Pray!

By a series of divine accidents we find ourselves at this morning’s gospel passage, and it might sound familiar. It IS familiar – it is part of the same passage we heard last week! Perhaps the holy spirit has something she wants to convey in these verses, so let’s have a look.

The pharisee is standing by himself and praying aloud – God I thank you I am not like other people; thieves, rogues, adulterers, or this tax collector…I fast, I tithe… basically, I’m pretty great. The tax collector – who calls himself a sinner – stands far off and can’t even dare to look towards heaven and Jesus says he is the one who went home justified – all who exalt themselves will be humbled, he says, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.

A quick read of the text might lead us to think this parable is only about being humble. Be humble and you will be exalted. Be like the sinful tax collector. He is the goody and the pharisee is the baddy. But it’s not as simple as that.

In this story we have two of 1st century society’s baddies; the pharisee knows his scriptures inside out – and he knows how to use his scriptures to oppress and corrupt and extort money…and all in the name of religion.

And the tax collector isn’t much better. He doesn’t earn enough to live on so he has learned to extort his customers. At the lower end of the elite he isn’t high enough to be high but he’s damn sure he won’t be counted among the low so he tricks and bullies and takes from those he looks down on.

So Jesus can’t be saying don’t be like the pharisee…be like the tax collector. He isn’t setting one man against the other because, if we wander too far down that line, we fall into the trap where we become the equal but opposite of the pharisee and we also find ourselves praying, Thank you God that I’m not like other people – those pompous, puffed up ones who pray aloud outside of temples about how great they are. Thank you God that I’m so humble! But that’s not humility, of course.

So, what might this parable mean?

You see, what the pharisee says is partly true – he probably does fast twice a week and give a tenth of his income. But the problem is his prayer is all about him. He’s addressing the most high God and telling God all about himself. He tells the almighty that he is so grateful – thank you God, that I am so great; He is the source of his own gratitude. How wrong his attention has become – he chose a path of righteousness out of devotion to God and his focus has slipped from heaven to himself. He believes his own goodness is enough and that is never true. Not then, not now. Not for him and not for us.

And equally, what the tax collector says is true too; God be merciful to me because I am a sinner. He’s right, he is. They both are! But here is the contrast; the first man makes his claim to righteousness based on what he has achieved and the second man relies entirely on the goodness, grace and mercy of God.

Rather than be grateful for his blessings, the Pharisee is grateful for his own greatness. He has become self-admiring to the point of despising others. In his mind there are two kinds of people: the righteous and the immoral, and he is smack bang in the middle of the righteous.

The tax collector, on the other hand, isn’t so much humble as desperate. He is overwhelmed by his own sin in the face of such holiness that he can’t even look up. All he recognizes as he stands near the Temple is his own great need. So he stakes his hopes and claims not on anything he has done but entirely on the mercy of God.*

At the end of this story, the tax collector went down to his home justified. How has this happened? The tax collector hasn’t made any of the temple sacrifices. He hasn’t even promised to change his ways! So how is he made righteous? Purely on the basis of God’s love and grace and mercy!

So the parable isn’t saying be more righteous. It’s not saying be like the tax collector. It’s telling us to recognise who and what we are and to pray.

Pray – but focus on the divine, not on yourself.

Pray – but don’t distinguish between us and them – whenever we concentrate on our own greatness over someone else’s lack of perceived greatness – or consider one group to be in and another group to be out – we fail to recognise the outrageous grace of God.

Pray – and never think that there is anything you’ve done, or anything you are that means God won’t be utterly delighted to hear from you.

Pray – and don’t worry if the only words you have are ‘have mercy on me’ – because that is enough.

Pray – and never worry about whether you’re far off or right here at the front.

Pray without fear that you are better or worse than anyone else. There is no such thing.

It’s not that the tax collector was more loved by God or that the Pharisee’s prayer was left unheard, or despised. Every prayer is heard. Every prayer is received. And every pray-er is loved. It’s just that the tax collector left changed and the pharisee’s heart got a little harder that day.

Prayer, in a really large part, is for the benefit of the one who prays. God doesn’t need us to pray in order for Him to feel bigger and better and more loved and more adored. God is not arrogant or needy. God invites us to speak with Her because of our own need – praying does something to us – it melts and breaks and changes our heart and helps us to see the world and others differently.

The pharisee left the temple that day just as he arrived; feeling righteous and full of contempt. The tax collector left, justified and exalted.

So throw yourself on the grace and mercy of God. Recognise that you are a sinner and God is pleased to hear from you. And, at all times, pray. Amen.

* at this point I abandoned my script and went off piste, talking about prayers in prisons and the floodgates of heaven being flung open. To hear the full version, you can click here… https://fb.watch/glNi-BHY_G/

For the feast of St Francis

What a month we’ve had, haven’t we? We’ve suspended our usual liturgy to focus instead on the God of all creation. We considered the enormity of the oceans, the beauty of flora and fauna, the surging storms and calming waves and the unimaginable wonder of the Cosmos. We have affirmed our responsibility to partner with the Creator in recreating and caring for all that is good. And we opened our grounds to welcome pets, symbols of pets, cuddly toy pets and their humans. And today we round it off with a celebration of the life and witness of St Francis of Assisi; the patron saint of animals, ecology and the environment. (I seriously thought about St Francis yesterday as we hosted cats and dogs and a toy tiger. I think he would’ve approved of our haphazard live nativity scene, 799 years after he organised the first one!).

St Francis, or Giovanni as he was born, was a man who knew God. He knew the words of his creator and he knew what they were asking of him. He was single-minded in his attempts to do what his Lord asked, and he put these commands before all things, even when it cost him all he had and all he owned and all he was owed.

Giovanni was born into great wealth; his father was an incredibly rich cloth-maker. He owned stores of expensive fabric, and this wealth was promised to Giovanni. But Giovanni was a lover of Christ and a wandering spirit. On his travels he came across a tumbledown chapel in San Damiano, just outside Assisi. While praying there he had a vision of God and clearly heard the words ‘repair my church which is falling into ruins’. Sat in a building falling into disrepair, Giovanni took this command to mean a physical rebuilding and set about his work.

With his intentions good, but his actions not-so-good, he went to his father’s fabric store, took material and sold it to raise the necessary funds. Perhaps understandably his dad was not delighted, and Giovanni hid in a cave for a month, waiting for the dust to settle. Which it didn’t. His dad found him, beat him, bound him, dragged him home and locked him in a cell. He escaped and returned to San Damiano, determined to complete the work God asked of him.  His dad, anger still raging, went to the Bishop of Assisi to remove his inheritance. During the proceedings Francis renounced his father and took off all his clothes to demonstrate it. The bishop hastily covered him with a sackcloth, which eventually became the habit and symbol of the religious community that accidentally formed around him.

I say accidentally…Francis never had any intention of beginning a monastic community but, as he worked to rebuild that church, so he also began to preach the gospel he was so enamoured by. The gospel like that which we heard today. The one that calls us to sell all we own, give our money to the poor, and then follow Christ.

And we have heard these words before. They’re familiar to us and we find them hard. And maybe we think, or hope, they are intended for someone else. Jesus can’t be saying that to us, surely? Well, for Francis, what Jesus said was absolutely what he meant. It wasn’t hypothetical. He didn’t look for a get-out clause or try to find a way around it. He heard these words, as he knelt before Christ with the rich man in this passage, and he understood what they meant; go, sell what you own, give the money to the poor, then come, follow me. And that is what Francis did.

He didn’t preach and build so people would want to follow him. He did it because he heard the call of God, and he knew God meant him. He was the rich man, and Jesus’ command was for him. He heard it, he knew it, and it moved him to action. And when people saw that authenticity, that single-minded-ness for the gospel of Christ, they were compelled to be with him. And as these new followers began to join in with Francis’ work he realised he needed a plan. They were looking to him for wisdom and guidance. They wanted to be led. So Francis turned again to the source of what he knew to be true and looked to the bible and read God’s call to a radical life.

Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters.

You that have no money, come, buy, and eat.

Buy wine and milk without money and without price.

And…

Whatever gains I had, I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.

I have lost all things and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may know Christ.

And…

Go, sell what you own and give the money to the poor…then come, follow me.

From passages like this, and after the example of Christ and his first century followers, the rule of St Francis was born, and it was very simple – threefold – give to the poor, spread the gospel, carry the cross of Christ.

But what about us, as we sit here in the second richest country in the world, per capita. There is no logical way we can escape the truth that we are the rich man, today. And whether we can say we have kept God’s commandments since our youth is not the important thing.  Jesus was not focussed on that. He asks of us what he asked of St Francis and our friend here in Mark Chapter 10. He looks at us, loves us, and says, ‘I adore you. I adore the way you have tried to keep my commandments and I love you in all the ways you failed to do so AND you too lack this one thing…’

Go, sell what you own and give your money to the poor and then come, follow me.

And while there are people who can’t eat or heat their homes while we have plenty, so that call will keep coming.

Our discipleship of Christ demands much of us, and promises much to us, but the biggest demand is that we come with open hands, open hearts, and empty pockets – open and empty so that we might take hold of life, in all its fulness and so that we might take hold of the hands of the poor and receive treasures that don’t wear out.

St Francis took Jesus at his word – he heard and responded and at times it must have felt impossible, just as it does for us. But, to echo St Paul’s words, everything we have is rubbish compared to knowing Christ. And he says everything is possible.

So, I guess the question is, will we take Him at His word? Will we trust Him to catch us if we choose to step off from wealth to poverty? Will we empty our hands and pockets, care for the poor and, in doing so, inherit life everlasting? Amen.

All are welcome!

There has been a lot of activity around tables recently!

Last night more than 30 of us took part in the progressive supper and went from house to house, eating together.  For the last 5 weeks my sister has been here, and we are such foodies, so there has been a lot of eating there. And in this morning’s gospel reading Jesus is, once again, eating with friends and pharisees, and we have two conversations about table etiquette.

When you are invited to a wedding banquet, do not sit in the place of honour…but go and sit at the lowest place.

And, when you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends or family but invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind.

So, all week I have been thinking about food and tables; about who we invite and where we sit, and what Jesus was getting at in his two instructions there, because I found them almost contradictable, or confusing.

And then, on Thursday, just before my sister flew home, we did what all family members do on their trips and we went and got tattoos. (You all do that, right?!). And I had 3 words indelibly inked on my wrist and they say this: Judas Ate Too.

And that brought some clarity, somehow. Because how can we talk about food and tables without once again returning to the true food and the holiest of tables, found here in our holy meal?

You see, Jesus gives these instructions about wedding banquets and luncheons and dinners – don’t take the place of honour, don’t invite this person or that, make sure these people come – and yet, in the perfect meal he left for us to share together, in remembrance of him, there is no place of honour or dishonour; there is no one who is distinguished and there is no disgrace. There is no high place and low place. There is nobody who is left off the invite list and there is no payment, or repayment. There is only grace.

If Jesus, in that first eucharist, on the night before he died, knew what was about to happen; if he knew by whom he was about to be betrayed and yet Judas Ate Too, then the table, the doors, the welcome, is well and truly open to all.

And while there might be table etiquette elsewhere, while there might be right ways and wrong ways to do things at wedding banquets and luncheons, the meal and table we are concerned with is this one, here… [indicate altar]

And here, there is no place of honour and dishonour – except that everyone is honoured.

There is no invite list, with some names on and some excluded – except that everyone is invited.

There is nobody who is worthy or unworthy of gathering around this table – except that we all unworthy and yet made utterly worthy.

There is nobody who is poor and crippled and lame and blind – except that we all arrive that way but leave rich and healed and whole.

There is nobody who is left out, because, in our Lord’s example, Judas ate too.

Many of you know that before I came to Australia, I led a church that ran a very busy feeding programme for street sleepers and addicts and those who couldn’t afford food or wanted some company. Each week we had 200 or more people come in, from every walk of life. Definitely the poor and crippled were counted among them. Some people would get incensed about the work we did – why are you giving food to them or that person? They will take it and sell it for drugs! Or, they have a big house and enough money to feed themselves! But in our soup kitchen we operated an open table policy – like we do in our masses – all are welcome, all you need to do is show up. All you must do is come hungry, and we will feed you…because that shows something about the radical hospitality of Jesus and that is what we are trying to emulate. Outrageous grace.

At the end of our sessions each week we, for a long while, ended with a mass. All manner of people came. Some had no idea how to ‘behave’, or what was going on. One guy walked right up to the altar, head bowed, hands out, desperate to receive, before I even finished consecrating. Another woman took her mass and danced out of church, swirling, arms waving, singing about butterflies and beauty. If there was ever a rule book of eucharistic etiquette, they had not read it and I longed to be as desperate as that guy for the body of Christ. And I long to be as enamoured with our Lord that it makes me dance and swirl and see butterflies. It’s not the ‘done thing’ but who cares. Jesus is clear – make sure those who are usually excluded get to come. And make sure they know it FIRST.

Jesus doesn’t care where we come from or how we get here, only that we come.

He doesn’t care if we are super important or think nothing of ourselves, only that we come.

He doesn’t mind what we have done or who we have been. Whatever state we turn up in is good enough. Just come.

And around this table there is no place of importance and honour; there is no high place or low place. We approach this meal as equals, together, in communion, all of us; those who are almost as holy as Jesus and those who despise themselves as much as Judas. All of us are welcome. Because, in that welcome, in this meal, dishonour is banished, disgrace is gone, the poor are made rich, the crippled stand upright, the lame walk and the blind can see again, and we, we get to glimpse the Kingdom of Heaven, right here. Amen

The Beautiful (but crippled) Bride of Christ

A few weeks ago, Sylvia led us to pray for the forthcoming Lambeth Conference and she prayed beautifully for unity and against division. After the service a few of you commented on this prayer, and the conference.  One of you asked if there was a risk of a split in the Anglican communion. I think I replied slightly more confidently than I felt, when I reassured you ‘I’m sure it will be fine’. On Friday, during parish office hours, Bethan greeted a woman who came to ask if there really is a schism in the Australian Anglican Church and she replied as optimistically as possible. But, the truth is, this has been a sad week for the Anglican Church. It is a sad week for the Christian Church and I can’t not speak about it.

We prayed for unity – we often pray for unity – but it is sadly true that, this week, the news is of disunity.  You may not have heard about the church in the news this week, so let me first read excerpts from the statement from the Primate of the Anglican Church of Australia – The most Reverend Geoffrey Smith.

He writes, ‘I note the formal launch this week of a company named the Diocese of the Southern Cross. This company, while established by some members of the Anglican Church of Australia…has no formal or informal relationship or connection with the Anglican Church of Australia. As such it will operate independently…as, effectively, a new denomination…’

In short, and for want of a better word, there has been something of a split.

This ‘split’ is largely concerned with the hot topics that we embrace and celebrate here, and recognise God’s love for – the ordination of women, those who are divorced, our friends and selves who are LGBTQIA+ – the people and situations and relationships that add colour and life and light and texture. The people and situations and relationships that some people seek to find scripture to condemn.

So, can I first say, without any doubt, this church is safe and welcoming and loving and kind AND FAITHFULLY SEEKS TO FOLLOW JESUS. And no exclusion has – nor will have – any place here. Ever.

It is not holy and it is not right and it leads to the damage of others and that is not part of our call as baptised people who are trying to follow Jesus.

The second thing is, there will always be people with whom we don’t agree.

Primate Geoffrey Smith goes on to say, ‘It is always easier to gather with those we agree with. But in a tragically divided world God’s call, and therefore the church’s role, includes showing how to live together with difference. Not merely showing tolerance but receiving the other as a gift from God.’

That is an enormous challenge. Especially when it hurts people we love. Especially when it hurts us. I would like to call out the divide as disgusting, but I will not, because the people on “the other side” – if there ever is one – are also my brothers and my sisters, my colleagues – and they demand and deserve the same level of grace that we helplessly rely upon every single day. God’s church is bruised and battered, but She is not broken.

And that brings me to this morning’s gospel reading.

Jesus was teaching in the synagogue and there appeared a woman who had been crippled for 18 years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight.

And all I can think is ‘isn’t that woman a great image of the Bride of Christ’?

Isn’t that crippled, broken, bent over, woman just exactly like the Bride of Christ right now? Is she the Church?!

And when Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, ‘woman you are set free’ and immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.

The thing is, throughout history, the Church has tried to ‘do what is right’. She has tried to be ‘faithful to scripture’. And time and time again she has hurt and damaged and alienated others. Time and again she has chosen doctrine over love, and law over grace. And here we are again, bent double, unable to look up, unable to see God’s glory, broken and hurting a little bit more. Breaking and hurting others, over and over again.

And there are leaders now, just exactly like those synagogue leaders in this passage, who are condemning and criticising; ‘there are six days on which work should be done’ – because that is what the scriptures had said. They were being faithful to scripture too. And to them Jesus said, ‘you hypocrites’…and his opponents were put to shame.

The difficulty is, friends, I believe what I believe because I think it’s right.

I really dare to believe that God did call this divorced woman to be a priest in God’s church. I genuinely do believe that every child is made in God’s own image – regardless of anything; gender, race, upbringing, religion, sexual identity, and orientation. I do. I strongly believe that we do, here at St Pauls. AND I think it is faithful to scripture.

But it is hard to argue ‘across the divide’ because our ‘opponents’ – to quote this gospel passage – believe they are right too. And, as our own Archbishop Kay, and Archbishop Justin wrote this week, ‘everyone reads, studies and receives the same bible with utmost seriousness [and] to suggest otherwise of others is simply untrue’ (which means that a simple ‘I’m right and you’re wrong’ debate is not going to bring the solutions we seek).

As ever, all we can do is turn to Christ. What does he do in the face of brokenness and pain? What does he do whenever he finds exclusion and isolation? What does he do when he meets the crippled woman? He brings freedom, healing and wholeness.

So, as the crippled woman was set free from her afflictions, simply by meeting the Christ, we must do all we can to be the Christ in this debate, in this time and this day so that the bent over but beautiful woman that is the Bride of Christ might also be set free and then may we all rejoice at the wonderful things God is doing and may God’s name be glorified. Amen.

The Gospel according to Wadjemup: Chapter Two

Back in May I went to Wadjemup as Chaplain for the first time. As you surely know, it was a profound experience; deeply moving, challenging, and super creative. And when I got back, the gospel reading that Sunday was the familiar and comforting words, ‘peace I leave with you…peace I give to you…do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid’. And I preached what I have now named in my head, The Gospel According to Wadjemup – Chapter One.

I asked the question, what does peace look like to an island, a country, built on colonialism, domination and oppression? How do we find peace there, or here?

I’d immersed myself in the stories of that holy island. I heard the cries of history and felt the deep wounds of its past and it was loud… and yet, I was able to spot this tangible sense of peace. Despite itself, or maybe even because of its history, that place is dripping with peace. And I think, that is the essence of Jesus’ promise.

Peace is not the absence of war. It is not just silence or quiet. Peace is profound and counter cultural. It is the port in the storm, the centre of the tornado, the sense of calm when everything falls down around us. It is the sunrise and sunset and lapping waves on the shores of Wadjemup, against the backdrop of its brutal history. That is peace.

This past week I have been back on Wadjemup again, this time with a dozen pilgrims, and the gospel reading is, once again, about peace. Kind of. So, now hear the gospel according to Wadjemup, Chapter Two.

‘Do you think I came to bring peace to the earth?’ Jesus asks.

Well, yes Lord, I do.

Isn’t that what the angels proclaimed at your birth – Glory to God in the highest and peace to his people on earth?

Aren’t those the first words you breathed on your disciples after your death – peace be with you?

Wasn’t it with the command of peace that you calmed the storm and sent the demoniac away healed? – peace, be still.

Is it not the gift you left with your disciples – my peace I leave with you?

‘Do you think I came to bring peace to the earth?’ Jesus asks. ‘No, I tell you, but rather division’.

No? Come on Lord, you can’t renege on that promise. Can you?

What do we do when Jesus seems to change his mind about something we have been relying on, depending on? Because that’s what seems to happen here, am I right?

Do you know, in the gospels, Jesus speaks of peace twenty-four times. And only twice does he say he hasn’t come to bring peace at all; he’s come to bring division or a sword. But that doesn’t help us when we are faced with that time…

The gospel according to Wadjemup, chapter one, was dependent on God’s provision of peace. It was the only thing that made sense of the ugliness of its history and the beauty of its present. And now, Wadjemup chapter two messes things up. Peace is gone, division reigns, households are against one another, families are falling out and we are called hypocrites.

How can both things be true – how can Jesus come in peace and come to cause division – and that reminded me of moments from our pilgrimage.

Uncle Neville – an aboriginal elder from our parish – came with us to the island. We began with a smoking ceremony and sand ceremony at the water’s edge. He told us the noongar people have complex feelings about how we can best move forwards. Decisions are trying to be made about what to do with the Quod and burial ground. He was confident he could do whatever he chooses in that place because it is his…but others might not agree with him.

In the afternoon we took ribbons and tied them to the padlocks at the site where countless people were incarcerated and hanged. We tied ribbons to the bars of the earliest prison cell. We tied ribbons to the branches of trees at the unmarked graves. Those ribbons were inoffensive really; a symbol of prayers said, and blessings given and hope for the future. But I spotted the anxiety of the tour guide who sat at the prison cell – she didn’t seem that happy about these pilgrims and their ribbons. We came in peace but there was also this kind of underlying division.

You see, chapter one taught us that peace is the port in the storm, and the centre of the tornado, but sometimes we are called to step out of that port, right into the storm. Sometimes we can’t stay in the centre of the tornado – we must brave the wild bits. And I think that absolutely brings division.

Remember the iconic man, named Tank Man, who stood in front of the tanks in Tiananmen Square at the end of the siege in 1989? I was thinking about what his family thought of his act of defiance when it was broadcast across the world. Did his act, intended for peace, bring division – father against son, mother against daughter? And what about the families of Martin Luther King and Oscar Romero and countless others? When they stood up for what they knew to be right, and paid with their lives, did their families hate it?

And what ripples are you prepared to make? What is more important to you than keeping the peace in your family? Following all of Jesus’ teaching is hard friends. It’s not all plain sailing and not everyone will like us or it. It got Jesus killed, and many of his followers since. And here he is asking the same of us.**

‘Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?’ Jesus says.

Judging what is right, and choosing to do it, is our call as followers of the Christ – even when it brings division, even when it splits family, even when it costs us our whole lives. Seeking peace that way feels a lot like ‘not peace’ and yet it is asked of us here.

The gospel of Wadjemup, chapter two asks us the important question: will we choose to do what is right over what is peaceful, even if it costs us everything?

May God give us grace to do so. Amen.

** at this point I went off script and began ad libbing about how we are not called to be merely ‘peace keepers’, but rather to commit to the radical hard work of peace building. Peace keeping is collusive but peace building is what we are really called to do – regardless of whether people will like it, or not, or whether it will lead to some kind of division…

Your life is being demanded of you…

In the minute and a half it took to read that gospel passage, it is estimated that 2 people died of hunger in the horn of Africa alone; one every 48 seconds.

Fifty million people worldwide are facing emergency levels of hunger. Almost 828 million people go to bed hungry every night. And the number of people experiencing extreme hunger has more than doubled in the last year alone. Parts of Yemen, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Nigeria are already in the grip of famine. And yet, there is enough food on this planet to feed everyone. Or, as I said last week, there is always enough – enough and some to share. So, what is going wrong? The World Food Programme talks of the toxic cocktail of conflict, climate change, disasters, structural poverty and inequality and the addition of a global pandemic as the drivers towards mass hunger but this morning’s gospel passage also has something to say about it too.

‘Take care’, Jesus says, ‘be on your guard against all kinds of greed’ and then he told them a parable.

A rich man produced a whole load of grain; so much that he didn’t know what to do with it. So, he sits and considers his crops, but really all he is considering is himself: what should I do?  I have no place to store my crops.  I will pull down my barns and store my grain and my goods and say to my soul you have ample.  And God calls him a fool.  And he is a fool.  He’s alright, but he has only served himself.  And when he dies, all that he has done will die too.  He has set his mind on earthly things only, with no apparent care or concern for anyone else.  And that is foolish.  God is right.  This man really is a fool.

St Augustine, one of the early church fathers, in the first century commented that this rich man was ‘planning to fill his soul with excessive and unnecessary feasting and was proudly disregarding the empty bellies of the poor. He went on to make possibly the greatest comment about this parable when he said ‘[the rich man] did not realize that the bellies of the poor were much safer storerooms than his barns’.

This rich man could have made a huge difference with his huge stores of grain. And instead, he was a self-centred fool.

So what about us? In the world’s terms we are among those who are the rich. And we have the privilege and ability of making change for those who are facing famine, hunger, poverty and death. In reality, we have the means to bring life and light to places of death and darkness. We can do that. We really can and we absolutely must. Because, as the parable says our life is being demanded of us today too.  Our life is demanded of us every day. 

God doesn’t just demand our life of us on the day we die.  God demands our life of us every single day.  And there must always remain something we are prepared to give our life for.  Something we will live for, every day.  Something we want to live on, after our days are done. We can change the world, and we must because otherwise all we have done in our time here is take up space and that is not what we were designed and created to do. We are here for so much more.

Yesterday, the church remembered William Wilberforce who is best known for his crusade against slavery.  Wilberforce managed to get a law passed in Parliament for the complete abolition of slavery before he died in 1833.  And while it is still illegal, today there are more than 40 million slaves in the world, with another human being bought and sold every 15 seconds.  For me, I want to see this changed in my lifetime.  My life is being demanded of me and I want people to stop being bought and sold. 

And I wonder what it is for you. 

What makes your heart beat extra hard?  What makes you mad enough to write to your local politician about, or give money for?  What stirs you into action? What will you give your life for? Our lives are being demanded of us and – as our New Testament reading said – we need to seek the things that are above; we need to invest in those things that will live on. 

The wealthy landowner had huge barns; the best anyone could ever hope for; but he filled them with things for him, so that HIS soul could rest and HIS life could be relaxing and HE could eat, drink and be merry.  He kept his barns for himself instead of taking the opportunity to store his grain in the bellies of those who were poorest and most hungry. He put himself first, and screw everyone else.

As followers of Jesus, we have given up all rights to do that. 

As followers of Jesus, our primary concern can no longer be me. 

As followers of Jesus, we must live lives that give out to others. 

This very day our life is being demanded of us; your life is being demanded of you. May our lives be those of love, joy and peace. May our lives make the lives of others better. May our choices impact positively on others. May our lives even change the world and bring glory to God’s holy name. 

This very day your life is being demanded of you. 

And the things you have prepared, whose will they be? Amen.

Give us today the bread of tomorrow…

A few weeks ago, I read you a quote from a book called Take this Bread; a wonderful book about the atheist photographer turned radical Christian who had her conversion experience whilst eating the body of Christ in the eucharist. Reading that book, back in 2013, took me on a journey to St Gregory’s Church in San Francisco, to take part in the work of feeding the hungry around that same altar where Sara Miles first met Jesus. That place, that church, takes feeding…especially with bread… especially feeding with bread in the mass really seriously. Everyone is welcome. People come from all over the world to share in what they do. They never know how many people will come but they sing a mantra while they work and while they worship.

Their mantra, which we have sometimes sung here at our sunset service says ‘there is enough, there is enough, there is enough, there’s enough and some to share…’

…and time and again it proves to be true.

And, when I read this morning’s gospel passage, I got as far as the third line and then I stopped, because it reminded me of that beautiful work and of the example of lavish hospitality and hope that they provide in their distribution of bread from that altar.

‘When you pray’, Jesus says, ‘say Father, hallowed be your name’.

‘Your kingdom come.

Give us each day our daily bread’.

Give us each day our daily bread.

And as I read those words I remembered that song from St Gregorys – and the places I have sung it since – and I remembered something else I heard years before. I remember hearing that the best translation of that line from the Lord’s Prayer is something more like ‘give us today the bread we need for tomorrow’ or ‘give us today the bread of the morrow’.

And that is what we are really asking for, praying for, each time we say those words, or hold out our hands in prayer.

Father, Mother, God; give us today the bread of tomorrow.

Give us enough for today, enough and some to share.

And that reminds me of a beautifully heart wrenching story, called ‘Sleeping with Bread’. Let me read you the introduction…

During the bombing raids of World War II, thousands of children were orphaned and left to starve. The fortunate ones were rescued and placed in refugee camps where they received food and good care. Many of these children who had lost so much could not sleep at night. They feared waking up to find themselves once again homeless and without food. Nothing seemed to reassure them. Finally, someone hit upon the idea of giving each child a piece of bread to hold at bedtime. Holding their bread, these children could finally sleep in peace. All through the night the bread reminded them, ‘today I ate, and I will eat again tomorrow…’

Give us each day our daily bread.

Give us today the bread for tomorrow.

Let us know that there will always be enough – enough and some to share.

Bread is a constant in scripture.

It is the way God shows faithfulness to the wanderers escaping slavery.

It is multiplied to show the abundance of the Divine in the feeding miracles.

It is how we are invited to remember Jesus’ life and death.

It is the way we are fed, literally and spiritually, to feed others.

And we are taught to ask for it every single day.

Give us each day our daily bread.

Give us today the bread for tomorrow.

So, why might we need to ask for tomorrow’s bread today?

What if we are encouraged to ask for enough bread for tomorrow so we might share it with others?

What if tomorrow’s bread is for those who are hungry, or like those children in that story – for those who are frightened or in need of hope?

What if that request is, like that beautiful hymn says, for strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow?

Having enough bread for today, and for tomorrow will always be a good thing because it gives us enough; enough and some to share.

And when we pray about today’s bread and tomorrow’s bread, we aren’t talking about literal time; it is more figurative than that. The best translation hints at something that is coming – the tomorrow we are really waiting for, when we all feast at God’s eternal banquet. Give us bread today that shows what is coming next. Give us the bread to share so that nobody is hungry, nobody goes without. Give us the bread so that everyone has enough – enough and some to share. The promise of that which is to come.

And that is what is offered here, at this altar, in every mass.

In this moment when we eat the bread of heaven, the body of the Lord Jesus, we taste that which is coming.

We are eating, today, the bread of tomorrow. Today it is bread, but in the eternal tomorrow it is life! Life for all people with enough and some to share.

Give us today the bread of tomorrow, we pray, and Jesus gives us his very self to feed and transform and nourish and sustain us, so that we might go from here and be the change we want to see in the world. We receive it today, so that tomorrow might be different.

Friends, we are fortunate enough to be the ones who sleep with bread. We are the ones with enough and some to share. We know where our next meal is coming from, and we have tasted the living bread. We have all that we need.  So, when we pray ‘give us today the bread for tomorrow’, what will we do with the bread we receive?

Amen.

With thanks to Dennis Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn and Matthew Linn, writers of Sleeping with Bread: Holding what gives you life.

Martha, Martha…

I’m one of those people who loves a personality test. You know the type? I can tell you I’m an enneagram four, a Myers Briggs ISFJ and, in one test I once came out as a sunshine yellow fox. I don’t know… I think my interest in these tests stems back to when I was that geeky teenager I told you about before. I would buy the magazines the cool teens were reading and do the tests that would tell me when I was going to fall in love, or whether I was pear or apple shaped, and I would live the cool teen existence vicariously through those pages.

Anyway, in churches across the world today there is another personality test being foisted upon congregation members: are you a Mary, or are you a Martha?

Clergy will have their people self-identify with the sisters in today’s gospel reading and they will encourage the Marthas to slow down a bit and remind the Marys that they can’t sit there all day – there might be times they need to be a bit more Martha. And the more-Martha-types among us will feel a bit bad for constantly being distracted or will become more and more frustrated at the Marys who don’t seem to notice that there’s so much to do. And the Marys will continue to sit at the feet of our Lord, hanging on his every word, (maybe slightly smug about how right they are). But I feel like, in doing so, we might miss the true sentiment of the passage. We might fail to hear the deepest invitation.

See, I am way more Martha than Mary. But none of us are entirely one and not the other. We’re all on this continuum, from Mary to Martha. Here, we have wonderful opportunities to lean into our Mary side – with our contemplation mornings and Heartsong and quiet gardens. And then, because of our community living and extensive grounds and our beautiful outreach in Just Manna and IGWR, we also recognise there is always work to be done and ‘if not us then who’, so we are also often on our feet, Martha-ing. So, no, we’re never entirely Mary nor are we entirely Martha.

And not one verse before this morning’s passage we finished last week’s story of the Good Samaritan and didn’t our Lord end by saying ‘go and do likewise’ – GO and DO. Go and care for the injured and tend their wounds and pay their bill and put yourselves out and allow the pain of others to disrupt your day. Go and do.

And now it is sit and listen. So it seems both have their merits. Of course they do. It’s not that. Jesus isn’t saying don’t do the jobs. He’s not saying don’t be Martha or be Mary. He’s saying something else entirely. And I think it’s probably best summed up by something that I hear in these two words in verse 41; Martha, Martha.

Martha is whizzing around. And she’s cooking and cleaning and welcoming and busying. And she’s annoyed. She’s really grumpy. She’s doing all the work for Jesus and his entourage. I mean, let’s face it, Jesus never travels alone, does He? He’s turned up, with all the other guys and she’s trying to turn the contents of her pantry into a veritable feast whilst sweeping the floor with her spare hand and washing yesterday’s pots with her left foot or whatever. And Mary is just sitting, and Martha spits out, ‘do you not CARE that she’s left me to do everything. Tell her to help me!’

If she had been calmer, she probably could’ve leant over and said, ‘grab this Mary, please can you give me a hand?’, but she’s exasperated, so it comes out ‘do you not care Jesus?!’

And Jesus sees her.

He sees her heart and her flustered cheeks and her overflowing hands and he speaks to it all. Martha. Martha. First to the chaos that fills her mind and then to the person who is right there in her heart. Martha, precious wonderful grumpy anxious Martha. Just stop my darling. You’re alright. I’m here. I see you and I know you and I love you and there’s nothing you need to do or say or bring or sort or clean or hide. Just come. You are invited. You are welcome. You are enough.

Mary has chosen to sit at the feet of her Lord and listen to his word. Sit in the presence of the Living Word. She recognised that invitation and she responded. And maybe Martha didn’t know that she was also invited, just as she was. That there was nothing she could do that would make her more welcome but that she was invited – all of her. Her distracted mind and her anxious heart. Her messy house and unwashed floors. Martha, Martha, come here my darling and just sit. Bring it all. You are enough.

And that is beautiful. Jesus sees her heart and he adores her. When he says her name, it’s not a voice of admonishment. He’s not cross. He’s not shouting at her. Martha, Martha, stop. You are enough.

And once again, as it is with her, so it is with us.

Jesus doesn’t care if we are busy or anxious or sunshine yellow foxes. He doesn’t care if we are grumpy or serene. He doesn’t care if we want to be here or would rather be somewhere else. He doesn’t care if we prefer silence or noise. He doesn’t care if we come with our hands full or our minds blank. He just wants us to come. Come to this place. Come to this table. Come to the beach or the gardens or to see the sunrise or whatever it is. Just come.

That eternal invitation is extended to everyone, every personality type, wherever you are on the Mary-Martha continuum. Whether you feel like you are worthy and enough, or not. And that invitation is extended to you.

Last week, John ended his sermon with the great line, ‘go and do likewise’…and may the Lord be with you, he said. Jesus is still encouraging us to go and do likewise, especially if that is the way your mind and heart are fired. But he also extends this invitation to come and sit at his feet and listen. To go and do, but also come and be.

So, come and be. And may the Lord be with you.

Jesus says hard things…

Last week we had our AGM after church. In it we looked back on where we had been, considered where we are at, and began to think about how we might step into God’s future, together. So many of you stayed for that important work and a lot of it was positive and fun, even some of the hard bits were super useful and, as I have said several times this week, I am really grateful to each of you.

At the end of the meeting, we did an activity. One of the questions was ‘what one thing do we want to be known for in our local community’. You came up with some amazing things and, as I typed them up, so I was nodding and amening along, but one phrase has come back to me over and over as I read today’s gospel passage. One of you wrote that they want us to be known for our Faith: they wrote ‘real, modern, change-your-life, sell-all-you-own faith…’ and I think that is what Jesus is calling those early disciples to in those verses we heard today.

This passage is quite well-known, isn’t it: three different followers make bold promises to follow Jesus and he basically responds by sounding pretty mean. And, if you don’t mind me saying, His recruitment drive could do with a bit of work because he comes out with some less than appealing answers.

As always, when preparing for Sundays, I turned to a variety of commentary writers to read their thoughts, and they each said things like, ‘I don’t think Jesus literally meant you’ll have nowhere to lay your head’. And ‘He doesn’t really mean let the dead bury their own dead’, or ‘someone who looks back isn’t fit for the kingdom of God’. One said, ‘he is speaking in metaphor’ and another said, ‘he must be referring to a turn of phrase that the early disciples would have understood…but we don’t’.

But wow. I don’t think I agree with those guys. I think Jesus is being pretty clear. He makes his point three times. I think he really does mean it, even though it is hard stuff. I mean, Jesus does ask hard things of us, so why wouldn’t he mean this?

So, if it isn’t metaphor, or some first century joke, what is he saying?

Well, I think he asks three things of those would-be followers. And I think he is asking the same things of us too, so let’s take them in turn…

The first ‘someone’ said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go’ and Jesus said to him, ‘foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head’.

Following the Son of Man, following Jesus, means being prepared to give up our sense of security. It means being prepared to go when Jesus asks, and go where Jesus asks, even if it feels risky. Even if we aren’t entirely sure where this road leads to.

Then, the next one:

To another he said, ‘follow me’, but he said ‘Lord first let me go and bury my father’, but Jesus said to him, ‘let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the Kingdom of God’. Now that really causes the commentary writers to scratch their collective heads, and I don’t know for sure what the dead burying their own dead looks like, but I think we can know for sure that following Jesus means putting him first, above all others – yes, even before our own families. Following where and when Jesus asks, even if it means going alone. Even if it means leaving others behind. It’s no wonder we might prefer to think this is a metaphor.

And then, third, ‘another said, ‘I will follow you Lord but first let me say farewell to those at my home’ and Jesus said to him, ‘no one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God’. And I wonder if this is hardest of all? Let me just say goodbye Lord? And Jesus says, ‘don’t look back’.

(I remember singing that in Sunday School – it sounded so much more palatable then: ‘no turning back, no turning back’).

But following Jesus, single-mindedly, determinedly, without looking back, well it feels costly, doesn’t it, painful even?

And is it just me or does God, in Jesus, sound really demanding – leave everything, leave your home, leave your family, don’t look back, follow me. I kind of felt like it was a bit needy somehow. But that doesn’t sound like God, at all.

God doesn’t need us, in some celestial crisis of self-confidence. God longs for us because God loves us and because us being together is the very best thing for us, as God’s children. So yes, it is demanding – as the hymn writer says, following Jesus really does demand my soul, my life, my all. But it’s not demanding because God selfishly wants all of us to keep to Gods-self. God asks for all of us – our past, present and future – out of a divine act of great love and as a gift to us. For our good. And because it is best for us.

You know, I once heard this story of a priest who thought she might’ve heard God invite her to leave her home and her family. She thought she heard Jesus ask her to follow Him all the way to the other side of the world, and not look back. And, it felt big and costly and terrifying and like she was giving up everything but, would you look at that, she landed up living in paradise, in a life that was better than she could have imagined!

So perhaps we should hope these invitations of Jesus aren’t metaphors. Perhaps we should dare to believe they are offers of life in abundance. And then maybe we might have the courage and grace to respond with a resounding yes and live a life of true faith: real, modern, change-your-life, sell-all-you-own faith…and be known for it. Amen.

Corpus Christi 2022

Today we celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi (literally the Body of Christ), a day set aside in the church year to thank God for the gift of the Eucharist. And on this day, when we are once again permitted to receive in both kinds – both bread and wine – if we choose to – it seems more appropriate than ever before.

The feast of Corpus Christi began in the 13th Century when a Roman Catholic nun received a vision of a bright full moon, with one dark blot on it.  God told her the moon represented the brightness of the celebrations in the church year, and the blot remained because there was no celebration for the beginnings of the Eucharist.  She shared this with her friend, who conveniently went on to become Pope, and this celebration was added to the church year in 1264. 

This morning’s gospel reading tells us, repeatedly, that Jesus’ flesh and blood is real food and drink; it nourishes, builds us up, satisfies us, and that is the foundation of our holy meal.

In each mass we are invited to come to this altar hungry. In it we are physically and spiritually fed – given food for the journey.  But here’s the thing, as we consume the Christ, so we discover we become more hungry, not less. We become hungrier, because our encounter with Christ causes us to see there are people in this world who can’t fill their cupboards or family’s bellies today, even in this neighbourhood.  And as we are fed, we become hungrier to help others; because the world is hungry – physically starving, and emotionally, mentally and spiritually hungry too.  So, in this sacrament we are satisfied, AND we are made hungry, hungry for justice, because this food and drink is for us, AND it is also food for our neighbour.  We are fed here so we might go and feed others.

What begins here as fruit of the vine and work of human hands becomes for us the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

We don’t know what God chooses to do here on this altar.  But it is enough to know something awesome happens and we get to witness it, hold it, eat it, drink it, and be part of it; together, in communion.  And as this heavenly food, this piece of Jesus, enters our body, so we must choose what we will do with the energy it provides. What will we do when we leave here, with the Christ living inside us? How might it change us? How might we change the world?

In our NT reading, we heard ‘as we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death…’.  

We share in Christ’s death; we share His human brokenness and recognise our own brokenness; We acknowledge some things Christ died for still exist, here and now, and that’s not ok; we proclaim death.  But we also proclaim the end of death; we celebrate life.  Life in abundance, for eternity.  This is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet prepared for all people.  ‘Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise them up’, Jesus says. 

Proclaiming death, gaining eternal life; all in this sacrament, in one morsel of food, one sip of the cup.

And we approach this altar, entirely inadequate; Lord I am not worthy to receive you, we pray.  Of course we aren’t, none of us are.  But in this divine mystery, in this sacrament we are transformed.  We don’t simply become ‘me on a good day’ when we leave the rail.  It’s much better than that!  As we eat real food and drink from heaven, get this; we are changed into Corpus Christi.  We each become the actual body of Christ. We take the Christ into our bodies and then we leave here to go into the world, changed.  And that is the most profound truth of this feast.

So, I know it sounds like I’m saying the mass is the solution to world hunger and poverty; that it brings eternal life in the face of death and suffering; that it will transform our lives, as well as those around us.  I know it sounds like I’m saying it’ll change us into saints, despite our unworthiness; that it’s the best thing this side of heaven and we can’t live without it.  I know it sounds like I’m saying that. I am.

Our meal here is our superpower, our power to change the world. And whether we have the tiniest crumb, a mere morsal, or the full banquet, we each have more than we need. More than enough. Enough and some to share.

A few years ago, I read an exceptional book called ‘Take this Bread’.  The author, Sara Miles, writes about her first encounter of the mass.  Sara was a staunch atheist, photographer and journalist.  A new church opened in her neighbourhood and won awards for its architecture, so she went along to take photos.  Before she’d finished, a service began, and she wanted more photos so decided to stay.  In this service, everyone was invited to receive mass and Sara didn’t want to be rude so she held her hands out.  She put the body of Christ into her mouth and had a lifechanging experience.   She says ‘in that moment I knew I was eating Jesus, called the Christ. He was indisputably in my body as if I’d swallowed a radioactive pellet that would outlive my own flesh’.

She goes on to say, “I walked into a church, ate a piece of bread, took a sip of wine…  [and] it changed everything… Eating Jesus, as I did that day, to my great astonishment, led me to a faith I’d scorned, and work I’d never imagine.  The mysterious sacrament turned out to be not a symbolic wafer but actual food – indeed the bread of life.”

That, my friends, is what we have here. It is often our best kept secret.  But it is everything. It is life. And so, today, as we return to the common cup – as we are invited, once again, to both eat AND drink, I invite you, in the name of the Church to come to this altar as if for the first time and become, together Corpus Christi – the Body of Christ, in this place. Amen.