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.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Reflections from The Hill – The Never-Ending Story – John 20.19-31



“Hey Ian, what story did ya tell ‘em last Sunday? The one about the Easter Bunny? Or was it the one about The Easter Egg?” so asked Wal, an ex- chalky-friend of mine.


The thing about the stories I read on Sundays, as I constantly reminded Wal, is that every last one of them invites us to be a participant in the action, not to simply be a passive listener whose only activity occurs near the edge of their head.


As I say that, I need to be careful that you are clear about this: I’m not saying that the Bible is fantasy … but … I do say that there is a similarity behind many of the stories we read in the Scriptures and the world of fantasy writing.


The common ground is that both invite us to participate in the story. Whether it’s The Narnia Series, The Never Ending Story or the scene with the so-called Doubting Thomas that we read today, we’re invited to be part of it.


It’s like as if a little window to heaven opens up and we’re being called to step up and into this different dimension. Most certainly, John is not telling us about something that simply happened in the past, like a history lesson.


John wants us to get the message that participating in these events will actually change the shape of the immediate present and the on-going future of everyone who reads them.


That’s why John tacks on those verses at the end, where he tells us that the reason why he chose these particular stories was so that anyone who heard them would believe that Jesus was the Messiah after all.


Where fantasy stories and the Gospel part company is right here: John wants to persuade, to prompt, to provoke us, the reader, to a living faith. The Never-Ending Story and its ilk don’t even come close to doing that, no matter how good they are.


The face-to-face meeting with Thomas (included in the Gospel for your edification) is another one of those little windows that invite us to climb through into heaven.


I always reckoned that The Bloke was a bit hard on poor old Tom. After all, he was just asking for what everyone else had experienced. All he wanted was a slice of the action, as they say. Anyway, I reckon it’s a bit rough to call him “Doubting”.


Think about it for a bit: who else is going to believe without seeing? Every other human person in the whole world from then on, pretty much. That includes me and you and Great-Aunt Maud, and funny little Eric and …


Each of us has struggled to continue believing without our peepers or our pinkies. Does The Bloke call us “Doubter”? Nah. He calls us “Blessed” and Tom is at the head of the line. How cool is that?


This never-ending story didn’t just start on Easter Day. It actually started when creation happened and it’s still going today and it’ll carry on until the end of time.


The awesome thing is that you and I are characters in this story. We’ve been invited to learn from those millions and trillions who’ve come before us, to learn from them about faith and courage and fear and sadness and about making mistakes and getting it wrong and knowing how to put it right.


Unlike Tom and the others, our doors aren’t closed any more. We’re not closeted disciples with closeted minds. Despite what we might see, we don’t live in ghettoes or silos. We’ve been called out of them.


The Tomb-Breaker is telling us that being cocooned by fear is yesterday’s bread. It’s stale old and useless. Why? Because the breath of the resurrection is still fresh on our cheeks, that’s why.