Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Reflections from The Hill – Being Noticeable


One of my endearing charms, so I’m told, is to state the bleeding obvious. Whether I’m in a high-powered meeting, or just mucking around home, my capacity for the obvious and the patently clear is legendary.


I’d like to think that I’m in some sort of company when I make my pronouncements but it’s only when I read this week’s Good Word from The Bloke that I know I’m right up there with the best.


What’s more, the fact that the bon-mot in question is as true now as it was when it was uttered in those Galilean hills is nothing short of spectacular because it tells me we haven’t moved very far in the past two millennia. It’s not what you’d call progress.


The Bloke is giving us his take on the first century version of the latest job figures and says some stuff about plentiful harvests and few workers. He could be talking about cane harvesting, such is the timelessness of it.


Of course, there were no multinational mining companies back then paying big money to lure away workers but, hey, take the point: there’s nearly always a surfeit of crops and a deficit of workers, at least in the West, though sub-Saharan Africans might have a different view.


The harvest is plentiful but the labourers are few, he says, so he sent them out two by two. Organisationally, it’s a stroke of genius but in terms of effectiveness, well, I just wonder.


Sure, I know there was no stopping The Bloke’s Movement once it began. Sure, I know that gathering power around a single entity works but decentralising, putting control in the hands of many, is surely the way to go.


Why, then, do we persist in climbing in order to top the pyramid, asks he quietly lest he get trapped in the obvious again? What’s the matter with a level playing field?


The Bloke’s rejection in his home town, how they drove him out of the church and threatened to chuck him over the cliff, serves a lot in helping me to understand why the unilateral view is to be avoided. Even our PM made some noises recently that he says was a hard lesson for him to learn.


Again, The Bloke’s method of addressing the jobless figures is to send The Team out, two by two, all over the place. It’s mind-blowingly simple when you think about it but then he adds a warning about lambs and wolves.


As I’ve said at other times and in other places, being at the head of the line, at the top of the tree, is a natural tendency; it’s what motivates speech nights and award ceremonies.


The Bloke, for all his being obvious however, tells us something else: tops of pyramids ain’t what they used to be. If we don’t get bitten today, then we will tomorrow.


We are so easily lured into believing the dream that the church is like an oasis of kindness and that it’s only outside the church that going is tough. Honestly, no one believing that has ever been to a parish council meeting.


But when Jesus commissioned The Seventy, he made it abundantly clear that working in a team is The Only Way To Go. Rejection going to be par for the course and it’s better to deal with that among mates than by yourself.


Rejection is more prevalent and more intimate than most of us want to believe.


If you’re anything like me, you’ll sally forth, commissioned, blessed and geared up for action with the hope that this is going to be a joyful ride. The thing to remember is that there are harvests of tears waiting, too.


Dietrich Bonhoeffer commissioned his young students to go into the Third Reich to proclaim the gospel while facing the real possibility of death. It was no easy road to draw that sharp distinction between cheap grace and costly grace.


Cheap grace, he says, expects endless pleasantness and is unwilling to confront the powers and principalities.


True grace loves and doesn’t deride the beloved. True grace knows that the cross is part of life in Christ. It’s really that obvious.




This Week’s Humour (from Sandy Berardi who heard it from … doesn’t matter)


Two grey-haired Irish guys were working for the Council Works Department.

One would dig a hole and the other would follow behind him and fill the hole in. They worked up one side of the street, then down the other, then moved on to the next street, working furiously all day without rest, one man digging a hole, the other filling it in again.

An onlooker was amazed at their hard work, but couldn't understand what they were doing.

"I'm impressed by the effort you two are putting in to your work, but I don't get it - why do you dig a hole, only to have your partner follow behind and fill it up again?"

The hole-digger wiped his brow and sighed, "Well, oi suppose it probably looks odd because we're normally a t’ree-person team. Today, de lad who plants the trees called in sick.'"

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Reflections from The Hill – Demons or Madness - June 23, 2013


As I was reading this week's gospel text, I re-entered the familiar world (for me) of mental illness. As I did, I began to wonder about the myriads of carers of the mentally ill, especially those who cared for this one. 


This much I know, mental illness doesn’t get better quickly. It isn’t like having a broken leg or dealing with the ‘flu or something, but requires a whole raft of people to keep the caring going because it’s probably been going on for quite a while.


Then I had to ask myself a few difficult questions like “Who was this guy’s mother?” Did she send him to live in the tombs or did he run away all by himself?

This was followed up by some other questions, like “Who fed him?” “Did people from the village bring him food from time to time or did he scramble for tucker in the dirt and among the rocks?”


“Did people from roundabout leave food for him at a safe distance or were there people he trusted to come near? Did he have any friends? Who were they?”


“Did he have bouts of sanity? Or was he sick all the time? Was he like so many suffering with mental illness, who had periods where he was seemed to be on the planet and functioning?” 


“How did his friends or family interact with him during his times of wellness? Were they on edge waiting for his behaviour to take its well-known and inevitable turn?”

The world of mental illness is a world defined by fear, depression, suicide, chemical imbalances, sleep deprivation, anger, rage, sadness, crying, confusion, hallucinations. And that’s just the carers.


For those who are afflicted, it’s worse. Even after thousands of years, the mentally ill are still people we shun.

When you get involved with people who have a mental illness, there is always volatility, always unknown outcomes, always concern, and, only rarely, stability – your own and that of the sufferers.

To name all ‘mental illness’ as ‘demon-possession’ can be as problematic as naming all ‘demon possession’ as ‘mental illness’. Plainly, like any generalisation, neither are true yet both are true.


There are too many examples of successful exorcisms to dismiss them that easily. What’s more, The Bloke’s entire ministry is liable to be explained away in terms of logic and science if they were and that’s not on.


We forget at our peril that he spent most of his time in the spirit realm, so to try to pass the miracles off as some kind of ordinary event is just fanciful.


Luke has gone to great lengths to link a dead man and a lady of dubious character with a nutter. Then he places this young man in the cemetery of a Jewish town (yes, Jewish) where the main source of income was raising pigs. Luke couldn’t be any more offensive if he tried.


In the context, it seems that Luke wants to help the reader see that The Big Fella’s intention is to include those who previously have been regarded as contaminating and unclean.


Spare a thought for the poor pig farmers who have just seen their precious porkers plunge faster than the fortunes on Deal or No Deal and so terrified were they that they asked The Bloke to get on his bike real quick.


At the end, we have a man was made whole and he wanted to follow The Bloke. We have a town community was made whole and it begins to notice that the young man’s health was emblematic of theirs.


I guess it’s only my curiosity that wants me to know what happened next and how the man’s story ended.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Reflections from The Hill – In The Midst of the Valley – Luke 7.11-17


From time to time, events in The Bloke’s Story really stir the pot. Take the business of dying, for example.


Apart from his own Up-He-Came, there are just three occasions in The Good Book when The Bloke intervenes in someone’s death: his mate Lazarus: Jairus’ daughter; and the event in today’s Gospel Reading about a dead man, his mother  and a funeral procession.


Maybe it’s something of a surprise that this list of three is as short as it is but it is full of significance, as we shall see.


I don’t suppose people back in Those Times felt any different from the way people feel today when someone shuffles off the coil, especially if the deceased one is a close relative.


What we hang out for in grief today is a sense of peace, a chance to grieve and to join in, as much as we can, with the loved one’s final journey. In one way or another, while cultures may do it slightly differently, these would be common expectations.


So it’s a bit more than a shock to the system when The Bloke interrupts a funeral procession. In any culture, even now, interrupting a funeral is a huge violation of propriety; you just don’t do it.


I wish someone had told the local police about propriety at funerals before an all-too-eager constable began to breathalyse the whole cortege on one sad day back in my home town. I believe he was posted out of harm’s way very soon after.


For The Bloke, well, he just added ritual uncleanness to his list of blunders by reaching out his hand and touching the bier. That little action was about as rude as what Constable Plod did.


The one difference between The Plod and The Bloke was that the dead person sat up and spoke. It’s not surprising to read that some of the onlookers were speaking by then as well.


It’s interesting and educational for us to recognise that The Bloke did what he did out of compassion for a person in need, out of someone else’s broken heart.


He wasn’t protesting against death and he wasn’t making a big song-and-dance about death. It was Jairus’ devotion, Mary’s tears and the Widow’s desperation that motivated him, nothing else.


Of all the people who The Bloke met, of all the people he prayed with, touched, preached to or just walked past, there were only three who were brought back from the finality into which they’d gone.


That challenges me. It challenges me because I’ve got this lingering belief that, as a Christian, I’m saved from all that. Healed and saved from death. It’s not huge in my array of life beliefs but it’s there just the same.


In those occasional madnesses, I can sometimes get to a point where I reckon that all I need do is shoulder my way in a bit closer to Him and He’ll pick me.


It ain’t like that, though, is it? What it is, however, looks as if The Bloke is pushing us to see that death is not the Spectacular Evil we think it is but is an ordinary, almost banal, happening in life.


The three people He raised from the dead will die again. No resurrection next time. Next time, death is final and permanent.


If you and I are to know the wonder of life in the midst of death, then somehow we’ve got to see that life is not about being a spectator, watching death proceed to the cemetery or wailing at the doorway.


Life is about being human, about having a heart that breaks, about knowing the difference between those decisions that increase the power of evil and those which restore life in the valley of the shadow of death.


When The Bloke is nearby speaking and touching and healing even the broken hearts, we’ll know we’re on a winner.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Reflections from The Hill – Pentecost 2 – Luke 7.1-10 – Rattling Cages


Every now and then, someone comes along who rattles our cage. Generally, it’s someone whom we least expect and who acts in a way that really throws us off our nicely balanced walk through life.


Someone who’s doing this for me currently is Pope Francis. Now, I’m not any kind of Vatican-Watcher – nor am I a Cantabophile, which is like an Anglican version of the afore-mentioned Vatican Watcher.


In the last couple of weeks, the Man-in-White has done some stuff and said some things that, if any of the Clergy in our Field of Dreams did it and said them, no-one would turn as much as a hair. It’d be seen as just a part of normal parish life.


What Francis did was to pray for someone who was sick, with the laying on of hands. What he said was that everyone is redeemed by Jesus’ sacrifice, whether they believe it or not. Both episodes have turned quite a few hairs, it seems.


First, he was accused of ‘performing exorcisms’; and then he proclaimed that it’s not just the Catholics who’ll get to heaven. Poor bloke has obviously been reading the Bible and is fast heading into Loopy Land, such has been the impact.


My guess is that the stink in the Vatican ain’t just caused by the universally-acknowledged Italian plumbing system but also by someone taking seriously the story in this week’s Gospel about a Centurion, a Slave and the Onlookers.


The issue is not that someone as unlikely as Pope Francis should demonstrate a level of faith. The issue is that we think it unlikely for him to do something like this in the first place.


I mean, Popes are supposed to stay inside St Peter’s and occasionally go on world tours or come the window and wave now and then, aren’t they? He shouldn’t be doing that, should he?


Amazingly, there’s no record that the person Francis prayed with was healed or ‘came to faith’, as the spitfire pilots of the church would say. Maybe s/he was there already.


Nor is there a record yet that some unchurched person has been drawn to the Big Fella’s heart because of what Francis said, although I’m warming to the idea that, sometime, there will be.


Think about Jesus and the Centurion. There’s no reason to for us to believe that the centurion became a Follower. He wasn’t even all that excited to meet The Bloke – and that doesn’t cause The Bloke or Luke any problems at all. Instead, The Bloke praises the guy for his outstanding faith.


We know nothing about this soldier: where he came from, who his parents were, what school he attended, nothing. All we know is that he’s graduated from Grunt College to become Someone Important in the military hierarchy of Imperial Rome. He’s hardly a candidate for the Faith Test.


My guess is, should I do a straw poll of readers of this Reflection, that each of us has or knows someone like him: someone who’s faith doesn’t show, who doesn’t seem to go to church or maybe isn’t a follower of The Bloke at all.


As well, I reckon that there are many of us Christians out there who struggle with the outsiders: those family members and friends whose relationship to The Big Fella and The Church is, at best, fragile or, worst, non-existent.


Often, and sadly, the only thing we often hear about those outsiders is from those in that part of the church who say that if these folks don’t believe, they’ll go to the only place that offers year-round, mighty hot, central heating. That’s all, nothing else, just heating.


Would The Big Fella use him/her? Could s/he be an example of faith? Could s/he be used by Him for His purposes, even if they wouldn’t call it that?


Would we have the grace and courage to approve and commend their actions if they did and share our gratitude that The Big Fella loves and uses them, too? My reading of today’s Good News says that we can.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Reflections from The Hill – Put on the Dancing Shoes – John16.12-15


I won’t say I was never a wall flower or a shrinking violet; far from it, really. However, I still marvel at the fact that I was never left out when it came to the Ladies Choice.


Whether it was a progressive Barn Dance, the stately Pride of Erin or an Old-Time Waltz, I certainly wasn’t on my Pat Malone. Maybe the ladies felt sorry for me, I don’t know.


If there was a problem, however, it was because I can’t actually dance – a fact with which My Dearly Beloved will heartily agree. Back then, I must have looked like a dancer, I suppose. There was nothing much else that would commend me.


This might be a parable of the way some of us relate to The Big Fella – mostly on the outer, can’t seem to do it, waiting for an invitation to join in. Truth is that the invite is already out there, waiting. For what? Godot, perhaps?


For a people who were stuck on The One True God thing, chaps like Abraham and Moses were heroes, and had been so for quite a while. Rightly so; there is only so much room in the camels’ saddle bags for a pile of statues.


Then along came the Christians and we really upset the apple cart. What we were banging on about sounded for all the world like a regression to the old pantheon of multiple gods and more saddlebags.


“Hmmm, we need a theologian”, cried the populace and a few good men put up their hands in successive, but not always successful, attempts to answer the conundrum of the Three-in-One. As I say, it sounded a lot like three chooks in a basket, at least until Good Ole Auggie came to town.


Known as a Thinker, Auggie latched on to the notion of Lover, Beloved, Love-Between-Them to explain the mystery, but, as I’ve said elsewhere, we’ve got to learn that when the church calls something ‘a mystery’ it’s probably because that’s what it is and that it ain’t any good trying to unravel it because it won’t.


Eventually, some smart fellers, Yuppies probably, in a real attempt to get away from gender-specific language, reckoned that describing Trinity in terms of what the Trinity did would be good. So we got the Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier type of words, which are not always on the money, either.


It does seem that there’s not enough language available to us to put into words what we want to say or believe – or both – about God-in-Trinity. So, how do we handle all this?


It’s instructive for us if we recognise that, throughout the arc of history, certain individuals seem to get such a handle on the Trinity that their insights become helpful for the rest of us and are not consigned to the scrapheap.


Some writers, thinkers, artists, musicians, scientists and more, have each had a profound effect on our understanding of this Wonder by doing what they do best.


These insights have one thing in common: they each describe God-in-Trinity in terms of a relationship. These insights unpack the identity of the Trinity. What The Trinity does, in fact, comes second.


The essence that is most commonly described is Love: Love that is God, a dynamic, affirmative and mutual icon of The Big Fella Himself. God is Love.


Moreover, the Trinity is a bit like a Divine Dance that’s taking place, a graceful and intimate set of movements that need no others to complete it but where he has invited us to join, just like my belles at the Ladies Choice.


Those invitations have been written and sent out. There’ll be no wallflowers, no onlookers, no outcasts there. He has chosen to create and redeem us to join him on the Dance Floor.


The tough thing is to put it into practice, to make it so that each person, each family, parish, church council, school, diocese, nation and so on, has been transformed into a living icon of the Trinity.


So, Luke and Lucy, put on your Dancing Shoes. That way, at least, you’ll be ready when the music starts.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Reflections from The Hill – He’s Up To Something – Acts 2.1-11


When you stack the Old Book story from Ezekiel about skin-grafted bones rising from the ground with, say, the talking, fiery, tongues of today’s First Reading, it’s hard not to imagine that they might be some left-over story ideas for The Poltergeist or Waking The Dead, only better.


And, after three years of following The Bloke around the Holy Land and seeing examples of walking on water, multiplication of loaves and fishes, healings, risings from the dead and exorcisms, The Mob were pretty-well tuned up to expect some crazy stuff.


At one level, it must have been fun. So much fun in fact, that if you or I had met one of The Mob in the street, chances is we’d be on the blower quicker than you could say “Mephibosheth” and have them committed.


Or we’d disregard them, which is what has happened mostly.


Truth is, the Big Fella operates at a phenomenal and surrealist level pretty much all time: it’s just that we’ve chosen to disregard most of what He does.


The idea that God is an Englishman, and therefore not prone to excessive behaviour, runs deep.


We now need such a massive shift in our religious expectations and frozen beliefs that we tend to take the easy option and stay bland.


As a result, our church-going becomes a learned behaviour, a patterned response, rather than a joy to behold or an excitement to celebrate.


But rather than bemoan or highlight our way of life (we’re really good at turning the focus onto us), let’s take a gander at what happens when The Big Fella comes to town. Usually there’s a whole lot of shakin’ going on …


There’s shaking the thinking, there’s shaking the beliefs, there’s shaking the hearts and there’s a challenge to the on-lookers and readers to testify to the experience.


When the Big Fella comes to town, he sends the Spirit and amazing things happen: barriers are broken, communities are formed, opposites are reconciled, and unity is established.


When the Big Fella comes to town, diseases are cured, addictions are broken, cities are renewed, races are reconciled, hope is established, people are blessed, and real church happens.

Today the Spirit of God is as present today as He was on the Birthday of the Church (we call it Pentecost). The invitation is to get ready, because He’s up to something. Maybe His presence will look like this in your place:

Discouraged folks cheer up,
Dishonest folks ’fess up,
Sour folks sweeten up,
Closed folk open up,
Gossipers shut up,
Conflicted folks make up,
Sleeping folks wake up,
Lukewarm folk fire up,
Dry bones shake up,
Pew potatoes stand up!
But most of all, Christ the Saviour of all the world is lifted up...
(from  Rick Kirchoff, Germantown Methodist Church, USA):


In that first Pentecost of experiential wonders, what we readers pick up is the total immersion by the Spirit of those who were there.


It’s as if their whole being was penetrated by Him and they are so bathed with His breath that there is no space for anything else.


Like unseen air, the Spirit moves on the ones gathered and his sheer presence and power demonstrates that The Big Fella is serious about what’s happening and he shows it by drawing from each one acclamations of praise, even prophecies.


Is it any wonder that The Bloke warned The Mob (in John 16.12) that what he has to say is actually too much to bear?


The vast size of The Big Fella’s agenda and the myriads of his ways are just too big for us to get our heads around sometimes.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Reflections from The Hill – Stopping or Staying? – John 14.23-29


I am forever indebted to those who have helped me understand the difference between ‘stopping’ and ‘staying’, especially when it comes to relatives.


In the first, the idea is that your resting place is only temporary madness, while in the second, a more permanent state of mind is indicated.


Some of our friends were really out-there when it came to hospitality. Generous to a tee, one couple we knew actually erected a sign on their front lawn that read “Trespassers Welcome”.


I can’t recall whether it was the Council by-laws or the couple themselves that had the sign removed. In any case, it created something of a challenge for everyone. Bravery is not always pre-meditated.


Personally, I loved having people come over to our place: the bigger the house, the more people we could fit in. Today, though, living in a shoe box that gets smaller by day, my great sadness is that we haven’t really got the space for more than one extra bottom – and even that’s bit of a squeeze.


Preparing for the arrival of a guest/s has always been a bit of a drama, too. You do whatever is needed: wash the floor, vacuum the carpet, scrub the toilet (especially if there are little kids), and fill the pantry with food.


You do that rather than get the crumbs out of the cutlery drawer or paint the front door, things you do to avoid the onslaught of people.


(Just as an aside, I once knew a family that painted the roof of the house, redecorated the spare room and painted all the ceilings just before rellies arrived. The family still talk to us, which itself is a miracle.)


But what about staying, that more permanent arrangement; what about that? I confess that our home has been pretty free of people who come to stay in the sense we’re meaning, although a great aunt came close once. I’m glad she didn’t because I might have done something illegal.


Perhaps staying in a church-owned house created a problem for potential guests. Perhaps our own ‘keep-out’ vibes were too strong. Perhaps we were being over-protective of our own space, which I know I can be, even still.


In the Big Fella-department, hospitality is definitely an issue. We read about it in today’s Gospel Reading. Sure, I know He wants to come and stay, sure I know He wants to abide. Sure, I know He’s preparing a place. Sure, He’s got lots of rooms in His Mansion, which is a Good Thing.


The other side of that, though, is that He wants to prepare us for that place as well. Not just a case of getting the room tidy, or building an extension but actually working on our hearts to live with The Big Fella. That’s more than I ever did for our Auntie.


In His place, there are no unwelcomed guests and no-one will ever take away the ‘trespassers welcome’ sign simply because everyone is.


I once read the challenge in these words: “We are to make time and space now to welcome Jesus into our lives. Welcoming (Him) to abide in us as we abide in him is the primary and preferred way John describes discipleship…”


There will be times when disappointments overtake us and people will let us down. What happens then? Well, something like making a decision to not leave The Big Fella alone in an empty house, especially the one that He has prepared for us to stay in, might be a good start.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Reflections from The Hill – Life As a Pencil – John 10.22-30


I get a bit fed up with stories about sheep and shepherds.  I know that I might be buying myself a fight, but really, aren’t there any other kinds of objects that could be used to tell this story?


OK, OK. Assumed favouritism with cattle men is probably not a good option to take, nor would an implied liking for the Goat-Herder’s Co-operative or the Duck Fancier’s Association.


I desperately want to say a few words about this week’s Gospel but I’m hamstrung by the subject matter. My suggestion is that instead of animals or birds, we use something inanimate like pencils. Yep, pencils.


A pencil is a humble thing. Ask any old-fashioned green grocer, butcher, plumber or chippie, if you can find one, and you’ll know what I mean.


Stowed behind the ear or in the hair and drawn from its storage like an arrow, it calculated all kinds of measurements – as well as the costs of your lumber, meat and vegetables – on pieces of cardboard, real board, the meat’s wrapping or just on little scraps of paper.


We don’t see this very much these days because people use calculators or adding machines. Like a lot of old-fashioned things, time has come to pass for them – and it has – and we are the poorer for it.


I know people who have tried running rear-guard actions by refusing to use those inventions of Mr Biro but have ended up with plastic versions of pencils, which is almost an oxymoron. Where to get a good pencil, that’s what I want to know.


Why, do I hear you ask? Because there’s more to a pencil than meets the eye, that’s why; certainly more than one of them new-fangled propelling pencils, that’s for sure. It’s not just a bit of wood with a shaft of graphite down the middle, you know.


Let’s put ourselves in a pencil’s shoes and try to see life from that perspective.  Unless we’re as thick as two of them, we’ll notice that we’ll only ever do great stuff if we let ourselves be held in The Big Fella’s hand.


Left to ourselves, we might find ourselves up somebody’s nose or being used to write rude things on dunny walls but, in The Big Fella’s hands, we have the ability and capacity to do some pretty awesome stuff.


We’ll need to watch the tendency we’ll have to get blunt, though. The more we let ourselves be used, the more we’ll find ourselves in need of a good sharpen and, let me tell you, that can be a bit painful.


Troubles and trials have a habit of wearing us as flat as a shearing shed floor. Trials might even break us in half but if The Bloke hasn’t overcome the world, The Bloke’s done nothing.


Of course, we’ll go outside the lines and run off onto another page so it’d pay to have an eraser handy. There was a time when little erasers were stuck on the end of the pencil but, like a lot of things, I ain’t sure anymore.


In any case, arguments and disappointments, even selfishness, spoil the work we do, even in The Big Fella’s hand. Learn to use that eraser quickly; the longer the mistake is left, the harder it is to remove.


My own Good Lady used to have a drawer full of pencils, each of them blunt, each of them with a different paint job on the outside, each looking like a contestant in an Indie-500 car race: stripes, solids and sparkly stuff, you know the sort. 


I’m here today to remind us that a good paint job does not a good pencil make: it’s what’s on the inside that counts.


That’s been said before. When we live our life as if the graphite is the most important thing, then the real pencil shows through. It’s the inner part, in the hands of The Big Fella himself, that’ll do the Good Job.


Once upon a time, our kids used to leave marks on whatever was closest: walls, clothes, guitars, antique furniture. I’m glad to report they don’t do that anymore, mainly because I figured out that it might be helpful to slosh some blackboard paint in their direction.


It was helpful, and the point is simple: let’s learn allow ourselves to be an instrument in The Big Fella’s hands. Availability is more important than ability.


Listen to His Voice as He teaches us how to leave a legacy, a mark, on every surface we are used on. We are making a difference to what- and where-ever He points us towards.


Being a pencil in the Boss’s hands is a safe and secure place to be. Lying around on a table, hiding in a handbag or being lost in a drawer is quite the opposite and I know where I’d rather be.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Reflections from The Hill – Surviving Failures – John 21.1-19


You may or may not know that I come from a long line of bookies, card sharps and other ne’er-do-wells. Even before the Fine Cotton ring-in (a famous horse-swap race of 1984), my grandpa was switching nags just to pocket a few extra quid.


He didn’t always win but, then, losses didn’t deter him. In fact, the one who came off second best was Gran. On a tour of the town where she and Grandpa first lived, we drove past at least six houses that he’d lost on a Good Thing.


Then there were the billiard saloons, the racehorse stables at Randwick, the Gun Club, the cars and the Magnums, each of which went the same way, all, that is, except the cigars that he smoked until he died. I figured they won but mainly lost a couple of fortunes in their lifetime.


Their life together could well be a parable of the Church. I’m not saying that the world of gambling, country race meetings and dodgy relationships with the police were Good Things. What I am saying is that value-added survival in the midst of failure is the name of the game.


Take Big Pete for example. Chosen, nominated and commissioned, Pete was obviously the Leader. Most Leaders get commissioned at the beginning of their Leadership (see Luke 5), but John puts his commissioning story at the end.


Yeah, I know what we read for the Gospel today looks like a Resurrection story and it sounds like a Resurrection story, therefore, it should be a Resurrection story … but it’s also a commissioning story. Maybe even a re-commissioning.


The apostle John positions himself in the story in such a way as to be the good boy, the only one left standing after The Catastrophe. He alone kept faith with The Bloke and his family right to The End. All the others had fallen away, failed. Now, they couldn’t even catch fish.


As for Pete, the last time he was anywhere near a charcoal fire was when he was in the High Priest’s courtyard and a slip of a servant-girl tried to put the finger on him. That’s when he denied The Bloke three times, thus giving new meaning to the phrase “Triple Header.”


So here we are again, standing around a charcoal fire and not a servant-girl in sight. It’s The Bloke’s turn to put the wood on Big Pete. Three times The Bloke invites a response from Peter; three times he gets an answer. This time, it’s three strikes and you’re in.


Not only is Big Pete restored, he‘s also drawn back into the community of faith and is given some meaningful work to do. That’s important. Why?


Simply this; failing to witness and walking away from God is a given. It’s going to happen, people, so be warned and be prepared.


But The Bloke doesn’t just forgive the falling short. He doesn’t simply say “That’s OK Pete” and then move on. He actually recommissions him with those healing, hopeful words “feed my sheep, my lambs.”


Here, The Bloke is laying out the most encouraging thing he could; a word that creates an opportunity. Would that we could do the same.


It’s not simply a matter of Pete trying harder next time; The Bloke wants Big Pete to share what he has with those around about him.


Can we bear the weight of that? Can we bear the weight of hearing Jesus’ forgiveness over the whole of our lives? Can we bear the weight of bringing that forgiveness to the cornucopia of Jesus’ own provision for us and value-add it?


Of course, we’ll fall short of our goals and aspirations; of course, we’ll compromise on this or that or something else; of course, we won’t follow through on stuff and, of course, there will be times when we’ll disappoint and fall off the pace altogether.


To think that we won’t is silly – and that’s why we need to hear John’s story of Peter’s recommissioning, not just the story of Luke’s baptismal instructions that launched them (read ‘us’) into ministry.


After each failure, Jesus invites us to try again and to value-add what we have. That’s when we leave our cocoon of worship and go out into the Kingdom for some meaningful work.