Thursday, 1 April 2021

Easter Services

On Good Friday we will be having a quiet meditative service beginning at 10am. On Easter Sunday we will be celebrating with a service beginning at 10.30am. All are welcome.

Thursday, 4 February 2021

A heart made whole - sermon

 

A Heart made Whole.

It can be helpful to place the four gospel writers side by side for comparison. What is Jesus’ first public act in his ministry according to each Gospel? You want to know who Jesus is and not wait until the end of the story? Then take a look at his first public act in each of the Gospels and then ask, “according to that, just who is Jesus anyway?” Matthew? The Sermon on the Mount. Jesus, the amazing teacher! Luke? A well-received sermon in his hometown until people realize to whom he was actually referring when he talked about the poor and the oppressed and try to thrown him off a cliff. John? A sign of God’s abundance. Water into wine 20-30 gallons, filled to the brim, of the best wine.

 

And Mark? In the gospel of Mark Jesus begins his ministry with an exorcism. In the story in Mark 1:21-28 Jesus heals a man who is struggling with a wounded spirit. When I read the story I struggle with the language and the argument between the ‘evil’ spirit and Jesus, but underneath that ancient understanding of mental illness is a deep desire of Jesus to bring health and wholeness to a person in distress and pain. What does that say about Jesus and about God? In Mark, Jesus is a healer. His authority and his holiness is recognized in his desire to bring wholeness and to heal.

 

We live in a world longing for healing. Apart from the obvious Coronavirus epidemic, we look for healing in many ways both traditional and alternative. We seek healing for physical ailments, for mental illness, for our griefs and distress and for a world torn apart by injustice, by war and by environmental destruction. Jesus came into a time when people also longed for healing and in Mark’s gospel he begins his ministry with an exorcism yes, but more so by reaching out to a tortured soul and bringing peace. And this healing is one that makes a statement and the statement is that God is present to us in our pain. Even our brokenness cannot keep us apart from the Divine.

Our brokenness recognizes the face of God as the spirit in this story recognizes God in Jesus. And this spirit also recognizes that it is the will of God to bring wholeness and healing. Jesus sees a broken and painful life and brings health and wholeness.

Jesus the Exorcist seems the only logical first ministry act for Jesus in Mark — not a sermon, not a miracle, but a healing. Jesus steps into the world of other spirits, the potent power of possession and saying, “God is here;” breaking through the barrier that separates us in our brokenness from The divine presence. In the places where we feel God can never be, God is.

Yet, perhaps this sounds good but is rarely believed. You might say say “Preacher, that’s a load of crap. As far as I can tell, God is nowhere to be seen.” And you may have every reason for thinking that. 

To tell you the truth, that is sometimes how I feel.  “Where is God in all that possesses me? in my depression, my addiction, my disease? in my loss, my grief, my sorrow? in my own attraction to other gods?

In the face of everything I understand the disbelief. I acknowledge the doubt. I respect disappointment and despair. Yet, somehow, in the midst of all that, this story of Jesus still faces me with the knowledge that God is here.

I think I love this story.

I think it is at its most powerful when it we see the deep symbolism present. Here is Jesus, in the synagogue (in the church), when into the midst of the church comes someone who symbolizes the reality of all our brokenness and pain. The man possessed of an unclean spirit. And how does Jesus respond? Does he turn his back? Does he try to hide? No, he sees the brokenness for its truth, and he brings new life and wholeness.

And today, here, the movement is the same. We come into the synagogue and we come with our unclean spirits, our pain, seeking wholeness and in our midst somehow is the Christ, moving us towards wholeness and life.

Last week I found this beautiful blessing by Jan Richardson which I think reflects this movement towards wholeness that Jesus lived out and which we are called to in our lives. I love the image she leaves with us of a God who, despite all our struggles and imperfections, somehow ‘dreams us complete’.

I leave this blessing with you.

 

Blessing for a Whole Heart

 

You think

if you could just

imagine it,

that would be a beginning;

that if you could envision

what it would look like,

that would be a step

toward a heart

made whole.

 

This blessing

is for when

you cannot imagine.

This is for when

it is difficult to dream

of what could lie beyond

the fracture, the rupture,

the cleaving through which

has come a life

you do not recognize

as your own.

 

When all that inhabits you

feels foreign,

your heart made strange

and beating a broken

and unfamiliar cadence,

let there come

a word of solace,

a voice that speaks

into the shattering,

 

reminding you

that who you are

is here,

every shard

somehow holding

the whole of you

that you cannot see

but is taking shape

even now,

piece joining to piece

in an ancient,

remembered rhythm

 

that bears you

not toward restoration,

not toward return—

as if you could somehow

become unchanged—

but steadily deeper

into the heart of the one

who has already dreamed you

complete.

 

—Jan Richardson

Saturday, 9 January 2021

Whirlwind God


 

Listening to the Whirlwind - sermon

Psalm 29:  Job 38:1-11
“God is not the voice in the whirlwind. God is the Whirlwind!” Margaret Atwood
 I chose today’s readings partly because I feel like we are living in a sort of whirlwind in the world at the moment. American politics, covid-19 etc. So often our hymns etc teach us that God’s promise is to save us from the whirlwind, to take us out of it, to give us peace in the midst of it. That is sometimes my experience but more often I just experience the power of the whirlwind and therefore the absence of God. That being said, I love feeling the power of nature in the wind. Being buffeted by the wind, or feeling the torrent of rain on my face rather than running from it. It makes me feel alive! The author of our Psalm seems to feel the same way. He sees the power of nature and he seems to take strength from it. He feels the power of the divine in it! He doesn’t ask God to same him from the storm, he hears the voice of God in it! He revels in his sense that God is not absent in the power of nature but evident in it.

When I was at theological college umpteen years ago, one of the theology books I studied was called, ‘Reaping the Whirlwind’ by Llangdon Gilkey’ The title of the book was based on this verse from the book of Job that we read this morning where God speaks to Job out of the heart of the whirlwind. The opening line of Chapter 38, “Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind,” has been prepared for by Job’s demand to see God. And what Job gets is no ‘still small voice’ but rather a raging whirlwind is the source of the Divine voice. For me this whirlwind is not necessarily a tornado or a hurricane or some other natural phenomena. It is instead a symbol of God’s own appearing in human affairs—a creative, life-changing force that is undefined, perhaps not understood. You can’t hold this God down, you can’t explain this God. This God is dynamic, in motion. Sometimes our ideas of God are static, trying to put God in a box, saying God is this or that. But for Job, God is a whirlwind. The whole book of job is the story of someone suffering enormously and desperate to know where God is in it all. His friends try to rationalise answers for him and finally God speaks up! For almost 90% of the book, Job has begged God to intervene, implored God to speak. Now that God has, uncharacteristically chosen to speak, we are reminded of the fact that God has been present through this whole story. God is God; Job is not. But God still treats Job with respect. There is no demand of apology or repentance. In Job, God doesn’t seem to be bothered with all the earlier rantings and arguments that have gone on. God just wants Job to realize that he is not God. Job doesn’t really receive an answer to his question of why he, or for that matter any human, has to suffer. God instead just reminds Job of the incredible Power and providence of God. In the midst of Job’s powerlessness, Job is reminded of God’s power for good. After God’s speech, Job is a changed man, but it is not the content of the speech that heals him. Rather, it is the fact that a God whom he had only heard about has now come to him personally. And the Divine has not come to him peacefully, quietly and gently. In fact, I wonder just how much use that sort of presence would have been to Job in his suffering. What helps Job is that he meets God and sees that the rough track of his life has led him through paths of joy and suffering. And Job realizes that in all things his path was held in the hand of a God who has the creative power to give new life and to change things for the good. Sometimes I think I have shied away from the idea of a powerful god because of the way religion has misused the idea. The only idea of a God of power that I grew up with was an angry vengeful God who would look after god’s followers (maybe) but chuck the rest of the sinful population in hell. God’s power was in judgement and vengeance. I know it is important to know that our God can bring peace in the storms. I know that a divine presence that brings solace and calm is important in us. But the God of the storm shows us the power of God, not just for the sake of power for power’s sake, but that the nature of the divine also has power to create and rebirth; power to bring justice. Like the psalmist, I love standing in the storm because it reminds me that the God in home we have our life is one that we can not only rely on for peace in the storm, but for the energy to create justice and dance with God. On Christmas Day, my family and I decided to go to the vigil for the asylum seekers being imprisoned at the Park Hotel in Carlton. There were about 30 of us and we spent time trying to see our friends inside through the one-way glass in the hotel windows and to show them our solidarity and love for them. It was beautiful and challenging. Then, as we were singing together in the street, we heard music coming through the streets and noticed an old ute that someone had rigged up with enormous speakers strapped to the back. It was coming through the street towards the hotel playing the music loud enough to hear blocks away! Playing Bob Marley’s ‘one love’. As it pulled in front of the hotel most in the crowd moved into the centre of Lygon st in front of the hotel and a dance party began. It was wonderful! It was a dance of love and solidarity with the Asylum seekers and it was powerful and for me, God was at the centre of that dance of justice and hope! This is the God speaking from the whirlwind, dancing with us in our hope for justice. Like Job, we don’t always get answers to our suffering or to why we sometimes find ourselves in the heart of the storm. But maybe like Job it can be enough to dance with God as a powerful whirlwind of mystery and love.