Monday, 30 March 2015

SUNDAY OF THE PASSION (Palm Sunday) Yr B. - Br. Simeon

Andre-Rublev's Saviour

Homily preached by Br. Simeon at Blaxland on Sunday 29th March 2015

Sunday 29th March 2015:  SUNDAY OF THE PASSION (Palm Sunday) Yr B.

Gospel:  Mark 14:1-15:27.

Lord, as we remember how Christ the King entered Jerusalem to the sound of joyful shouts, increase our faith and listen to our prayers, so that we may praise you every day, by living always in him. For he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

A young girl became lost in down town London, England. She was from Charing Cross, a section of that great metropolis. She came upon a London policeman, who asked her if she was lost. When he offered to help her find her way home, she replied, “If I can get to the Cross, I can make my way home.” The Cross is the way home to God.

Jesus’ entry into the holy city and his “cleansing” of the temple with the demand that it be a “house of prayer for all people” will bring his clash with the ruling class to a head. In his account of the Passion, Mark portrays the anguish of Jesus who has been totally abandoned by friends and disciples.  Mark’s Jesus is resigned to his fate. He makes no response to Judas when he betrays him nor to Pilate during his interrogation (and Pilate makes no effort to save him, as the procurator does in the other three Gospels).  As he does throughout his Gospel, Mark pointedly portrays the utter of failure of the disciples to provide any assistance or support to Jesus or to even understand what is happening.  The “last” disciple who flees naked into the night when Jesus is arrested is a powerful symbol in Mark’s Gospel of the disciples who left family and friends behind to follow Jesus now leave everything behind to get away from him.

There is a certain incongruity about today’s Palm Sunday liturgy.  In Anglican and Roman Catholic traditions  -- we carry palm branches and echo the Hosannas (from the Hebrew “God save [us]”) shouted by the people of Jerusalem as Jesus enters the city.  But Matthew’s account of the Passion confronts us with the cruelty, injustice and selfishness that lead to the crucifixion of Jesus.  We welcome the Christ of victory, the Christ of Palm Sunday -- but we turn away from the Christ of suffering and of the poor, the Christ of Good Friday.  These branches of palm are symbols of that incongruity that often exists between the faith we profess on our lips and the faith we profess in our lives.

In his account of the Passion, Mark portrays a Jesus who has been totally abandoned by his disciples and friends.  There is no one to defend him, to support him, to speak for him.  He endures such a cruel and unjust death alone.  Yet, amid the darkness, a  light glimmers:   The Passion of Jesus should be a reason for hope and a moment of grace for all of us as we seek the reign of God in our own lives -- however lonely and painful our search may be.

The Gospel calls us to take on what Paul calls the “attitude of Christ Jesus” (Reading 1) in his passion and death: to “empty” ourselves of our own interests, fears and needs for the sake of others; to realise how our actions affect them and how our moral and ethical decisions impact the common good; to reach out to heal the hurt and comfort the despairing around us despite our own betrayal; to carry on, with joy and in hope, despite rejection, humiliation and suffering.

In our remembering the events of Holy Week -- from the upper room to Gethsemani, from Pilate’s bench to Golgotha, from the cross to the empty tomb -- Jesus will turn our world and its value system upside down: true authority is found in dedicated service and generosity to others; greatness is centred in humility; the just and loving will be exalted by God in God's time.

Today’s liturgy confronts us with the reality of the cross of Christ:  By the cross, we are reconciled to God; by the cross, our lives are transformed in the perfect love of Christ; by the cross, Jesus’ spirit of humility and compassion become a force of hope and re-creation for our desperate world.


Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Palms, Psalms and a Donkey!

“Moses said to YHWH, “But, never in my life have I been a man of eloquence,
either before or since you have spoken to your servant.” Ex 4:10

Palm Sunday Year B:

Palms, Psalms and a Donkey!
In today’s account from St Mark’s Gospel, read after the blessing of palms, we read 'many people" welcomed Jesus. They give him a pilgrim's welcome 'blessings on him who comes in the name of the Lord'. It was probably members of the same enthusiastic crowd who, a few days later, shouted aloud for his torture and death. St Mark echoes the prophet Zechariah who in a series of prophecies tells of the coming of the last king who will be a true 'prince of peace'. Zechariah tells the returned exiles from Babylon that the true king or Messiah will come not as a tyrant robed in power and might, but as a gentle and humble person riding on a donkey. They had seen powerful kings in the rulers of Babylon and their successors the Persian kings. In other words he would not seem like a king at all. His coming was to be so discreet that it would be possible to miss it.
Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem, with his parade-by-donkey, is a parody of the Roman triumphal procession held at this time each year. It was an act of political theatre, that mocked the pomp and circumstance of Rome. He comes not on a warhorse but on a donkey, not fitted out with the trappings of majesty and the banners of victory but greeted with "greenery which they cut in the fields" and dusty garments. St Mark's description of the entrance of Jesus is restrained. Yet, we can catch the messianic signs. Jesus is in control of what is to take place. His entrance is pre-meditated seen in his giving detailed instructions about procuring the colt on which he will ride into the city. Pilgrims did not enter Jerusalem mounted, they always completed their pilgrimage on foot. Zechariah's prophecy laid out three key elements about the entry of the messiah: the one who comes will be the King of Israel; the messianic animal will be "a colt, the foal of an ass; and the people will be jubilant. How did Jesus' arrival escape the eyes of the Roman authorities, who were always ready to crush a potential liberator. Jesus is not an ordinary pilgrim, but the true King of the Jews.
Jesus had been preparing his disciples for the unique features of his messiahship: it would involve humiliation and suffering. Later, after all the events have played out and Jesus is raised from the dead, the disciples will look back and see the fulfillment of the Scriptures in Jesus' coming to Jerusalem. All along Jesus has been reserved about the messianic implications of his words and actions. The entry scene ends quietly with a song of pilgrim welcome, but a storm of conflict is approaching. The people have an anticipation of who Jesus is and what they expect him to accomplish, in bringing "the kingdom of our father David that is to come." But Jesus has been making it clear that his kingdom will be brought about by means of rejection, death and then resurrection in the city of David. However, the disciples and many like us have our own understanding of Jesus and what we want him to be and do for us.
What the disciples want from Jesus and themselves is triumph and glory. What Jesus sees is entrance into suffering and death. His kingship and glory will only come after the cross. Jesus might not be doing things according to people's expectations, but he will accomplish what pilgrims going to Jerusalem pray for. As they approached the Holy City, the Passover pilgrims would express to God their prayer for liberation - true freedom. This what we hope for whenever a new government comes to power. Humans fight to win elections, or take control of a country. Jesus' disciples were not exempt from these ambitions. Jesus knows that God's rule can only come by his patient suffering and death. Jesus offers us the cross not displays of power as he mounts a donkey and takes Rome for a ride it will not forget.

As Holy Week progresses the contrast between Rome seen in Pontius Pilate, and Jesus, becomes more marked. The political and religious powers will try and make a joke of him. He will be dressed in the parody of the imperial purple. He will wear the thorny crown as a mock diadem. He will bear the reed as the fake sceptre. Pilate will presents him to the crowds for their acclamation and finally he will be enthroned on the cross. The crowd give no acclamations of praise, instead they insult and mock him. However, the true prince, whom nobody can really see, is present all of the time and his true identity is revealed in the last scene of the holy drama - the resurrection. Earthly show their might through inflicting ridicule and humiliation on those who oppose them. In this historic moment, they do not realise that the joke is on them, as their pretensions to power are vain and empty. Christ, the Lord of Glory, through his enacted humility, questions the foundations of all earthly power. So we have: Two processions. Two kingdoms. Which one will we choose? It is easy to sing "Hosanna" and wave "Palms" and feel good about it, but we have to choose. I would like to join the Jesus procession, but I dare not join too casually.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

5th Sunday of Lent year B - Br. Andrew

Andre-Rublev's Saviour
Homily preached by Br. Andrew at Blaxland on Sunday 22nd March 2015

5th Sunday in Lent year B


Hebrews 5:9a …having been made perfect,

The writer to the Hebrews is unknown to us, though both Barnabas and Apollos have been suggested, Barnabas because he was a Jew of the priestly Tribe of Levi (Acts 4:36) and Apollos as a man of learning with a thorough knowledge of the scriptures (Acts 18:24).
The Letter was written prior to 70 AD since references are made to the existence of the Temple in Jerusalem which was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. The Letter was written to Jewish Christians to remind them of true and legitimate Christian practises.

Through Prayer to Perfection
Our particular reading concerns the necessary Perfection of a Saviour/ Priest

Was not Christ ‘perfect’ already? In what way was the only Son of God imperfect? For the author writes “and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation” (Heb. 5:9NRSV)
In our reading we are given information concerning how someone becomes a High priest, it tells us that they are selected from among men, from among the Tribe of Levi and more specifically from the descendants of Aaron, it wasn’t something one just decided to be. They were called by God, just as Aaron was, ideally so anyway, since by the time of King Herod the Great they were appointed by him rather than elected.

In the same way Jesus didn’t just decide to glorify himself by taking upon himself the Office of High Priest, it was God who gave Him the glory of becoming a High priest because he says.  ‘You are a priest for ever, according to the order of Melchizedek.’” (Hebrews 5:5, c)
Point of order: Jesus was of the Tribe of Judah and the Royal House of David and not of the Tribe of Levi and therefore had no natural right to be elected to the Levitical Priesthood which is why he could not take it upon himself but must be made perfect to become the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him before being designated the Great High Priest by God
As I began I was musing over the fact of how or why Christ had to be made perfect. Surely the only Son of God was, is perfect and yet it tells us that  While Christ was on earth in his quest for perfection, to become the person he is meant to be he spent time in constant prayer, constant communion with the Father, even in tears, pleading with His Father for the strength and grace to submit his flesh to His final purpose, death on the Cross he learned obedience through his suffering and because of his reverent submission Jesus was heard.

St. Luke tells us that Jesus prayed regularly and records more about Jesus’ prayer practises in his Gospel than any other gospel writer. Prayer is the essence of anyone’s relationship with the Father and so it was the essence of Jesus’ own relationship with His Father.
Through Prayer Jesus became worthy to be called the Son of God, as the Father said at Jesus’ baptism ‘You are my Son, the Beloved;* with you I am well pleased. And again ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you’ ;’( Mark 1:11b, Hebrews 5:5a NRSV) worthy to become our Great High Priest, our Saviour Priest.

The stages of Jesus’ journey into complete self-knowledge and utterly complete obedience to His Father’s Will are all marked by prayer, right up until the night before he died, and even upon the cross he prayed himself toward complete union with His Father as must we.

We can almost hear that purposeful voice telling his parents that he must be about his Father’s business and then we hear nothing of Jesus again until his baptism  where he prays just before the Holy Spirit comes upon him ( Luke 3:21,22) and afterwards in the wilderness. Scripture records that at each important junction in his life and mission Jesus prays. Before choosing the apostles (Luke 6:12-13); before His Transfiguration (Luke 9:28, 29).

Becoming through Prayer.

We celebrated the Feast of the Transfiguration some 6 weeks ago, the last Sunday before Lent and between then and now we have been walking with Jesus towards Jerusalem and his death on the Cross. Jesus has been ratified by the Law and the Prophets in the figures of Elijah and Moses, of which he is the fulfilment. He has been transfigured before the eyes of Peter, James and John and once more acclaimed God’s beloved One. Jesus is now most definitely our Great high Priest he has become perfect through Prayer.

Today’s gospel finds us just after where we shall be next Sunday with Jesus’ triumphant ride into Jerusalem on the Ass and in language typically Johannine almost back in the clouds of the Mount of Transfiguration. Therefore I shall leave most of it for us to examine at our leisure on Thursday evening.

I want to finish here:

In verses 27 and 28 John quotes Jesus saying:
‘Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—“Father, save me from this hour”? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.’
At one and the same time Jesus is perfectly human and perfectly divine and so of course the human being is troubled but now the Integrated, fully self-Actuated Jesus and his Father are about to have a conversation for the sake of the listeners and not for any doubt of Jesus.

What Jesus inaugurates with his death and resurrection, this new Covenant, our At- One- ment with the Trinity brings us back to the Jewish Christians we left earlier who were still not well enough acquainted with the doctrines of the Resurrection that they were in two minds as to perhaps revert to Judaism.

As Jesus, brothers and sisters we owe it to any other believer the ministry of prayer and intercession so that none might be lost to the one Jesus calls the Prince of this world- so in us Jesus ministry of Prayer lives on whenever two or three are gathered together in His name.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

4th Sunday in Lent year B - Br Luke

Andre-Rublev's Saviour

Homily preached by Br. Luke at Maroubra on Sunday 15th March 2015:

Fourth Sunday in Lent year B

Gospel John 3:14-21

I don't think there is any truth to the rumour that the Israelites wandered around the desert for 40 years because Moses wouldn’t ask for directions. I think we all know that isn't true. I think the reason why they wandered around the desert is because they wouldn't do what they were told. And we hear time and time again, and I know this is going to sound horrible, but we hear time and time again how much they whinged and complained, they moan and groan and b* and carry on .
And here they are, complaining – the people spoke against God and against Moses and so God said “Alright! I’ll fix them this time!” I’ll send them dangerous serpents and they’ll get bitten.
Now, living in Australia, as we know, of the 10 most deadly creatures in the world, 8 of them live in this Country, so we are quite used to dangerous animals but wandering around in the desert as they were, it was new to them so they got bitten.
What strikes me as interesting in this passage is that God did not do as they asked – they said to Moses : “ Ask God to take the serpents away” He didn’t, He left them there, what He did was He offered them a method of salvation which was the bronze serpent on the pole. So you looked at the serpent and you were healed – He didn’t do what they asked, He answered their prayer but not in the way they expected. And that is something we know, don’t we, we pray and get answers to prayers but not at all in the way we had expected.

The reason we have this passage today is because Jesus was hung up on the cross up high where everyone could see him. The serpent was up high where everyone could see it; so the serpent was a means of salvation for the Hebrews as they wandered along the desert and got bitten.

Christ is the means of salvation for us. Now, we don’t look at the Cross to be healed but we have to go through a process of seeking forgiveness but the principle is the same, God has provided a means of salvation to us. For the Hebrews from the poison of the snake, for us from our sins through the salvation of Christ.

That brings me to John which is the gospel for today and I have to say that these passages in John are some of my favourites in John, especially John 3 verse 16
      “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life,”
You might hear me saying it, and you might get sick of me saying it ‘that the message of the gospel is LOVE.’ And John says it so clearly in this verse in his Gospel – God so loved the world. There are no grey areas in it, He is acting out of love He is acting out of a sense of care for his creation. For Us, People! We forget that, He didn’t send Jesus to condemn the world, which He could have done – that was Noah, remember, He would have obliterated the world because of the evil, the evil deeds they were doing; He could have sent a plague of Serpents as he did to the Hebrews and they were his chosen people. He didn't, what He did do was He send Christ as the means of salvation for us.
”Those who believe in Him are not condemned”,(John 3:18) something again we forget about, Christ is the means of Salvation He is not here to judge us, He is not here to condemn us; now that may sound like heresy but if you think what we have to go through before we get to the final judgement, where we will be judged because Jesus says He will separate the sheep from the goats. We have to go through that process first, He hasn’t arrived and said you’re doomed, today. Finished and out you go! He could do, if we got bitten by a poisonous snake that is pretty much what would happen but the Salvation comes through Christ and we accept and we have to go through that process of belief, of faith – it’s a Faith journey we need to follow – follow the faith journey and we will get there.

We are in the middle of a State Election at the moment aren’t we yet you would almost never know it is a sort of non-event. When people are doing things that are corrupt, when people are doing things that are wrong it is always done in secret, isn’t it? No. If the brown envelope is going to be passed it is going to be passed under the table, or into the back pocket or the little bag is going to be dropped by the chair and you are going to pick it up and carry it. There is never a blaze of publicity when they are doing something like corruption or something they shouldn’t be doing. So they do it in secret, it is done, as John says in that Gospel Passage “it is done in darkness”
People who are doing evil they do it in darkness, they don’t go “ O LOOK WHAT I AM ABOUT TO DO” and put a big flag and sign up and say “ O,LOOK AT THIS I AM CORRUPT” – they do it in darkness! And that is what St. John means when he says ‘and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. (John 3:19), they are doing it in the dark because they don't want to be seen, they don't want to be found out.

Christ is the Light of the world, when you follow Christ and when you follow Christ’s commandments, you have no option, really, but to do it in the light because if you are going to do evil then you can’t follow Christ. If you are going to do evil you are not acting in a sense of love because Love and Evil are not the same thing, they are not compatible, they are diametrically opposed to each other – If you love somebody you don’t do them evil.   

“ But those who do what is true come to the light , so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds are done in God” ( John 3:21)
Christ says to us that there are two Commandments: ‘“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’(Matthew 22:27-40 NRSV) That’s what he replied when he was asked what the great commandments were.

We hear that echo in St. John’s passage – “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world but in order that the world might be saved through Him. It is a repeat of that whole passage thing that says Love, Compassion, and Tolerance.

 Now that doesn't mean that Jesus was meek, mild and gentle, it doesn't mean he was the chocolate box top Jesus, you know the one that always looks so angelic and would never do anything to harm anybody. Well last week he was taking to people with a whip that is not the deed of a meek, mild, type person that is someone who is showing some anger, some fury at how the people were being mistreated by the Temple, that was an angry Jesus dispersing the injustice of the Temple – but His deeds were not done in darkness. His deed was done in the Light because remember what St. John says – their deeds can be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God. So even when Jesus is acting in righteous anger and is clearing the Temple of the evil being performed there in the fact that they were ripping off the people he is doing it in the light he is not hiding away in the dark.

So when we think about the Serpent on the bronze pole …
Digress for one second.

There are people who think they can find evidence of Biblical things like Noah’s Ark, I think there is a man who says he has found it. There is an American man out there who thinks he has found the Ark of the Covenant buried under Temple mount. The Ethiopians will tell you they have got it in one of their little temples but you can’t go in to it because it is not allowed. People go looking for the archaeology of the Bible but I haven’t heard of anyone going looking for the Bronze Serpent though. But I wonder that if the Drug Companies found it that it wouldn't stay lost forever? I can’t imagine that the Drug Companies would just want people looking at the Bronze Serpent and getting healed. There will be no money for them and I suspect that they will be taking the bronze serpent and putting it in a box somewhere – and what will they be doing?

THEY WILL BE DOING THAT DEED IN THE DARK! They won't be doing that deed in the light because how will they make money out of that?

Remember that we are taking about the Covenants made with Abraham the covenants made with the people on Sinai, about the Covenant that was made with us through Christ.

In the old days the covenants were marked by a blood sacrifice, you sacrifice an animal you set it aside, you chop it in half and you walk up and down the middle of it; you and the people making the Covenant both walk up and down that middle of it and that makes the covenant valid.

Remember when He made a covenant with Abraham God walked up and down the path between the animals twice, the Scriptures says that a smoking fire pot went up and down twice. God was making the covenant with Abraham because what He said to Abraham was “I will make a covenant with you and even if you break the covenant then I will keep the covenant” so he undertook to pay for the Blood Sacrifice because that would happen, if you broke a blood covenant you had to pay for it with blood. That’s how it works, right? So, when the covenant was broken and we broke the covenant and not God, when we broke the covenant by not following God’s Law God said “O.K. so you have broken the covenant but I still will honour the covenant I made with you, Christ will come, I will come as Christ and I will atone through blood.”

That is why Christ dies on the cross because he is atoning for the blood Covenant God made with Abraham, why is He doing that? Because He loved the world, it is not an act of condemnation or punishment it is an act of Love – strange to think which is why you hear me at Easter the Cross in an object of Love not torture and death.

Recorded and transcribed by br. Andrew at Maroubra

Do We Really Want To See Jesus?

“Moses said to YHWH, “But, never in my life have I been a man of eloquence,
either before or since you have spoken to your servant.” Ex 4:10

LENT 5B: Do We Really Want To See Jesus? 

All of our lectionary readings for this Sunday make it difficult for me to choose which to develop. So I will go for Jeremiah and John. The prophet Jeremiah (31:31-34) reveals God’s new covenant with the people. Unlike that of Sinai, it will be written on each person’s heart. With the law written on the heart each person can act instinctively in God’s ways. They could live out the covenantal requirements with exterior acts that flow from a heart turned to God. “I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts.” God still seems to be writing on people’s hearts from every race, religion and nation. How many good people have we known, or heard about, who have given their lives to help others? The doctors and nurses who went to Africa to help Ebola patients or to war zones come to mind. They left their comfortable homes, careers and family, risking their lives to help others. Some out of religious conviction, others not. They just wanted to serve others in severe need. What could stir each of them to make such sacrifices? I believe that it is God who writes on our hearts and transforms them to be Christ-like.

In John's gospel (12:20-33) we see the still-writing-God at work in the Greeks who went to Philip and asked, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus?” As John was writing his gospel Christians were being persecuted and martyred as the consequence of professing their faith in Christ. So, John links the sufferings Christians must bear in their lives and the glory that awaits them as he records the words of Jesus who said; “I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat. But if it dies it produces much fruit.” Jesus was not just referring to gardening. Martyrdom is a reality for all Christian generations. Archbishop Oscar Romero, the martyred bishop of El Salvador, soon to be a saint was killed by wealthy land owners and military people who called him a communist. “Unless the grain of wheat dies....” Sr. Dorothy Stang worked for 30 years as a tireless advocate for the poor of Brazil. She was opposed and threatened by the ruthless land owners who were stripping the Amazon rainforest and displacing the peasants. As her assassins approached her on an isolated road she pulled out her Bible and read aloud from the Beatitudes. They shot her. “Unless the grain of wheat dies….” The movie “Selma” reminds us of the brave women and men who marched with Dr. King 50 years ago from Selma to Montgomery. On March 7, 1955, “Bloody Sunday,” at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, many were beaten by the police. In that same month Rev. James Reeb, a Unitarian Universalist minister one of the marchers, was murdered. “Unless the grain of wheat dies….”
There are many different forms of martyrdom. A martyr is one who accepts the sacrifices and pain which come from being faithful to Christ and his ways. Jesus invited his disciples to take up the cross and follow him. He challenges each of us to make choices that might be painful or costly. What can I give to those who lack; what will I not do in my work and social life to witness my faith; how much of my time and resources go to my church and community; whom will I defend when my companions label or stereotype those who are different? Jesus has modelled for us the costs of being faithful to God’s will. “Yet what should I say, ‘Father save me from this hour?’ But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour.” If we want, Christ in us will enable us to die to our will and seek after God's will.

Those who came to Philip wanted to see Jesus in the flesh. For John “seeing” symbolises coming to faith. John is suggesting that outsiders were hoping to “see,” come to believe in Jesus. In his own lifetime Jesus’ ministry was almost exclusively confined to his own people. The Greeks who came asking to see Jesus represent the Gentile world - all people. How would they come to believe in Jesus? Jesus said, “And when I am lifted up, I will draw ALL to myself.” Jesus is no longer in the world in the flesh; but we are. Through our words and works, people will come to “see” Jesus through us. On this fifth Sunday of Lent, before we enter the week of Christ's passion, let us take the time to pray with our - new covenant heart's - that others may come to "see" Jesus in us and in the Christian community.

Night Time Talk about Day Time Truth

“Moses said to YHWH, “But, never in my life have I been a man of eloquence,
either before or since you have spoken to your servant.” Ex 4:10

Lent 4B: Night Time Talk about Day Time Truth

We are half way through Lent, but our Scriptures are looking ahead to Good Friday, when Jesus the “Son of Man” will be “lifted up.” The phrase 'lifted up' comes from the Book of Numbers (21:4-9), when the Israelites grumbled against Moses in the desert they were punished by bites from poisonous snakes. To help them God instructed Moses to make a bronze snake and place it on a pole and “lift it up.” Anyone bitten by a snake needed only to 'look' at it to be healed. That healing snake on a pole prefigured Jesus Christ and became a symbol of salvation. As Jesus says to Nicodemus in the gospel for this Sunday (John 3:14-21), “The Son Of Man must be 'lifted up', so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” John uses "looking” as a symbol for faith. So, to “look” on Jesus is to have faith in him and to “have eternal life” (eternal life is in - the present tense - for the believer it begins now).

Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night. Possibly, he wanted a quiet time with Jesus. Maybe because he did not want others to see him associate with Jesus or maybe he is a symbol of the world in darkness to the truth of who Jesus is. Nicodemus seems to have accepted the light offered to him because later in the gospel he will speak on behalf of Jesus and purchase spices for his burial. This great conversation is filled with faith and judgment. God is making a revelation to the whole world, that everyone, who “lives the truth” and “comes to the light,” will eternal life. The passage reflects the experience of the gospel writer’s community. Not everyone responded to God’s grace and accepted the offer God made in Jesus as “people preferred darkness to light.” John's time seems to be a lot like our own. This would have caused discouragement in the early Christian community, just as similar discouraging events cause pessimism and discouragement in the church today. However, Jesus is the light to the world and his life a revelation of God to all. We believers, are to be light bearers whose deeds bear witness to truth and God.

John has a tendency to use words and phrases that have double meanings. The term “lifted up” refers to his death on the cross. It also means his resurrection from the dead and his being raised to glory at God’s right hand. So, those who look to Jesus upon the cross are not only healed of sin, but receive the same eternal life that Jesus has now. John also provides us with the famous verse, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but have eternal life.” Believers repeat this phrase not as a slogan, but as a word of truth and assurance. When we have sinned, or realize our deeds have not reflected the light of God, this verse offers prayerful assurance for us. It is a prayer of confidence in God’s love and assurance that we can be forgiven, not through any merit of ours, but because we can look upon the One who was raised up on the cross and so we can come out of the darkness of sin to the light of Christ and his love.

Our daily headline news affirms, that many choose deeds of darkness, yet, God’s love without limits is there for an undeserving world. God does not just love the good people of the world, or the chosen over the rest. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection is for all the world. If this is true then we cannot look upon anyone as unlovable, for they have been embraced by Christ as he stretched out his arms on the cross. Even those who openly reject him, or are preoccupied by their own ego plans, are still loved by God. Like the Israelites in the desert who turned their back on God and suffered correction. God still loved them and offered them healing if they 'looked' upon the serpent Moses raised up on the pole. 'Looking' implies seeing with the eyes of faith. So with faith we look at an image of Christ on the cross to see the way God sees and loves. We can see the unlovable and sinners with love. We can see hope in situations that others call hopeless. We can see Christ in the stranger and the neglected. We can see eternal life in our sacramental rituals: the pouring of water (Baptism), the breaking of bread and shared cup of wine (Eucharist), an anointing with oil (Sacrament of the Sick) and a word of forgiveness (Sacrament of Reconciliation). We can see because Christ was been lifted up on the cross. The cross continues to reveal God to us, as one who shares our joy, pain and our death. God has joined us in our lowest moments of life to raise us up to newness of life. Jesus, has been “lifted up” and NOW we look upon him for “eternal life” which has already begun for us.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

3rd Sunday in Lent 2015 - Br Simeon

Andre-Rublev's Saviour

Homily preached by Br. Simeon vat Blaxland on Sunday 8th March 2015:

Gospel:  John 2:13-22

“Zeal for the Father's house”.

May I speak in the Name of the One God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit . Amen.

Isn't the gospel account of Jesus cleansing the temple amazing? It stands in stark contrast to many popular notions of Jesus' character. Here is no picture of a gentle, soft-spoken Jesus calmly confronting the religious establishment with authoritative teaching and divine wisdom. Rather, here Jesus appears with His sleeves rolled up ready for a fight. After making His very own whip, He charges through the heart of the religious establishment striking forcefully and aggressively at a religious system that has become skewed. Imagine it! Jesus is opening pens and cages of oxen, sheep, and doves with one hand, while, with a whip of cords in the other hand, He is driving animals and people alike into confusion and retreat.

The temple is the focus of today’s Gospel.  Whereas the Synoptic Gospels place Jesus’ cleansing of the temple immediately after his Palm Sunday entrance into Jerusalem, John places the event early in his Gospel, following Jesus’ first sign at Cana. While the synoptics recount only one climactic journey to Jerusalem, the Jesus of John’s Gospel makes several trips to the holy city.

Pilgrims to the temple were expected to make a donation for the upkeep and expenses of the edifice.  Because Roman currency was considered “unclean,” Jewish visitors had to change their money into Jewish currency in order to make their temple gift. Money-changers, whose tables lined the outer courts of the temple, charged exorbitant fees for their service.

Visiting worshippers who wished to have a sacrifice offered on the temple altar would sometimes have to pay 15 to 20 times the market rate for animals purchased inside the temple.  Vendors could count on the cooperation of the official temple “inspectors” who, as a matter of course, would reject as “unclean” or “imperfect” animals brought in from outside the temple.

Jesus’ angry toppling of the vendors’ booths and tables is a condemnation of the injustice and exploitation of the faithful in the name of God. So empty and meaningless has their worship become that God will establish a new “temple” in the resurrected body of the Christ.

Of course, the leaders and people do not appreciate the deeper meaning of Jesus’ words, nor did the people who witnessed his miracles understand the true nature of his Messianic mission.  John’s closing observations in this reading, point to the fact that the full meaning of many of Jesus’ words and acts were understood only later, in the light of his resurrection.

In the temple precincts of our lives are “money changers” and connivers -- fear, ambition, addictions, selfishness, prejudice -- that distort the meaning of our lives and debase our relationships with God and with one another.
The action of Jesus in the Temple challenges our understanding of his character, our business ethics and our religious practices. He was not kind and gentle that day. He offended people by threatening their income, social status, and religious practices. He risked his life because a righteous anger burned within his soul.
The issues were too important. He could not accept a religion that oppressed people. He would not tolerate a faith that took advantage of others or one that excluded others. With the crack of a whip, he drove the money changers from the temple. 
Lent is a time to invite the “anger” Jesus of today’s Gospel into our lives to drive out those things that make our lives less than what God created them to be. To raise one’s voice against injustice, to stand up before the powerful on behalf of the weak, to demand accountability of those who exploit and abuse others for their own gain is to imitate the “holy” anger of Christ.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Loving Words and Strong Actions

“Moses said to YHWH, “But, never in my life have I been a man of eloquence,
either before or since you have spoken to your servant.” Ex 4:10

Lent 3B: Loving Words and Strong Actions

 This Sundays scripture readings could make some people feel uncomfortable. The first from Exodus (20: 1-17) contains what is usually called "The Ten Commandments." In the Hebrew text they are not called "Commandments," but the "Ten Words." Our spiritual ancestors saw them not so much as laws and regulations, but more as a guide to understanding the will of God. They tell us what God rejects and what we should as well. The 'Ten Words' don't cover a lot of everyday life; instead, they deal with situations, like idolatry, murder and violation of property. They are a light to guide our journey with God and our neighbour. We observe them not to earn God's pleasure, but to know the direction our lives should take, so as to live as God's holy covenant people.

The second difficult reading for some is from the gospel of John (2:13-25) which reveals an angry Jesus "cleansing the Temple" at the beginning of his ministry. The passage shows Jesus fulfilling the prophetic hopes of the ancient prophets. The prophets Malachi (3:14) and Zechariah (14: 1-21) had anticipated the messianic age when God would "suddenly" come the Temple to "purify and cleanse it." Jesus' true messianic ministry will overturn the religious laws and drive out greed, hypocrisy and the crippling legalism in religious practice. He was going to establish the new and holy temple of his body. In this new body, God and humanity would be able to meet and enter into a new relationship.

The scene of the cleaning, takes place in the outer courts of the Gentiles, where animals were sold for the Passover feast to about 300,000 thousand pilgrims who had travelled to Jerusalem. The moneychangers would exchange foreign coins for the acceptable Temple ones. They were known to defraud or scam people in the exchange for the 'sanctuary shekel'. In a subtle touch John describes Jesus as having a milder attitude towards the sellers of doves which were the offerings of the poor. The anger of Jesus here is not motivated by self-interest but by a healthy holy righteousness.

In reality Jesus will replace the Temple built by Herod, with himself. Jesus says; "Destroy this sanctuary (temple) and in three days I will raise it up." The religious authorities did not understand his words. John makes it clear that "He was speaking of the sanctuary that was his body ..." So, where will people now go for a full and welcome reception by God? To Jesus, whose resurrected body will be that new temple. Later in the gospel Jesus will offer himself as a new 'Passover Meal' through which we can share fully in his resurrection life (6:30ff). When we eat the body and drink the blood of the Lord we become aware of our need for forgiveness and the cleansing. The risen Lord enters our lives, forgives our sins, cleansing us so we can give fitting worship to our God. Through boundary-breaking Jesus, the "temple raised up" in three days, we have been given forgiveness and freedom. We don't receive these gifts of grace because we have followed and kept perfect rituals, but because we are loved by a jealous God.

Jesus' angry actions might make some of us uncomfortable. Sometimes the gentle images of Jesus as the healing man of compassion, risk making him seem too soft. But today's depiction shows us how the strong convicted Jesus could ruffle the Jewish religious and Roman authorities. In the temple cleaning we confront our temptation to turn Jesus into a manageable deity. The cleansing of the temple is a warning against any and every false sense of security. Misplaced values, religious presumption, pathetic selfish excuses, smug self-reliance, spiritual complacency, nationalist zeal, political idolatry, and economic greed are only some of the tables that Jesus would overturn in his own day and in ours. What was it, apart from the money changers and merchants, that stirred Jesus' anger? Perhaps it was the fact that the Temple was not open equally to ALL PEOPLE. If this is true then Jesus' attitude, challenges the openness and hospitality of our places of worship? Do we lack "zeal" for our worship community? Our goal should be to make our personal and communal lives true "houses of prayer", places of generous welcome and prayer for ALL peoples, like the zealous Jesus desires. A place where we can worship God in 'Spirit and in Truth'. May we continue to 'follow him'.

2nd Sunday in Lent - Br. Luke

Andre-Rublev's Saviour

Homily preached by Br. Luke at Blaxland on Sunday 1st March 2015:

Second Sunday of Lent


There is so much to focus on in today’s readings.  But I’d like to begin in Genesis.  There is Abraham and Sarah in their old age, not having any children and there is God saying to them I will make you fruitful, you will… “I will make you multitudes of people from your descendants”

It’s not a surprise really that later in the scriptures we read that Sarah laughs. God says he will make many Nations from their descendants.  Menopause had well and truly come and gone for Sarah.  But there is God making this promise that from you will come a multitude of nations.  Oh my goodness, the power of God.
I am really partial to that story in Genesis, however I am going to be naughty and go straight to Romans.

Paul’s letter to the Romans is a very good one, it is full of Theology. Paul is writing very early Christian Theology. In all he says it is a Theology of Life, and he is teaching people how to live a Christian life. Remember he was a very very, We have to remember that Paul was a very Orthodox Jew, he was a Pharisee, highly experienced in the Jewish Law. He knew all about the scriptures, which is why we when read the scriptures they say he ‘opened the Scriptures and showed them. He could do that; he had an innate knowledge of the scriptures. So he draws the parallels and talks about Abraham and Sarah.

I want to talk about that passage from Mark because it is one of those passages where we may get a little bit alarmed if I can use that term. Now here is Peter, the premier disciple, the first disciple, the rock on which Jesus said he would build the church.  I have always had a very soft spot for Peter because Peter is always putting his foot in it, he is always doing probably what I would do. So I have a very soft spot for Peter.

But here he is where Jesus is saying the Son of Man is going to be crucified, Peter says ‘No! no; you’re the Messiah, that is not going to happen to you!’ What does Jesus do? He says get behind me Satan. He chastises Peter. He says to the Premier disciple, Get out of here! What you are saying is human. You are thinking as a person. You are not thinking about the Mission that I have been sent to do. The Mission is from God.
I have always loved the line from the film, The Blues Brothers. “I’m on a Mission from God”. And that’s what Jesus is on, a Mission from God. So Peter is distracting from that purpose, but he says no no no no; wait, you’re the Messiah – that can’t happen to you.

And then Jesus goes on and makes that very complicated and confusing statement “Those who want to save their life will lose it and those who lose their life for my sake and for the sake of the gospel will save it. (Mark 8:35) What, does that mean? And that equally complicated gospel passage “if any want to become my followers let them deny themselves take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34).

The cross is an instrument of torture, that’s how the Romans killed criminals, it wasn’t just Jesus.  Pilate was horrendous in terms of what he did. There were thousands of people of people he crucified. He was a particularly nasty bloke. Romans were a bloodthirsty people.  There was no forgiveness there.

So here is Jesus’s saying if you want to follow me, deny yourself and take up your cross and follow me.  To do what- after all the cross is a nasty way to die. And those who lose their life will save it”.  This is very complicated.  What is he saying to them? What he is saying them to is if you want to be a follower of mine you are going to have to focus now on the things of the world, but on the things that are divine. He is making a distinction between our physical lives and our spiritual lives.  Those who lose their lives will save it you will be saved in the Resurrection, in the life Everlasting. Right!

Remember, Jesus talks about life eternal, so he is taking that passage and saying if you lose your life in this life, you will gain your life in the future.  Does this make sense?  It’s the same words but he’s using a different context.

Take up your Cross. What is a cross? I’ve said before, it is an instrument of torture – but it is also a burden or an affliction of some description and that’s the cross that we carry.  That’s a burden that we carry.

Now we are in Lent, and traditionally Lent is about giving up things.  It’s about penance. Preparing ourselves for Easter.  And what is the major event of Easter?  It’s is not the crucifixion.  The major message of Easter is not his death, it’s his Resurrection. That the message of Easter.  It is the defeat of death.  You lose your life, Jesus dies on the cross, but he rose again and you will save your life. See how the message flows through the Scriptures.

And when we stop and say, well, what is our cross? It can be as simple as having to do something you don’t want to do.  Going to work every day, especially in a job you don’t like doing.  Or for some individuals it’s a disability or an addiction, or their mental health.  It’s a cross they carry.

Our cross is something we carry every day. Jesus tells us what will it profit us if we gain the whole world, but lose our life. That being a Christian is a cross we will carry. He tells us that being Christian will be difficult.  We know that by following him when our physical lives end, we will be with God in eternity. That’s what he means when he says to them you will save your life.

And finally “Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:38). So that’s the sting in tail isn’t it? If you are ashamed of me, if you don’t really want anyone to know that you profess to be Christian, then you’re being ashamed of me.  You know what’s going to happen.  When I come back, then I’m going to be ashamed of you.  Because you’re not being true to the message.  You’re not being true to what you are called to do.

And you hear me say this all the time: what’s the message of the Gospel?  The message of the gospel is love.  John right in the beginning of his gospel.  What did he write? “God so loved the world.”  “God is love.”  Jesus says when asked, “What is the greatest commandment?”  Love the Lord your God will all your heart; with all soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. As a second is like it, love your neighbour and yourself, on this hang all the law and the prophets. The first is very hard. Make no mistake about it.  And loving your neighbour as yourself? That is the biggest cross that Christians have.  If we stop and think about loving our neighbour, because there are times when we say to ourselves: “I really don’t like that person!”  Or we say to ourselves about the other person, “why don’t you just go away?”  The Christian message says no, we have to love the lot.


Recorded and transcribed –  at Maroubra by br. Andrew