A short reflection on the martyrdom of Stephen here.
Thursday, 18 May 2017
Saturday, 13 May 2017
This past week I had an interesting discussion on two separate occasions about God’s (alleged) preferential option for the poor. That God cares for those neglected in human communities seems straightforward. But God’s preferential option for the poor? In defence of the statement that God prefers the poor proponents cite a vast array of biblical material that does indeed support God’s care for the neglected and ostracised, and pronounces a fearsome judgment on those who fail to care or even notice. But preferential option? Sounds resentful. But to say so is often seen as politically incorrect in the church. And if you do question this new orthodoxy of God's preference, someone will answer that it is easy for a rich person to say that. (‘Rich’ can also be substituted with western/male/white/heterosexual/Christian/tenured priest, etc.) If I were to use the language of ‘preferential option’ (which I haven’t for years), I might say something like ‘God’s preferential option for the innocent (of whatever they are accused) victim’ without in any way dismissing the biblical affirmation of God’s care for the neglected and ostracised. But I don’t use ‘preferential option’ in respect of God because God is beyond that kind of resentment. The (innocent of what they are accused of) victim gains an epistemological opportunity to understand what we – human beings and our communities and history – are, and this wisdom is given to us through the revelation of the cross and resurrection of Jesus. The innocent victim has an epistemological advantage that can bring with it transformation, particularly shown in repentance and a drive toward reconciliation. Ministry grounded in repentance and reconciliation brings in the wounded and forgotten, the poor and excluded. Without resentment.
Thursday, 4 May 2017
Monday, 24 April 2017
This sermon was preached on Good Friday. After the sermon people were invited to come to the altar rails and leave behind the rock of despair and trouble at the foot of the cross. (Everyone was given a small rock at the door on entry.)
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me. (Mark 15:34)
History is full of times where God seems to have deserted humankind. We know times similar to these ourselves. Times of despair, when we are distraught to the point of collapse, without hope, perhaps feeling as though all is lost. Hell on earth. Godforsaken. We all know something of this, some more than others. But whatever we might feel, because of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, it is simply not, finally, true. There is no hell on earth. There is intense suffering and loss, grief beyond what we can carry. Yes. But Christ suffered godforsakenness so that we can never be actually godforsaken ourselves. Yes, there are times of despair where all is lost. From genocide to loss of family, to exile to becoming a refugee; to poverty, illness, death. You name it. All these and more are times of apparent godforsakenness, joyless times of darkness. Hell on earth. (That's what hell is, utter godforsakenness.)
But when Jesus uttered those words he wasn't just having a (really, really, really) bad day. He was stating a theological fact. God, the one he called Abba-Father, the one who defined Jesus' identity and very life, had deserted him, the Son, on the cross. Jesus was without God. His accusers were right. He was without God, rejected. (Gal 3:13) Godforsaken. This is a deep mystery. But to those who know despair it is a message of hope. God went there before us, so we need never be without God. God will not desert us. Trust God. Jesus underwent utter godforsakenness - hell - for us. Hell, if defined as utter godforsakenness, no longer has sway over us. For where Christ the Son goes, even as godforsaken, there too goes the reconciling power of God, and the power of resurrection. The bond of love between Father and Son could not be defeated.
When we feel bereft, when all has been taken from us, it is hard to hear this truth of the Gospel: God has not deserted us. Christ went there before us, and now God is there waiting for us. Nothing now can separate us from the love of God. All else can be taken from us, indeed even life itself, but God will never be absent.
Let that same Spirit infuse us today. This is not the same as wishfully thinking that everything can be as it was. No, this is the Spirit of resurrection, the resurrection of the deserted. The resurrected Jesus still had nail holes in his wrists. But he was raised.
Soon, I will invite you to take hold of that Spirit of resurrection and come forward with your burdens to the foot of the cross. And there lay down the rock of all that burdens you. Leave it there.
Then, later, come up for communion. Communion with the despair of godforsakenness we see in Jesus, but the resurrection also of the downcast and bereft.
Friday, 21 April 2017
Saturday, 15 April 2017
Thursday, 13 April 2017
As Jesus prepares to wash his disciples' feet, we are told that he loved his disciples to the end. But who is included? Who was there that night, those whom Jesus loved to the end? The Twelve? Or should we say Eleven? We are told (Jn 11:3, 5) that Jesus loved Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus. If they weren't physically in that room that night, they were present as those whom Jesus loved to the end. They are included in those whom the Father gave to Jesus (Jn 17:6, 9), they are Jesus' and therefore the Father's (17:9-10), given a share in his glory so that they may be one with Jesus and the Father and all Jesus' disciples. (17:22-23) And what of Mary Magdalene, who knows the voice of her shepherd when he calls? (Jn 20:16 cf. 10:3-5) Surely she too should be included. The circle could keep expanding, as it should, to include all those who have come to believe through the testimony of those first disciples. (17:201-21)1 The baptismal overtones of the foot washing (Jn 13:8-10) point to an inclusiveness beyond the circle of those who were physically present, as does the explicit link to the death of Jesus. (Jn 13:1)
Despite what might seem like evidence to the contrary (Jn 13:2, 10-11, 18-19, 26-30), does the text suggest that Judas remains in the circle of those for whom Jesus died, loved to the end by Jesus? Is he still one with the other disciples, joined to the Father through the Son? We might hesitate to make such a bald affirmation, but the text is making us work toward it. An easy dismissal of Judas as traitor and a devil (Jn 6:70 and especially 13:27b, 30b) while suggested by the text, is also undermined by a sub-current within the Last Supper narrative of John. We should remember that, presumably, Jesus washed the feet of Judas, pointing to Jesus' death for all sinners and asking us to bear in mind the implied baptismal meaning of the foot washing. But more interesting is John's use of the Scripture quote from Psalm 41. (Jn 13:18) The usual word for eating (found in the LXX in the verse quoted) is replaced by John for the overtly eucharistic word to munch or crunch, used with eucharistic overtones in John 6:54, 56, 57, 58).2 The Eucharistic overtones are hard to ignore. Judas, into whom Satan entered, receives bread from the Bread of Life. Moloney says that Jesus giving the morsel to 'the most despised character in the Gospel's narrative" indicates Jesus' love for all his disciples, including those who fall and fail, and in this "reveals a unique God." 3.
1. Francis Watson, "Trinity and Community: A Reading of John 17", in International Journal of Systematic Theology, 1/2, July 1999, pp. 172-173. Watson is also helpful in dispelling notions of male normativity if the Twelve were the only disciples present at the Last Supper, as well as John's use of two male intra-divine figures as paradigmatic of the nature of discipleship. see pp. 174-175.
2. Francis J Moloney, Glory Not Dishonor, pp. 20-21.
3. Ibid., pp. 22-23.
3. Ibid., pp. 22-23.
Tuesday, 28 March 2017
Monday, 20 March 2017
Check out my latest post, to be found on the St Barnabas College Blog, here. It's a way of understanding why it is said that the temptations of Jesus are an affirmation of his calling to the cross, and a denial of an alternative path to success and practicality .... and a warning about finding our justification in justice and social change.
Monday, 14 November 2016
Saturday, 12 November 2016
Humans have a fascination – moth to flame like – with the end of the world. Think of the end of the world movies of the last twenty years or so. The end comes (or almost comes) by meteor, zombies, aliens, ecological breakdown, nuclear war, or biological pestilence. And this fascination is not a modern fascination alone. It has has been like this for thousands of years. And we have real, live apocalyptists doing their 'thing' even now through all manner of cults, messianic movements, political groups, etc. The Bolsheviks and Nazis were apocalyptic, secular cults. ISIS is their contemporary religious clone.
End-time fascination isn't restricted to the right of politics either. On the day of the US election I was watching FB and as the news came in that Donnie Trump was going to win the election FB was overwhelmed with 'the end of western civilisation if not the world' type foreboding and hand wringing from the progressive green/left.
In the ancient world it was God who would bring the end through violence. That is one of the hallmarks of religious apocalyptic. But in today’s Gospel reading, which sounds apocalyptic because of the violence, the discourse of Jesus is shorn of its divine violence. It is human violence that Jesus is narrating. Terrifying as it is, he does not counsel joining a survivalist group. Instead, it sounds more like his disciples should keep on doing what he has already told them to do. Witness to Christ himself.