Posts Tagged ‘Love’

Why resist

August 10, 2019

Pentecost 9 – 2019

Luke 12:32-40

Marian Free

In the name of God whose generosity and love know no bounds. Amen.

In the mini series, North and South, there are a number of poignant scenes as the story takes us into the ‘dark Satanic mills’ of the newly industrialised England. Families crowded into single room dwellings struggle to make ends meet on the pittance that the recently rich industrialists pay them. Children are put to work as soon as they are able and those who are not at work stay at home to look after those too young to earn a living. Life expectancy is low, not least because the cotton fibers fill the lungs of the workers. The poverty is heart-breaking. At one point, the heroine, Margaret Hale, ventures into the slums to visit a friend. Margaret, the daughter of a former country vicar, is used to accompanying her father on his visits and taking with her baskets of food to alleviate the suffering of the poor. As she is making her way, Margaret passes a woman who is trying to pacify a crying child. In response to Margaret’s look of sympathy, the woman tries to reassure her: “Don’t worry,” she says, “the child is only hungry.” Without hesitation Margaret takes out her purse intending to give the family a coin with which to buy food. However, rather than expressing relief and gratitude, the woman turns away – offended by the proffered gift.

There are all kinds of reasons why a person might refuse or resist a gift – embarrassment, pride, a sense of unworthiness, a fear of ensuing indebtedness or obligations, or a desire for independence among others. In the the story, it seems as if the woman’s refusal relates to more than one of these possibilities. To her the offer of help is both patronizing and humiliating. She does not need to have her poverty so rudely exposed and Margaret’s pity is unintentionally demeaning. It reveals the great divide between the rich and the poor and, rather than bridge that divide, Margaret’s charity only exaggerates it.

Today’s gospel includes a number of unrelated sayings and a parable. It occurs in the midst of a long teaching section which Luke places in the context of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. The sayings express Jesus’ frustration and grief, his confidence in God’s benevolence, his anger at the Pharisaic view of the world and more general teaching about discipleship. Included in the teaching are many warnings: ‘Be on your guard against greed’, ‘you must be ready’, ‘unless you repent, you will all perish’, and ‘from everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required.’.

In the midst of such disparate sayings and dire predictions we come across two extraordinary revelations about the nature of God. The first is one that is easily overlooked. It does not seem to fit the context and is often passed over so quickly that it is missed and yet it tells a great deal about God and God’s relationship with us. ‘Do not be afraid, little flock,’ Jesus says, ‘for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.’ This one sentence is filled with affection, warmth and reassurance – ‘Little flock’ – Jesus recognizes our vulnerability and wants to take away our fear. ‘Good pleasure’ – God’s deepest desire is to give us the kingdom expecting nothing in return.

Jesus follows up this saying with a parable. ‘Do not be afraid.’ God is not an overbearing slave master who makes unreasonable demands – just the opposite. The conclusion of the parable both reverses the normal image and expectation of God and completely upsets the social norms of his time, (and to some extent of ours). The parable imagines servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet. Imagine their surprise when, instead of demanding that they prepare his supper or his bed, the master tightens his belt and proceeds to serve them at table. The story abounds with love and generosity – God’s free gift of Godself to all who are open, willing and ready to accept it!

Hidden in the midst of Jesus’ other sayings we find these two expressions of God’s tenderness and selflessness. From this perspective, much of the remainder of Jesus’ teaching in these chapters appears as an expression of Jesus’ exasperation at our stubborn refusal to accept God’s gracious gift of the Kingdom, indeed of Godself. We refuse because we cannot believe that the kingdom is offered at no cost to ourselves; because we are afraid of losing our independence; because we are too dependent on our possessions and cannot see that true wealth comes from dependence on God. We resist because we are uncomfortable about being served (and the implication that somehow we are somehow incompetent or immature).

Jesus is clear: it is God’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom. If the kingdom is not yet a reality, perhaps it is because we are not yet ready, because despite the promise we still struggle, choosing things as they are (however imperfect) rather than things as they could be.

Energy, love, relationship – the Triune God’

June 15, 2019

Trinity – 2019 (some thoughts)

John 16:12-15

Marian Free

In the name of God, lover, beloved and source of love. Amen.

“For Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881–1955), a French Jesuit priest who trained as a paleontologist and geologist, love is “the very physical structure of the Universe.” That is a very daring statement, especially for a scientist to make. Yet for Teilhard, gravity, atomic bonding, orbits, cycles, photosynthesis, ecosystems, force fields, electromagnetic fields, sexuality, human friendship, animal instinct, and evolution all reveal an energy that is attracting all things and beings to one another, in a movement toward ever greater complexity and diversity—and yet ironically also toward unification at ever deeper levels. This energy is quite simply love under many different forms.”

The energy, love and relationship that are at the heart of the Triune God are the source both of unity and diversity, similarity and distinction, community and individuality. As much as they are unified in the oneness of God, the three persons of the Trinity are also separate and distinct, bound together in a relationship of love whose energy reaches out to embrace and include all creation. We need not be afraid to be gathered in, caught up by the energy that exists within and that streams forth from the heart of God. For just as the three persons of the Trinity do not sacrifice their distinctiveness in order to be one, neither do we give up that which makes us ourselves when we allow ourselves to be drawn into the oneness of God.The energy that holds the Trinity together is the energy that energizes the world, drawing into God’s orbit all who allow themselves to be captured and captivated by God’s love and in so doing increasing the presence of God in the world.

The unity and diversity embraced by the threefold God demonstrate that unity is not the same as uniformity and that it is often our differences (not the things we have in common) that enrich and enhance our relationships with each other and with the world around us. Contrary to what we might expect those things that set us apart from each other, and from the universe that we inhabit, are ultimately those things that draw us together. Our survival as a species depends both on our interconnectedness with all living (and non-living) things as much as it thrives on those things which make us distinct from the world around us. If we were all the same as one another there would be no need for relationship, nothing to attract us to the other and no energy to engage us in exploring what it is that unites (and what it is that divides) us. Just as opposites attract, and just as iron alloyed with carbon produces steel, so we are made stronger and our lives more interesting by diffence.

The relationship, energy and love at the heart of the Triune God create a model for the ordering of our relationships with one another. Being in relationship does not diminish any one person of the Trinity. Each member retains their distinctiveness while at the same time ceding any claim to superiority or dominance. If each member of the human race was secure in themselves, they would understand that they lose nothing by giving everything for the other. The Trinity that models perfect loving and perfect giving, demonstrates that wholeness in relationship reflects wholeness in personhood and that perfect relationships are partnerships between equals.

As our relationships with one another are built on the mutual respect modeled by the three-fold God, so too our relationships with the natural environment should reflect the Trinitarian nature of God. If our relationship with the universe reflected the love, energy and relationship revealed by the Triune God, it would not be destructive or exploitative but would be one of respect for creation and gratitude for all that creation provides for our sustenance and well-being.

A threefold God is not alone. A threefold God is not liable to dualism. A threefold God is relationship – a loving, dynamic, energizing relationship between three equals, each willing to sacrifice their individuality in order to be part of the whole and yet able to retain a sense of identify and wholeness.

In God who is three and yet also one, we find perfect love and the model for perfect existence.

Seeing the whole picture

May 18, 2019

Easter 5 – 2019

John 13:31-35

Marian Free

In the name of God when loves us and calls us to love each other. Amen.

You probably know the story of the six blind men and the elephant. One had hold of the tail and insisted that it was a piece of rope. Another reached his hands around a leg and thought it was a tree. A third grabbed an ear and declared that it was a fan and so on. Because they were unable to see none of them had a complete picture of what was before them and each believed firmly in their own experience and denied the possibility of any other answered . To take another example. Imagine that you are traveling with companions in a foreign country and are invited to share a meal with a local family who have slaughtered a beast in your honour. Because you are guests you are served the choicest parts of the animal – the eyes, the heart, the skin. None of you taste the tender, juicy meat and leave with a firm belief that that particular animal is one that you never want to eat again. Having tasted only a part, you have no appreciation for the whole.

If our experience of something is only piecemeal it is easy to mistake a part for the whole or to come to the wrong conclusion based on only a fraction of the information. We know this to be true and yet this is how we often read our bibles. Again and again we return to the passages and stories that are familiar and comforting to us and we fail to see them in their proper context thereby missing the wider implications and the subtleties within the passage. Unfortunately this is what happens in our Sunday readings. Few of us have the time or the attention span to listen to a gospel in its entirety, so it is served up to us in bite size pieces which do not allow us to hear the whole story.

Such is the case this morning, our reading makes little sense on its own, because it belongs within the wider context of chapter 13 which in turn is belongs to Jesus’ farewell speech (13-17). The few verses that we have before us this morning make little sense. There are three (even four) sub-stories. ‘When he had gone out,’ refers to Judas’ leaving the group to hand Jesus over – an act that Jesus sees as a decisive and maybe essential part of his story: ‘Now is the Son of Man glorified’. In John’s gospel Jesus’ death is not seen as a defeat but as a victory. It is the cross, not the resurrection that is the place of Jesus’ glorification. Jesus then warns the disciples that he will be with them only a little longer before giving them instructions as to how to live in his absence.

The complexity of the passage explains why preachers (including this one) focus on the last two verses: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this shall everyone know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

If we begin at the beginning we see that the context of Jesus’ words is a Passover meal. We are told that Jesus knows that the end is near. (In fact we learn that he has foreknowledge not only of his death but of how his disciples will act in the next 24 hours). Despite this ‘Jesus, having loved his own, loved them to the end’. One way that Jesus demonstrates this love is that he leaves the table, takes a towel and washes the feet of his disciples. Jesus washes the feet of Judas whom he knows is soon to betray him. He washes the feet of Peter whom he knows will shortly deny him and he washes the feet of the remainder – all of whom will desert him when he needs them most. When he returns to the table Jesus explains that his behaviour is an example for them to follow. Jesus’ love is demonstrated by service, by humbling himself and putting the needs of others before his own. Before he commands his disciples to love, Jesus shows them how it is done.

On his last night on earth, Jesus thinks not of himself, but of his friends. He continues in chapters 14-17 by preparing them for his departure, assuring them he is going ahead to prepare a place for them, letting them know that they would not be left alone, teaching them how to live together and instructing them on the nature of love. ‘No one has greater love than this, to lay down their life for their friends’ (15:13). ‘They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them’ (14:21).

Jesus knows what the future holds and he knows the caliber of those whom he has chosen. In his final hours he chooses not to accuse them or to remonstrate with them. Instead Jesus demonstrates his love for them – love that recognizes but overlooks their collective and individual frailties. By his own behaviour at the meal and on the cross, Jesus shows the disciples what it is to love.

Seeing the whole picture tells us not only where our passGe fits in the gospel as a whole, but helps us to interpret Jesus’ meaning. Jesus commands his disciples to love as he has loved, with a love that is humble and non-judgemental and that is self-sacrificial to the point of death. Jesus’ love of the disciples is a love that is shared by the Father and a love that will ensure that even in his absence Jesus will be a present reality.

As the poet Leunig says: ‘Love one another, it is as easy and difficult as that.’

Life-giving, all-embracing Trinity

May 26, 2018

Trinity Sunday – 2018

John 3:1-17 (The gospel set for the day – not the starting point for this reflection)

Marian Free

In the name of the Trinity – boundless and abundant love, creative and life-giving force, all-giving and endlessly welcoming. Amen.

I have just started reading the novel, Gone Girl. The story seems to be about the disappearance of a young woman who has reluctantly moved with her new husband from New York to an uninspiring town in the mid-west. The novel is written from the point of view of the young woman, Amy, and her husband, Nick. Amy and Nick each have an opportunity to tell their side of the story. This means that while the readers are engaged in the investigation into Amy’s disappearance they are, at the same time, given a glimpse into the unraveling of what had appeared to be a perfect relationship – brought about by differing expectations and by different experiences of family.

Human relationships can be messy, complex and destructive, threatened by insecurity, damaged by carelessness and undermined by unrealistic expectations. The inability of some to form mutually respectful relationships is exposed not only in families, but also in communities, nations and the world as a whole. It is only too obvious that our world is not an harmonious place in which people rejoice in difference and seek the well-being of others. Our fractured and broken world is a place in which competition rules and in which suspicion and fear cause people to look inwards, protecting what is theirs and creating boundaries between themselves and those whom they believe threaten our security and our comforts.

Richard Rohr suggests that the Trinity provides the answer to the problem of relationships with each other, within communities and between the nations of the world. A greater understanding of the relational nature of God – Father Son and Spirit, Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier might, he suggests, help us to relate better to God and more importantly to one another. He points out that the Trinity is a much-neglected aspect of our theology. The concept is difficult to explain, and most clergy are grateful for the fact that the Trinity is celebrated only once a year rather than on every Sunday of every year. Rohr quotes Karl Rahner who states: “Christians are, in their practical lives, almost mere ‘monotheists’. We must be willing to admit that, should the doctrine of the Trinity have to be dropped as false, the major part of religious literature could well remain virtually unchanged.”

When I first read that quote, I thought that Rahner was right. I wondered how many of us would be truly distressed if we discovered that God was one and not three at all. We might even be relieved to learn that we no longer had to struggle with the conundrum of a threefold God.

On reflection though, it seemed to me that while we may not be able to articulate the meaning, most of us do relate to God who is three but is also one. God as Trinity is something we know intuitively. Over the course of a lifetime the Trinitarian God becomes part of our DNA. Though we tend to use shorthand when we pray – God, Father, Jesus, Holy Spirit, Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier, we simply assume that when we pray to one we pray to all, when we relate to one we relate to all.

The problem – if there is a problem – is that because we take for granted the threefold nature of God, we may not take the time to reflect on the meaning of the Trinity and to consider what it really means to engage with God who is Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver and we (and perhaps the world) are the poorer for this. Perhaps, if we make an effort to struggle with the relational nature of the threefold God, we will be better equipped to share that mystery with others. If we really grasp what it means to worship a threefold God we might discover that the Trinitarian God is a model for all relationships and a solution to all the problems of our fragmented world.

Last year on this day, I read you the poem that is in the Foreword of Richard Rohr’s book The Divine Dance. I confess that I haven’t read the book to its end, but what I have read has been life-changing and faith-renewing. Rohr has helped me to know God in a new way and my faith is enriched by that knowing. In fact, I don’t think that I am over stating it if I say that I feel that I have found my way to the heart of the Trinitarian God. Rohr has helped me come to grips with the Trinity in a way in which all my academic study did not – indeed could not.

I have come to see that God who is three is relational. God relates to Jesus who relates to the Spirit who relates to God, who relates to the Spirit who relates to Jesus, who relates to God in an outpouring of love that flows from one to another and back again. A constant stream of love that in turn creates an atmosphere of love that cannot help but flow outward from the threefold God to the world – drawing the whole world into a loving and welcoming embrace. The love that each person of the Trinity has for the others is complete and without reserve. Nothing is held back, each person of the Trinity is totally open to the other members of the Trinity. Each person of the Trinity is completely vulnerable – having given everything of themselves to the other persons.

In their love for one another, the members of the Trinity create an energy that is life-giving and dynamic, a creative force that drives and empowers all that is good in this world. God in relationship is generous, self-giving and abundant. God in relationship is not remote and disinterested, but is fully engaged and participatory. God in relationship is fully immersed in the world and invites us to fully immerse ourselves in God. God who is relational has no boundaries, but welcomes us into the very heart of the Trinity that we might be caught up and held in the stream of love that flows between the three. The threefold God is not afraid that our presence (or the presence of anyone else) will contaminate their divinity, but rather has absolute confidence that our being in relationship with God, Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier will serve to enhance and enrich that relationship and our relationships with one another.

The Trinity models the love that can be the salvation of the world – love that heals and sustains, love that delights in the other, love that gives itself entirely without losing anything of itself and without seeking anything in return, love that embraces difference, love that seeks the well-being of the other and love that refuses to exclude anyone from that love.

God who is one could be aloof and alone. God who is two could be self-contained – each focussed wholly on the other. God who is three is other-centred, inclusive, life-giving and welcoming. The Trinity, God who is three invites us all to be a part of this loving community, to allow ourselves to be loved and to give ourselves in love and in so doing, to contribute to the healing of the world.

It’s not what we do, but what God does through us

May 5, 2018

Easter 6 – 2018

John 15:9-17

Marian Free

 

In the name of God whose love knows no bounds. Amen.

Most of us know the story of the ill-fated attempt by Captain Robert Scott to reach the South Pole and how his team died when they were just 11 miles short of the food depot. Until relatively recently, Scott was held responsible for the failure of the expedition and for the deaths of his companions. However research by the University of Cambridge and the Scott Polar Research Institute has revealed evidence that those under his command bear a large part of that responsibility. Had those left to run the base camp followed Scott’s directions the endeavour would have had quite a different outcome and lives would not have been lost. Written evidence has emerged that confirms that Scott left instructions that, had they been followed, would have given himself and his companions every likelihood of surviving the return journey.

It appears that not only were Scott’s orders ignored, but a series of mistakes by the men he had left in charge created the circumstances that led to his death. Those left behind had been charged with sending the dog sleds out to meet the returnees at a point beyond the food depot. Instead, a decision was made to send the sleds only as far as the depot. If there was any responsibility on Scott’s part, it may have been that he left the ship’s surgeon in charge of the base camp rather than someone with more experience, knowledge and leadership skills. Atkinson, the ship’s surgeon, made a number of poor decisions, one of which was to use men from the base camp to unload supplies from the ship which left them too tired to leave as scheduled. Another was to send an inexperienced scientist with poor navigation skills to the food depot[1].

A successful mission requires a team of people who are equally committed, have, between them, the appropriate skills and who are willing to work together for a common goal rather than seek their own aggrandisement.

If a good team is required for a mission to be successful, it begs the questions as to why Jesus chose the people he chose to be his disciples.

It doesn’t matter which gospel we read; one thing is absolutely clear – the disciples, those whom Jesus chose, failed him completely. The disciples consistently misunderstand Jesus and his purpose. They try to thwart his mission, they question his ability, they demonstrate their lack of trust in him, they are unable to use the powers that Jesus gave them, they compete with each other and seek their own glory and, ultimately, they betray, desert and deny him. Any way you look at it the disciples whom Jesus chose were not only the most unlikely of choices, but they were also the least trustworthy and the least likely to further his mission.

The point is that their imperfections do not matter. Jesus wasn’t trying to create a team that would reach great heights or astound the world with new discoveries.  Jesus was trying to create a team that would experience the oneness that he shared with the Father, a team that rather than doing anything amazing would allow him to do great things through them. The very vulnerability and frailty of the disciples is potentially their strength. If they are able to recognise their imperfections they may realise that to achieve anything they must and allow God to work through them.

Today’s gospel is a continuation of last week’s in which Jesus urged the disciples to be connected to him as branches to a vine. The theme of abiding is made even more explicit today– abiding in the vine/abiding in Jesus is to abide in God’s love.  Jesus does not ask his disciples to aspire to greatness or to aim to achieve wonderful things. All that Jesus asks is that they abide in his love. Just as it is their connection to the vine – not anything that they do – that results in fruitfulness, so abiding in Jesus will enable them to bear fruit that will last.

When we try to put these words into practice, we must be careful not to turn them around. It is vital that we do not confuse fruitfulness with anything that we do. Trying to achieve goodness or aiming to bear fruit through our own efforts and our own actions will lead to failure. We will fail because in the very act of trying to do things on our own we prevent God’s working in and through us. By acting on our own we separate from the source of love and goodness that alone produces the fruit that comes from being in and being directed by God.

It is hard to grasp that it is not what we do but what God does that matters. It is difficult to comprehend that God expects no more and no less than that we allow ourselves to be loved by God. It is easy to misunderstand Jesus’ reference to commandments as a command to do something and to forget that Jesus gives us only one command and that is to love one another. In today’s gospel, the only command that Jesus gives is to abide, to abide in his love.

Being passive recipients of God’s love allows God’s love to flow through us to the world. Opening ourselves to the love of God shown through Jesus empowers us to be God’s presence in the world. We cannot make God’s love known unless we first know God’s love, we cannot be God’s presence in the world unless we are deeply and intimately connected to God.

Like the disciples we may be unlikely and unworthy recipients of God’s love but God loves us none the less. All that is required of us is that we accept that we are loved, to open ourselves to that love, to trust in that love and like Jesus, allow that love to flow through us to the world.

 

[1]The Telegraph, April 28, 2018.

Do your worst. I still love you.

April 15, 2017

Easter – 2017

Matthew 28:1-10

Marian Free

In the name of God who no matter what we do never, ever gives up on us. Amen.

I can still remember the television footage of the moment when the father of Scott Rush first met his son in the prison in Bali. Scott you will recall had been arrested with eight others for attempting to bring a 1.3 kg of heroin into Australia. I imagine that at the moment of Scott’s arrest his parent’s lives will have been completely turned upside down. Their son who had had the advantages of a comfortable upbringing and had attended a good private secondary school was now facing a lengthy jail term, if not death, in a country whose culture and legal system are very different from our own. Scott’s parents Lee and Chris had had to drop whatever they were doing to fly to Bali. No doubt they incurred considerable disruption and expense in the process, not to mention the anxiety and fear that would have attended the news of their son’s arrest. Imagine the embarrassment and shame – visiting Bali as parents of a drug smuggler, facing their friends and acquaintances at home and being exposed to intense media interest.

Media reports suggest that Scott was a drug user who was already known to police and who was wanted in Australia on an outstanding warrant for stealing nearly $5000 from an Australian bank. While he may have been caught up in something bigger than he realised, he was no innocent.

When Scott’s parents arrived at the jail surrounded by TV cameras, they didn’t remonstrate with Scott. They didn’t say: “why have you done this to us?” or “what were you thinking?” They didn’t reproach him for humiliating them or berate him for being so foolish. At what must have been an extraordinarily difficult moment, Scott’s mother Chris said to the journalists who crowded in on them: “I love him”. When his father Lee comes face to face with Scott for the first time, he says, as I recall: “you’re a good boy.” “I love him.” “You’re a good boy.” In the eyes of the world, in the eyes of every parent whose child has become addicted to drugs and especially in the eyes of the Indonesian legal system, Scott was anything but “a good boy”. To his father however, he was and remained “a good boy”.

Drugs – the addiction, the temptation to make vast amounts of money with relatively little effort – show humanity at its worst. Vulnerable people are taken advantage of, dealers use violence or threats of violence to protect their patch, to extract money for debts and to prevent people from breaking free of the habit. Addicts turn to crime and sometimes to aggressive behaviour to pay for their next fix. It is a dark and shadowy world that I am glad to have no part of. Scott might have only been on the fringes of that world, but he was part of it. Yet his father can say: “You’re a good boy”.

The events leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion depict humanity at its worst. The disciple who for reasons unknown sells his teacher and friend for thirty pieces of silver, the remaining disciples who promise to be with Jesus even to death, but who abandon him and deny him, the priests who fabricate evidence against him, the solders who mock him, the governor, swayed by the crowd who refuses to do what he knows is right, the lynch mob who bay for Jesus’ death, the crowds who revile him and the soldiers and fellow criminals who taunt him. An innocent man is condemned to torture and death in order to preserve the status quo and to please the crowds.

The story might have ended there. The body of Jesus sealed in a tomb and guarded by soldiers. After all that the people (friend and foe alike) had done, God might simply have thrown up God’s hands in horror and washed God’s hands of an ungrateful and uncaring humanity. God had sent Jesus into the world to save the world, instead God watches humanity spurns the gift, as Jesus endured first betrayal, then trumped-up charges and finally an excruciating death. Imagine for a moment, God’s having to watch humanity behaving in such a debased, immoral and cruel way. Such behaviour would try the patience and love of the most loving and forgiving parent.

One might be excused for thinking that God had done enough for God’s people. God chose them from among all the nations, sent Joseph to Egypt to save them from the famine, brought them out of Egypt when they were no longer welcome and remained loyal and loving despite their waywardness, their lack of confidence in God’s power to save and protect, their failure to listen to the prophets and their chasing after other gods. As a last resort God came among them as one of them in the form of Jesus but they responded by murdering him and with him all hope of salvation. If at that point, God had decided that enough was enough no one would have thought that God was being unreasonable or vindictive. If God had walked away from creation in despair most would think that that was what humanity deserved. Yet God remained steadfast, God did not withdraw God’s love but instead raised Jesus from the dead. In effect God said to the world: “you’re a good boy, you’re a good girl – I love you.”

“I love you. You have done your worst, but I love you. You have shown yourself to be weak, disloyal, fickle and cruel and yet I still love you.”

“I still love you.” The most sure and certain proof of God’s love for us is the resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection assures us that no matter what we do, no matter how far we stray, God’s boundless endless love will never be withdrawn.

Humanity can do its worst, but God’s love will always triumph.

Christ is risen. He is risen indeed.

 

 

Feet – dirty, calloused, smelly, caressed, loved

April 13, 2017

Maundy Thursday 2017

 Marian Free

In the name of God who stoops to wash our feet. Amen.

Feet come in all shapes and sizes. There are large feet and petite feet. There are smooth feet and calloused feet. Feet that have seen a lot of hard work and feet that have led a reasonably charmed existence. Toes can be long or short, crooked or straight, misshapen or not. Feet in sandals are prone to get dirty. Feet in shoes are likely to be sweaty (and sometimes smelly). For these and other reasons, many of us don’t like our feet to be exposed. We are uncomfortable about allowing others to see what we consider to be imperfections or defects, we feel uncomfortable about anyone seeing them, let alone touch them.

It is an enormous privilege to be able to wash the feet of another person. It is an action of intimacy and touch that demands confidence, trust and humility on the part of the one who is willing to allow their feet to be seen and held and caressed with water and with towel. It demands that the recipient of the washing allow themselves, or at least their feet, to be exposed.

When Jesus takes a towel and washes the feet of the disciples, we are for the most part tempted to emphasise his humility, his willingness to serve – and certainly that is how John interprets the action. Peter’s response however shows the other side of the equation. It would seem that despite his discipleship, Peter has not yet learnt what it means to accept Jesus’ love. He is not willing to believe that a central aspect of faith in Jesus means receiving the gifts that Jesus has to offer. He does not understand that what is required is not the humility of thinking oneself unworthy, but the humility of accepting that unworthy though he may be, that does not put him outside the reach of Jesus’ love. Peter is self-conscious and uncomfortable with the intimacy that a relationship with Jesus involves.

He represents all those of us who do not believe that we are loveable and therefore cannot believe in God’s love for us.

Throughout Lent I have challenged you to consider how much God loves you, to believe that if God thinks you are worthy of God’s love that it must be true, and to understand that in the warmth of God’s love we can allow even those parts of ourselves of which we are most ashamed, to be completely exposed and laid bare.

Knowing ourselves loved frees us to give ourselves wholly to God.

If like Peter we are still holding something back, perhaps now is the time to ask ourselves what it is and why we are holding on.

 

Intercessions

Loving God,

On this night, Jesus took a towel and washed the feet of his disciples, demonstrating that nothing was beneath his notice, and no one unworthy of his love. Give us a true sense of our worth, that we may see worth in others and so build a world of compassion, tolerance and love.

God of grace. Hear our prayer.

Holy God,

On this night Jesus demonstrates true humility and a willingness to serve. May we your church have a sense of proportion as to our own importance and truly understand what it means to serve the world around us.

God of grace. Hear our prayer.

Gracious God,

On this night Jesus washed the feet even of Judas who was about to betray him. Help us to love and accept the unloved and unlovable – even those who do us wrong.

God of grace. Hear our prayer.

Comforting God,

On this night, Jesus gave himself completely into your hands. Enable us to trust in you in good times and bad, in sickness and in health.

God of grace. Hear our prayer.

Eternal God,

On this night Jesus began a journey from life to death, a journey that became a journey from death to life. Give to us the same confidence in your guiding hand, that we may submit entirely to your will, and knowing that we are already yours, enter with joy our eternal rest.

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

Our Father in heaven…

Love sets us free

March 4, 2017

Lent 1 – 2017

Matthew 4:1-11

Marian Free

Lent is Love

             Lent is Love

In the name of God whose love sets us free to be truly ourselves, to grow and to flourish and, in our turn, to love others. Amen.

St Ignatius of Loyola is well-known as the founder of the Jesuits. When he was thirty years old Ignatius, then a soldier, was hit in the legs by a cannon ball. His right leg was wounded and his left severely fractured. As a result of these injuries, Ignatius was forced to spend a considerable amount of time confined to bed. During this time of enforced rest, Ignatius came to faith and decided to devote his life to God. It was then too that he wrote his spiritual exercises – a form of discipline that was designed to assist those who undertook them to develop an understanding of the relationship with God that would enable them to live out that relationship.

The exercises are designed to be completed over a thirty-day period under the guidance of a spiritual director. They are too complex to be described here, but there are two simple elements that can enhance our own spiritual journeys – even if we never find thirty days to complete the retreat ourselves. The first is the attitude that a participant is asked to adopt before they begin. You might like to try it now. With your eyes open or shut, try to imagine God looking at you with complete and unconditional love. Sit with that feeling, allow the love to wash over you, accept that you are perfectly loveable and that you are unimaginably precious to God. Were you able to do it? How did you feel?

My experience is that this is an extraordinarily powerful, liberating and affirming practice. It is very simple and it is something  that we can do every single day as a reminder of just how much you are loved and treasured by God.

All of our spiritual disciplines should begin from this place – with the assurance of God’s love for us. God doesn’t make impossible demands. God doesn’t insist that we mortify ourselves or that we achieve unattainable standards. God simply loves us and we respond to that love by trying to be worthy of that love and by being the best that we can.

As we respond to God’s love, a second Ignatian practice helps us to develop and to grow in faith and in our practice of our faith. This is the practice known as examen or self-review. There are slight variations as to how this is done, so you might like to check them out to see if one suits you better than another. Examen is an exercise that is done at the end of the day. It requires at least five to ten minutes. There are a number of steps in the process. The first is to recall in some detail what you have done during the day. Then, after asking the Holy Spirit to be your guide, you look over the day a second time, seeing it with God’s eyes and considering whether there were times when you could have done better – been kinder, more patient or less intolerant for example. Having identified something that you’d like to change, you ask for God’s help in making that change. Finally, you offer thanks to God for God’s presence during the day.

Examen does not imply judgement, nor does it expect that we will feel that we have failed. Instead, for those who find it useful, it is a way to be open and honest about ourselves in an environment that we know to be utterly safe, because we know that whatever we do or have done, God’s love will never be withdrawn.

Love, as I’m sure you know, is a much more powerful tool for change than censure or fear. Knowing ourselves loved gives us confidence to be our selves  – even if that self is flawed and damaged. Knowing ourselves loved gives us the freedom to take risks and the courage to confess. Knowing ourselves loved allows us to stand tall and proud and to believe in ourselves. Knowing ourselves loved enables us to soar to even greater heights.

When Jesus was baptised, he came out of the water to hear a voice from heaven saying: “This is my Son the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased (or in whom I delight).” To our knowledge, Jesus has done nothing at this point to warrant those words, he hasn’t begun his mission or done anything out of the ordinary. Yet the voice from heaven makes it clear that God loves Jesus just as he is at that very moment.  Jesus was overwhelmed – he took time (forty days) to process that love and affirmation and to consider what it meant. God’s love empowered Jesus to teach and to heal, to love and to make whole, to challenge the structures of the church and to raise up the marginalised, and above all to trust God with his very life.

God’s love empowers us to be all that we can be, and so much more. This Lent, may we know ourselves loved, give ourselves permission to be ourselves, and from a position of confidence strive to  live into the person whom God believes us to be. Amen.

Longing to love

December 24, 2016

Midnight Mass – 2016

Marian Free

 In the name of God who longs to be in relationship with us and who willingly forsake power, glory and dominion to try to make that clear. Amen.

During the week I happened upon a movie titled: “Anywhere but here.” It tells the story of how two grown sons cope with the fact that their father is dying. The sons have been brought up in the Jewish faith, but have not been able to embrace its practices and beliefs. One son, Aidan, still has a connection with the synagogue because his father will pay his grandchildren’s school fees if they attend a Jewish school. As with many families there are unresolved issues and tensions that make the grieving process more complicated. At one point Aidan is compelled to go the synagogue and speak to a Rabbi. Aidan is confused because events in his life are leading him to the conclusion that God is trying to tell him something, but he doesn’t believe in God. Thankfully, the young Rabbi is wise. He asks Aidan if he ever feels “a spiritual presence”. Aidan replies that when he is showing his children the stars and trying to explain that the universe goes on forever and ever, that yes, he does get a sense of the spiritual.

The Rabbi responds: “Then think of that spirit leading and guiding you.” The Rabbi knows that Aidan has rejected the traditional ways of thinking about God and he is wise enough not to impose those ideas on him. Instead he asks Aidan to name how he knows and experiences God and runs with that.

Rejecting the God of one’s youth and yet having a yearning to connect with something deeper than the material is not unique to a person who has grown up in the Jewish faith. One of the problems that the church faces today is that there are many people who have walked away from the faith and yet have a sense of something other. There are many long to make contact with their spirituality but their search is blocked by language, dogma or ideas that offend or that no longer work or make sense to them.

If truth be told most of the ideas of God that people reject are ideas that we too reject, but it is possible for some to hear only one thing and a selective reading of the bible (by a preacher or by the reader) can give the impression of an angry, demanding, interventionist God, a selective God who expects conformity at least and obedience at best. It is relatively easy for to abandon this false idea of God, especially if that idea of God has been used to manipulate and control or to appear be remote from human affairs and indifferent to suffering and pain.

Christmas exposes that God for who and what it is – a false God based on a misunderstanding of both the Old Testament and the New.

At Christmas we are confronted, year after year with the God who is not strong or powerful, but who enters the world as a baby – vulnerable, helpless and utterly dependent. When God could not get through to us, when we had turned away from God or turned God into something that God is not, when we lost sight that God’s primary desire is to be in relationship with us, God in Christ came to us. God came among us not with lighting and thunder, waving a sword to condemn and destroy, but as a new-born child a child whom God hoped would demonstrate once and for all God’s love for all humankind – the good, the bad, the engaged and the indifferent, the kind and the unkind. That first Christmas God became powerless and impotent so that we would at last understand the depth and passion of God’s love and that we would see for ourselves God’s complete and total engagement with humanity and God’s participation in both our sorrows and our joys.

This is why we are here this and every Christmas. Our presence is not simply a result of habit or sentimentality. We are here, because we know that the child in the manger is God, that God chooses not to be remote, but to be an integral part of all that this life has to offer. The child in the manger and the man on the cross expose God for who and what God really is – an expression of the deepest love, the utmost compassion and the greatest longing to be in relationship, to be one with all creation.

 

 

 

Looking backwards and forwards on Advent 1

November 26, 2016

Advent 1 – 2016

Matthew 24:36-44

Marian Free

 In the name of God who was and is and is to come, who has loved, does love and will love. Amen.

If you have ever had a medical procedure you will know that you will usually receive a list of instructions telling you what you must do to prepare. Some blood tests require you to fast before hand and others do not. A visit to an obstetrician will often require you to produce a urine sample. An appointment for a breast screen will come with instructions as to what to wear and the insistence that on that day you do not use talcum powder. A booking for surgery will come with pages of instructions – don’t drink alcohol, do not eat or drink for a specified period, do not bring valuables to the hospital with you but do bring your method of payment. And as for having a colonoscopy – let’s not even go there! (Those of us who have had the experience know what is involved and those of you yet to have the pleasure, will find out soon enough.)

The point is that there are many things in our life that require careful and thoughtful preparation – travel, meals, study, buying a house, getting married and so on. While some of these need more attention than others, they are all relatively easy in the sense that the guidelines are clear, others have done it before us and by and large we know what is expected or where to go for information or advice.

Preparing for eternity is a very different proposition from preparing for surgery, travel or a job interview. For a start, no one has ever come back from the dead to tell us what it is like or to give us specific instructions as to exactly how to get in. No one, that is, except Jesus and he did not give a straight forward, easy to follow list of directions or instructions. Instead he left his followers to make sense of his teachings and to put them together in ways that made sense to them.

Preparing for eternity or for the return of Jesus, is the most important thing that we will ever do with our lives, but it is easy to put it off because it seems so remote, so far into the future that we imagine that we have plenty of time to put our lives in order. Alternatively, it is possible to become complacent, to believe that we have already done all that is necessary to enter into eternal life.

I wonder how many of us put the same amount of effort into our preparation for eternity as we do for other aspects of our lives. Do we have a check list that we refer back to see how ready we are? Are we really clear as to what is required? Have we put some effort and research into the subject or do we think we already know all that there is to know?

Many of us were brought up with a Christian faith that taught us to be good, that entrance into heaven required sticking within some prescribed guidelines – most notably the Ten Commandments. Along the way, we have learned that Jesus does not want simple obedience to a set of rules. In life, he consistently chose those who did not conform to the societal view of what does or does not constitute “goodness”, he criticized those who placed weight on outward appearances, and he constantly revised the commandments in such a way as to make it clear that it was a person’s attitude to and relationship with God that was the key to eternal life. In other words, Jesus shifted the goal posts and cast us adrift from the safety of clear rules and codes of behavior and left us to find our own direction.

Jesus knew that it was possible to do the “right thing” but to do it for the wrong reasons. He exposed the hypocrisy and shallowness of those whose outward show of goodness hid a lack of love and compassion, a self-centredness and self-congratulatory attitude that blinded them to their own weakness and frailty. Jesus sought out those who knew their own sinfulness and who relied on God’s love rather than their own efforts.

If Jesus were to offer advice for living or guidelines for attaining eternity, he would probably encourage us to seek self-awareness rather than self-righteousness, to recognise our imperfection rather than aim for perfection and to understand that we are no better than the next person rather than striving to outdo them with our “goodness”.

In the final analysis, Jesus’ incarnation demonstrated that our salvation does not depend on anything that we do for ourselves, but on what God does for us. Salvation is entirely related to God’s love for us – love that entered into our existence, challenged our concepts of right and wrong, of power and weakness, of judgment and acceptance, love that endured the worst that we can throw at it, and which loves us still. Love, that on the cross overcame evil and death so that nothing might stand between ourselves and life eternal.

On this, the first Sunday of Advent, we are urged to both look backward to Jesus’ coming in love and forward to Jesus’ coming in judgement, to place our lives in the balance and to see how we measure up.

Are we living in such a way that demonstrates our awareness of God’s love and our inability to deserve that love? Have we thrown ourselves completely on God’s mercy or are we still holding something back – in other words do we completely and utterly trust in God’s unconditional love or does some part of us still believe that we have to do something to deserve it?

Christmas is a celebration of God’s incomprehensible yet unmistakable love for us. Advent is an opportunity to ask ourselves whether or not we trust that love and whether that love has translated into love for ourselves and love for others.

Perhaps, after all, we are better not to prepare, but instead to ensure that we fully accept all that God in Jesus has done for us, such that Jesus’ return will be time of rejoicing and not a time of fearfulness and that we will be truly ready to rest in God’s love for eternity.

 

 


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