An Expanding, Inclusive Love

by Liz Young

(Based on John 12:20-33)

Today we celebrate Passion Sunday, and I want to discuss with you the reading from John 12, which starts with some Greeks asking Philip if they can see Jesus. A writing that is a symbol that Jesus’s message is for all of us, Jew and Gentile alike. They asked to see Jesus, and he greeted them with the words, “Now is the hour, now the moment has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”

[The words of the hymns today remind us of what He gave us and why we glorify Him, honouring peace, valuing and practising self-sacrificing Love, and sharing joy.]

The words “the hour has come” emphasize that in this particular moment God has intervened to bring justice to the world. The parable of the seed falling to the ground and dying has been interpreted that the seed can only be transformed into a plant if it dies, and changes its form. We can only be transformed if we follow the teachings of Jesus whole heartedly:  if we do, we grow to love Him. The states of receiving and giving Love change over our lifetimes. A mother nurtures a baby with love, only to be able to let them go; she has to let her child achieve independence, by making their own mistakes along the way. Making mistakes is sometimes the only way we learn. Think what you’ve learnt from your mistakes (when you’ve stopped blaming yourself for them), when you’ve accepted God’s forgiveness; and having cleared out emotional self-blame we can move to repentance and create plans for restitution.

The words “those who love their life, lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life” have provoked much thought and discussion. I feel that we can only serve God if we are prepared to relinquish those things that give us immediate gratification and offer instead Love and caring to others.

Jesus then goes on to say, “Now my soul is troubled.” I think that He is confirming he’s human. He is fully aware that he is about to suffer a horrible death, and fearful about his ability to cope; and to continue to love the human race throughout His coming pain and suffering. His knowledge that He will experience despair and feeling that He has been forsaken, even temporarily, from God, confirm to us that He is able to empathize with us when we go through our minor sufferings, because we know that He has experienced pain to a far greater extent Himself.

Permit me to quote from Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditations (from The Center for Action and Contemplation, cac.org), from this past week, entitled An Expanding Love:

Sunday: Peter himself began to recognize that God works with all people of goodwill—not just people in his group. But he had to be pushed there. Little by little, God leads him to universal love.
Monday: To move beyond our small-minded uniformity, we have to extend ourselves outward, which our egos always find a threat, because it means giving up our separation, superiority, and control.
Tuesday: Love grounds us by creating focus, direction, motivation, even joy—and if we don’t find these things in love, we usually will try to find them in hate.
Wednesday: “The ability to love yourself is intimately related to your capacity to love others. The challenge is creating a life that allows you to fulfil both needs.” Bishop Michael Curry
Thursday: “God has made it clear: if you love me you will work for liberation with the oppressed and marginalized in your midst, and you will share your home and food with those who have none.” Stephanie Spellers
Friday: “Christian life is a commitment to love, to give birth to God in one’s own life and to become midwives of divinity in this evolving cosmos. We are to be ‘wholemakers’ of love in a world of change.” Ilia Delio

Today we appreciate that Jesus made a conscious decision to travel to Jerusalem, knowing what the future held. May we spend the last days of Lent appreciating Jesus’s knowledge of His future suffering, and ask for courage to share our faith with others; and be thankful for all He has given us.  Amen

Gems in the Water

I spent a cold, dark, mosquito-bitten, lonely couple of hours fishing (as opposed to fish-catching) the other night, and as I hauled in yet another empty hook, bereft of catch and bait, I wondered why on earth I was bothering.  I could have been watching The Bachelor.  Just when my line and my patience were tangled beyond hope, the overcast cleared, and not only did the Southern Cross appear, but it was reflected in a flat calm sea, and I saw it mirrored in wondrous symmetry above and below the horizon. 

It struck me that I wasn’t out here for the fish.  I was out here for the spectacle, and it reminded me of the times upon times that I have found myself in grey circumstances, only to see gems most unexpected and fair.

For example … (and obviously, in order to protect the innocent, and the not so much so, I won’t give specific details of time and place) … there was the dreary family 21st.  The MC is trying to encourage us to dance, we who would class dancing as slightly below dental surgery; Stephen (clearly not his real name) clearly came pre-loaded, is talking loudly and insists on swaying into my personal space; Uncle Stan won’t talk to Aunty Margaret or anyone else in her section of the family; cousin twice removed, who hadn’t been invited anyway, is swearing like an online troll; and one would rather be at home (watching the Bachelor) anyway.  (Or even the Chiefs.)  When you find yourself on the outside deck with a paper plate of dry crackers and lettuce stalks, talking to a fellow escapee, who turns out to have a fascinating persona inspired by an inspiring life story.  You find you have much in common with this charming person, who seems to enjoy your sense of humour, and you talk for an hour on enlightening topics punctuated by heady witticisms.

Joy unbounded.  Like stars in the night, reflected on the sea.  Like a bellbird in the back yard tree on a damp autumn afternoon.  Like a $5 petrol voucher at a high-priced petrol station.  Like a melody in the second movement, following a tuneless and cacophonous first movement.  Like a grandchild’s laughter on a day of sad thoughts and memories.  Like a kind word after a cruel rejection from someone else.  Like a smile from a stranger.  Like a … (add, here, your own simile).

Gems are always possible, no matter how grey the setting or the occasion.  Go into these inauspicious occasions with eyes open.  Expect gems.  You’ll find them if you know how to look.  Expect to be disappointed … you will be.  Expect to be surprised by joy … you will be.  Expect to hate the party … you will.  But look expectantly for the overcast to clear and the stars to emerge …

The fish might even come to play.

Ken F

Worship and the walnut

by Bruce Gilberd

(Based on John 2:13-22, and Exodus 20:1-7, Psalm 19, and I Corinthians 1:18-25)

Greetings!

What an abundance of truths and themes there are in today’s readings.

  • In Exodus the arresting reminder from God to the Hebrews, recently freed from Egypt: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the House of Slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.”
    And, six hundred years later, Isaiah declares there are no other gods!
  • We have the psalmist accenting the glory of God visible in the created order, and emphasising this bounteous holy God requires holy living from his people, and the awareness that it is the “meditation of our hearts”, our inner life, that ultimately counts.
  • We have St Paul telling the Corinthian Church, and us, that God’s second great action, ‘the second exodus’, the Jesus episode, is not accessed by knowledge, or convincing signals, but by faith in the crucified and risen Divine Man Jesus.
  • And fourthly we have John’s vivid description of Jesus’s dramatic actions to cleanse the temple of corrupted worship in Sacred Space.  Not only this … the first hint of his death and resurrection – using the language of ‘temple’ with reference to his risen body of incorruptible physicality.  And use of the word ‘temple’ of Creation, our bodies, and of buildings.

I now offer you (only) three points that, for me, have emerged from these four enriching readings.

  1. There is such a thing as Sacred Space.
    • Creation itself.
    • In Hebrew history: the Ark of the Covenant, containing the Ten Commandments.  (And I’m thinking of how men died just touching the Ark unwisely; and King David danced naked before the Ark in exultant worship!)
    • The Temple of Solomon and in its rebuilt form.
    • Then, after house churches, Christian buildings down the centuries, where believers gather.
    • Places of great spiritual significance: I think of Haggia Sophia, for example, in Constantinople; Iona Abbey; Oihi and Waitangi, perhaps.
    • Here – this very building – is Sacred Space, where with joy we, together, celebrate the presence, beauty and mystery of God – beyond us and amongst us.
    • And, as Christ regarded his own body, our bodies are and shall be temples of God … Sacred Space.
  2. There is an outer and an inner reality in our own worship.
    • Here is a walnut (from Sue’s property in Whenuakite).
    • The outer shell protects the inner edible and tasty nut.  I am reminded of Julian of Norwich’s meditation on a hazel nut:
      1. God made it
      2. God loves it
      3. God keeps (protects) it
    • The inner nut – our hearts and on whom they are fixed – is the core of worship.  Jesus’s action in the Temple was to keep that primary, not the outer form.
    • Christian churches have many liturgies and forms of worship – and that is of great help, because we are sensate beings.  We need external handrails, clothing, for our worship.  But it is the inner life of believers, and the church, that is what ultimately counts.
      Jesus gives absolute primacy to the spiritual and prophetic conception of worship … priority to motive, intention, the heart.  Any form or liturgy must feed that – otherwise we are left with only a shell!
  3. Worship: that is what all today’s four readings, and my reflections, lead to.  Worth – the worth of God provokes our joyful, awe-filled, self-giving, profound thanks and praise – worship!  Worship of God is not about us … although true worship does transform, bestow grace, and equips the worshipper.
    Because, ‘True worship disinfects our egos’.  So our humble service of God in the wider community becomes the only true service.

True worship is about recognising God, and God’s disclosure of himself in Jesus, being of ultimate worth, and worthy of worship.  It is about abandoning ourselves to this vision of truth.  And, as said, this also expresses itself in humble service, in offering costly love to others – knowing Christ is always with us and everywhere – this is also our worship.

So …

  • Sacred Space
  • Inner and outer aspects of worship and service
  • Worship, epitomised in this selfless and joyful exclamation:

Holy, holy, holy,
Lord God of Hosts.
Heaven and Earth are full of your glory.
Glory be to you, O God Most High.
Amen

Quelling the Lions and Demons

There’s so much more to be said about tribalism.  (For Part 1, refer to previous Blog on Tribalism.)  Superficially, it seems a good thing to be proud of one’s tribe, to own it as choice.  But there is hidden a cancer.  The pride that arises is at the expense of the mana of other tribes.  The greater the pride in one’s own, the more diminished the ‘other’.  Leading subconsciously and often overtly to excess.  The lionising of one’s own has the (sometimes unintended) effect of demonising the Other.

Tribalism is rarely quoted as a root cause of anything, war least of all.  It should be.  Because a crucial part of pre-war posturing and propaganda (and, indeed, of justifying aggression or provocation) is to demonise the other guys.  For they have said this, done this, they’re responsible for this … and therefore our tribe is going to … or, was justified in doing …  These are the usually identified causes of conflict, but they’re consequences.  Tribalism is at the root of them all.

Myanmar generals, for example, demonise the protesters in the streets; and the Rohingya.  China demonises the Uighur; and the Hong Kong protesters in the streets.  Iran demonises “the Great Satan” (America); Hitler (and Goebbels) demonised Jews; Israel and the Palestinians demonise each other; Houthi demonise established Yemeni leadership, and vice versa; Tutsi and Hutu demonised each other in Rwanda; as do various factions throughout Africa currently … and South America … and, indeed, throughout the world.

In the prevailing conspiracy theories and cultures, QAnon demonises “the Swamp” while lionising themselves; Trump lionises himself and demonises the media.  And endlessly so on.  Magnified infinitely on social media.

Even here in New Zealand we’re inclined to demonise the Other: conservatives liberals and vice versa; Greens and farmers; women and men … endlessly on and on.  All Blacks and Wallabies.

Within this madness hides a more subtle, less recognisable mindset, called naïve reality.  It’s the unspoken but fallacious notion that my ‘reality’ should be everyone’s reality.  “The … viewpoint that my perception of the external world is a direct copy of it”, according to Merriam-Webster. (My emphasis.)

Yes, everyone should see the sense and logic of my position.  It’s actual reality.  (This is naive realism.) Anyone not holding this reality is misguided, possibly delusional, and Other (than me), and therefore fair game for criticism, challenge and provocation, and (in extremes) doing battle.

The cure?  We acknowledge that all people are people.  Just like us.  There are no substantial differences between people.  Tribal divisions are artificial, even manufactured.  A refugee in the Balkans war in the nineties was quoted as saying, “It makes no sense.  We all want peace, but we’re killing each other.”  Everyone, whether part of my tribe or yours, desires peace, safety, love, respect, and a modest level of basic needs.  Everything else is magnified unduly.

Cultural differences, while not needing to be embraced, may be accommodated without demonisation.  Racism is non-existent in a climate of mutual respect and self-restraint.  If only we could all recognise this.

Because it takes two.  There’s no point one tribe recognising the tumour in tribal pride if the other guy doesn’t.  It’s like a contract or a covenant.  Let us both agree that we’re human beings, adrift in the same waka, and let us embrace and both benefit from our sameness.  Different, perhaps, but the same.  We bleed the same, hurt the same, need the same things; I am no better than you, nor you than me.  Let’s agree on that and move forward together.

This blog is too long, but, as I said, there’s so much more to be said about tribalism. 

Ken F