Simply Awe-Full

When I moved from one of my earlier Congregations, one of the young men gave me a wooden box he had made. It is beautiful and sits in my study, holding letters, cards and photos which are particularly significant. Both the gift from Boothy and its contents are precious, holding memories which are valuable beyond the material.

For me, when difficult days arise, there are strength and comfort in those stories, many of which hold value only to a few, and some, only to me.

I was thinking about the moments in my life when I have experienced wonder, which is more than excitement. There is a tinge – for me – bordering on fear, as well as the awe accompanying the moment.uluru-rain

I remember the two spans of staircase, into the dark, at my grandparents’ home in Sydney. For a five year old it was an unnerving climb past a tall, translucent window, arriving at a hall which I remember being impossibly long and equally dark.

I have stood at Uluru, as rain cascaded down its impervious face, and been whipped by wintry rain at Kata Tjuta, feeling fearful and awe-full altogether.

It was similar to our pilgrimage to, then arrival above, Machu Picchu at sunrise. We tried in vain to comprehend the scope of beauty, crafted by mortal and immortal hands.

I recall lying in the Pattinsons’ front paddock, just shy of midnight, and being drawn, almost hypnotically, into “the wondrous glory of the everlasting stars”.

Despite these scanty sentences, these frail attempts, words are insufficient for the feelings they invoke in me; and Boothy’s wooden box, despite its value, cannot hold them.

What wonder then, in our encounter with the living God? Matthew, Mark and Luke have tried to shape words to articulate the disciples’ wonder, of beholding Jesus’ glory, with characters of old, words from the clouds and light beyond measure.

What wonders have287705-r3l8t8d-1000-9d222cfe27a605a1b0cf0036c1667f32 we beheld and find hard to frame, to contain? What blessing of peace, or word of forgiveness, or moment of grace, or anointing of hope have we received? What touch of healing? What voice in our heart, or in our hearing, where God has said yes to us, offering life?

Each of us knows that moment, however distant, even discounted, where we met with the wonder of God. It may simply have been the prayer, or the song, where we knew ourselves loved, more than any verse, sermon or companion could hold.

Each of these is a story worth remembering, and worth the telling. God with us, providing direction for our lives and companionship for the road, even to its ending. And beyond.

Get up, and do not be afraid.

A Life Less Ordinary

Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

Perhaps that is how Jesus might have phrased part of his Sermon on the Mount, if he was an African American in the sixties in the United States of America.

“An eye for an eye will leave the whole world blind”, is a phrase attributed to Ghandi and certainly seems to comply with his understanding, both of violence and of the world.

mlk-darknessBoth these men acted within communities and circumstances of violence, as Ghandi sought to establish freedom from the yoke of foreign empire and Dr King sought freedom from the injustice of the empire into which he was born.

When they speak, much of what they say resonates with the words of Jesus, as he implores and challenges his followers to lives which are more. The resonance is not simply the radical wisdom they each offer, but the context in which they offer it. The violence of empire taints the lives of King and Ghandi, and colours the context for every word and action of Jesus.

Retaliation is one thing when you are talking to your children about how to play together, but another when a soldier beats your child for being in their path. The marks of a broken community under the empire’s fist are everywhere: corrupt tax officials taking the jacket off your back and Roman soldiers conscripting your back to carry their goods. Beggars abound, forced by poverty into brazenness and despair.

Jesus calls them, and now us, to more. Walk further with the pack; offer your shirt; be generous, even when it’s hard.

And, by the way, love your enemies and pray for them. Jesus calls us to be extraordinary, because being ordinary means that we end up blind and toothless. Jesus asks us to be perfect, in love and in service, but that is simply too much to ask, is it not?

This is, however, our call. We know the consequences of walking the accepted path – darkness awaits. So we will choose light, the light found in Jesus, who turned his cheek to the violence and lost his clothes to the soldiers and carried his cross as far as he could and loved his enemies at every step – priests and Pilate and Herod and executioners.

Jesus (and King and Ghandi) hasn’t crafted some maxims with which to inspire contemplation and mindfulness. This is about living an alternative life, as citizens in a God’s empire of justice and hope.  We will travel this journey together, with Jesus’ light, with the Spirit’s song within us, and with each other for company and grace.

The Second Coming | W.B. Yeats

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

 

Surely some revelation is at hand;

Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out

When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi

Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert

A shape with lion body and the head of a man,

A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,

Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it

Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again; but now I know

That twenty centuries of stony sleep

Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Above & Beyond

I had a rugby coach at school who was fond of saying, “Practice doesn’t make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect.”

He was the kind of coach who asked more of us, in training and on the paddock. It was not sufficient to say we had done passing drills, or tackling practice; had we done it correctly? Were we better as a result? When we played on the weekend, would we be able to replicate what we had trained?

Perhaps the key to his coaching – for all of us schoolkids – was that he had played for the Wallabies, so it was more than theory. He had seen this stuff work.rugby-or-soccer

Many of us remember the teacher, the parent, the mentor, who asked (even demanded) more of us, whether it was at Girl Guides, or in our home, or learning the clarinet. It was often difficult, sometimes unpleasant, but when we found our courage and our way, we saw where we were being encouraged to go.

Our coach required more of us because he saw more in us.

The wonder of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount begins to fade when Jesus moves from blessing to rigour. Almost everyone we know remembers one, or more, of the blessings, but how many of us willingly remember – and recite – about calling people fools, or the self-imposed discipline of a promise made?

I can honestly say that I have never murdered anyone, and I would expect most of my friends can say the same. But anger and insult? More than that, how often have I deliberately put aside the things which “needed to be done” and found my way back to someone to ask their forgiveness and be reconciled?

My bible’s editors placed a series of headings in this part of Jesus’ sermon, “concerning anger”, “concerning adultery”, “concerning divorce”, as if this is about a series of structured laws, rather than the integrity of our character and the promises we make. Most relationships are wonderful, difficult, fulfilling, awkward and occasionally, boring. How we live together as friends, family, partners and spouses is more than a series of behaviours; it’s our ability to care, serve and forgive – and ask forgiveness – which is the measure of who we are together.

Jesus invites all of his disciples, throughout history, to more. It’s not simply about the power (failure) of a man to cast aside his wife when his gaze is drawn elsewhere, it’s about remembering the coven10488240_10152577377875826_5720551856795683634_nant made of love and commitment – and reconciliation. Much of Jesus’ language in this small section is focused upon men, but we can draw a wider net in which to gather all of us.

It is insufficient to say blandly, “According to the Law, I have not sinned”. Jesus’ fulfilment of that Law calls us to more; to living creatively, to honouring our covenants, to restoring and renewing relationships, to a perfect practice.

This is hard, it requires discipline. We need each other. And we need the hope of God’s promise, the grace of Jesus’ example and the Spirit’s company for each step.

Adding Flavour

It seems like he’s everywhere. When the radio – any station – comes on, or when you flick past any number of websites, or when you don’t move fast enough to change the channel as the news commentary appears on the television.

Donald Trump is ubiquitous.

I have a confident suspicion that he loves it like that, even when the commentary is critical, or the images are poor. “There is only one thing worse than being talked about and that is not being talked about,” Oscar Wilde archly reminds us.

I’m already tired, because it isn’t only since the inauguration, it was the eighteen months beforehand of campaign and criticism and commentary and cheer squads. Mr Trump is on our news more than our news is.

In case you missed it (ironic smile), Christians across the full spectrum of the church have been offering opinions about all aspects of the new President, arguing to and fro, creating a lot of heat and not a lot of light.

As disciples, it’s appropriate to have our judgments informed by our faith in Jesus and to act accordingly. We are, however, called to more than 11069403_1072162782810946_9033090132088524593_ncommentary.

After blessings of last week, for the broken and the heralds in the kingdom of God, Jesus’ calls each of us to more. I have an opinion about many issues in the world, and it’s possible a few of them are even worth considering, but my discipleship asks me how I will act to bring the flavour of God into people’s lives and the light of God’s hope into people’s darkness.

What does the salt and light taste and look like? Jesus spells it out, so that we are without excuse. What can I do, or say, that will help people look towards the God who loves and forgives?

What might I offer someone when they are spewing hatred on the internet, or in the street, which casts hope into the violence in their heart?

What can I say in a conservation which makes peace – creating justice, finding hope, discovering a way forward? When I consider Jesus, I find creative responses to the issues of our lives: live rightly; be reconciled to those around you; value people as more than objects; consider the integrity of the promises you make; r11698607_1118050854890984_8822747988615383105_nestore, endure, embrace. Love.

It’s much easier to type a (clever/witty/acerbic/destructive) response on a Facebook thread than to love your enemy, or to have integrity in your own life. We can be clever and cynical at a barbecue about how badly the world is going.

We are not called to commentary, we’re called to follow Jesus. To whom can you offer forgiveness, or from whom can you seek it? Which enemy might you endure, or even welcome? What stranger might you embrace?

In the face of our fearful, violent age, what hope might we offer in the way we live? We live this way, not despite the world, but because of Jesus.