Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Reflections from The Hill – A Slice of the Action. Mark 10:35-45

You will never know how I loathed those pick-up footy games we played in the park as children. Waiting to get picked was bad: standing, first on one foot then another, arms folded, head bowed with eyes and heart downcast, knowing that it was useless punching the air to attract attention. Invariably, I was picked last.

Getting the good ones first has been a behaviour for many a century. Think about The Man’s Followers. They’d turned up to play and they thought they were ready but they seemed to have had trouble getting their heads around what the game was. Obviously, suffering and death weren’t on their agenda.

After all, a piece of real estate next to The Man would be pretty special, wouldn’t it? (We people of the twenty-first century know they really didn’t have a clue about what The Man was talking about. As for the ‘cup of suffering’, well, who knows what they were thinking.)

One thing’s for sure. The Man knew which way was up and, yes, they were going to be given what they desired but it wasn’t going to be quite what they had in mind. There was to be no glory or very much honour for them as it happened.

Each of us has been there, one way or another. Each of us has experienced being passed over for something, by a parent, a school teacher, a boss, even a friend. It’s easy to identify with what was going on in the minds of the other disciples as they listened to the little chat between the Three Js (James, John and Jesus).

Were they indignant? The Book says so. Were they miffed and probably jealous? I’d be surprised if they weren’t. Did the emotional temperature rise somewhat? Go figure.

It’s at this point that The Man, as he has done before, shifts the goal-posts. The real nature of leadership in this outfit, he says, hasn’t anything to do with real estate or who their ancestors were.

In fact, the idea of a servant-leader is quite counter-cultural. Even our European version is only a mild form of the “Big Man” Syndrome beloved by many, so any suggestion that the ‘Big Man’ would be a servant is a scary proposition.

It’d be enough to keep cardiologists in business for decades, such would be the amount of hypertension.

This model that The Man is espousing is a far cry from what The Team expected. They weren’t expecting to suffer and die but that’s where they were heading. They expected The Man to run with the leadership thing, to be made into Big Men themselves. What they weren’t prepared for was servanthood.

God’s people are not spared the pains of living in a foreign land, in a world not our own. To lead in Jesus’ way, means to follow and serve, and it may even mean to suffer for the sake of the gospel. Discipleship and suffering go together.

Unless I’ve missed something, we’re not much into suffering these days. Rather the opposite is true: we all want to live pain-free, happy, lives but, thanks to the magic of television, we can now watch and hear others do it for us and we say “Oh dear.”

Of course, we can send money to sponsor a child or to support a missionary without risking sickness or disease or our own safety just by being at home, in our own lounge room.

Of course, we can do what we can to spare our own children hardship and suffering, and can exercise our freedom of choice and do it our way and have it thought of as a Good Thing.

What ever happened to The Man’s invitation for us to join the Suffer Club? Isn’t that what he was on about when he talked about a radical discipleship?

Isn’t following him and being part of God’s Reign now opening our selves to the realities of this beautiful, broken world? No one will get out of this life alive; suffering is simply part of the fabric.

Being in the Suffer Club means to discover that there is beauty, joy, and hope in serving others. As we use our membership of that Club and share the suffering of others, we learn what it means to be fully dependent on The Man.

Getting a slice of the action in the Suffer Club means getting in touch with others across time and place who bear the name of Christ. It’s a big club, with a vast table and good company, where there’s always room for one more. Sure beats waiting to get picked.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Reflections from The Hill – A Person Like Us – Mark 10.17-27

There’s a story in the folk-lore of this Diocese about a priest who spent much of his time wandering the streets of his town, saying hello and chatting to those he knew (who were a large number) but saying hello and asking “Which church do you stay away from?” of those he didn’t.

As I recall the story, this method of pastoral visitation had some interesting side-effects, not the least of which was a community that had a low view of the church. I’m not sure you could ask the same question with impunity today. You’d probably get a thick lip more likely.

The action of this well-meaning but inept sky-pilot raises questions of what people should expect from coming to church or, more specifically today, from meeting clergy.

I know why I come to church. I know why I love to preach. I know why I love writing Reflections each week. All this and more helps me to meet Jesus.

I would like to think that this is also true for you. I would like to think that the real reason why you get out of bed on the one day in the week where you could justifiably lie in and read the Sunday papers is that you want to meet Jesus, too.

So here we are today reading a story from Mark’s Gospel about a bloke who met Jesus. I have no doubt that he was a real individual but, in the sense that I’ve been talking, he could easily be a representative ‘man’ without detracting from the story.

This man stands in front of Jesus, representing all of us. He wants a serious answer to a serious question about eternity. In his answer, Jesus turns the question into a reminder about discipleship.

Down the sands of time, many others have done the same. Some who were standing there listening to the interchange between Jesus and the man had given up everything and followed Jesus. It wasn’t an easy road for them. Often, it was a perilous road of misunderstandings and risks.

As they watched and listened, the latest one to meet Jesus was having his turn.

“Yeah, well, I’ve done all that and got the tee-shirt,” the man says. “Haven’t you got anything else? Why do you keep going around the same round-about?”

“Mate, that’s all I’ve got,” said Jesus, “I keep telling you because it’s important. That’s what eternal life’s about: it’s about doing the right thing and following me. The way to eternity is through discipleship.”

Did you get that? In answering his question about eternal life, Jesus invites him to “Come, follow me.” It’s almost left-field stuff, eh.

For the man, the cost was too great; the price was not right. He ‘went away grieving’, slumped shoulders leading his way, his bottom lip so low that it threatened to trip him.

This Reading is the only story of someone refusing to follow Jesus in the whole of the New Testament. Think about it: here’s a person-like-us being invited to be a Jesus-follower and, this person-like-us walks off in the opposite direction. It’s newsworthy, if nothing else.

I can understand him. I even have some sympathy for him. And there is a part of me that wants to chase after him, to change the rules to fit his case and make him a new offer. “I didn’t really mean that,” I’d blurt.

Jesus doesn’t do that. He steadfastly stands his ground and watches the man walk off into the sunset. That’d take some, er, guts, I reckon. Right here, Mark reminds us that there are good, understandable and reasonable reasons for not following Jesus.

How so? It seems to me that Jesus is too often presented as the solution to all our problems. But this Gospel reminds us that Jesus is sometimes only the beginning of a life we would never have had if we had not met Jesus.

Sometimes I think we have made discipleship such a small, trivial thing, that it makes disbelief look dumb. Today, we’re being reminded to fix that and to put it right.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Reflections from The Hill – Beyond The Boundaries. (Mark 10.2-16)

In one of my previous incarnations as the priest in a country parish, I encountered a lady who was too angry to come to church because she believed we “preached against adultery all the time.”


She spoke, not only with fire, but with a fair bit of hyperbole: I don’t recall ever preaching against adultery. Not once. The so-called hard sayings of Jesus aren’t my most productive source of preaching or encouragement.


Maybe we ought to rename them. Something like “painful” or “agonising” might be a better description than bland old “hard”. In any case, today’s Gospel raises the Jesus Cringe Factor by a whopping 200% with these Painful Sayings. We avoid them at our peril, even so.


My guess is that the number of church people for whom this Reading touches a sore spot could be quite large. With the increase in divorce rates, the days of long, monogamous, marriages are becoming an oddity both in the church and in the community.


In fact, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to hear of men and women, as church members, who find this passage a bit like having a garbage bin emptied on their heads.


I’ve got to hand it to Mark, though. He has an extraordinary ability to make the place where Jesus happens to be, carry a meaning about Jesus’ purpose. Here, Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem but takes a detour through Judea and the region beyond the Jordan.


That’s simple enough as a piece of geography. What Mark does with it is to use that setting to tell us something about boundaries.


Jesus is now in a place, physically and emotionally, where the status quo can be challenged and the proclamation of God’s mercy can be directed to everyone, not just to a specific few.


In a world where wives could be divorced for burning their husband’s toast, what Jesus has to say about divorce is really important. I kid you not about the toast. Leave aside the adultery, which is an issue, just continually messing things up for the husband was enough for him to get out his ‘Divorce Her’ pen and paper.


The result was devastating for the wife. She was shamed. She was disgraced. Economic hardship was her best future; prospects of any future for her children were, at best, limited. This is 8-ball country and it’s no place for a woman.

It was a man’s world even then, but Jesus wasn’t about to stigmatise divorcees. He was about to provide a new basis for the care and protection of those vulnerable ones.


Talk about riding outside the fences. Is it any wonder the authorities killed him.


The thing that intrigues me, though, is the way Jesus turns the question about divorce on its head, moving away from the legal interpretation to the relational. He’s elevating, maybe even restoring, marriage to its right place.


For the most part, marriage in history was not about romance or fulfilment, as it is today; rather, it was viewed as a legal contract, the lawful exchange of property, of which the wife was but one piece.


By taking that view by the horns, so to speak, and giving it a good hip-toss, Jesus takes us back to the start, to God’s Big Idea, and provides some safeguards on the way.


All this takes place while Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. This takes him beyond the usual boundaries in order for him to bring the Good News to everyone. When Jesus gets to Jerusalem, he himself will be taken beyond the boundaries of the city to be hung on a cross in the middle of a garbage heap.


As David Lose remarked, “All this he endures in order to witness to God's abundant mercy, steadfast love, and amazing grace for all people, …” divorcee or not.