Category Archives: Sermons

Abraham’s servant

Pentecost + 5A 9-7-17 Bridgewater Genesis 24

A bit of background is helpful before we hear today’s episode from Abraham and Sarah’s story. God had promised Abraham he’d have many descendants and through him all the families of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 12:1–7; 22:17–18). Abraham and Sarah saw the initial fulfilment of this promise in their old age with the birth of their miracle child Isaac. But now God’s promises seemed to risk running into a dead end. In ch 23, we read about Sarah’s death.

Abraham is “well advanced in years”– 137, in fact (24:1 and 23.1), and with Sarah, the matriarch gone, there’s no mother in Israel. Unless Abraham can find a wife for his 37-year-old son Isaac, there won’t be any more offspring, no Israel, and ultimately no Messiah through whom “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (12:3). That’s the issue this story tackles: how’s God going to fulfill his promises to Abraham; how will God bring us into being?

Of course, there’s human agency in this story too. Abraham won’t let Isaac marry a Canaanite woman. So he sends his trusted servant to “go to my country and to my relatives, and take a wife for my son Isaac” (24:4). The servant is worried but Abraham tells him God will provide the right woman.

So the servant goes to the land between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates, Aram-Naharaim. When he arrives at the right place, a well, near where Abraham’s brother Nahor lives, the old servant prays,

Lord, God of my master Abraham, please give me success this day… Let it happen, that the young woman to whom I’ll say, ‘Please let down your pitcher, that I may drink,’ – and she’ll say, ‘Drink, and I’ll also give your camels a drink,’ – let her be the one you’ve appointed for your servant Isaac. By this I’ll know that you have shown kindness to my master.” (Vv. 12-14)

God answered the servant’s prayer “before he’d finished speaking” (v. 15). Rebekah appears, and she does exactly as the servant prayed she might. The servant gives her an expensive gold nose-ring and two gold bracelets, and asks if he might stay at her father’s house. Rebekah goes home and tells her brother Laban about Abraham’s servant, and Laban goes to invite the servant into their home – no doubt influenced by the expensive gifts the servant gave Rebekah. When dinner’s just about to be served, the servant says he must first carry out his mission – and that’s where we come into the story today.

Reading Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67

The servant began by telling Laban about Abraham’s wealth and his desire to find a wife for Isaac from among his own family. He then tells of his prayer at the well and Rebekah’s response; obviously, she’s God’s answer to prayer. He then asks Laban if he “will deal kindly and truly with my master” (v. 49). Laban tells him to take Rebekah, and Rebekah agrees to go

This story is about the fulfillment of God’s plan for Abraham, for the nation Israel, about the Messiah, and the salvation of the human race. Isaac must have a wife if God’s plan is to be fulfilled – Sarah’s empty tent must have a woman to carry on the legacy. Abraham does his part by sending his best servant to find a wife among his own people and the servant does his part by carrying out his duties faithfully, but we’re told four times that it’s God who makes it a success (vv. 21:40, 42, 56)? “The Lord led the servant and gently molded the hearts of Rebekah and her family so that his plan was accomplished” (Greidanus, 47).

Yet there’s vital human agency in all this too.

We never learn the name of Abraham’s servant. He gets no glory for himself; he’s simply devoted to what’s best for his master. “

This servant illustrates what life is like for many servants of God. They enter into the service of their master and proceed faithfully in quite ordinary situations, remaining anonymous in the overall scheme of things, but they are crucial vehicles for the leading and blessing work of God in daily affairs” (Fretheim, 512). The servant refers to the Lord as “God of my master Abraham,” (cf v. 3, 7); only the God of heaven and earth could grant success in the foreign territory that was Aram-naharaim (v. 10).

Abraham has emphasised the importance of the woman’s own decision, (v. 8;. 58). Rebekah alone in Genesis parallels Abraham; she makes the faithful choice to leave home and family to follow God’s purposes. She’ll follow literally in Abraham’s footsteps ( v. 38 & 12:1) and she’ll receive the same blessing (v. 60 & 22:17). Rebekah’s hospitality also mirrors that of Abraham in 18:2-8 (v. 18-20; 23, 25).

Finally, there’s a hidden context in all of this which I find very moving. As far as we know, this story was written in the form as we know it during the exile. The people who wrote it, descendants of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, did so when they were held captive as slaves in the land between the rivers.

So what these slaves wrote about here was an incursion by their God – the God of Israel – into the domain of their owners and their owners’ Gods.

The heart of our faith too is that when we believe ourselves to be captives in enemy territory, God can come; God wants to come; God has come – and so God will come again to set us free. Remember, four times, they wrote that the Lord made this mission succeed. Divine providence does not mean that the future is somehow predetermined or that human decision-making can never frustrate the divine design. God is free, and we are made in that image. And yet this story tells us that God’s providence is real, whatever the odds. Amen

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The Scandal of Isaac

Pentecost + 4A 2-7-17 Aldgate and Crafers Gen 22 1-14 Ps 13 Rm 6 12-23 Mt 10 40-42

Christians call this story “the sacrifice of Isaac” and Jews call it “the Aqedah” (the “binding” of Isaac). It’s always scandalised us. Is it a story of an abusive God; of a deluded Abraham; of religious violence at its worst? Or is it about God and Abraham discovering mutual vulnerability? Many scholars say it’s essentially a tale of the shift from human sacrifice to animal sacrifice. That’s because of the mention of Moriah, named [elsewhere only] in 2 Chr 3.1 as the mountain where Solomon built the Temple. So the sacrifice of the ram instead of Isaac at Moriah is for Jews the prototype of all the animal sacrifices to happen on the Temple Mount – Moriah.

For Christians, the sacrifice of the beloved son has obvious resonance with the death of Jesus, so Gen 22 is appointed as one of the readings for the Easter Vigil. For very early Christians, Abraham’s obedience – being ready to sacrifice his son – was one of the greatest examples of his faith: (Heb 11:17, 19) By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac … He considered the fact that God is able even to raise someone from the dead. Paul portrays Abraham’s obedience as a model of faith against all odds, (Rom 4.32). And of course there’s the sense that this story foreshadows God’s self-giving in Jesus Christ.

But this brings us back to the scandal of this story, and the most obvious question: Has God ever possibly condoned child sacrifice? Anyone might quite reasonably ask this question of people of faith in our time of violent religious extremism.

The answer is a firm no. We know from the witness of the prophets and even from this very edgy story that God does not demand child sacrifice. Indeed, God abhors it (Isa 57.5; Jer 7.31). My guess is that Abraham was only able to imagine God might command this because child sacrifice was widely practised by other religions in his time. But God stopped him before he could go through with it; Abraham had passed his test.

Why the test, though?

God had promised Abraham he’d be the father of a great nation. Yet he and Sarah had endured long years of waiting. So they contrived the just-in-case birth of Ishmael. But at long last, the impossible happened; they rejoiced in the birth of a boy they called “Laughter.” Then at Sarah’s insistence, Abraham reluctantly casts out his first son, Ishmael with his mother, the servant woman Hagar. Was this like David Attenborough’s African shoebills – birds who, when a chick looks likely to survive, abandon their other chick as surplus to requirements? Was the exile of Hagar and Ishmael an assertion of self-sufficiency by Sarah and Abraham? Our recent census results show us that our culture of self-sufficiency is linked with an increase in the number of people who say they have no faith.

So is that the reason for this test? Does God need to see that Abraham won’t go down this track? Or Does Abraham need to discover this in himself? Either way, we see God demand a most horrible thing: “Take your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I will show you” (22:2). And Abraham and Isaac set off.

Three days into the journey, Abraham loads the wood for the sacrificial fire onto Isaac, and Isaac says; …we have fire, and wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?

Abraham, in agony, says, or maybe he prays, God will see to the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.

They reached the place of sacrifice. Abraham built an altar. He bound his son Isaac … Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son (22:9-10). Finally, the Lord cried out to him urgently, “Abraham, Abraham!” And Abraham, with a mixture relief and hope said what he always says; “Here I am.”

But still, why the test?

Abraham and his descendants are the means by which God had chosen to bless the whole world (Gen 12:3). Could God be wondering; Have I made a mistake?

Abraham hadn’t always shown integrity where his personal security was at stake – the wife-sister deceit about Sarah in Egypt (12.10-20). So maybe God wanted to know whether Abraham, now securely in possession of his own son, might imagine he didn’t need the Lord any more. On Wednesday we saw how Abraham rejected God’s promise of wonderful posterity as he still had no child of his own (15.1-4). Might his changed situation now make him forget it was God who gave them their miracle child in the first place? We know self-sufficiency can kill a people’s faith. But Abraham does pass this most excruciating of tests: Now I know that you revere God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.

The story of the Aqedah reminds us that everything we have and everything we might hope to have comes ultimately from God.

Do you remember how the story finishes? Abraham names the place of the test the Lord will provide. The Hebrew – yhwh yireh יִרְאֶה יְהֹוָה – more literally means the Lord will see. This means Hebrew has a similar word play in it to the word we use to translate it, provide. Provide is Latin for see before. I can imagine God saying to that Angel who was sent to stay Abraham’s knife-hand; That boy needs rescuing. Would you please see to it?

Finally, the people who wrote this story were exiles hoping to be released. I wonder if they chose the word see as a prayer that God would see them and restore them from their living death just as Isaac was rescued. Would God see to them too?

We are adopted children; we’re distant from the events we read about, yet intimately involved. We’ve been called to remember again today what the Son actually did go through, for us; what our dear Father has gone through. And so we know with certainty, the Lord has seen to us. Amen

 

 

 

There is a Yiddish folk tale that goes something like this:

Why did God not send an angel to tell Abraham to sacrifice Isaac?

Because God knew that no angel would take on such a task. Instead, the angels said, “If you want to command death, do it yourself.”

 

The rabbis imagine the scene:

God said, “Take your son.”

And Abraham said, “I have two sons.”

He answered him, “Your only son.”

He said to him, “Each is the only son of his mother.”

God said, “The one whom you love.”

Abraham replied, “Is there any limit to a father’s love?”

God answered, “Isaac.”

 

Quoted by Kathryn M. Schifferdecker, Associate Professor of Old Testament, Luther Seminary, Saint Paul, Minnesota.

 

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gracious hospitality to strangers

Pentecost +2 18-6-2017 Gen 18 1-15 & 21 1-7, Ψ116 1-2 & 11-18, Rom 5 1-11, Mt 9.35 – 10.8

Have you ever turned down an invitation and later on wished you’d gone? The invitation I most deeply regret not accepting was from a Bedouin shepherd in late 1987. I used to teach at the YMCA vocational school in the refugee camp outside Jericho. To get there, I’d take the regular bus down from East Jerusalem. The bus stopped on the way to pick up school children and day labourers from the Bedouin camps. One of the dads invited me to come and stay with his family in their tent for a few days. In the time before mobile phones, I couldn’t contact Vicky to let her know, so I reluctantly declined.

Bedouin hospitality has always been offered in this generous, impulsive way; it still is. The invitation home is pretty well the first thing they say to you. And it’s quite literally a no-questions-asked hospitality. These gracious people are so respectful of their guests’ privacy that they won’t even ask your name until after your third night staying with them.

This is the very gracious hospitality to strangers that we saw in today’s story from Genesis. Hundred-year-old Abraham, gently dozing in the heat of the day, started up to the sight of three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to greet them, and invited them to come, refresh themselves and eat. And you’ll have noticed that he offered them the best of everything he and Sarah had to give – water first, to wash; such a costly gift in the desert. He had no idea who it was at the beginning. We get told, but it’s only later on that Abraham and Sarah discover their visitor’s true identity – because, of course, they wouldn’t do any visitor the discourtesy of asking.

Part of the loveliness of this story is that their gracious impulse to hospitality is in no way diminished by their great age. It’s as fresh as ever it was.

That surprises me and it delights me, because several times now, God has promised them a child, but now Sarah is ninety years old, Abraham a hundred, and still there are no children. Childlessness was, and is, a terrible grief and shame in traditional societies. But they don’t come across in any way as embittered or discouraged by this crucial, terrible disappointment in life. Their hospitality to strangers shows us that they stick by the values they’ve always held. And this hospitality of theirs has become proverbial, as the writer of the letter to the Hebrews reminds us. 13:Don’t neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.

What’s all this got to do with us? Our culture doesn’t seem to have quite such a hang-up about childlessness. Our culture’s not so fanatical about hospitality to strangers either. And many people think that’s a good thing with all these terrorists and criminals apparently flocking to our front doors. Our media and our pollies are forever telling us to be more careful; not to be so trusting. This is something that separates us culturally from Sarah and Abraham. And some of our cultural differences cut us off from learning the lessons their story is meant to teach us.

The presenting issue for them is not their childlessness but the ticking clock. Years earlier, God had promised Abraham and Sarah as many descendants as there were stars in the sky, and Abraham believed God. (Gen 15.4-6) And yet now, here they were another twenty years on, and still no child. There could be no rational hope now that a child could come. So when Abraham was ninety-nine, and God told him again that he and Sarah would have a child, Abraham fell to the ground and laughed, delighted and incredulous that it might yet happen. So God told Abraham then that the boy must be called Isaac – יִצְחָק – s/he laughed. Today Sarah laughed too, just as bemused by this amazing promise.

The child came and he was duly named Isaac – s/he laughed. Sarah’s and Abraham’s moments of incredulous laughter had turned into a joyful laughter which would stay with them for the rest of their lives.

The lesson for us is this. God’s time is not like our time. God makes promises, and God will fulfil those promises. No matter how much longer we have to wait than we think is reasonable, … how pessimistic our life circumstances might threaten to make us; … how inadequate the resources might seem for the promise to be fulfilled, as God’s servants, we must never forget that it is God who has promised what will come, and it will be so. So no matter how old and worn out we might feel, it’s never time to down tools. We are to respond to God’s call to be a light in the world, as long as any darkness threatens.

But how are we to be a light to the world? The example we’re given today is hospitality. Hospitality calls for very special qualities in us. At its most basic level, the call to hospitality is a call to us to welcome strangers into our lives. And that begins with a smile; a smile of welcome to the stranger; a smile of hope to those who need it; a smile of encouragement to the fearful; a smile of joy to celebrate another’s happiness. This demands that we cultivate very important qualities in ourselves and in our community. The first is instinctive grace – kindness. What this means, eg, for our care of refugees is crystal clear.

My personal demon is mistrust – I automatically wonder about the true motives behind a stranger’s cry for help. It’s something I’ve learned from a very few experiences of betrayal, and I’ve wrongly generalised from them to doubt anyone in need. I now have to make a conscious choice to trust; to be generous. So Abraham and Sarah are a light in the darkness for me, and, I hope, for everyone who reads their story. Let’s always remind each other of that child, Isaac, and make the right choice; laugh first and trust in God. Amen

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Trinity 2017

Trinity A 11-6-2017 A & C Ex 34 1-8, Song 3YM 29-34, 2C13 11-13, Mt 28 16-20

God is Trinity – triune; three persons, yet one God. We use many special names for each of the three persons we know as one God; names that’ve been handed down to us, or new ones. The names are often very rich in association and significance, but none is complete; none says it all. At times, one name seems more helpful than another. But later, another name might suddenly light up with new meaning for us. Let’s ponder a few of them together.

  • The Father: Using words from the Lord’s Prayer, we call God our Father in heaven. That’s language of belonging; of family. But in our prayers, we also call God our maker and our judge. Judge? That sounds distant; threatening. The prophets tell us that God watches to see that we care for the needy and the poor; that God requires us to be faithful and just. And the first five books of the Bible tell us that the Father’s true Name is so holy that we dare not even pronounce it (YHWH). Another of God’s names is plural (Elohim), and yet God is one. And Jesus speaks of God as the God of people who are, to us, long dead, and yet who are alive in God’s presence. (Mk 12) ……
  • The Son: We know Jesus by another name; Immanuel (Isa 7-8, Mt 1) – God with us. Some people call Jesus God with skin on – Jesus, the God we can touch; the God we can sit down and eat with. And Jesus is also our rôle model for life. He’s the nearest thing we’ll ever get to a clear view of the invisible God; gracious, passionate, kind, good and wise. By living and dying our mortal life, Jesus is for us God who knows from the inside what it’s like to be one of us. Jesus is right with us throughout our life-journey. We know Jesus as the one who has returned from the dead; who told us not to let our hearts be troubled. And so we need not fear even our own death.
  • The Holy Spirit: In the Hebrew Scriptures, the Spirit is the creating wind ר֫וּחַ from God in the beginning (Gen 1), the Breath ר֫וּחַ who gives life to the creature of dust (Gen 2), the Breath ר֫וּחַ in Ezekiel’s valley of the dry bones who raises countless dead to new life (Ezek 37), and she is Wisdom who guides and inspires us (the Wisdom books). A few weeks ago, we heard Jesus call the Holy Spirit our advocate, (Jn 14) our guide, our comforter, our counsellor, helper and mediator. We experience the Holy Spirit as God within and amongst us – the giver of spiritual gifts and fruits – the sanctifier (1 Cor 2, 12, 14; Gal 5; Jn 17).

We’re probably used to this language because most of us have come to church for a long time. But if anyone in the street asks me to explain it, I certainly find myself a bit tongue-tied. I have to go back to the stories to describe what all this means to me – the Bible stories, and my own story.

For example, God our Father in heaven, our maker and our judge; without some background, that sounds pretty threatening frankly. Is God watching whatever I do and scoring me for it? How can I be sure that God out there is going to understand why I do something before judging me for it? I might have failed to be kind to the poor and needy because I was avoiding danger. I could have been in a hurry and not noticed them. I might have been upset about something and not concentrating. There are any number of reasons why I might not do something that God wants me to. Does God care about that?

Our reading from Exodus today tells me that I shouldn’t be quite so defensive. In that story, God has just been really badly let down by the people. God rescued them from slavery in Egypt, and fed and watered them on their journey to the Promised Land.

Yet just as God and Moses were ‘cutting the ultimate deal’ as they put it in New York, drawing up the covenant which sets out an everlasting relationship between this people and God, the people down the bottom of the mountain got tired of waiting and worshipped a statue they made of a calf. What should our maker and judge do about that, do you think? What would your Father say?

We heard just that today. God sent Moses back up the mountain with two new tablets of stone to inscribe, appeared to Moses as promised, entrusted the Holy Name to Moses, and then said, [I] “…7 [keep] steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin…” Now I know there’s that bit about “ …visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” But steadfast love for a thousand generations – that takes us out to about the year 23,000 before God might consider giving up on us.

And what’s the judgement process like? I said Jesus is the best picture we’ll ever get of what God is like. Think of the worst thing you’ve ever done and then imagine what Jesus might say. Do you feel like you’ll get a fair hearing? In Rom 8.34 Paul writes that Jesus is at the right hand of God pleading our case for us. So yes, there’s judgement, but it’s tempered by the most amazing Grace. God, who knows what it is to be a frail mortal pleads our case before a judge who’s declared steadfast love for us and still about 880 generations of our descendants.

And then the Holy Spirit – Jesus calls the Spirit our advocate. Moses and Ezekiel call the Spirit the breath of our life; the Wisdom literature calls her our Mother, and at our baptism, she draws closer to us than our own hearts. So is Trinity just an idea? No; it’s God who reaches out to us, God who draws alongside us, God who is the very breath we live by. Could we fully know Grace in any other way – God with us to the end of the age?

Amen

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Thomas Transformed

Thomas Transformed

The transformation of Thomas from sceptic to worshipper is a sign of hope for our age. As a metaphor, Thomas’s experience might represent a move from rational materialism to faith. It suggests that people in our society can move on from the limits of accepting only what can be proved and demonstrated to a respectful openness to the mysteries of spiritual and mystical experience. Our own tradition and most other cultures give far more weight to experiences that are by their nature intangible and unrepeatable, and yet are recorded in spiritual writings, poetry, drama, music and art. Sceptics may mock religious experiences, but just because they lack those experiences doesn’t mean there is no truth in the recorded experiences of others. Thomas shows us that. He demands physical proof, but once he has a personal experience of the risen Christ, he no longer needs the tests he thought he required in order to believe with integrity.

Twentieth century westerners were encouraged to seek concrete evidence for anything before believing. It was thought to be scientific and modern to ask to touch, see, and test any claim before it was accepted as real. Thomas’s requirement to see and touch the mark of the nails in Jesus’ hands and put his hand in his side is a metaphor for the continuing fascination with evidence and proof, which perhaps explains the popularity of police and forensic dramas. However, as we move further into the twenty-first century, a healthy doubt about the limits of scientific thinking is growing. Perhaps this move beyond science is aided by an awareness that unquestioned technological advance can lead to dangerous environmental damage. As we see the risks to our physical reality created by over reliance on science, we hunger for something beyond that reality, a wholeness that will motivate us to value and heal creation, rather than exploit it for short term profit.

In the global village that our world has become, we are increasingly aware that every culture has its blinkers. We tend to see what we expect to see. Christ’s ironic question and comment to Thomas is relevant to us: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed.” It’s not wrong to seek personal experience, but openness to the experience of others can be equally illuminating. Listening to others can show us what to look for, and give us a way of naming and recognizing what we have experienced, and possibly ignored or discounted. Insights from those who have a different perspective can open up new learning. Scientific experiments can only prove or disprove the hypotheses that the experimenters are capable of conceiving. It has been shown that experimenter bias can influence what they expect to find, and therefore what they count as evidence. Paradigms shift as the minds of geniuses skip ahead of the limited understandings of a previous age. Newtonian physics of cause and effect gives way to the mysteries of quantum physics. In order for science to study any phenomenon, the theories that shape the hypotheses and the tests designed to prove or disprove them, have to be within the capacity of the minds of the age to formulate.

It is just as intellectually respectable to turn doubt upon a narrow use of scientific method as upon records of personal experience such as Thomas’s encounter with the risen Jesus. As we begin to accept that matter can be transformed into energy, so it begins to be possible that there is a scientific way of understanding resurrection as a differently constituted physical reality in which matter and energy are in different proportions. Whatever physical explanation may be possible does not lessen the spiritual significance of the event, nor lessen faith in the divine prime mover. Fortunately, some scientists are open to the bigger picture, and it becomes possible to see a bridge between mathematics and mysticism. If both are open to other ways of perceiving, science and religion may well find that common ground will continue to widen. Respect and open minds are the key qualities needed. Often what sceptics lack is respect for the experience of others. That was evident in Thomas’s response to his fellow disciples. If he had been more open to what they reported as their experience, and more willing to be present earlier to see for himself, he might have been spared a couple of weeks of grief and self blame. However, perhaps it is his grief and guilt that shut him off to community and respectful listening. After all, Thomas was the one who said, when Jesus chose to return to Bethany to Lazarus despite the danger of being stoned: “Let us go with him, that we may die with him.” When Jesus died, Thomas wasn’t there to die with him. Such an experience of grief and self doubt can cause a questioning of any source of hope.

Perhaps that is what we need to bear in mind when the sceptics mock Christian experience. We don’t know what wounds or losses have closed their minds and hearts to the possibility of new life in Christ. It seems to me that we ought to look to the reaction of Jesus to Thomas when we try to negotiate these debates in a way that respects the differences of people with different personality types and different backgrounds. Jesus’ first statement when he appears in a gathering where Thomas is present is “Peace be with you.” I imagine this may not have been the reaction of the other disciples to Thomas when he seemed to be discounting their experience of the risen Lord. Jesus immediately shows that he has heard Thomas’s needs for provable fact, and is prepared to accommodate him: “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” As Christians, we need to give those who doubt a chance to experience the reality of Christ, and we need to do our best to provide rational accounts of faith that can convince people intellectually. We do our faith no service if people believe they need to leave their brains and their life experience outside the door of the church. It’s one of the strengths of our Anglican tradition that we don’t dumb the faith down, or shut imagination or questioning out.

Still, there’s a sense in which questioning and intellectual probing become unnecessary when we have a personal encounter with Christ. We see this in Thomas’s reaction. Once he encounters Christ and Christ speaks to acknowledge his needs, Thomas simply worships – “My Lord and my God!” In our faith life there is a limit to what we can experience and test out personally. At some stage, many of us move on from our first experiences and the evidence that convinces us then. The Scripture record and the writings of deep spiritual thinkers down the ages provide us with material that vastly expands our first basic response of faith. We also become more able to open our awareness to the spiritual realm that gives meaning to the physical facts. Ultimately belief in the risen Christ is a way of opening ourselves to the possibilities of his risen life awakened in us. The evidence serves as signs to lead us into an encounter with Christ where we, like Thomas, can make our own response of recognition: “my Lord and my God.”

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Ascension 2017

Ascension 2017 Year A
Acts 1, Mt 28

My church youth group changed dramatically when K & V, its formative leaders left for a new future. Different people in the group assumed leadership positions. Each had their own gifts. There was Rob the charismatic apprentice carpenter; Richard the brilliant ethics and dogmatics person; Jill the one who led by smiles of joy, warm friendship and a conversational prayer style; Kim, the oldest member and so heir apparent, who was gentle and kind, and tried his hardest to replicate what K & V used to do; Pam and Phil were the great prayers; there were some musicians who tried to keep the old energy going; there was even a visitor from Sydney who sought to take us in hand for a few weeks with some solid teaching about doctrine and its implications.

I can’t remember if K & V prayed for the Spirit to come upon us when they left. I just remember a farewell where we focussed on our thanks and sadness. But nothing was quite the same afterwards. The group continued for some years, but our vision gradually turned inwards. There was lots of talk and strategizing about outreach, but no action. And we hadn’t just lost K & V; we’d lost all their connections with a vibrant and exciting Melbourne Christian scene. So the fuel just gradually ran out; we teenagers hadn’t learnt how to open up to the Spirit’s guiding, and we hadn’t been shaped as a team.

You’ll all remember times like this, I’m sure. I imagine in this parish, the end of one or other person’s time here has felt like that. Where to now? How will we keep it going? What for?

Did the time after Jesus’ Ascension feel like this to his friends? I’m sure it did.

But today Luke directs our focus at the time before his Ascension. Today we hear that Jesus has spent the forty days since his resurrection speaking about the Kingdom of God. Please hold that thought.

The other important thing we’re told today is that he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you’ve heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you’ll be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”’

Where were they thinking of going – that he had to order them to stay in Jerusalem?

He knew them pretty well. And we might be just like them. If I were in their shoes – if he left me again, even after coming back from the grave – I’d want to run away to something familiar; something solidly predictable and real. And Luke has let us know they’re like this; seeking refuge in the familiar.

Remember the thought I asked you to hold on to? Jesus spent the forty days after Easter speaking about the Kingdom of God, but “… when they’d come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”
This was what learned from childhood. The Messiah was meant to restore their national sovereignty. Forty days of speaking about the Kingdom of God, and they were deaf to it; stuck in what they’d always thought. He was right to tell them to stay in Jerusalem. Otherwise they’d have gone physically where they were emotionally; home – back to the security of what they’d always known.

That’s a pretty common outlook on reality – on life. But it’s not really an outlook at all. It’s an inward-looking, cautious world view. Luke’s making a point of telling us this – and telling us that Jesus pushes against this sort of a world-view in us. We’re meant to notice how out of place their question is.

“Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” Jesus gently rebukes them. Then he tells them again about the coming of the Holy Spirit, and then the actual scope of God’s plan; “…you’ll receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you’ll be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Stay together here in the place I’ve brought you to; wait for God to make the next move, and think about the vision I’m entrusting to you. “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” And then he is lifted up, and a cloud takes him out of their sight.

Our church calendar suggests they had ten days to think about this before Pentecost. They’d experienced Jesus’ violent death, his resurrection, his time back with them, and in a moment, his departure again in this extraordinary way. Stay in Jerusalem – you will receive the Holy Spirit – the ends of the earth. Then he’s gone. Think about facing all this without our hindsight.

When we read on, we find that they did do as he’d told them. They returned from Olivet to their digs in Jerusalem and they prayerfully chose someone from the community of believers to replace Judas. Jesus had chosen twelve, so twelve there would be. And next week, we’ll know they’d all stayed there as he’d told them; ready at Pentecost. The fire taken away today would return to set his followers alight in the Spirit; together, still his body on Earth.

The key lessons of the Ascension for us are clear. Jesus’ ministry was focussed on preparing his friends for a mission. Missio means I send [out]. In his ministry among us, Jesus showed us and taught us the content of that mission. He is the Word that we must speak. So he named us as his witnesses / martyres.

That’s a loaded word. But it simply means we must faithfully convey in our own actions and words who Jesus is; we must tell what he said and did. Bjut it’s a loaded word – martyres. History tells us that this mission of being faithful witnesses can mean that what happened to Jesus can also happen to us.

Jesus’ Ascension marked the end of the training programme. Our mission began. The ten days until Pentecost were the time to get organised for it, and then Pentecost showed us that we would not be left to do it without his guidance. His presence is here among us and in us wherever we are led.

Luke records Jesus proclaiming his mission statement in Nazareth. Now that he is Ascended, it is ours to live out in the strength of the Holy Spirit.

Lk 4.18  The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.

Let us commit as a parish to continue living this out effectively in the world we live in.
So what are our next steps – preparation, readiness and willingness – then what?

Amen

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Celebrating the Subjectivity of the Resurrection

 

I want to celebrate the subjectivity of the accounts of the resurrection.

We can have no objective record of that moment in the tomb when death turned to life. The body was sealed away in rock cave, with no video cameras or witnesses present.

There have been attempts to find scientific evidence by analysing the Shroud of Turin, believed by some to have been what covered Jesus’ body, and which appears to show a kind of photographic negative of his face. The Shroud of Turin website to which I was visitor number 5,478,145, said in its introductory paragraph that after hundreds of thousands of hours of scientific investigation, the controversy still rages. The conclusions of a 1978 study said that the image was not produced by paint, but could give no indication of how it was produced.

Whatever evidence might be found, sceptics would always find ways of throwing doubt upon the interpretation, while people of faith would lean towards belief. The open tomb is viewed as evidence, but different stories were going around about that at the time. The next passage in Matthew’s gospel claims that the guards on the tomb were paid to say that his disciples came in the night and stole his body while they slept. Objective evidence is often co-opted by those who have an agenda.

For me, the most convincing evidence is subjective: it’s in the transformation of lives then and now, for instance, in the women and Peter in our readings from Matthew and Acts. For me, and for you, it’s in our own ongoing experience of transformation and call. The proof of the pudding is in the eating – it’s in the lived experience of those most deeply involved with Jesus then and now. Peter makes the point of telling Cornelius that Jesus appeared “not to all people but to those who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.” We, too, are called to encounter the risen Christ, and we experience his risen life when we eat and drink with him in communion. The evidence of resurrection is not only in encounters with the risen Lord, but in the transformations that result, both then and now. In the gospel accounts, we see the empowerment of people who were paralyzed by remorse and grief, and sidelined by patriarchy and prejudice. We see the women commissioned by an angel and Jesus to bear witness of the resurrection to the other disciples. We see Peter, reinstated to leadership after the disgrace of his denial. In the reading from Acts 10 we see him letting go of his religious barriers and scruples, and telling the story of Jesus life, death and resurrection so convincingly to the Roman centurion, Cornelius, a representative of those who killed Jesus. It’s that sort of courage and that sort of change that give evidence to the new life of the resurrection.

I am particularly inspired by the empowerment of the women throughout the gospels, but markedly so after the resurrection. When the women come at dawn after the Sabbath, free at last to tend Jesus’ body, they are doing what women in their culture did for those they loved, laying out the dead. Instead they meet the messenger of the Lord who gives them a message to pass on. Their role as women is changed in that moment: they become the witnesses to the resurrection, although women could not witness in law in their society. Mind you, these are women who have already embarked on a new and radical life as followers of Jesus, providing for his ministry and accompanying him, learning at his feet like male disciples, being there for him as he died, when many had deserted him in fear. It is appropriate that they are first to see the absence of the body, and to encounter the risen Lord. They have shown their commitment to living new lives, and now become witnesses to the resurrection. Jesus confirms the commission given them by the angel, sending them to tell the good news of resurrection to the apostles. Matthew does not repeat Mark’s claim that the women “said nothing to anyone for they were afraid.” Neither does he record the lack of belief from the male disciples that Luke reports: “But these words seemed to them an idle tale; and they did not believe them.” Rather in the same chapter, Matthew shows the disciples responding to the message that the women give to return to Galilee. So we see another dimension to resurrection life in this commissioning of the women to pass on the gospel, to be apostles to the apostles. As the different gospel accounts indicate, women’s ministry was an aspect of new life that struggled to be fully embodied, and in some traditions is still entombed, waiting for the stone to roll away. Once again, evidence can always be found to support either view, but the proof can only be experienced in its reception, as our tradition has mostly realized.
So having indicated how I celebrate subjective evidence of resurrection, let me contribute my own subjective account, of what I count as evidence of new life in Christ. Firstly, I relate to Peter, hurt by Jesus’ arrest and his failed hopes, experiencing abject failure in his denial of Jesus and then being healed by encounter with the living Christ. I too have been hurt and have hurt others, and have found healing and forgiveness in the example of Jesus and in continuing relationship to him through the eucharist and prayer. For me, faith and worship and the wisdom of Christ and others in scripture, provide me with the hope and inspiration to become more whole. For those who discount faith, that may sound trite, but for me it is central to who I am.

When it comes to life after death, the sense of something beyond this life, the experience of my father’s death was life-changing and put me on the path to ministry. The realm beyond this seemed so close, as if I could almost touch it. My mother’s vision of Jesus welcoming Dad with open arms was so consoling. Members of my family all seemed to experience something that gave us assurance that Dad had gone on in some way that had freedom and joy– nothing that would convince anyone but us, but for us, Dad seemed so close, so joyous. And then there was my relationship with God – I felt as if I said “Yes,” to something which has taken years to unfold, but led me here. And once or twice, I heard God speak. First God said: “I call in the opening and closing of doors,” which set me seeking doors that opened for me. Then later, with that wry undercurrent of humour which God seems to share with my Dad: “You’ve tried the back door, why don’t you try the front door for a change?” For me, that meant study and ordination.

Then I have another story that parallels Peter’s encounter with the risen Christ on the beach in John 21. One day, tired and distressed, I saw Jesus as I walked on a beach, yes, in my mind, but not conjured up consciously by me, and more real than anyone there. He washed the chipped mug that was me and turned it into a pearly bowl. He transformed the salt water into fresh to be offered to others. Again and again, I return to that vision for courage to go on in ministry. These very subjective experiences are to me as strong as an earthquake and the rolling away of a stone. Like the women, the tomb to which I had consigned my hopes was open, and I met Jesus alive, telling me to tell others. I have to speak of these experiences if I am to be true to the one who stands at the centre of my existence, offering healing and new life.

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Emmaus Walk – Easter 2017

Easter 2 & 3A – 23-4-17 B & 30-4-17 A & C – Emmaus Walk – Luke 24.13-49

The Emmaus Walk – it’s a journey which means something different to each of us. For some, it’s an eyewitness account of the risen Jesus. The fact that Jesus eats with the two disciples is a witness to his physical resurrection. Other people respond more to the disciples’ hearts set afire by Jesus’ teaching. It echoes how studying scripture has opened up new life for them.

For many people, though, the Emmaus Road is a journey that all of us travel again and again. From childhood to adolescence to adulthood to parenthood to retirement to dependencechanges often marked by the endings of central relationships. Every stage seems to begin with a mixture of loss and emptiness and fear. But later on, with the blessing, we will always look back with quite a different perspective. Philip Newell captures this in a lovely prayer.

Like an infant’s open-eyed wonder

and the insights of a wise grandmother,

like a young man’s vision for justice

and the vitality that shines in a girl’s face,

like tears that flow in a friend bereaved

and laughter in a lover’s eyes,

you have given me ways of seeing, O God,

you have endowed me with sight like your own.

let these be alive in me this day,

let these be alive in me.
J Philip Newell Sounds of the Eternal

The Emmaus Walk is the journey of farewell to old certainties; the journey through times where hope seems to abandon us. We suddenly journey without direction; we stumble blindly. And then, just when the emptiness threatens to swallow us entirely, we are found. And in being found, we are given a new perspective. Once everything is new and hopeful again after this Emmaus Walk, in hindsight we see that it’s in clear continuity with all we’ve ever been.

The Emmaus story represents the human journey beautifully. Just as we seem to be walking away from all we believed most real – when it feels like hope and truth must be entirely abandoned – we’re given a new way of seeing which is utterly transformative. Suddenly, we are new-made, and amazingly, that newness seems given to us simply by the way we can now see everything.

It may seem strange that a healthy faith can necessarily involve times of walking away, despondent and sad, from cherished certainties. Sometimes, the old, fading truth we are clinging to can seem impossible to let go – far too precious. But unless we can do it, we cannot be reborn. We’ll be like a chrysalis that never becomes a butterfly.

What were Cleopas and his friend talking about so sadly? – the greatest hope of their lives; the redemption of Israel. But it all depended utterly on Jesus living on in the way they’d known him. That hope had been dashed. Anywhere they went now was away; away from that lost joyful hope. But Jesus came to accompany them – gently to teach them again – to prise open those wounded hearts and eyes to reveal a deeper hope; a hope so deep in them that they hardly recognised it. But they could feel it. Talking about it later, they said their hearts had been set on fire by his words.

There was nothing inherently bad about their old hopes and dreams. But they depended on the continuation of Jesus’ earthly life, and so were inadequate to the bigger picture that Jesus’ death and resurrection opened up. Walking sadly away from Jerusalem was part of their journey; the Emmaus Walk was the part of their journey where Jesus would meet them and give them what their hearts needed – and this was so that they could go back and give new heart to the others – and now to us. The Emmaus Walk isn’t just for personal healing; it’s the way God begins the transformation of communities – through you and me.

You’d think spiritual renewal / redemption / revelation might only come to those who are actively seeking it. But what we see here is that it comes looking for those who least expect it – and it comes in a category different altogether from what we’d normally imagine possible.

A funny thing is that the exact location of Emmaus isn’t known. So Emmaus may be anywhere. Hearts burning and eyes opening aren’t confined to just one place, either geographical or spiritual; nor is spirituality confined to one way of doing things. Emmaus comes into sight wherever a path has led us into communion with God; whenever we recognize that the risen Christ has been among us. That’s just like the Holy Spirit; you can never quite catch her, but you can always tell where she’s been.

 

Three questions for silent meditation, or for discussion.

  • Have you had an Emmaus Walk?
  • Has Jesus come to travel with you when you least expected him to?
  • Did he tell you something that you should run back and tell us?

Footsteps In The Sand

One night I had a dream.

I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord.

Across the sky flashed scenes from my life.

For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand:

one belonging to me, and the other to the Lord.

When the last scene of my life flashed before me

I looked back, at the footprints in the sand.

I noticed that many times along the path of my life

there was only one set of footprints.

I also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times of my life.

This really bothered me and I questioned the Lord about it:

“Lord, you said that once I decided to follow you,

you’d walk with me all the way.

But I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life

there’s only one set of footprints.

I don’t understand why, when I needed you most, you would leave me.”

The Lord replied:

“My precious child, I love you and I would never leave you.

During your times of trial and suffering,

when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”

Changed from 3rd person masculine singular to 1st person. Author unknown

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Don’t be afraid

Easter 16-4-2017 A – Mt 28 1-10 Acts 10 34-43

Don’t be afraid. That’s what the angel said; and a little later, Jesus told the two Marys; the same thing – don’t be afraid. What might they have been afraid of?

They’ve just seen their beloved teacher killed; a kind and gentle human being arrested, tried and executed all in a matter of hours. This morning they want to visit his tomb. They set out in the pre-dawn darkness; two defenceless women. And when they get to the tomb, they’d expect to be menaced by soldiers who’ve been on guard through the night – soldiers from the same cohort who carried out Jesus’ execution. And even worse, the grave they’ll visit is just near the place where it happened. The place, the time, and the unpleasant welcome they can expect; Don’t be afraid? I’d be petrified in their shoes.

And if all that’s not enough, just as they arrive, there’s a sudden earthquake. Some almighty messenger from God appears. He looks like a bolt of lightning dressed in white and he rolls away the stone from across the mouth of the tomb. The guards are so terrified they seem to drop in a dead faint. And then the messenger says to the two Marys, Don’t be afraid. I don’t know where they’d find courage not to fear? Let’s look into their hearts for a moment.

Everything that had given meaning to the lives of Mary Magdalene, to the other Mary and all the rest of Jesus’ friends had evaporated two days earlier. Jesus had been their inspiration for a new way of understanding life. He’d given them a new future filled with purpose and hope. Everything about being with him was important. They saw the sick healed, the poor were shown God’s love and respect, the hungry were fed, and outcasts were brought back into society. The world was becoming a better place, and they were at the heart of all this wonderful change. God was on the throne when you were with Jesus.

But then suddenly, there was a tomb, and an empty world outside it which would inevitably return to horrible old business as usual. So when the angel says Don’t be afraid, he’s right on the emotional mark. It would be wonderful if they could be freed from fear. But how; why? The angel tells them the only possible thing that could conquer their fear: I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He’s not here; for he has been raised as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.

When he’s shown them, he sends them off to tell all the others. But as they rush off to do so, we read that it’s with a mixture of fear and great joy. We can only hope their fear doesn’t conquer their joy before they find the others. Certainly, they’ve seen the guarded tomb opened before their eyes, and we can assume they looked inside as the first witnesses to the fact that there was no body of Jesus there any longer. But they needed something more before they could hope again unreservedly – I certainly would.

And suddenly, there he is. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Rejoice!’ And did they ever! They flung themselves at his feet and grabbed them and worshipped him. … And then he said it; Don’t be afraid, probably the last time they’d ever need to hear it. What could they possibly fear now!?

What do we fear? Much the same things really. A special relationship ended by a sudden death guts our life of purpose. Many of us have known such grief – such despair? You can’t hope any more the way you used to. And where you can’t hope, you may fear what will come. C.S. Lewis began his book, A grief observed with words about this. He wrote, “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid.” So for the two Marys, along with all the other reasons they might have been afraid, there was their grief, which also feels like fear. It’s a wonder they could move.

But the message of Easter is that none of this has power over us any longer. Don’t be afraid is written twice in today’s Gospel. It’s there for you and me to hear – it’s not just there for the two Marys. It’s for you and me; we need to know that the Lord of Life is speaking directly to us.

It’s not that we won’t have grief in our lives; of course not. Grief is healthy; it’s God’s gift sent to gently heal us. But our grief should not trap us in something that feels like fear. Jesus rose again; the Marys could grab hold of his living feet. Jesus, the risen one – as we read in Acts – could eat and drink again with his friends. Jesus who was crucified rose again; he destroyed the power death might have held over us. Jesus restored hope and joy and purpose to his friends back then, and he’s done so ever since. Hope, joy, purpose – the world needs them so badly still.

Just one more observation which shouldn’t be forgotten today; the first work Jesus asks of the two Marys is forgiveness. He asks them to let the other disciples know he wants to see them again. Peter and Judas are the only ones we heard of in the Passion stories, and they didn’t come off too well, did they. And it sounds as if the others, after they deserted Jesus (Mt 26.56) they may have all decided to head back home to Galilee. But did you notice that Jesus called them his ‘brothers’ today? They were transformed too. When fear is laid aside, generosity and reconciliation are unleashed in world-changing ways.

If we’re in any doubt about the centrality of Christ’s passion for reconciliation, the person God sent Peter to preach to in this morning’s reading from Acts was a Roman centurion – a representative of the army which crucified Jesus.

So today’s Easter message – don’t be afraid; just do as he asks. He knows what he’s doing. He has conquered death! He is risen! Alleluia! Amen

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Healing

Barb’s Reflection for Celtic Healing Service 30 April 2017

Barb writes: “I’m glad to be able to contribute to this service even though I’m not with you. In a way, my decision to go to the closure of St. Mary’s, Point Pass instead today is also part of an ongoing healing for me. This moment in the life of the Kapunda Parish was one I had hoped to facilitate, the farewell moment in a process I had wanted to have completed before I left. My husband says that going to this final service will give me closure. My CPE colleague Les says that aiming for closure is not the best way to attempt healing, better to think in terms of integrating the pain or loss or grief meaningfully into our lives. One thing I know is that being in this parish and with you people is helping me heal from the state of depletion and discouragement with which I left Kapunda. There is much to value in the Parish of Kapunda, and in my time there, but I was nearly burnt out by the time I left, mainly by my sense of failure that I couldn’t make a difference to the slow decline that was happening despite their admirable resilience and determination to keep going. I also felt discouraged that my identity and gifts were fully accepted and valued only by a few precious people there, and that much of what I did was constrained by role expectations and the goal of keeping things going and the same. I was not working out of wholeness a lot of the time, but out of mere survival, barely maintained. Being here has given me much more freedom to be who I am, which is what spiritual healing enables. Hopefully now I feel ready to try to integrate the Kapunda experience, to find meaning in it, and to celebrate it. Please pray for that ongoing healing as I face this symbolic closure at Point Pass.

I want to share with you a story that speaks powerfully to me about physical and emotional healing in the context of the sense of failure I had in Kapunda Parish. It comes from a chapter called “Cotton Candy” in Nadia Bolz-Weber’s book Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint. Nadia is a woman pastor in the progressive Lutheran church in the USA.

To sum up Nadia’s overall story in a few sentences, she was hurt by the rigid faith of her childhood, and particularly the dismissive attitude to girls. She escaped into a rebellious and addictive lifestyle, and a career as a stand-up comic. She began healing through AA and the faith component of the twelve steps, and then found a fulfilling faith and life through her relationship with the Lutheran ordination student that she subsequently married. She studied theology and was ordained, and planted a church called the House for All Saints and Sinners, a place of healing and acceptance for marginalized people, including homosexuals. In the chapter I want to share with you, Nadia has been invited to speak at a progressive Lutheran conference about her church and its successes. Yet at that time she is discouraged that attendance has hit a plateau at about 35 to 40, with fewer over the vacation season. Perhaps with the need to speak of successes at the conference in mind, she decides to try to gather a bigger group for Rally Day, usually a celebration of the beginning of a new Sunday School year. Although her church had no children but her own and no Sunday school, Nadia tries for a big gathering for Rally Day on the eve of her conference commitment, and hurts her back doing all the running around and carrying of heavy stuff. She hires a cotton candy machine and buys six dozen burgers and buns, spending $300 on catering. She is acutely disappointed and resentful to find only 26 in the congregation that day, and has to go away for a moment to pray for removal of her anger and resentment just to get through the liturgy. They end up giving away two thirds of the burgers to homeless people in the park, and cotton candy to motorists, nobody puts money in the basket to help cover the catering costs, and her back and her resentment are killing her. One of her congregation notices her pain and gathers some people to lay hands on her back and ask for healing.

Nadia writes: “I stood there, my black clergy shirt warmed by the Colorado sun and the hands of my parishioners, and I submitted to the blessing of being prayed for. And it was hard. But then something happened. It sounds crazy, and if someone told me this story I’d assume they were lying or delusional. As Stuart’s big drag queen hands lovingly rubbed my lower back and he sweetly asked God to heal me, the muscles in my back went from being a fist to an open hand. The spasms released. I thanked them for the prayer and they offered to help with the rest of the cleanup.”

But Nadia’s healing didn’t end there. After stewing over a sense of failure and getting only two hours sleep when she knew she had a plane to catch at 4am to go to the conference, Nadia suddenly wakes up with what she calls a “bitch slap from the Holy Spirit”. She writes: “My eyes sprang open and out loud I said, “Oh wow.” The force of the realization hit me: My back didn’t hurt. It hadn’t hurt when they prayed for me and it didn’t hurt now as I laid in my bed, startled awake. I had received a healing. A temporary one, my back still has issues, but still…I had received a healing and I was too wrapped up in myself and my feelings and unmet expectations even to notice. And come to think of it, I hadn’t really noticed the joy people had in being together and handing out cotton candy in the street. I hadn’t really noticed that some hungry people in Triangle Park got to eat iron-rich burgers for dinner that night. I hadn’t really noticed that Amy, Jim and Stuart got to have the experience of caring for their pastor and that it was a blessing to them. I had decided the event was a failure since there wasn’t the right number of people and no one chipped in any money. How small.”

Later the healing goes on, because Nadia feels moved to tell this story of failure and healing and the realization brought by the Holy Spirit at the end of her presentation about her church at the conference. Later over lunch at the conference, she finds people coming to her table to share their own failure stories, “with heart and humour”. She concludes the chapter by saying: “…I realized that sometimes the best thing we can do for each other is talk honestly about being wrong.” In the context of my sense of failure at Kapunda, I still find this story profoundly moving, and healing.

There’s a couple of other points I wanted to make about healing by relating this story to the gospel passage for today. Although Jesus rebukes the disciples who couldn’t facilitate the healing of the boy by pointing to their lack of faith, it is only faith the size of a mustard seed that is needed for surprising things to happen. We have at least that amount of faith; but maybe we lack the confidence to act upon it. Furthermore, it is tragically wrong if the person in need of healing beats themselves up, believing that not being healed reflects their lack of faith. In many of the healing stories, it’s not the person being healed who has the faith to initiate the process. Someone who cares for them acts on their behalf. Nadia wasn’t in a space to believe in what her parishioners were doing in interceding for healing, and she didn’t even fully realize the healing had happened and had continued until later when the Holy Spirit made her aware. The father of the boy prays the appropriate prayer: “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” Then Nadia’s real healing is not only the relief from pain in her back which she acknowledges was temporary. It was the whole transformation of her resentment and self-blame, and the ripple effect that that had in enabling others to share their stories in a healing way, and then the further ripple of my cleansing tears as I read that story again in the context of my sense of failure in Kapunda and the closure of Point Pass. The sharing of our stories contributes greatly to healing and to the increase of faith.”

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