Posts Tagged ‘heaven’

Open to heaven

January 17, 2015

Epiphany 2 – 2015

John 1:43-51

Marian Free

 May my spoken word, lead us through the written Word, to encounter the Living Word, even Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.

Last week Rodney and I attended the Clergy Summer School. Attending is always worthwhile, because whatever the topic, I find that I learn something new. At the same time I enjoy the break and the collegiality of my peers. This year our theme was music – “The Experience of Music as Theology. One of our speakers was Geoff Bullock – the founder of Hillsong Music Australia. A composer and lyric writer, he was the Worship pastor of Hillsong from 1987-1995. Four of Geoff’s songs can be found in our hymnbook including The Power of Your Love and The Heavens Shall Declare. The second speaker was Maeve Heaney, a member of the Spanish religious community (Verbum Die Missionary Society). Like Geoff, Maeve is a writer and composer of Christian music. She hails from Ireland, has written a Phd on music as theology and now teaches at the Australian Catholic University at Banyo.

The two speakers were invited for very different reasons. The committee were aware that Geoff had left Hillsong 20 years ago and that since then both his faith and his music writing had taken a different direction. Music and lyrics that had formerly reflected the theology of the Hillsong community had changed to be more representative of mainstream theology. Geoff was invited to tell his story and to share with us some of the history of contemporary church music. Maeve had recently published her Phd and was invited to speak about church music from a more academic perspective.

As I have said, the Summer School is always valuable, but this year there was a very different feel to it. On reflection, I suspect that it was because the input was not just academic, but also personal – there was heart stuff as well as head stuff. In sharing the story of his music, Geoff shared a great deal about his faith story and in teaching us about the theology of music; Maeve revealed something of her relationship with Jesus. The generosity of both Maeve and Geoff in sharing with us their personal stories brought us face-to-face with the presence of Jesus in their lives. I felt that they told their stories in such a way that the presence of God was almost palpable. It was if a door had been opened between heaven and earth and that Jesus was in the lecture theatre with us.

This week and last, the gospel readings have reminded us that in Jesus the boundaries between heaven and earth have been radically changed. Last Sunday, we heard from Mark’s gospel  that at Jesus’ baptism the heavens were ripped apart and that the Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove. In today’s gospel Jesus tells Nathaniel: “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

Many of us will have recognised in today’s gospel the reference to Jacob’s dream in Genesis 28:7 in which Jacob sees angels ascending and descending a ladder that reaches into heaven. There is a significant difference however between Genesis and John. In the former, access to heaven occurs when Jacob is dreaming whereas Jesus’ promise to Nathaniel suggests that access to heaven is through Jesus, that Jesus’ presence on earth means that the barriers between heaven and earth have been permanently removed. From now on, access to heaven or to God is not limited to dreams, it is not mediated through the patriarchs, the prophets or the priests, it is not found only in the Temple, but is available at any time and in any place to each and everyone of Jesus’ disciples and to all who worship him. Jesus’ coming among us on earth means that heaven and earth have been brought together in a way that was unimaginable and perhaps even impossible before.

That does not necessarily mean that we are always aware of God’s presence, nor that we are constantly “moved by the Spirit”. Life would be impossible if every person of faith was constantly experiencing or seeking some sort of religious or spiritual high. If that were to be the case, there would be a danger that the experience of heaven would come to be taken for granted, that instead of our experience of God being wondrous and special it would become mundane and ordinary. Of course, we all know the presence of God in our lives most if not all of the time, but there are occasions when it feels as though, God/Jesus/the Holy Spirit is particularly close. At those times there seems to be no barrier between the eternal and ourselves.

How and when that happens will almost certainly be different for each one of us. For some it will happen when they are listening to a particularly inspiring or beautiful piece of music, others will have their breath taken away by an extraordinary view, still others will have an experience of God during worship or in a time of private prayer and yet others when they are sharing together stories of their faith. We may experience God in all of these or in many other ways at different moments of our lives. God in Jesus is not limited to time and space and will at times catch us by surprise, move us deeply or take our breath away.

Jesus might have ascended to heaven, but that does not mean that he is no longer accessible to us. Heaven has been opened to us, if we are to get the most out of our relationship with God, it is essential that we are open to heaven.

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The heavens torn asunder

January 10, 2015

Baptism of Jesus – 2015

Mark 1:4-11 (Genesis 1:1-8)

Marian Free

May my spoken word, lead us through the written Word, to encounter the Living Word, even Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.

It is difficult to let go of the idea that heaven is above us and that hell – if such a place exists – is below. Even though modern science has revealed the vastness of the universe, and even though we know that the nearest star is light years away, most of us still think of heaven as somewhere above the sky. One reason for such a view is that our image of heaven is formed by our biblical texts that in turn are dependent on a view of the world that dominated in ancient times. In this period of time, it was believed that the earth sat on pillars above the waters below and that the sky was a vast dome that held back the waters above. The sun, moon and stars hung from this dome and the rain fell through holes in the dome.

In Hebrew the word for this dome is raqia. This is the same word that is used for God’s chariot or for the platform for God’s throne. It seems that in Hebrew thought the sky – what was for them the roof of the earth – was for God the floor of heaven. That is not to say that they understood God to be confined to heaven or that they thought that the dome was impermeable, preventing movement in either direction. After all, God had conversations with Abraham and Moses spoke to God face-to-face. It does seem however, that communication between God and humankind generally occurred through individuals such as the patriarchs or the prophets or through intermediaries such as angels. In any event, over time the communication between heaven and earth became ritualized and instead of communication being a two-way conversation, it was limited to an action that took place once a year – first of all in the tent of meeting and then in the Temple.

The design of these places of worship is important, in particular the separation of the sanctuary, which is the place of meeting. In Exodus God says to Moses: “And have them make me a sanctuary. There I will meet you and I will give you all my commands for the Israelites.” Moses used to meet God in the sanctuary on a regular basis but, according to the Book of Leviticus this place, which was separated by a curtain from the remainder of the tent of meeting, was considered so holy that it was only entered once and year and then only by the current High Priest. On the Day of Atonement, the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies surrounded by a cloud of incense that would prevent him from seeing God. Inside the sanctuary he would sprinkle blood on and before the mercy seat. This was to cleanse the tent of the sins of the people and to make it possible for God to continue to dwell in their midst. It was not a conversation between the priest and God as it had been in Moses’ day. The Temple, when it was built, was built on the same design as the Tent of meeting. Again the sanctuary was separated from the inner court by a curtain and entered only once a year by the High Priest. The relationship between God and the people at this time was not personal but formal and dictated by ritual.

All of this background information is essential if we are to understand Mark’s account of Jesus’ baptism.

Mark tells us that as Jesus was coming out of the water, he saw the heavens torn asunder and hears the voice of God saying: “You are my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” It is true that in this account only Jesus sees the heavens torn and hears the voice of God, but Mark’s audience hear the words as if they too see and hear, and the implication of what is happening is not lost on them. The violent tearing of the heavens suggests to them that the barrier that existed between them and heaven has been broken irreparably. The dome is no longer intact. God has broken through into the world and nothing will ever be the same. From now on the way in which God communicates with the world will be radically different. God will be accessible to all people, not to just a few.

That this is Mark’s intended meaning is made clear at the conclusion of the gospel when another violent tearing destroys the curtain in the Temple – that which had separated the people from the sanctuary. Mark records that when Jesus took his last breath, the veil (curtain) in the Temple was torn from top to bottom making clear that no longer is communication with God limited to just one person just once a year. All people now have access to and can communicate directly with God.

Even though Mark does not record Jesus’ birth, in only a few verses he makes it obvious that in Jesus, God has radically entered the world. God’s heaven has been opened in a way that could not previously have been imagined and the violence of the opening suggests that it will not easily be closed again. The barriers (real or perceived) between earth and heaven have been destroyed. All of humanity is now able to speak directly to God without the need of an intermediary.

God has done everything possible to open channels of communication with us. It is up to us to make good use of them.

Triumph of good over evil

September 28, 2013

Michael and All Angels – 2013 

Revelation 12:7-12a

Marian Free

In the name of God who reveals to us far more than we can understand and yet is as familiar as a breath. Amen.

The first time I was taken to see a Shakespearean play, my father gave me a synopsis to read so that I would be sure to understand it. Shakespeare’s English and time are sufficiently different from ours that my father thought that I would be lost without some guidance. It is still the case, that for some productions at least, the programme provides an outline of the story so that the attendee does not get lost. It is a shame that some such guidance is not provided for modern readers of the book of Revelation which was written for a time vastly different from our own and in a form and language that many of us find difficult, if not impossible to understand.

From the beginning the book of Revelation was controversial. Until the fourth century many did not even include it among the books of the New Testament. Revelation is a colourful, even lurid description of what will happen at the end of time to those who oppose God and persecute those who believe in Jesus. It can be a difficult book to understand because it is full of symbolism which we no longer use or understand. In parts it reads like a collection of Old Testament quotes simply cobbled together. In other places there are descriptions of heaven and elsewhere there are fantastical stories, like the story of the woman giving birth and the red dragon which has seven heads and ten horns and a tail that can sweep the stars out of the sky.

Some of the symbolism is lost to us, but some can be interpreted. We know for example that numbers are significant in Judaism. Seven is the number of perfection, twelve represents comprehensiveness and four refers to the four corners of the earth. We know too that letters were used as numbers in both Hebrew and Greek – so for example the letters in the name David added up to 14 which is significant for Matthew’s genealogy. This information helps us to determine that 666 (the number of the beast in Revelation) is almost certainly the numerical value of the name Nero – a particularly violent Emperor, who by the time of the writing of Revelation was dead, but was also rumoured to have returned to life. Colours also have some significance for the readers of this type of literature. The four horses of the apocalypse are coloured – red (for war), green (for death), black (for famine) and white (for the crown, the conqueror).

Without a code breaker, Revelation is almost impossible to understand. Without an understanding of its background and purpose, it is easily misinterpreted. It can become to the uninitiated a book of judgment when it is intended as a book of comfort and grace.

As the introduction implies, Revelation is directed at seven churches in Asia Minor. Members of these churches were experiencing some form of persecution or social exclusion and isolation. Having become Christians they could not participate in the worship of idols nor could they be involved in the Emperor cult. This in turn would have excluded them from the social, ritual and business life of their society. If they could not worship idols, they could not belong to the trade guilds and their ability to earn a living would have been severely reduced. Added to that was the fact that after the Jewish war they had lost the protection of the synagogue and the respect that was afforded to the Jews throughout the Empire. They were vulnerable and not recognised by the state as a religion.

What these people needed then was encouragement to keep the faith and an assurance that they would be rewarded for their steadfastness – if not in the present then at least in some future life. They needed to believe too that those who opposed them would get their just desserts. The book was not written as a prediction of cataclysmic events in a distant future. It was written to address a particular situation sometime towards the end of the first century. It cannot be used to interpret our present, but rather as a tool to try to understand an aspect of the past.

Scholars approach the book differently, but one way to read the book is to see it as a drama which consists of seven scenes.[i]. Five of the scenes are bordered by descriptions of heaven and four of the scenes contain a group of seven – there are seven seals, seven trumpets, seven visions and seven bowls. Before the seventh seal and seventh trumpet there are interludes or digressions which introduce a different theme one of which includes the brief account of Michael the archangel, who with his angels, throws Satan, with his angels, out of heaven. The heavenly drama is described in only one verse. If we read on, it appears that any victory over God’s opponents has been won as much by believers on earth as it has by the heavenly hosts and that the battle in heaven is a vivid and dramatic way of describing the actual situation on earth.

Satan is not necessarily a being, but is personalized here to make a point about the battle between good and evil, chaos and order, law and lawlessness. The context tells us that Satan in this account is not the tempter of Genesis but the accuser, the devil’s advocate of the book of Job. We deduce this from verse 10, which suggests that one of the forms of persecution experienced by Christians is that their fellow citizens have been accusing them before Rome (12:10) – possibly informing the authorities of their refusal to take part in the Emperor cult. However, even at the risk of their own lives, the believers have remained firm. In this way the believers themselves have exposed how ineffectual Satan really is. Perhaps more importantly, there is no longer anything for which believers can be accused – they have remained faithful. This means that there is no longer a role for Satan (the accuser) in heaven.

Believers are thus assured that while the present may be filled with difficulty and the threat of persecution, their steadfastness in the face of opposition is essential to the triumph of heaven, the victory of good over evil. How comforting those words must have been then and how much they must mean to the Christians experiencing hostility and violence in places such as Pakistan and Nigeria today. Not only are they assured that their steadfastness will be rewarded, they are also being reminded that their very faithfulness will contribute to the triumph of good in the world.

Our experience, in 21st century Hamilton, is vastly different from those for whom the book of Revelation was written. That said, we still live in a world in which there is a great deal that is outside of our control, in which bad things happen to good people and in which no one can escape grief and suffering. For all its complexities, the Book of Revelation is a reminder that no matter how bleak our situation or our disastrous the outlook for the future, we can believe that God is on our side, that good will triumph over evil and that at the end, God will wipe every tear from our eyes (Rev 21:4).


[i] Fallon provides the following breakdown of the book.

a. Introduction                                                 1:1-3

b. Opening liturgical dialogue                     1:4-8

c. Prophetic commission                              1:9-11

Heaven

Scene 1 Letters to the 7 churches             2:1-3:22

Heaven                                                   4:1-5:14

Scene 2 Six seals are broken                       6:1-7:9

Heaven                                                   7:9-8:6

Scene 3 The sounding of six  trumpets            8:7-11:14

Heaven                                                11:15-12:12

Scene 4 Forces for good and for evil      12:13-14:20

Heaven                                                 15:1-8

Scene 5 The seven bowls                            16:1-18:24

Heaven                                                19:1-10

Scene 6 The final struggle, victory          19:11-20:15

and judgement

Scene 7 The Church of God on earth     21:1-22:5

a. Guarantee of prophecy              22:6-7

b. Concluding liturgical dialogue    22:8-17

c. Conclusion                                                22:18-21

Wealth management

September 21, 2013

Pentecost 18. 2013

Luke 16:1-8

Marian  Free

“Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property.  2 So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’  3 Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg.  4 I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’  5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’  6 He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’  7 Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’  8 And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.”

In the name of God whose foolishness is wiser than human wisdom. Amen.

If you were to write a novel, or an essay, or a scientific report, there would be certain steps that you would take and particular methodologies that you would employ. Writing a psychological report is quite different from writing a history essay. Writing a novel is quite different from writing a poem. Writing a sonnet is quite different from writing a haiku poem. Every style of writing has its own rules which serve to make the intention of the author clearer. A novelist wants to engage the reader and to maintain their attention, a scientific writer wants to ensure that the results of their research are presented in a clear and convincing manner. Students of English literature would be able to examine a poem or novel in great detail to determine the different techniques used by an author.

We should not be surprised to learn that New Testament writings also follow established modes of writing and story-telling. Like some novels the gospels, which are essentially biographies, contain a variety of styles – parables, sayings, miracle stories and more. Each of these have their own particular patterns. Furthermore, it is important to note that in the first century, there were no printing presses and few people who could read or write. Stories were heard, not read. For that reason, techniques were developed, consciously, or otherwise to make the stories memorable. One of the methods was that of repetition, another was to create a pattern or to tell a story that would make people sit up and listen.

Jesus appears to have been a good story teller and the gospel writers likewise re-told the stories in ways which would ensure that the listeners would hear and remember the point that was being made. I mention all this because the parable recorded in today’s gospel has a very specific pattern which provides an example of one form of story-telling in the first century.

Crossan identifies the following three acts and the patterns within those acts.

Scene 1 (16:1-2) Master and Steward

(a)  16:1a (relationship given: steward)               16:2a (accusation repeated: “I hear”

(b) 16:1b (accusation made: charges)                16:2b (relationship broken: “no  longer”)

Scene 2 (16:3-4) Steward and Self

(a)  16:3a = 16:4a (“What shall I do?”/”I have decided what to do”)

(b) 16:3b = 16:4b (“stewardship” “stewardship”)

(c)   16:3c = 16:4c (problem/solution)

Scene 3 (16:5-7) Steward and Debtors

(a)  16:5a = 16:7a (“he said to the first”, “he said to another”)

(b) 16:5b = 16:7b (“how much do you owe?” x2)

(c)   16:6a =16:7c (He said: a hundred x2)

(d)  16:6b = 16:7d (“Take your bill and write” x2)[1]

It is evident that that even in these few verses, a number of the ideas are repeated. In scene one the relationship is reversed by use of repetition. In scenes two and three repeated themes emphasise the points that are being made. Because we are not used to listening to these stories and because, unlike Crossan and others, we are unskilled in literary criticism, we do not recognise these patterns without help. However, in Jesus’ day, it would have been patterns and structures like these which will have earned and kept the listener’s attention.

Of all Jesus’ parables, the parable of the master and his steward is probably the most difficult to understand. In it Jesus appears to be condoning dishonesty- something which seems completely contradictory to all that Jesus stands for. Jesus might eat with tax collectors and sinners, but he doesn’t condone bad behaviour – just the opposite. In order to understand this parable then we need to understand a few things – the role of steward, the accusations laid against him and the reason Jesus commends his action. As is the case today, a steward (manager) might have almost full responsibility for the concerns of his employer. The manager would make the day-to-day decisions about the business and be responsible for ensuring that it made a profit. In this instance, the manger would have determined how much to charge for the various products and, so long as the master was making money could determine how much he kept for himself. In reducing the amounts owed he may well be reducing the margin that he kept for himself, rather than defrauding his employer. Another point to note is that the manager is being dismissed for incompetence – not for dishonesty – so to assume he begins by being dishonest, is to draw the wrong conclusion.

In reducing his share of the profits the manager is assuring himself of a welcome in the homes of those whose debts he reduces. This is what Jesus is commending – not dishonesty, but the manager’s willingness to give up his worldly comforts (wealth) in the present for the sake of potential benefits in the future. “He has not clung to his wealth, but used it to earn goodwill that will serve him in his hour of need.”[2] In the same way, Jesus’ hearers should give their wealth to the poor so that those who will inherit the kingdom will welcome them into the eternal dwellings.

The author of Luke’s gospel does not condemn wealth, but he is very clear that wealth or our desire for it, should not come between ourselves and our relationship God. The desire for security and comfort in this life, should not distract us from developing those things which will provide us with security and comfort in the life to come. Further, the author of Luke is clear that those who possess wealth have an obligation to share it with those who do not (if for no other reason than that of today’s parable – to ensure a welcome from the poor (who as we are told in the Beatitudes) will inherit the kingdom of heaven (Lk 6:20). In the kingdom everything is reversed – it is just as well to get used to that now. In the final analysis, none of us can take our wealth with us. It is more important to build up those things/those values and characteristics that will be of value in the life to come, than to waste our time building up and protecting possessions that will be of no use in our heavenly existence. It will do us little good to be wealthy if greed, selfishness and egocentricism exclude us from the life to come. It will be of little value to have secured a fortune if we have not at the same time secured the peace, joy, love, patience and generosity that will be treasured in heaven.

Where does your security lie? What are you doing to ensure that your relationship with God comes first and not last?


[1] Crossan, John Dominic. In Parables: The Challenge of the Historical Jesus. California: Polebridge Press, 1992, 107,8.

[2] Byrne, Brendan S.J. The Hospitality of God: A Reading of Luke’s Gospel. Minnesota: St Paul’s Press, 2006, 134.

A matter of heaven or hell

February 23, 2013

Lent 2 – 2013

Luke 13:1-9

Marian Free

Figs

Figs

In the name of God who created all things, and saw that they were good. Amen.

Today’s gospel reading includes two discrete parts. A couple of sayings about repentance are followed by a parable about growth.  The first sayings certainly get our attention – Galileans whose blood Pilate mixed with their sacrifices and 18 crushed by a falling tower. Shocking as these events are they are not a sign that those killed were more sinful than others. All of us need to repent. Luke follows these sayings with the parable of the fig tree. Repentance alone is not sufficient, believers are called to grow into full maturity rather than to rest on their laurels for the remainder of their lives. (Salvation is not dependent on a one off decision, but process that begins when we repent and turn to God.)

Jesus’ parable about the fig tree is often misunderstood. An emphasis on keeping the ten commandments and doing good works has led to the conclusion that if the fig tree will only be spared if it produces fruit, that we will only be spared if we can manage to build up a folio of good works that can be measured on the day of judgement. However, in this instance, as in most cases in the New Testament, fruit represents much more than external deeds or measurable goodness. As the parable implies, the fig’s bearing fruit is dependent on its receiving enough fertilizer – that is, on its internal health. Fruit trees in general are very reliant on nourishment, they cannot bear fruit unless they have been properly fed and watered. (The first and only time that my parent’s persimmon bore fruit was the year after the ’74 flood had deposited a substantial amount of fertile silt on their garden.)

Many fruit trees need to reach maturity before they bear fruit. Figs generally take two or three years to be well enough established to produce figs and then they will produce best only if they have been given a good start in life – planted in the right situation and fed and watered well. Without help, a fruit tree will probably attain a reasonable height and appear to be growing well, but without the required fertiliser, no amount of growth will produce fruit.

It is possible that Luke combined the sayings about repentance with the parable of the fig tree because he understood that a change of heart (repentance) was required before growth (maturity) could occur. Conversely, repentance alone is not enough, but is a pre-requisite for future development. A change of heart – repentance – creates the sort of internal environment that allows fruit (the external evidence of change and growth) to be produced. That being the case, it becomes clear that Jesus is speaking of fruit (behaviour) which is driven by a relationship with God that is strong and healthy and which is nurtured and developed by the presence of the Holy Spirit. Seen in this light, fruit refers much less to good deeds and much more to the characteristics that result from such a change of heart.

Paul understood this when he wrote of the fruit of the spirit. When he lists the fruit he doesn’t refer to keeping the commandments or doing good deeds but to the external signs of a person at peace with God, with themselves and with the world. Love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, patience and self-control are the fruit that we are to bear. These are the characteristics that will be a sign of our growing spiritual maturity.

Jesus’ challenge to the disciples that they are not to make the mistake of believing that their turning to him (repentance) is some simplistic, easy fix that will ensure their salvation. Turning to Jesus is only the first step in a process of development that will continue for the rest of their lives and that development, as the parable indicates, will need to be encouraged, fed and nurtured.

Richard Rohr considers spiritual development in his book Falling Upward – a spirituality for the two halves of life[1]. He argues that many people never develop beyond the superficial declaration of faith. Having come to faith, they fail to feed and nurture the depths of their being such that they bear meaningful fruit as a result of their faith. Because they do not pay enough attention to what is going on internally, their external lives never really change. They cannot bear fruit because they have not developed a healthy spirituality that can drive their behaviour.

Rohr suggests that this internal growth is at the core of all religious practice and that it is essential not only for the individual but for the world as a whole. This he claims is because: “God gives us our soul, our deepest identity, our True Self, our unique blueprint at our own ‘immaculate conception’. We are given a span of years to discover it, to choose it and to live our destiny to the full. Our True Self will never be offered again”. The unique person that is ourself has this life only to be the unique person God intends us to be, to achieve the unique goals God has in mind for us and to contribute to the world the unique gifts with which God has endowed us. Our one essential task in this life is to discover and to be that True Self, that unique part of God’s creation. Rohr believes that this task is absolutely imperative for all of us. Heaven and earth, all that is, depend upon our trying to become the person God intended us to be.

Because the implications of this task are so vast, its importance cannot be underestimated. In fact, Rohr suggests, it is because so much is dependent on our spiritual health that the discussion surrounding it is accompanied by such emotionally charged words as “heaven” and “hell”. It is why the vineyard owner threatens to uproot the tree when it is not fulfilling its purpose, why the call to repentance is set in the context of such shocking stories as the slaying of the Galileans and the fall of the Tower of Siloam. The consequence of not nurturing our souls is not something to be taken lightly – it has ramifications for the future of the whole world.

If we allow ourselves grow into our souls, to become the unique being envisaged by God at our creation, God’s purpose not only for us but for the world will be achieved. If we do not grow into our own unique being we hinder God’s purpose, we fail to make our own unique contribution and we refuse the invitation to take part in bringing about the coming of God’s Kingdom.

The purpose of the fig is to bear figs. Without fruit it is taking up space, that could be used to grow something else. It is not fulfilling the purpose for which it was created. Our purpose is to grow into our full identity, that unique self that God has given us and by doing so to share with God in bringing about the kingdom, the salvation of the world.

 


[1] Rohr, Richard. Falling Upward – a spirituality for the two halves of life. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2011, ix. Note: I acknowledge that I have used Rohr as my starting point, but I am aware that  he may not agree with my use of his premise.

Being Prepared – a Reflection for Advent 2

December 8, 2012

Advent 2 2012

Luke 3:1-6

Marian Free

Woodbine Willie

Geoffrey Anketell Studdert Kennedy

In the name of God who is coming to call us all to account. Amen.

I wonder how you envisage judgement day? Do you see God seated on a throne with books of your good and bad deeds laid out before him? Or do you think that when you breathe your last you will simply make an easy transition to heaven? Do you think about what you might do before that day to be prepared?

I guess that I stand somewhere between the idea of the throne and of the easy transition. I am not convinced that a God who enters the world as a vulnerable baby and allows himself to be nailed to the cross, is a God that is absorbed with thinking of ways to keep us out of heaven. Neither do I think that God keeps score, for that would rob the cross of its meaning and imply that we could achieve salvation through our own efforts. I do believe however that we are accountable for how we behave in this life and that we will stand before God to give an account.

How do we prepare for such an occasion? Do we worry ourselves sick trying to reach some imaginary high standard? Do we need to become serious, moralizing, fun- destroying do-gooders? Do we put ourselves into a straight jacket so that we can be sure that we will avoid doing those things which would lead us to hell?

I don’t think so. I believe that the most important thing that we can do to be prepared for the end is to trust in God’s unfailing love and in response to that love endeavour to be the best we can. In coming to this opinion, I have found this poem by Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy to be helpful. It’s called “Well?” and it was written by Studdert Kennedy when he was an army chaplain during WWI. It is written in dialect so I apologize ahead of time if I slip in and out of the accent. It is published in a collection of Studdert Kennedy’s poems called Unutterable Beauty and can be found on the Internet if you’d like to read it for yourself. I think it speaks for itself and may give you something to think about as you prepare for the coming of Jesus.

www.poemhunter.com/poem/well-5/ (There are also recitations of the poem on You tube)

 


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