Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Billionaire, the Stockbroker, and the Story Teller



Parables are like puzzle boxes. There are no easy answers, no straight readings. You can take a parable in several directions: how you interpret it depends on your faith community, your social location, your Biblical knowledge, your image of God, a good dose of the Holy Spirit, and—let’s be honest!—your mood. Now, most of you will have heard spiritual interpretations of the parable of the talents. In such a reading, those Christians who don’t use their money, time, gifts, and abilities to advance the kingdom of heaven will face God’s anger and judgement. But it’s interesting that nothing in the story says that the angry boss is God. So let’s swap the lens from spiritual to economic, and assume that Jesus meant the talents literally. A talent was a colossal unit of money, over a million dollars today: how might knowing this affect the reading? Listen as I riff on the story, and re-tell it in a modern context. Perhaps it will lead to a different place. And if it does, then, like all good parables, where you go from that place is up to you. So make yourself comfortable: it’s time for a story ... Read more here, or listen here.

A riff on Matthew 25:14-30 by Alison Sampson, Sanctuary, 19 November 2017 (AP28). Picture courtesy Winkelman, Roy. European Banknote Montage. 2 December 2011. ClipPix ETC. Retrieved November 19, 2017, from http://etc.usf.edu/clippix/picture/european-banknote-montage.html (detail).

Monday, November 13, 2017

It's You!



Listen here.

A person knocks on a door. A voice calls from within, “Who is it?” The person says, “It’s your servant.” The voice says, “There’s no one here.”

The person goes away, wandering and wondering, working and thinking and talking and praying and sleeping and playing and dreaming, as you do. A year goes by, and they return. They knock at the door. A voice calls from within, “Who is it?” The person says, “It’s your sibling.” The voice says, “There’s no one here.”

The person goes away, wandering and wondering, working and thinking and talking and praying and sleeping and playing and dreaming, as you do. A year goes by, and they return. They knock at the door. A voice calls from within, “Who is it?” The person says, “It’s You.” The door swings open.

What if we have already been given every spiritual resource we need? What if we can be so transformed by Christ that, when he looks into our eyes, he sees himself? What if it is up to each of us to open the door?

***

This was a lectio divina Sunday, when there is no formal sermon; instead, we ponder the text together. The text was Matthew 25:1-13: The wise and foolish bridesmaids. I finished by sharing this Zen-like story, adapted from John Shea The Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels for Christian Preachers and Teachers. Year A. On Earth as it is in Heaven. (Collegeville, MN: Order of Saint Benedict, 2004). The image is by Phoebe Anna Traquair – Own work Stephencdickson, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37847772.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

The Liturgy and the People of God



Several months ago, we heard the story of two disciples walking away from Jerusalem. Jesus had been killed, and they were fleeing the city, full of doubt and fear. There on the road to Emmaus they met a stranger. They told him everything that had happened, and he explained the Scriptures to them. Then, as they ate together, they recognised the Risen Christ. I remind you of this because, early last year, when I was visiting and observing you all, what I saw were a lot of tired, doubting adults walking away from church ... Read more here, or listen here.

(Image shows Communion by He Qi.)

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Wife and the Writer's Life



Five hundred years ago today, Martin Luther is supposed to have nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenburg Castle Church, an act which helped catalyse the Reformation. Thinking about Martin and his wife, Kate, I wrote the following piece for Zadok Perspectives No. 134 during a very busy summer!

***

So I got an email asking if I could whip up a column on Martin Luther or maybe his wife Kate sometime in the next week, and I’d love to. I’d love to tell you about the time we went to Lutherstadt-Wittenburg and toured the church and their home. I’d love to tell you about how Martin spent the first three hours of every day in his study wrestling with God and praying before he got down to work—but the washing machine is trilling to say that the next load is ready to be hung on the line, a kid has just come into the study needing her mum, and I don’t have the time.

For I am Kate: the household manager. The Luther household was large, overflowing with children and visitors and servants and paying guests. And Kate made sure that the bread was baked and the meals were cooked and the beds were made and the children were taught and the vegetables were harvested and the beer was brewed. I’d love to tell you more about her, but it’s summer holidays, I live near the ocean, and I’ve had a constant stream of guests. In the last four weeks I’ve cooked over 300 dinners, and made breakfasts and lunches too. I’ve washed countless dishes and sheets and towels, swept and mopped the floors, talked to the plumber and other tradies, and paid the bills, even as I’ve spent time with visiting family and friends. But unlike Kate, I don’t have servants: no cook, no laundress, no maid, no farmhand, no gardener. Instead, I have my husband and me, and what I can wheedle, bully and cajole out of the kids. Yet my husband works in Melbourne and is away three days a week; the kids sometimes refuse their chores: much of the work is done by me.

Because it’s summer, I’ve also spent hours with the kids at the beach. And because I am not just a household manager, but also the sole pastor of a new congregation in a smallish city, I keep bumping into parishioners and others who access me in my role, and so, while standing around in my bathing suit, I’ve had conversations about grace and judgement and calling and forgiveness, and Jesus’ teaching on possessions. And then after I’ve listened and maybe spoken a word of hope or comfort or truth, they say to me, “Are you having a nice holiday?” and it’s true I’m in my bathers but I wonder what on earth they think I’m doing as I take what I hear, pray, read the Word, and prepare the next sermon that will shake them out of their complacency, or make them weep with gratitude and relief. For I’m also Martin: called to wrestle with God and preach and write, and proclaim God’s hospitality in word and deed. Unlike him, however, I don’t have a wife or three hours of solitude every day. Instead, I pray on foot as I slip out alone to the shops and plan the next round of meals. I’d tell you more about it, only I don’t have the time.

The Luthers paved the way for churches like ours, which keep an open table and have visitors every week; people who ask “What is prayer?” and “Who is Jesus?” and “Why do you do this weird ritual meal anyway?” even as they eat the bread and drink the wine and proclaim the mystery of our faith. They come, I think, because I am both Martin and Kate: the professional and the home maker: the writer and the cook. They read the sermons and eat the dinners because they are hungry: hungry for a people to eat with, hungry for a people to belong to, hungry for a shared narrative that is bigger and more generous than any other way of life. And this hunger is so great, and the eating is so central, that I’d love to find where Martin said, “If the good Lord sees fit to provide a nice, fat pike and a dry Rhine Riesling, then I see fit to eat and drink,” only it’s getting on to five and there are guests in the house. It’s time to turn on the oven, open a bottle of wine, put out crackers and dips, and cook dinner, so that this evening the people I love—the man I married, the children I birthed, the friends and parishioners and acquaintances I listen to, pray for, and talk, laugh and weep with—may, through the hospitality we provide in the name of Christ, come to the table and be fed.

Jesus promised that, when we follow him, we will find life in abundance; and life is certainly abundant in this wonderful, overflowing, crazy season of summer. In a couple of weeks, the visitors will go home, the kids will be back at school, my husband will be in Melbourne, and the house will be quiet. Then, I will sit in my study in solitude and silence, and then, I will find time to write.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Great Leader and the Gravedigger


Here we are, at the end of Moses’ epic journey. He has led the people out of Egypt, through the desert, across the Red Sea; he has brought them out of slavery, and turned them away from idol worship and towards God; no one has ever shown such mighty power or performed such awesome deeds; he is the greatest prophet the world has ever known; and the promised land is in sight. If this were an ordinary story, we all know what would happen next: a red carpet unfurling, trumpets ringing out, and Moses riding a white stallion as he leads the people in triumph into the land. Except, this is no ordinary story. Instead, Moses encounters a gravedigger.

Read more here, or listen here. Image shows a detail from an image found here.

Monday, October 23, 2017

The Beautiful Backside of God


Yet again, our government has shown itself to be anti-Biblical: for mooning has been made explicitly illegal in the State of Victoria. From the first of July, anyone who pulls down their dacks and bares their bum in public risks two months in jail; if they do it again, they risk six months. And so a great Judaeo-Christian tradition has been outlawed. For, as we just heard, when Moses begs to see God’s face, God refuses. Instead, God announces that God will tuck Moses into a gap in the rock and cover him while God’s glory passes by. Then, when it is safe, God will remove the holy hand and Moses will see the marvellous moon, the beautiful backside of God. Most translations gloss over this glorious glimpse: but mooning is precisely what God does. And yet it has now been made illegal. So much for freedom of religious expression ...

Continue reading here, or listen here.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Bread in a Time of Hunger



Even if we feel like we’re wandering aimlessly; even if we’re grumbling; even if we’re longing for the old ways, we must remember: these feelings have precedent. The people of God have been here before...

Read here, or listen here.
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