Rector’s Reflections

Reflection: Speaking God’s word to the people

Ezekiel 2.1-15, 2 Corinthians 12.2-10, Mark 6.1-13

Prophecy – as depicted in Scripture – is not about making accurate predictions of future events, otherwise prophets would tend to become quite rich. Rather, prophecy is about discerning God’s word for the current time, place, and community. When people are wilfully following their own way rather than God’s way, the inevitable consequences are often spelled out. Which then
become true when people refuse to turn back to God’s way.
In the story from Mark 6, Jesus returns to his home town, and finds that there is a wall of doubt and dismissal – the community is determined not to see God’s Spirit at work in him. Prior to this, Jesus taught and encouraged people in their faith. He had described those who enact God’s will through their faith relationship with God as being members of his spiritual family and members of the new kingdom of God. Conversely, when people refuse to work with
God, and deny God’s power and presence, then God permits them to exclude themselves from his kingdom.
After Jesus had visited Nazareth he sent out his first disciples to further his work of establishing God’s kingdom. They proclaimed repentance: for people to turn from their own self-centred ways to God’s way of self-giving love. While doing so, Jesus insists they submit themselves to the risk of hospitality – they are to depend on God’s provision through others.
God encourages us as a faith community together: have faith – be faithful – grow in faith. The people of Nazareth were not practising a faith relationship with God, and so God’s Spirit could not be effective amongst them. Whereas
the disciples were dependent on their faith relationship with God, and so God’s Spirit could be effective in their lives. When we make ourselves vulnerable to God’s hospitality, then God makes his blessings tangible, and his kingdom is made manifest.
Your priest, Fr John

Reflection: Jesus and ‘women’s business’

First reading: Lamentations 3.22-33,Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 8.7-15,Gospel Reading: Mark 5.21-43
When Matthew, Mark, Luke and John wrote their respective gospel accounts, they each had a range of different stories told of and by Jesus to choose from. Each successive writer presumably also had the prior gospel accounts as additional resources. They carefully chose which stories and details to include, and their order, so as to convey their inspired interpretation of the Word of God (Jesus) as the word of God (Gospel.) With that in mind, the connection between the two stories of the healing of a twelve year old girl and a woman who had been haemorrhaging for twelve years becomes apparent.
For many people, references to women’s health around aspects of their fertility – or infertility – can be discomforting, or even taboo: that is ‘women’s business’. Nevertheless, in Mark’s story telling, he shows symbolically how Jesus is just as concerned and compassionate about the women who are impacted by the nature of the season of female fertility as he is about the many others to whom he brings healing and wholeness.
While Jairus’ daughter isn’t obviously suffering from anything related to fertility, she was specifically described as twelve years old – the average age of menarchy, when a woman’s season of fertility usually starts. Inserted into the story of her restoration is the story of someone who could be suffering one of the consequences of menopause – when a woman’s time of fertility ends. Jesus likewise restores her to wholeness.
These intentionally combined stories give a picture of Jesus as someone who, despite being a man in a male-dominant culture, was just as concerned for the well-being of women – including those aspects that would have been taboo for him as they were ‘women’s business’. Jesus enacts God’s compassion, and restores people to life and wholeness, no matter how different they are in their persons or circumstances.

Your priest Fr. John

Reflection: Calming the Storm

First reading: Job 38.1-11, Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 6.1-13, Gospel Reading: Mark 4.35-41

Today’s Scripture readings are focused on coping with dangerous  circumstances. While Paul extends the list of the various dangers he has  faced to include persecution by other people, the primary focus is on dangers  in the natural world. In the readings from Job and Mark’s gospel, and from  Psalm 107, the emphasis is on God’s sovereignty over the sea.

The sea is a metaphor for – and representation of – chaos and disorder. While  oceanographers and meteorologists can make predictions about tides,  currents and weather patterns that influence how wild or calm the sea might  be, no one can predict actual waves. If we could, we would be able to make  boat travel much safer.

The sea can be understood as a symbol for all that is chaotic and disordered  in our lives – when things and situations are out of our control, no matter how  much we try to do the right thing. I’m not simply referring to matters like the  economy, or whether we have a working car or not – but also in our  communities, our relationships, and the ordering of our personal lives. Scriptures, and the actions of Jesus himself, show that our God desires to  bring about good order in our lives. While God’s creation continues to  manifest storms and destructive natural disasters involving huge masses of  water shifting unexpectedly, the metaphor of the calming of the storm is a  representation of God’s ability and desire to calm the storms in our own lives,  and to bring order out of chaos.

All we need to do is follow the example of the storm-tossed sailors in Psalm  107, and cry to the Lord in our distress. When we do so, we can then likewise  actively trust him to bring us to the haven we long for.

Your priest, Fr John

Reflection: the Kingdom of Growth                                                                                                          Paul’s writings and Jesus’ teachings provide an intriguing contrast to each other. Paul is cerebral, and explains things with rational statements. 
Admittedly, in his passion for making particular points, his statements and clauses can pile up, and it can be easy to lose the thread of his argument. But he usually arrives at a conclusion that brings home a key message: So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! (2 Cor 5.17) 

Jesus, on the other hand, is a mystic, and gives us riddles and parables that are not so easily rationalised, but require reflection, contemplation, and discussion. Today’s gospel reading is a couple of ‘the kingdom of God is like …’ as narrated by Mark. Jesus gives us images of organic growth, that people share in, and that many benefit from. Seeds being sown, plants flourishing, blessings being multiplied.                             
Are these aspects of God’s kingdom on earth? Whenever seeds of love, light or life are sown, do we recognise the kingdom of God in the sowing? 
Whenever these aspects of the divine are nurtured and start flourishing, do we recognise the kingdom of God in the flourishing? Whenever the metaphorical grain is harvested or people find shelter from the trials of living, do we recognise the kingdom of God in those blessings?                                                        
In his enthusiastic looking forwards Paul writes that in Christ the old has passed and the new has arrived. Jesus seems to be more focused on what is still underway. Is he suggesting that the kingdom of God can be found not only in what has finished growing, but also in what is currently growing, and even in what is still only preparing to grow?
Your priest, Fr John

 

Reflection: symbolic speech – good & evil
Carl Sandburg (1878-1967) wrote a well known poem titled Fog. It is a beautifully simple example of metaphor and evocative imagery.

The fog comes on little cat feet. 
It sits looking over harbour and city 
on silent haunches and then moves on.

A priest who was a mentor to me once said: “I wish everyone could treat the whole of Scripture as poetry.” I agree.
Today’s Scripture passages deal with good and evil using metaphors and imagery to convey some fundamental spiritual truths. The first describes the first people to have a personal relationship with God, who then realise that God can see them for exactly who and what they are – or who and what they themselves think they are – and they are ashamed, and hide from God, leading to a break down of their relationship with him.
In Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth, he uses this symbolism of being clothed with our weak and inadequate selves. And of ultimately needing to be doubly-clothed metaphorically, in that we ‘may be swallowed up by life!’
Quite an unnerving image, but one that expresses Paul’s passion for each of us not only to embrace life, but for us to be embraced by Life!
And lastly, in response to today’s Gospel reading, people have long pondered over what is the particular wording that ‘blasphemes against the Holy Spirit’.
One understanding keeps it quite simple: whenever we name that which is truly loving, or light-bearing, or life-enhancing, as its opposite – then we are denigrating God himself as being anti-God. And for as long as someone does that, how can they then receive the blessings of love, light and life? If they wilfully perceive such blessings as curses, then they will feel cursed each time God blesses them.
Instead, Jesus exhorts us to be part of God’s family simply by doing God’s will: enacting self-giving love – and receiving the same, with gratitude.
Your priest, Fr John

Reflection: National Reconciliation Week
National Reconciliation Week is intended to celebrate Indigenous history and culture in Australia and foster reconciliation discussion and activities. Any Sunday falling in this week can be observed as Reconciliation Sunday.
Reconciliation is at the heart of the Good News of God’s love made manifest to us through his Son, Jesus Christ – whose Way of reconciling love is the way we choose to walk. We each make this choice to participate in God’s action of reconciliation at our baptism/confirmation, and then renew that choice each time we participate in the Eucharist/Holy Communion.
We are each called to practise reconciliation in every dimension of our lives – our relationship with God, our relationship with others, our relationship with creation, and our relationship with our own selves.
Reconciliation Sunday is an opportunity for our own church community to reflect more specifically on how we enact reconciliation between the local settler and First Nations communities.
A first step is engaging with what reconciliation is – and is not – for any damaged relationship in our lives: how do each of us reconcile with someone we care about, and want that relationship to be restored? Only once we have a handle on that can we meaningfully engage with the work of reconciliation between communities, and across generations.
Another key step in any reconciliation is simply listening to and acknowledging stories of injustice – with no pre-conditions, excuses, or defensiveness. Simply dignifying another person by showing that their story is valued. This is what God does for us, and then calls on us to do the same for others.
Your priest, Fr John

TRINITY SUNDAY: A REFLECTION
Some time ago during a discussion with a member of a “unitarian” (as opposed to “trinitarian”) denomination I was informed that the word “trinity” is not found anywhere in Scripture. My response to this was to agree, but to assert that the concept of a trinity (that is “three-in-one’) is found throughout the scriptures. The concluding prayer of Paul in 2 Cor. 13:13, which is often part of our liturgy, reads, “The grace of the Lord Jesus CHRIST, the love of GOD, and the communion of the Holy SPIRIT be with all of you” (the emphasis is mine). The creeds compiled in the early centuries of the church, and an essential part of our liturgy, are also trinitarian in structure.
So, on this Trinity Sunday, what are we actually celebrating? Not an event, such as the birth, crucifixion and resurrection, but a theological concept which underlies our understanding and experience of the nature of God. Yes, It is a difficult concept to define and has been the subject of dispute both within and
outside the church on many occasions. It is also difficult to find an analogy with anything in our day-to-day world. I once heard a sermon which likened the trinity to an egg (!) which has three parts (shell, white and yolk) which make up the whole. But this will not do as the trinity is not made up of three separate entities but it is rather three manifestations of God as He is revealed to and is encountered by us. If we seek some model which helps our understanding we need to look in terms of relationships, not to any kind of physical structure. 
So as we worship today we are not celebrating an abstract idea, nor a philosophical notion, but we are seeking to renew and enrich our own experience of God as revealed to us in the person of Jesus, and in the strength and guidance that is given to us by his Spirit. The encounter of Nicodemus with Jesus which we read today’s Gospel may be understood in a “trinitarian” way.
“Jesus answered, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.’ ”. May our own experience of God be renewed and enriched today as we worship together.
Lloyd George

Reflection: birth of the Church ‘Called out together’
Pentecost is a celebration of the birthday of the Church. The name comes from the Greek for fiftieth – being the fiftieth day from the Passover. Fifty equals a ‘week of weeks’ – that is, 7 x 7 days, which is 49 days – or 50 if including the day we start counting from.
To highlight its place in the sequence of the Gospel story: Jesus was baptised and anointed with the Holy Spirit, and was then empowered to undertake his mission of establishing the kingdom of heaven on earth. He did this by
gathering disciple-apprentices, teaching and demonstrating the kingdom of heaven, and showing the way of self-giving love. Jesus commissioned his disciple-apprentices to continue his mission, and after his resurrection and ascension told them to wait and pray for their own anointing with the Holy Spirit – which they did.
The first Pentecost experience could be compared to a graduation ceremony, whereby the disciple-apprentices were publicly certified and empowered to continue the mission of Christ in his name, independent of his physical presence. While each one was able to continue Christ’s mission by themselves at times (e.g. Philip baptising the Ethiopian eunuch), they tended
to draw encouragement, support, and further training from the ekklēsia. This is Greek for ‘called out’, and means a group of people who have gathered to achieve some purpose.

The word ‘church’ comes from the Greek kuriakē, meaning ‘of the Lord’. This is might be a shortening of ekklēsia kuriakē, that is ‘congregation of the Lord’. The Pentecost event was not only the ‘graduation ceremony’ for the disciples, it also marked the public establishment of the Church: those called out together as the people of God to further the mission of God, the mission of manifesting heaven on earth through self-giving love.
Your priest, Fr John

Reflection: Celebrating the Resurrection (7)
Just before Jesus died he said ‘It is finished’ (John 19.30). Today is a good time to reflect on what it was that was finished. Atoning for the sins of the world? Opening up a living way for people to engage with God? Establishing God’s kingdom on earth? Yes to all of the above – and more! 

It is some of the more that I have been reflecting on in recent times – including a theological concept that is not named in the Bible: succession planning.                                                                                      When Israel was a kingdom led by earthly kings, succession planning consisted of procreating offspring so that one of them could take over when needed. When the King of kings arrived, the model of succession planning changed to that of apprenticeship.

Firstly, Jesus gathered apprentices (aka disciples) together and taught them about the kingdom of God – which they kept confusing with the kingdom of Israel, but they eventually cottoned on. Secondly, once they acknowledged Jesus as being the one Anointed to be the leader (king) of God’s kingdom, he then prepared his apprentices to take over his ministry from him.

So by the time Jesus died on the cross, he had accomplished what he’d set out to do – which included completing his succession planning. His apprentices were almost ready to pick up from where Jesus had ended. All that was required was for them to experience Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, and then be launched by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

Jesus commissioned them to undertake their own succession planning:
‘Make [apprentices] of all nations, baptising them … and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you’ (Matthew 28.19-20). Being obedient to Christ includes copying his model of succession planning: making new apprentices, preparing them to continue the ministry of Jesus, and then – like Jesus – handing over to them the ministry we have been doing.
Your priest, Fr John

Reflection: Celebrating the Resurrection (6)
Some of Jesus’ teachings that John quotes in his gospel account, and some of the reflections in John’s own letters can feel like Celtic knotwork. They consist of meaningful statements and phrases, but they often seem to be repeated, and reversed, and restated. Taken together they present an overall
picture of Jesus the Son, and God the Father, and the Holy Spirit working in loving harmony. And then inviting us to be woven into that Divine pattern through our faith participation.

In the knotwork a strand might appear to come to an end – until we see that it has gone under or behind another strand, only to re-emerge to continue revealing a picture of Love. During the Last Supper Jesus gave his first disciple-apprentices the reassurance that though his life would appear to come to an end, that it would become visible again.

And then Jesus used the metaphor of the joy experienced in the successful delivery of a baby after the labour-pains of the birth to illustrate his point. When we experience times of anxiety, or confusion,
or distress, we are invited to trust Jesus and ask for help in his name. And have confidence that God the Father wants our joy to be complete. Even though the path might seem to turn back on itself or briefly disappear from sight, the big picture reveals God’s love for us through it all.
Your priest, Fr John

Reflection: Celebrating the Resurrection (5)
In his resurrection appearances Jesus encouraged his first disciples to reflect and think again about what he had taught them before he was crucified. We are encouraged to do the same: to go back over his teachings from a post- resurrection perspective.

Today’s parable is that of Jesus being the true vine, and us – as his disciple- apprentices – being the branches of that vine. It is only when we are fully connected with the vine that we can grow and be fruitful. This connectedness enables the sap to flow from the vine to provide the sustenance needed for
buds, leaves, and fruit. We can understand the Spirit to be the flowing sap.
The metaphor can be taken further, in that the leaves on the branches absorb energy from the light, which in turn enables the whole vine to flourish – but again, only when the branches are comprehensively joined to the vine.
This organic joining of branches with the stem of the vine can be described by a word that is primarily used in some Psalms, in John’s gospel, and in John’s first letter – that is, ‘abide’. This connection is thus understood when John writes:
By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. (1 John 4.13, 16b)
And in his gospel account John quotes Jesus saying:
Abide in me as I abide in you. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit (John 15.4a, 5b)
We are encouraged to intentionally strive to abide in God through being joined in Christ the true vine, and sustained by the life (the ‘sap’) of the Spirit.  Your priest, Fr. John

 

Reflection: Celebration the Resurrection (4)
Jesus described himself as the Good Shepherd, who laid down his life for us as his metaphorical sheep. He did this to save us from all unkindness’s that would otherwise damage or destroy us.
Interestingly, he tells his first disciples – who were Jews like him:
I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them
also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one
shepherd. (John 10.16)
We understand that at the time John wrote his gospel account, this referred to Gentiles – non-Jewish people – who would come to follow Jesus’ way of self- giving love. Over the centuries since then, Christian disciples have grappled to discern who is in the Good Shepherd’s fold, and who is not. Sometimes the Church has erred on being too puritanical and applied rigid rules to exclude people, even those who practise God’s law of love generously and selflessly. Sometimes the Church has erred with being too lax or secular in its mind-set, and allowed ‘wolves and hired hands’ into the fold, who’ve damaged the Church from within.
We acknowledge the power Jesus exercises in taking up his life again as we
celebrate his resurrection. In the light of his resurrection life, let us continually
exercise wise discernment in recognising when God’s law of love is being
practised. As John wrote in his first letter:
let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth (1 John 3.18-19)
When people are practising self-giving love, then they are being members of the Good Shepherd’s flock.
Your priest, Fr John

Reflection: Celebrating the Resurrection (3)
During the Easter season we celebrate the resurrection – Jesus being restored to life after his death on the cross. And we are reminded of some of his resurrection appearances, and his final teachings and instructions to his first disciples. At the end of Luke’s gospel Jesus says to his disciples: ‘it is written that … repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in [the Messiah’s] name to all nations’ (Luke 24.48)

Repentance simply means turning and re-aligning ourselves to God’s way of self-giving love. Forgiveness of sins simply means accepting God’s desire and offer to take away those things that damage our relationships. In the passage from the Acts of the Apostles, Peter acts on Jesus’ instruction when he exhorts people: ‘Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord’ (Acts 3.19)

Times of refreshing is a wonderful assurance of restoration of all that is good for us, and is later emphasised again in the words of Jesus from the Revelation to John: ‘See, I am making all things new.’ (Revelation 21.5) It is an offer of wholeness and well-being that God offers us through the work of
Jesus the Messiah.

One way of understanding this is described by John in the passage from his first letter: See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God. (1 John 3.1) When we reflect on this, we have the opportunity to recognise the kind of relationship that our creator wants to have with us – to be our loving, wise, compassionate and forgiving divine Father. So that we can thrive on being blessed as his children.
Your priest, Fr John

Reflection: Celebration the Resurrection (2)
How softly and forgivingly our Lord deals with that doubter, Thomas. ‘I don’t believe your fancy tales of Jesus risen from the dead’, says Thomas. 
‘Words!’ he says. ‘I need proof!
‘Tell me no tales; show me the marks in his hands – the marks of the nails – and the mark in his side – where the spear pierced him. That’s what I need to see.’ Then I might listen to you’.
How different are Jesus’s words.
No condemnation. No blame. Just, ‘Reach out and touch me, Thomas. Do not doubt but believe’.
Instantly, Thomas believes. ‘My Lord and my God’, he says.
Then Jesus adds, ‘Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have come
to believe’.
Blessed words, because we live within that blessing – we who have not seen with our eyes, but yet have come to believe in our hearts. Now we know that our belief is equally worthy with the belief of those, like
Thomas, who did actually see him, both in earthly life and in risen form. And in that way he is present with us, as much as he ever was.
He is present in the broken bread.
He is present in the preached word.
He is present in the lives of people around us.
He is present in the signs of resurrection we might come across from day to day.
He is present wherever two or three are gathered in his name.
He is present if we love him, because then he and his Father make their home
with us.
Jim.

Reflection: Celebrating the Resurrection (1)
As children many of us have been afraid of the dark. As we grow up we learn not to fear the night – we enjoy moonlight and starlight, and we are no longer afraid of shadows. But we still carry the fear of a deeper darkness. The darkness of loneliness, the darkness of ill-health, the darkness of broken
friendship, the darkness of depression, the darkness of grief. We fear the deeper darkness of things breaking, broken, dying, dead.

And yet, even in the darkness of our experience, Someone shines a light. If we turn to face that Person, if we open our eyes to see that Person, that Person does not carry a light – that Person is the light.

Jesus experienced so much of what we experience in terms of our relationships. He knew what it was like to be lonely, betrayed, and deserted. He engaged with the ill-health, depression, and the grieving of others. He grieved himself. He experienced the darkness of being misunderstood, of being hated, of being rejected. And finally he experienced the darkness of death itself. A body, empty of life, wrapped in a shroud, laid in a tomb, the entrance sealed shut.
And then, at the end of that second night, a brighter light shone out. The Son had risen. The Son of God – Jesus, God’s anointed one – brought a new light into the world. The light of companionship, the light of healing, the light of reconciliation, the light of wholeness, the light of joy. The resurrection of Jesus brings hope – hope that we will once again be able to experience new life, new beginnings, renewal, restoration, re-creation.
Because Jesus has gone through the deeper darkness, and has overcome it, he is able to meet us in our darkness – whatever it is, wherever we are – and is able to overcome it with the light of his life, with the light of his love. May you always turn to Christ, and walk as children of the light.
Your priest, Fr John

Reflection: Entering into Holy Week
As we enter into Holy Week, we arrive at the ‘hour’ – or period of time – that culminates Jesus’ mission on earth. There is so much drama packed into this week as everything races towards a definitive conclusion.
The time is bracketed by some huge emotional swings that form a chiastic sequence of hope followed by despair, ending with its reverse: despair followed by hope. It starts with the exciting hopefulness of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem followed by the alarming shock of his arrest. And it ends with the devastating hopelessness of his death on the cross followed by the stunning shock of his resurrection.
With the triumphal entry Jesus appeared to be poised to re-establish God’s earthly kingdom, understood by some to be the equivalent of the kingdom of Israel as it was during the reign of King David and his successor son, King Solomon. The Roman oppressors would be booted out of Jerusalem, one of
David’s descendants would assume the throne as the saving king anointed by God (i.e. the Messiah), and the temple leadership would be supportive of the new king and co-operate with him to restore the worship of God Almighty by all his people.
Biblical scholars suggest that Judas grew impatient and tried to force Jesus’ hand by having him confronted by the temple police so that the necessary insurrection would begin. However, God used Judas’ action to fulfil his own purpose through his way of sacrificial self-giving love, as enacted by Jesus.
Through the cross Jesus did indeed lead an insurrection, but not against the Roman oppressors – rather against the powers of evil. Jesus did indeed re-establish God’s kingdom, but not as a national entity – rather as the Kingdom of Heaven on earth.
Your priest, Fr John

Reflection: Journeying through Lent (5)
Today’s scripture readings are quite poetic in nature, and so it might seem odd to suggest that they concern the prosaic matter of succession planning. This might be a modern corporate term, nevertheless the concept is also a theological one.
There are two basic ways that successors were appointed in the Old Testament – one being through family lineage. The Jewish priests were appointed through being members of the tribe of Levi – the so-called Levitical priestly caste. And it was from amongst these that the high priest was chosen. The high priest was the only one who could undertake the annual sacrifice of atonement for the sins of all the people. Jesus was not a Levite, and so could not be appointed as high priest in this way.

The other way that successors were appointed was through being acknowledged as having the appropriate charism, or spirit. The various prophetic leaders of the Old Testament such as the judges (like
Samson and Gideon), or prophets (like Samuel and Elijah) were recognised as having been appointed by God, through the apparent anointing of his Spirit. Of these, the first person to be described as priest was Melchizedek, who led a worship rite of thanksgiving after Abram (Abraham) had rescued his nephew Lot:

And King Melchizedek of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High (Genesis 14.18).

Since Melchizedek was acknowledged to be a priest (anointed by El Elyon) before the Levitical lineage was established, Jesus is acknowledged to be a high priest, not through the Levitical heritage, but through being directly anointed by God: ‘You are a priest for ever according to the order of Melchizedek’ (Psalm 110.4).

God then establishes a new covenant with us through Jesus our high priest, and the way that successors are appointed changes. Or, using modern jargon, the process of succession planning is changed. Jesus combined the ‘family lineage’ process with the ‘anointed by the Spirit’ process. All who are
baptised into God’s family are anointed by the Holy Spirit. And in this way Jeremiah’s prophecy is fulfilled:
[Thus] says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; … they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
As we prepare once again to celebrate the establishment of this new covenant at Easter, let us continue to read God’s law of love written on our hearts.
Your priest, Fr John

Reflection Journeying through Lent (4)
The story of Moses making a fiery serpent out of bronze and raising it on a pole to save those suffering from snakebites can be disturbing to us. On the one hand the Bible has stories of serpents being cunning and deceitful – for example, deceiving Eve to take the forbidden fruit. On the other, Jesus tells us to ‘be wise as serpents and innocent as doves’ (Matthew 10.16).

It helps to be open to different meanings underlying the symbol of the serpent, including the symbolism of wisdom. Moses’ bronze serpent ‘lifted up’ was perceived to have saved lives, and Jesus himself uses this archetypal symbol to show that the Son of Man (that is, Jesus Christ himself) must also be lifted up, so that those who believe in him may have life in all its fullness.
There is a richness of meaning here. Just as the bronze serpent might be understood to symbolise wisdom, so Paul refers to Jesus as the Wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1.24). And how is Jesus lifted up?
 On the cross? – of course!
 In the sacrament of the Eucharist? – we raise the body of Christ with our own hands when we make our communion.
 In our hearts? – we are certainly called to make Jesus our highest priority in how we live.
And as Moses’ ‘lifted up’ the bronze serpent to offer salvation to those who were dying, so Jesus claims the same for himself when ‘lifted up’: ‘just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life … Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him’ (John 3.14-15, 17). May you be inspired and encouraged to lift Jesus up in your own hearts and lives.
Your priest, Fr John

Reflection : Journeying through Lent (3)
Every Sunday in Lent the prayer book gives us the option of remembering the Ten Commandments. While Jesus gives us the summary of God’s law in the two great commandments – love God and love others – it is good to be reminded of the Ten.
The Ten Commandments serve as a guide or resource, rather than simply instructions. As for most matters in Holy Scripture, if we only take a literal approach, then we usually miss out on the meaning underlying the words – and it is the meaning that we need to really engage with.
In his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus provides commentary on some of the Ten Commandments: for example in Matthew 5.21-26 he effectively reflects on the spirit of the Law underlying the 6th commandment: You shall not murder.
Below is an interpretation, or commentary, on each of the Ten. They are worth reflecting on, and perhaps being inspired to write something similar for yourself.
Your priest, Fr John
1. Practise loyalty to the Sacred.
2. Do not forget that any given image of God is only a glimpse.
3. Do not use God’s name to do harm.
4. Do not let life be defined by productivity.
5. Care for those who have cared for you.
6. Do not be destructive.
7. Be faithful to the commitments you make.
8. Do not take what does not belong to you.
9. Do not hinder justice from coming to fruition.
10. Do not let your desires lead you to harm another.
from www.enfleshed.com

Reflection: Journeying through Lent (2)
During the season of Lent we prepare for Holy Week and Easter – preparing to remember the different aspects of Jesus’ final days up to and including his death, and his resurrection. Two important parts of this preparation are for each of us to reflect on our own faith relationship with God, and to
intentionally practise some spiritual disciplines.
Engaging with the Scriptures each day or each week provides the opportunity to be inspired by the faith relationships of those who have preceded us. Today we are reminded of our spiritual ancestors Abram and Sarai – renamed as Abraham and Sarah by God in acknowledgement of the covenant he made with them. St Paul writes of Abraham’s faith in God – his trust in God’s bigger picture, the divine perspective that Abraham could not himself see. Paul points out that Abraham’s faith came centuries before the recording of God’s law by Moses.
It was Abraham’s faith relationship with God that made him righteous – that is, right-wise or rightly aligned with God’s desire and purpose. Abraham could not become right-wise by following religious regulations (the Law), because this did not exist in his time. Stating this is not to denigrate the Law – the Law as recorded in Holy Scripture is an important means for understanding and
engaging with our faith relationship with God.
The key lies in Jesus’ admonishment: “you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” The converse is that we are encouraged to set our minds on divine things, not on human things. That is, to see things from the divine perspective – or, like Abraham, to trust in God’s perspective when
we ourselves can’t see it. Lent is a time to intentionally practise engaging with the divine insight, to align ourselves right-wisely with God.
Your priest, Fr John

Reflection: Journeying through Lent (1)
As we start the season of Lent – preparing for Holy Week and Easter – we read of Jesus in the wilderness. Unlike Matthew and Luke’s accounts, Mark ignores the threefold interaction with the Tempter and focuses on keeping the story moving quickly on to Jesus proclaiming the kingdom of God. After Jesus’ baptism ‘the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.’ (Mark 1.12-13)
Mark’s account highlights the circumstances of the temptations, rather than the temptations themselves.
Note the similarities with the Israelites during the Exodus: they were also led by the Spirit; Jesus’ forty days symbolises the forty years of the Israelites’ sojourn; and the ‘wild beasts’ not only evokes the wilderness, but can also serve as a metaphor for the inner ‘wild beasts’ Jesus had to face and
overcome during his time of solitude and discomfort. Nevertheless, even in the wilderness, Jesus was given the spiritual sustenance he needed, just as the Israelites’ needs were met.

Lent is an opportunity for each of us to follow a similar spiritual path in our personal faith relationship with God. As we pray in the Eucharistic prayer for Ash Wednesday:   

For in these forty days you lead us into the desert of repentance that through a pilgrimage of prayer and discipline we may grow in grace and learn to be your people once again. Through fasting, prayer and acts of service you bring us back to your generous heart. Through study of your holy word you open our eyes to your presence in the world and free our hands to welcome others into the radiant splendour of your love.
May you be encouraged to enact this prayer in your own observance of Lent.
Your priest, Fr John

Reflection: The Transfiguration of Jesus
The Transfiguration of Jesus appears to be a strange event – from a rational perspective. The disciples had already experienced the transformative power of God working through Jesus as he healed and restored people, as he engaged and taught people about the kingdom of God, and as he debated
convincingly against those religious leaders who prioritised the letter of God’s law over the spirit of God’s law. And in due course the disciples would witness the crucifixion of Jesus, and experience the reality of his resurrection, and then the empowerment of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. So why did just a few of them have this moment of divine expression glorifying Jesus as the fulfilment of the law (as personified by Moses) and the prophets (as personified by Elijah)?
While this is fundamentally a mystery, we do know that it had a powerful and lasting effect on Peter, James, and John – on their comprehension of Jesus as the Son of God, and as a lived experience of the light of God which would serve to lighten their own times of darkness in their future. While this event was only for those three disciples who accompanied Jesus up the mountain, it remains an iconic example of the kind of spiritual ‘high’ that subsequent generations of disciples have been able to participate in.
When we intentional accompany Jesus at special times in the life of the church and in our own lives – when we metaphorically climb the mountain with Jesus as our guide and leader, then we give God the opportunity to reveal to us the mystery of his glory, as shown in Jesus Christ. And these experiences
can likewise be a source of spiritual sustenance for us, giving us hope when we despair, and providing us with joy when we offer up our praise.
Your priest, Fr John

Reflection: Mission in Galilee

Whenever I read through the Gospel of Mark I am always struck by a sense of urgency and immediacy in the narrative. Mark gives us no lengthy accounts of the teaching of Jesus (like Matthew in the Sermon on the Mount, for example) but he does place emphasis on the active nature of his ministry, and yet I never have a feeling of haste or carelessness. The accounts have the vividness of an eyewitness, and there is a strong tradition in the early church that Mark’s gospel draws on the witness of Peter.
After an account of Jesus’ ministry in the synagogue on a sabbath in Capernaum, he goes to the house of Simon Peter where he receives hospitality and also heals Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever. Then after sunset (when the sabbath has formally ended} the sick gather to seek healing from Jesus. The story is related from the point-of-view of those within the household, who go out early in the morning to seek Jesus, who has gone to seek rest and refreshment in prayer following an intense sabbath of teaching and healing. But he does not return with them as they hoped, but rather urges them to come with him to continue the ministry to other villages in the region.
There is much to reflect on here as we consider our own mission today to continue the work which Jesus himself began, and has called his disciples to share with him. I recall an old hymn which was often sung in the church in which I grew up, but I have not heard for many years . .
It begins, “At even ere the sun was set, the sick O Lord, around Thee lay . . “
and it ends with the words . . “Thy touch has still its ancient power, no word from Thee can fruitless fall . .”
Let’s be encouraged by this . .
blessings to you all . .
Lloyd George

Reflection: Becoming students of the Kingdom of God (3)

TRUE AND FALSE PROPHETS

The Old Testament reading for this Sunday gives us the words of Moses to Israel before their entry into the Promised Land. The words are a mix of promise and warning, assuring the people that God will provide another prophet as his successor, and warning them of the danger of false prophets.
In the light of the experience of later centuries (and of all ages since!) this warning is very relevant and is repeated many times throughout scripture, notably by Jesus (Matt. 7:15-20) and Peter (2 Peter 2:1-3 ). In our current century, with the growth of all kinds of communication and social media, the danger is greater than ever. I recently read an article by an American journalist detailing at least ten self-confessed prophets who are continually issuing proclamations which profess to be messages from God, with all kinds of predictions which rarely, if ever, come true. Yet, he observes, such “prophets” continue to attract huge followings (and often gain much financially). The journalist ended by quoting from today’s reading, “If a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord but the thing does not take place or prove true, it is a word that the Lord has not spoken”. A simple test that the followers of false prophets seem unwilling to apply! Jesus advises us that it is “by their fruits (that) you shall know them”. Paul, in his teaching on spiritual
gifts in his letter to the Corinthian church, describes prophecy as one of the gifts of the Spirit and rates it very highly, even above the speaking in tongues.
Prophecy should still be part of church life and ministry today and does not belong only to the Old Testament era.

Can I offer a few thoughts on what true prophecy should entail? First, it is not essentially about predicting the future. This may be an important element, but essentially it is about declaring the will and purposes of God in relation to his people and the world. Isaiah, for example, speaks much about the future of Israel and prefigures much of the ministry of Jesus, as yet far into the future, but his words speak strongly to and relate precisely to the nation of Israel in his own time with its problems and challenges. As Christians we should be willing and bold enough to speak about the truth of the Gospel and of God’s love and concern for all his creation. But we need the discernment and guidance of the Holy Spirit to be sure that the words we speak are indeed “words that the Lord has spoken”. And we need to be certain of the integrity of those who presume to bring the Lord’s words to us. “Test the spirits to see
that they are of God”. as John tells us (1 John 4:1-3). And our words need to be demonstrated and lived out in our own lives, otherwise we will lose credibility in the eyes of those to whom we presume to speak.
May our Lord bless you all.  Lloyd George

Reflection: Becoming students of the Kingdom of God (2)

As we read stories from the start of Jesus’ ministry, today’s Gospel is another story of Jesus inviting the first of his disciples to join with him to learn about the Kingdom of God. We hear about the calling of the four fishermen to leave their nets ‘immediately’ to be with him, and the other readings also tell of people being called to make a prompt response.
In his letter Paul encourages the Christians in Corinth to prioritise their response to Jesus. He effectively says: ‘don’t focus first on whether you are married or not, whether you’re sad or happy, whether business is going well or not – first attend to engaging with God through Jesus Christ.’ While Paul thought that Christ’s return was imminent when he wrote this, the invitation to respond in the present continues to be relevant.
The intentionally humorous book of Jonah also conveys some important theological truths. There are four short chapters (chapter 3 is today’s reading):

1. Jonah is told to go to Nineveh, but he tries to run away from God and ends up being swallowed by a big fish or whale.
2. He prays from inside the fish, and it vomits him up onto a beach.

3. Jonah is told again to go to Nineveh. He goes, and warns them to repent before God destroys them. They repent and God changes his mind.

4. Jonah thinks Nineveh deserves to be destroyed! He is angry with God for having mercy – but God remonstrates with Jonah about the need to be compassionate.
For us the important message is the prompt response by the Ninevites when warned by Jonah. They waste no time in acknowledging their need of God’s mercy, and turning to God. God calls us to him in different ways: those who respond are blessed through their personal faith relationship with the Divine.

Your priest, Fr John

Reflection: Becoming students of the Kingdom of God (1)
After celebrating the baptism of Jesus last Sunday, we now engage with the start of his ministry. The Gospel focus over the next few Sundays are stories of his first students – or disciples – signing up, and of the lessons they are given.
Today’s gospel reading is from John’s account, where Jesus commends Nathanael as being ‘an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’ Co-incidentally, this theological thread regarding deceit can be seen in the other readings:
 The boy Samuel is under the natural deception that the elderly priest Eli is calling him in the night. Eli comes to understand what the actual reality is, and is able to set Samuel on the right track – that it is the Lord who is calling him.
 And in his first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul admonishes members of that congregation who justify inappropriate attitudes and behaviour, by showing up their self-deception, and encouraging them back on the right track.
One of the key lessons in becoming a student of the Kingdom of God is learning to see past what we want to believe is true or what we think the reality is, and engaging with divine reality – with how God sees things. Psalm 139 is an affirmation of our own inner being and an acknowledgement that God sees this. In order to effectively engage with the Kingdom of God, we need to see what God sees – or at least strive to learn to see what God sees. In the same way that Jesus commended Nathanael for his ability to see God’s reality, may he likewise be able commend us for striving to do the same.
Your priest, Fr John

Reflection: the Anointing of Christ
Straight after our celebration of the twelve days of the Christmas season, we observe the baptism of Christ. And, for the first time, I’ve realised that this observation is part of the repeated pattern of our liturgical seasons. The season of Advent is a time of preparation and anticipation for celebrating the birth of Jesus on Christmas Day – followed by the twelve days of the Christmas season. This pattern repeats with the season of Lent – a time of preparation and anticipation for celebrating the resurrection of Jesus on Easter Day – followed by the fifty days of the Easter season. I thought that this was the extent of the repeated pattern. But wait – there’s more …!
After the Easter season we observe Pentecost, when the first disciples were baptised with the Holy Spirit. This coincides with this Sunday’s observation, when straight after the Christmas season, we celebrate the moment when
Jesus was baptised with the Holy Spirit. Here is a schematic of this:
Advent – time of preparation/anticipation –  Lent
Christmas – celebration of new/renewed life – Easter                                                               Baptism of Jesus – baptism by the Holy Spirit –Pentecost
At Jesus’ baptism he is anointed with the Holy Spirit. This is the moment when Jesus becomes, or is affirmed as, the Anointed One (English), Messiah (Hebrew), or Christ (Greek). At Pentecost, and at every subsequent event when people experience baptism by the Holy Spirit, these are the moments when we are likewise anointed to be part of the Body of Christ.
This is a helpful reminder of how much Jesus models for us patterns for our own faith life and for how we might live meaningfully. May your New Year’s resolution be an aspiration to follow Jesus in his own baptismal journey.
Your priest, Fr John

Reflection: Epiphany
Matthew’s account of the nativity provides an interesting contrast and addition to Luke’s. Luke describes Mary and the shepherds being visited
directly by angels, and Mary storing up these events in her heart to ponder over them. Matthew has a different perspective and describes angels visiting Joseph and the magi indirectly in their dreams. Matthew’s stories describe danger, and murderous intent and action, and fugitives fleeing in the night.
Together these are stories of two very different groups of strangers arriving in the dark – the local poor shepherds, and the foreign rich magi. The shepherds leave rejoicing and glorifying God. The magi leave in a very different frame of mind. They find themselves on the run, to avoid being caught up in a tyrant’s paranoia about a child of prophecy threatening his own hard-won status and authority.
I think both Mary and Joseph would have found the situation quite bizarre: foreigners with a status obviously greatly above their own coming to do homage to their child, and with costly and deeply symbolic gifts. We don’t know how long they stayed for, but it seems quite possible that on the same night they arrived, after they had gone to sleep, they would have awoken before dawn and decided to immediately act on what they had dreamt.
Have people ever passed briefly through your life, leaving behind a blessing? Have you perhaps been such a person in someone else’s life? We rightly value our long-term relationships with family and friends. However, God also works his blessings through brief interactions, especially in situations outside of the usual routine. The magi had been prepared to journey for many weeks for that single brief exchange, because they recognised something worthy of that effort, that cost, that inconvenience. May we have our eyes and hearts open to undertaking metaphorical journeys of our own, so that we too can share – unexpectedly – the light of Christ with strangers.
Your priest, Fr John

REFLECTION: the Advent of Christ our Lord (3)
One of the challenging tensions in our faith relationship with God concerns our worthiness. Are we worthy of being able to stand before God, to offer praise and thanksgiving, and to ask for help for ourselves and others? On the one hand we are all sinners, and our relationship with God is too damaged for us to have any right to presume to come into his presence. On the other
hand, Jesus regards each of us as worth being born for and dying for, in order to enable us to come into God’s presence and receive the blessing of being in a full relationship with our heavenly Father. It can be helpful for us to be aware of this dynamic tension between ‘No, I’m not worthy’ and ‘Yes, I am worthy.’
John the Baptist shares this in his response to the religious leaders when they ask him who he is. On the one hand he knows his worth as an Old
Covenant prophet, walking in the way of the famous prophet Elijah, and fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy: “I am the voice crying in the wilderness.” John knows that he has been sent by God, that he has a purpose to fulfill. John has confidence in his own worth as a Spirit-filled prophet to speak God’s word and enact God’s purpose in that situation.

On the other hand, John also knows his own unworthiness in comparison to Jesus, which he describes symbolically in terms of untying the thong of Jesus’ sandal.
This pendulum swing of how we see ourselves, and how God sees us, plays itself out across the stories, poetry and prophecies of Scripture. When we are arrogant and think we have worth in our own right, then we need to get a divine reality check. When we find ourselves suffering as a consequence of this, God is constantly reaching out to us and reminding us that we are worth loving, and forgiving, and worth inviting us to share that with others.
And in our Advent preparations and anticipation of our annual celebration of Christ’s first coming, we are reminded that he regards us as worth not only dying for, but also worth coming amongst us and living for – as worth being born for.
Your priest, Fr John

 

REFLECTION: the Advent of Christ our Lord (2)
In this Advent season we continue to anticipate and prepare for the annual celebration of God coming among us, as one of us. As we do so, Scripture readings remind us of John the Baptist helping his own generation to anticipate and prepare for the ministry of Jesus as the Messiah, or Christ. John helps to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy as someone called to prepare people, by encouraging them to repent – that is, to turn – to turn from their own purpose and desire to following God’s purpose and desire. This process of realigning ourselves – realigning how we live our lives and how we live out our faith – is described as making our path straight: rightly aligned to God’s way. Festive meals are a repeated symbol in Scripture for the kingdom of heaven, and many of us are already participating in festive meals at this time – so here is another metaphor for repentance, or realignment, or straightening, or becoming right-wise. Imagine a table set for a fancy meal, but each place setting has its cutlery out of order and laid at odd angles. The heavenly feast cannot properly start until everyone’s setting has been set right – aligned, ordered, or made right-wise.
This is what we are being reminded to do, to make sure the ‘place-setting’ of our faith is right-wise, so that we are ready to enjoy once again God manifesting his kingdom among us, through the presence of his Son Jesus. Instead of cutlery in right alignment, we can think of our faith practices in right alignment:
 are we in regular prayer-conversation with God?
 are we accepting his blessings of love, forgiveness and open-heartedness for ourselves?
 are we sharing those same blessings with others, especially those in need of kindness?
When these faith-practices are right-wise, then we are able to enjoy the festive meal that is God’s kingdom.
Your priest, Fr John

REFLECTION: the Advent of Christ our Lord

The season of Advent, starting from the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day, is focused on anticipation and preparation. We do this from three perspectives:
past, present, and future. We anticipate and prepare for the annual celebration of the birth of the Son of God: the past. We intentionally focus on and prepare for the next coming of Christ: the future. And, most importantly, we do both of these in the context of Jesus Christ coming into our own lives: the present. For
each of us, personally, Jesus has come into our life, he is coming into our life, and he will come into our life – our faith relationship is an ongoing process.
Our scriptures for today come from these different perspectives.
 We start with Isaiah 64: tear open the heavens, O Lord – come down and make yourself known to us again.
 Psalm 85 echoes this: restore us again, O Lord: show us the light of your countenance.
 Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 1: God’s grace has been given to us in Christ Jesus.
 And Mark 13 records Jesus as advising us: the Son of Man will come unexpectedly – so keep awake.
This preparation and anticipation is not disconnected with last Sunday, the end of the liturgical year celebrating Christ as King. Having acknowledged Christ enthroned above everything and everyone, Advent is the opportunity for each of us to enthrone Jesus in our own hearts.
The liturgy of Advent enables us attend to our own personal faith relationship with God the Father through Jesus Christ our Lord. While Christianity is also a communal faith, Advent facilitates a personal preparation for Christmas. For this reason instead of using the Nicene Creed: “We believe …”, it is helpful to use the Apostle’s Creed: “I believe …” And then to reflect again on how we are living out this personal belief daily.
Your priest, Fr John

REFLECTION: series on Judgement ( 3)

Our third and last Sunday of a series looking at parables about Judgement ends with an illustration of divine judgement already made. Jesus describes the apocalyptic moment where the judgement has already taken place in how people are seen to be, and he – as ‘the Son of Man [seated] … on the throne
of his glory’ simply separates those who have been judged.

In the illustration, the Son of Man does not judge each person as either a sheep or a goat – they come to him already as  sheep or goats. He merely welcomes the sheep into the kingdom of heaven, while the goats find themselves suffering from not being in the kingdom of heaven.

The question that Jesus answers, is ‘What is it that makes someone a sheep, or a goat?’ And Jesus describes the ‘sheep’ people simply as enacting mercy for those in need, and the ‘goat’ people as failing to enact mercy for those in need. 
So what makes someone a sheep or goat? Their own attitudes and behaviour. In a sense, the more we ignore others’ needs, the more ‘goat-like’ we become, and the more we respond to others’ needs, the more ‘sheep-like’ we become. In this way we determine our own judgement. And Jesus, who said: ‘I am the gate for the sheep’ (John 10.7), simply welcomes the sheep in, while the goats find that there isn’t a way for them to enter the sheepfold. Or rather, that their way of living does not enable them to enter.

As Brendan Byrne SJ writes in Lifting the Burden: “The outcome — after grace — is in your hands, in what you choose to do or fail to do in the present. Do you want to be relieved of the fear of judgment? Well, then, dedicate yourself to this kind of life. Then the judgment will already be behind you.”
Your priest, Fr John

REFLECTION: series on Judgement (2)
Both Matthew and Luke include this Parable of the Talents in their gospel accounts. However, their focus is subtly different from each other, and so when we look at either gospel passage it is better to ignore the other and focus only on the one at hand.
The obvious aspects of the parable are that the Master represents the Lord, and the slaves represent members of the faith community. The talents are whatever resources God has blessed us with: money, time, ability, education, health, and so on. The parable teaches us that our Lord expects us to be good
stewards of all that we have been given, and to use it beneficially – just as we pray when we make our offertory before the Eucharist:
Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation.
Through your goodness we have these gifts to share. Accept and use our offerings for your glory
and for the service of your kingdom.
Today’s focus on Judgement – or the divine discernment – is judging how well we are practising good stewardship. Our Lord yearns to be able to say to each of us: “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; … enter into the joy of your master.” And this is true for us not only as individuals, but also as groups and communities. What of the slave who failed to fulfil the Master’s trust in him? His description of the Master being a harsh man does not tie up with how the Master treats the others. This slave ends up receiving the treatment that he has expected, because of his own attitude towards the Master, and towards what the Master has given him. Ironically, the other slaves are also rewarded according to their own attitudes. We have the same choice: do we behave as if God is out to ‘get’ us, or do we behave as if God yearns to invite us to ‘enter into his joy’?
Your priest, Fr John

REFLECTION: series on Judgement (1)
Today we start a short series of three parables over three Sundays, that are generally focused on Judgement. God’s judgement is not about condemnation – the punishment for wrong-doing. It is actually about discernment – evaluating which actions and attitudes are life-affirming, and which are life-draining. The inevitable consequence of life-draining conduct is exactly that – people find themselves unable to participate in celebrating life. And in the same way, the consequence of life-affirming conduct is to then be able to celebrate life. The story that Jesus tells is of young unmarried women of marriageable age – translated as ‘virgins’ or ‘bridesmaids’ – who have a traditional role in a wedding ceremony. They comprise the party that welcomes the bridegroom to the wedding banquet. The wedding, with a particular focus on the celebratory banquet, has strong Biblical symbolism – the celebration of God and his people being joined together. From a New Testament perspective this is the wedding together of the Son of God with his bride, the Church.
So the story focuses on those who will one day themselves be joined together with Christ, but who currently have a role in welcoming Christ to the celebratory banquet. Some of them are prepared for any delays, ensuring they have enough oil – a symbol possibly for everything that empowers one’s faith relationship with God. They have an active, intentional faith relationship, and
are thus able to participate in the celebration of the uniting of God’s people with God, or Christ’s followers with Christ.
The warning for us all is not to be complacent in our faith life, like the foolish women. Their lack of oil is a possible symbol for having a passive, accidental faith life, in which they inevitably are unable to participate in the celebration
that is the kingdom of heaven.  Your priest, Fr John

Gospel: Matthew 5.1-12

REFLECTION: The Beatitudes
Here is Eugene H Peterson’s interpretation of the Beatitudes, from his version of the Bible called The Message. It serves as a useful commentary of today’s gospel for us to reflect on.
Jesus said: “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are – no more, no less. That’s the moment when you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.
“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full’, you find yourself cared for.
“You’re blessed when you get your inside world – your mind and heart – put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.
“You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The
persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom. “Not only that – count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens – give a cheer, even! – for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.”
(Matthew 5.3-12 – The Message)
Your priest, Fr John

 

REFLECTION: Speaking truth to power (5)

Today we come to the last of the series of Jesus speaking truth to power – engaging with the religious leaders who felt threatened by his teaching, in the temple in Jerusalem. In the second part of today’s Gospel passage Jesus takes the initiative and poses a riddle that they are unable to respond to, and
they finally leave him alone until they find a way to do away with him by force.
But it is the first part of the Gospel that I suggest is of most interest to us, where Jesus is challenged to name ‘which commandment in the law is the greatest’. We might think to choose only from the ten commandments, but they understood the whole of the Torah – the first five books of the Bible – to
be the law of God, with many commandments found within the text.
Jesus names a commandment that is repeated nine times in Deuteronomy: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. (Deuteronomy 6.5)
And he combines with that a second commandment: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. (Leviticus 19.18) We ourselves understand well enough the second commandment. Even secular Australians recognise the need to support each other for the well- being of their own communities. However, the church community needs to understand this second commandment in the light of the first commandment. Too often we discern from our own perspective how to ‘love our neighbour’,
and then ask God to bless what we think is best. The greatest commandment tells us that we need to learn how to love God first – to acknowledge God’s love for ourselves and to respond directly to God. And only once our spiritual love relationship with God is established, do we then discern how and where
God wants us to enact the second commandment. We are then able to more effectively discern from God’s perspective what each person needs. And it is only from within our spiritual love relationship with God that we are resourced to bless each neighbour in accordance with God’s desire.
Your priest, Fr John

REFLECTION: Speaking truth to power (4) As we come to the fourth Sunday in October, we continue to read about Jesus engaging with the religious leaders at the temple in Jerusalem. He continues to speak God’s truth to those who are in power – who are exercising control through the religious laws governing the conduct of the Jewish citizens
of Jerusalem and Judea/Palestine.
Different factions present Jesus with riddles to try to trip him up – first politically, and then theologically. They are so determined to discredit his authority that they are not at all focused on their own responsibility, which is to lead the people in their communal and personal faith relationship with God.
When it comes to responding to their false and unhelpful riddles, Jesus refuses to be constrained by the choices they want to impose – choices that reflect their own perspective, and not God’s perspective. In this Jesus demonstrates the value of reframing difficult decisions that we are faced with in our own lives.
When we are struggling to work out the right answer – perhaps determining the best way to respond to a difficult situation – and we assume the answer is either A or B, which are both problematic, then it can be helpful to try to discern God’s (or Jesus’) view on the matter. We can intentionally, through
prayer, reflect on what is the loving, or enlightening, or life nurturing response.
Jesus’ responses are exactly that. When tested as to the right political response to the imposition of Roman/Gentile taxes, Jesus reminds them that they should align their hearts and minds with God’s, and then their attitude towards the tax will be right-wise. And when tested as to whether the
resurrection is real by suggesting that this would then permit immoral relationships, Jesus quotes Scripture to show that God continues to have a personal relationship with deceased ancestors like Abraham – proving the reality of the resurrection, and also serving as a reminder for our need to focus on our own faith relationship with God.
Your priest, Fr John

REFLECTION: Speaking truth to power (3)

The Gospel reading continues the theme of Jesus speaking truth to power,
with the parable of the spurned invitations to the wedding. There are two
parts to the parable and many extra details in it, which Biblical scholars
suggest is evidence that it functions more as an allegory, reflecting the
impact of the early Church’s experience on the more singularly focused
parables that Jesus told. 
The early believers who received Jesus’ parables in the tradition seem to have
adapted them in two ways.
On the one hand they exploited the ‘riddle’ aspect, relating it in particular to the
great trauma of Israel’s rejection of Jesus as Messiah …
Second, they took the simple stories and images of Jesus, many of them tied
too closely to Palestinian agricultural society to be intelligible in the urban milieu
of early Christianity, and turned them into allegories, rendering them more
directly applicable in that new context. (Brendan Byrne SJ, Lifting the Burden, St Paul’s Publications, 2004)
This helps us to engage better with the two parts. Firstly, God inviting his people (the Israelites) to the wedding feast of the son and his bride – a metaphor for heaven: Jesus Christ ‘marrying’ the worshipping community. When they (the religious leaders) refuse to attend he sends his slaves (the prophets) to call them, but these are abused. So he destroys their city (the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 70AD), and sends his slaves (first apostles/missionaries) to invite all to attend (believing Gentiles are now included in the kingdom of heaven.) 
Secondly, all who attend are wearing wedding robes – a metaphor for those who have been baptised and have ‘put on the Lord Jesus Christ’ (Romans 13.14), the white robe that represents our baptism into the death and resurrection of Christ. Except one of the attendees is then found without a ‘wedding robe’ – i.e. not to be a follower of Christ who is there by deception – and is then removed from the party.
This allegory serves as a warning not only to the religious leaders at the time of Jesus, but then also to those who subsequently try to participate in the life of the Church, but do so deceitfully, because they are not committed to following the Way of Jesus. Matthew’s account of Jesus’ teaching extends its application into the life of the early church – just as we are expected to apply it in the church of today.
Your priest, Fr John

REFLECTION: Speaking truth to power (2)
The overall theme of October’s Gospel readings is of Jesus speaking truth to power.
After his journeys around Judea, Galilee and beyond, Jesus engages with those in the
temple at Jerusalem – both the worshippers and the religious leaders. Jesus challenges
the behaviour of the religious authorities, using parables, metaphors and riddles based directly on the Scriptures – in a way that they were familiar with. Which is why they were able to understand that he was challenging them directly. Today Jesus tells the parable of a well planted vineyard, with everything needed to keep it safe and productive – fence, wine press, watch-tower. This can be understood as a metaphor for the nation of God’s people – not the geographical area of Israel/ Judea, but the faith community of all who claim the Lord God Almighty as God.
The metaphorical vineyard needs people to tend it, to enable it to produce appropriately,
according to its purpose. These tenants can be understood metaphorically as the religious
leaders, helping the Israelite/Jewish nation fruitfully fulfil its God-given purpose.
The problem is that the tenants/religious leaders then prioritise their own agenda of greed and self-gain, over the purposes of the landowner/God, to the point that they even reject and kill the landowner’s/God’s son. They wilfully refuse to recognise that the son has been sent
to ensure that they fulfil the purpose of the landowner/God – and will then find that they miss
out on the blessings of working with and under the direction of God.
While this is true for each individual, here Jesus brings this truth to bear on the whole community of the faithful. In doing so, he targets those who have been entrusted (authorised and empowered) to lead the community. This is what ‘speaking truth to power’ means.
This parable inevitably applies to each generation of every church community when- ever it fails to keep Christ as the cornerstone in all that is undertaken. We need to heed Jesus again and again, speaking his divine truth to our human powers, both as individuals and as a worshipping community.
Your priest, Fr John

REFLECTION: Speaking truth to power (1)
The overall theme of October’s Gospel readings is of Jesus speaking truth to power. They take place directly after Jesus’ provocative public entry into
Jerusalem, and his ‘cleansing’ of the temple – making the sacred place ritually ‘clean’, so as to be worthy of hosting God’s worship.
Having travelled throughout Judea, Galilee and beyond, engaging with the crowds and teaching those who chose to follow him, Jesus now arrives at the spiritual home of God’s people. Here he directly challenges the behaviour of the
religious authorities – those who should be leading the people towards God, rather than raising sanctimonious and hypocritical obstacles to people’s faith relationship with God.
The chief priests, elders, and others take turns in sparring with Jesus, trying to catch him in theological riddles. Jesus responds with parables, and with riddles of his own, both establishing his authority over them and provoking them to seek other means to shut him down. We are reminded that Jesus openly discredited them – but without subordinating their authority:… do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practise what they teach. (Matthew 23.3)
Jesus’ speaking truth to power is an action that Jesus’ disciples have continued through the centuries whenever and wherever there is injustice – whether social, economic, political, or any other kind of injustice. If we are following Jesus and living out our faith relationship in our daily lives, then we are called to take his approach in the opportunities we have in engaging with our leaders – particularly
leadership in the Church and leadership in government. Some of those opportunities are elections, and referendums.
This month’s referendum is our opportunity to speak truth to power – Christ’s truth to our government. One perspective on the Voice is that, coincidentally, it would provide a formal and ongoing means for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Is- lander peoples to speak their truth to Australian government power for themselves. Your priest, Fr John

REFLECTION: Vocation – the call to serve

Our Diocese uses the feast day of St Matthew as an annual reminder to engage
with our calling. Part of our understanding of our faith in Christ is that he calls each
one of us to follow him – in the same way that he called people during his own
ministry.
Some were called directly by him, like the fishermen disciples and like Matthew the
tax-collector. Some followed Jesus after having had some other need met by him,
like Mary Magdalene. Some followed him after having an unexpected encounter
with him, like Simon of Cyrene, who was compelled to carry Jesus’ cross.
Regardless of how we end up being attracted to Christ and his way of self-giving
love, we recognise this as a call to follow him. Paul referred to this when he wrote:
Let each of you lead the life that the Lord has assigned, to which God called you.
(1 Corinthians 7.17) Indeed, the word vocation derives from the Latin vocatio: a call,
summons.
We also understand that through our baptism each of us is gifted by the Holy Spirit
to enable us to fulfil our vocation. The concept of vocation is sometimes limited to
being a religious (monk or nun) or ordained person, such as deacon or priest.
However, Christ calls us to a diverse range of life-responses (vocations), which is
not limited to roles within the church community.
Nevertheless, it is good to be prompted to reflect carefully on what Christ might be
calling you to within his Church: being involved in cleaning, administration or
maintenance – helping with the playgroup, welcoming or other hospitality – assisting
as a reader, intercessor, or communion assistant – or training and being licenced
as a lay reader, deacon, or priest. What role is Christ calling you to? And what opportunities can we provide for you to explore, or further fulfil, your own vocation?
Your priest, Fr John

REFLECTION: Forgiveness

In our current Gospel readings Jesus continues to teach his disciples how to work together as a community of followers. Forgiveness is such a challenging subject, and Jesus’ teaching on the matter keeps that challenge front and foremost in how we respond to others. Indeed, the challenge is a central aspect of the Lord’s Prayer: Forgive us our sins* as we forgive those who sin against us. (*or trespasses, or debts)

We both need and want forgiveness for ourselves, but can find it hard to give and receive – and yet Jesus connects these together. We might also be distracted by how to enact forgiveness, and think that forgiveness means being nice, or not holding someone to account. I would argue that being nice can be deceitful, and not holding people to account for their actions can be irresponsible. We still need to safeguard ourselves and our community – we sometimes even need to safeguard the perpetrator from their own unkindness. Over and over again Jesus tells us to look at our heart motives. When it comes to how to enact forgiveness, we need to get our own heart motives right-aligned with God’s heart motives first. What does God want for any sinner? In the parable of the unforgiving slave, that slave should have taken his cue from the generous-hearted mercy of the king. Similarly, we need to take our cue from God’s attitude towards each of his children. Once our heart motives are aligned with God’s, how to enact that becomes easier to work out.

Focusing on forgiveness firstly within ourselves then means that forgiveness becomes possible even for those who are separated from us through time or distance. Forgiveness also enables us to step out of the ongoing effort of holding something against another, and allows God to deal with that person or situation.

Your priest, Fr John

REFLECTION: Mutual accountability in the community of faith

In our current series of readings from Matthew’s gospel account, Jesus continues to prepare his disciples for when he won’t be with them in person. Jesus is focused on teaching his disciples how to function as a community of followers, and gives them – and us – the assurance that when even just two come together in his name, he is present in that interaction. One of his teachings that most church communities appear to ignore concerns how the church community as a whole attends to inappropriate behaviour. The degree of a community’s health is not dependent on whether members behave badly or not, as bad behaviour is inevitable. Most people do the wrong thing at some point – and some people have a pattern of bad behaviour, for a variety of reasons. A community’s degree of well-being is shown through how the members undertake reconciliation with each other: acknowledging where the other person is, and apologising where we’ve been at fault, or could have handled things better. The particular aspect that Jesus highlights is that where people refuse reconciliation, then they show themselves not to understand or accept the fundamental teaching of Jesus: that of forgiveness, and reconciliation. When Jesus says: ‘let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector’, he does not mean that they are to be made unwelcome, or excluded. Rather, that we recognise that they are actively refusing to follow in the Way of Jesus – and are therefore fundamentally deficient in what it is to be a Christian. So Jesus tells us to regard them either as a Gentile – someone who is not of the faith – or as a tax-collector – someone who has betrayed the faith, and is not living it. And that, like the lost sheep that was searched for and found, we should not stop encouraging them to be reconciled, and restored to the church.

Your priest, Fr John

REFLECTION: the Way of self-giving love

Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’ (Matthew 16.24-25) This direction by Jesus is repeatedly misunderstood, so that Christians often either  ignore it, or embrace it too literally so that it becomes death-making rather than  life-giving. Contrast this with the following prayer we often say after making our communion:

Father, we offer ourselves to you as a living sacrifice through Jesus Christ our Lord. Send us out in the power of your Spirit to live and work to your praise and glory. This prayer uses the phrase living sacrifice from Paul’s letter to the Romans (12.1) While there are indeed times when particular people are called to martyrdom, God usually needs living disciples through which to bless others. And not just disciples who are physically alive, but who are alive with the joy of being in an intimate faith  relationship with our Lord. It might help to use the word self-giving instead of sacrificial – e.g. self-giving love rather than sacrificial love. It’s the same thing. And most of us know how this works: parents give of themselves so that their children can flourish. Good spouses, siblings and friends give of themselves to enable those they love to benefit. And those who are elderly might be blessed through younger people giving of themselves. This is self-giving, sacrificial love – we already know how to do it. The shift that Jesus asks us to make is not only to enact self-giving love towards those we care about, but to everyone we encounter – including strangers, those who might not be ‘worth’ it, those who we dislike or who dislike us. When we do this, then we are indeed denying ourselves, ‘taking up our cross’, and following Jesus in his Way of sacrificial, self-giving love.

Your priest, Fr John

REFLECTION: Including others
All of today’s readings speak to foreigners/Gentiles joining with the Jews in
their faith relationship with God. Isaiah refers to ‘foreigners who join themselves to the Lord’; the psalmist writes: ‘Let the nations be glad and sing’ -thus including the Gentile nations; Paul writes of Gentiles as ‘wild olive shoots’ being grafted into ‘the cultivated olive tree’ of Israel; and Jesus is confronted by a Canaanite woman, and commends her for her faith.
An important aspect from these readings, taken together, is that it appears ambiguous whether the Gentiles become – or are expected to become – Jewish in their culture. I suggest that the approach described in Isaiah is true for all of them, in that foreigners do not ‘join themselves to Israel’, but rather ‘join themselves to the Lord.’
This is an important missional mindset for us to have: we shouldn’t invite people to join us – rather, we should invite people to join the Lord. The former simply encourages people who are already like ourselves, whereas the latter helps to open the invitation to include people who are not like us.
We are custodians of a sacred space – a house of prayer, and so of course we invite those who have joined the Lord, or are interested in joining the Lord, to gather with us in this particular sacred space. However, they don’t have to be like us, and they don’t have to become like us.
When Jesus was confronted by a member of Israel’s ancient enemy, the Canaanites, he did not require her to convert from her culture. Instead he acknowledged her faith in him, and responded to her need. In the same way we are to follow Jesus’ example.
Your priest, Fr John

REFLECTION: The Kingdom of Heaven (Isaiah 55.1-5. Romans 9.1-8, Gospel: Matthew 14.13-21 

Over the previous three Sundays we have heard parables from Jesus describing the kingdom of heaven. These are not descriptions in the context of some unearthly realm, but in our earthly context. The dynamic processes of sowing seed, separating wheat from weeds, acquiring hidden treasure or
an expensive pearl, and sorting fish in a net – are all metaphors from our earthly lives.
Today’s Gospel story of the feeding – from only five loaves and two fish – of the five thousand men (‘besides women and children’) is often understood as a miracle. It can also be understood as a parable. This is not to deny that the event actually happened, but rather to also help us engage with the
deeper meaning – of God feeding his people with the bread of heaven. Previously Jesus had been talking about the kingdom of heaven in earthly terms, and in today’s story he enacts the kingdom of heaven on earth. The hungry are fed by the very Word of God, and it becomes a banquet with enough for all the people of God – symbolically shown through twelve basket of leftovers, one for each tribes of Israel.

Part of the mission of Jesus is to establish God’s kingdom on earth. His teaching helps us to understand better what heaven on earth looks like, so that we learn to recognise it whenever it is enacted. And then he demonstrates it. And every time we celebrate the Eucharist, we are giving thanks that Jesus manifested heaven on earth, and that he continues to manifest his heavenly kingdom through our participation in it.
Your priest, Fr John

REFLECTION: The Kingdom of Heaven 

Isaiah 44.6-8, Romans 8.12-25, Gospel: Matthew 13.24-30, 36-43
Last Sunday we started looking at Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom of heaven, from chapter 13 of Matthew’s gospel account. Jesus tells a series of parables about the nature of heaven on earth – how we conduct our faith relationship with God, and how we engage with God’s kingdom in this lifetime.
Last Sunday’s parable of the sower and the seed can be understood to describe how people – within the kingdom of heaven – respond to God: those who are not teachable or open to God (seed on the path); those who only make a half-hearted response (seed on rocky ground); those who are unfocused and distracted (seed amongst thorns); and those who are teachable, whole-hearted, and focused in their response (seed in good soil).
This Sunday’s parable of the wheat and the weeds is about how we respond to others in the kingdom of heaven. And yes – there are weeds in heaven on earth!
There are plants that produce fruit (whether in the form of seed grain or something else) which is of no nutritional value, or even toxic – a metaphor for people whose actions and attitude are unhelpful and even damaging.
The question is: how and when do we weed them out? The problem is that it can be difficult to see who is a ‘weed’ and who is ‘wheat’ until later. We can sometimes be too hasty in judging people and trying to exclude them from heaven on earth. Jesus encourages us to wait to see what fruit is being produced.
In a different teaching, when his disciples ask whether some people who had been
unexpectedly killed were more sinful, Jesus explicitly tells his disciples: ‘No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.’ (Luke 14.5) The implication being: don’t concern yourself about the sinfulness of others – rather address your own sinfulness. Similarly, in the parable of the wheat and the weeds, Jesus tells us to leave the ‘weeding out’ – the excluding – of others to him.
Your priest, Fr John

REFLECTION: The Kingdom of Heaven

Isaiah 55.10-13, Romans 8.1-11, Gospel: Matthew 13.1-9, 18-23
As we resume the lectionary readings set for this liturgical year, we find ourselves at the start of another sermon series – this time from St Matthew’s gospel account.
Over these next four Sundays Matthew gives us a series of parables and miracles by Jesus, describing and demonstrating the Kingdom of Heaven. In contemporary culture heaven is often depicted in terms of St Peter at the pearly gates, and people queuing up on puffy white clouds, waiting to be given their harp and halo before joining the crowd of angels inside. Sometimes a long deceased pet dog is shown bounding up to greet the new arrival.
Jesus presents us with very different images of Heaven, and seems to be focused on a different concept. The big fat clue is of course in the prayer that our Lord has taught us: “Our Father in heaven, … your kingdom come … on earth as it is in heaven …” Jesus preaches, teaches and enacts Heaven on earth. So the images we will engage with over the next few weeks are of seed being sown, wheat and weeds competing with each other, hidden treasure and a priceless pearl being found, and a full fishing net being emptied. We also have enacted parables showing what Heaven on earth is – and is not – with the feeding of the five thousand, and Jesus’ home town rejecting him.
Today’s parable is of seed being sown profligately everywhere, so that there is as much chance as possible for any of the seeds to find the right conditions in which to flourish. Reflecting on this after our sermon series on the characteristics and attitudes of being missional, it suggests that the mission of God should not be limited just to what appears to be the ‘right’ soil. Rather, we should allow for the missional seed perhaps to flourish even in unexpected places.
Your priest, Fr John

REFLECTION Acts 28.1-10,  Canticle: A Song of Hope,  Gospel: Luke 7.36-39,44-50
Having looked at each of the Five Marks of Mission over the last 6 weeks, today we conclude with reflecting on a missional attitude: are those who are being missional hosts or guests? In the past
some missionaries might have had the attitude that the missionary was the ‘host’ of the Gospel, and the indigenous community was the ‘guest’, who would be fed the Word of God. Our Scripture readings today turn this notion around: it is the presumed ‘guest’ who is offering the real hospitality as host, which makes those engaging in mission the real guests. This is an important context for mission in our own situation,
and particularly in Australia. The words for our first hymn speak directly into this missional attitude:
1. As a fire is meant for burning with a bright and warming flame, so the church is meant for mission,
giving glory to God’s name. Not to preach our creeds or customs, but to build a bridge of care,
we join hands across the nations, finding neighbours everywhere.
2. We are learners; we are teachers; we are pilgrims on the way. We are seekers; we are givers;
we are vessels made of clay. By our gentle loving actions, we would show that Christ is light,
in a humble listening spirit, we would live to God’s delight.
3. As a green bud in the springtime is a sign of life renewed, so may we be signs of oneness
mid earth’s peoples many hued. As a rainbow lights the heavens when a storm is past and gone,
may our lives reflect the radiance of God’s new and glorious dawn.                                                                 Ruth C Duck, ©1992, GIA Publications, Inc.
A comment published with this hymn, on the Church of Scotland website: This hymn embodies a modern take on the nature of mission:
 that it does not ‘bring civilisation’ but Christ;
 that it is passed between ‘neighbours’ and not from those who tell to those who listen;
 that we all learn as well as teach;
 that we share the Gospel in humility, listening at the same time to those who receive.
Your priest, Fr John

REFLECTION    Acts 17.16-34, Canticle: A Song of Redemption, Gospel: Matthew 8. 23-27

As we work through ABM’s Bible Study guide Where do we go from here? – which
looks at the Five Marks of Mission – today we engage with the Fifth Mark of Mission:
to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the
earth. The ABM has adapted these words, to:

Protect, care for and renew life on our planet.
The Gospel passage is a description of the authority Jesus has over the created world. This provides a context for the Acts reading, where Paul gives a speech at the Areopagus in Athens, and refers to a hymn to Zeus that acknowledges that we are part of the god’s creation – or, for Christians, God’s creation. People and cultures have made the mistake of treating the earth and everything in and on it as a limitless resource to be exploited for profit. Even if we personally don’t share in this attitude, we find ourselves part of a socio-economic system that is dependent on this attitude. Systemic change is needed for people to survive and thrive. If other creatures – whole eco-systems of creatures, plants, fungi, bacteria and
so on – are not surviving and actually thriving, then we ourselves will not be able to thrive. We can quite rightly understand that if our (human) community is thriving, then that is a sign that God is blessing us – blessing us through the actions of people. The same is true for communities that include all other creatures. If any eco-system (even those that include humans) is thriving, then that is a sign that God is blessing that eco- system – blessing it through the actions of creatures (including humans.)
Conversely, if any community (human or otherwise) is not thriving, then inevitably it is the result of creatures – predominantly humans – not playing their role in balance with others. Stewarding and cherishing God’s creation is part of the role we believe God has ordained for us. As the writer of Genesis described it: The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.
(Genesis 2.15) The Church needs to help lead the way in fulfilling this primal purpose.
Your priest, Fr John

REFLECTION   Acts 11.1-18 -Canticle: A Song of God’s Children-Gospel: Luke 11.37-41
As we work through ABM’s Bible Study guide Where do we go from here?- which looks at the Five Marks of Mission – today we engage with the Second Mark of Mission: to teach, baptise, and nurture new believers. The ABM has adapted these words, changing from how to grow the church community to focus on what kind of church community we strive to grow:
Build welcoming, transforming communities of faith. The connection the readings have to this Mark of Mission might not be immediately apparent. The Gospel passage is an interaction between Jesus and a Pharisee, where Jesus challenges the understanding of ritual cleanliness. In the Jewish faith of that time – as we understand it through Scripture – there was an emphasis on the external acts and conditions of ritual cleanliness, which were taken to be an outward sign of an inner reality. The inner reality had to do with one’s worthiness of being able to enter into God’s presence, and therefore being able to stand before God in the synagogue or temple. If one was ritually unclean, through contact with bodily fluids of either people or animals – especially people not of the faith or animals not deemed acceptable – then one had to undergo whatever purification was prescribed to become pure enough to encounter the purity of God. Jesus’ teaching resets this understanding.
The Gospel provides a context for the Acts reading, where Peter describes a dream that gave him deeper understanding of how God treated even ‘unclean’ Gentiles as worthy of receiving God’s Spirit – without having been purified first.
These readings highlight the kind of cultural barriers that any long-established organisation or community develops that insiders intrinsically know and comply with, and which excludes outsiders. Any community that wants to include others needs to regularly view themselves from the outside, and address barriers that obstruct people in enjoying the blessing of being part of that community. In short, how do we welcome into God’s kingdom seekers who have previously had an unhappy church experience, or who have no church experience? This is an ongoing question. Engaging with it tangibly is what this mark of mission is about.
Your priest, Fr John

REFLECTION
As we work through ABM’s Bible Study guide Where do we go from here? – which looks at the Five Marks of Mission – today we engage with the Third Mark of Mission: to respond to human need by loving service. The Gospel passage is John the Baptist’s description of Jesus as the Lamb of God. It provides a context for the reading from Acts, where the apostle Philip encounters the Ethiopian eunuch reading Isaiah’s words describing the prophet as a lamb, who was humiliated and denied justice. The eunuch was someone who had himself experienced humiliation and a denial of justice, so Philip sits with him to explain how Isaiah’s words speak to the Good News of Jesus. The destitution of those who are poor and needy is often described only in terms of their physical needs, such as water, food, clothing and shelter. The ABM has adapted the words of the 3rd mark of mission to go beyond mere material responses:
Stand in solidarity with the poor and needy.
To ‘stand in solidarity’ is to dignify with a relationship of compassion and respect, as well as helping such people – in accord with their own preferences – with their physical needs. Underlying all of Jesus’ responses to individuals in need was his treatment of them as people worth engaging with, worth taking notice of, worth responding to. Jesus honoured them for who they were and where they were – and it was this honouring that enabled the physical miracles to then take place.
Jesus commissions us to continue his mission in the world. We do so by responding to those who are poor and needy in the same way he did.
Your priest, Fr John

REFLECTION: 11TH JUNE

The Gospel passage is Matthew’s description of the interaction between Jesus, under arrest, and the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. It provides a context for the reading from Acts, where the apostles are arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin. As we work through the 5 Marks of Mission in our sermon series and Bible Study course, the 5 Marks are not being addressed in numerical order. This week we are looking at #4: To transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation. The Anglican Board of Mission has adapted this for their work as: Mission mark 4: Challenge violence, injustice and oppression, and work for peace and reconciliation. Even the best forms of government have aspects that are weak or contradictory, or favour certain people over others. As a result, other people find themselves suffering from the injustice that results. We are disciples striving to follow the Way of Jesus and to continue his mission: so do we ignore such injustice or do we respond? And if we respond, how best do we enact Jesus’ teaching: ‘Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.’ (Matthew 5.9) Note that Jesus is not calling us to be passive peace-keepers, but active peace-makers. The Anglican Church of Australia has a national code of conduct for all clergy and church workers, Faithfulness in Service. It includes the following: 6.23 When engaged in civil disobedience, do not act violently or intentionally provoke violence. Note that it does not state ‘Don’t engage in civil disobedience …’, or ‘If you engage in civil disobedience …’, but ‘When engaged in civil disobedience …’.
When last did you follow the example of Jesus and the Apostles and engage in civil disobedience to help draw attention to unjust structures in society and pursue reconciliation?!

Your priest, Fr John

REFLECTION  4/6/2023 Acts 2:37-47, 2 Corinthians 13:11-13, Gospel: Matthew 28:16-20

Trinity (Andrei Rublev) - Wikipedia
The Trinity (also called The Hospitality of Abraham) is an icon created by Russian painter Andrei Rublev in the 15th century. The Trinity depicts the three angels who visited Abraham at the Oak of Mamre (Genesis 18:1–8), but the painting is full of symbolism and is interpreted as an icon of the Holy Trinity. At the time of Rublev, the Holy Trinity was the embodiment of spiritual unity, peace, harmony, mutual love
and humility. from Wikipedia

The Holy Trinity is not a concept that is named in the Bible. However, early Christian theologians have found this label to be a useful description for contemplating the different aspects of God, as we encounter him in Scriptures. A simple metaphor might be that ice, water, and steam are all forms of water, so we understand them all to be aspects of the same substance. We can build on the analogy and perhaps think of ice representing the Son – God in tangible form; water representing the Spirit – flowing as the water of life, and used in baptism; invisible steam representing the Father – our invisible God who is over all, and in all.
However, the most important aspect that the Trinity represents is the idea of God being Relationship. Not a relationship, or the relationship, but simply Relationship. Relationship is at the heart of community. The relationship between husband and wife, between parent and child, between friend and friend, between sister and brother. These are the fundamental building blocks of community. And our Christian faith is not simply the faith of individuals, but also the faith of our church community—it is a communal faith, inspired by the Divine Community of Father, Son and Holy Spirit—Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer— source of all Love, all Light, all Life. And, more astoundingly, God invites each of us to share in and participate with his Divine Community. God calls on us to join with him as pro-creators of his kingdom of
love. We can’t do this simply as individuals, but are compelled to do so in community—in community with each other, and in community with the Divine Community, the Holy Trinity.
How Awesome is this? What a Mystery! What a Blessing!
Your priest, Fr John

REFLECTION 28/5/2023 Acts 2:1-21, 1 Corinthians 12:1-13, Gospel: John 20:19-23

The Roman emperor, Constantine the Great, was born in 272AD (or CE,
Christian Era). Although he lived most of his life as a pagan, as emperor he
enabled the proclamation of the Edict of Milan in 313, which declared
tolerance for Christianity in the Roman Empire. He convoked the First Council
of Nicaea in 325, which produced the Nicene Creed. He died on the Day of
Pentecost in 337AD.
Because Christianity was now acceptable, it was able to flourish and grow
without restriction, which appeared to be a good thing. However, being
accepted at the highest level of power in the state, meant that Christianity
then took over as the state religion. If one was an aspiring politician, it was
important to be seen to be a Christian. It also meant that leadership within the
Church was sought by people with political ambitions.
All nations with Christian governments since then have enabled Christendom
to flourish, wherein people are assumed to be of the Christian faith culture,
unless they state otherwise, and people were recorded as having ‘Christian’
names, regardless of their actual faith.
The end of Christendom started with the disillusionment of the First World
War, and has been growing since then. For many of today’s church-goers, it
is only the older generations that still retain the Christendom mind-set that we
grew up with. It is a mindset that still works for many of us – but does not work
anymore for the younger generations.
The way forwards is to recognise that the model of Church has to move from
Christendom mode to Missional mode. We need to learn again from the early
Church – the pre-Constantine Church – and learn from stories like those told in
the Book of Acts how to have a missional mindset again.
And it is appropriate to start it on the day of Constantine the First’s death – the
Feast Day of Pentecost.
Your priest, Fr John

JESUS OUR GREAT HIGH PRIEST

I have recently re-read an old book that was given to me many years ago. It is a  commentary on “The Prayers of the New Testament” by Donald Coggan, a former Archbishop of Canterbury. I have been reminded again that all through the New Testament there are prayers of many kinds . . praise, petition and intercession. Some are very brief, others much longer, and the longest is found in the Gospel of John chapter 17. It is sometimes called the High Priestly Prayer and our gospel reading today is the first part of this prayer. This is a great prayer of intercession in which Jesus, on the eve of his crucifixion, prays to his Father on behalf of his disciples. He had previously promised them the gift of the Holy Spirit, which we will soon celebrate at Pentecost. This great prayer is the fulfilment of the theme of the Letter to the Hebrews. There the writer contrasts the Old Testament priesthood which by its nature was limited in its power by time and place, with that of Jesus as our great high priest, who “lives forever to make intercession for us” as “the mediator of a new covenant”.

There is much to consider in this prayer and I commend it to you for careful reading and reflection. But I will offer a few particular points to consider. Jesus prays very specifically for three things . . for their protection, and for their unity (see verse11) and he then goes on to pray, and this may seem surprising at first, that they may have joy (see verse 13). I will leave to you to consider how far we may have fallen short of that for which Jesus prays, not be discouraged but be renewed in our commitment! A final thought. Jesus begins by speaking of his disciples as those whom God has given him. In a very real sense this is true of all Christian ministry, whether by clergy or by lay people. The people whom we serve, in whatever role, as teacher, preacher, parent or carer, are in a very real sense those whom God has given to us. We should all be both challenged and encouraged by this.

 May Our Risen Lord bless you all . . Lloyd George

REFLECTING ON THE READINGS Acts 17.22-31, 1 Peter 3.8-22, Gospel: John 14: 15-21

As we enter the final fortnight of the Easter season, the gospel reading points to what lies ahead in the Church’s observance of the events following on from the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. The Church names Thursday coming, 18th May, as Ascension Day – the day on which the Church traditionally remembered and celebrated the ascension of Christ. This is in accordance with Acts 1.3: After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over the course of forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. Ten days after the Ascension, there is the Pentecost event, which marks the moment when Jesus’ first disciples finally ‘get it’, and are empowered by God’s Spirit in the same way that Jesus was at his own baptism. Pentecost is from the Greek word for fifty, and was a Jewish observance fifty days from their Passover festival. In the same way that Passover was Christianised as Easter, so the Jewish Pentecost has also been Christianised, while retaining
its name. So Jesus provides his first disciples with the assurance: ‘In a little while the world will
no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.’ And just before this, anticipating his ascension and also Pentecost, Jesus says: ‘I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.’
Up till then the first disciples were dependent of Jesus being physically present with them. But he had to prepare them to be able to continue his ministry – God’s work – without his physical presence. And so he spells out: ‘I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth … You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.’
It is invaluable for us to intentionally engage with those first disciples during the ten days from Ascension to Pentecost, so that we can likewise benefit from Jesus’ transition from being physically present in the world to being spiritually present in our hearts and in our gatherings. We need to be able to do this not only for ourselves, but to be able to respond to someone like one of our youngest parishioners, Tess, who
made this prayer last Sunday: ‘Dear Jesus, I would like to see you in real life.’
Some questions for discussion:
1. How do you know that God is present in your life?
2. How do you prefer to think of God in your life: as God, as Father, as Jesus, as
Spirit, or as …? (There are no wrong answers for this one!)
3. What are the different moments when you might be particularly aware of our
Lord’s presence? E.g. receiving communion, reading Scripture alone, singing a
hymn with others, contemplating a painting …
4. How would you respond to Tess’s prayer?

REFLECTING ON THE READINGS. First Reading: Acts 2: 42-47. Psalm 23. Second Reading :1 Peter 2: 1-10, The Gospel: John 10: 1-10

In the first few Sundays of the Easter season, the Gospel readings are obviously focused on the resurrection appearances of Jesus. For the rest of the season they pick up on what the resurrection means, as understood through some of the teachings that Jesus gave in John’s gospel account.
Today’s teaching taps into a familiar theme of Jesus being a shepherd of his flock, as echoed in Psalm 23. When Jesus says ‘The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep’, we understand that Jesus is referring to himself as the shepherd. He then implies that he is also the
gatekeeper. After this opening paragraph, Jesus starts to unpack his mixed metaphor. In the
second paragraph Jesus focuses on his saying ‘I am the gate.’ Our gospel reading today stops at this point, but if we continued reading, verse 11 has Jesus saying ‘I am the good shepherd.’
If this is a little confusing, let us bear in mind that in John’s account, Jesus gives us a number of ‘I am …’ statements. They augment each other, providing different perspectives of who and what Christ is. The metaphor of Jesus being a shepherd is easily understood: a shepherd is a person with a particular role and responsibility.
The metaphor of Jesus being a gate might appear to be less accessible, since a gate
by itself is an inanimate object. But Jesus adds a gatekeeper as part of the mechanism of the gate – to give it the ability to discern, and to enable it to open and close.
Alongside the gospel metaphor of Jesus being the gate, Peter, in his first letter, provides us with another metaphor – of Jesus being the cornerstone. Again we are reassured that this is no inanimate object, but somehow a ‘living stone’. And it serves a crucial purpose: to enable God’s people to be built into a spiritual house.
Finally, the reading from Acts is a wonderful description of how God’s people were being built into that spiritual house. Over and over again across the centuries church communities have used this description as a vital blueprint for either church planting or for renewal within established church communities.
Questions for reflection:
  1. Jesus said: ‘Whoever enters by me will be saved.’ Where do you try to find safety
    or security through your own means, and where do you strive to do so through
    Jesus?
  2. Who or what does Jesus – as the gate – close himself against?
  3. Jesus said: ‘[they] will come in and go out and find pasture.’ As you move in and
    out of situations in your life, do you strive to make these transitions through
    Jesus?
  4. Jesus said: ‘I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.’ Are you alert
    to having life through Jesus? Can you discern and celebrate where you are
    blessed with this life in abundance?
    Sometimes these kinds of questions can be challenging to understand. But don’t walk
    away from them; reflecting on them with others can be very helpful.