Morsels 2019 January

An archive of previous “Daily Morsels” published on the Cathedral app. Please note that these vversions of the messages are not formatted to reflect line breaks or separate paragraphs, as they are purely an archival set. They also tend not to have any embedded web links from the original Morsel. To receive these message direct to your mobile phone or tablet each day, please download the Cathedral app.

Thr – 190131
Title
Travel light
Body
Remember, when you leave this earth, you can take with you nothing that you have received, only what you have given: a heart enriched by honest service, love, sacrifice and courage. — St Francis of Assisi
Wed – 190130
Title
Charles I, king and martyr
Body
Today is a quintessentially Anglican holy day. There are many saints among the royalty, including some who renounced their privilege to pursue a monastic life. The commemoration of the British king from the Stuart dynasty as a martyr is more problematic than most. Charles and the royalist forces supporting him were defeated in 1646 by the Puritans. The brief republican experiment (ruled by Oliver Cromwell) ended with the restoration of the monarchy and the accession of Charles II in 1660. The famous Book of Common Prayer was published in 1662 as part of the restoration of the Church of England as the state church. Charles I was executed on this day in 1649. Was this just a political dispute that proved fatal for Charles, or was he acting out of religious conviction? He was clearly no democrat, but saintliness is not derived from our politics. On the other hand, modern Anglicanism is deeply indebted to Charles’ insistence on bishops and sacraments, and to the BCP in which those values were encoded. At the very least, perhaps we should use this day to pray for people of faith serving in public office? It can be difficult to live by one’s convictions in a place where compromise is the norm.
Tue – 190129
Title
School is back
Body
As our schools resume for the new year, we acknowledge the privilege of living in a society that can afford well-funded schools, with excellent facilities and a dedicated cadre of professional teachers. We celebrate the curiosity of children and their passion to learn. May our schools be communities of learning and service, in which both student and teacher each learn more about themselves and the world with each passing day.
Mon – 190128
Title
Thomas Aquinas
Body
Thomas was born in southern Italy in 1225. As the youngest son of a wealthy family that had connections in royal circles as well as in the church, Thomas was always destined to pursue a life in the church. Thomas came to be one of the greatest exponents of natural theology, and his extensive writings were required reading for Roman Catholic ordinands over many centuries. His systematic theological ideas which attempted to synthesise Aristotelian thought with Christian beliefs, became known as Thomism. These ideas shaped Western thinking until the Enlightenment and remain influential in some circles until this day. Thomas a person of immense learning, who was open to wisdom from non-Christian sources, and remained passionate about serving as a teacher for ordinary Christians. We have much to learn from his legacy.
SUN – 190127
Title
Being on country
Body
When I returned to the northern rivers in March 2017, I was very conscious of returning to country. It was exactly 50 years after moving to Brisbane as a teenager in March 1967. I was back in the place where I was born and raised. Back in the place where my parents and grandparents lived, and where those who have died are buried. My country. My place. In today’s Gospel reading (Luke 4:14–21) Jesus returns home to Nazareth. He is back in the village where he is known and among the people who know his parents, his sisters and his brothers. He is returning to country. Where is ‘country’ for you? What place calls you home?
Sat – 190126 AUSTRALIA DAY
Title
God of holy dreaming
Body
This beautiful prayer composed by local Yaegl woman and priest, Lenore Parker, seems highly appropriate for Australia Day: God of holy dreaming, Great Creator Spirit, from the dawn of creation you have given your children the good things of Mother Earth. You spoke and the gum tree grew. In the vast desert and dense forest, and in cities at the water’s edge, creation sings your praise. Your presence endures as the rock at the heart of our Land. When Jesus hung on the tree you heard the cries of all your people and became one with your wounded ones: the convicts, the hunted, and the dispossessed. The sunrise of your Son coloured the earth anew, and bathed it in glorious hope. In Jesus we have been reconciled to you, to each other and to your whole creation. Lead us on, Great Spirit, as we gather from the four corners of the earth; enable us to walk together in trust from the hurt and shame of the past into the full day which has dawned in Jesus Christ. Amen. This prayer is published in A Prayer Book for Australia, p. 218. It will be used as the Preface for the Great Thanksgiving Prayer at the Australia Day Eucharist in the Cathedral this Sunday.
Fri – 190125
Title
Babel
Body
During Morning Prayer today we will read the ancient legend of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1–9). If we can dream it, then we can … create it … discover it … invent it … go there … Our capacity to imagine what is not yet might be one of our greatest spiritual assets. But hubris is never far away if it becomes all about us, rather than finding our place with humility in the great scheme of things. Inspire our dreams, Lord, and give us humility. And a passion to serve.
Thr – 190124
Title
The companions of St Paul
Body
If only they had business cards in the first century.
Paul of Tarsus
Slave of Jesus the Anointed
Apostle to the Nations
paul@thenations.info
And then there were his companions, including Phoebe the deacon, Timothy, Aquila and Priscilla, Silas and Titus:
Phoebe
Deacon in the Church of God
Accredited agent for Paul of Tarsus
phoebe@loveinaction.org
There were no business card and no emails, but these people helped turn the world upside down. It is amazing what a small group of dedicated people can achieve.
Wed – 190123
Title
Earth Covenant
Body
At Morning Prayer today we read the final section of the Great Flood story in the Bible (Genesis 8). As Noah and his companions exit the ark and resume their lives on dry land, there is a fresh beginning for all earth creatures as God resolves never again to destroy the earth due to human wickedness: “I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done. As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” (Genesis 8:21–22 NRSV) At a time when human activity is driving climate change on a scale that threatens the survival of our global eco-system, we might do well to retrieve this ancient fragment of spiritual wisdom. How do we understand God’s engagement with all creation and not just with our own species? What does “Emmanuel” (God with us) look like when the “us” is nature and not just humans.
Tue – 190122
Title
Vincent of Saragossa
Body
Vincent was a contemporary of Agnes of Rome, but lived in Spain. As Diocletian’s Edict of Persecution was implemented even in the most western provinces of the empire, Vincent was arrested along with his bishop, Valerius. After refusing to recant the faith he was tortured and executed on this day in 304. For most of us our faith will not involve any serious hardship. Despite the occasional protests by radical right-wing Christians, we enjoy substantial protections to practice our religion, significant tax concessions, and enormous religious freedom. These were not the result of the ancient imperial Christians (who simply turned the power of the empire on their pagan and Jewish opponents) nor the European reformers in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Our freedom is a legacy of the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, which ended wars between Catholics and Protestants which had raged for many decades. The treaty ending the conflict agreed that religion would be a matter of private freedom and should not limit a citizen’s participation in public life or influence how they treat other citizens.
Mon – 190121
Title
Agnes of Rome
Body
Today and tomorrow we commemorate two martyrs from the last few years of pagan Rome, just prior to the adoption of Christianity by the Emperor Constantine. Agnes is one of many Christians martyred during the persecutions promoted as official imperial policy aimed at restraining the rise of Christianity and restoring public devotion to the traditional pagan gods. For the most part the story of Agnes is remote from our experience, although that is not the case for people in some societies where traditional religious values can still lead to violence against individual Christians or whole congregations. The courage and integrity of martyrs such as Agnes were among the factors that ensured the triumph of Christianity over traditional pagan religion. Agnes was only 13 years of age when tortured and executed on this day in 304 CE.
SUN – 190120
Title
Transformation
Body
The Gospel reading in all the mainline churches today will be the story of Jesus turning water into wine at a wedding celebration in Cana, a village quite close to Nazareth. Anyone who can do that would certainly attract a strong following. How many “likes” would Jesus have scored on Facebook that week? And how many letters to the editor would have demanded that he should stick to religion and stop undermining the moral fabric of the community? The point of the story is not the quality of the wine (the best ever tasted by the MC on the night) or the staggering quantities produced. This is a story of transformation, together with the promise that the best is yet to come (“you have the best until last”). The water of our own lives can be transformed into wine as we say yes to God and allow divine grace to work its magic in our lives.
Sat – 190119
Title
Simple acts of kindness
Body
“The simplest acts of kindness are by far more powerful than a thousand heads bowing in prayer.” —Mahatma Ghandi
Fri – 190118
Title
East of Eden
Body
This morning’s OT reading tells of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the garden of Eden and then, some years later, the expulsion of Cain to a place “east of Eden”. Sometimes the Bible works best when it teases our imagination and this may be one of those times. The representative primeval family are already “out of Eden” but now their firstborn child is banished to an even more remote place: “the land of Nod east of Eden”. This is the existential location of all Earthlings. We are exiled from Eden, and then condemned to wander restlessly across the face of the land. We are all located “east of Eden” in the “land of Nod”, perhaps better translated as the “land of restlessness”. This was the lived experience of the storytellers who fashioned this text, but Christians affirm that even “east of Eden” God is to be found. At the Table of Jesus the human family is reunified and we discover Emmanuel, the God who is amongst us: within and between us. Any where, any time. At every Eucharist. Even east of Eden.
Thr – 190117
Title
St Anthony of Egypt
Body
From Serbia on Monday the lectionary now takes us to Egypt as we commemorate Anthony of Egypt (251 to 356 CE). His long life would be unusual at any time, but especially so during a turbulent 100 years that saw Christianity survive savage persecution and become the official religion of the Roman Empire. What a fascinating time to have been alive. The spiritual genius of Anthony—and the reason we honour him to this day—is his decision to turn away from the public privileges of a newly-emancipated Christianity and to pursue a deeper and more faithful Christian path in the desert. He was not the first of the ‘desert fathers’ and ‘desert mothers’, but he is the one who established patterns for monastic life in the desert which gave stability and form to these informal communities of extreme spiritual practice. At a time when Christianity was enjoying its new alliance with empire, the desert monks were nurturing an older tradition of discipleship as something profoundly counter-cultural.
Wed – 190116
Title
Earthlings
Body
This week the OT readings at Morning Prayer have been coming from the opening chapters of Genesis, the first book of the Bible. After the poetry of Genesis 1 this morning we have the earthy imagery of the second creation story, as God creates humans not with a divine command but by getting her hands dirty in the soil. In this ancient text, the first human (‘adam in Hebrew) is crafted from the soil (‘adamah) as later all the other earth creatures were also crafted. At first this human was neither male nor female: simply ‘adam, the Earthling. Whatever our gender and irrespective of our sexual orientation, we are all simply Earthlings in God’s eyes. Creatures derived from the beloved Earth. We are not the only earthlings, but this ancient Hebrew myth invites us to see our deepest vocation as being to tend the earth and care for the other earth creatures.
Tue – 190115
Title
Epiphany people
Body
The Sundays between Epiphany and the beginning of Lent are observed as the Epiphany season. This period is a liminal space: an in-between kind of time, a time of transition, a period for reflection. A time for mindfulness and attention. “Epiphany” is an ancient Greek term that means manifestation or revelation. During Advent and Christmas, we have been celebrating Emmanuel, the God who is to be found among us, and now we are invited to reflect on on the Epiphany moments in our own lives: those times when we catch a glimpse of the Sacred One who is always present but often unnoticed. As we practice mindfulness and become more attentive to the texture of our lives, may our personal rituals and spiritual practices give us eyes to see the God “in whom we love and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).
Mon – 190114
Title
Saint Sava, Archbishop of Serbia
Body
Well off the radar for most western Christians is a Serbian Orthodox holy man, who was a contemporary of the better-known (to us), St Francis of Assisi. We celebrate his life in the Anglican Church of Australia today. Sava (1174–1236) was a Serbian prince who joined the famous Orthodox monastic community at Mount Athos after renouncing his secular privileges . He was eventually reconciled with his father who even renounced the throne and became a monk at Mt Athos himself. See the web link below for more details. I am glad that the Anglican calendar invites us to honour saints from traditions with which we have little historical connection or cultural continuity. The gospel is much bigger than our own culture.
SUN – 190113 BAPTISM OF JESUS
Title
Baptism of Jesus
Body
Today we celebrate the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. The baptism of Jesus is not simply a moment of transition in his adult life nor is it simply a reminder that Jesus was an active participant in the normal rituals of the Jewish religion in Palestine in his time. The baptism of Jesus is also a story that invites us to recognise that Jesus had his own authentic personal religious experiences. That may be something about which we have not thought very much. Like all of us, Jesus would have developed a sense of awe in the face of the mystery of existence and like some of us he came to understand that the sacred dimension of life could best be understood as the God calls us into being and invites us into the future. Just as we each have to discover our own vocation and calling, so Jesus had to grow in his understanding of himself and of what faithfulness to God was going to mean for him in his own unique particularity. In other words, Jesus had a spiritual life and this included moments of religious experience.
Sat – 190112
Title
Make room for the outsiders
Body
How an author begins and concludes their work often reveals what is central to their concerns. As he commences his revision of the Gospel of Mark, Matthew created a beautiful midrash that sets Jesus into the sacred story alongside characters such as Joseph, Moses and Joshua. Not a bad CV at all. But time had passed. Already we are several decades after the death of Jesus. Matthew knows two things: (1) many Jews (and perhaps most) think Jesus was a traitor and a heretic, and (2) Jesus is attracting a very big following among the non-Jewish populations in cities like Antioch where is where Matthew himself is most likely based. He needs to celebrate the Jewish pedigree of Jesus while also offering a place in the story for outsiders who become insiders. The entourage of pagans who worship the Christ Child in Matthew—and only in Matthew—are the promise of success for the commission given by Jesus in the closing paragraph of the Gospel of Matthew: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt 28:19–20) There is room for everyone in the Jesus story. Outsiders become insiders.
Fri – 190111
Title
A caravan of oriental visitors
Body
Matthew could have spun his midrash for the birth of Jesus, including Herod’s murderous rage, without any need to add a visit by foreign sages. But he had more to teach his readers than the Jewish pedigree of Jesus. Matthew was also passionate about the significance of Jesus for the gentiles, for those people without any Jewish descent. Which is most of us. In the decades before Matthew was drafting his revised and enlarged edition of Mark’s Gospel there were occasional state visits to the Roman emperor by oriental rulers from beyond the empire seeming to establish cordial diplomatic relationships. Details of these and other parallels to Matthew’s birth narrative have been blended together by Matthew to create the spectacular scene of a visit to Bethlehem by an entourage of unspecified size (but certainly more than three individuals), bringing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Matthew is not recording history here, but appealing to his non-Jewish audience. They too have a part in the story of Jesus. God’s purposes in sending Jesus were not restricted to the Jewish nation, but extend to everyone, everywhere at all times.
Thr – 190110
Title
Joseph
Body
Next in Matthew’s legend of Jesus’ birth we meet a character named Joseph. Guess what? God speaks to him in dreams. Well, what else who happen to a guy called Joseph, a Jewish listener would say. Apart from being sent down to Egypt, which happens in Matthew 2! This Joseph is both a dreamer, and an upright man, who seeks to treat the women in his life properly. So already the readers of Matthew are beginning to think about Joseph, Egypt and liberation as the framework for the story of Jesus that Matthew is about to tell them. Joseph is told to go ahead with his plans to marry Mary and to treat the unborn child as his own. He is even instructed on what name to give the child. The child is not to be called ‘Joseph’, as a traditional Jew may have expected, but ‘Joshua’. Joshua was the successor to Moses and the person who—in the biblical narrative even if not in real history—conquers the land of Canaan so that the tribes of Israel can possess the ‘promised land’. Piece by piece, Matthew is assembling his story about the birth of Jesus.
Wed – 190109
Title
Women with ‘history’
Body
Matthew has crafted his story about the birth of Jesus very carefully so that it fits Jesus into the biblical drama of salvation. He begins with a genealogy that is selective (with three sets of 14 ancestors), but traces Jesus back to Abraham, the ancestor of the Jewish people. Cleverly woven into that list of male ancestors are four women, each of them with something irregular about their sexual history: (1) Tamar, a widow who pretends to be a prostitute and seduces her father-in-law to secure her rights within the family (see Genesis 38, but be warned this content is for adult readers only); (2) Ruth, a foreign woman from Moab, who becomes the great-grandmother of King David after spending the night with her future husband to secure his intervention on her behalf (see Ruth 3); (3) Bathsheba, who is not named here but simply listed as the “wife of Uriah”—a woman who David sexually abused and then arranged to have her husband murdered so that he could add Bathsheba to his harem (see 2 Samuel 11); (4) And Mary, who was discovered to be pregnant even before Joseph had slept with her. It seems we do not need to have a perfect family background for God to be at work among us, and for God to use us to move God’s purposes ahead. For many of us even that wee bit of the story is good news indeed. ‘Broken thing for broken people’..
Tue – 190108
Title
Matthew’s midrash for the birth of Jesus
Body
Matthew seems to preserve the earliest written story about the birth of Jesus. It was not a tradition found in Matthew’s older source, the Gospel of Mark. And it was not a tradition that was of any interest to the contemporary Gospel of John. As we see in John 6:42 (“They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”), the Gospel of John simply assumes that Joseph and Mark were the parents of Jesus even though John also affirms most clearly the divinity of Jesus in the famous Logos hymn that serves as the prologue for that gospel. We will explore Matthew’s infancy midrash over the next couple of days. For now we can note that the point of these birth stories is not his divinity but about his calling as the prophet of God, the one who comes to ‘save’ his people.
Mon – 190107
Title
Midrash
Body
Midrash is a form of Jewish education in which a story is developed around a simpler biblical or historical moment, to explain how it happened and also to explore the deeper meaning of the event. For example, ancient Jews such as St Paul were familiar with a midrash about the rock in the wilderness that flowed with water when struck by Moses. The midrash solved the problem about how the people got water on other days and at other locations, without leaving a trail of leaking rocks all over the wilderness—and turning the desert into a green parkland. In the midrash this technical problem was solved by the same rock magically relocating with the Israelites each time they moved. (see web link below) As Paul cited the midrash in 1 Corinthians 10:1–5: “… for they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ.” Paul does not quote the legend, but he assumes that his readers know about it, and he extends the legend by claiming that the supernatural rock that followed the Israelite through the wilderness from one location to another (which they all knew about) was actually Christ. Midrash invites us into a story and within that story we find a deeper truth being presented, but it is a form of truth that is not mortgaged to historicity.
SUN – 190106 EPIPHANY
Title
Three Kings Day
Body
Here we are on the twelfth day of Christmas in the West, while tonight our friends in the Middle East begin their Christmas celebrations. Antiochene Christians, Copts, Greek Orthodox, Melkites, Russian Orthodox and Syriac Christian communities begin their celebration after sunset today. For Armenians, Christmas begins on January 19. The major celebration, of courses, will be at the ancient Church of the Nativity, where the Orthodox faithful from different national and linguistic communities will gather for prayer and singing prior to the start of the liturgy. At the centre of those celebrations will be the venerated cave where tradition says the birth of Jesus occurred. Both in the West and in the East, this is a day when we celebrate the legend of the wise men who—in Matthew’s Gospel—come from afar to venerate the newborn king of the Jews.
Sat – 190105
Title
When sorrow and sadness flee
Body
“And a highway shall appear there, Which shall be called the Sacred Way. No one unclean shall pass along it, But it shall be for them. No traveler, not even fools, shall go astray. No lion shall be there, No ferocious beast shall set foot on it— These shall not be found there. But the redeemed shall walk it; And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, And come with shouting to Zion, Crowned with joy everlasting. They shall attain joy and gladness, While sorrow and sighing flee.” (Isaiah 35:8–10 JPS)
Fri – 190104
Title
When God is among us
Body
“Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, And the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then the lame shall leap like a deer, And the tongue of the dumb shall shout aloud; For waters shall burst forth in the desert, Streams in the wilderness.” (Isaiah 35:5–6 JPS)
Thr – 190103
Title
Security derives from integrity
Body
More ancient Jewish wisdom in these first few days of a new year: “He who walks in righteousness, Speaks uprightly, Spurns profit from fraudulent dealings, Waves away a bribe instead of grasping it, Stops his ears against listening to infamy, Shuts his eyes against looking at evil— Such a one shall dwell in lofty security, With inaccessible cliffs for his stronghold, With his food supplied And his drink assured.” (Isaiah 33:15–16 JPS)
Wed – 190102
Title
Justice, righteousness, peace
Body
“Till a spirit from on high is poured out on us, And wilderness is transformed into farm land, While farm land rates as mere brush. Then justice shall abide in the wilderness And righteousness shall dwell on the farm land. For the work of righteousness shall be peace, And the effect of righteousness, calm and confidence forever.” (Isaiah 32:15–17 Jewish Publication Society translation)
Tue – 190101
Title
Live as God’s chosen ones …
Body
Ancient thoughts for the first day of a new year: “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.” (Colossians 3:12–15 NRSV)

About gregoryjenks

Anglican priest and religion scholar. Senior Lecturer in the School of Theology at Charles Sturt University. Dean, Cathedral Church of Christ the King, Grafton and Rector of the Anglican Parish of Grafton. Formerly Dean at St George's College, Jerusalem. The opinions expressed in my publications, including my blog posts, are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the Diocese of Grafton nor Christ Church​ Cathedral in Grafton.
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