A letter to my critics

It seems that my 2018 Good Friday sermon has attracted more interest among a wider circle of people than I mostly manage to achieve. This includes negative reactions—some of them quite exaggerated—among conservative Evangelicals for whom there is only one way to understand the theological significance of the cross.

During the past week or so I have been misrepresented and potentially slandered online. I have been besieged with extremely rude messages on my YouTube channel. Formal complaints seeking my discipline and/or dismissal have been sent to the Diocesan Administrator. There have been threats of intervention from ‘higher authorities’. Now the emails are starting to arrive. Perhaps soon the letters will come in the post.

I have been described as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” and an “enemy of Christianity”. I have been handed over to Satan. And more of the same.

What follows below is the text of a response I have sent this morning to one person who contacted me overnight by email to take me to task for my sermon. Anything which might identify my correspondent has been deleted from the text.

Thank you for taking the time to contact me with your concerns about my recent Good Friday sermon.
I am pleased that you took the time to read my sermon rather than simply react to the exaggerated descriptions that have been circulating in particular circles in the past week or so.
Naturally I do not accept your evaluation of my sermon, as I would not have preached it had I thought any of those criticisms were true. All the same, I do appreciate the underlying irenical tone of your letter and hope that we might some day have a grace-filled discussion of our different approaches to faith, including the role of Scripture and critical thinking.
In case it helps you to appreciate where I was coming from in delivering that sermon, let me observe that my overall goal was to promote a deep appreciation of the death of Jesus as the critical element in our reconciliation with God. However, in making my way towards that goal I also identified and dismissed three common misconceptions about the death of Jesus. It is the third of those misconceptions that seems to have caused concern to you and, from what I hear indirectly via the grapevine, to some other Evangelical clergy in the Diocese of Grafton.
Let me simply make the point that I was addressing the historical circumstances around the crucifixion of Jesus. I was not seeking to promote or critique any particular doctrine of the atonement. My sermon was designed more as a reflection on the death of Jesus on that most solemn of holy days, Good Friday. I chose to focus on the faith/faithfulness (pistis) of Jesus, as Paul does in Romans 4.
I stand by every comment made in that sermon and do not resile from anything I said.
As I mentioned more than once when delivering that sermon, it canvassed a number of substantial theological issues that I anticipate we might explore in more detail in future sessions of the Dean’s Forum.
As for people finding spiritual nourishment in that sermon, you will be delighted to know that people far and wide have expressed their appreciation for the sermon and testified to the spiritual blessings they received through it.
May God bless you richly today and always.
Posted in Grafton Cathedral, Theology | 8 Comments

Better than silver or gold

Christ Church Cathedral Grafton
Third Sunday of Easter
15 April 2018

[video]

During these great fifty days after Easter the first reading in Church most Sundays comes from the Book of Acts rather than the Old Testament.

Normally we take time to check in with the wisdom of our spiritual ancestors (and indeed our spiritual cousins still) in the Jewish faith, but during Easter we are invited to listen to episodes from the account of the early church that we find in the Acts of the Apostles.

We can talk more about Acts some day in one of the Dean’s Forum sessions, but it is a fascinating book and the only one of its kind in the New Testament. It does not offer us stories about Jesus, but stories about his first followers in Jerusalem, then stories about other early leaders, and especially stories about St Paul.

One of my favourite stories from Acts is the passage just heard read this morning. Let’s start by unpacking it a little bit.

Peter and John at the Temple

Peter and John were from a couple of guys from two small villages on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, about 100km north of Jerusalem.

We do not know how many times they had ever been to Jerusalem, but they have been here for a couple of week according the the Gospels and Acts.

Every time these two fishermen from Bethsaida and Capernaum walk into the temple they were supposed to be in awe of the scale and beauty of the place. It was many many times bigger than this Cathedral.

So imagine them in this story, entering into the vast Temple plaza via the highly decorated Beautiful Gate (aka Golden Gate).

Just like the holy places in Palestine today, there were beggars lying around the entrance hoping for a gift to help them meet their living expenses.

One of the beggars catches Peter’s eye, and Peter (that’s a nickname meaning, Rocky), says to him: “Hey, look over here!”

The beggar does not need a second invitation. He is hoping for a nice big bag of coins. But then Rocky says, “I have no silver or gold , but I do have something for you!”

In the story, Rocky (Peter) heals the lame man who then goes into the temple with them: “walking, and leaping and praising God.”

 

Look at us … what are you seeking?

I want to hit the pause button on the story, and use that line from Peter as the anchor for our reflections today.

What are we looking for when we come to church?

What are we looking for when we bring a baby for Baptism?

What is Willy looking for when he pesters his parents to get Baptised?

Despite the fact that some churches promise it, we are not offering prosperity, happy marriages, or good health. I wish were able to do that. Imagine how we would pack them in every Sunday! Imagine how much happier our community would be.

Sometimes our prayers are answered in the way we want, and the simple fact that I am here—alive and in such good health—may be a sign of that. So, sincerely on my part, thank you for all those prayers and all that love that has washed around me these past six months.

But other times those prayers are not answered. The money problems persist. The family breaks up. The disease gets worse and the person dies.

So I need to say, along with Peter and John, we are not promising you silver and good. We are not even promising you an easy life, good health or a happy family.

So what is it that we offer?

Have we got something as good as silver and gold, or maybe even better than silver and gold?

I think we have, and that is why we are baptising Sienna and Willy this morning.

 

So what can be better than silver and gold?

Let me try a 3 minute promo for the Good News that Jesus brought, and the Good News that involves Jesus.

Hey, Willy, why not come down here and help men with the next bit?

OK Willy, here is why I am going to be baptising you here in this Cathedral in a few minutes time. Are you ready? No need to take notes because it is the job of your mum and dad and your godparents to remember all this and help it come true for you. No pressure, folks.

I am going to give you three words (that’s not too hard, eh?) and a sentence or two to go with each of them:

 

FAITH

We have learned about about God from our own lives, from the Bible, and from thousands of years of lived experience by people of faith. We want to share that stuff with you, because knowing it helps you make sense of life. We want to share our faith with you, so you can make it your own as you get older and keep on learning about God.

 

HOPE

Sometimes the world can be a scary and sad place. But our faith gives us hope. Not a pretend happy face even when bad stuff is happening, but a deep confidence (hope) that even when the bad stuff is happening it is OK because God will make it all work out just fine. When we stop and think about it, that is one of the ways to think about Easter. Things looked bad for Jesus on Good Friday and really no better the next day, but by Easter Day God had turned everything around: for Jesus and for us.

 

LOVE

The last of our special three words is love. I am not talking about how you feel about someone else, but how you treat them. When we have faith and hope, then we can be there for others and create the kind of world God wants this place to be. We cannot do that without faith and hope, but with God we can help make the world a better place.

 

So that, young man, is why I am going to baptise you now. And each time you come to visit us here in Grafton you can have a quick word with me to ket me know how that project is going.

Sometimes it will be easy to have faith and sometimes it will be hard. Sometimes it will be easy to be hopeful, and other times everything will feel hopeless. Sometimes it will be easy to care about others and to care about the world. and sometimes … well, sometimes we all need the encouragement of other people’s faith and other people’s hope to keep us on the track.

And that is why we come to church.

Not for the silver and gold, but to find other people who can help us have faith, hope and love so we can all help each other make the world. a better place. People like that are better than silver or gold, and you find them in church.

So, if you are ready for the adventure to begin, let’s go and get the water ready …

 

 

 

 

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Witnesses to transformation

Easter Day
Christ Church Cathedral
1 April 2018

[video]

Our second reading for this liturgy is from Paul’s first letter to the troublesome Christian community at Corinth.

They were a tough parish for Paul to serve as their pastor, but we can be grateful for that since their issues repeatedly drove to Paul to put in writing information that he had previously told them orally, but which otherwise we may never have known about.

That is certainly the case with the list of resurrection appearances in 1 Corinthians, chapter 15, verses 1 to 11.

Paul is probably writing this letter in the year 53/54 CE.

That makes this letter one of the earliest Christian documents to survive, and it is within 25 years of Easter. I hope that little fact gives you goose bumps.

The information Paul is repeating in the letter was previously given to the Corinthians, according to Paul, as part of his oral instruction when they were first converted. This was material from their Baptism preparation program!

Since Paul explicitly says that he passed on to them what others had passed on to him, we can assume that this list of Easter appearances goes back even earlier: most likely to the vibrant Christian community in the strategic city of Antioch, where Paul had strong pastoral connections.

We cannot be sure of the dates, but it is not unreasonable to suggest that Paul learned this information at Antioch about 10 years before his letter to the Corinthians.

So now we can date the list to 15 years after Easter, and probably a few years earlier.

That makes this list one of the oldest Christian documents that we have. More goose bumps!

This list mattered to the first generation of Christians because only those on the list were considered to have authority as leaders.

That, by the way, is Paul’s problem: he was not on the list!

Notice how he deals with that awkward problem.

Paul does not argue about the list. He repeats it, exactly as he had received it from the tradition before him, and then he adds his own name like a kind of postscript:

Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe. (1 Cor 15:8–11 NRSV)

The list of appearances

he appeared to Cephas,
then to the twelve.
Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time,
most of whom are still alive, though some have died.
Then he appeared to James,
then to all the apostles.

Most of the appearances in that list are not known to us, while it seems that most of the appearances in the Gospels are not included in the list that Paul inherited from Antioch.

When we put the two sets of traditions together, three names stand out:

Peter
Mary Magdalene
Paul

Let’s take each of them in turn, even if very briefly.

 

Peter

This one is very easy, since we have no description of the appearance to Peter by the risen Jesus. It is mentioned in Luke 24, but not described. We have no idea what it involved, although there is a later tradition of Jesus speaking with Peter by the Sea of Galilee and restoring him to his leadership role after his triple denial of Jesus.

 

Mary Magdalene

All of the Gospels agree that Mary Magdalene was present at the crucifixion and was one of the women who went to the tomb early on the Sunday morning to anoint Jesus for burial. In fact, Mary is the only women mentioned in all 4 Gospels, and she is always listed first.

The Gospel of John preserved a beautiful story of an encounter between Mary Magdalene and the risen but unrecognised Jesus in the garden close by his tomb. According to the Gospels, Mary is the first person to whom Jesus appears after his resurrection.

She is sometimes called the ‘apostle to the apostles’ because of her role as the first witness to the resurrection.

But the list that Paul got from Antioch fails to mention Mary Magdalene.

She has been cut from the list by the male gatekeepers. And this within the first 10-15 years! How quickly we abandoned the way of Jesus.

Happily, we can now restore her to her proper place as the first witness to the resurrection.

 

Paul

With Paul we are on firmer ground, but his encounter with the risen Lord was not in Jerusalem and had nothing to do with an empty tomb.

In an even earlier letter than 1 Corinthians, Paul describes very briefly his encounter with the risen Jesus:

For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. … But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus. (Galatians 1:11–12, 15–17 NRSV)

Paul refers to—but does not describe—a moment when God revealed the reality of the risen Christ to him, and he claims that as being the same kind of experience as the apostles, and this something that gave him the same authority as them.

 

The Easter transformation

If these are the earliest witnesses to the resurrection, what is it that they proclaim?

Here we really are reliant on Mary Magdalene and Paul, since we have no description of the appearance that Jesus is said to have made to Peter: nor to “the twelve”, nor to the “more than 500”, nor to James the brother of Jesus, nor to “all the apostles”.

As an aside, let me just observe that if I were seeking to create a fake story about the resurrection I would be sure to have a better set of eyewitnesses. The fact that our chain of witnesses is so flimsy may actually be something that counts in favour of the historicity of this tradition.

Despite the gaps and inconsistences in their stories our witnesses agree on a simple, yet amazing discovery: Jesus is alive.

Neither Mary Magdalene or Paul of Tarsus expected to discover that.

Mary had come to the tomb of Jesus to finish the burial preparations for her beloved prophet. She is so immersed in her grief, and so disinclined to discover a living Jesus, that she does not even recognise him when she encounters him in the garden.

Paul, on the other hand, knows all about the rumours of Jesus having been raised to life and is determined to stamp out this nonsense, and arrest anyone who believes it. By his own account in 1 Corinthians 15 and Galatians 1, Paul was trying to eradicate this nonsense from the face of the earth.

Even now, some  2,000 years later, we are still coming to terms with the implications of the amazing truth they each discovered, and which lies at the heart of our Easter celebrations.

That is our essential work as people of faith: making sense of Easter, and working it out in our own everyday lives.

Death was not the end of Jesus.

God raised Jesus up and took him deep into God’s own life.

And that same transformation is available to us, right now, even before we die.

I cannot prove that to anyone, but this is what we celebrate today, and that is the message of the church across the millennia—and here in Grafton right now.

Christ is risen. Alleluia!
He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

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Rethinking the cross of Jesus

Good Friday
Christ Church Cathedral
30 March 2018

[video]

This morning I want to speak briefly about the death of Jesus, about the cross.

It is a most familiar topic, as our churches are littered with crosses. From the roof top to the decorations carved into our woodwork, we have crosses everywhere. We wear them around our neck, put them on the wall above our bed, and we make the sign of a cross at sacred moments.

The cross is everywhere.

But most of what people will be told about the cross today in churches around the world and across our Diocese and around this city is nonsense at best, and truly bad theology at worst.

So today I want to talk briefly concerning three really bad ideas that people have about the crucifixion, and I want to suggest one really good way to understand what the cross was all about.

 

As the ideas were taking shape in my mind, I went back to read again what I said on Good Friday at Byron Bay last April. I did that for a few different reasons.

First of all, because it helps me to clarify my thoughts now if I review what I have said about the same topic at an earlier time.

I also wanted to make sure that I was not just going to repeat unwittingly material from last year.

And I needed to check if I had anything new to say today. And I think I do!

Generally speaking I do not like to read what I said in a sermon a year or more ago. I rarely agree with myself!

As I have reflected on that I realise that this may because I am no longer the same person who gave that sermon. At the time it may have been the right thing for the person I was then to say in that context. But time has passed. Other stuff has happened in my life and yours since this time last year. I am a different person, and I am speaking to a different community of faith. Even if I was still in Byron Bay, we would all have moved on—I hope—in the meantime, and each of us will be at least a little bit different than we were twelve months ago.

It makes me wonder what we shall all be like in twelve months’ time from now!

What will God have been doing in and through us during the year ahead, and how shall we have changed —individually and collectively — in that time?

So back to the task before us here this morning …

 

Bad Idea #1

Crucifixion was a violent and cruel way to kill someone.

The story of the cross is a story of extreme violence.

Worse still, it is a story of sacred violence and it reinforces all those times when we have experienced or observed violence and hatred being inflicted on others in the name of religion.

This is a dark thread that runs through the Bible and through the wider spiritual tradition of Christians, Jews and Muslims.

Instead of our faith giving us the wisdom and courage to address religious violence, sacred violence has repeatedly been excused, validated and justified by religion.

Some parts of the Bible are frankly unable to be used in public worship or in a religious education curriculum at our local Anglican school because of the violence and hatred that those texts celebrate and reinforce.

We may make this issue a topic for as Dean’s Forum in the next few months, as it is a very nasty element of our faith which we rarely address and which we rarely admit.

It is therefore very important—despite all the sermons and all the Sunday School lessons you may have heard to the contrary—that we reject any notion that God wanted Jesus to die as a human sacrifice.

The cross is not about divine wrath or sacred violence.

It was violent, but God was the victim of the violence and not the perpetrator.

How could we ever have gotten that so wrong?

This is a really bad idea, and I hope you never again allow a priest or any other person tell you that God approves of violence for the sake of dealing with evil or sin.

That is simply not true.

Worse still, it is a tragic betrayal of the true nature of God as revealed in Jesus Christ.

 

Bad Idea #2

The second bad idea that you will find lots of Christian people spruiking, and especially their pastors, is that the suffering of Jesus was so deep that it is without parallel in human history.

This is a variant of the God likes violence theme, but sounds more like: God can be moved to action if the suffering is especially intense.

Fortunately this second bad idea can be disposed of very easily.

The simple fact is that the suffering experienced by Jesus was neither remarkable nor unique.

Many people have suffered as badly as Jesus did, including the several thousand Jewish rebels crucified by Roman forces during the siege of Jerusalem about 40 years after Easter.

Countless human beings have experienced torture and cruel deaths with levels of suffering much worse than Jesus would have experienced.

Christian women living with violent husbands who abuse their spouses and claim it is their prerogative as the spiritual head of the woman are probably suffering worse than Jesus did, because their suffering goes on week after week with no sign of ending.

Assylum seekers consigned to cruel and inhumane conditions by our own Government are probably suffering more than Jesus ever did.

I could go on, but all such calculations miss the point.

It is not how much Jesus suffered that matters, but who he was and how he acted. More on that shortly when we get to a good idea for thinking about the cross.

 

Bad idea #3

The last of these really bad ideas about the Cross that I want to mention is one that is especially popular among people planning—or attending—Good Friday services.

This is the idea that my sins—or yours, or both yours and mine together—are what caused Jesus to die.

This is an idea that is especially common in Christian hymns.

It is nonsense.

We know what caused Jesus to be crucified, and it was not your sins or my sins, or the sins of anyone else we know.

All such twisted theology does is generate guilt. It makes us feel bad, and encourages us to be compliant participants in a church forgiveness racket. It is misdirected.

Jesus was killed because the powerful elites of his day wanted to eliminate him since he was a serious threat to their power and their privilege.

And they were right.

They were not right to kill Jesus, but they were right to discern that if his way of thinking about God took hold in the minds of the people over whom they ruled, the people they exploited, then their own days were numbered.

This is not about my sins or your sins.

It is about a clash between Jesus the prophet of the empire of God, and the elites in Jerusalem who prospered under the empire of Caesar and could not tolerate someone like Jesus.

They knew that when he said, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God”, Jesus was not describing an even split of our loyalties. Rather, Jesus was inviting people to give Caesar what he deserves (nothing) and to give God what God deserves (our all).

People who talk like that, who act like that, and who encourage other people to think like that will always be taken out by the powers that be.

 

A better idea

As I have already hinted, what matters about the crucifixion is not that it was a violent death or that Jesus himself suffered great distress, shame and pain. For sure it was violent, and involved suffering of many different kinds for Jesus.

But that is not why his death matters to God or to us.

Nor did his death have anything to do with us or our sins. It was all about the power games of the rich and powerful in first-century Jerusalem.

Instead of thinking about what happened to Jesus, how bad it was, and who is to blame; we can approach this from another direction.

We can focus on Jesus himself.

The redemptive element of the crucifixion is the faithfulness of Jesus himself, who never let go of his vision of God as the only power deserving of his loyalty.

Jesus was a martyr, not a sacrifice.

Paul teases this out in the early chapters of Romans when he compares the faithfulness of Abraham—who trusted God even when asked (in the story if not in real life) to sacrifice his only son—with the faithfulness of Jesus, who was willing to put his own life on the line because of his deep trust in God.

This is what the early church meant when it spoke of being saved by the faith of Jesus: not that we have faith in Jesus, but that Jesus was faithful to God, even to the point of death.

The faithfulness Jesus by which lived and died is the basis for our reconciliation with God.

Our sins did not cause the death of Jesus, but his faithfulness to God eliminates the impact of our sins on our own relationship with God.

Again this is something we may want to tease out in a Dean’s Forum some day. It is too big an idea to unpack in a single sermon on Good Friday, but it is essentially a simple idea:

What matters about the cross is that Jesus trusted God.

What matters about the cross is that Jesus was faithful to God.

What matters about the cross is that God honoured the faith of Jesus, and God did not allow violent political forces to stamp out his life even though they had killed him.

More on that when we get to Easter Day!

 

What we celebrate today, and in every Eucharist, is the offer of life, eternal life:

Our liturgy today is not excusing violence, or valorising suffering.

Our liturgy today is not asking us to accept the blame for Jesus having to die.

Our liturgy today is celebrating the faithfulness of Jesus, even to death, death on a cross.

Our liturgy today is inviting us to embrace that same faithfulness to God.

Our liturgy today is offering us the grace we need to be faithful people, just like Jesus.

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When words fail …

Christ Church Cathedral Grafton
Lent 5 (B)
18 March 2018

[video]

This week the Sunday lectionary offers us three serves of text, each of which centres around a particular—but different—metaphor.

At first glance I wondered what exactly I would do with those texts for the sermon this morning, but on reflection I want to suggest that the readings invite us to embrace metaphor as the most valid way of speaking about God and faith.

All of our speaking about God is necessarily poetic and metaphorical. After all, human language developed for communication between persons about events, places, relationships and feelings in our world and in our lives.

When we attempt to speak about God using human language it is as if we are pushing our human language up to the red line, and even beyond the red line. We should not be surprised if words fail us when we seek to speak about realities which are beyond everyday human experience.

So let’s get into the metaphors!

 

Melchizedek

My first reaction during the week, when I saw that Hebrews 5 was providing our second reading this morning, was to comment to Roger about the occurrence of the word Melchizedek in that passage.

It is an odd word to our ears, and for many people to our tongues, but to Jewish ears it is not such a strange word at all.

This ancient Hebrew word is built from two other words: the word for king (melek) and the word for righteousness (zedek). When put together these two terms create a name which simply means king of righteousness.

Until a few decades ago we had no idea why this mysterious character with the odd name was so significant the author of Hebrews. But with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls we now know that Melchizedek was one of two symbolic characters with great significance in those ancient scrolls.

The opposite character to Melchizedek was an evil and dark character with the delightful name Melchiresha, which means king of evil. So Melchizedek and Melchiresha were to Jews in the time of Jesus, what Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader are to fans of the Star Wars series today.

These two poetic and symbolic characters reflect the deep underlying tensions in human experience: we know ourselves to be called to the light, but we find ourselves drawn to the darkness.

This is metaphor.
Powerful truth.
Wrapped up in poetry and symbol.

 

New heart, new covenant

Our first reading from the book of the Jewish prophet Jeremiah has its origins in the years just after 600 BCE. Jerusalem was surrounded by the armies of Babylon who were about to capture and destroy the city. That much was politics and history, and archeologists have even picked up the arrowheads on the grounds outside the ancient city walls to verify the reality of those hard times.

But Jeremiah seeks a deeper truth for people in dark times, and he imagines a new covenant, a new relationship between God and the people of Jerusalem. He imagines a new covenant written not on blocks of stone, but etched on the human heart.

This is a powerful invitation for us as we prepare the rituals of Holy Week and Easter, to remember what matters most is what is happening in our hearts and not the ceremonies the rituals we may be performing.

This is metaphor.
Powerful truth.
Wrapped up in poetry and symbol.

 

A grain of wheat

The gospel of John offers us a third poetic image, and this is one of my personal favourites: the grain of wheat which falls into the earth and seems to have died, but in fact gives rise to an abundance of new life.

This metaphor penetrates deeply into the mystery of life and faith and it is especially relevant in these final two weeks of Lent.

This is the wisdom by which Jesus lived.

This is the wisdom we are invited to embrace.

This is the wisdom into which we will baptise Lachlan later this morning.

This is the spiritual wisdom our city and our nation needs to hear.

This is the wisdom of life that we need to share with our children and grandchildren.

This is metaphor.
Powerful truth.
Wrapped up in poetry and symbol.

 

Metaphors abound

Life is full of metaphor—and so is the church and especially our rituals.

The life of faith is a life informed by the wisdom we discern in metaphor, poetry and symbol.

We miss the point – and we totally miss the deep spiritual wisdom available to us — if we argue about the historicity of the metaphor. This is an essential lesson as we approach Easter.

Instead, today and during these next two weeks as we turn towards the cross, we are invited to embrace the deep wisdom that is available to us if only we will open our hearts to poetic truth in metaphor and symbol.

 

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The cleansing of the church

Lent 3 (B)
Christ Church Cathedral Grafton
4 March 2018
[video]

The lectionary today switches us across to a series of readings from the Gospel of John. For the next three Sundays our gospel readings will come from John even though we are in the year of Mark.

The Gospel of John offers us a different take on Jesus.

John sees Jesus very differently from the three synoptic gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

One of the differences concerns the identity of Jesus’ opponents.

In the synoptic gospels the opponents are various political and religious groups within Second Temple Judaism: Herodians, Pharisees, Sadducees and scribes. But in the Gospel of John the opponents of Jesus are routinely described as “the Jews”.

We see that very easily in today’s gospel message, which begins with the statement that “the Passover of the Jews” was happening followed by repeated references to the Jews as the opponents of Jesus.

Quite apart from this explicit labelling of the opponents of Jesus as being the Jews, a story such as this week’s text represents Jesus in profound conflict with the Temple hierarchy, and thus in conflict with the central institution of Jewish life at the time.

This is exacerbated by the way the story is moved from later in the life of Jesus and placed by John directly after the miracle of the water being turned into wine at Kfar Kana, Cana.

It is of the very essence of that story—as told by the gospel of John—that the ‘water’ of the Jewish religion is being replaced by the ‘wine’ the Jesus religion.

This is a clear and unambiguous anti-Semitic statement.

 

Anti-Semitism

Anti-Semitism is one of the worst stains on the conscience of Christianity. It ranks right up there with child abuse and cover-up, but is even worse; hard though it is these days to imagine anything worse child abuse and cover-up.

Anti-Semitism has been a feature of Christian life from the time that Christians first gained political power after the conversion of the Emperor Constantine. However, its roots run much deeper into the text of the New Testament itself as we can clearly see in the Gospel of John.

In case we missed his point, John moves the episode of Jesus creating a scene in the temple from the end of the story back to the beginning of his account of Jesus’ public activity.

For the author of John’s gospel, this scene sets the tone for the ministry of Jesus. For John, that tone is deeply anti-Semitic.

It would have been comfortable for me this morning to focus on the first reading from the book of Exodus or even second reading from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, but it is impossible to remain silent when such an anti-Semitic text read out loud in the Cathedral.

Silence suggests consent.

Worse still, silence allows hateful attitudes towards Jews to become embedded in our spiritual DNA as Christians.

This animus is even found in First Corinthians 1, although it is not quite as virulent as we see in John’s gospel. Paul is writing to the Corinthians and “the Jews” are listed as one of the groups of opponents of the gospel who persist in asking wrong questions because they do not wish to believe.

Although Paul — like all the early Christian leaders — was Jewish, his letter betrays a profound level of antagonism between his mission and the religious leadership of Jewish society.

 

The Decalogue

Such a nasty turn in the rhetoric between the followers of Jesus and the adherents of Moses is all the more remarkable today when our first reading is from the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments.

These ancient laws are Jewish laws.

They summarise our fundamental duties in human life:

duties to God
duties to parents/family
duties to other people

 These laws derive from the heart of the foundational Jewish story: the account of the exodus as God rescues the Hebrew slaves in Egypt. This is not a marginal Jewish tradition, but something which is very close to the very heart of Jewish identity.

 

Wisdom for faithful living

This insidious poison of Christian anti-Semitism which we find in the new Testament and throughout church history, must be opposed and denounced at every turn.

This is also true of its modern twin Islamophobia.

Fear of the other has no place in the Christian faith.

Hatred towards those who are different has no place in the Christian faith.

Arrogance which assumes we are better than others has no place in the Christian faith.

So where is the heart of the gospel in all this and what are we to make of the memory of that scene in the Temple all these years ago?

It seems best to understand the incident in the Temple as a symbolic prophetic act by Jesus.

He was not seeking to storm the Temple or to make it the base for a revolt. That would happen around 40 years later, but had nothing to do with Jesus.

Rather, acting in typical Jewish fashion—and in perfect consistency with the examples of the Jewish prophets in the Scriptures that we still share with Judaism—Jesus was making a vivid prophetic denunciation of the way that the Temple was serving the interests of the rich and powerful.

This is not an anti-Semitic act.

Jesus was thoroughly Jewish and so was this act.

He was calling the Temple hierarchy to account for their failure to live by the covenant for which the Ten Commandments constitute a summary of basic principles.

We should recall that Jesus himself summarised the law in a similar way to other Jewish teachers in his own time: love God, and love your neighbour.

This is the heart of the covenant with God: for Jews, and Christians, and Muslims.

On this spiritual wisdom we all agree.

As Jesus saw it, the corruption at the Temple was failing to honour God and was also exploiting the poor.

No love of God here, and no compassion for other people.

By the time the Gospel of John is composed, a bitter divide has happened between followers of Jesus and their Torah-observant Jewish peers.

The vitriol was extreme, as we see consistently through the Gospel of John.

John and his first readers had no extremist agenda to attack Jews. But his language would feed later generations of anti-Semitic thinking and actions within the Church at times when Christians had both the capacity and the desire to harm Jews.

For this we hang our heads in shame.

What must we give up this Lent?

Anti-Semitism for sure!

So we stand alongside Jesus, the Jewish prophet from Galilee as we call on our religious institutions to walk the talk, to serve always the mission of God in the world (rather than their own self-preservation), and to protect the vulnerable and the weak.

In this Cathedral there can be no anti-Semitism. Ever.

Passionate as I am about Palestinian rights to justice and self-determination, there is no excuse for anti-Semitism as we stand in solidarity with people who have lost land, family, homes and hope.

Similarly, there is no place for Islamophobia here.

This Cathedral—like the Temple in Jerusalem—is a house of prayer for all God’s children, and we welcome our Jewish and Muslim friends to find here a place of pilgrimage and prayer.

If you love God, you are welcome here.

If you love your neighbour, you are welcome here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Amazing grace

Ordination of Chad Rynehart
Lindisfarne Anglican Grammar School Chapel
24  February 2018

 

May these words be spoken
and heard
in the power of love. Amen.

IMG_0107

We are gathered here in this school chapel for the ordination of Chad Rynehart.

It has been my privilege to serve as Chad’s spiritual companion during the past three days as he prepared for this service. That precious time which we have shared will inform what I have to say, although nothing that we discussed will be shared with you today.

Were this an ordination service with several candidates, I would be expected to speak in fairly general terms about the importance of the ordained ministry within the life and mission of the church, and especially the role of Priests.

But we have just a single candidate for this service, so the focus falls on one guy—and my comments will also be rather more individualised than might otherwise have been the case.

 

Amazing Grace

We all know the popular hymn, Amazing Grace. It was written by—of all things—by someone who had been the captain of slave ships, taking captured Africans to America to be sold into slavery, and had himself been the slave of an African princess. Even after retiring from the slave trade and becoming an Anglican priest, John Newton continued to invest in the slave trade for many years.

The words of that hymn came to mind as I reflected on the conversations I have shared with Chad these past few days.

A constant thread in those conversations was grace: recognising—even if only with the benefit of hindsight—the loving presence of God in different circumstances and situations.

It is that idea of grace that I want to explore a little further with you today.

Maybe we can move from hindsight to foresight, and develop the spiritual skills to recognise and respond to God’s grace in real time, rather than only with hindsight.

 

Charis: beautiful, gift

Grace is a word that has two major sets of meaning, even in English,

In the conversations that I shared with Chad these past few days, I think we were mostly thinking of grace in the sense of: undeserved gift.

We were recognising various ways in which God has been present in our lives, often unrecognised and always undeserved. The miracle of sacred presence. The miracle of loving presence.

That is an idea I will return to shortly.

The other meaning of grace, is beauty.

When we comment on the grace with which someone acts, we are responding to something very beautiful about them. The dance, they speak, they act … with grace. It is a joy to watch them. They are authentic and beautiful because of the grace with which they act.

I shall also return briefly to that idea at the end of this reflection.

 

From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

In John 1, as the poetic prologue ends, the writer adds these words:

From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

During the past few days as Chad and I have engaged in conversation, prayer and solitude this has been a truth that we have each recognised: out of God’s eternal fullness we have both received—and you have all received—grace upon grace.

Grace upon grace.

What an inviting concept.

One good thing on top of another good thing, and more good things on top of those good things.

Grace upon grace.

How good is our life as people of faith, and even as people of little faith.

 

LIFE

The first and most profound grace that we have received is life itself.

We do not have to exist, and we cannot cause ourselves to exist. Life is a gift. A grace. A gift that we do not earn, and yet also a gift from God’s own self. We exist because God exists, and because God generates life.

It is grace. Thanks be to God.

 

COMMUNITY

We exist within community, even when we choose to be alone.

Around us, before us and after us is a rich community of humanity, and indeed all creation. As we are coming to realise more and more, we are connected within an immense web of life.

For much of the time that web of life may be invisible to us, but it sustains us and we contribute to that web by our actions and our thoughts, our hopes and our fears, our successes and our failures.

This too is grace. Thanks be to God.

 

KINSHIP

Within that immense web of life there is a circle of people with whom we are most at home: our families, our lovers, our intimate friends. These are the keepers of our secrets. They know us better than anyone else, and love us regardless.

This too is grace. Thanks be to God.

 

CHURCH

Connecting with a different set of people across cultures, nationality, place and time is the mysterious reality of the church. Here we glimpse God’s dream for the universe and find the spiritual wisdom needed to live lives that are holy and authentic. Here—when church is at its best—we find a safe space to explore the meaning of life, and to experiment with our own response to the God who call us.

This too is grace. Thanks be to God.

 

MINISTRY / SERVICE

Neither of these terms is quite the word I want, as they speak mostly to activity within the church or in the name of the church. The Greek term leitourgia would be better, but is mostly misunderstood as liturgy. In the ancient Greek world, leitourgia was an act of public service, something done by an individual for the sake of the community.

In our daily work and in the ways we spend our discretionary time, we are called to serve others. As we serve others, and as others serve us, the fabric of our society is created, enhanced and protected.

For some that will be ministry as a deacon, priest or bishop.

For others it will be ministry as a teacher, technician or gardener.

For others it will be ministry as a parent, as a carer, as … (insert your role here).

This too is grace. Thanks be to God.

 

Grace upon grace

Grace indeed takes many forms, and will be present even if we do not recognise it.

But here in this service we do recognise grace.

We celebrate grace.

We honour grace.

And we seek more expressions of grace in the years to come.

This school community is a community of grace. May it ever be so.

This ordinand, Chad, is a person of grace. In both senses of the word. May he ever be so.

 

Chad, we affirm today that we embrace you as a person of grace. You are a blessing to us and especially to this school community. And you are someone in whom we see the beauty of God at work as you gracefully go about your ministry within this community.

Grace upon grace.

We affirm and celebrate the grace of God within you, and we stand alongside you as you say yes to the God who calls you into new expressions of grace as a Priest in this school community, as a Priest in the local church, and as a Priest in the life of our Diocese.

This too is grace. Thanks be to God.

 

 

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Turning towards life

Lent 1 (B)
Christ Church Cathedral
18 February 2018

Where_The_Wild_Things_Are_(book)_cover

[video]

Turning to life

On the first Sunday of Lent you might have been expecting to hear the Gospel story of Jesus being tested by the devil during a 40 day sojourn in the wilderness.

The classic Lent hymn, “forty days and forty nights”, captures that traditional spirit of extended hardship and trials.

But this is the Year of Mark, so we get just the summary description in 1:12–13:

And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

The more developed version of this tradition is found in Matthew and Luke, but that is not what we have been served by the lectionary for this year as we start Lent.

Instead, from the Gospel of Mark we are offered a very different but very important memory about the public activity of Jesus.

This week’s passage offers us three snippets:

  1. Baptism of Jesus by John (vss 9–11)
  2. Jesus being tested in the wilderness: driven out by the Spirit of God to the place ‘where the wild things are’ (vss 12–13)
  3. Jesus beginning his mission (vss 14–15)

It is that final summary that I want us to focus on today.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

I believe this brief statement offers us immense spiritual wisdom as individuals and as a faith community on this day when we have our annual general meeting.

This summary, and especially vs 15, is one of the pivotal texts for my understanding of Jesus, for my understanding of my own faith, and therefore for my understanding of the mission we share as a faith community.

Correctly, understood, this verse invites us to see everything from a different angle.

 

Motivation (it’s time … God is among us)

Mark captures the essence of Jesus’ message in this verse as he begins with the key concept of the reign of God. In the Greek text of Mark’s Gospel this is expressed as the basileia tou theou. In English Bibles since at least 1611, this has been translated as the ‘kingdom of God’ although Jesus’ listeners would probably have understood it as the ‘empire of God’.

In the Greek-speaking eastern end of the Roman Empire, basileia was the word for empire.

At the time when King James was commissioning his Authorised Version of the Bible, they had a problem with the ancient meaning of this phrase. Spain had an empire, but England was a kingdom. So Jesus came to speak to Englishmen at least about the kingdom of God, rather than God’s empire.

God’s reign is what we pray for each time we say the Lord’s Prayer: your kingdom come

God’s reign means things on earth happening the way God wants them to be, and not the way the Emperor wants them to be.

Jesus was saying—and acting as if—God’s re-ordering of human affairs was already starting to happen. The kingdom is here. God’s reign is already happening. It starts here. With us. Right now.

Of course, people who speak and act like that soon find that tyrants taken them out, and that would happen to Jesus within a very short time.

Remember, he was killed not because he upset the Temple priests but because he unsettled the Romans.

If we never say or do anything to upset the ways things are around here, I wonder if we have really understood this key element of Jesus’ own self-understanding?

To recycle an old proverb:

Jesus came to comfort the disturbed,
and to disturb the comfortable.

Can our mission, as individuals and as a church, be any different from that?

 

Turn to life

The second part of Mark’s snappy three part summary is that those who heard Jesus were called upon to repent.

Ah, you say, now that sounds like Lent!

But think again, and think more deeply.

The concept at the heart of repentance is turning.

We mostly have heard about this as people tell us to turn away from sin, turn away from temptation, and to turn away from evil.

But it may be better to think of this word as an invitation to turn towards God, to turn towards love, to turn towards life.

These alternatives invite us to think about our central understanding of ourselves, and of life. Do we mostly think about ourselves as sinners who need to turn away from evil, or as beloved children who can choose to embrace life and turn towards God?

To put in another way, does “repent” make us feel bad about ourselves or good about ourselves? Does this word put us down, or set us free?

I hope you will hear Jesus speaking about repentance as an invitation to become more truly who we already are, and to turn consciously and intentionally towards life, to embrace love, and to claim our true human dignity as beloved children of God.

This Lent I am encouraging you to think about spiritual fitness options rather than pleasures that need to be set aside.

Turning to life, rather than turning away from death.

 

Believe

The final part of Jesus’ mission message was for people to believe the good news.

That is not a demand that we believe the Nicene Creed or embrace the Thirty Nine Articles. It is not even a requirement that we believe in the Bible. None of that has any part in the mission and message of Jesus.

As we read through the Gospels we do not find Jesus questioning people about their beliefs or berating them for their sins. He never asked people about their synagogue attendance or their offering envelopes. And he does not grill them about their relationship status.

What we do find Jesus often doing is affirming the deep faith (trust) that a particular person seems to have: ‘because of your trust what you have asked will be granted …’

This kind of existential trust in the goodness of God and in the reality of God’s reign right here and right now is what changes their lives:

The blind see
The lame walk
The deaf hear
The sick are healed
The dead are raised.

 

When we turn towards life—and when we trust in the goodness of God’s love which is at the very heart of our universe—then a new day dawns. God’s kingdom arrives among us. The old emperor is dethroned.

May that be your experience this Lent.

And may that be our experience in the year that lies ahead of us as a Parish.

Turn to life, embrace love, discover God.

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The stories that define us

In his daily meditation for this past Sunday, Richard Rohr correctly invites us to embrace the concept of original blessing and eschew meta-narratives of violence, since these are stories that shape us.

I have immense respect for Rohr and his theological reflections, but I quickly found myself dissenting from the process by which he constructed his otherwise worthy appeal.

First of all, the Enuma elish is from several hundred years before the Babylonian exile and most likely was not the form of the ANE creation myth that was known to the Jewish exiles, let along the theologians who composed Genesis 1.

As I shall point out below, the Jews had their own versions of God slaying the dragon / sea-monster in order to create the world, so they really did not need to borrow this stuff from their goyyim neighbours.

And then I found myself wondering why even progressive theologies—with higher than usual openness to the spiritual insights of other religions—still tend assume that our tradition is pure and non-violent, while other (pagan) traditions are crude and violent?

Secondly, to conjure up an early form of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity from the opening verses of Genesis—as Rohr does in this reflection—is very bad exegesis and even worse interfaith theology.

“Creator” is a function of God (Elohim) in Genesis 1, and not a title — just as it is not the ID of the first person of the Trinity in Christian tradition, despite contemporary attempts to make it so in a gender-free formula such as “Creator, Redeemer and Giver of Life”.

The Hebrew term ruach (wind, spirit), does not refer to the Holy Spirit when used in an ancient Jewish text. While ruach-elohim is literally “wind of God”, it is probably best understood as as Hebrew superlative form, and translated as “a powerful wind” or “a strong storm”, just as a phrase like gibeah-elohim means “very big hill” rather than “hill of God”.

Finally, there is no logos/Word—or even feminine Sophia figure—in this ancient creation poem, simply a God who says, “Let there be light,” etc.

Thirdly, the violence that Rohr finds so abhorrent is still implicit in the story with echoes of ancient conflict traditions in the Hebrew terms that occur within the first few sentences. In any case, the violent defeat of the primordial sea-monster or dragon is explicit in other Hebrew creation poems found in the Psalms and in the Prophets. The ancient Jews, it seems, were not averse to depicting creation as a violent defeat of the primordial serpentine opponent of YHWH.

Perhaps more significantly for both Jewish and Christian readers, this violence is matched and even excelled by the ghastly stories of Abraham (almost) sacrificing his son, Isaac, and Jephthah actually sacrificing his own daughter, not to mention those defective Christian understandings of the atonement which see the death of Jesus as a substitutionary sacrifice in which an innocent person is killed in place of the many sinners.

The violence does not end there within the Christian Scriptures, but is deeply embedded in apocalyptic visions of the destruction to be wreaked upon humankind and all of creation at the end of time.

To be people of peace we need both a creation myth and a redemption myth that eschews violence, and what we have in the Bible are origin myths and end-time myths that are dripping with violence and destruction.

No wonder the modern world is in such a mess.

All of this is related to the myth of St George slaying the dragon, which is an ancient oriental archetype for the victory of civilisation (imperial violence, or the violence of civilisation, as John Dominic Crossan would remind us) over the forces of chaos. The rider on the white horse has a long mythic history long before it was attached to the name of St George, and it is extended further in the Book of Revelation—a.k.a. the Apocalypse [!!!] of John—where the victorious Christ figure sits upon a white horse as he rides out to destroy Satan, a.k.a that great dragon or serpent.

Rohr should know all this, and probably does.

So I wonder why he penned a reflection that leaves all these issues aside and does not see the violence embedded in our own tradition and celebrated in our central liturgies?

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Transfiguration … transformation … ministry

Christ Church Cathedral
Last Sunday after the Epiphany
11 February 2018

 

062 Mt Tabor Church of Transfiguration mural, tb n040200

 

[video]

The story of Jesus’ transfiguration is unique because it is so different from all the other memories of Jesus that were preserved by the earliest Christians. It has echoes, of course, with traditions about Moses and Elijah, and both those characters appear in this story alongside Jesus.

This is one of the rare stories in the Gospels where the focus is on Jesus himself, rather than some action he takes to assist another person or a saying in which he speaks of God’s kingdom.

It feels rather like a story about Jesus from after Easter, and indeed some scholars have suggested this may be a resurrection story that has been mistakenly retold as if it happened during Jesus’ life.

The earliest version of the story is found in Mark’s Gospel, and that is the one we read this morning. As Matthew and Luke each repeat this story that they borrowed from Mark, they elaborate some of the small details in different ways. Marks tells the story first.

When dealing with this remarkable passage, preachers typically adopt one of the following lines:

Epiphany: The transfiguration is seen as a moment when the eternal divinity of Jesus peeps through his humanity and becomes visible to his closest disciples.

Vocation: Like the Baptism story, with which this episode shares many features, some preachers see this as a moment when Jesus finds the spiritual resources for his journey to the cross. That journey begins—in terms of Mark’s narrative—towards the end of the previous chapter, so this is a way of engaging with the text that respects the logic of the ancient narrative itself.

Discipleship: Others focus on the reaction of the three disciples from Jesus’ inner circle, and especially Peter’s response: ‘Lord, it is good that we are here.’

True Power: When observed on its proper feast day (August 6), many modern preachers are struck by the fact that this date is also the day of the first atomic bomb at Hiroshima. The brilliant cloud of the exploding nuclear device seems to evoke the radiance of Jesus’ clothing, offering a choice between two kinds of power.

Each of those can be fruitful ways to engage with the living word of God in this ancient story, but I want to take a slightly different tack this morning. I invite you reflect with me on the significance of this text in the final Sunday of the Epiphany season.

 

A month of epiphanies …

The Epiphany season varies in length, depending on the date of Easter. So this year it ends a bit sooner than some other years.

During the Epiphany season we reflect on those moments of revelation (epiphanies) when we catch a deeper glimpse of the way things are, and perhaps even of God’s loving presence in our lives.

Through this year’s abbreviated Epiphanytide we have been offered several different examples of Epiphany moments from Scripture and our own local context:

  • The Feast of the Epiphany: when the visiting sages from the Orient encountered the manifestation of God’s love for all people and all nations in the person of Jesus. They get a glimpse of the way things are.
  • The Baptism of our Lord: when Jesus hears the divine voice calling him into his identity and his mission: “You are my son, the beloved. With you I am well pleased. A glimpse of the way things are.
  • The child Samuel, hearing God calling in the night: That mysterious sense of personal call, which other more experienced souls around us may fail to discern at first. A glimpse of the way things are.
  • The God who goes fishing: calling us to do the work that Love has planned for us, and gently persisting until we do so. While Jonah may not agree that the process was all that gentle, he—and the disciples by the lake—catch a glimpse of the way things are.
  • The God of this ancient land: the Great Spirit who has always been present in this ancient southern land, and whose presence we learn to discern more clearly as we listen to our indigenous sisters and brothers. A glimpse of the way things are.
  • The God present among us in this Diocese as we commence the discernment process to choose a new Bishop. Another glimpse of the way things are.

Now—on this final Sunday after Epiphany—we end with the powerful symbolic story of Jesus being transfigured, as his divine glory shows through his humanity and draws his followers deeper into the mystery of God among us.

 

Transfigured people

We hear this ancient story on the last Sunday after the Epiphany, which is also the last Sunday before Lent: when we begin our own journey to the Cross.

Like Jesus in the Gospel of Mark, we are poised to begin the journey to the Cross. Like him we need the spiritual resources to make that journey.

As we reflect on this powerful story, we are reminded that Jesus is the ultimate epiphany, our unique revelation of God among us in human form. In the person of Jesus we see the most complete human expression of God among us.

With that insight we conclude our Epiphany journey but also start our Lenten journey.

Paul was probably unaware of Mark’s story about the transfiguration, but he has had his own encounter with the glorified Jesus when his own life was completely turned around. In the reading from 2 Corinthians 4 this morning Paul uses words that draw on the Moses traditions but also reflect his own experience—and ours—of Jesus as the human face of God:

“… the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Cor 4:4–6 NRSV)

Glory in clay jars

Paul develops the metaphor in a surprising direction and takes us to a different place than Mark.

The epiphany insights that we gather along life’s journey are indeed incredible spiritual treasures, but we contain this treasure in clay jars.

The clay jars are us.

Nothing less than the glory of God is hidden inside us, yet we are like cheap, disposable clay jars that hide the amazing truth of God within us, the greatest epiphany of them all.

That is true of us all, but I want to mention two of those clay jars that happen to be here in the Cathedral this morning.

The first is Fr Ian.

His clay seems to be very refined, because it is never too hard to see the glory of God shining through his life, and especially in that smile that dances across his face.

This is Fr Ian’s final Sunday with us, and I am glad that we were able to arrange things so that he could preside here one last time.

You have been a precious gift to this community of faith, Ian. There is a great treasure of wisdom and love and hope all wrapped up in the clay jar of your humanity. We have come to treasure both your humanity and your wisdom.

We thank you for your ministry here, and we wish you and +Sarah every blessing as you leave us shortly to re-establish your home in Canberra.

The other clay jar I need to mention is me.

Today I celebrate 39 years since my ordination as a Priest, and as I reflect on those years in Holy Orders I am conscious of the clay jar that is my life. The clay seems to me to be not as fine as the clay in Ian’s jar, but in my better moments the inner spiritual wisdom is the same.

It is a profound and holy privilege to be set aside for the work of a priest in the community of God’s people. Neither Ian nor I would ever claim to have nailed it, but we are both conscious that we carry within our own lives the secret of the glorified Christ, Emmanuel, the God who comes among us.

What is true of Ian and I is true of you all.

We all carry in our own selves the mystery of God, an immense spiritual treasure hidden in clay jars.

That surely is the great epiphany of these past few weeks, and the ultimate source of our hope as we begin the journey to the Cross next Sunday.

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