Posts Tagged ‘control’

Powerlessness is power

November 24, 2018

Christ the King – 2018

sJohn 18:33-37Marian Free

In the name of God who in Jesus demonstrates that true power and authority lie in service and not in domination. Amen. 

It is not difficult to observe that the balance of power in the world is shifting. The United States is increasingly looking inward, relinquishing at least to some extent its role as a mediator, peace-keeper and influencer on the world stage. At the same time China, through its belt-road, its aid programme in the Pacific and through the purchase of property and land beyond its borders is ensuring that its role in the world is being vastly enhanced. Elsewhere, ISIS which is suffering military defeat and the loss of territory has unleashed an ideology whose effects and violence extend far beyond its geographic reach and its direct control. For those who have grown up in a reasonably stable world, the current political situation is unsettling and disturbing. We have grown used to power being wielded by one nation and do not know what the world will look like if power is exercised by another government or nation.

Power according to Max Weber is the ability to exercise one’s will over others (Weber, 1922). Sociologists point out that, “power affects far more than personal relationships; it shapes larger dynamics like social groups, professional organizations, and governments. Similarly, a government’s power is not necessarily limited to control of its own citizens. A dominant nation, for instance, will often use its clout to influence or support other government or to seize control of other nation states[1].” Power is sought and secured by individuals, companies or nations who wish to demonstrate their “status”; to gain control over resources – physical, geographic or technological; to exercise control over people and the actions of people; to amass wealth or even to build their own self-esteem.

Power is usually gained by force and therefore must be maintained by force. Those who are disempowered by the actions of another person or another state rarely cede what is theirs willingly or graciously. In order to maintain their power over others the “victor” must use force and/or the threat of punishment to ensure submission and obedience.  

In the first century, the chosen method of suppression was crucifixion. Anyone who threatened or was seen to threaten the supremacy of Rome was publicly crucified in the belief that such an horrific death would deter others from challenging the conquerors.

Today’s gospel is all about power[2]– its exercise, illegitimacy and its ultimate futility. At his trial before Pilate, Jesus demonstrates most fully what he has been trying to impress upon the disciples – that power overothers is ephemeral and temporary and that it is based on a false premise – the assumption that the person exercising power is in some way superior to those enslaved to his or her rule. For Jesus true power, legitimate power, power that is lasting, is the opposite of the worldly view. Real power, Jesus preached – (and now demonstrates in his life) – lies in service. Enduring power comes not from lording it over others but from raising them up. Empowering others, giving them a sense of their own worth, draws from them loyalty and respect that cannot be bought and that certainly cannot be enforced. 

Only a person who is secure in themselves and who does not feel the need to prove anything to anyone, can put themselves last and others first, can face false accusations and not feel a need to defend themselves and can endure cruelty and abuse without losing anything of themselves. Such a person can, from their own position of strength (not power), draw out of others their strengths and their gifts and enable others to develop and grow and to reach their full potential. Those who are thereby affirmed and encouraged know themselves to be blessed and enriched. In turn they acknowledge the gift and the one who so generously bestowed it with a deep sense of gratitude, a desire to please and a loyalty that cannot be bought or enforced. 

Power that derives from service need not be enforced, because it is power that is not desired or sought or enforced but bestowed by those who understand how much they owe.

Pilate does not and cannot understand Jesus because Jesus does not conform to the world with which Pilate is familiar. Jesus does not play the games that Pilate plays – he has no need to compete, no desire to prove himself to others, no longing for recognition. In Pilate’s eyes Jesus is a conundrum. He is accused of claiming to be a king, yet he submits to the indignity of arrest and trial and makes no effort to defend himself. Pilate, who is constantly needing to assert himself and his authority is at a loss. In fact, Pilate is powerless. By refusing to be cowed and by refusing to contest the charges brought against him, Jesus deprives Pilate andhis accusers of their power over him.

Today we affirm that Jesus is king – but Jesus is a king like no other king – a king whose power comes from his empowering others, from putting himself last and others first and whose absolute trust in God ensures that he can remain true to himself in the worst of circumstances. 

Would that we all had such confidence in ourselves and such faith in God that we, like Jesus, would have no need to assert ourselves, that we would seek the well-being of others before our own and that we would have the faith to face the worst that life had to offer without complaint and without a struggle. Then, and only then, would there be balance in the world, accord between all peoples and a peace that endured.


[1]https://courses.lumenlearning.com/sociology/chapter/power-and-authority/

[2]As becomes clear in 19:10-11

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Placing our life into the hand of God

April 13, 2017

Good Friday – 2017

Marian Free

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope

For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love

For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith

But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.

Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:

So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.

Whisper of running streams, and winter lightning.

The wild thyme unseen and the wild strawberry,

The laughter in the garden, echoed ecstasy

Not lost, but requiring, pointing to the agony

Of death and birth.

 

You say I am repeating

Something I have said before. I shall say it again,

Shall I say it again? In order to arrive there,

To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,

You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.

In order to arrive at what you do not know

You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.

In order to possess what you do not possess

You must go by the way of dispossession.

In order to arrive at what you are not

You must go through the way in which you are not.

And what you do not know is the only thing you know

And what you own is what you do not own

And where you are is where you are not.

T.S. Eliot, East Coker

Good Friday – 2017

Marian Free

In the name of God who is our all in all. Amen.

“Wait without hope for hope would be hope for the wrong thing.”

At first glance, Elliot’s poem expresses a view of life that is bleak, desperate and hopeless. “Hope is hope for the wrong thing, love is love for the wrong thing. You must go by the way wherein there is no ecstasy, by the way of ignorance, the way of dispossession.” The poem expresses sentiments that are completely at odds with message of the culture of today. In popular culture, in our magazines and on our televisions we are bombarded by stories of people who insist that anyone can achieve anything as long as they set their minds to it. Popular culture gives the impression that a person’s future is entirely in their own hands – they just have to have a positive attitude, believe in themselves or work hard enough.

Elliot, a Christian, knows that the reality is very different. The poem expresses an understanding that ultimately we have very little power to determine the course of the future. All of us, rich and poor, powerful and vulnerable are subject to the instability of the planet, the frailty of our bodies, the ever-present threat of disease, the carelessness of others, the cynicism of politicians and the greed of those who seek to enrich themselves at the expense of others. In reality each of us has very little control over every aspect of our lives. The only certainly, the only still point in a world that is beyond our ability to direct is God. God alone knows how the future will turn out, God alone can see us through whatever this temporary, unpredictable life has to offer.

Ironically, the only way to achieve anything meaningful and eternal is to surrender control, to cede all power to God, to allow God to determine and direct our path, to trust that God will bring us through to wherever it is that we are meant to be. Only by surrendering ourselves completely to God will we discover the direction in which we are intended to travel. Only when we give ourselves completely to God will we be sure that we are hoping for the right thing, loving the right thing. Only a life totally aligned with God can be a life that is truly godly.

These are the truths that Jesus’ life reveals. As the Son of God, Jesus could have done anything, been anyone. Jesus could have ruled the world, sought glory, riches and power. Instead Jesus chose to surrender himself completely to God, to do only those things that he believed were of God. So completely did Jesus trust in God’s direction that he endured the shame of arrest and trial, the indignity of flogging, the torment and pain of the cross, the emptiness of death and the uncertainty of where it would all end.

Only complete and total surrender “to the way wherein there is no ecstasy”, brought Jesus to where he was truly meant to be. Jesus’ surrender of himself led to his victory over death – not only for himself but for each one of us. The horror of the cross was transformed to the joy and triumph of the resurrection.

We cannot know what lies ahead. We do know that we can trust God.

Let us, with Jesus, surrender control, step into the unknown and place our lives completely and utterly into the hand of God.

 

Intercessions

God whose Son surrendered himself entirely into your hands, open the eyes of all who “hope for the wrong thing” – those whose desire for power and control, for wealth and security disempowers and impoverishes others. Help us and all humankind to surrender ourselves entirely to your will so that the world might become a place in which all people live in freedom and peace and in which all have an opportunity to reach their full potential.

God in whom we trust. Hear our prayer.

God who turns despair to hope, defeat to victory, death to life, give to your church such confidence in you that it will not fear for its future or seek to protect its position in the world, but to understand “that the faith and the love and the hope are in the waiting”. May we surrender our desire for certainty to the knowledge that all things are in your hands.

God in whom we trust. Hear our prayer.

God whose love for us knows no bounds, give us the skills we need to be bearers of that love to others – especially to those who betray and abandon us, who hurt us and let us down. May the dispossessed and powerless experience the life-giving power of your love.

God in whom we trust. Hear our prayer.

Jesus who became vulnerable even to death, support and uphold all whose lives are beset by illness and strife, give courage to the dying and hope and confidence to the living.

God in whom we trust. Hear our prayer.

Jesus who took “the way in which there is no ecstasy”, give us the courage and confidence to surrender ourselves wholly to you, that we with you might pass from death to life eternal.

Accept our prayers through Jesus Christ our Lord who taught us to pray:

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name…

Under the influence

October 22, 2016

Pentecost 23 – 2016

Luke 18:15-30

Marian Free

 

In the name of God who asks that we place our trust in God alone. Amen.

“Under the influence” is an apt description of someone who is an alcoholic. It reflects the reality that their lives are determined by something external to themselves, that they have ceded power over their lives to another. Addiction is like that. It can completely take over a person, often making them utterly unable to think of anything other than the next hit, the next drink, the next bet. Sometimes they are so focused on whatever the perceived benefit of the addiction is, that they are unable to see the effect that their behaviour is having on those around them.

It is only possible an addict to escape the hold of addiction if they recognise it to be a problem. Breaking a habit, giving up substance abuse, takes an enormous act of the will. It means learning to depend on/place one’s trust in someone or something else. “Recovery” will involve will power, grit and determination and the support of others. Some people will never break the habit, they will continue to engage in the destructive behaviour even if it threatens to cost them their jobs, their families and their lives. Nothing else exerts the same power and influence over their lives and in the end, many of them give everything away, because they cannot stop themselves having one more drink, one more bet.

There are of course success stories. Some addicts do realise that they have a problem. They enter rehab programmes, join A.A. and other support groups and they follow the advice that they are given. With appropriate support systems they are able to sever their relationship with their addiction and replace it with relationships that are less destructive and disempowering.

If you have ever known anyone in the grip of addiction, you will know that it is a terrible thing that overcomes all rational thought and decision-making. Whether it be gambling, drugs or alcohol, the addiction takes such a firm grasp that the sufferer can find it almost impossible to break free. They are seemingly able to tolerate their ability to hold a job decline, their health deteriorate and their family fall apart rather than give up whatever it is that has them in its thrall.

Addiction is fairly easily recognised and most of us can feel smug that we have never allowed ourselves to be caught in its grip. In reality though many of us allow all kinds of things to control our lives, some are physical and relatively easy to identify, others are emotional and can disguise themselves in a variety of ways. We can be bound by a need to be in control or by a need for security. It is possible to allow anger, fear, resentment or bitterness to take over our lives, to determine how we live, how we interact with others.

Dependence on anything – drugs, relationships, gambling, wealth – can be limiting and life destroying, (metaphorically and physically). It means ceding control of one’s life to a substance or habit, rather than taking control and making decisions that are life-giving, liberating and empowering. What is more, dependence on substances, activities, possessions or even on our emotional needs for security are a clear sign that our relationship with God is superficial and dependent on much as outward show as it is on a deep and abiding trust in God’s love and care for us.

A first reading of today’s gospel can lead us to think that the story about the ruler is all about money. After all, don’t those who enter the religious life give everything away, didn’t the disciples leave everything to follow Jesus, doesn’t Jesus command the ruler to sell his possessions and to follow him?

It is easy to believe that Jesus’ words to the ruler apply to all of us, but that would be to miss the point. Luke is reporting a conversation between Jesus and one other person. The ruler has come to Jesus with a specific question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

On examination Jesus discovers that the ruler already keeps the commandments – the most obvious way to attain eternal life. Despite this however, the ruler appears to be aware that something is missing from his life and his faith. That is why he has come to Jesus – not to boast in what he is doing, but to discover what it is that he is not doing. Jesus’ reply is specific to the ruler. He has in effect asked what is lacking in his faith and in his life, and Jesus recognises that it is his dependence on his possessions that is keeping him from feeling secure in God’s love, that is filling him with doubts about his worthiness to inherit eternal life. Jesus discerns that the ruler will only be truly free to accept God’s love, if he is to stop trusting in his possessions and to trust in God instead. If in the present he is not sure of God’s love, how will he be able to trust God with eternity?

The problem for the ruler was not so much that he was rich but that he couldn’t imagine life without his wealth, and without his possessions. They had such a hold on him that he could not let go. His desire for eternal life was not so strong that he was able to let that desire determine how he lived. He was so dependent on his possessions that he could not and would not exchange them for dependence on God.

When Jesus orders the ruler “to sell his possessions, give the money to the poor and to come follow him”, Jesus is helping the ruler to identify his dependence on his possessions that prevents him placing his dependence in God.

In response to the gospel there are questions that we can ask ourselves: “Where do we place our trust?” “What are we unwilling to let go?” “What habit, emotion or fear has us in its thrall? And would we give it up for the surpassing power of knowing the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord?”

 

 

No easy answers

March 26, 2016

Today we meet, not only in the shadow of an act of terror over two thousand years ago, but also in the shadow of events in our own day. We draw comfort from the knowledge that God in Jesus shares our suffering. We know too that in Jesus God wrought victory from defeat, joy from sorrow and life from death and we believe that good will triumph over evil and that love will conquer hate.

 

Service of the Passion

and

Recognition of the Cross

 

The contradiction of the cross

The contradiction of    the cross

 

 

(On this most solemn of days we would invite you to enter
and leave the church in silence.)

 

Procession with cross:

Hymn: 349 in the cross of Christ

Greeting:

The Lord be with you.

And also with you.

 

Let us pray:

God of contradiction,

give to us wisdom and understanding,

patience and humility,

and the courage to live with uncertainty,

so that we may hope for the right things

and arrive at what we do not know[1].

We ask this through your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.


Poem: T. S. Eliot – from The Four Quartets

 

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope

For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love

For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith

But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.

Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:

So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.

Whisper of running streams, and winter lightning.

The wild thyme unseen and the wild strawberry,

The laughter in the garden, echoed ecstasy

Not lost, but requiring, pointing to the agony

Of death and birth.

 

You say I am repeating

Something I have said before. I shall say it again,

Shall I say it again? In order to arrive there,

To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,

You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.

In order to arrive at what you do not know

You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.

In order to possess what you do not possess

You must go by the way of dispossession.

In order to arrive at what you are not

You must go through the way in which you are not.

And what you do not know is the only thing you know

And what you own is what you do not own

And where you are is where you are not.

 

In the name of God who suffers for us and with us, and who longs for us to turn and be made whole. Amen.

“And what you do not know is the only thing that you know.”

Shortly after five pm on Tuesday the world was shocked by the news of yet another act of terror – this time in Brussels. At least thirty people were dead and more than two hundred wounded many seriously. For those of us in Australia this news followed a grueling day in which, through the inquest into the police response, we revisited the final moments of the Lindt Café siege and the deaths of two hostages. At times like this, it is difficult not to ask: “Why?” “Why now?” “Why them?” As the story of the Brussels explosions unfolded, we learnt that a simple decision such as not buying a coffee made the difference between life and death, between being in the line of fire and being a safe distance away from the explosions.

Times like these remind us that there is a fine line between life and death, and that sometimes there is no rhyme or reason as to why one person lives and another dies, why some people live lives seemingly unfettered by grief or disaster and others live lives of quiet desperation, burdened by pain, sorrow or misfortune.

This side of the grave there are no easy answers. Life as we know it is vulnerable and fragile – susceptible to disease and constantly exposed to hazards and dangers – known and unknown. At the same time, humans are complex beings – capable of acts of great selflessness but also of unfathomable depravity, capable of great love, but also of immense hatred. We live in a world in which the good do die young, and the bad sometimes escape unpunished, in which only chance determines the country of our birth or the quality of our parenting, whether we stop for coffee or go straight to the departure gate. In this life, nothing is certain. We cannot predict what joys or heartache lie ahead.

There are two possible responses to this awful uncertainty – we can resist with all our might, refuse to take risks and try to force the world to conform to our expectations. This road will lead to frustration and disappointment, anger and bitterness. Our lives will be narrow and constrained and there will be no guarantee that we will be spared the pain of suffering and loss.

Alternately, we can willingly surrender. We can accept that life is filled with risk and uncertainty and choose to live boldly, courageously and confidently – no matter in what circumstances we find ourselves. This road will not be free of pain, but it will leave us open to joy and laughter, to adventure and hope. We will be able to ride out the bad times because we know that they will come to an end and that it is the good and the bad together that make life worth living.

Jesus chose the latter course. He willingly gave in to the future that was his. He surrendered himself completely to what life had in store. He submitted himself to the humiliation of a kangaroo court, the indignity of a flogging and the certainty of death of the cross. He did not ask: “Why?” or “Why me?” He simply walked the path that was his to walk, believing that somehow, in some way, God would give him both courage and strength in the present and that in the future, it would all begin to make sense. Jesus faced the cross not knowing what lay on the other side. As a consequence he learnt that through death comes life, that joy can be wrought from sorrow and victory from defeat.

Life is filled with uncertainty. The best that we can do is to place ourselves entirely in God’s hands and trust that in this life God will give us courage to face whatever it is that life throws at us and that in death, God will raise us to life eternal.

Reflection:

An abandoned God;

a dying God

confronts our sense of decency

and at the same time opens us to new possibilities –

to new ways of understanding God and ourselves.

 

Collect:

 

Holy God,

who teaches us that this day

which is so bad, is good.

Help us to live with incongruity

to know how much we do not know,

that understanding our limitations,

we may be open to the wisdom that comes from you alone. Amen.

 

Ministry of the Word

Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12

Hear the word of the Lord,

Thanks be to God.

Psalm 22

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me:

            why are you so far from helping me

            and from the words of my groaning?

My God, I cry to you by day, but you do not answer:

            and by night also I take no rest.

But you continue holy;

            you that are the praise of Israel.

In you our forebears trusted:

            they trusted and you delivered them.

To you they cried and they were saved:

            they put their trust in you and were not confounded.

But as for me, I am a worm and no man:

            the scorn of all and despised by the people.

Those that see me laugh me to scorn:

            they shoot out their lips at me

            and wag their heads, saying,

“He trusted in the Lord – let him deliver him:

            let him deliver him, if he delights in him.”

But you are he that took me out of the womb:

            that brought me to lie at peace on my mother’s breast.

On you have I been cast since my birth:

            you are my God, even from my mother’s womb.

O go not from me, for trouble is hard at hand:

            and there is none to help.

Many oxen surround me:

            fat bulls of Bashan close me in on every side.

They gape wide their mouths at me:

            like lions that roar and rend.

I am poured out like water,

and all my bones are out of joint:

            my heart within my breast is like melting wax.

My mouth is dried up like a potsherd:

            and my tongue clings to my gums.


My hands and my feet are withered:

            and you lay me in the dust of death.

For many dogs are come about me:

            and a band of evildoers hem me in.

I can count all my bones:

            they stand staring and gazing upon me.

They part my garments among them:

            and cast lots for my clothing.

O Lord, do not stand far off:

            you are my helper, hasten to my aid.

Deliver my body from the sword:

            my life from the power of the dogs;

O save me from the lion’s mouth:

            and my afflicted soul from the horns of the wild oxen.

I will tell of your name to my companions:

            in the midst of the congregation will I praise you.

O praise the Lord, all you that fear him:

            hold him in honour, O seed of Jacob,

            and let the seed of Israel stand in awe of him.

For he has not despised nor abhorred

the poor man in his misery:

            nor did he hide his face from him,

            but heard him when he cried.

The meek shall eat of the sacrifice and be satisfied:

            and those who seek the Lord shall praise him –

            may their hearts rejoice forever!

Let all the ends of the earth remember

and turn to the Lord:

            and let all the families of the nations worship before him.

For the kingdom is the Lord’s:

            and he shall be ruler over the nations.

How can those who sleep in the earth do him homage:

            or those that descend to the dust bow down before him?

But he has saved my life for himself:

            and my posterity shall serve him.

This shall be told of my Lord to a future generation:

         and his righteousness declared to a people yet unborn,

         that he has done it.

1 Corinthians 1:18-31

Hear the word of the Lord,

Thanks be to God.

 

Hymn: 339 O sacred head sore wounded

 

The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John Chapter 18 beginning
at verse 1.

Glory to you Lord Jesus Christ.

For the Gospel of the Lord.

Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Hymn: 341 My Song is love unknown.

(During the hymn a collection will be taken up for the Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem)

 

Intercessions:

Living, loving God, help us to relinquish our confidence in ourselves and our desire to go it alone;

to accept the vagaries of life and to let go of our need to be in control;

to recognise that we do not and cannot have all the answers and to understand that our knowledge is only partial and our insights limited by our humanity.

God when our hearts are aching,

Help us to find you in and among the suffering of the world.

Give us grace to acknowledge that life consists of the good and the bad and that our lives are enriched as a result;

to admit that hatred and fear only limit and bind and that love frees us to be fully alive

and to learn that it is only in your that true peace and joy are to be found.

God when our hearts are aching,

Help us to find you in and among the suffering of the world.

 

Be with all those whose lives are marred by violence, terror and war,

and with those who perpetrate acts of cruelty against others.

God when our hearts are aching,
Help us to find you in and among the suffering of the world

Support and encourage those whose lives are restricted by poverty, ill-health and disability,

and challenge those who have the means to help but do not.

God when our hearts are aching,
Help us to find you in and among the suffering of the world

Be a friend to those who are overlooked and discounted

and open our eyes to the suffering of those around us.

God when our hearts are aching,
Help us to find you in and among the suffering of the world.

Help us all to reevaluate our lives in the light of the cross and take our place among those who live life to the full and who make a difference in the lives of others.

God when our hearts are aching,
Help us to find you in and among the suffering of the world.

 

Lord’s Prayer: Accept our prayers through Jesus Christ our Lord,

who taught us to pray.

            Our Father in heaven,

                        hallowed be your name,

                        your kingdom come,

                        your will be done,

                        on earth as in heaven.

            Give us today our daily bread.

            Forgive us our sins

                        as we forgive those who sin against us.

            Save us from the time of trial

                        and deliver us from evil,

            for the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours

                        now and forever. Amen.

Confession:

Our God whose love knows no bounds

comes to you – naked, weak and bleeding,

holding out holey hands, holy hands and asking only for your love in return.

 

Let us offer our hearts to God, confessing our sins – the barriers that separate us from each other and from God.

Suffering God,

who gave everything for us

forgive us our arrogance and presumption,

our greed and self absorption,

our neglect of the vulnerable,

our carelessness with the world’s resources,

our unwillingness to trust in you

and our failure to accept and to share your love and compassion. Amen

 

Absolution:

God whose love knows no bounds

forgives you and sets you free

to love God and to love one another.

Forgive others,

Forgive yourself. Amen.

Recognition of the cross:

730 Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom.

(Recognition of the cross – you may like to place a flower at the foot of the cross, as a reminder that today is a day of contradiction, a reminder that God continually overturns our expectations so that we might rely on God and not ourselves. Alternately you are welcome to sit or stand in quiet reflection.)

Blessing: May the God who died for you, inspire you to live for God,

and the blessing of God almighty, Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier be with you now and always. Amen.

 

Hymn: 262 When pain and terror

 

Please leave the church in silence

 

 

Copyright: Marian Free , 2014 (revised, 2016)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ANZAC DAY

There will be a service to commemorate Anzac Day

Monday 25th April – 8:00am

 

(If there is anyone for whom you would like us to pray,

Please add their name to the list at the back of the church.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rector:          The Rev’d Marian Free: m) 0402 985 593

  1. e) staugust@bigpond.com

 

Curate:                 The Rev’d Professor Rodney Wolff,

  1. e) staugust@gmail.com, 0426 287 283

 

 

Parish Office:       3268 3935 / Fax 3268 4245

Office Hours:       Monday, Thursday & Jumble Wednesdays

                               9.30am – 12.30pm

 

staugust@bigpond.com

www.staugustineshamilton.com.au

 

Sermons:            If you would like to read the weekly sermon,

                                 go to the home page and click on sermon.

 

            St Augustines Anglican Church

 

@StAugustines

 

Music Director:      Lesley de Voil: 0418 561 663 or

                                         lesleymdv@gmail.com

 

Service Times:      Sunday 7:30am & 9:30am

                               Tuesday & Thursday 7:00am

Wednesday 10:00am

 

Columbarium:      Robin Loan: 0417 799 400 or

                                 r.loan@optusnet.com.au

Columbarium Service: First Saturday of the month 7:30am

 

 

 

[1] “For hope would be hope for the wrong thing.” “In order to arrive at what you do not know you must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.” T.S. Elliot from “East Coker, The Four Quartets”

Trust and doubt

December 19, 2015

Advent 4 – 2015

Luke 3:39-45

Marian Free

In the name of God who inspires our trust. Amen.

I once saw a sign outside a church that read: “When all else fails pray!” At first it took me aback, then I realised that it was an accurate description of the relationship that some of us have with God. Maybe I am speaking just for myself, but I suspect that I am not the only person who tends to rely on my own resources first and remember God second. On a day-to-day basis, I think that I place my trust in God. I certainly believe that God directs my life and that I don’t have to be concerned about the future. However, I have to admit that there are times, especially in times of crisis, when my first reaction is to think of solutions rather than to commit the situation to prayer and trust that God will provide me with an answer.

How far do you trust God? Do rely too much on your own resources or do you have complete confidence in God? Or – do you like most of us – vacillate between complete and utter trust and an anxiety that if we don’t do it ourselves nothing will happen. Most of us have a deep trust that God is with us, but that doesn’t meant that there are not times when we act on our own.

In this tension between trust and doubt we are not alone. Abraham left everything to set out on a crazy journey to a place that he had never heard of, led by a God who was not the God of his fathers. Yet he did not trust God to fulfill the promise of a son and took matters into his own hands. The people of Israel followed Moses into the wilderness only to waver when they got to the Promised Land. Elijah, who put to shame the priests of Baal, had moments when he thought that God had abandoned him. John the Baptist who, we are told, saw the Spirit descend on Jesus, still needed to ask Jesus if he was the one to come. The disciples, who at first so readily followed Jesus, had times of doubt – most visibly demonstrated by their absence at Jesus’ trial and crucifixion and their lack of direction after his death.

Few of us it seems are able to completely let go and let God, few of us are able to surrender ourselves entirely into God’s care. At some points in our lives we find ourselves wanting to take control. We pray: “Your will be done” and then exercise our own will.

Part of the eternal struggle is our unwillingness to trust God and our determination to go our own way. We wonder why the world is as it is, yet fail to see that time and again, we take over instead of allowing God to take charge of world affairs. The story of Eden is played out every day as human being compete with God for control as our desire for independence leads to decisions that have disastrous consequences – for ourselves and for others. When Abraham and Sarah took things into their own hands, it had disastrous consequences for themselves and for Hagar and Ishmael. When the Israelites were too afraid to trust God to lead them into the Promised Land, they sentenced themselves to forty more years in the wilderness. When Peter didn’t accept that Jesus had to suffer, he was accused of being Satan. When we take things into our own hands, it can lead to disastrous consequences. When we act on our own behalf we interfere with and subvert God’s plans for us, we delay fulfillment of God’s promise and damage our relationship with God and very often with those around us. When we fail to place our trust completely in God, we prevent God from directing our lives in ways that lead to contentment and peace, for ourselves and for the world.

Trust exists when one person is willing to rely on another to the extent that they abandon control over the actions performed by the other and thereby risk a certain amount of uncertainty with regard to the outcome[1]. Trusting in God means handing over control and accepting that even though things don’t go the way we hope, God will be with us in the process and God will see us through to the end.

In Mary we have one example of trust outweighing doubt. Mary was deeply disturbed, agitated even by the angel’s announcement to her and her response was to challenge and to question how such a thing might be possible. Yet despite her fear and anxiety, Mary was able to stifle her incredulity and to accept not only that she would have a child, but that somehow in her conservative, closed society that God would find a way to protect both herself and her child.

Mary’s trust was not without cost. Almost from the beginning she had to let go of her promised son. Jesus caused anxiety by staying behind in Jerusalem to dialogue with the priests. On another occasion, he refused to see her claiming that those who believed were his mother, his sisters and his brothers, and all the time in the back of her mind is Simeon’s prophecy that: “a sword will pierce your own soul.” Finally, Mary has to accept and endure Jesus’ conviction and crucifixion.

Like us, Mary could not read God’s mind. When she said: “yes” to God, she did not know where it would lead her. She did not know that Joseph would still marry her, she did not realise that parenting her child would be painful and difficult, she could not have imagined that God would allow her son to suffer a slow and agonizing death and she certainly could not have imagined Jesus’ resurrection and the movement that grew up following his death and resurrection.

Like Mary, we cannot read God’s mind. We do not know what God has in store for us. We will, like her, have moments of uncertainty and doubt. But through it all we can be sure of one thing, that if only we hold fast to God’s promise, if only we have the courage to surrender ourselves entirely to God, not only will our lives work out for the better, but our very surrender to God will contribute to the salvation of the world and the coming of God’s kingdom.

[1] A paraphrase from Wikipedia.

According to Mark

January 24, 2015

Epiphany 3 – 2015

Mark 1:14-20

Marian Free

In the name of God who will never, ever abandon us. Amen.

It is generally accepted that Mark’s gospel was the first of the four gospels to be written and that Matthew and Luke used Mark account as the model of their own records of the life of Jesus. The author of Mark is writing at the time of the Jewish War – that is some time in the late sixties or the early seventies, around the time of the destruction of Jerusalem. Up until this time the central message of the faith (as is attested by the letters of Paul) had been the death and resurrection of Jesus. Now, those who knew the earthly Jesus have died. There was a need to flesh out the Passion story, to provide the context surrounding Jesus’ execution and to explain to a new generation why the Christ, the Son of God had to die. Jesus’ death and resurrection, though powerful events were no longer enough on their own. They needed to be balanced with stories that illustrated the extraordinary nature of the earthly Jesus. Jesus’ beginning, his teaching and his miracles were important elements in bringing the story to life for future generations.

At the same time it was becoming clear that those who believed in Jesus could expect to suffer. Even if those for whom the gospel was written were not themselves experiencing suffering or persecution themselves, they would have been aware of the plight of believers in Jerusalem and of the persecution of Christians in Rome by Emperor Nero. Members of Mark’s community not only had to come to an understanding of Jesus’ suffering, but they also had to learn that as disciples, they would share in that suffering.

The first gospel is the most honest of the gospels. By that I mean that in Mark’s gospel we see the characters as they really are – nothing is hidden from our gaze. The author doesn’t gloss over either the humanity of Jesus or the foolishness of the disciples.

In Mark’s gospel we meet a Jesus who, among other things, doesn’t know everything (13:32), who can’t do miracles for those who don’t believe (6:5), who at times does not seem to know the will of God and who allows a gentile who is a woman to change his mind (7:24-30). This Jesus expresses every human emotion – pity anger, sadness, wonder, compassion, indignation, love and anguish. His humanity is as evident as the divinity that is stressed from the very first sentence and repeated throughout.

If Jesus’ humanity is evident, the ignorance and fear of those who follow him, is equally clear. Mark’s picture of the disciples is far from flattering. They let Jesus down, they fail to understand, they try to persuade Jesus from his course and at the end they betray and desert him. The disciple’s frailty is particularly obvious when Jesus predicts his suffering and resurrection. In each of the three instances, the disciples’ reaction shows their complete lack of comprehension. On the first occasion, Peter rebukes Jesus, the second is followed by a discussion between the disciples as to who is the greatest and after the third prediction James and John ask Jesus if they can sit at his right and at his left in his kingdom. Unable to accept that the Christ must suffer, they demonstrate their complete lack of understanding by correcting Jesus, by changing the topic and by trying to regain control of things. Their response shows that they can only understand the kingdom in human terms.

According to Mark, Jesus is fallible and the disciples are anything but models for those who come after. (Matthew and Luke rehabilitate both Jesus and the disciples. In Matthew, then Luke and finally John, Jesus becomes more and more like God and the disciples become both wiser and braver.) Of course, there is method in Mark’s apparent madness. Mark is not interested in presenting either Jesus or the disciples as perfect. His purpose is to emphasise what God has done for us in and through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus’ humanity provides the vehicle through which Mark can reveal God’s grace and dependability. The frailty and fearfulness of the disciples reminds readers that it is what God does and not what they do that matters in the end.

This gospel is not a tale of triumph but an account of frailty and suffering. The gospel takes a circuitous and difficult route from the announcement of Jesus as God’s Son in verse 1 to Jesus’ cry of abandonment on the cross. “My God, my God why have you abandoned me?” It is only at the end that everything comes together. After the crucifixion – the apparent failure of Jesus’ mission – it becomes clear that God has been there all along. God’s presence in the rolling away of the stone and God’s messenger in the tomb announcing the resurrection are evidence that despite appearances to the contrary, God did not abandon Jesus. Jesus’ trust and confidence in God has been vindicated by his resurrection. The report that Jesus has gone before the disciples to Galilee is proof that though the disciples had denied and abandoned Jesus, Jesus has not abandoned them.

This year we will be travelling together through the Gospel of Mark, which was written not only for disciples at the end of the first century, but also for those of us in the twenty first century. We will hear how Mark moves the story along, we will see how from the moment he begins his ministry Jesus is always accompanied by those whom he chose to be his disciples, we will understand that the conflict that is evident from the beginning will characterize Jesus’ ministry and lead to his death, and we will be reminded that despite his cry of agony from the cross, God did not abandon him and God will never abandon us.

Faith in Jesus does not guarantee a life of ease. Following Jesus does not lead to perfection. Belief does not always equal understanding. There will be times of pain and suffering in our lives, there will be times when we are only too aware of our imperfections and there will be times when we simply do not understand what God is doing or where God has gone. At such times we can turn once again to Mark’s gospel and remember that whatever life has to throw at us, God will never, ever abandon us and however often we let him down Jesus will never, ever give up on us.

Making a difference in the world

December 20, 2014

Advent 4 – 2014
Luke 1:26-36
Marian Free

In the name of Jesus who surrendered himself completely and in so doing became completely God. Amen.

What a year this has been. What a week! This week alone two people have lost their lives in a hostage situation in Sydney, 140 students and teachers have been killed in an attack on a school in Pakistan, eight children have been stabbed to death by their mother in Cairns, and (hidden away in a small paragraph of today’s paper) we learn that another 180 women and children have been kidnapped by Boko Haran in Nigeria. In the face of all this horror and violence it is easy to overlook the devastating news that the UN has run out of funds and that hundreds of thousands of refugees who have fled the violence in Syria and Iraq can no longer expect food handouts and so may have escaped the war only to face starvation. It might also have escaped our attention that currently in the Central African Republic something like 10,000 children – some as young as eight – have been recruited as soldiers and force to fight in a war they almost certainly do not understand.

And that is just this week and only the news items that particularly grabbed my attention. It is only the tip of the iceberg in a world that seems to be falling apart at the seams.

The week just gone is exactly the sort of week that might make a person ask “where is God in all this” and “why doesn’t God do something to stop the violence and destruction?” The reason is simple – God can’t intervene. At least God cannot intervene decisively and enduringly without stooping to our level and behaving just like us. If God were to use violence to put an end to violence either the world itself would be destroyed or the world would follow God’s example and the cycle of violence would continue. If instead God tried to impose God’s will, to dominate and subjugate the aggressors would resist God’s control and take out their frustration on others the situation might become worse rather than better.

So while God might despair at the state of the world today, God chooses not to intervene. If God does intervene God does so in a completely novel and unexpected way – without resorting to violence or domination. God knows that forcing us to do God’s will is not nearly as effective as working with us to achieve the same end. For this reason God refuses to coerce us, to bend us to his purpose or to subjugate us to God’s authority. Instead God waits. God waits until we are ready, until we recognise and are open to God’s greater wisdom and willingly submit ourselves to God’s plan for us and for the world. For it is only when individuals acknowledge God and allow God to direct their lives that they enable God to be effective in achieving God’s purpose. It is only when we relinquish our pride, our arrogance and our selfish ambitions that God is able to work in and through us to make real God’s hopes for all humankind.

And so we come at last to today’s gospel and the extraordinary story of an ordinary young woman whose selfless humility made a place for God in her life and therefore for God in the world. In order to respond to God, Mary put aside her fears, her ambitions, her desire for respectability and her need to be in control of her own life. Mary was less concerned with what was good for her, and more concerned about the greater good, less worried about her own future, and more worried about the future of humankind. Mary let go and gave herself and her life completely into God’s hands.

It was Mary’s willingness to submit to God that provided God with the opportunity to intervene in the world. It was Mary’s “yes” that led to Christ’s birth and consequently to the redemption of all humankind.

If then the world has not been redeemed, we need not look to God but to ourselves. While we continue to hold on to our own hopes and dreams, while we persist in trying to prove ourselves by competing with and striving over and against others, while we rely on our own resources to provide security for the present and the future, we effectively diminish God’s presence in the world while at the same time reinforcing our own.

Paradoxically, it was Mary’s submission, her giving up of her self, that not only allowed God to be brought to birth in the world, but made her most truly the person God created her to be. In giving up everything, Mary gained more than she could have ever imagined, by accepting ignominy, Mary gained the sort of fame which few have achieved and few can even imagine.

Mary is told: “Nothing is impossible with God.” Nothing is impossible for God, but in order for God to make a difference in this broken world, God needs our cooperation, our willingness to let go of ambition and self interest, our preparedness to relinquish our need for control and give ourselves completely to God’s will. There are few who are prepared to give themselves so completely and lose themselves so thoroughly and as a result the world continues its trajectory towards self-destruction.

God needs our ‘yes’ to join that of Mary’s so that in every age and every place, ordinary men and women will continue to bring Christ to birth. Our “yes to God might not transform the world, but it might change our small corner for the better.


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