Saturday, 30 March 2013

Easter Communion

Fresh from the tomb
Jesus greets you in love
With wounds just beginning to form scabs
Jesus stretches out his arms and beckons
Signalling that all are welcome at his table
So come with trepidation as Mary did
Or running as Peter did
And meet the risen Christ
Holding out bread and wine
for you.

Communion Thanksgiving
Risen Christ
you meet us here in bread and wine
You listen to our stories
of journeys we have shared
and the folk we have met on the way
You draw out our laughter
and dry our tears
and you walk with us along the way
And still, after all you have done,
you offer more
- yourself
broken, bruised, battered,
but risen and made new.
We don't know how
but we know why -
Out of infinite love
you keep on giving more
until we are ready
to pick up the pace with you.
Your infinite love is matched
by infinite patience
as you slow your stride
or wait awhile
to let us catch up.
So thank you
for bringing resurrection
into our everyday.
We pray, Risen Lord
for those children
you squat beside,
those you lie down with
because they are so broken by life
that they cannot stand up.
We pray for places in our world
that are as dark and foreboding
as Calvary.
Risen Christ
you came to change the world.
To bring healing
To bring hope.
To bring peace.
And you entrust us with that mission.
So help us, with a resurrection spring in our step
to find out where and how
you want us to serve
and get on with the mission
that you make possible
because you are alive in us.
Send your Spirit on these gifts
of bread and wine,
symbols of your body broken
and your blood shed for us.
As we share in this feast
may we know communion
with you, Risen Lord,
with each other
and with the world
that you call us to serve.

Prayer after Communion
Risen Lord Jesus
As we travel on
nourished by the food
of your rising again
may we be conscious of you
journeying beside us,
wedged into every space we inhabit
butting into all our conversations
resting with us when we begin to weary
energising us to keep hope alive.
And wherever we are
may we show the risen Lord
alive in us
today and always.

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Sunday, 24 March 2013

Donkey riding king

Luke 19:28-40
Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem
After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.
When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it? ’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it. ’” So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord needs it.” Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen,
“Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!”
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

You may remember that, last week, we observed Passion Sunday.
There is always a fair bit of debate around the church at this time about Palms, Passion and Holy Week.
This Sunday, in particular becomes confusing for people because it can be either Palms or Passion - or both.
And, I'm sure you'll agree, it's difficult to observe both - the happy, excited, hosanna shouting crowd who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem and then the agony that Jesus endured as he was betrayed, arrested, tortured and killed.
There is also the danger that, when we celebrate today as Palm Sunday, anyone who doesn't attend any of the services between now and Easter Sunday would celebrate Jesus riding into Jerusalem and then celebrate his rising again at Easter, and the crucifixion would be overlooked entirely.
That's why there was the option to observe Jesus' passion last Sunday - to try and ensure that we get the whole picture.
So - we have the luxury of celebrating Jesus today.
Celebrating, with the disciples, " the king who comes in the name of The Lord."
The version of events we read from Luke's gospel this morning focuses on the disciples.
It is the disciples, in Luke's version who cry out: "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of The Lord."
Not children as in other gospels.
But Jesus disciples, praising him because of all that they had seen this man do.
And so, our focus, this morning might be on our response to Jesus.
As Jesus disciples today.
How do we respond to him.
How do we encourage others to respond?
Lets focus, just for a moment:
On the ways we champion this king.
And on the ways we imitate our leader.
When do we have those moments when we cry out: Blessed is the king, who comes in the name of the Lord?
When do we have such bursts of enthusiasm.
Such welling of gratitude and awe, that we have to share our excitement?
Well? ........
It's not a very Presbyterian thing, is it?
To get carried away.
To be caught up in the moment.
To be filled with enthusiasm.
Even if we feel it in isolated moments in our own lives, we're unlikely to share it with others, far less make a public spectacle of ourselves.
And yet, I wondered.
Here, in our worship, week by week, when we celebrate being a family together, when we catch up with each others news, when we share what our week has held, or what it might promise, - isn't that our, albeit very subdued version of thanksgiving, of blessing the name of the king who comes in the name of The Lord?
And every time we go into our work place and speak of the things we share together in church, or tell tales over coffee of things we have enjoyed doing together as God's family or experiences we have shared - isn't that our way of saying: Blessed is he who comes in the name of The Lord?
As disciples today, we follow Jesus - about whom we cannot help but rave on occasion - because following Jesus is a pretty awesome journey.
Following Jesus exposes us to all kinds of experiences, some of which cause us to cry out - or with our Scottish reserve - sing into ourselves - "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord."

Being moved to praise Jesus, how often are we moved to imitate him?
We marvel at his patience, his insightfulness, his frankness, his compassion, his love.
His ability to respond with grace in every situation, even when he had harsh things to say or to teach.
How do we imitate those things?
We who are so frightened of causing offence that we dilute everything.
We who would rather keep silent than draw attention to ourselves by speaking up for truth and love?
And how would we even begin to imitate Jesus the donkey riding king?
How can we mirror that humility, that honesty, that subversion?
Jesus riding into the city on a donkey was a well planned and executed act.
It was not some whim or some quirky token gesture.
It was thought out - designed to have real impact on those who witnessed it.
Designed to live on in memory.
To be told and retold.
So that, even long after the contemporary social and political impact had worn off, still this event - Jesus the king riding into the city on a donkey, would make folk stop and think - and cry out - "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of The Lord."
Jesus was in fact mimicking - and mocking- similar parades, when the rulers of the day, processed into the city in all their pomp and circumstance.
And people lined the streets to glimpse the spectacle.
These rulers, who occupied the country and oppressed its inhabitants, were despised and feared in equal measure.
So the crowds who turned out to welcome their procession would just as happily cheer on their downfall.
Just like the crowds who welcomed Jesus - even his disciples.
There was a culture and an expectation that those who were hailed as heroes one day would be condemned the next.
Which goes a long way to explaining how an adoring crowd could so easily turn into a crowd baying for blood.
Such was the social and political unrest of the day.
Their fickleness was a cultural norm.
Jesus knew exactly what he was doing that day.
Mimicking the oppressor's processions.
Playing to the crowds fickle cheering.
And setting himself up to be mocked and ridiculed by the same crowd later on.
And his politically subversive statement, riding a donkey, signalling humility, was not lost on the crowd but turned against him when the time was right.
Throughout his ministry, Jesus taught and modelled for the people how to live peacefully under an oppressive regime - whether the oppressors were the religious or the political authorities of the day.
Jesus modelled how to live peacefully but subversively.
He showed that it was possible to make a real difference but by peaceful means.
Remaining within the law yet still making progress toward a fairer, more just community even within the confines of an oppressive regime.
Jesus encouraged folk not to simply shrug their shoulders and put up with injustice, but to find ways to make a real difference by treating each other differently.
Not to respond with like for like.
But to respond with love, disarming love that can't help but make a difference.
To respond with a love that cannot be subverted or diluted.
Love that changes things.
Now love can be misunderstood - Jesus love certainly was.
Love can be ignored or even rejected.
But, still, it will have an effect, not least in the giver.
Our giving of love can never diminish us.
Our giving of love, even when it is misunderstood or rejected, enhances our lives and makes us whole.
As Jesus disciples today we are called to imitate our donkey riding king.
Imitate his peaceful subversion.
Imitate his humorous mimicry.
Imitate his will to change things.
Imitate his willingness to be noticed as a force to be reckoned with by those whose unjust regimes he threatened.
And last, but not least - Imitate his persistent and selfless loving.

The Pharisees who witnessed Jesus parade wanted the disciples silenced.
They saw it, not only as an unseemly spectacle, but as the real threat that it was to the injustice with which they had bedded down, a threat to the compromises they had wholeheartedly embraced.
They wanted Jesus to silence his disciples.
But Jesus told them - "if these were silent, even the stones would cry out"
He knew full well that the time had come.
He'd come too far, pushed too many boundaries and burned too many bridges, to stop what was going to happen.
Jesus fate was sealed - as was ours.
The world was about to witness the incredible depths of God's love.
A love that nothing could silence.

As we continue our journey through Lent, into this Holiest of weeks, are we prepared to be disciples who stand with Jesus?
Disciples who hail him as king - even a donkey riding king?
Disciples who journey with him to the Garden of Gethsemane?
Journey with him through betrayal and arrest?
Journey with him to the cross?
Messing up along the way - being frightened, confused, even denying at times?
But journeying on because we know forgiveness and boundless love?
Are we prepared to be Jesus disciples today?
To see in the subversive procession of a king riding a donkey a hard and painful road that is demanding and costly - but that through the incredible power of love, brings peace such as the world cannot give?
Are we prepared for that kind of discipleship?

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Thursday, 14 March 2013

Ubiquitous poor

Mary Anoints Jesus
St John Chapter 12
Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

This is one of my favourite Gospel stories. I love the image created and can even smell the nard used! But, apart from the wonderful, sensuous act of love, there is also the question of the ever present poor. Surely, Jesus was not suggesting that it was acceptable, when faced with a choice, that the needs of the poor can be abandoned when there are other, more pressing, issues?
There has been much comment around the church, recently that, while we get all het up about interpretation of Scripture and same sex issues, still there are wars, still folk go hungry or are without clean water or shelter.... And all our tying ourselves in knots does not change a thing in the world we are called to serve or make any difference to the suffering of God's children. We invest our energies in the wrong battles.
Jesus is not condoning or encouraging our divorce from reality in which we often indulge. Rather, by reminding us of how the poor are always with us Jesus draws our attention back to the fact that we do not have a choice - it is not an either/or, but a both/and. Have the discussions, dispute the priorities but just make sure that the poor are fed. They will always be with us, presenting us with the challenge to constantly be mindful of their needs and, in that mindfulness, change how we act. And in it all, discover the capacity to be not only generous but extravagant in serving Christ.

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Saturday, 2 March 2013

From a different perspective

Luke 13:1-9
Repent or Perish
At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”
The Parable of the Barren Fig Tree
Then he told this parable:“A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil? ’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down. ’”

A cheerful gospel reading today - about disasters and judgement and sin and repentance. But also about second chances.
I don't know about you but, when I get the opportunity to catch the evening news, I usually wish I hadn't. It is so depressing and upsetting.
So full of disaster and suffering, of cruelty and injustice.
Well it seems that those people who were talking to Jesus in today's gospel were giving him the latest news bulletin, the latest current affairs.
And their news wasn't any brighter than is our news today.
There had been a massacre:
Roman troops had killed a group of pilgrims - desecrating the temple, mingling the victims blood with the blood of the temple sacrifices.
And then, a terrible accident when a tower fell and killed all those who were bystanders.
News that, just like in our time, was shocking and depressing and about which folk speculated.
So, whose fault was it?
Could it have been avoided?
And, even, did the folk involved deserve to come to such a terrible end?
Questions that we ask when confronted with today's news bulletins.
Questions that spring naturally to our minds.
Whose fault?
What did they do wrong?
However much we'd prefer to deny that we approach disaster with any notion of judgement, often we do - we wonder what folk did or didn't do to be victims of such terrible circumstance.
Jesus knows well the speculation in which folk were indulging.
And he names it:
He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?
Not only does Jesus name their speculation about the victims' morality, Jesus, clearly not in the mood to bring comfort on this occasion, points out to his questioners: it could have been you!
While we might have expected Jesus to get started on explaining the meaning of life and the workings of the universe when confronted with such disturbing news that has clearly disturbed and shaken his followers.
While we might have expected him to try to defend an omnipotent God, who allows such things to happen to innocent people, Jesus refuses to be caught up in ontological or philosophical discussion.
Instead, he confronts his listeners with the stark reality that it could just as easily have been them caught up in disaster.
And then where would they be?
Apart from dead, that is!
Jesus uses the people's questions about the awful news of the day to confront them with their own mortality (not morality) but their own mortality.
In effect, Jesus is saying - sort your own lives.
He uses the disasters to encourage people to repent.
A seemingly harsh reaction to a crowd looking, perhaps, for sympathy or for some kind of explanation.
Jesus confronts the people instead with their need for repentance.
Now I don't know about you - but I have never been very comfortable with talk of repentance in the church - at least not the way repentance is usually touted.
Often, talk of repentance comes across as some guilt inducing attack on personal morality.
A prompt to change behaviour because of the possible consequences rather than because of a conviction that we might live differently.
A prompt to make a one off decision.
Repentance is often rolled out as the last great tool for social control.
But THAT is not the kind of repentance to which Jesus is directing his hearers here.
Jesus, throughout his ministry, invites people to repentance, he doesn't drive them to it or scare them into it.
Because Jesus knows that repentance is not the once in a lifetime event that it is so often portrayed in the church today.
It's not that moment of conversion that lasts a lifetime.
In fact it is not momentary at all.
Repentance, once embarked on, may take the rest of our lives - and more to achieve.
Because the repentance of which Jesus speaks is a repentance that gets to the heart of the matter.
A repentance that involves a wholesale change in thinking and in perception, in how we see things.
And while, this kind of change might well result in a change in behaviour, that is not its primary purpose.
The primary purpose of the kind of repentance to which Jesus points is a re-aligning ourselves with God and with the purposes of God.
And that does take a lifetime.
That kind of re-alignment, gaining a new perspective on God, might sound a relatively easy and painless shift.
But it is far from it!
If we were to truly repent!
To truly realign how we think about God, about Gods world, about the children of God, is not painless and is not easy but involves a drastic re-orientation of ourselves in relation to God.
And affects the way we approach all of life - and death.
It brings the ability, in the face of disaster, to know confidence in God as the source and the sustainer of all life.
To accept the randomness and cruelty that life sometimes brings.
In repentance we gain a new awareness of the presence of God - in ALL of life.
Even in the face of disaster we are upheld by the calm assurance that God is present - not averting disaster, not protecting Gods own, but bringing hope into the most desperate situations.
Bringing hope that, though we live in such turmoil, though disaster might strike at any moment, our hope is in God - the God who ensures that there is more - the God who calls us to be instruments of that hope that persists even in the bleakness of today's world and today's news.
Repentance involves not just a change of heart and of mind, a changed awareness and perspective but also a change in how we live, how we act with that changed perspective.
Repentance brings not fatalism, not calmness, but the call to join in Gods mission to bring justice and peace to all the world.
To change the bad news by living the good news.
So, as we reflect on all the bad news that we have heard this week, on all the images we have seen on TV, on all that we have read in newspapers, our question is not: Why, God, Why? But, How, God, How?
How can we bring change?
How can we relieve suffering?
How can we work for justice in our time?
So our repentance arises, not out of fear or guilt but out of the awareness of God at work, even in the midst of suffering.
And the difference that repentance brings is the ability to see how God might use us to change the story - from bad news to good news.

That story that Jesus tells, after speaking of repentance, the story of the fig tree that won't bear fruit, that the owner wants to cut down.
The fig tree that is saved because the gardener pleads for it, promising to pay it special attention.
That story speaks to me of second chances.
Second chances that come, not by simply letting fate takes its course, but by intervention.
If the fig tree is to survive the next visit of the owner, it is going to take a lot of hard work on the part of the gardener to ensure that it does bear fruit.
God calls us to hard work.
To the hard work of second chances.
To the hard work of intervention, changing what we can- to make a difference for others.
To give others their second chance.
It is to a ministry of second chances that God calls us.
To a ministry that bears fruit.
Being so convinced of God' s presence in our world that we will work to reveal that presence to others so that they too might repent,so that they too will have that joy of a whole new perspective, of the Good News getting the better of all the bad news.

May we all discover true repentance and in that discovery be called to be bringers of justice for all God's world.

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