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.