Saturday, 23 February 2013

Let it shine

2nd Sunday of Lent - GospelLuke 9:28-36 

Jesus took with him Peter and John and James and went up the mountain to pray. As he prayed, the aspect of his face was changed and his clothing became brilliant as lightning. Suddenly there were two men there talking to him; they were Moses and Elijah appearing in glory, and they were speaking of his passing which he was to accomplish in Jerusalem. Peter and his companions were heavy with sleep, but they kept awake and saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As these were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is wonderful for us to be here; so let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ – He did not know what he was saying. As he spoke, a cloud came and covered them with shadow; and when they went into the cloud the disciples were afraid. And a voice came from the cloud saying, ‘This is my Son, the Chosen One. Listen to him.’ And after the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. The disciples kept silence and, at that time, told no one what they had seen.

The Lenten Gospel has travelled apace; one week - five chapters since the temptations of the desert heights and, in his pilgrimage towards Jerusalem, Jesus is now the one who is taking people to the mountain top.

Carl Jung tells us that we cannot live the afternoon of our life with the same rulebook as the morning. I guess that goes for scripture too. Even though we hear the account of the Transfiguration often twice a year and, even though, it is one of the best known and widely considered moments of Jesus' life it wouldn't feel right to  re-tell last year's reflection or the years before that. For the hours that have passed in my life, the mountain invites another ascent.

Mountains are always places set apart; in scripture, in tradition, often places nearer to God than to humanity. The very place where prophets are enlightened and visions are revealed. Even now that we know God does not live in the clouds, they are places of retreat and solitude spent in prayerful hope of presence and encounter. And not easy.

The lungs, tight and inflamed with the hot desert winds whipping around the rocks; the cramped muscles unused to the pumping climb; parched throats and cracked dry lips; the first thing the disciples may have prayed for was to be back on their boats with the seasprayed aircurrents of the Galilee and, a poor second,  with thanksgiving for a chance to rest and even doze.

Nevertheless, away from the crowds; away from the entreaties and accusations; away from his dusty and footweary everyday life, without all those many distractions, Jesus is free to be renewed, to become transfigured;   utterly transformed in such a way that the disciples must have doubted their own eyes.

We are told that the additional appearance of Moses and Elijah held great meaning for Peter, James and John with the sight of their greatest prophets holding court with their troublesome friend from Nazareth. And finally the voice of the God of their Fathers; a vision of miraculous affirmation.

Or not -  after all Moses and Elijah both balked at the task they had been set by God. Moses complained over and over that he was not the man for the job and Elijah hid under a broom brush begging God to to come and kill him. Perhaps their role was to assure Jesus that his need for this detour, for the connection with his Father, is so very human. 

At least Peter makes an attempt at hospitality; his culture expects no less and it often receives divine rewards. Little does he know that he, together with James and John, have just had their rewards - their vision of the Divine will strengthen them in the long days and years to come when fear will fill their hearts.

Jesus teaches us that he is not the focus of our lives; he is the gate; the path; the shepherd fetching us up on his shoulders; the old bull in the yoke leaning into us and spurring us on. His journey is our journey. His journey, as we often claim our journey, is a struggle and a challenge with fears and danger. But notice, that when he is weary, he does not sleep - he prays. He prays to his Father in heaven and his Father in heaven, as he promises us - hears his prayer. Jesus' courage and transformation comes about through his intimate, loving relationship with his Father; with our Father. 

There's a saying - pray as if your life depended on it - and it does. Not just for the major tragedies and fears that find us down on our knees but for every 'who, what, how, why and when' - the invitation to share and the demand to change. Even when the words don't come; when there are no words; when our prayers are tears or laughter or a helpless stillness. Pray, not for God's sake but for your own. 

Jesus' transformation is sacramental on the Divine scale; an outward sign of the inward grace that is his Father's love and pride. He is reminded, explicitly, of who he is - in love, with love. This grace is also given to us if we have the heart to see.

Such divine light that we see in those we love;  light we give out when we love;   light that mesmerises us in those who bring God's love to others; the light that stands on a mountain-top and blazes out for all to see. 

The darkened cloud reminds us of the challenge; why we need this spiritual strength. The wise elders have played their part; Jesus comes down the mountain to meet his death bringing Peter, James and John with him. He invites us also, and our discipleship will ask us to die every day - to ego; to vanity; to pride; to weariness and maybe, sometimes, to life itself. But if you are with him, there will always be light. 


Saturday, 16 February 2013


GospelLuke 4:1-13 

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit through the wilderness, being tempted there by the devil for forty days. During that time he ate nothing and at the end he was hungry. Then the devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to turn into a loaf.’ But Jesus replied, ‘Scripture says: Man does not live on bread alone.’
  Then leading him to a height, the devil showed him in a moment of time all the kingdoms of the world and said to him, ‘I will give you all this power and the glory of these kingdoms, for it has been committed to me and I give it to anyone I choose. Worship me, then, and it shall all be yours.’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Scripture says:
You must worship the Lord your God,
and serve him alone.’
Then he led him to Jerusalem and made him stand on the parapet of the Temple. ‘If you are the Son of God,’ he said to him ‘throw yourself down from here, for scripture says:
He will put his angels in charge of you
to guard you,
and again:
They will hold you up on their hands
in case you hurt your foot against a stone.’
But Jesus answered him, ‘It has been said:
You must not put the Lord your God to the test.’
Having exhausted all these ways of tempting him, the devil left him, to return at the appointed time.

The Gospel gives us a hint as to what to expect during Lent. The forty days that prepare Jesus for his ministry are offered to us every year to test our willingness to follow.

The understandable response to a conversion moment - even one as unique as Jesus' baptism - is for action; to go; to tell; to share; to change. Acting on this first desire - this spiritual adrenalin - can cause chaos and often brings disappointment and a withdrawal into despair with the realisation that 'you' may have changed, however the world has not and so either rejects or resents what you feel compelled to offer.

The Spirit cannot take the chance that Jesus will be so quickly overcome (remember the almost immediate rejection from his home community). Jesus will never be justified by the world around him. The acknowledgement he has been given is to be his stronghold; he must understand what his Father's inheritance means otherwise he may find himself as downheartened as the Prodigal Son.

In Luke, Jesus is never left alone and, along with the Spirit, he has the devil as company for the whole forty days not simply the great temptations.

This is more human - something we are much more accustomed to - all the little temptations that accompany us through our life. Even our commitment on Ash Wednesday could well be a struggle by this weekend.

And why? Because we have a gift in justifying our actions.  The same argument for restraint serves to excuse lack of restraint - 'sell all you have and give to the poor' against 'there will be poor always'. In the battle of wills, Jesus shows us that just knowing what the right thing is isn't enough.   Jesus teaches that what is written cannot be used to pervert the Father's will. And how often do we try to do that?

The Spirit has brought him to near starvation and isolation; in forty days, surely to near death. But he is not dead - he has learned to 'do without'. What little Jesus ever had in his life has gone and only God remains; except that he is encouraged by the devil, that God is not enough.  

To answer his own hunger, Jesus is offered the treasures of the world and he see through them. Earthly food will never fully satisfy; the lure of power will always bring the fear of loss; testing God's protection will bring the fear of rejection. Either God is utterly enough or nothing is. The devil offers nothing.

The Spirit who leads Jesus into the wilderness offers us the same Lenten space; a place of uncertainty; a place to try out our survival techniques; to trust in a God who will provide all we ever need. 

In the silence of contemplative prayer and the discipline of meditation we share Jesus' desert experience. In the offering of penance and sacrifice we honour the love and generosity of our Father. 

In how this informs our life and relationships with others; in how we become hungry only for the Spirit and the solace of God's immeasureable care.


Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Ash Wednesday

GospelMatthew 6:1-6,16-18 

Jesus said to his disciples:
  ‘Be careful not to parade your good deeds before men to attract their notice; by doing this you will lose all reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give alms, do not have it trumpeted before you; this is what the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win men’s admiration. I tell you solemnly, they have had their reward. But when you give alms, your left hand must not know what your right is doing; your almsgiving must be secret, and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.
  ‘And when you pray, do not imitate the hypocrites: they love to say their prayers standing up in the synagogues and at the street corners for people to see them; I tell you solemnly, they have had their reward. But when you pray, go to your private room and, when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in that secret place, and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.
  ‘When you fast do not put on a gloomy look as the hypocrites do: they pull long faces to let men know they are fasting. I tell you solemnly, they have had their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that no one will know you are fasting except your Father who sees all that is done in secret; and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.’

The Gospel for today give the three 'pillars of piety' - a pattern for a righteous (healthy) spiritual life that is fed through prayer, penance and good deeds.

The very saying of these words brings about a sense of the 'do-gooder' and the 'holier-than-thou' that we all quickly identify and seek to avoid. The sense of being 'pious' is often considered a poor spiritual trait. But surely it can't be?

Jesus identifies with this attitude immediately and comes straight down on the side of the ordinary person seeking to follow God's will and yet feeling, over and over again, that they have failed. Failed, because those who have put themselves in positions of authority have created  an aura of theatre and extravagant display that few 'ordinary people' are able to live up to.

Jesus tells them- it's not about what the world thinks or believes - so stop trying to impress the world.To be a hypocrite is to be an actor on a stage; exhibiting passions and actions for the sake of the impression that is made on the audience. Outside the theatre, hypocrisy could be contrasted with integrity - a truthfulness of thought, belief and action. The One you are trying to impress already knows you through and through.

There is only so much we can do 'in secret' if we are serving others. What we can do is focus only on those that we serve. Seeking and finding Jesus in others we enter into relationships that don't need admiration or justification from others.

The 'closet' (private room)  that Jesus invites us is a sanctuary, a treasure room. Who would display their treasure on a street corner or leave it where everyone could see? Who would choose to spend time with a precious. loved one in a meeting place surrounded by others?

As our relationship with God grows deeper, other needs fade. Love will encourage you to honour yourself; sacrifice will mean offering more to the relationship in joy; fasting allows us to acknowledge the true value of what we surround ourselves with and to measure it against God' s love.

It is our integrity of faith that Jesus asks us to consider; not the display on the outside - whether Sunday best or pentitential ashes. However we decide to journey through Lent - it is our heart that must lead the way.


Sunday, 10 February 2013

The desert sea

GospelLuke 5:1-11 

Jesus was standing one day by the Lake of Gennesaret, with the crowd pressing round him listening to the word of God, when he caught sight of two boats close to the bank. The fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats – it was Simon’s – and asked him to put out a little from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.

  When he had finished speaking he said to Simon, ‘Put out into deep water and pay out your nets for a catch.’ ‘Master,’ Simon replied, ‘we worked hard all night long and caught nothing, but if you say so, I will pay out the nets.’ And when they had done this they netted such a huge number of fish that their nets began to tear, so they signalled to their companions in the other boat to come and help them; when these came, they filled the two boats to sinking point.

  When Simon Peter saw this he fell at the knees of Jesus saying, ‘Leave me, Lord; I am a sinful man.’ For he and all his companions were completely overcome by the catch they had made; so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were Simon’s partners. But Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on it is men you will catch.’ Then, bringing their boats back to land, they left everything and followed him.

Jesus doesn't only step into Simon's boat; he steps into his life. It seems a minor inconvenience to ask Simon to put the boat out again; only a few yards; only an hour or so. Yet Simon has every reason to be 'put out' himself; the end of a long and unsucessful night's fishing still means a couple of hours of mending nights and washing down the boat; still means a few hours of sleep before another night's work. Gennesaret (another name for the Galilee) is part of Rome's store cupboard and the fishing is constant and demanding.

Perhaps the poor fishing is why Simon relents; a rabbi may bring good fortune to the night ahead; perhaps God will smile on his labours. A bit of one-up-manship? A superstitious hope? A  Little does he know.

His sacrifice, begrudged or otherwise, serves the community. With the boat rocking in the midstream of the inlet, Jesus' voice carries to many. The boat seems to hum with promise. The unaccustomed sun warms Simon into a state of meditation. Sitting next to Jesus, Simon feels the vibration of his voice through the soles of his feet; feels a silent calling answering something deep within. He considers tying in the dropped anchor; to lift the sail against the heat of the day; to share thoughts and dreams that had never come into his head until this moment.  

Jesus' next request startles Simon into polite obedience 'Yes, Master...if you say so..' After all, he wouldn't want to chance his blessings. Under his breath he probably grumbles along with the crew at the foolishness of setting sail; shrugging helplessly at the misfortune of a day lost twice. 

The day is not lost; God's thanks for Simon's hospitality is extravagant and includes others in His generosity. Superstition becomes a challenge of faith. A challenge that Simon feels he has failed. 

The denial is brushed aside; to be 'sinful' is to 'miss the mark'. Today Simon listened to Jesus' voice and the 'miss' became a bullseye. Jesus names it - fear of the unknown and of the All knowing - and a fear Simon managed to overcome this time. 

Jesus sees the courage in Simon that Simon never sees in himself. The extraordinary ability to let go of his patriarchal ego for no other reason except trust in this man, Jesus; a carpenter not a fisherman; a healer not a fighter; a friend not a master. 

There is a rhythm here - a deepening from the shallow encounter and comfortable expectation of who Jesus is from Simon's point of view to the letting go and acceptance of who Simon is from Jesus' point of view. 

That reflection of ourselves may only be seen in Jesus' eyes. In Lent we often describe this period of stillness and emptying as being a journey into the dry and forbidding desert. 

There is another desert-like space that Jesus spends time in; the Galilee is a wilderness of open water, complex currents and fitful storms. As changeable as  our own lives it is a place we may imagine we know like the back of our hand until it all goes wrong.  

This too is a Lenten journey; to sit in the bows of our life and not know; to accept Jesus as our guide into places we believe are barren; to be willing to be led into the deep water so as to gather the treasure earned through trust; through friendship; through love.

In Jesus name.


Sunday, 3 February 2013

Turn again

GospelLuke 4:21-30

Jesus began to speak in the synagogue: ‘This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen.’ And he won the approval of all, and they were astonished by the gracious words that came from his lips They said, ‘This is Joseph’s son, surely?’
  But he replied, ‘No doubt you will quote me the saying, “Physician, heal yourself” and tell me, “We have heard all that happened in Capernaum, do the same here in your own countryside.”’ And he went on, ‘I tell you solemnly, no prophet is ever accepted in his own country.
  ‘There were many widows in Israel, I can assure you, in Elijah’s day, when heaven remained shut for three years and six months and a great famine raged throughout the land, but Elijah was not sent to any one of these: he was sent to a widow at Zarephath, a Sidonian town. And in the prophet Elisha’s time there were many lepers in Israel, but none of these was cured, except the Syrian, Naaman.’
  When they heard this everyone in the synagogue was enraged. They sprang to their feet and hustled him out of the town; and they took him up to the brow of the hill their town was built on, intending to throw him down the cliff, but he slipped through the crowd and walked away.

Jesus never goes back to Nazareth again, as far as we know. Perhaps no-one could blame him; after Satan had tried to persuade him to jump off a cliff here are a group of people more than willing to carry it through. A devilish influence pervades the crowd; as it often will; resentment at the sound of God's grace coming from the mouth of the boy next door.

'Why him?' many may have thought; turning quickly into 'not him'.

Or, more plainly, 'not him and not them either.'

In our own country we lay down the rules; no matter how unruly our lives we believe we are in control; the critical eye turns outward to those who are not like us. God fearing loyalty to our group, our tribe, makes us believe that we are the 'chosen' not realising that it is 'us' who have chosen to believe this.

God's affiliation goes beyond our exclusive boundaries to the unbounded world that God created; the widow who needs to eat; the leper who needs to be healed. To those whose need outweighs their prejudice.

Jesus shrugs it off at first; the sureness of the Spirit allows him to accept the unwillingness of the people. his response points out what they should already know. God has not changed his mind; they have closed theirs. 

 Jesus slips from our grasp all too often as we try to fit his message into our understanding. Hear the Gospel again; and hear it, not on our terms but on God's.

Let's imagine for just one moment that sometimes we are not the ones with the answers; that when we read in the Gospels about the poor, the widow, the leper and the disenfranchised that we are reading about ourselves. Accepting that we are poor in faith; that we are sickening for God's love; that we feel isolated and widowed from the loving relationship that we long for; that shame or fear  had made us into lepers hiding from God's gaze

Let the longing help us to slip away from the crowd. 

To be the one who has need is to be the one who has favour.