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.

Remembrance Sunday 2021

Mark 13: 1-8

When I meet people for the first time, they inevitably notice my accent and ask where I come from. I’ve been really interested by my own response! You’ve heard me talk about the parish and town I left and how much I loved Hartlepool, and those stories will continue ad nauseum, but I’ve found myself saying ‘I’m originally from Coventry… spent about ten years in Yorkshire…and moved here from the North East coast’ and I’ve realised – hardly surprisingly – that all three of those places have been home and hold a piece of my heart. And already, I now count here in that number too. I’m home here. Anyways…

I am what is known as a Cov Kid – born and raised in the city of Coventry, smack bang in the middle of England and I’m dead proud of my first city; it is a city of peace and reconciliation, a city of sanctuary for countless people seeking asylum from all around the world, and it has a fairly dreadful football team who break my heart each season. But, this week, as we have commemorated Remembrance Day, and I’ve been thinking about this morning’s readings, my birth city has been particularly on my mind, and I’ll tell you why…

On 14th November 1940, eighty-one-years-ago-today, 500 German planes flew over the city of Coventry, dropping 500 tonnes of high explosives and 36,000 incendiary bombs.  Two thirds of Coventry’s buildings and factories were affected, 568 people lost their lives and more than a 1000 were injured.  Over 2000 homes were destroyed and a further 41,000 were damaged.  The German Official News Agency described the raid on Coventry as the most severe in the history of war. 

The morning after the attack, the city was burning – visible from miles and miles around and only the spire, and external walls of the great Cathedral remained intact. From the top of the spire the provost and stonemason surveyed the damage and saw the two enormous roof beams that had fallen last.  They were lying, as they fell, on top of the smouldering rubble, in the shape of a cross.  And, right there, with thick smoke in the air and the embers still red hot, the Provost made some history-making decisions; he resolved that Coventry Cathedral’s legacy would be one of peace, not retribution.  And the church would be rebuilt to the glory of God.

He immediately went to work, for peace.   He took the charred roof beams, bound them together as they were, piled some rubble to form a basic altar, and stood this cross behind it so mass could be celebrated there within hours.

He then collected the roof nails and shaped them into crosses to send across the world, to leaders and people in authority, as a symbol of reconciliation and as an invitation to join him in becoming peace builders for the future.

And then, he took another charred beam and in this great building, with stones thrown down, and not one left upon another, he scored two words in the wall of the apse behind the crude altar.  He wrote them in foot high lettering, and it simply said FATHER FORGIVE.

FATHER FORGIVE.

And he stopped there.  FATHER FORGIVE.

Provost Howard was not heralded as an amazing man, nor a brave, prophetic and wise Priest. In fact, he was vilified in the press and thought a fool.  How, on the morning after such destruction could he write FATHER FORGIVE without any indication that it was clearly the Germans who needed forgiveness?  How could he dare to imply anyone else might need forgiveness too?  If he had to write something holy, why did he not at least finish the sentence, and write FATHER FORGIVE THEM?

When asked, he plainly stated we can never point the finger at ‘them’; that in war and destruction, there is never US and THEM.  There are never ‘those that need forgiving’, and those who don’t; but forgiveness is something we all need, all the time. 

Father, forgive. 

Forgive this hatred and destruction.  Forgive what will be done in retaliation.  Forgive this world that speaks a language of war and not love.  Forgive, because we are ALL in grave need of your mercy.  Now, just as much as then. Forgive as we recall and remember. Forgive, even when we forget.

FATHER FORGIVE, because we have been led astray and not followed you as we know we should.

FATHER FORGIVE, because we have failed to see that sometimes destruction brings new life and a new way of thinking that is better than all that has gone before.

FATHER FORGIVE, because we have been alarmed at the state of the world and forgive because we haven’t been.

FATHER FORGIVE, because nation is rising against nation and kingdom against kingdom, and we are not people of peace and reconciliation.

FATHER FORGIVE, because there are earthquakes and famines, and we are suffering compassion fatigue and are paralysed because we don’t know how to help…or have failed to notice.

FATHER FORGIVE, because we have dominated and destroyed your world and we are not doing what we can to heal it.

FATHER…FORGIVE…

Provost Howard spoke prophetically in writing these words.  He knew of his, and our own, need for forgiveness, even when we are the victim.  And maybe he could glimpse that sometimes large stones and large buildings, and systems and structures, need to be demolished, thrown down, before something good and pure and holy and redemptive can spring up in its place.

Because, if the blitz on Coventry hadn’t happened, I wonder if that city would have ever become one that is this devoted to peace and reconciliation and welcome.  I wonder if that spirit would have sprung up without first the tearing down.  I don’t know.  But I do know that we worship a God who is a redeemer, and that good things always come in the place of hurt and brokenness.  I know that God does not leave things demolished and destroyed but is always, ALWAYS, in the redeeming and rebuilding business.

And maybe, today, we face situations that feel like they are broken and permanently ruined?  Or maybe there are things in and around us that may need to be pulled down and destroyed too, for peace and wholeness to be built in its place?  For the Kingdom of God to be fully established. Whatever it is, as we navigate our way – externally and internally – through distractions, wars, earthquakes and famine, may we always trust in the future kingdom that the Lord is building here, and as we wait for the perfect rebuilding, and total redemption may we actively contribute to the building of it, and always be quick to pray; FATHER FORGIVE.  Amen.

Breaking up is hard to do…

“It’s not you, it’s me, but we just can’t be together any more…I’m sorry…”

This week I have thought, then whispered, then stated these words, defiantly.

No…it’s not the world’s shortest marriage! It’s a conversation I am having with my FitBit*.

*(other step counters and smart watches also apply)

I’m sorry, FitBit; I know we have been together for such a long time and have shared so much fun together. We have been to some amazing places, and you have counted my steps – every single one of them – literally every step of the way. I mean, if you weren’t there, did I even work out??

I have hovered at the top of the FitBit leaderboard for weeks at a time and, when my trusty friend beeps at me to say I haven’t done 250 steps in *this* hour, I have got up and walked…or waved my arm around in the car as I drive…(surely it’s not just me who does that?!).

But I’m having something of a midlife crisis I think, and I’m completely re-evaluating diet and exercise and body image and self esteem and I am terrified and excited about this, in equal measure, and I want to share it with you at this point; the point where I have so many more questions than answers; the point where I don’t really know what I can do or be or become; the point where I feel challenged right to the very core of my being; this point, where I realise in a scarily profound way that I have been a slave to ‘being thin’ for at least the last 30 years, probably longer. And it has to stop. Beginning with the loss of my FitBit!

We have just come back from a glorious honeymoon, which was wonderful in every way. We sampled some of the most amazing food and wines from the stunningly beautiful wine regions of Western Australia. We have eaten and drunk our way around the Swan River and Margaret River, and beyond, and it has been blissful. And as we have travelled, so I have been reading a book called STRONGER (you can find it here… https://www.amazon.com.au/Stronger-Changing-Everything-Womens-Strength/dp/1529050812/ref=sr_1_9?keywords=stronger&qid=1636535621&sr=8-9)

In this book, Poorna Bell writes some incredible truths that have been hidden from me for decades. She writes that exercise can simply be for fun (what? Not for burning the most calories and ‘getting rid’ of last night’s curry?!). She says that exercise can be used simply to get fit and to become strong. And I never knew, not fully, that this was true. Society, the patriarchy, social media, and my own inner voice, have all told me that exercise is to get thin, stay thin, maybe get fit (but only to help with the thin thing)…and if you happen to enjoy it then you’re lucky, but, even if you don’t, you have to do it anyways because otherwise you will be F A T – and there’s nothing worse than that.

Friends, this inner voice talks bullshit. And she needs to be taught to sit down and shut up.

So I find myself here, on 10th November 2021, almost certainly weighing more than I ever have before (because I’ve not counted a single calorie since England, and I haven’t topped the leaderboard on my FitBit either), wanting so desperately to be free of this addiction to what the scales say…wanting to be free from the obsession over how many bloody steps I’ve taken today…wanting, really longing, to know the answers to some of these questions…

  • What does it feel like to be hungry?
  • What does it feel like to be comfortably full and then STOP eating?
  • Why is my sense of self worth tied up in what I weigh?
  • What if the ‘some foods are good and some foods are bad’ premise is actually a lie?!
  • What if exercise was purely for fun??
  • What would happen if I never weighed myself again, and just ate what I fancied, when I was hungry, and stopped when I was full???

You might be reading this and thinking ‘you can’t really mean that?’ but, genuinely, truly and honestly, I don’t know the answers to these questions but MAN, I want to find out. And I am determined to go on a journey of discovery to try to answer them because I’ve tried the whole diet-exercise-binge-starve-gain-lose-self-love-self-loathe cycle for way too long and it’s not right.

I would go as far as to say it’s not what God wants for me! I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Psalm 139 tells me so. And my addictions and obsessions do not lead me to live life in all its abundance, as promised in John 10:10. I’ve got it wrong. Really wrong.

And. I. Am. Done.

So, I am breaking up with my FitBit first. And I am going to walk along the beach because IT IS STUNNING and it is only 2 blocks away and because it makes my heart and soul glad and gives me space to thank the Creator of it all – and not because I have to hit 15,000 steps.

And I am going to try every last one of the crazy workouts available to me in this amazing part of the world – if they sound like fun to me. And if I enjoy them, I will do them again – BECAUSE THEY ARE FUN, not to burn off food that was delicious.

And, can I also say, I am scared of this? I am worried about embarking on this stage of the journey. And I don’t quite understand what my fear is (except the irrational fear that, as I said, I will get fat…and my brain is conditioned to believe that fat is bad…which is absolutely wrong).

So I am committing to blogging about it because it feels significant (to me) and maybe like something others might have thoughts and feelings about. I would love to know what you think.

Right: first up…aerial yoga!!