Saturday, 4 July 2020

Finding Jesus...

Two reflections shared at zoom worship on Trinity 3 - 28 June 2020.
The texts were: Jeremiah 28:5-9 and Matthew 10:40-42

Reflection One

A year or two ago, my sister bought me this book for Christmas. It’s like Where’s Wally, but for Jesus. She’s got a good line in quirky or creative gifts, but in part I suspect the humour was in the fact that she could cheekily ask me “have you found Jesus?”.

The book invites us to seek and find Jesus in a multitude of unexpected places - crowded rock concerts, bustling supermarkets and packed weddings. In this literal take on Jesus promise to be with the disciples always means that he blends in with the crowd.  

Perhaps it also makes us ask the question: what if Jesus was walking the earth now? Would we recognise God’s beloved in the places the world still overlooks or amongst the people who’re still dismissed?

We’ve been cut off from crowded places for more than three months: worlds are smaller and lives curtailed. Have we sought and found Jesus in a multitude of unexpected places in lockdown - even in our loneliness or exhaustion?

Loneliness - Gemma Schiebe

Loneliness is a common human experience - fleeting moments, regular intervals or sustained periods. It doesn't relate to our relational status or our work; it doesn’t discriminate between those of us who're cup half empty or cup half full people.

Deciding to "do something" can take us out of ourselves, creating a sense of purpose by giving us something else to focus on; but we also need a someone to notice us, to find us; we need a community where we can welcome and be welcomed. 

For Jesus said, whoever welcomes you, welcomes me… and the one who sent me. This is an intimate bond; where as human beings we see and are seen in love.

Exclusion - Laura Greco

But alongside what’s been dubbed the loneliness epidemic, there is the pain of exclusion. There are those who are over looked or dismissed; those left on the outside - rendering them less visible or voiceless.  

The wideness of God’s mercy - and the kindness of God’s justice - is the basis of our welcome. For God in Christ stood with the excluded to the point of death; in Christ God bore injustice and extended the scope of mercy with arms outstretched on the cross.

This welcome brings healing and forgiveness and even joy; and its goodness gets worked out in practical ways. 

In his winning entry in the theology slam competition, Augustine Tanner-Ihm talked about this depth of welcome challenging us to think widely and deeply.  He said: Accessibility is being able to get into the building. Diversity is getting invited to the table. Inclusion is having a voice at the table. But belonging is having your voice heard at the table.

Such belonging is at the heart of the good news; it is at the heart of God’s kingdom.  It begins with standing at a door - knocking, opening, seeing, welcoming, staying, listening.

Sinners Meal - Sieger Köder

The company that Jesus kept was diverse - perhaps even offensively so. Eating and drinking were significant - they were moments of gift; no qualification for invitation; an offer of the gift of life.

In our collect - our opening prayer - asks God to look upon this wounded world with pity and with power; holding on to the promise of peace.

Pity, power and peace. 

When there’s a knock on the door how do we respond? when we ring a door bell, how might we be received? 

A knock on the door - Bob Salo

Is there the pity of merciful compassion; the power of welcome and the peace of the kingdom?

The disciples had been sent as ambassadors of a kingdom. Knocking on doors and if welcomed then strangers were seen and known and loved. 

The disciples go under Jesus’ instruction: to offer them help and hospitality was like offering it to him. In what way to those who knock on our door reveal something of God to us? Might they too reveal something of God’s kingdom?

In what we give and what we receive, there are signs of love coming to us with pity, peace and power.: finding Jesus and being found by Jesus.

Here we glimpse the wideness of his mercy. To welcome and be welcomed isn’t about seeking security and status; but being vulnerable and open to change. 

The path to your door
Is the path within,
Is made by animals,
Is lined by thorns,
Is stained with wine,
Is lit by the lamp of sorrowful dreams,
Is washed with joy,
Is swept by grief,
Is blessed by the lonely traffic of art,
Is known by heart,
Is known by prayer,
Is lost and found,
Is always strange,
The path to your door.

The Porter's Gate - We Labor Unto Glory

Reflection Two

We labour unto glory til heaven and earthy are one. Last week we reflected a little on how Jeremiah laboured unto glory - employing his freedom in the service of God’s commandments. 

Jeremiah the Performance Artist - unknown

Today, we are invited to see him in the role of a performance artist. His heart burnt beneath the gaze of God - and his hands and heart were kingdom bound. But it was not always easy to ignite this flame of love amongst God’s people - especially in the dislocation and despair of exile.

Before the passage we heard read today, Jeremiah has been walking the streets wearing wooden yoke. He did so to embody - or perform in public - the reality of the situation God’s people were in.

It was not popular to suggest that the best thing to do was to submit to the situation - to live as normal life as possible. And by submitting to that, not only to escape destruction; but also to find themselves remade; finding hope in darkness as they trusted in God’s power and pity; living with the law of love on their hearts.

Playing to the Crowd - Sam Backhouse

In speaking truthfully, Jeremiah had alienated his audience. Hananiah on the other hand wanted to play to the crowd - this scene is staged in public with priests and people assembled. He told them what they wanted to hear - that the yoke of of Babylon would be broken; that the sacred vessels would be returned to the temple;  that the exile of God’s people would also come to an end.

Wearily Jeremiah sighs, and says: Amen! May the Lord do so! He too longs for Jerusalem, but he knows that Hananiah is offering false comfort.  What sounds like an affirmation is actually a challenge.

He’s very aware that true prophets are often voices of doom: he’s not playing to a stereotype, but reflecting the reality human beings often succumb not to the wideness of God’s mercy but the narrowness of their own minds - and that all suffer as a result.

Faithfulness to God meant being willing to forego popularity; but in setting out the truth of a situation, Jeremy offers to God's people freedom to reimagine the future. 

Perhaps seasons of life which are most disruptive - when we don’t know when normal life will return - become times when we can pray that we use our freedom to imagine God’s future in our present.

The scholar Walter Brueggemann wrote: The prophet does not ask if the vision can be implemented, for questions of implementation are of no consequence until the vision can be imagined. 

As we find Jesus, as we look upon his face, what future do we imagine?  In dark hours, where do we find new hope? In periods of change, do we look for a return to normality - or do we labour unto glory til heaven and earth are one?

This way of imagining is neither complacency nor escapism: it is being present.

If Christ were seen walking the earth, would we recognise God’s beloved in the places the world still overlooks or amongst the people who’re still dismissed?

Archbishop  Justin has been sharing some of his favourite images of Jesus  created by artists and churches across the globe.  He’s inviting us to do the same.

In seeing Jesus in this way, perhaps we find him afresh in unexpected places; in the lonely and the crowded, in the excluded and the range of voices at the table.

To look on these faces of Jesus, reveals the power and pity of God with us; and invites us to seek that peace which is the Spirit’s gift, breathing in us, expanding the limits of our minds with the wideness of God’s mercy. 

This is challenging and might make us vulnerable; but it is also our strength. For as members of Christ’s body, our image, our likeness, our bodies, our voices are found in him; our age and our gender, our sexuality and ethnicity; and we are made welcome.

We belong to this land - Colin Jones

The aboriginal artist Colin Jones created this painting called we belong to this land. We do belong - in seasons of struggle and of hope. But to belong in this land is also to labour for the kingdom.

Water is a gift of life; a cup of cold water a gift of welcome and belonging.  It’s a gift that restores God’s image in us; but also a sign of our imaginations being restored too. 

We pray as we open our doors to God’s world, that we might be known by our kindness towards strangers. 

We pray for those who are lonely, excluded or on the margins: may we see them, love them as Christ and enable them to belong.

We pray that we might be revived by the Spirit: may we rejoice in our diversity, and hear their voices.

© Julie Gittoes 2020

Saturday, 27 June 2020

A is for apple

Reflections from Sunday 21 June - Trinity 2 - the texts were: Jeremiah 20: 7-13 and Matthew 10: 24-39. Thinking about the connotations of 'A is for Apple' held in Eve's hand and ours, and in the hand of Mary and Jesus reaches out to take it; and reflecting to on how we employ our freedom. 

Reflection One 

Apple: A is for apple, so goes the alphabet rhyme. Or perhaps the old wives tale: an apple a day keeps the doctor away.  Motherhood and apple pie, something good and important. 

Harvested and baked under crumble with lashings of custard; pressed into sweetness for refreshing juice; or fermented a while longer for the stronger cider.

A is for apple. It's appealing, enticing.  

Enticing to the point of seduction; to the point of temptation. 

Eve was here - Chris Gollon

Eve. Was. Here.

Eve took.

It looked so good. So healthy. So enticing. 

But this apple wasn’t pressed into sweetness; it had a bitter taste. 

A is for apple. Our tendency to take what we desire. Our human capacity to consume.

For freedom is enticing; even though we risk turning away from God and others, getting caught up in ‘stuff’. 

In the words of opening hymn we seek forgiveness for our foolish ways; asking God to breath through the heats of our desire. 

Image: unknown

We are not immune from it. The MacBook through which I see you; the iPhone from which I’m reading carries the mark of that bitten apple. It’s the signifier for our quest for knowledge; it marks out a brand. 

Map [Matthew Cussick]: As human beings we face countless decisions; and find ourselves pulled in multiple directions; seeking meaning, knowledge, purpose and identity. 

Chasing the Dragon - Matthew Cusick

It can feel conflictual: not so much a cross roads but a spaghetti junction of decisions and desires; fears and freedoms. 

And as we think about what we stand up for and what we call out, those desires and fears and freedoms come under pressure. We might be enticed to do the thing that’s most expedient or which makes life easier.

It can be tempting to ask: what does this do for my professional  reputation or for my popularity? Who will I offend or what will it cost?

These are the kind of questions facing Jeremiah. 

Jeremiah [San Francisco, Grace Cathedral]

We encounter him today reflecting on God’s call to be a prophet - to be one who called people back to God’s ways of love. As a prophet he exhorted God’s people to be faithful to the commandments and to make love visible in public through the pursuit of justice.

The language he uses is of being enticed and empowered by God’s call. It was compelling and he could do no other than say ‘yes’ to this work, this life of costly service.

In the words in the stained glass window from Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, he employed his freedom. He employees his freedom to serve God in a particular way. 

But it was a challenging task.  It made him a laughing stock. It was not popular. 

He was mocked for calling out the violence done through failure to do what was just, merciful and compassionate. 

He was mocked for naming the destruction caused by the refusal to obey the  commandment to love.

He spoke, cried out and shouted. 

And the very thing he loved - the word and life and love of God - became a source of derision. 

It felt as if this calling had cost him everything: influence, friends, status and reputation.

He’d employed his freedom. 

So when he’s temped to give up, the original burning conviction wells up within him. He cannot to anything else but speak up for the needed, abused and marginalised. 

And yet, when enticed by those who are watching for him to stumble, he remains steadfast.  However wearied he is, he won’t abandon this long labour of seeking what is right.

He has employed his freedom to God’s cause.

Unity of Praise - Jackie O Kelley  

Jeremiah’s moment of crisis, his grappling with the cost of his work, reveals to us something that it as the heart of today’s discomforting gospel.

It is an illusion to think that seeking God’s ways of peace means a comfortable life. 

We have each been called by name; we have employed our freedom to God’s ways.  And like Jeremiah there are times when we might waver or feel enticed to seek an easier path.

But Jeremiah reminds us, as long as the fight for what is just continues, we will somehow find peace in that struggle.

It’s not comfortable or painless: but on Jeremiah’s lips those cries for what is just turn to praise. For God will deliver the lives of the exploited and overlooked, the discriminated against and the marginalised. 

We’ve heard that song of praise: of laudamus the - we praise, bless, adore and glorify the Lord our God; and now we hear another song, which reminds us that God is among us.

God is with the broken and the weak and in the spaces in between.

Reflection Two

Staithes Rooftops - Terry Chipp

In this curious and challenge set of teaching, takes us to the heart of how we are to employ our freedom: not in competition with others for the their sake. 

Jesus takes what is whispered and invites us to share it from the roof tops. There is no zero sum game in God’s economy; we do not live out of scarcity of love but out of an abundance that calls us to seek justice.

Do we hear God’s voice cry out? Are we listening?  Do we come together with the ones without a voice, the forgotten and ignored?

In this, we are one flesh. Whatever our gender, class, race, sexuality, wealth, age or health.
We live in Christ. We are one flesh. And by the power of the Spirit, we are to listen.

To listen to what entices us, and to ask, is this the way of God?
To listen to what entices us, and ask if it names the dignity and equality of others.
To listen to what entices us, and to seek what it is a blessing for all.

We all have a share in these tasks: and for some of us, because of the stories we’ve been told, it’s a time to listen; for some of us, because of the stories we’ve been told, it’s a time to be heard.

Sparrow Bonnie Murray

That process of speaking and being heard takes time. It doesn’t just happen in the public square but in our one to one relationships. 

Jesus moves us from the public realm of our rooftops; to the intrinsic value of every human life. He invites us to look upon a sparrow. To see the thing that is small and seemingly insignificant; and to know that God’s tender care for even the tiniest thing extends also to us. 

Just as the sparrow is precious, so are we: God knows the hairs of our head, the thoughts of our hearts, our cries and our songs. Dare we extend that loving regard to each other - seeing each other as who we are - with our burdens and privileges, our gifts and our needs?

And seeing each other dare we employ our freedom as members of one body, to stand against all the harmful longings of the flesh that entice us - of power used for self. 

Dare we do this, together, hearing our stories: hearing the hope and challenge, the cries and dreams.  For in this we find our peace.

Wallsily Kandinsky - Composition VII

The language of peace that Jesus uses is full of conflict and division; it really challenges us about tour priorities. 

This image by Kandinsky is full of bold lines, and vibrant colours; it’s full of overlapping forms and shapes. We may not see it immediately, but in it are the biblical themes of the apple tasted in Eden - the moment our longings for power and knowledge enticed. It speaks of judgement - and how we use our freedom; but it also speak of resurrection and the gift of new life. 

Jesus speaks of this life that comes when we lose it for his sake, and the sake of God’s kingdom of justice and righteousness. The conflict of which he speaks is not destructive but creative. It is not bent towards destruction, but liberation.

Writing in her book Seeking God, Esther de Wall writes of the stability we find in God’s love for us; it means that we don’t run from where battles are being fought, but that rather we have to stand still where the real issues have to be face.

This way of being is based on Gospel paradox of losing life and finding it.

How do we employ our freedom - for self fulfilment or to the struggle of liberation for all?

Martin Luther King -  Huffington Post

Perhaps this is evoked most powerfully - and in a way which frames the question in a practical way - by Martin Luther King. He said:  Cowardice asks the question, ‘is it safe?’ Expediency asks the question, ‘is it politic?’ Vanity asks the question, ‘is it popular?’ But conscience asks the question, ‘is it right?’ And there comes a time when one must a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because one’s conscience tell one that it is right.

We are called to do what is right. To listen carefully and to be willing to change; to cry out in the expectation that we will be heard; to sing a song that brings joy and hope.

Crucifixion - Lindiwe Mvemve

We all have a role in this Kingdom of change:  

Are you a caregiver: nurture and nourish people around me via creation and sustaining community of care, joy and connection.

Or perhaps your freedom is employed in being a disrupter: taking uncomfortable or risky actions to shake up the status quo, raise awareness and build power.

Do you like to teach and guide - using gifts of discernment and wisdom?

Are you called to the work of telling stories - sharing experience and histories in words and art in order to shape a community moving forward together?

Or are you visionary - setting out possibilities, hopes and dreams, reminding us of our direction?

Are you someone who helps us weave lives together? Or someone gifted in tending to the traumas of oppression and isolation?

We need all these gifts - deploying our individual freedoms for the sake of God’s call to love, justice and mercy.

Madonna and child - Chris Gollon

And we do it not in our own strength. But because God so loved the world. So loved the world that God’s very self dwelt among us in flesh of our flesh. Taking the apple. 

The apple in our hand reflects our tendency to mess things up; the apple in the hand of Mary, as Jesus reaches out to take it, reflects God’s capacity to love and forgive.

Let us pray:

Lord, you have taught us that all our doings without love are nothing worth:
send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of love,
the true bond of peace and of all virtues,
without which whoever lives is counted dead before you.
Grant this for your only Son Jesus Christ's sake,
who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

©  Julie Gittoes 2020

Sunday, 14 June 2020

Holy Tears

The texts of reflections from this morning's worship in Hendon. Sadly, the church wifi went down towards the end of this part of the service. 

Sinai: from creative commons

They journeyed. They entered the wilderness. There they camped. 

A place of escape; but not the destination. Open space; open skies.  Guided by cloud in the heat of the day; by fire in the cool of the night. 

And did the remember what God had promised Abraham? That they’d be blessed; that they’d be numerous than the stars; more numerous than the sand. Blessed to be a blessing. 

Sinai: wikipedia

They journeyed. They camped.  Freedom was uncomfortable in this strange land. They longed for the tastes of Egypt; of garlic and melons, fish and cucumbers. And yet, in this strange landscape, their needs were met with manna and quail. Freedom meant having enough.   

As they camped there before the mountain, did they know that that covenant would be renewed? 

Image: Yoram Raanan

Moses was one who led them: he’d demanded their freedom; he'd heard their grumbles; and still he spoke for them. He knew the wilderness. He’d learnt to turn aside once before.

In a wilderness like this, he’d dared to look; he’d stood on holy ground. Where the presence of love burned in the world and did not consume it. There in flame I AM spoke. The one who was, and is and is to come. 

Image: Rae Chichilnitsky

And I AM will touch his heart again; I AM will give voice to commandments and renew this covenant.  Obey and keep says the voice of I AM; guide these people through the wilderness that they may know a way of promise and peace.  

And will they honour the name of I AM; will they honour each other? For way back when, when Abram said ‘yes’ and Sarah laughed, a promise was made.  A people  grew like sand and stars; brothers dreamed and brothers parted; plenty turned to slavery; and yet God said, there is way of love.

Image: Richard McBee

Moses went up the mountain. The Lord called to him. I AM speaks and Moses listens. This is neither a burning bush nor an overshadowing cloud. It is just him. On this mountain. In this wilderness. Waiting. Breathing. Listening. But he must also speak.

Image: Lisa Fahey

He must speak of I AM who carried this people on eagles’ wings. I AM is like this majestic bird; carrying them from a place of bondage; preventing them from falling; drawing them home to Godself.

But fledglings must learn to fly. Before wings grow strong, the mother eagle swoops down and carries them up. Higher, this time. Until they grow accustomed to the air currents; and the beating of their own wings.  

Image: Ercole de' Roberti

The same is true for God’s people. We must listen to the voice of love, and obey it; we must adjust to the breath of love, and take flight on it this vortex of air. Keep it, this way of promise and peace.

Image: Nasa

For God loves the whole world.  This orb of life. Fragile. Diverse. Full of beauty and creativity, gifted freedom; yet consumed with the desire to acquire and control. I AM says they whole world is mine. Yet, with you I make a covenant out of all peoples; blessed to be a blessing; a light to lighten the nations. 

More treasured than keepsakes, mementos and souvenirs; even more precious than the heirloom, or gift or childhood toy. This is how God looks on his chosen people; precious and beloved. Called to obey God’s voice and keep the covenant in order to draw others back to Godself.

This is a holy nation: drawing near to the refining fire of God’s love; this is a kingdom of priests mediating something of God’s justice. And yes, the people embrace this call; and yet we know that for centuries the prophets continued to challenge and recall them to God’s ways of mercy and compassion.

Yet here in the wilderness there is a willingness to trust and obey; a willingness to listen and act; to receive a promise in order to bring hope; to embrace a covenant in order to bring light in darkness; to receive a blessing in order to bless.

The grace of this convent - this way of promise and peace - is a sign to the world of God’s love of humanity. 

We are heirs in faith; heirs of the promise of this kingdom. In Jesus, this promise and peace is extended to all.  So their answer is on our lips: everything that the Lord has spoken we will do. 

Will we seek after the lost sheep; will we go into the harvest?

Be bold and be brave in the way of promise and peace; bringing good news and raising others up.

Stock image

Jesus left the wilderness and came to his own. He walked amongst them. He went about in their towns and cities; we walked the land, step by step. 

He taught in synagogues: opening the scroll, declaring liberation for all held captive. He proclaimed good news: in him the kingdom of heaven drew near, touching earth and transforming lives. 

Image: unknown

There was something attractive and compelling about these words.  In Jesus the holy one, the great I AM had come near. He came alongside us in our suffering and sorrows; he came to the places of loneliness and despair and was in solidarity with us. 

Jesus loved. In him the heart of God spoke. In him, the love spoke and acted, living out the answer to our deepest longings. In him, this way of promise and peace is extended to all; we walk as members of Christ’s body, we are Spirit-led in making this love visible in the world. 
And crowds were curious. They were drawn to the life and love they saw in Jesus. They were attracted to this good news of freedom and hope, of peace and healing. And yet, they were vulnerable.  They were harassed and helpless.

Icon found here

And Jesus looked on them - and we see in him emotional at the very dept of his being; a physical sensation that leads him to act. We are to look on the world as Jesus looked on the crowd: to be moved with gut-wrenching, heart-stopping, all-consuming love. We are to be jolted out of complacency or disconnection - and to see them with love.

These sheep - God’s flock - were harassed and helpless; scattered, stressed, vulnerable; crying out with hurt and longing.  In need of compassion and hope. We are to see each other differently, with the eyes of Christ; to respond differently with the love of Christ. 

There is longing and the season is ripe. Jesus responds to the crowd at the level of authentic human response; he will pour out love for them and us, going to the very depths of suffering and death to bring new life. 

Jesus sees their need and also calls others to pay attention. To see what is happening - and to listen to human cries and to obey God’s call. 

Image found here

And they followed him; and he called them.  And as we hear their names, we know that they like us are not perfect. There is humility in this list - we know some of the details of their lives: they were stubborn and argumentative; they were ambitious and misunderstood; they denied and betrayed. 

Yet these flawed human beings, like us, are capable of extending great love in our gestures - small, persistent and effective. And yet, they too are sent: they are sent to share the same space as Jesus. They too are to walk the land; they share is vulnerability and poverty; they share the journey and the resting places. They will face opposition and will raise others up.

They go and they make known a kingdom. Not only do they speak words of love and kindle hopes for justice; they bring the kingdom near. 

There are tangible signs of release as people are restored to dignity; as of healing breaks in. There are tangible signs of promise, as mercy is extended to those who have suffered; signs of hope as penitence is met with forgiveness. 

What will it take for the kingdom to come near today?

Image: The Artist's Tears - Jimmy C (James Cochran)

Do we see those holy tears? 

Tears of how racism has impacted on the identity of individuals; or how as whole we are less than we might be because of the exclusion of some. Tears of social and economic inequality - which means some bear the disproportionate impact of lockdown; which means as a society we suffer. 

Tears of repentance as we seek to learn, to listen to understand and to be better stewards of this kingdom. A kingdom which speaks, in the empty, desolate and vulnerable places of promise; a kingdom which speaks in the corridors of power and the places of plenty, of justice and peace. 

Image found here

But we have this treasure in clay jars: the frailty of our human nature demands a constant recalling to the claims of the gospel for creation; for the raising up of others to new life; and a gentleness in understanding ourselves and others. We have a gospel to proclaim; a way to walk in; a kingdom that is near to us. 

Miriam Therese Winter:

Be bold in the claiming of the gospel for the whole creation. 
Be brave in the lifting up of the life of God in every place.
Be firm in carrying the holy name of Jesus Christ into the place of worldly power.
Be gentle in the understanding of ourselves and one another. 
And may songs of the Creator sound with love in all the earth,
the tenderness of Christ Jesus cover the wounds of the people
and the truth of the Holy Spirit rise free in every age. Amen. 

© Julie Gittoes 2020