The Art of Celebration

Luke 19: 28-40

Why waste your breath, moaning at the crowd?
Nothing can be done to stop the shouting.
If every tongue was still the noise would still continue
The rocks and stones themselves would start to sing.

Whether you hear it in these words from JX Superstar
or in the words of Luke’s gospel, it sounds like he is bragging, doesn’t it.

Leaving aside the horrendous pun of rock bands,
do you recall examples of rocks getting involved in a time of praise?

It’s probably lucky that the triumphal entry didn’t head past Uluru
or take a swing past Katajuta
because if they got shouting and singing
we’d probably still be hearing the echoes 2000 years later

Maybe it’s the echo that becomes important here.
I’ve mentioned before that one image I love
is that God has sung creation into existence
and what bounces back, in tune with God, is the echo of praise.

 When done at its best, an object may not just echo the sound
but may develop resonance –
when the object itself vibrates in tune with the original sound

 And the Palm Sunday event (with or without palms!)
certainly seems to have raised enough energy to get an echo going.
But we also know that the cries, the shouts, changed over the next days.

It’s nothing new to recognise that “Hosanna” became “Crucify”, is it?
And while we don’t see or hear any literal echo on Palm Sunday
(maybe it is because the disciples didn’t keep quiet)
I think we do get an echo from the rocks later in the week.

Early on the Friday morning, the shouts became shouts of “crucify him”
and only a few hours later as the world went silent
the rocks and stones joined in those shouts with a stunning echo
As the earth shook, and darkness descended.

The way we live and our emotions and reactions become infectious
whether they are in tune with Hosannas or in tune with cries of Crucify.

Celebration is transformative –
as long as we let it infect us and not just grab us for a moment.
It is healing and refreshing to cultivate a wide appreciation for life.

When we overwork we become weary.
When we neglect exercise we become lethargic.
When we constantly strain for God, we become spiritually exhausted
When we ignore the spirit, we become inwardly dull.

 But if we manage to live with the perspective of celebrating life
we can relax and enjoy;   we can keep life in perspective

And we can be reminded that we are no better (or worse) than others –
for in the words of the great prophet Ben Lee “we are all in this together”

A writer called Harvey Cox has recently written
Our celebrative and imaginative faculties have atrophied.
Once, visionaries were canonized and mystics were admired
Now they are  studied, smiled at – or possibly just committed.

On that first  Palm Sunday,
the crowds were visionary and mystical in their celebrations
They celebrated “peace in heaven and glory to God.”

I wonder what might have happened
if they had kept singing long enough and loud enough
for that echo to keep going
or for the rocks and stones, and all of creation,
to vibrate in resonance with “peace and glory”

I wonder what our households may sound like
if the art of celebration was practised well enough
that they resonated as truly “Healthy Households”.

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Healthy Households – showing affection

John 12: 1-8

Introverts don’t necessarily like this passage much.
Nor do those of us who prefer to play our emotional cards a little close to our chest
And if there is any British stock in us, or if we are Aussie males
then this passage is best left “out there” or even preferably “back there” –
Distant.  History.
But let’s wander in and see where we get.
Because this passage is not about the anointing of Jesus’ head
at Simon’s house  by a woman of dubious moral standing.
This is in Mary, Martha, and their brother Lazarus’s house;
this woman is a close friend
And that makes it worse!

If we wander into this story in John, where do we get the first hint of love?
It’s a trick question, actually.  Because the first hint at love is before this passage
The context of this story
is that it is hot on the heels of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead
And in the story of Lazarus’s raising,
the love between Jesus and this family is spelled out clearly.
The actions of Mary are in the context of a strong relationship.
It is not a one-sided action of a besotted woman
to a Messiah who happens to pass by the house.
But in some ways that sort of makes the story stranger, doesn’t it.
Jesus knows that Mary loves him.
And – let’s point it out – this is in front of friends.  This is weird, isn’t it?
And in the face of the weird, let the protests begin!
For all the flack that Judas cops in this story
(and it’s there in John’s sidenote in the text)
he really does speak for many many others.
This is uncomfortable.  I am uncomfortable 
And I will find a good reason to object: I know – “THE POOR”
But if we can back up beyond our uncomfortableness at this act –
or maybe at the thought of this act happening at a dinner party we might go to –
is there anything to notice and to learn?

Do we notice that the devotion and the love appears to be two sided and not just obsessive?

  • Do we notice that it involves extravagant generosity:
                 by one person in the cost of the ointment;
                 by the other in the caring for a brother in a way that is going to get himself killed;
  • Do we notice that it is about specific time being set aside to enjoy the moment;
  • Do we notice that it is about physical touch as one carrier of love
  • Do we notice that it is about a person being defended and affirmed when under attack
  • And do we notice that there is an act of service that is being the immediate moment as well?

Where do you reckon that Mary got the ointment from?
Do you notice what sort of ointment it is, or what it is used for?
Remember this is hot on the heels of Lazarus dying and being raised from the dead.
And ointment – is used to anoint the dead body.
In other tellings of similar stories in gospels, Jesus is anointed on his head.
Kings get anointed on their heads.
But this one is the anointing of his feet.  
Whose feet get anointed?? Dead men.
There is something about deep love that always points beyond itself,
and even beyond the “now”
And there is something about deep love that invites others to follow.
When Jesus gets one step closer to his death in this gospel – just 6 days later –
he does something for his friends before they eat their last meal.
Remember what it is?
He washes their feet.   Strangely reminiscent of this story
Deep love always makes its mark.

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“Ouchi” “Alla”


“I am not a number”  
Has anyone here seen “The Prisoner” from the 1960s?
It looks like it was stunningly high quality in its set designs etc
Railing against dehumanisation
Like “1984”, Like “The Truman Show” and of course, like “The Matrix”!
Reducing people to numbers, statistics and objects.
“I am not a number”

But it could also be the cry of the people living in Darfur, or Marysville
or Concepcion, or who were in Duffy in Jan 2003 or the Twin Towers in 2001
And it could have been the cry of the Galileans referred to in Luke 13
or those killed by the Tower of Siloam.

I am not a number, I am not an object.
Turning people who are suffering, into numbers is an ungodly act
And just as Jesus points out in this week’s passage blaming people for the suffering is also an ungodly act:
         it misunderstands not only the character of God
         but the relationship between God and the creation

We know – in fact we are all too aware –
that making a link between suffering and some form of sin is common.
We have heard it about the bush fires and Hurricanes
we have heard it about earthquakes and diseases.
And Jesus heard it about massacres and falling towers – and blind people

We shouldn’t hide from the fact that there are some quick and easy answers
that are recorded as part of the canon of scripture.

Deuteronomy, some of the Psalms, some of the Proverbs, and some of Paul
can all be read as supporting the idea that if you do good then good happens
and if bad happens, then it is because of evil in life.

But it is not a good enough response.  Whether it is in scripture or not.
That’s partially why Job and Ruth were written. That’s why we get Lamentations
And that’s why whenever Jesus was asked the question he was very clear:
“Do you think that this suffering was because of sin or evil in their life?
Ouchi’  Jesus says.
By no means.  Not at all.  Are you kidding me?

So, why is the idea still around?
Because blaming the victim tends to make us safe.
It makes us safe by denying a sense of the random in the universe
It makes us safe by keeping an all powerful God who is not arbitrary.
In fact we can be so keen to defend this secure understanding of God and life
that we are prepared to blame ourselves, even when it doesn’t make sense.
So, is this the way to hold on to God and make sense of life

         ‘Ouchi’  By no means.  Not at all.  Are you kidding me?

God is not a vending machine where if you put in enough good
and then push the faith “on” button then good comes out.

         ‘Ouchi’  By no means.  Not at all.  Are you kidding me?

But what of the next sentence:  Unless you repent, you too will die?
Generally, our problem is that we read the “repent or die” sentence
without really taking on board what Jesus has already said

         ‘Ouchi’  By no means.  Not at all.  Are you kidding me?

“Change your whole way of trying to make sense of suffering and hurt”
If we read Jesus’ second sentence as meaning
“If you don’t fix YOUR ways, then God will blot you GOOD”
then we haven’t actually changed anything at all except moved the focus to us

Too often, far too often, we think of the idea of repentence
as being about going through life with a set of tweezers
finding all the morally negative and “sinful” things and pulling them out
Why?  Because if we don’t we’re off to punishment.

         ‘Ouchi’  By no means.  Not at all.  Are you kidding me?

Already in Luke’s gospel it is really clear that Jesus believes
that God is about life.  Life in healing, in liberty, in non-oppression, in justice.

Repentence for Jesus in Luke is about turning TO the nature of God
because in turning to this nature, we experience what God is all about.
That’s why when Jesus starts his second sentence he uses “Alla”
“To the contrary…”  “On the other hand altogether…”
He is not linking the two ideas, he is disconnecting them.

Suffering is not about finding someone to blame
either to make us feel more superior to them, or to save our image of God.
In fact, change your way of thinking altogether to the opposite

Turn in your life to the life-giving nature of God
a nature which is revealed in healing and wholeness
a nature which is demonstrated in compassion for the suffering
a nature which is manifest in liberation and justice
turn to that nature, or else, you will actually be stuck in death.
A living death even now.

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28 February 2010

Luke 13: 31-35

It’s not often that such depth of emotion and being pulled in different directions
are crammed into such a short passage.
A confrontation between different ways of exercising power
(in fact totally different ways of understanding what power is);
Jesus identifying himself with centuries of prophets
an expression of the image of God that is counter to the more traditional “Father” view
an offering of open love and care
and a heartfelt lament expressing the pain of when love is rejected
All of that in 5 sentences and 100 words.  That’s pretty intense writing!
In fact there is so much in it, that we are not even going to attempt to cover it all today.
But out of all the things that we can look at in this passage
I invite us to think about three aspects
and then to listen and to feel
which of them is most significant for us today
Firstly –  how we think of power.
Jesus is pretty forthright in his contrast between his expression of power
            which is demonatrated in freeing people and nurturing people
and the expression of power that Herod is threatening:
             bullying, controlling and ultimately killing
Fox like or hen like?
Pushing and determining the way that someone’s life should be lived for our sake
or offering and embracing so that our life may be lived for someone else’s
It’s never that clear is it.   But there is an undercurrent;  an approach
Is today’s issue for you the way you think of – or act with – power and influence
Or maybe, the area for us today
is how we are open to receiving the care that is offered by others.
Are we the chicks who are being offered nurture, but we wont let it happen?
Sometimes for many of us the hardest thing to do
is to receive care and nurture from others
We can think of it as interfering, or assuming something less of us
Maybe it’s a matter of pride for us.
Maybe it is threatening for us to allow someone to go beyond the solid surface.
Or is today a day of lamentation?
In a real sense, Lent and lament go together
Lent is a time to be in touch with the reality of life, including its pain.
And one of the more profoundly moving expressions of pain
that we see in the life of Jesus is the pain when care and love is rejected.
Jesus is taking really seriously why he believes he is living
We stopped briefly last week when contemplating the temptations,
to think about our identity – who are we and why are we here
And in today’s passage, Jesus weeps at the idea
that who he believes he truly is, and what he is called to be
is being hindered by the very people he is here to love and gather.
Suzanne Guthrie –  a meditative writer, puts it like this
If you have ever loved someone you could not protect,

then you understand the depth of Jesus’ lament.
All you can do is open your arms.
You cannot make anyone walk into them.
Meanwhile, this is the most vulnerable posture in the world —
wings spread, breast exposed —
but if you mean what you say, then this is how you stand. …
Now that may be how you stand when offering that love
but the reality is that it hurts when it is not received.
And I don’t think I have met someone yet
who has not experienced that hurt
So for you today may be the day to acknowledge that hurt
and to see how it is that it will not hold you back
“Jerusalemn, Jerusalem
How I long to gather you as a mother hen gathers its chicks
But you would not let me” …

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When I’m calling you …

Luke 5: 1-11

I caught a fish once.   Just once.
I was about 8 and my mum took me fishing. 
I think it was in the Royal National Park.
Just a hand line dropped in to the river,
and not all that long after up came the line and fish
It was about the size of my two hands together.
But because I was an 8 year old, my hands weren’t that big,
and the fish went back.

I have fished probably about 20 times since that first time
Off a wharf, off a boat, off the beach, off rocks
and I have done my best for the environment
and not ever run the risk of overfishing the waters.

Not once did a wise teacher come past
and tell me that it would be better to fish over there
I wonder if I would have listened.
I wonder why on earth Simon listened.
He was a professional fisherman and was working all night with professionals
and then a carpenter told him where to put the nets down.
The carpenter didn’t even know enough
to realise that the nets they were cleaning were trammel nets
and because they were made of linen
They were very easily seen by fish during the day,
and were only used at night.

I wonder if Luke has edited – or censored – the words that Simon really used.

Who knows what happened next.  
Luke borrows from a story that John also uses –
though John uses it after the resurrection
You work out whether the fishy part of the story is meant to be understood literally
or whether the story is laced with symbol from the early church
where the Greek word for fish – icthys –
spoke of Jesus and was a sign for Christianity.

Luke takes us into the world of response.
Just as the focus of the story seems to be
 what goes on between Jesus and Simon (as a follower)
then I don’t think the importance of the story
is about the catch threatening to sink the ship.

We are now in Luke chapter 5.   
We have had the announcement, the birth, Jesus’ ancestry,
Jesus has gone to the temple as a youth
he has been baptised,
proclaimed the purpose of his mission,
been threatened with death
driven out evil spirits,
healed Simon’s mother in law
and gone out teaching

And it takes Simon’s response to Jesus in this story before the concept of “sin”
gets a look in with anything to do with Jesus at all.
And it is Simon who raises it – not Jesus.

Simon doesn’t have a perfect track record in life –
either before this story (from the sound of things)
or afterwards (from what we read).
Maybe the nickname “Peter” – “stone” can suggest to us “rocky” as it is “solid”.
Simon knows he doesn’t have it all together.

But that doesn’t seem to phase Jesus at all.
No hint of punishment, or of suggesting he should go and get his act together
before he does anything in terms of following in the way of Jesus.
Simon says “I have things in life I am unhappy with”

Jesus says “I need some help” –
Sure, there are things that need work,
but don’t make yourself the centre of the focus here

Already Jesus has gone into Simon’s personal space – his home
He has got involved in his relationships –
   affecting his mother in law, and, presumably, wife
He has got involved in his economic or public life – his boat
He has affected the way that Simon earns a living
He has got Simon to push out a bit into a space that is for Simon, safe territory,
     a bit out from the shore, and in that safe territory he has “taught”

And the Jesus has told Simon to go out into the deep:   go the whole hog, so to speak.

Heading into the deep is a scary time,
and Simon’s first reaction when encountering God in the deep part of life is to be afraid.

But Jesus keeps bringing him back to the bigger picture, the deeper point.
I’m not going to stand here and point out the things that are wrong in life, Simon
that’s not what I am interested in.
We have more important things to be concerned with
 than layers of guilt and feelings of inadequacy:  don’t let them hold you back

We have real fishing to do.

But there is just one extra quirk in the passage.
Already the passage has been talking about catching fish,
but the word that Jesus uses isn’t the word that was used to catch the great haul.
That form of catching meant death to the fish, so they could be consumed.
Jesus uses a word that means to catch and keep alive.

Jesus’ ministry is always about life, not targets.

Has there been for you an encounter with Jesus in your personal space?  Your home?
Has there been some way that Jesus has affected relationships – family or friends?
What are the ways that Jesus impacts on your economic life
    or the way that you are living in public?
How have you been asked to take a little step into safe waters
    and heard the impact of God there?

Now is it time to head into the deep?

For all the feelings of unworthiness or unpreparedness, even guilt and shame
Jesus looks far beyond those, ready to empower us for who we can become.

Imperfect, distant from God at times,
able to point out all the things that aren’t right with us?
We can do that.   And we do.

And God calls us to something more important that the things that hold us back
– the life that is in store for us and for others.

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