The eternal dance of doubt​ and faith

Earth Sunday / Easter 2C
Christ Church Cathedral, Grafton
28 April 2019

[ video ]

 

Already it has been a week.

It seems a lot longer, doesn’t it since Easter? Was that really just a week ago? It has been an odd kind of week with ANZAC Day in between and all the other stuff that has happened. It seems a lot longer than just a week ago.

Like the disciples in the first week of Easter we have made our way through our first week of Easter, wondering how we make sense of it all and what difference—if any—it makes to our lives anyway.

As we gather in church today to reflect on all that, three major spiritual streams are converging:

Earth Sunday
Easter 2
Baptism

And all of this in the context of a Eucharist when we gather around the Table of Jesus, take bread made from grain which the earth has given us and drink wine made from the vine sustained by Earth herself.

 

Gathering at the Table of Jesus also features in the Gospel readings that we hear during these first weeks after Easter Day.

The Table of Jesus is a place of identity: who we are is on display here.

The Table of Jesus is a place of transformation: things of Earth become sacraments of heaven.

The Table of Jesus is a place of encounter: The earliest disciples recognised Jesus alive among them in the breaking of the bread.

The Table of Jesus is also a place where faith and doubt dance eternally: They are not either/or choices, but the dynamic of discipleship as we seek to discern and embrace the risen Lord active in our midst.

 

So here we are, like the disciples in that Gospel reading which we have just heard, gathered around the Table of Jesus a week after Easter.

We are a mixed mob. So were they.

Some of us have faith that is so strong it seems nothing could ever break it. Some of us have doubts that are so strong that faith seems unreasonable. Most of us, perhaps, are somewhere in the middle: partners in the eternal dance of doubt and faith.

Some of us will think that baptising Jace and Rylee is one of the most important things we can do for them. Others may think it is a quaint old family custom that cannot do much harm. Most of us—myself included—are somewhere in between. We are a mix of doubt and faith, anxiety and hope, strength and weakness; all at the same time, and always.

It was like that in the Upper Room at Jerusalem as the disciples gathered around the Table of Jesus and wondered what sense to make of the weird rumours they had been hearing all week.

Yes, Jesus had been dead.

There was no doubt about that. They saw him on the cross and the Romans did not allow anyone to be rescued before they were dead.

At least they had been allowed to remove the body of Jesus after he was dead. The Romans did not keep him on the cross as food for the birds and as a warning to other people not to step out of line.

Seems it was bad luck for the Temple to have dead men on their crosses during Passover.

Dead and buried, even if done hastily and without all the proper rituals.

No doubt about that.

But then the weird stories started.

Mostly the women. Of course. Always more inclined to drama and fairy tales.

But then Peter said he had seen Jesus too. Crusty old fisherman Pete. The Rock.

And James, the brother of Jesus who was not even one of the disciples.

Then Cleopas and his wife from Emmaus.

Mary Magdalene was on a campaign. She had always loved Jesus, but now she was insisting he still alive even though everyone knew he was dead.

Thomas was a tough nut to crack. No women’s gossip for him. He was not going to believe all this Easter stuff until he could see Jesus for himself and touch the wounds from the crucifixion.

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” (John 20:26–29 NRSV)

 

I love that ancient Christian story.

It reminds me that doubt is a healthy part of faith. Indeed, it reminds me that faith without any questions or doubt may not be very healthy at all.

That is the eyes-wide-open kind of religion into which we baptise Jace and Ryle this morning.

Parents and godparents are promising to teach them the steps in the dance of doubt and faith, listening for the sacred music at the heart of the universe, and moving their lives in harmony with the God who says, “Here I am. Come and play.”

The Cathedral has a part to play in the dance, but the most important roles are those performed by the parents, godparents and extended family.

How you look at the world will become the way they look at the world.

How you manage your doubts and your beliefs will become their way as well.

 

Being Earth Sunday, we are reminded that this is not just about us and it is certainly not about buying fire insurance to get human souls out of hell.

At the heart of everything is the fact that the world exists.

Not only is the Earth here, but Earth has developed the capacity to be aware of itself and to know that it is here.

We are the Earth coming to conscious awareness.

Life is not about us over here and Earth over there.

We are Earthlings, and what counts for us as salvation is also salvation for all of creation: for the Earth itself and the universe as a whole.

Easter is not just for humans, but for God’s whole created universe.

At Christmas we celebrate God among us—Emmanuel‚ as sacred Spirit becomes human person; the Creator becomes Earthling.

At Easter we celebrate the transformation of reality that God’s dance makes possible.

Again, we find the dance of doubt and faith drawing us into the future, into God herself.

Have we got this all figured out? No way.

But this too is what we will be sharing with Jace and Rylee in the days, weeks, months and years to come.

 

So, let’s head down to the font and get this dance started …

 

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Religion is no cloak for hate speech

The media has recently been awash with stories about the hateful comments made online by Australian Rugby Union star, Israel Folau, about various classes of people being destined for hell unless they repent and conform to a set of beliefs (and related lifestyle choices) promoted by extremely conservative Christians.

His original Instamgram post then reinforces his threats of damnation in the fires of hell with a series of citations from the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible.

To be fair, similar claims can be heard at almost any Anglican Church in the Sydney area, as well as in many other congregations around the country where ultra-traditional religious views survive to this day.

Such views are abhorrent, no matter who makes them. They also reflect a profound ignorance of the Bible and of biblical hermeneutics.

Now we find Des Houghton—a Courier-Mail columnist and opinion writer—arguing that criticism of Folau for his hateful views is really an attack on Christianity, and perhaps on all forms of religious faith.

This is going too far.

Religion is neither an excuse for hate speech nor a protection for those who engage in it.

Condemning people to the fires of hell because of their beliefs or their lifestyle—like claiming divine approval for slavery, ethnic cleansing and patriarchy—is an element of Christian faith that progressive believers have long since laid aside as inappropriate; along with burning peoople at the stake and interrogating them under torture.

These are indeed among the darker elements of Judaism and Christianity, but are no longer practices that we can endorse or defend.

Just as polygamy and female genital mutilation are not permitted under Australian law despite their status as traditional religious practices, hate speech that threatens people with hellfire cannot be excused as ‘protected religious activity’.

Sadly our religious leaders—bishops and moderators alike—have been strangely silent in response to the hateful social media posts by Israel Folau [but see the Media Statement by the Bishop of Grafton]. For sure some will secretly agree with him although they mostly do not speak so openly about their views these days. Most have simply been silent, and perhaps thereby were mistakenly assumed to agree with his views.

The Bible does not justify hate speech even when the Scriptures themselves descend to the gutter in the heat of some particular conflict.

Our society has moved on and the views promoted by people such as Israel Folau serve best when they remind us of how far we have come. Theocracies are one of the most dangerous forms of human society, as we see daily in both Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The best response to such extremist nonsense is perhaps ridicule rather than prosecution. Laugh them off the stage and move your discretional spending to other recreational pursuits.

In two weeks time I will be in Sydney to speak at the Festival of Wild Ideas, an event sponsored by the Mosman/Neutral Bay Inter-Church Council. My topic for that address is:  Reading the Bible to promote human flourishing.

The proposal at the core of my presentation is that the immense cultural and spiritual significance of the Scriptures lies precisely in their capacity to inspire us to move beyond earlier expressions of humanity and to reach new levels of awareness, courage and compassion; in short to be more fully human than ever before.

Needless to say I will use the Bible very differently from Mr Folau and I shall come to very different conclusions about God’s desire to bless us profoundly across all of our diversity as humans.

A full text of that address will be posted here after the event.

 

 

 

Posted in Reflections, Theology | 3 Comments

Morsels 2019 March

An archive of previous “Daily Morsels” published on the Cathedral app. Please note that these versions 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.

 

 

SUN – 190331

Title

Spiritual roots

Body

Today will be observed as Mothering Sunday in many Anglican Churches around the world. Originally a day halfway through Lent when servants were allowed a weekend off to go home for worship in their home church, it continues to be widely observed in the UK as their version of Mothers’ Day. Where is your home church? Maybe it is the same one you attend these days, but for many of us it will be in another town or even another country. Mine has been sold and turned into an antique shop. It feels odd to enter that space and see it used in such a different way. And it feels smaller than when I was a child. Today may be a good time to pause and reflect on our spiritual roots in those communities and places where our journey of faith began.

 

 

Sat – 190330

Title

The heart of faith

Body

In Jewish tradition, the Shema’ (Hebrew for “Hear”) is a key statement of faith: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone.You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” (Deuteronomy 6:4–5 NRSV) In Christian practice, from the Gospels to Anglican prayer books, we find this proclamation being repurposed within a trinitarian outlook: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ Jesus said: ‘This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: you shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ And in Islam, we have a parallel tradition in the Adhan (“Hear” in Arabic): God is the greatest. I acknowledge that there is no deity but God. I acknowledge that Muhammad is the Messenger of God. Hasten to the prayer Hasten to the salvation. Prayer is better than sleep. God is greatest. There is no deity but God. Equally significant differences between Christians and Jews as between Christians and Muslims, and yet so much that we have in common as we each seek to respond to our experience of ‘amazing grace’.

https://youtu.be/zBNUdeWw-wE

 

 

Fri – 190329

Title

Days of obligation

Body

Here we are on another Friday, this one occurring two weeks after the massacre at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. Since participation in collective prayers seems to have almost disappeared from Christianity in the West, our renewed awareness of Friday as the day of prayer for Muslims may also be a moment to rethink our commitment to prayer, to gathering, and to our collective identity as people of faith. We are, in the spirit of the Life of Brian, all individuals; many of us increasingly choosing to lives as solitary persons whose connections with others are very weak. The ‘road less travelled’ is not the Way of Jesus. He gathered an intentional community of disciples and taught them to pray as well as to engage collectively in compassionate action (preaching, healing, exorcising). Maybe our Muslim sisters and brothers can evangelise us afresh, so that we take our obligation to form and sustain intentional communities of religious practice more seriously?

https://youtu.be/KHbzSif78qQ

 

Thr – 190328

Title

Lenten disciplines, 3: Give, or engagement

Body

The third attribute of a balanced Lent program is that we give personal resources to some project beyond our own life. For most people that means a financial contribution to some worthwhile project, but for some people it may mean getting involved to help make something good happen in our local community. As we give away money or time to help someone else we are engaging in God’s own work to make the world a better place. We are becoming part of the answer to our own prayer: ‘your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven …’

 

Wed – 190327

Title

Lenten disciplines, 2: Pray, or mindfulness

Body

Prayer is a time to pay attention to life and to the quiet presence of God at the very heart of the universe. aka: mindfulness Set yourself some goals for praying. It may be time alone to reflect and be mindful of your situation. It might mean a visit to the Cathedral during the week to light a candle for someone you care about. It may be a good time to resume a personal habit of attending Sunday worship, our group spiritual fitness workout session. Just do it … (as the saying goes)

 

Tue – 190326

Title

Lenten disciplines 1: Fasting, or embracing

Body

As we get close to the midway point for Lent, it may be timely to pause and reflect on our we have been spending this time. The three great spiritual disciplines are fasting, praying, and giving. Fasting If we seek better physical fitness we do something extra, while maybe also cutting back on some unhealthy habits. Our spiritual discipline can be much the same. There may be some bad habits we need to give up. These are more likely to be negative attitudes than chocolate or alcohol. Let go of fear and embrace love. Reinforce those personal habits that make you a more loving person and cut back on the habits that make you a mean-spirited person.

 

Mon – 190325 Lady Day

Title

Lady Day

Body

An angel whispers new possibilities

surprising developments indeed

to a young woman

in a small Galilean village:

Nazareth.

 

An unknown place

an unknown maiden

an unknown future:

a future not defined by the past.

 

The girl said, Yes.

The angel was pleased.

God smiled.

Now we all call her, Blessed:

Mary of Nazareth,

mother of Jesus.

 

We had best listen to the angels more carefully.

Who knows what new thing they are whispering into our ears?

—Gregory C. Jenks, 25 March 2019

 

SUN – 190324

Title

Come and get it …

Body

Sacred Wisdom calls us to her table: 1 Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. 2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. 3 Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. {Isaiah 55:1–3]

 

Sat – 190323

Title

A prayer for election day

Body

Today voters across New South Wales will vote today to elect the 57th Parliament, including all 93 seats in the Legislative Assembly and 21 of the 42 seats in the Legislative Council.

 

WE GIVE THANKS …

for our robust democracy,

for all who are standing for public office, and

for the dedication of our polling officials.

 

WE PRAY …

for those who will be elected to office,

for those who will form government, and

for those who lose their seats.

 

WE COMMIT OURSELVES …

to pray for those elected to our parliament,

to reconcile with those from whom we differ, and

to help build a resilient and compassionate community.

 

 

Fri – 190322

Title

Reconciliation

Body

Lord God, bring us together as one, reconciled with you and reconciled with each other. You made us in your likeness, you gave us your Son, Jesus Christ. He has given us forgiveness from sin. Lord God, bring us together as one, different in culture, but given new life in Jesus Christ, together as your body, your Church, your people. Lord God, bring us together as one, reconciled, healed, forgiven, sharing you with others as you have called us to do. In Jesus Christ, let us be together as one. Amen. — A Prayer Book for Australia

 

Thr – 190321

Title

A prayer for the nation

Body

God of hope, in these times of change, unite our nation and guide our leaders with your wisdom. Give us courage to overcome our fears, and help us to build a future in which all may prosper and share; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. —from the Church of England

 

Wed – 190320

Title

The Peace Prayer

Body

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life. —Attributed to St Francis of Assisi

 

Tue – 190319

Title

We have two choices

Body

The modern Jewish philosopher and social critic, Noam Chomsky, calls us to make a choice about how we spend (invest) our lives: “We have two choices. We can be pessimistic, give up, and help ensure that the worst will happen. Or we can be optimistic, grasp the opportunities that surely exist, and maybe help make the world a better place. Not much of a choice.”

 

Mon – 190318

Title

A more excellent way …

Body

If it is true that “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18), then this beautiful hymn to love from 1 Corinthians 13 has much to teach us about living without fear: “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” (1Corinthians 13:4–8 NRSV)

 

SUN – 190317

Title

Their sacrifices were mingled with their blood

Body

Today’s Gospel, begins with Jesus responding to news of two recent catastrophes: “… there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, ‘Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. … Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.’ ” [Luke 13:1–5] Suffering and catastrophe occur in the lives of undeserving people … but Jesus looks beyond the misfortune of the individuals to the underlying sickness (sin) that fuels the violence, nd calls on his listeners to repent. This passage has always troubled me, but in the light of the massacre of Muslim worshippers in the mosques of Christchurch it seems to make more sense. From what do we need to repent if more innocent people are not to find their sacrifices mingled with blood? Fear of the other … delusions of cultural, racial and religious supremacy … religious extremism … rejection of scientific evidence … populist ideology … Turn from hate, turn to the light. Repent.

 

Sat – 190316

Title

The line between good and evil

Body

In light of the mass killings at mosques in Christchurch yesterday, these words of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn come to mind: “And it was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts” (Archipelago Gulag II, 615).

 

Fri – 190315

Title

The home town crowd

Body

They know us better than anyone else. Probably better than we know ourselves. If we are truly blessed, they love us despite knowing us so well. They are the home town crowd, or simply our family and friends. Fresh from his spiritual challenges in the wilderness, Jesus heads home to Nazareth and goes to the synagogue for worship on Shabbat. It does not go well. The home crowd is a tough gig. Jesus reflects somewhat ruefully on a dynamic known across the centuries: “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.” That is one of the rare sayings of Jesus which is is found in all four Gospels. Another temptation perhaps? Living with criticism from those we love?

 

Thr – 190314

Title

Until next time …

Body

“When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.” (Luke 4:13) Spiritual victories are never complete. There is always next time. Jesus was not given a green pass after his successful completion of the inaugural testing regime. There would be other opportunities to fail. Other moments of vulnerability. There always are. The authentic life is a commitment to persistent and recurring faithfulness, not an easy jog to the finish line after some early successes. We are in this for the long haul. So is the dark one. But so is God.

 

Wed – 190313

Title

At the temple’s edge

Body

Temptation three … Now things are getting a little weird. Let’s see what you are made of Jesus; and whether God really cares about you at all. Come over here to the very edge of the temple in Jerusalem and throw yourself from the highest point. You will be fine, eh? After all, you are special. God will look after you. Jesus would be offered that wrong choice another time: when hanging on the cross. The clergy from the temple say to one another: “Let’s wait and see if God will rescue him, since he claims to be God’s son.” None of us would ever fall for that one, right? We would never think that God exists to keep us safe from our own stupid choices or the hostile actions of other people? We would never treat the planet like it exists for our sake, rather than the other way around? We would never take advantage of other people for our own short term satisfaction? Selfishness may be the worst temptation of them all.

 

Tue – 190312

Title

Look at what could be yours

Body

The second temptation … Come with me to an imaginary mountain from which one can survey the entire world, stretching out in all its immense flatness before us. As far as the eye can see, and then some … Let’s cut a deal. I can make you successful, and powerful. One of a kind. All you need to do is play by my rules. Power is seductive, but Jesus would never take that route. He chooses the path that leads to a cross in the garbage pit outside the walls of Jerusalem, rather than the highway that leads to power. We are not called to be powerful, or successful. It is enough to be faithful.

 

Mon – 190311

Title

Turn these stones into bread

Body

The first temptation … And what can be wrong about a hungry person turning a few desert stones into warm bread rolls? Nothing in itself, but context is everything. The reply Jesus makes to the Satan figure in this story points to a spiritual crisis from which we mostly avert our eyes: “One does not live by bread alone.” The “daily bread” for which Jesus teaches us to pray is not at stake here, but our insatiable appetite to acquire and consume. We want … more … faster … better … impressive … convenience … And we want it now. We are not defined by the baubles for which we compete. We do not live by “bread” alone …

 

SUN – 190310

Title

40 days and 40 nights

Body

The tradition of Jesus spending some time alone in the wilderness being “tested” (tempted) by Satan is found in three of the four Gospels, but is unknown to the Gospel of John. In the so-called “Q Gospel” material preserved only by Matthew and Luke, this meme is developed into a story with three episodes. Many stories in the western cultural canon have three episodes. It is how we like to tell stories, or even construct sermons. “Forty days” is itself a biblical meme that occurs repeatedly in the Scriptures. It indicates an extended period of time during which major developments may occur. For the anonymous Christian storyteller who shaped this story, this is the time when Jesus undergoes the challenges that any ancient hero was expected to survive in order to demonstrate their character and their skill. This story is not a memory of a historical moment, but a meditation on the deeper truth that Jesus constantly had to choose faithfulness to God’s call on his life, rather than be seduced by second-best; an acceptable action in itself but not what God required of him. That is a challenge we all face every day.

 

Sat – 190309

Title

Love is at the heart …

Body

And one more piece of wisdom from Michael Gerson’s sermon: Fate may do what it wants. But this much is settled. In our right minds, we know that love is at the heart of all things.

 

Fri – 190308

Title

International Women’s Day

Body

Wisdom is telling her story in the midst of her people:

‘I CAME FORTH FROM THE HEART OF THE MOST HIGH,” SHE SAYS.

“Alone I searched for a place to rest.

I LOOKED EVERYWHERE TO FIND A PLACE TO LIVE.

Then the Creator of all things instructed me:

‘PITCH YOUR TENT HERE IN THIS PLACE.’

So in the beloved community I took up residence.

I HAVE TAKEN ROOT IN THESE PEOPLE

I have grown tall as an oak tree,

I HAVE TAKEN ON MANY COLOURS.

I have spread out my branches like a candelabra.

MY BLOSSOMS BEAR THE FRUIT OF OPENNESS AND CARE.

APPROACH AND TAKE YOUR FILL.”

Come, let us seek Wisdom at work in all lives,

AND ESPECIALLY IN THE LIVES OF HER DAUGHTERS!

(Adapted from Ecclesiasticus 24, with echoes of John 1)

 

Thr – 190307

Title

Not a force but a face …

Body

More wisdom from Michael Gerson: This experience of pulling back the curtain of materiality, and briefly seeing the landscape of a broader world, comes in many forms. It can be religious and nonreligious, Christian and non-Christian. We sometimes search for a hidden door when the city has a hundred open gates. But there is this difference for a Christian believer: At the end of all our striving and longing we find, not a force, but a face. All language about God is metaphorical. But the metaphor became flesh and dwelt among us.

 

Wed – 190306 – Ash Wednesday

Title

Ash Wednesday

Body

As we begin Lent it is timely to focus on three spiritual disciplines we are invited to adopt during this time of preparation for Easter: At the heart of Lent is the invitation to fast, pray and give. Fast If we seek better physical fitness we do something extra, while maybe also cutting back on some unhealthy habits. Our spiritual discipline can be much the same. There may be some bad habits we need to give up. This are more likely to be negative attitudes than chocolate or alcohol. Let go of fear and embrace love. Reinforce those personal habits that make you a more loving person and cut back on the habits that make you a mean spirited person. Pray Prayer is a time to pay attention to life and to the quiet presence of God at the very heart of the universe. Set yourself some goals for praying. It may be time alone to reflect and be mindful of your situation. It might mean a visit to the Cathedral during the week to light a candle for someone you care about. It may be a good time to resume a personal habit of attending Sunday worship, our group spiritual fitness workout session. Just do it … (as the saying goes) Give The third attribute of a balanced Lent program is that we give to some project beyond our personal life. For most people that means a financial contribution to some worthwhile project, but for some people it may mean getting involved to help make something good happen in our local community. As we give away money or time to help someone else we are engaging in God’s own work to make the world a better place. We are becoming part of the answer to our own prayer: ‘your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven …’

 

Tue – 190305 – Shrove Tuesday

Title

Mardi Gras

Body

Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras in French) is also known as Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Day or even just Carnival Tuesday. It occurs on the day before the commencement on Lent on Ash Wednesday. This is a day for clearing out the junk: the fat and meat from which people once abstained during Lent, but also the personal junk of spiritual failure and broken relationships. Shrove Tuesday preserve the ancient English custom of making confession prior to the start of Lent, and being forgiven (“shriven”) by the priest. When cleaning out the cupboards don’t forget to sanitise the heart.

 

Mon 190304

Title

Remembering how to live

Body

“Faith, thankfully, does not preclude doubt. It consists of staking your life on the rumour of grace.” Michael Gerson, columnist for the Washington Post [Extract from a sermon at Washington National Cathedral, 17 February 2019. For the complete sermon, see the web link]

https://www.washingtonpost.com/religion/2019/02/18/i-was-hospitalized-depression-faith-helped-me-remember-how-live/?utm_term=.ecc4b514a267

 

SUN – 190303

Title

As Epiphany ends …

Body

Today we conclude the Epiphany season, the Sundays between the feast of the Epiphany on 6 January and the Sunday before Ash Wednesday. During those 8 weeks we have been reflecting on different ways in which God becomes known to us: the “epiphany” moments when we discern the deeper reality that we often overlook in our busy schedules. This morning we focus on the transfiguration, a significant epiphany moment for the inner circle of Jesus’ followers as well as for Jesus himself. May your day—your week, your year—be transformed by the quiet presence of the Beloved deep within your innermost self.

 

Sat – 190302

Title

What you give is what you get back

Body

“Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” (Luke 6:37–38 NRSV)

 

Fri – 190301

Title

What goes around comes around

Body

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.” (Luke 6:37 NRSV)

 

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The God who says YES

Easter Day
Christ Church Cathedral, Grafton
21 April 2019

[ video ]

An Easter sermon.

For us the events of the past few days have been a rollercoaster experience, as we have followed Jesus through high moments of success and deep moments of failure and suffering.

 

There were indeed some high points in that final week:

The dramatic entrance to the city and the rapturous welcome from the crowd …

Crowds hanging on every word as Jesus taught in the temple precincts …

The raising of Lazarus and the party a few days later when the family said thank you to Jesus …

The anonymous supporter in the Essene quarter of the city who made available an upstairs room for what turned out to be their final meal together …

Jesus washing their feet …

 

But it had also been a week of setbacks and then the great disaster:

Back room deals to eliminate Jesus

One of the inner circle selling him out …

The arrest in the garden …

A trial process that was corrupt from start to finish …

The crowd choosing Barabbas over Jesus …

The horror and shame of crucifixion …

And not even a chance for a proper burial …

 

Through it all Jesus seemed calm, almost at peace. Not elated by the praise nor dismayed by the opposition.

Jesus was preparing to die in the same way that he lived: always faithful to the God who called, and always ready to say, “Yes. Here I am.”

He was faithful to the end. And what a cruel end.

 

Jesus demonstrated total trust in God even to the point of death.

Never seeking to be a martyr, but always ready to live into whatever God asked of him.

Jesus said YES to God.

 

And God said YES to Jesus.

 

Millennia earlier, God said YES to creation and called our universe into being.

God said YES to freedom and free will.

God said YES to covenant.

God said YES to incarnation.

God said YES to a faithful soul who asked no special favours.

 

In God’s YES is our future and our destiny.

 

In God’s YES, Jesus passed through and beyond death into the very heart of God’s own being.

In God’s YES we are invited to embrace love and reject fear, to choose life.

 

Are we able to say YES to the God who says YES?

Are we able to say YES to all those around us who say YES to God?

With them will we fashion a compassionate community of faith that says YES to life, to hope and to community?

YES, our doors are open. YES, our hearts are open. YES, our minds are open.

YES to God, YES to the future, YES to hope …

 

 

 

 

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In memory of her

Christ Church Cathedral Grafton
Lent 5 (C)
7 April 2019

[ video ]

anointing-his-feet-2

A woman with a jar of expensive ointment …

The episode in today’s Gospel is one of my favourite stories.

It must have been a favourite story 2,000 years ago as well, because it shows up in all 4 Gospels.

That does not happen very often.

Lots of our favourite Jesus stories only occur in a single Gospel, while some occur in two or three. But it is quite rare for a story to have been included in all 4 of the Gospels.

For a list of Gospel episodes ranked by the date of the first document to mention them and then grouped according to the number of independent witness, see the Crossan inventory on the Jesus Database web site.

Now to be fair—and perhaps as we would expect—the story differs a bit depending on who is telling the tale:

Where and when: In Mark and Matthew the event happens at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper a few days before the arrest of Jesus. In Luke the event happens at the house of Simon the Pharisee in the Galilee, 100km north of Jerusalem and many months earlier. In John the event is again at Bethany in the last few days before Easter, but this time it is in the house of Lazarus, Martha and Mary,

What happens: In Mark and Matthew an anonymous woman comes into the house with a jar of very expensive ointment (nard, according to Mark). She pours the oil over the head of Jesus, perhaps as a prophetic sign that he is the anointed one, the messiah. In Luke the anonymous woman is a “sinner” (sex worker perhaps?) who washes Jesus’ feet with her tears, wipes the dry with her hair, and then anoints his feet with the ointment while kissing them continuously. In John’s version of the story, they are hosting a party to celebrate Lazarus having been brought back to life by Jesus after being dead and buried for 4 days. What a party that would have been! Now the woman with the ointment is Mary, the sister of Lazarus, and she anoints his feet with the ointment, then dries them with her hair.

The onlookers: The disciples in Mark and Matthew object at the waste of money involved in such an action. In Luke the Pharisees thinks to himself that if Jesus were really a prophet he would realise “what sort of woman this is” and not allow her to touch him like that. In John it is Judas who objects to the waste of money.

The response of Jesus: In Mark and Matthew, Jesus rebukes the disciples while commending the woman and giving her a blessing: “She has done something beautiful for me. Wherever the Gospel is proclaimed what she has done will be told in memory of her.” In Luke Jesus responds by saying that the extreme love being shown by the woman is because she has been blessed so much, and then he assures her that her sins have been forgiven. In John, Jesus accepts the action of Mary as a prophetic sign of his own burial and reminds his listeners that they will always have the poor to help, if they really care so much about them!

 

What do we make of a story like that, and especially so close to Holy Week?

 

The story in John is set “six days before the Passover” and the day before Palm Sunday.

Jesus is about to die, but he is having a family party with a guy who was dead before Jesus himself raised the man back to life just a few days earlier (in John chapter 11).

This is a story that drips with symbolism, and not just with massage oil.

How do we respond when God is up to something in our lives?

One option is to revert to the rules. Be sensible. Watch the spending. Avoid extravagance. Act out of fear. Be afraid. Try to protect yourself.

No good news in that kind of response.

Another option is to respond with open-hearted generosity, and to throw love around as if there is never going to be any shortage of hope. Cross the boundaries. Spend the savings. Show your feelings. Live in the moment.

In each version of this story, the woman with the ointment has caught a glimpse of God’s generosity in Jesus and she makes a whole-hearted response. She does not care what the powerful men sitting around the table think about her.

She wants to say YES to God … and express her thanks for the blessings in her life.

In the oldest version of this story, the one found in Mark and Matthew, Jesus makes a remarkable comment on her action:

Everywhere that the Gospel is proclaimed what she has done will be told in remembrance of her … in remembrance of her.

Those are words that evoke what Jesus said at the Last Supper a few nights later: Do this in remembrance of me … drink this cup in remembrance of me”.

Careful observance of the rules might be a sensible thing to do, but extravagant acts of random kindness and generosity are at the very heart of our faith as disciples of Jesus.

That is what we are called to do, and that is the mindset into which we baptise Lachlan this morning …

 

 

 

 

 

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Compassionate Grafton

candles-heart.jpgThese past few days the people of Grafton and the wider Clarence Valley have reeled in shock as we heard about the massacre in two Christchurch mosques and then learned that the assailant was one of our own, a young man who grew up in Grafton.

Over the weekend I was interviewed by numerous national and international media, and one of the most frequent questions concerned our contacts with the local Muslim community as we prepared for the prayer vigil that was held in Grafton Cathedral last night.

When I explained that it was proving very hard to make contact with the local Muslim community, as they meet in secret and do not advertise any community contact persons, the immediate question was: Why?

Why are they afraid of us?

They are afraid of us because of the spread of an insidious virus in the Australian body politic, evidenced in the rise of right-wing parties such as Pauline Hanson’s One Nation and the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers party.

This ‘virus’ is not limited to the far right, but also infects major political parties who find that fear fuels electoral support. Even parties which are traditionally left-wing creep to the right to minimise the electoral damage.

In the nether regions of Australian political life we find overtly white-supremacist groups and even members of parliament blaming Muslim immigration for the rise of Islamophobia and suggesting that the massacre in Christchurch was the result immigration policies that do not privilege white people.

The dog whistles echo around the media, and especially at a time when we have both state and federal elections.

It seems that my comments on a local radio station yesterday have upset a local candidate for the Shooters Party, Fishers and Farmers.

It is controversial to name the elephant in the room, namely the rise of populist political movements with policies that oppose immigration, call for the protection of our ‘western culture’ and seek to reduce or eliminate controls on gun ownership.

Read their policy documents. I have. [See australia.isidewith.com for a helpful collation of the data]

For the record, the context of my comments was the sad fact that our small Muslim community in Grafton (and indeed throughout the North Coast) meets secretly for their prayers and had proved impossible to contact as we planned the community prayer vigil at Grafton Cathedral.

Now why would they be afraid of us? Could it be the rise of populist political movements and the infection of racist atttiudes within so-called mainstream parties?

More importantly, in my view, how do we make Grafton a compassionate city where everyone feels safe and welcome, including our Muslim neighbours?

This is not party politics, it is compassion as taught by Jesus. “Love your neighbour as yourself …”

My prayer is that we come together as the generous communty that we are and use a project such as the Compassionate Communities program to demonstrate our true character to the world, but especially to our Muslim neighbours.

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The four temptations of Jesus

First Sunday of Lent
Christ Church Cathedral, Grafton
10 March 2019

[ video ]

The tradition of Jesus spending some time alone in the wilderness being “tested” (tempted) by Satan is found in three of the four Gospels, but is unknown to the Gospel of John.  It is a well-known tale that is deeply embedded in our souls.

In the so-called “Q Gospel”—the material preserved only by Matthew and Luke—this meme is developed into a story with three episodes.

Many stories in the western cultural canon have three episodes. It is how we like to tell stories, or even construct sermons.

“Forty days” is itself a biblical meme that occurs repeatedly in the Scriptures. It indicates an extended period of time during which major developments may occur.

For the anonymous Christian storyteller who shaped this story, this is the time when Jesus undergoes the challenges that any ancient hero was expected to survive in order to demonstrate their character and their skill.

This story is not a memory of a historical moment, but a meditation on the deeper truth that Jesus constantly had to choose faithfulness to God’s call on his life, rather than be seduced by second-best; an acceptable action in itself but not what God required of him.

That is a challenge we all face every day.

 

Turn these stones into bread

The first temptation …

And what can be wrong about a hungry person turning a few desert stones into warm bread rolls?

Nothing in itself, but context is everything.

The reply Jesus makes to the Satan figure in this story points to a spiritual crisis from which we mostly avert our eyes: “One does not live by bread alone.”

The “daily bread” for which Jesus teaches us to pray is not at stake here, but rather our insatiable appetite to acquire and consume.

We want … morefasterbetterimpressiveconvenience

And we want it now.

But in our heart of hearts we know that we are not defined by the baubles for which we compete.

We do not live by “bread” alone …

 

Look at what could be yours

The second temptation …

Come with me to an imaginary mountain from which one can survey the entire world, stretching out in all its immense flatness before us. As far as the eye can see, and then some …

Can you see that, Jesus?

Let’s cut a deal.

I can make you successful, and powerful. One of a kind. All you need to do is play by my rules.

Power is seductive, but Jesus would never take that route.

He chooses the path that leads to a cross in the garbage pit outside the walls of Jerusalem, rather than the highway that leads to power.

We are not called to be powerful, or successful.

It is enough to be faithful.

 

At the temple’s edge

Temptation three …

Now things are getting a little weird.

Let’s see what you are made of Jesus; and whether God really cares about you at all.

Come over here to the very edge of the temple in Jerusalem and throw yourself from the highest point. You will be fine, eh? After all, you are special. God will look after you.

Jesus would be offered that wrong choice another time: when hanging on the cross. The clergy from the temple say to one another: “Let’s wait and see if God will rescue him, since he claims to be God’s son.”

None of us would ever fall for that one, right?

We would never think that God exists to keep us safe from our own stupid choices or the hostile actions of other people?

We would never treat the planet like it exists for our sake, rather than the other way around?

We would never take advantage of other people for our own short term satisfaction?

Selfishness may be the worst temptation of them all.

 

 

Until next time …

“When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.” (Luke 4:13)

Spiritual victories are never complete.

There is always next time.

Jesus was not given a green pass after his successful completion of the inaugural testing regime.

There would be other opportunities to fail.

Other moments of vulnerability.

There always are.

The authentic life is a commitment to persistent and recurring faithfulness, not an easy jog to the finish line after some early successes.

We are in this for the long haul.

So is the dark one.

But so is God.

 

The home town crowd

They know us better than anyone else. Probably better than we know ourselves. If we are truly blessed, they love us despite knowing us so well.

They are the home town crowd, or simply our family and friends.

Fresh from his spiritual challenges in the wilderness, Jesus heads home to Nazareth and goes to the synagogue for worship on Shabbat.

It does not go well.

The home crowd is a tough gig.  Always has been.

Jesus reflects somewhat ruefully on a dynamic known across the centuries:

“Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.”

That is one of the rare sayings of Jesus which is is found in all four Gospels.

Another temptation perhaps?

Living with criticism from those we love?

 

We have two choices

The modern Jewish philosopher and social critic, Noam Chomsky, has the last word this week:

We have two choices. We can be pessimistic, give up, and help ensure that the worst will happen. Or we can be optimistic, grasp the opportunities that surely exist, and maybe help make the world a better place. Not much of a choice.

 

 

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Morsels 2019 February

An archive of previous “Daily Morsels” published on the Cathedral app. Please note that these versions 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 – 190228

Title

Action worthy of God’s children

Body

But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:35–36 NRSV)

 

Wed – 190227

Title

Go one better

Body

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.” (Luke 6:32–34 NRSV)

 

Tue – 190226

Title

The golden rule

Body

A core spiritual principle found in almost every great religion: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:31 NRSV)

 

Mon – 190225

Title

Turn the other cheek

Body

More from Jesus in Luke 6 this week: “If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.” (Luke 6:29–30 NRSV)

 

SUN – 190224

Title

Love your enemies

Body

The opening words of today’s Gospel reading: “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” (Luke 6:27–28 NRSV)

 

Sat – 190223

Title

Inasmuch …

Body

“Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:34–40 KJV)

 

Fri – 19022

Title

The Christ hymn

Body

An ancient song from the first generation of Jesus’ followers is quoted by Paul in his letter to the Philippians Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who … …though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5–11 NRSV)

 

Thr – 190221

Title

X marks the spot

Body

Well, not actually an “x” but a cross: † On Good Friday we see where God’s priorities subvert and transform the twisted logic of human culture. The cross of Jesus is not about punishing sins, it is about reclaiming sinners and their compromised world. The cross of Jesus is not about soothing God’s feelings after centuries of human evil, it about a love that never says “No” even when humans act so badly. The cross of Jesus is not about the honour and prestige of God, it is about our ultimate worth to God, how much we matter—individually and collectively—to the Sacred Lover at the very heart of the universe. X marks the spot.

 

Wed – 1902020

Title

The song of Mary

Body

The victory song that Luke puts on the lips of Mary in his carefully crafted account of the conception and birth of Jesus captures the essence of the Holy Rebel from Nazareth: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:46–53 NRSV) Christians who really believe these words change the world …

 

Tue – 190219

Title

Turning (over) the tables

Body

One of the classic scenes from Holy Week is Jesus causing quite a scene in the Temple at Jerusalem as he overturns the tables of the money changers and makes a whip to chase out the stall holders from the farmer’s market held in the great courtyard every day. For Mathew, Mark and Luke this is the critical moment when Jesus takes it right up to the religious authorities of the Jewish temple state in Jerusalem. It comes near the end of the story and is the spark that leads to his arrest. Interestingly, for John this episode comes at the start of the Jesus story and sets the tone for all that will follow. The God we encounter in Jesus is a god who overturns privileges and power. How odd that Christians have loved associating with the rich and powerful so much during the past 2,000 years.

 

Mon – 190218

Title

Captain’s pick

Body

In recent Australian politics we have experienced the famous “captain’s pick” on more than one occasion. God makes captain’s picks as well, but she does it differently. God chooses the poor, the widows, the orphans, the overlooked younger sibling, the refugees and the asylum seekers, the collaborators (“tax collectors”) and the women with reputations (“the sinners”). Phew! That gives me a chance …

 

SUN – 190217

Title

The God who subverts

Body

We should have expected this from a god who gets himself born to an unwed mother. “Blessed are you who are poor … woe to you who are rich … Blessed are you who are hungry now … woe to you who are full now …” What is this bleeding-heart left-wing nonsense they are reading in churches all over the world today? Oh? It is Jesus? Really? I do not like him saying things like that. It makes me feel uncomfortable. Read my lips, says Jesus.

 

Sat – 190216

Title

The God who calls: Paul of Tarsus

Body

Paul describes his own sense of calling as an act of grace towards someone who was completely unworthy of being chosen by God … For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe. (1Corinthians 15:3–11 NRSV)

 

Fri – 190215

Title

The God who calls: Jonah

Body

Sometimes people try to run and hide when they sense God calling them. You may know someone like that? Jonah is the most famous example of such futile resistance … Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying, “Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.”But Jonah set out to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid his fare and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the LORD. But the LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea, and such a mighty storm came upon the sea that the ship threatened to break up. Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” For the sea was growing more and more tempestuous. He said to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you; for I know it is because of me that this great storm has come upon you.” Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring the ship back to land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more stormy against them. Then they cried out to the LORD, “Please, O LORD, we pray, do not let us perish on account of this man’s life. Do not make us guilty of innocent blood; for you, O LORD, have done as it pleased you.” So they picked Jonah up and threw him into the sea; and the sea ceased from its raging. Then the men feared the LORD even more, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows. But the LORD provided a large fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. Then the LORD spoke to the fish, and it spewed Jonah out upon the dry land. The word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time, saying, “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. (Jonah 1:1–4, 11–17; 2:10–3:3 NRSV)

 

Thr – 190214

Title

The God who calls: Fishermen on Galilee Lake

Body

Peter and his work mates were just going about their ordinary business, albeit not very successfully that day. Then Jesus turned up and everything changed … Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.” (Luke 5:1–11 NRSV)

 

Wed – 190213

Title

The God who calls: Isaiah

Body

Isaiah was a high-ranking official in the royal court at Jerusalem and used to attending the Temple for official events, then one day his life is turned upside down … In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!” (Isaiah 6:1–8 NRSV)

 

Tue – 190212

Title

The God who calls: Elijah

Body

In fear of his life, Elijah has fled to Mt Horeb (another name for Mt Sinai), where Moses had encountered God in the burning bush … At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there. Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered, “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”” (1Kings 19:9–13 NRSV)

 

Mon – 190211

Title

The God who calls: Samuel

Body

A very different but still classic episode is found in the ancient traditions about Samuel the prophet as a young boy. Note the role of an older and experienced spiritual guide in teaching him how to respond to this strange encounter. Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the LORD under Eli. The word of the LORD was rare in those days; visions were not widespread. At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was. Then the LORD called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down. The LORD called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, and the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him. The LORD called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the LORD was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. Now the LORD came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” (1Samuel 3:1–10 NRSV)

 

SUN – 190210

Title

The God who calls: Moses

Body

The readings in church today feature several episodes where someone senses God calling them to get engaged in the mission of God in ways they would never have imagined, and sometimes a call they actively resisted. During the week the Daily Morsels will focus on some classic examples of the God who calls, which is a key element of our Epiphany theme between tween Christmas and Ash Wednesday. We begin with Moses who is “ambushed” by God at the burning bush, and who finds that call irresistible even while seeking to evade it. Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the LORD saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?”God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 3:1–6, 13–14 NRSV)

 

Sat – 190209

Title

The disciple’s secret

Body

Paul of Tarsus shared his own discovery as an intentional disciple of Jesus: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13 NRSV)

 

Fri – 190208

Title

Intentionally eclectic

Body

Eucharist, prayer and Bible reading are the big three spiritual disciplines for intentional discipleship, but there are many more. These include cell groups, compassionate action for justice and environmental stewardship, fasting, labyrinth, pilgrimage, preparing a rule of life, sacrificial distribution of our own resources for mission, spiritual direction, and volunteering our time for church and community projects. Which of these spiritual disciplines we embrace depends on our circumstances and perhaps our personalities, but the call to intentional discipleship is universal.

 

Thr – 190207

Title

Attentive intentional disciples

Body

Paul once urged his friends in Thessalonika to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:16). Prayer is at the heart of intentional discipleship. At its most basic level, this means we cultivate mindfulness: we are attentive to the presence of Christ within us, in others, and around us. Our personal and collective rituals can help us develop and sustain our mindfulness, and from that will flow a deeper experience of prayer in all its forms: contemplation, thanksgiving, protest, and intercession.

 

Wed – 190206

Title

Intentional disciples around the Table of Jesus

Body

As Anglicans, we are blessed with a rich heritage of spiritual practices that can be embraced as we commit to intentional discipleship. Some of them (like Baptism) are once in a lifetime events, while others are practices that we can use regularly in our own spiritual disciplines. Gathering with other believers for the Lord’s Supper is perhaps the first and greatest spiritual discipline for anyone who is serious about intentional discipleship. We need to ensure that our weekly Eucharistic gatherings are engaging and transformative, and not simply a case of going through the motions. What we celebrate in the Eucharist is the saving presence of God in Jesus and among us. Our liturgies should express that dynamic reality.

 

Tue -190205

Title

Intentional discipleship redux

Body

An intentional relationship with Jesus? That would be a continuous Epiphany experience as we discover more and more about God’s loving and compassionate purposes for the universe, including our own selves. That would be a lifelong commitment to shape our lives around the beliefs and practices that mattered to Jesus. That would be to engage in compassionate action to bring the effective reign of God into the lived experience of our families, friends and local communities.

 

Mon – 190204

Title

Intentional discipleship overview

Body

As a focus for reflection this week, I will post excerpts from the longer essay that I posted yesterday. These bite-sized snippets may serve as a doorway to deepen reflection. An intentional relationship with Jesus? An intentional relationship with Jesus is going to be about practice (what we do and how we treat people) more than with ideas (what we believe and how we explain our faith to others). As the practical Christian wisdom found in the Letter of James puts it: “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.” (James 2:18)

 

SUN – 190203

Title

Intentional discipleship

Body

I am not preaching today, although I am presenting a seminar on the Year of Luke as part of the Dean’s Forum series at 11.00am. That presentation should be available as a video afterwards and maybe I can even get the technological ducks in a neat line so the presentation can be live streamed … In the meantime, let me share a short piece on intentional discipleship that was published in the February 2019 issue of North Coast Anglican which will be available in churches across the Diocese of Grafton this morning. I especially invite to think about the place of the three great spiritual disciples in your own intentional practice as a disciple of Jesus:

• gathering at the Table of Jesus with other disciples

• prayerful attentiveness to life

• engaging with our sacred scriptures

 

Sat – 190202 – Presentation of Christ

Title

Candlemas

Body

Today we have a festival that is not so well known these days: Candlemas. As this occurs 40 days from December 25, in some places this was the day when Christmas decorations were taken down. Before the days of electricity, this was the day when families brought their candles to be blessed. We have no real modern equivalent. Blessing our solar panels is a tad trickier. In traditional Jewish lore, 40 days after childbirth marked the time when the mother was ‘purified’ and able to return to everyday life. The old BCP service for the Churching of Women reflects a similar custom, but is now listed in the Prayer Book as a service of Thanksgiving for a Child. The “40 days” is a symbolic period, found in many biblical stories. In our busy high-tech lives, we do well to revive the ancient art of marking the passage of time with traditional observances that also reflect the cycle of our lives. These gentle rituals can be our ‘songlines’ as we navigate the strange new world in which we seek to sing the Lord’s song.

 

Fri – 190201

Title

February already

Body

Here we are on the first day of the second month … February In the ancient north from which my tribes come, this is the last of the cold months. The snow remains on the ground. Fresh food was once no longer available. These were tough times. Surely spring will soon be here? In the ancient south land where my soul has its roots, these are stinking hot days. Summer has not yet released its grip. The hottest days may yet be to come. Sometimes interrupted by cyclones and floods. We love a sunburnt country … The cycle of nature turns, for all creatures great and small, even for self-obsessed humans. Autumn will soon be here (down south) and spring will soon be here (up north). Time to press the reset button and get ready for the new opportunities and challenges that will soon be here.

Posted in Archive, Grafton Cathedral, Morsels | Leave a comment

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)
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Morsels 2018 December

An archive of previous “Daily Morsels” published on the Cathedral app. Please note that these versions 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.

Mon – 181231
Title
I am about to do a new thing
Body
“Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The wild animals will honour me, the jackals and the ostriches; for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.” (Isaiah 43:18–21 NRSV)
SUN – 181230
Title
A new commandment
Body
Love is the critical DNA of the Christian person: I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34–35 NRSV)
Sat – 181229
Title
Loving others
Body
First things first: Love for God. Everything else flows from that first great commitment to a life lived at depth. Without that commitment, nothing else matters. It is all hollow and empty. But notice what does follow—not a traditional list of religious duties, but rather the simple call to love other people. Their concerns and their wellbeing are to matter to us just as much as our survival and our own comfort. In the car park at the shopping centre … While merging in the traffic to get across the bridge … When we would rather be somewhere else … When we really do not have the time to listen to their story (again) …
Fri 181228
Title
Loving God
Body
‘Love for God’ means not so much a romantic attachment to some divine figure, but rather us being alert to the depth dimension of life. Our heart, our soul, our mind and all our strength are to be brought to bear on the great task of asking why are we here, and what does the Lord require of me? This task will involve our whole person (heart, soul, mind, strength), and it takes our whole lifetime to complete the work.
Thr – 181227
Title
Love at the centre
Body
Not only is love at the centre of the Christmas story, it is also at the very centre of the faith that we practice. When Jesus was once asked to define the core obligations of humans as he understood things, he famously replied: “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29–31 NRSV)
Wed – 181226
Title
The Word became flesh
Body
The distinctive Christian affirmation is captured in these ancient words from the opening of the Gospel of John: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. … From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” (John 1:14,16 NRSV)
Tue – 181225
Title
God so loved the world
Body
The earliest Christians were in no doubt that Jesus coming among us was a most remarkable expression of God’s love for all humanity. This idea that the coming of Jesus was a direct result of God’s love for the world is most famously expressed in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
Mon – 181224
Title
When the time was right
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But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (Galatians 4:4–6 NRSV)
SUN – 181223
Title
Love, actually
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Love is at the centre of the Christmas story, even when there are no shepherds and no wise men, no journey to Bethlehem and no magical star in the sky. All of these legendary elements add colour and beauty to our celebration of Christmas, but what matters, of course, is the underlying message that Jesus is the love of God for us expressed in a human life.
Sat – 181222
Title
The peace of God
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“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7) Paul wraps up this section with words that are very familiar to us as they have become part of the general blessing at the end of a Eucharist, even though when he wrote them in his short letter to the Philippians no one else had ever quite put it that way before. When we find our deepest meaning in Jesus, the human face of God … When others find us to be gentle people … When we can set aside our natural instinct to worry … When we bring our troubles to God with thanksgiving … … then the peace of God which passes all understanding guards our hearts and minds. When our hearts and our minds are guarded by God’s peace, we have joy. May the hope and the peace that we celebrated these past two Sundays in Advent, mean that this week we find real joy.
Fri – 181221
Title
Do not worry about anything
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“Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Phil 4:6) Now Paul shifts the focus: from how others experience us, to how we handle the adversities that inevitably come our way. Note that Paul assumes ‘stuff will happen’. When ‘stuff happens’ in our lives we are not to worry about it, but rather bring everything that is happening to God, letting God know how we feel about the situation and seeking grace to deal with it. Things that might otherwise cause us to be anxious can now become something we bring to God with thanksgiving; in an attitude of gratitude. Paul is going beyond the “don’t be anxious” advice we find in the Gospels, and urging his readers to bring their worries to God with thanksgiving. When we can do that, then we have found a sweet spot indeed, and our trust in the Lord is sustaining us through times when we might otherwise meltdown. We will not get this right every time. Sometimes we will complain loudly and let God know exactly how unfair life seems. And that is OK as well. But sometimes we will get it right. When we trust God enough to be grateful even for the bad stuff—as it is happening, and not only with the benefit of hindsight—then we are getting very close to having found real joy.
Thr – 181220
Title
Let your gentleness be known to everyone.
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Paul suggests that if we have a deep sense of joy and if we are truly at peace within ourselves, then others should experience us as gentle people. Gentle people? That almost seems like a quaint old-fashioned idea. But it invites us to think more deeply about how we conduct ourselves. Are religious people known for our gentleness? Do we have reputations as gentle people among our families and friends? Or do we kick heads and push others around, just like everyone else? Worse still, are we seen as people trying to push our religion down other’s throats? And are we really people who want to the legal right to discriminate against students and teachers in Christian schools because of their gender or their sexuality? Surely not. Paul suggests that joyful people, as people who realise that the Lord is near, will be gentle and that everyone else will recognise that about us. If only that were so!
Wed – 181219
Title
Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice!
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The underlying Greek word Paul used here was also the everyday greeting when people met in the street or sent a letter: χαιρε [chaire]. It was the word on the lips of Judas as he greeted Jesus in the garden, and the words used by the soldiers as they mocked Jesus, “Hail, king of the Jews!” As used by Paul here, we note that he adds “… in the Lord …”. We are to wish one another—and also ourselves—happiness, health, peace, success and well-being in the Lord. Our joy finds its roots in Jesus himself. The blessings we wish for others come from Jesus. What we hope for ourselves comes from Jesus, and is grounded in all that he means to us. That makes joy an appropriate theme for reflection today as we get closer to Christmas Day. Joy to the world, the Lord has come!
Tue – 181218
Title
What are we doing when we read the Bible?
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Let’s remind ourselves why we read the Bible. It is not because grabbing a few words from the Bible will provide us with a recipe for joy, or the answers to life’s questions. We read the texts not to hear what God has said in the past, but to hear how other people of faith have spoken about God in the past so that we are better equipped to listen to God in the present. This week we are reflecting on some words from Paul, and therefore words from someone with a deep insight into the dynamics of faith and life. As we do so, we are opening our hearts and minds to discern the whisper of Spirit who makes the human words of the Bible a sacrament of invitation to live more deeply and more truly. When that happens then the ‘word of the Lord’ has been proclaimed heard.
Mon – 181217
Title
Joy is not the same as …
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As we begin a few days of reflection on joyfulness, let’s set aside some common misconceptions about joy: Joy is not the same as happiness Joy is not the same as being amused or entertained Joy is not always expressed in laughter or a cheery face Joy does not mean we are carefree or untroubled Joy is not a result of alcohol, drugs and medication Joy is not having the latest consumer products Joy is not about lots of sex
SUN – 181216
Title
Rejoice in the Lord always
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The New Testament reading for this Third Sunday of Advent: Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. [Philippians 4:4–7]
Sat – 181215
Title
Neither shall they learn war any more
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The ancient Jewish prophet, Isaiah of Jerusalem, imagines a world to which we may all aspire: “He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” (Isaiah 2:4 NRSV) Hasten that day, O Lord.
Fri – 181214
Title
Peace among religions
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Hans Küng, an eminent Roman Catholic theologian, has famously invited us to reflect on the need for peace among the religions as a basis for peace among the nations: “No peace among the nations without peace among the religions. No peace among the religions without dialogue between the religions No dialogue between the religions without investigation of the foundation of the religions.” ― Hans Küng, Christianity: Essence, History, Future
Thr – 181213
Title
Peace within the churches
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The culture wars that are polarising societies throughout the western world are also impacting the internal life of various Christian communities. Despite the progress seen in formal ecumenical relationships across the churches, the Christian world remains deeply divided. Indeed, we even have two rival ecumenical organisations in many parts of Australia, and opposing lobby groups claim a mandate to speak on behalf of Australia’s Christians to the federal government. The unresolved debate about protecting religious freedom is something of a proxy for the competition between different expressions of Christianity. Christians who embrace a more conservative mix of social views and theological opinion tend to feel the need for ‘protection’, while Christians who favour a more progressive outlook tend to see no need for such measures. For many Christians, it seems that what divides us is more important than what we have in common. This week we might pray for a more generous attitude between and among the Christian factions, and that peace within the churches might displace competition between the followers of Jesus.
Wed – 181212
Title
Peace within our families
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The ancient words of Psalm 133 invite us to reflect on peace when it is expressed as harmony among those whose lives are closely bound together: “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down over the collar of his robes. It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion. For there the LORD ordained his blessing, life forevermore.” (Psalm 133:1–3 NRSV) The psalmist uses the metaphor of being anointed with holy oil, indeed drenched with this “precious oil” that was used to anoint the priests who served at the Altar. Peace among those with whom our lives are most closely bound is indeed a precious blessing.
Tue – 181211
Title
Dreaming of peace
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Around 2,700 years ago, a Jewish prophet in Jerusalem captured his dream of a future time of peace in words that have become part of our Advent and Christmas celebrations: “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11:6–9 NRSV) What is your dream for peace look like? What are you doing to help bring it to reality?
Mon – 181210
Title
The peace of Christ
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As the Gospel of John portrays Jesus and his disciples moving closer to the moment of his arrest, Jesus speaks of peace (among other things). The scene is anything but peaceful. Tension is mounting. The betrayer is already on his way with an armed gang to arrest Jesus. Events are moving inexorably towards a climax that none of the characters in the story seem to appreciate. The lived experience of the Johannne community over several decades finds expression in these words that cut through the gloom like a candle in the dark: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:27 NRSV) Jesus is not promising life without challenges, pain or upsets. But he promises the gift of an inner peace that is different from any “peace” imposed by imperial violence. This kind of peace is not about control and exploitation, but about freedom and flourishing. Lord, grant us that peace. Transform our world, which is really your world.
SUN – 181209
Title
Seven Days of Peace
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Well, maybe not seven days OF peace, but seven days to reflect on peace, to renew our personal commitment as peace-makers, and to add our prayers to the groans of the deep universe as it longs for that long-awaited outbreak of peace and goodwill promised by the angels in Luke’s Christmas story: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom God favors!” (Luke 2:14 NRSV) As we noted back in September when we reflected on the seventh Beatitude in Matthew 5, peacemakers are not always celebrated and affirmed, and especially not by those whose violence they are seeking to diminish and even end. Yet to be a child of God is to be someone engaged in peacemaking. This is core business for people of faith. It is in our DNA. We yearn for peace.
Sat – 181208
Title
St Patrick’s Breastplate
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This excerpt from the traditional prayer attributed to St Patrick may serve as a reflection as we end this first week of Advent: Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in the eye that sees me, Christ in the ear that hears me.
Fri – 181207
Title
A world without walls
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We don’t build walls in a hopeful world. Not in Palestine and not on the Mexico border. Those walls will fall; because they represent fear, not hope. As do the off-shore detention centres. When God’s kingdom comes, as we ask each time we say the Lord’s Prayer, there will be no room for fear or violence. There will be no walls and no eternal detention centres. Even Hell itself will be empty. Its gates will be ripped off by the victorious Christ, and all its inmates will be freed. We live in hope …
Thr – 181206
Title
When hope goes viral
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At Grafton Cathedral, our doors are open … our hearts are open … our minds are open. Such a mindset is the ground of hope: for us and for others. We want to see hope go viral. We do not seek to control it, define it, limit it, or restrict it. We do not aspire to hold any monopoly on hope. The more people who have some real hope the better our world will be: less fearful, more compassionate, more generous and less violent.
Wed – 181205
Title
Invitational grace
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We do not derive our hope from imagining the destruction of those with whom we disagree. And we do not ‘sell’ hope to ourselves and our neighbours by spreading fear. That is not the way of Jesus. We proclaim hope, not fear. We invite, rather than impose our values on others. We create safe places to explore grace, rather than define the boundaries to keep people out.
Tue – 181204
Title
Spiritual steroids
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The readings set for Advent Sunday do not really help all that much with the deep project of growing hope while avoiding collateral spiritual damage. The lectionary choices at the start of Advent tend to focus on the great reversal at the end of time, and perhaps even encourage us to derive some degree of hope from a perverted anticipation that God is going to punish those who make us afraid for the future. That is what apocalyptic literature is designed to do: raise the hopes of victims who are suffering from more powerful opponents. But that literature trades on violence and simply imagines ‘them’ getting a serious dose of what ‘they’ have been dishing out to ‘us’. Apocalyptic texts offer spiritual steroids for critical moments, but not a long-term dietary supplement for a healthy life.
Mon – 181203
Title
More than whistling in the dark
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Hope is an attitude of the heart and it lies somewhere between wishful thinking and certainty. It is not whistling in the dark to calm our fears. Nor is it a cocky self-confidence that acts as if we have all the answers. In the world at large, among our family and friends, in our neighbourhood, and in our workplaces there is numerous attributes that reflect a lack of hope: confusion, despair, disbelief, doubt, fear, hatred, pessimism and tiredness. As the people of Jesus we overturn those grim realities and Advent is a time to recall that we are first of all people of hope.
SUN – 181202
Title
ADVENT SUNDAY: Hope
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Here we are on the threshold of a new year of witness and service. It is Advent Sunday, and Christmas is just around the corner. Between now and then we have an opportunity to reflect on the core spiritual values that shape our preparation for the Christ Child and our mission to this city and region. Over each of the next few Sundays we will focus on these core values: Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. They sound strangely familiar, and yet rather out of place in our contemporary world. Hope! There is clearly a hope deficit in our world and our nation at the present time. Trust is low. Fear is on the rise. Peace? Words fail. Violence continues to tear apart families, villages, cities and nations. Joy. The carols are playing on the muzak but road rage in the car parks at our shopping centres indicates that joy is often only skin deep, and below the surface we are angry and aggressive. Just try merging in the traffic leading to the Grafton bridge. What joy abounds. Not. Love. ‘What the world needs most’ is sadly lacking in so many of our everyday transactions with one another. Yet this is to be the hallmark of those who follow Jesus. We are not called to be correct, but we are called to love one another, turn the other cheek, to help the needy, and to go the second mile.
Sat – 181201
Title
A good Advent
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How are you going to use Advent to prepare for a Christmas that has a deep significance beyond calories and gift catalogues? Well, there is an app for that … of course. The GoodAdvent app offers daily material written by Dr Jane Williams, the Assistant Dean of St Mellitus College. Each day’s material includes a reflection by Dr Williams on a piece of art, a prayer, a Bible verse to read or listen to, and a practical thing you can do for Advent. This app is completely free and easy to use. Of course, you can also just use the daily Morsels from Grafton Cathedral, which will have an Advent theme between now and Christmas.
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