A bountiful harvest

Christ Church Cathedral, Grafton
Second Sunday after Pentecost
14 June 2020

harvest_time

 

[ video ]

It is so hard to pass by the iconic story from Genesis 18, when Abraham and Sarah offered hospitality to three strangers only to discover—with hindsight, as always—that it had been God who was at their table all the time.

Actually, perhaps we do not have to entirely pass that story by.

Maybe we can park that idea to one side as we reflect on the theme of the bountiful harvest and the need for more workers if the harvest is to be finished. Hold that thought for a bit.

 

A plentiful harvest

How many sermons have we heard over the years about the potential harvest out there, if only we had enough people and enough resources to go fetch it?

In my experience as a child raised within the life of the church, this theme was developed especially with reference to missionary work (“the great harvest” to be found in faraway lands). To a lesser extent, it was applied to local evangelism as well, with our neighbours and friends imagined as a field ripe for harvest.

Both those common ways of using this theme, at least in my own experience, have tended to be about finding ways to persuade other people to see things our way.

When used in a more appropriate manner, it becomes a sense that there is so much good to be achieved for God, for our human community and for the earth herself that it would be tragic were it left undone or incomplete.

Too often, I fear, it becomes a passion to “save souls” from something terrible rather than a desire to achieve wonderful things for the benefit of everyone.

How big do we draw the circle of blessing?

Is it a tight circle enclosing a small group of rescued sinners, or do we have a sense that we exist to be a blessing for others? Not just for some, but for everyone?

Now that would be a bountiful harvest!

 

Only a few workers

As the preacher describes the size of the harvest, they usually lament the lack of people to go gather it in.

As church membership shrinks and participation rates collapse, this sounds familiar.

The workers are not just clergy, but people willing to serve on Parish Council, school boards, cleaning rosters, serve in the OpShop, teach Sunday School, lead youth groups, etc, etc

But today’s Gospel reading subverts that response, based as it is on fear for the future; and a sense of loss when we compare things now with the past.

Interestingly, having spoken about the need for more workers to be sent by the master of the harvest, Jesus sends out just 12 people. That’s right: 12!

The truth is, of course, that even a small group of passionate people can achieve amazing results.

Twelve uneducated men from Galilee. Maybe Matthew (Levi) was able to read and write. None of them was well-connected or had any kind of serious social status. No physicians, engineers or artists in this group.

Only Peter was to make an impression on the memory of the church, and almost everything we know about him is legend.

The others all disappear from the stage of history and leave no trace of their efforts.

But almost exactly 300 years later (in 325 CE) a Roman emperor called Constantine would convene the first Church Council in the city of Nicea to approve the first draft of the creed we say in this Cathedral most Sundays. The emperor had become a follower of Jesus a few years earlier and before long Christianity would become the official religion of the Roman Empire.

That may not actually have been a good thing, but it still demonstrates what an amazing result can be achieved by a handful of ordinary people whose hearts have been possessed by a big idea.

Maybe we do not need to ask for more workers, just a few workers with bold dreams.

 

The lord of the harvest

Who is the lord of the harvest? and what are his instructions for the workers gathering the harvest?

In the Gospels it is God, but for us—in a sense—it is Jesus himself.

Our gospel reading began with Jesus active in the work to which God had called him, and later sending out his twelve disciples to keep doing the same stuff.

What was Jesus doing and what did he send the others out to do?

CONNECT – went about from village to village, engaging with people where they were. He did not try to persuade them to come to him. He went to them

TEACHING – Jesus offered practical wisdom, spiritual wisdom for everyday life. It was not arcane religious knowledge or philosophical speculations. It was wisdom to live by. Daily bread indeed.

HOPE – Jesus gave people hope with his talk about the coming kingdom of God and he encouraged people to start acting as if the reign of God was already here.

HEALING – as Jesus did all that people were finding healing, they were being saved, their broken lives were being put back together.

COMPASSION – Jesus embodied (literally) the compassion of God

 

That is the work of the harvest as understood and practised by the lord of the harvest.

 

Conclusion

If we are struggling to recruit people to help us could it be that we are working in the wrong paddock, seeking to gather the wrong harvest?

Are we driven by compassion for them or by our need for their assistance to keep the church going?

If it is not the former then there will be no blessing s from the lord of the harvest.

Jesus did not send the twelve out to repair, maintain or expand the synagogues.

Jesus did not ask for money: “You received with payment, give without payment!”

Jesus transformed lives, communities, society and the world.

That is our mission as well.

If we focus on that mission, we will find we have all the people we need to achieve the most remarkable results.

 

We started with a brief reference to Abraham and Sarah welcoming three strangers to their tent. They shared what they had with these strangers who had walked into their lives. They did not ask for anything in return. But they later discovered that God had been among them.

May that be our story and the story this town as well.

 

 

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The eighth day of creation

Christ Church Cathedral, Grafton
Pentecost. Sunday
31 May 2020

Hurricane_Isabel_from_ISS

[ video ]

 

Everything begins in chaos
Darkness

Tohu vabohu, writes the ancient Hebrew poet

Formless
Empty
Immense swirling oceans (the Deep)
No light at all from any source

Then something happens:
ruach elohim

 

Christians like to translate that phrase: ‘Spirit of God’
Jews prefer to say: ‘a wind from God’
I suggest we read it as: ‘a powerful wind’
In everyday terms we might say “a hell of a storm”

All that we are today has its origins and its explanation in those ancient words that open the Bible we share with our Jewish friends.

To paraphrase:

God was there at the start
God created everything
It was a mess
An amazing storm came through
Hovering above the formless empty chaos
Then there was light!
God had spoken.

 

That is not just a description of our origins.
It also describes our present reality
And it indicates our destiny

TODAY is Pentecost, sometimes called the Eighth Day of Creation
TODAY we celebrate the disturbing and renewing presence of the Spirit
TODAY we pray for the Spirit to hover over our chaos until the light appears

As we observe this Great and Fiftieth Day of Easter, let me offer a simple paradigm for understanding the meaning of Pentecost:

The presence of the spirit of Jesus among us
is the proof of the resurrection
Equally, our commitment to compassionate action
is the proof that the Spirit is among us.

 

The spirit of Jesus among us

This was a major theme in the way that Paul understood the gospel.

He hardly ever refers to the life of Jesus and almost never quotes any teachings from Jesus, but he repeatedly refers to the Spirit as the real, lived experience of the risen Jesus active in the church.

One familiar example, often used in services today, is this:

For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:13)

However, I think my personal favourite, might be this line from a little later in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians:

Thus it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. (1 Corinthians 15:45)

For Paul and for us, the Spirit present among us is the proof that Jesus has been raised and has gone ahead of us into God, into the future, into eternal love.

Indeed, Paul never mentions an empty tomb. Rather, we find that in the Gospels, all of which were written long after Paul is dead.

For Paul what matters is to have been drawn into the Easter life of Jesus through the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, which has been given to us.

For that reason, Pentecost is indeed the Great and Fiftieth Day of Easter.

Easter does not end with the discovery of an empty tomb nor an ascension into heaven.

Easter has really only fully happened when we have a community of people where the Spirit is found: hovering over our chaos, absorbing our darkness, shaping our formlessness, illuminating our darkness, filling our emptiness.

Today, on the festival of the Spirit,  we know the meaning of Easter; and in our experience of the Spirit of Jesus among us we know the reality of his resurrection.

 

Acting with compassion

In our mission statement on the Cathedral website, we speak of ourselves as “acting with compassion in the heart of Grafton since 1842”

When that description is true, then we have proof that the Spirit of Jesus is indeed active among us.

Jesus was, first of all, a person of compassion: he healed the sick, he cast out demons, he made the blind see, he fed the hungry, he proclaimed a time of liberty and salvation, he had time and compassion for those on the margins of their own communities.

As Jesus people, his Spirit of compassion will be evident among us as well.

Paul one time described this as the fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22–23)

This does not mean that we always get it right.

Nor does it mean that when we mess up we should beat up on ourselves.

But it does suggest that when we get it right, this is what the presence of the Spirit of Jesus among us looks like: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control”

We should expect to see evidence of the Spirit of Jesus at work among us.

And we do.

We saw it during the fires during summer.

We have seen it in the care and support during the pandemic.

We see it in the OpShop volunteers.

We see it in the Cathedral Pantry.

We see it in every act of compassion and care.

 

May the disturbing and renewing presence of the Spirit continue to be our experience so that we never doubt the resurrection of Jesus and never lose sight of what it means for us to be Jesus people here and now.

God was there at the start
God is here now
God will be here in the future
It may be a mess
But an amazing spirit-storm is around us
Hovering above the formless empty chaos
There will be light!
God has spoken.
Alleluia!

 

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Creating a Network not forming a Crowd

Palm Sunday
Christ Church Cathedral, Grafton
5 April 2020

Palm-Sunday-in-Jerusalem

[ video ]

 

It is Palm Sunday, a day for crowds.

There were crowds in Jerusalem at Passover time 2,000 years ago …

There are crowds in Jerusalem for Palm Sunday every year, except 2020 …

There are good numbers at people at churches on Palm Sunday, but not this year …

There are no crowds this year.

Or maybe our definition of crowds has been upturned:

Two’s company
Three’s a crowd

That certainly applies in Australia under our coronavirus regulations.

We have no crowds, but we have lots of participants.

Most ‘regular’ Sundays we have been getting 60 people at the Cathedral on Sundays. That is up by almost 50% from three years ago and we would like to see it higher.

But the past two weeks while we have been live streaming our service, we have been getting around 1,000 people looking at the video.

Yes, you heard me: 1,000 people!

We have no one in the Cathedral, but we are creating a web (not a mob), a network (not a crowd)

So welcome to all our online people, whether you are from our regular Cathedral congregation, friends from across the north coast or around the country, or people who do not usually get to church anywhere on Sundays but have found this a good way to do some spiritual work.

You are welcome, and we are glad to have you participating in our Cathedral mission:

We are
a generous faith community
centred on Jesus
seeking wisdom for life
acting with compassion
in the heart of Grafton
since 1842

Come right in and make yourself at home as we do the stuff that Jesus people have been doing since that first Palm Sunday almost 2,000 years ago:

 

WORSHIP

We are celebrating how good it to be alive. To be alive here and now. There is a lot of anxiety out there thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, but at a time like this we still have so much to celebrate.

Worship is when we pause to consider how wonderful it is to be alive, what a gift life is, and how grateful we are to the love that pulses at the very centre of the cosmos.

We call that eternal love at the heart of cosmos, “God”; and we believe that we encounter that love in human form in the person and the wisdom of Jesus.

We can worship anywhere, as this pandemic is teaching us all over again.

You can worship right now, simply by pausing to reflect on the blessing of being here.

 

RITUAL

Rituals are not the same as worship, but worship uses many different rituals and this coming week is the time in the year when we have lots and lots of special rituals: from palm branches to today to feet washing on Thursday (except it is banned this year) to stations of the cross on Good Friday, the lighting of the Holy Fire on Easter Eve and the Paschal Candle on Easter morning.

We have rituals in every aspect of our lives, but this year we need to create or modify those rituals for online communities and inside our homes. Create a holy space in your home. Light a candle. Contemplate a holy picture. Read the Scriptures. Say your prayers. Cook special food for these special days. Listen to the special music that feeds your spirit.

Rituals.

 

COMMUNITY

Jesus gathered a community around him, and we are part of that community 2,000 years later.

Our community is under threat, and more so by people who think only of themselves than from the virus.

Our community includes all creation: the plants and animals, the rivers and the oceans, the air and the sky.

Make sure our rituals include some that renew and enhance our connection with one another and with the planet. I like to stop and talk to the magpies around the Cathedral. What is your crazy personal ritual that connects you with the community of sacred Earth as well as with other people?

 

COMPASSION

As Jesus people, we know that it is all about compassion.

In the end, nothing else matters. Not what we believe, but how we treat others.

Through the weeks of this pandemic members of Parish Council will be phoning people from the Cathedral community here in Grafton to check on them. Are you OK? Is there anything you need? Can we help in any way?

Compassion.

That is what Jesus people do.

Our Cathedral Pantry has really caught the attention of people across Grafton. It is a simple thing, but it makes a difference to those who really need our help. Compassion.

 

GENEROSITY

Jesus people are generous people.

We see that from the very beginning of the Christian story.

One story that captures this so well is our Gospel from today when a woman anoints Jesus with very expensive ointment. It was a prophetic act, anointing Jesus for his burial even before he was dead. But it was also an act of loving generosity. What could have been e joyed for her own benefit is totally expended for the sake of someone else, in this case, Jesus himself.

You will know the story of the crowd being fed with two fish and five loaves of bread. That was a picnic lunch for a young boy, but he brought it to the disciples because he heard that everyone was hungry.

What’s the point? ask the disciples; watch me, says Jesus.

Generosity is when we see a need, take action to address, and do not worry about our own needs.

We have seen a lot of generosity during this past couple of weeks as people respond to the news that the Cathedral will lose about half its income for 2020 if the shutdown lasts six months as we expect.

We are not out of the woods yet, but more than half the expected shortfall has already been made up by special gifts from people in our Cathedral community.

Generosity … it how Jesus people act.

 

So welcome—no matter where you are joining us from—and may you have a holy and deeply meaningful Holy Week.

We are glad to have you as part of our community of compassionate Jesus people in the heart of Grafton since 1842 and now in the heart of many more communities because you have joined us this morning.

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Faith community compassion generosity

Fourth Sunday in Lent (Year A)
Grafton Cathedral
22 March 2020

La_curacion_del_ciego_El_Greco_Dresde

[ video ]

The gospel set for today is strangely apt and yet it strikes a chord that spells fear, not hope.

Jesus is in Jerusalem and he encounters a man who has been blind since birth.

Note the very different attitudes of the key characters in this story:

 

JESUS NOTICES A BLIND BEGGAR

HIS DISCIPLES WANT PHILOSOPHICAL EXPLANATIONS

JESUS ADDRESSES THE NEED OF THE PERSON

BECAUSE COMPASSION GIVES GLORY TO GOD

THE RELIGIOUS EXPERTS REJECT JESUS’ CREDENTIALS

THE PARENTS OF THE MAN WANT NO MORE FUSS

THE HEALED MAN SEES CLEARLY

AND NOT JUST WITH HIS EYES

 

We can also notice that Jesus was clearly not under the current COVID-19 health requirements when he spat on the ground and made a paste from the dirt …

 

Fast forward around 2,000 years and here we are on the edge of a whole new way of being church, worshipping God and serving others.

We have never been in this space before.

Easter is just around the corner and almost certainly there will be no public church services during those most holy days.

Passover will be scaled back for Jews.

Ramadan will be quiet and subdued for Muslims when the daytime fasting ends.

 

Some of us have experienced part of this in our lives due to illness or other life events that have kept us away from church for a time. But we always knew that church was happening, and that people of faith were gathering for worship, learning more about their faith, and getting organised to make the world a better place for everyone.

Not anymore.

The pause button has been pressed.

So, what do we have left during these weeks when not just church but so many other aspects of our lives will be so very different from anything we have experienced before?

Let me unpack that around four (4) key words:

  • Faith
  • Community
  • Compassion
  • Generosity

 

FAITH

Faith is something that seems to be in short supply these days.

People who strip the shelves of household supplies and food are demonstrating a profound lack of faith in the capacity of our system to sustain us as it does in normal times.

People who pack our beaches and ignore the advice to maintain safe social distances are also showing their deep lack of faith. They do not trust the health authorities. They do not believe the government. They have no faith in science.

These are not normal times, but we can respond to these times with faith rather than fear.

We can be people of cautious optimism and quiet hope.

We can do all this because we are Easter people.

We do not deny the tragedy and the evil of Good Friday, but we affirm that light conquers darkness, love defeats hatred, hope destroys fear, and life overcomes death.

Faith does not halt the pandemic, but it stops us falling apart as our routines dissolve around us.

Faith nudges us to look beyond, to the love which at the very centre of the cosmos and which came to us in the person of Jesus.

Faith is practical hope; not whistling in the dark but lighting a candle to shatter the deepest darkness.

 

COMMUNITY

As people of faith we are community, the Body of Christ, those called together to make a difference in the world.

For as long as any of us can remember, our community has been grounded in gathering around a table, the Table of Jesus.

But that table is out of reach for a while.

We are going to find other ways to build and sustain community.

One part of that is the technology which has transformed our lives, and which now allows us to gather without being in the same place.

We have online communities and we can make better use of them.

But we also need to make the phone calls and knock on the doors of isolated people.

Make list of people and find ways to check on them. Make a list of 10 names and pray for those people every day. Maybe give them a call. Check how they are doing.

If you have concerns for them, let us know and we shall try to make contact as well.

Download the Cathedral app.

Join the next few Dean’s Forums as Zoom meetings!

Get onto Facebook and join the Grafton Anglicans private group. Share your thoughts. Ask questions. Reflect on what is happening. Explore the Bible. Begin to imagine what church will be like on the other side of this pandemic.

We are a resilient community and we shall come out of this stronger than ever.

 

COMPASSION

Some people are going to be hurt by the pandemic.

Many people will become ill and some will die. Some of us may die in the next few weeks.

Businesses will close.

Jobs will be lost.

Some essential household items and certain lines of food are still going to be hard to get.

But we do not hoard.

It is against the very essence of being people of faith to hoard.

We share what we have and give when we are asked.

It seems impossible to feed 5,000 people with five bread rolls and a couple of small fish, but God can use what we share to make a huge difference in the lives of others. And especially in those in most need.

Instead of worrying about how we will survive as a church with the OpShop closed for several months, let’s begin to imagine what an impact we can have on people as the OpShop becomes a community hub where they find the help they need. And indeed, in some ways, the food they need for each day.

Give us today our daily bread.

We shall be gentle with each other and act out of compassion.

 

GENEROSITY

Recently we sang the beautiful modern hymn, “A Spendthrift Lover is the Lord” by Thomas H. Troeger:

A spendthrift lover is the Lord who never counts the cost
Or asks if heaven can afford to woo a world that’s lost.
Our lover tosses coins of gold across the midnight skies
And stokes the sun against the cold to warm us when we rise.

As people of faith, we reflect the generosity of God in ourselves and in our own actions, and we are going to need generosity as we navigate the weeks and months ahead.

Generosity is as much about openness as it is about funding.

Indeed, generosity is the very opposite of the hoarding which has been so evident in the past few weeks.

It is natural that when we fear that there may not be enough of something to go around, we are tempted to grab what we can before it runs out. We panic buy. We hoard. We are selfish. Other people get hurt.

As people of faith we know the generosity of our spendthrift lover.

We trust the endless capacity of God to bring good out of evil, and life out of death.

We have no deep fear that life lacks what we need to thrive.

Give us today our daily bread.

So we have no need to hoard.

We can share what we have without fear.

And that unlocks a chain of compassionate generosity that turns our world upside down.

As a Cathedral, we will pay what we need to spend, and we will share what resources we have. Even if our reserves are exhausted, God will provide all that we need and then some.

Give us today our daily bread.

So please do find a way to get your gifts to the Cathedral: direct debit, bank transfers, cheques, mobile payment on the Cathedral app, delivering your envelopes to the office.

We may have less coming in, but there will still be lots to go out.

As generous people, we can keep our hearts and our minds open to those who need our help.

 

In among all the strangeness of the coming weeks, hold fast to these four key words:

Faith – Community – Compassion – Generosity

 

Finally, embrace this opportunity for a change of pace. Let’s all slow down for a bit.

With that in mind, let me close with a poem by John O’Donoghue

This is the time to be slow,
Lie low to the wall
Until the bitter weather passes.

Try, as best you can, not to let
The wire brush of doubt
Scrape from your heart
All sense of yourself
And your hesitant light.

If you remain generous,
Time will come good;
And you will find your feet
Again on fresh pastures of promise,
Where the air will be kind
And blushed with beginning.

© John O’Donohue. Excerpt from his books, To Bless the Space Between Us (US) / Benedictus (Europe). Ordering Info: https://johnodonohue.com/store

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Clean hands and open hearts

This opinion piece appeared in The Daily Examiner on Thursday, 12 March 2020

“Facts not fear. Clean hands. Open hearts.”

With these seven simple words, Dr Abdu Sharkawy, concluded a recent Facebook post about the coronavirus. Dr Sarkawy is a Canadian medical doctor and an infectious diseases specialist. His post went viral, which is an interesting metaphor given our content.

After all the scientific and medical details in his post, those three simple axioms stand out for me: Facts not fear. Clean hands. Open hearts.

We certainly need to pay attention to the facts and resist the tendency for fear to override both common sense and scientific knowledge. The empty shelves in the supermarket aisles reveal how easily fear can trigger irrational responses.

We are fortunate to have an excellent public health system. Let’s give the advice coming from the federal and state health officers at least as much credence as the advice we accepted so readily from our emergency services during the recent bushfire crisis.

Facts not fear.

The best practical advice is to leave the toilet paper on the supermarket shelves and to focus on personal hygiene, especially cleaning our hands. Often. And thoroughly. Yes, it really is that simple. Clean our hands. Cough into our elbows. Avoid shaking hands. Stay indoors if we feel unwell. Do not put others at risk even if that means some inconvenience for us.

Clean hands.

But perhaps the most important lesson of all is to keep our hearts open to one another.

As a compassionate community we affirm our shared humanity, and we renew our commitment to be there for one another.

A year ago we determined not to allow an act of violence in Christchurch to tear us apart. Since then we have stuck together as fires ripped the heart from our forests and threatened so many small communities. The same resilience is needed as we stare down this virus which threatens our compassion for one another.

Open hearts.

 

Dr Greg Jenks is the Dean of Grafton. Like many Anglican and Catholic churches across the North Coast, Grafton Cathedral has made changes to its worship arrangements to reduce the risk of the COVID-19 virus being spread.

 

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Solidarity in blessings

First Sunday of Lent (Year A)
Christchurch Cathedral Grafton
1 March 2020

jesus-temptation

[ video ]

Perhaps not surprisingly on this first Sunday in Lent, the Bible readings chosen for today tends to focus on temptation and sin.

For sure there will be sermons in churches all around Grafton and all over the nation about sin as the great reality at the heart of human existence, and about how we all need to use these 40 days of Lent to turn away from sin and embrace the good news.

I am going to take a different line today.

Most likely that will not surprise you.

Rather than focusing on solidarity in sin, I want to focus in solidarity in blessing.

In doing that I am not blind to sin, although I prefer to call its by its proper names of ANGER, EVIL, FEAR, HATRED, INJUSTICE and VIOLENCE.

What tend to be categorised as ‘sin’ seem mostly to be low level moral failures that cause very little harm but arouse the passion of the theological thought police, while those things that really are evil and which cause devastation to individuals, families, communities and even the planet as a whole tend to escape the label ‘sin’.

To the extent that we want to turn away from sin this Lent, let’s search for ways to address these larger and more potent forms of evil and avoid a self-serving focus on moral failure and religious laziness.

Each of us is flawed—hence the phrase ‘broken things for broken people” as I invite you to the table of Jesus.

But each and every flawed human being is capable of the most amazing acts of courage, generosity and love.

Contrary to the theological fear-mongers, sin is not what characterises us most deeply. Rather, our true dignity as human beings and as Earth creatures is that we are made in the image of God and have the most amazing capacity for good.

Next time you look in the mirror, congratulate God on her fine work rather than berating yourself for some marginal improvements that may be long overdue.

 

Paradise Lost

Our first reading today comprised two excerpts from the book of Genesis in which the first people make choices about being human:

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.  And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden;  but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.’
3  Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God say, “You shall not eat from any tree in the garden”?’  The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden;  but God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.” ’  But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’  So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.  Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. (Gen 2:15–17 & 3:1–7)

This is one of two creation stories in Genesis and one of several creation texts in the Old Testament, yet this is the story on which the Christian West has been fixated.

In this story God sets boundaries to the freedom which Adam and Eve may enjoy. They could eat any fruit from any tree, except for the ‘tree of the knowledge of good evil’.

Of course, we know there never was such a tree and that this is a mythical tale about the loss of paradise. Yet we never pause to wonder why God would want to ban humans from knowing good and evil, or whether God was right even to make such a rule.

Let’s stand back and look at ourselves—at our Christian selves for almost 2,000 years—and wonder how we can be so short-sighted in the way that we engage with this story.

We have used this story to explain to ourselves why life is not perfect, and we use this story to put the blame for that reality on ourselves as humans.

I think we can read that story in a more affirming and positive way, but let’s put it aside for now and focus on the other two readings set for this morning.

 

We, not me

When we look at the reading from Romans, we can immediately see why it was chosen for today, but we can also see that at the heart of the text is a concept of human solidarity that we mostly ignore.

If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.  Therefore, just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.  For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:17–19)

Our culture celebrates the individual rather than the whole human bio-system of which every individual is a part: families, households, clans, clubs, churches, tribes, nations, race, humanity itself.

Paul clearly accepted that Adam’s choice in Genesis 2 was a bad move and had inflicted suffering on every human being ever since. Note, however, that in the opening verse from the larger text for today, Paul says this was because everyone else also sinned.

Hmmm.

That’s an interesting correction to the dominant sin-and-death cult of Western Christianity at least since Augustine of Hippo (who died in 430 CE).

According to Paul the same consequences that Adam experienced as a result of his bad choices were experienced by everyone else ever afterwards … because they also all made the same kind of bad choices. Not simply because they inherited bad genes from the first human being.

Notice how Paul sees the choices made by Jesus as also having consequences for everyone else.

Writing to the Corinthians a few years before his letter to the Romans, Paul used the parallel of the ‘first Adam’ and the ’second Adam’ this way:

Thus it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first, but the physical, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven. (1 Corinthians 15:45–49)

The device of contrasting Adam and Jesus was part of Paul’s theological toolset.

In today’s reading from Romans he is, in effect, saying:

Adam – bad choice ­– everyone dies
Jesus – good choice – everyone lives

Notice, by the way, that Paul says ‘everyone’; not just the religious and not just the Christians. All humanity.

Our job as people of faith is not to scare people out of hell, but to love them into heaven. Jesus has already secured their entry. It is theirs for the taking. Hell will be empty.

 

Jesus makes good choices

Our third reading today from the Gospel of Matthew has Jesus making the right choices.

Like every ancient hero inside the Bible or outside the Bible, Jesus had to overcome a series of tests before he could begin his task.

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ But he answered, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”’

Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you”, and “On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.”’  Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour; and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! for it is written, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.”’

Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him. (Matthew 4:1–11)

Again, this is myth not history. It is how people saw reality. And there is truth in the story even if there is very little history.

Like Adam and like Jesus we get to make choices.

Making choices is a sacred human attribute.

Sometimes we make bad choices, and those bad choices may cause hardship for other people, even those who we love.

But sometimes we make good choices, even brave and holy choices. Those good choices will also have consequences for other people; those close to us and even people we may not know directly.

We need to make more good choices and fewer of the bad choices.

The choice is ours.

The consequences will not be just for us.

And this first Sunday in Lent is a good time to ask God to help us make more good choices and to fix the consequences of any bad choices we have made in the past.

Maybe that is our prayer today as we come to the Table of Jesus?

 

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Think different

Grafton Cathedral
Epiphany 6A
16 February 2020

think-different

 

[ video ]

Between 1997 and 2002, Apple Computers (as they were then called) had a highly successful advertising campaign that transformed perceptions of them and their products, while encouraging people to “think different”.

Hold that thought as we delve into today’s Gospel reading.

 

For the past few weeks we have been hearing excerpts from the Sermon on the Mount, a special collection of teaching material from Jesus.

We shall look more closely at the Sermon on the Mount during the Dean’s Forum in two weeks’ time, but for now let’s just not that this is the classic collection of the teaching of Jesus, an epitome of his spiritual wisdom.

Although only found in Matthew it has been extremely influential over the centuries.

Indeed, Mahatma Gandhi largely drew his inspiration for non-violent resistance to the British imperial power in India from the teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. He famously said that if the test for being a Christian was simply the Sermon on the Mount taken at face value, then he would gladly say that he was a Christian!

 

In the Gospel today we heard part of the final section of Matthew 5, a section in which Jesus gives a series of antithetical statement more or less along the lines of:

“you have it said this way in the past … but now I am telling you different!”

In these statements, Matthew is contrasting Jesus with Moses.

For the Jewish Christians who comprised Matthew’s audience this was a controversial idea, even if we have long since become comfortable with the contrast.

It would be rather like a Pope saying, “Well, I know the church has always said this, but now I am telling you we need to think differently about that matter.”

In this series of six antithesis, Jesus ‘ups the ante’ in the following areas of personal relationships:

  • no murder (no hatred)
  • no adultery (no lustful stare)
  • no divorce without papers (no divorce)
  • no false oaths (no oaths)
  • proportionate violence (no violence)
  • love your neighbour (love your enemy)

 

In what many seem a classic example of hyperbole, Jesus begins his series with the example of homicide.

We might think that is a bit extreme, but pause for a moment and think how common domestic violence is around our country and even right here in Grafton where the rates tend to be twice the state average.

How many women die in Australia due to violence by a domestic partner or family member?

The answer is—on average—one woman dies every week in Australia as a result of violence by her current or former partner.

So this is not some extreme example randomly chosen by Jesus, but sadly a part of everyday life in our most intimate and personal relationships. In the places where we should be most secure from harm, immense harm is happening every day every week all year to women and children.

So Jesus picks up the traditional law: no killing

You heard that in the past he says.

Now this is how I am telling you it needs to be:

But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire (Matthew 5:22 NRSV)

No killing—but also no violence (see verses 38 to 42)

More than that—just getting angry with someone else is forbidden.

And more than that—even to insult someone is to fall under divine judgment.

 

Jesus has really raised the bar, and he continues to do that through the whole series of antitheses in the final half of Matthew 5.

Let’s hear that summary list again:

  • no murder (no hatred)
  • no adultery (no lustful stare)
  • no divorce without papers (no divorce)
  • no false oaths (no oaths)
  • proportionate violence (no violence)
  • love your neighbour (love your enemy)

 

As I wrote in the Daily Morsel for this morning, these are the values of the kingdom, not a checklist for compliance.

But the world would be a better place if more people aspired to these values. Our own lives would be as well.

 

In times of stress, we are more likely to lash out and to seek to score points at the expense of another person.

Sadly we see this in the life of the church as people struggle with declining numbers and with changing attitudes towards religion.

We are seeing it as well in the diocesan restructure process as people face the prospect of their special place of worship being closed and sold.

Harsh words are spoken.

Relationships are smashed.

Cruel things are said about the bishop, the Cathedral, the diocese, the priest, the town next door, and so on.

The idea of working together is dismissed and people seek to retain what they still have left of the church which has vanished but which they cannot let go.

 

Such times are hard times for us, just as drought and fire and flood are tough for people on the land.

But we cannot turn on each other when the times become hard for us.

Jesus sets the bar really high: no anger and no name-calling.

We choose love and we choose to care for one another as we navigate these tough times.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Religion that pleases God

Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
Christ Church Cathedral, Grafton
9 February 2020

Michelangelo_-_Creation_of_Adam_(cropped)

 

[ video ]

Our readings today revolve around one really big idea.

It is simply this: what kind of religion pleases God?

You would think that after 2,000 years of Christianity and at least another 1,000 years of Jewish history we might have a reasonable good answer to such a basic question.

Indeed, the prophets of ancient Israel—including Isaiah whose words we heard today—certainly spoke very plainly, as you may have noticed during the first reading.

Before we go there, let’s think a bit more deeply about the idea of ‘pleasing God’.

We hear a lot of this kind of talk, but it needs to taken as metaphor and not as some literal need on God’s part for us to make her happy, to relieve God’s stress levels or otherwise to stroke his ego.

God does not need us or anything that we can provide to complete the divine perfection.

You may have people in your family for whom it is so difficult to find a suitable gift. Well, God is like that on steroids! There is nothing God needs and there is nothing we can organise as a gift to make his existence any more complete and satisfying than it already is.

It may be more helpful to speak of God having a dream for the universe, for our world and even for our own individual lives. Rather like a parent who has hopes and dreams for the future happiness, success and well-being of our children, so God—we might imagine—has hopes and dreams for how the world might develop: for the direction things might go and the process by which we might all get there.

We sometimes speak of the moral arc of the universe being long but tending towards justice.

In a similar way we could speak of God’s dream for creation as a long-term process (at least 15 billion years so far) leading to a universe that expresses and reflects God’s own character as love.

There have been a few setbacks, which we might imagine disappoint God or even cause her some form of grief (whatever emotional dynamics we ascribe to God).

Hopefully there have also been some developments which have ‘pleased’ God.

As Christians we see the life of Jesus as an act of extended faithfulness that pleased God, while we also see his murder by the powers that be as something that disappointed God. We see the divine response to that ‘disappointment’ in the resurrection of Jesus, and so we believe that Easter is the paradigm for God’s action in bringing about the final outcome that she seeks.

Those are pretty big theological and philosophical ideas, but when we look at how religious people act it seems that people of faith think they know what God wants, what will ‘please’ God.

We see that certain trends are easily observed:

  • People think God wants the nicest building we can afford to build
  • We should keep enlarging that building and making it more beautiful (to our eyes)
  • The design and the materials should reflect the best architectural principles
  • Our music should be the very finest that we can perform (nothing less is good enough)
  • Our liturgies should be perfect performances, with the most gorgeous vestments and vessels of gold and silver—with added jewels, if possible
  • Readings and prayers will be said by people who speak properly
  • And the sermons should be well written, delivered with some flair and able to inspire people to do more of the above, or at least to keep contributing more money so we can keep doing all of the above.
  • One more thing … the people who enter that building to participate in these glorious liturgies should be nice people (people like us) who get on well without any arguments.

Sounds just like our cathedral, right?

Well, perhaps it sounds how we would like the Cathedral to be or even how we fondly remember it being in the days (insert name of your favourite Dean here) …

 

Now let’s ‘wind back the tape’ and listen again to the words from the Scroll of the Prophet Isaiah:

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

(Isaiah 58:6–9 NRSV)

 

Such an idea was not unique to Isaiah, but let me cite just one short example from the New Testament to demonstrate that this understanding is at the very heart of both Judaism and Christianity:

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (James 1:27 NRSV)

God is not opposed to good architecture, fine music, good liturgies and powerful preaching; but religion that pleases God is religion that incarnates God’s love for the broken, the needy and the poor in ways that actually make a difference to their lives.

We saw an example of that recently when Pope Francis ordered that one of the Vatican palaces be made a hostel for homeless men. Imagine the reaction among his advisors and the heritage committee!

But note the words spoken by the Pope: “Beauty heals!”

And we recall the Pope’s words when he was first elected in 2013 and called for “a poor church for the poor”.

Now that sounds like Isaiah 58 to me.

When we become a poor cathedral for the poor of Grafton, then we shall indeed be salt for this town and a light set upon a hill.

May that day come soon and may it last for ever.

 

 

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Love with its sleeves rolled up

Australia Day 2020
Christ Church Cathedral, Grafton
26 January 2020

The-Guardian-Australian-bushfires

 

[video]

 

For almost five months, fires have raged across large tracts of our ancient and dry continent.

Who could have imagined it?

And February is not yet here.

Yet, after an apocalyptic summer we are on the verge of normality.

Well, some of us are: those returning to secure jobs in the last week or so, and those resuming (or commencing) school this coming week.

But there is no return to normality for the vast tracts of bushland that have been destroyed, nor for the one billion animals believed to have been killed by these fires.

There is no return to normality for the owners and workers of almost 6,000 buildings lost to the fires so far.

There is no return to normality for the people who once lived in almost 2,700 homes which have been destroyed by the fires.

There is no return to normality for the 33 people killed in the fires so far, nor their families and communities.

 

It is not just the scale of the fires that has been so daunting, but the intensity of the flames, the speed with which they ran ahead of the fire front, the early start to the fire season, and the proximity of the fires to farms, homes and even urban areas.

Airports have been closed, seaside villages evacuated, and in so many different places people were choking on the thick air under a frightening red sky.

The world has noticed.

Any of us with overseas friends will have had many enquiries asking about our safety.

Australia has been teetering on the edge of the abyss as a serious climate emergency has seemingly caught us unaware. Not really unawares, of course. Just unprepared as our leaders have chosen to ignore the warning of scientists and fire chiefs, preferring to head overseas on their family holidays while Australia burned.

In this climate emergency we have seen the worst and the best of humanity.

The arsonists and the looters, few though they be, remind us our capacity for evil.

Thankfully their lack of human decency has been more than matched by the outflow of the very best of humanity which we have witnessed in these past months: compassion, volunteers, assistance, and donations (huge amounts).

Of course, the culture wars have continued as well, and some of the divisions have hardened as people stick to their preconceived ideas no matter how bad the fires become.

But overall this has been a time when we have rediscovered who we are as Australians.

Perhaps it has also been a time when we have sensed just how fragile life can be.

We are all so vulnerable.

Despite our best efforts to provide shelter and food, and to provide for future contingencies, we are vulnerable, and our comfortable lives can quickly vanish in a fire, or a flood, or a hurricane, or a negative medical diagnosis or a new global virus alert.

Too often we are like the proverbial rich farmer whose plans for an easy retirement collapsed in a single night. [Luke 12:16– 21]

The fires may have been a wakeup call for a society which expects everything to work out well. We imagine that the universe owes us a living, and a good one at that.

 

On this Australia Day as we scan the shared contours of our national life there are some features which speak to our hearts.

Compassion

It seems to me that this climate emergency and the fires which it has turbo charged has also revealed a genuine compassion for those who are doing it tough. When so much often seems to divide us, it is a good thing to discover all over again how much care about one another.

Compassion goes deeper than mateship, as it extends even to strangers and people with whom we may disagree.

Compassion is about deep solidarity when we discover how much of the good stuff and the bad stuff we all share. Your feelings and your concerns are mine, and mine are yours.

Compassion surpasses tolerance and even harmony. It is more than finding room for someone else and their opinions, but actively wanting what is best for them even at the cost of what we may wish for ourselves.

Compassion is love with its sleeves rolled up.

Gratitude

Alongside compassion for all those impacted by the fires, we have this amazing sense of gratitude for the firefighters and all the emergency services personnel.

Words fail when we seek to express our debt to them, even if our own homes were not in the path of the flames.

We salute their unstinting response: day after day, week after week.

We acknowledge the costs they have also borne as they sought to save other people’s homes and farms.

We are thankful for all they have done, and continue to do.

We are in awe of them.

Ancient Wisdom

The fires have done something else, as well. And this is something that is it essential for us to name on Australia Day.

The fires that swept across our ancient and dry land reminded us that our story did not start in 1788 when the eleven ships that comprised to so-called ‘First Fleet’ sailed into Port Jackson after an aborted attempt to establish a settlement at Botany Bay.

In more general terms there have been calls to learn from the First Nations of this land how to live more in harmony with a country that is prone to extreme weather events punctuated by extended droughts.

Perhaps most poignantly, the fires in southwest Victoria exposed previously unknown sections of the ancient aquaculture systems at Budj Bim. These systems date back to a time before the pyramids were built in Egypt, and their chance exposure due to the fires has been another reminder that the story of nation long predates the arrival of Europeans.

On a day which commemorates the arrival of one group of immigrants, it is important to recognise both the people who have been here since time immemorial as well as welcoming those who have arrived more recently.

As we learn more about the truth of our deep past we shall be better prepared to live into the future that we must—and shall—share together.

This Australia day, from the devastation of the fires, let’s claim these three precious items as we live into that future: compassion, gratitude and cultural humility.

 

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Gifts exotic and rare

Feast of the Epiphany
Grafton Cathedral
5 January 2020

adoration-of-the-magi

[ video ]

Here we are—almost—at the Twelfth Day of Christmas.

Tomorrow (January 6) we complete the great celebration of Jesus’ birth within the Western tradition, and then tomorrow evening the Orthodox faithful will begin their Christmas celebrations.

This double celebration in western and eastern parts of the church is an accident that derives from our different ways of counting time.

In the West, we have tended to count the days according to the movement of the sun; which works pretty well provided we have an extra day inserted every fourth year to keep things in sync. The calendar we know was promulgated by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582 and was itself a reform that involved skipping ahead 10 days to make up for a gradual drift out of alignment that had happened over the 1,628 years since the previous reform of the calendar by Julius Caesar in 46 BCE.

Although the Gregorian Calendar has been widely adopted and is now used by almost everyone in the world for civil and commercial records, the older Julian calendar continues to ‘set the clock’ (as it were) for religious purposes in the East.

While it looks to us as if the Greeks are celebrating Christmas almost two weeks late, that is simply because our ways of counting time are out of sync.

Both in the West and in the East we celebrate a 12-day festival between Christmas and Epiphany.

That quirk of public timekeeping reminds us that how we see reality often depends on the lens through which are looking.

I wonder if there may be a subtle lesson for us as our ‘culture wars’ over climate change paralyse our public administration so that we are unable to respond appropriately to the massive fire emergency across vast areas of our ancient continent.

Rather than defend ‘how we see things’, perhaps the fire emergency is calling us to deal with what is now happening in our forests and even on the water’s edge.

 

At the heart of today’s Gospel is the strange tale about a visit to Bethlehem by a delegation of leading scientists ‘from the East’.

It is a marvellous symbolic story that invites us to imagine an impressive entourage of exotic people turning up in the little town of Bethlehem. And there is nothing in the story to restrict their number to three people!

Matthew is not describing three mates off for a fishing weekend.

Matthew is not suggesting one person with a package of gold, another person with a bundle of frankincense and a third person with a jar of myrrh.

Rather, Matthew is pointing to a delegation from the faraway eastern lands who brought ‘truckloads’ of precious materials not easily available on the local market.

These sages will not have been travelling without a bodyguard, plus slaves to look after their camels and other slaves to prepare their meals, offer personal services, etc.

We actually have several descriptions of one such Eastern delegation to Rome around the middle of the first century, and that visit may have been the inspiration for the scene that Matthew has created in his birth legend for Jesus:

The story of a state visit to Emperor Nero by the Armenian ruler, Tiridates, is told by several ancient writers, but this example from Dio Cassius gives a sense of the scene being constructed by Matthew for his readers:

In the consulship of Gaius Telesinus and Suetonius Paulinus … Tiridates presented himself in Rome, bringing with him not only his own sons but also those of Vologaesus, of Pacorus, and of Monobazus. Their progress all the way from the Euphrates was like a triumphal procession. Tiridates himself was at the height of his reputation by reason of his age, beauty, family, and intelligence; and his whole retinue of servants together with all his royal paraphernalia accompanied him. Three thousand Parthian horsemen and numerous Romans besides followed in his train. They were received by gaily decorated cities and by peoples who shouted many compliments. Provisions were furnished them free of cost, a daily expenditure of 800,000 sesterces for their support being thus charged to the public treasury. This went on without change for the nine months occupied in their journey. [Dio Cassius, Roman History.]

 

Now that is one impressive state visit by Eastern rulers (magi), and it helps us to imagine the scene that Matthew is suggesting for his audience.

Unlike Nero, also a nasty character by most accounts, Herod does not make the eastern visitors welcome but rather seeks to exploit their visit for his own evil plans.

This is not history, of course, but an imaginative celebration of the significance of the birth of Jesus. Luke, as we know, tells a very different story; but each in their own way are teasing out the political significance of Jesus, the Anointed One, the Lord, the Saviour.

 

So here we are celebrating this ancient legend as we wrap up our Christmas and as our Orthodox friends prepare to start their own celebrations.

And our country is on fire!

Are we just playing holy games inside the Cathedral to make us all feel better about a world which is a real mess and our lives which are far from perfect, or are we dealing with spiritual wisdom that is not only relevant to everyday life but has the power transform how we deal with reality?

Most people in town—and maybe most of our family and friends—think we are playing harmless religious games, but I hope we have a sense that the faith we share has the power to change the world.

It did so in the past. Repeatedly. And it still has that capacity.

As our country burns we could use some wise ones to come from afar—east or west, north or south—and brings gifts to help solve this fire emergency which threatens to consume such a large part of our countryside.

Actually, wise and generous people have already arrived and most of them came from close by:

First of all the amazing volunteer fire crews (how can we ever thank them?)

Alongside them a vast network of emergency response people: setting up evacuation centres, preparing food for both the fire crews and those escaping the fires, donations of money and goods to assist those impacted by the fires, as well as chaplains offering emotional and spiritual care to everyone involved.

Then we have the array of scientific and technical people who bring their expertise to help us understand the fires, the weather; to fly the aircraft and to maintain the fire trucks.

The defence force has become increasingly engaged in the battle, for such it is, to save our communities from the flames that are licking at the suburbs of Sydney and consuming isolated rural communities.

Ordinary members of the public doing their part and then even more to assist as and where they can.

Not to mention the volunteer fire crews who have arrived from overseas.

We are all in this together.

 

Most of these wise and generous strangers have emerged from among us, just as they did some weeks ago when the fires were causing devastation in the area around us here on the north coast.

We have been overwhelmed by the scale and the ferocity of the fires, but we have also been renewed and lifted up by so many acts of kindness and generosity.

 

The fire emergency points to the larger climate emergency which our politicians seem unable or unwilling to see:

a world where extreme weather events become the norm

a world where ice caps melt

a world where sea levels rise

a world where islands and delta regions vanish under the sea

a world where fires start earlier, burn hotter and last longer

 

In such a world and at such a time we need wise and generous people who will bring gifts that calm our fears and address our challenges.

As people of faith, we are the ones with ancient spiritual wisdom on which to draw as we face the fire emergency and beyond that the climate emergency.

What gifts do we bring?

Gold might be useful, but let’s set aside the frankincense and myrrh.

In the spirit of Epiphany let me suggest three spiritual gifts we offer to our community and our nation at a time such as this: hope, courage, solidarity.

 

Hope

The fires are destroying more than landscapes and structures.

Dreams are going up in smoke. Homes are destroyed. Lives are lost and livelihoods vaporised. Wildlife is devastated and massive quantities of emissions are pumped into the atmosphere.

After the fires subside the grief will persist and the challenges of starting afresh will remain. The climate emergency will continue and will doubtless get worse before it improves. And the fires will be back long before the next summer begins.

Despair robs us of energy to meet these challenges and paralyzes our political leaders.

This is not a time for recrimination, but it is a time when people need hope.

We are people of hope and the Easter message is a story of fresh beginnings.

Our Christmas faith proclaims a God who is present among us and identifies with us: Emmanuel. Not a faraway power nor a pure philosophical principle, but a God who is born into a third-world village on the edge of a vast empire.

We dare not pretend to have all the answers, but we do have spiritual wisdom which gives us hope even in the darkest times.

Not ‘hoping for the best’; but remaining hopeful even in the worst of times.

 

Courage

To face the fires takes immense courage, raw courage.

To rebuild lives and communities will also require courage.

The ultimate source of the courage we bring to bear in these difficult times is our spiritual confidence in the power of love. For us, love is at the very centre of the universe and we know that love as Emmanuel, the God who is with us, within us, between and one of us.

Addressing the challenge of our climate emergency will require courage, and courage requires deep spiritual roots if it is not to wilt in the heat of these fires, in the dryness of this drought.

Thousands of years ago an anonymous songwriter from Jerusalem talked about finding a well from which to drink as we pass through the valley of weeping (Psalm 84:5–7).

That well is our faith, the spiritual wisdom we have inherited from our forebears and have tested in our own lived experience.

This one of the gifts we bring to our community as a Cathedral and a people of faith.

We do not fold under pressure, but we go deep and find those hidden wells from which to draw courage to face the tough questions and courage to make the changes as we create a new and sustainable future.

 

Solidarity

In times of crisis we need to stand together, and we have seen that happening in every place where the fires have torn communities apart.

Perhaps that is why we find it so offensive for political leaders to go on vacation as the fire emergency engulfs our country.

Solidarity is at the heart of our faith.

Emmanuel is a God who identifies with us, who is in profound solidarity with us.

From the beginning of Christianity we have spoken about being “in Christ”, united with one another and forming the “body of Christ”.

As we gather at the table of Jesus to break bread and bless wine, we are engaged in a ritual of solidarity: Holy Communion.

We belong to each other and our future is a communal one. We are not just saving individuals, but transforming whole communities, indeed the entire world.

 

As we join together in solidarity, inspired by courageous hope and hopeful courage we can overcome the devastation of the fires and even find a way to address the larger climate emergency.

Divided and paralyzed we will surely fail, but we bring to our community, our nation and the whole planet profound spiritual wisdom which gives us hope, fuels our courage and draws us together as one people.

Find the wells and tap into the ancient spiritual wisdom of our faith.

Then bring our gifts of hope, courage and solidarity to a nation in need of all three.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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