power.  A kingdom based on love, not hatred or fear.  This is a whole different currency, and to the world, and to Pilate, and to people seeking to build kingdoms in the 21st century, it doesn’t make any sense, but that is the subversive, counter-cultural rule of Christ the King.

The Kingdom of Christ turns the whole kingly order of things upside down.  He didn’t come in the way a king should come and he didn’t live recognisably as a king. His crown was about to be one of thorns and his throne was a brutal cross.  What have you done Jesus?  This is not kingly.  Are you really the king?

And Pilate’s question rings out today too, in this generation, because people are still searching for Truth. Looking for freedom and liberation, and they might glance at the church and wonder if maybe it could be true.  Could Jesus be our King?  Jesus’ Kingdom is not like Queen Elizabeth’s or Scott Morrison’s or any kingdom of this world.  It’s not, but could it be relevant even now? Could it be something – some place – better and trustworthy and true?

For Josie today, and those of us who call ourselves Christian, we believe it is.  We believe Jesus is King, and is good, and rules with justice and equity, not just testifying to the truth but actually being Truth; we believe he is the alpha and the omega and his kingship shall never be destroyed.  At least, we’ve committed our lives to living as if we believe it, even on days when we don’t or can’t.

But what are we doing, that shows we are citizens of a kingdom that is not from this world?  What are we doing, to point to Christ the King, and His Kingdom here, in Beaconsfield?  A kingdom of peace and non-violence; a kingdom of life and light and love and freedom; a kingdom of good news, where the hungry are fed and the homeless are housed, where the naked are clothed and the lonely have friends; where prisons and hospitals are empty and the environment is clean and green. 

A Kingdom where its citizens gather by the ocean at early o’ clock to publicly die to sin and rise to new life in Christ the King – a sure sign we are either mad, or serious about this…or both.

Today Josie nailed her colours to the mast. She joined the ranks of those who are baptised children of God. That kind of membership will never be repealed. She will be a baptised child of the King forever. And for those of us who are counted in that number, we too have nailed our colours to the mast…or rather, we have handed  ourselves over to be nailed to the throne of our Lord – we have died with Christ and been raised to new life in Him.

Will we live every day for our King and for the building of His Kingdom here on earth, as it is in Heaven?

Now to Him who sits on the throne, be all dominion and glory and Kingship, now and forever, Amen.