<![CDATA[Chapel by the Sea Bondi Mission - Sermons]]>Wed, 02 Dec 2015 04:36:52 -0800Weebly<![CDATA[Miraculous beyond words]]>Mon, 21 Apr 2014 00:22:12 GMThttp://chapelbytheseabondi.weebly.com/sermons/miraculous-beyond-wordsActs 10:34-43
Matthew 28:1-10

Easter Day 20th April 2014  Year A

Something miraculous has happened! We may try to tie it down in our ideas, in our facts, in our categories of understanding but the truth of what really happened is so wonderful, so unexpected, and so miraculous, that it avoids all these attempts. Dare I suggest even those attempts of Scripture itself? One only has to place the five accounts of the resurrection, the four gospels and that of 1 Corinthians, alongside one another to find just how many differences they have in their description of such an incredible event as this. They all try to put words around that which as profound experience is far beyond words. While initially the resurrection experience at the earliest level, as evidenced by Paul is one which is beyond literalist physicality, ‘flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God’ (1 Corinthians 15:50), over time it became increasingly literalised and concretised. Thus the resurrection becomes more fleshed, the empty tomb becomes increasingly important as evidence for the event, and overall the event is increasingly associated with more and more spectacular miracles and signs. What is of course clear is the inadequacy of words, concepts or whatever we may structure around it to make sense of, or prove in some manner that the resurrection has happened. The resurrection always lies beyond all these things, for it is far deeper than all these things.
Something happened however! We know that for we know the transformation of those who in some manner experienced the resurrection. The followers of Jesus, timid and afraid, fearing for their lives, became emboldened and empowered to the point where they are prepared to place those lives at risk in declaring the good news of Jesus. Jesus began to be proclaimed by them to be the Messiah so soon after all those things which had happened to him surely would have initially dashed that belief. Soon after the infant church was proclaiming Jesus to be not only to be the Messiah but the divine ‘son of God.’ How radical is such a claim when we remember that these early believers were nearly all Jewish steeped in a strict monotheism. Yet we have Paul, ‘a Hebrew of the Hebrews’, as he calls himself proclaiming the divinity of Jesus from his earliest writings some 20 years after the time of Jesus. What is more astonishing is that he does so by sometimes quoting what would appear to be very early creeds, statements of belief and hymns or poems from even before that time! It is to such experiential transformation we must look if we are to find any evidence of the resurrection, though the skeptic will never be convinced.

Likewise for us the evidence of the resurrection will not be found in seeking to tie it down in some evidential manner but rather in how it transforms our lives. What then does the resurrection say to us and how is it transformative of our lives?

I want to suggest that it turns all conventional wisdom on its head. The pragmatist and the cynic argue, thus the world is and thus will it always be. Power, cold calculation, conniving and cruelty always triumph and while the idealist may be admirable they are admirably deluded if they think anything can be any different. What the Easter story shows to us is that such reason is confounded. Those who truly believe in the possibility of an alternative future, who truly believe that justice, peace, the harmony and reconciliation of all things are possible, are confirmed in their hope. This is not confirmed in some type of naive way, in a manner in which we pretend that pain and suffering does not exist, but in a manner which deeply knows their dark power, as seen in the cross, but which knows that the cross is not the end point. It gives us the courage to enter to the deepest point possible in the cross, to really face up to the pain and anguish of our world, with the promise that the final word is not with those realities. The world is thus filled with hope, light and love. Good Friday has shown us a God in Christ prepared to enter into the very depth of the world’s pain so that nothing is left untouched by divine love. The resurrection shows us that nothing is left untouched by divine power, that power at work in the world transforming even the darkest place and now filling it with light, hope and life.

This is why the resurrection needs to be intimately connected to the death of Jesus, and the reasons for that death. Jesus’ death has often been separated from, indeed lost all connection to, the real human events of his life which brought about his death. It has been encased with all the elements of a cosmic drama, enshrined in fossilised creeds and the heavy-handed tradition of sin, guilt and forgiveness, ‘He came to die for our sins!’ In such statements Jesus’ death, and therefore his resurrection, has lost all connection with his life, his teachings and the vision he shared. To the followers and friends of Jesus, his death was important in its particularity as the fate of him who said and did certain things, one who stood for something so important to him that he was willing to give his life for it. That something was the vision of life he called the Kingdom of God. This is the vision of a new empire; God's Empire, and the bearer of this vision was not dead. No executioner could kill what he was. To kill Jesus, you would have to kill the vision. This is what the cross could not do. Easter is the time when all that Jesus did and said is affirmed by God, when the choices made by Jesus are validated, when the risk taken by Jesus turns out to have worth the danger. Easter is about the triumph of Jesus’ vision that vision of the reign of God, that time of peace, of justice, of compassion, of love and mercy.

Such belief then allows us to live at risk. Death, and its coercive power, is no longer ultimate. The resurrection comes as a subversive action. The early Christians were so regarded as subversives by the Empire, their creed being that ‘Jesus (rather than Caesar) was Lord.’ By their belief in the resurrection, rather than being coerced and intimidated by those with power to live the way of conformity, they were liberated to live in a radical manner of freedom. Likewise we are to be so freed, freed because no longer is the power the power of life and death, the definitive power. We are thus freed from systems of security we may otherwise establish to protect our lives, and therefore can live at risk. Those who manipulate and tyrannize no longer hold the ultimate coercive power. The history of the church is filled with examples of those who knowing that the ultimate power no longer lies with that tyranny and the power of death, have given themselves, even to the point of their lives, in the belief that beyond death God is present in resurrection. Such belief enabled Dietrich Bonhoeffer to face the insanity of the Nazi regime and to give his life, Martin Luther King to face the bigotry of the racists in the United States and to likewise give his life and enabled Archbishop Oscar Romero to face the threats of the El Salvadoran death squads and to pay with his life. The actions carried out against those figures show clearly the threat that belief in the resurrection brings to those who deal in oppression. But nothing not even death itself can extinguish that power. ‘They may kill me’, said Oscar Romero, ‘but I will rise in the El Salvadoran people.’ I am also reminded of the story of Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly homosexual man to be ordained a bishop in the Episcopal Church in the United States. Faced with so many threats that he needed to be fitted with a bullet proof vest at his ordination he on being asked whether he was fearful in facing possible death spoke of the resurrection, concluding with, ‘that is the power of the resurrection. Not in what happens after death, but what the knowledge of our resurrection does for our lives… before death.’  Gene Robinson is correct faith in the resurrection is not something just to be relegated to some after-life dimension. It is something effective now, transforming and empowering our lives this very moment.

If we were to read on in our gospel today a few more verses we would find that some of those responsible for the crucifixion tried to buy the silence of some of those who witnessed its power. The power of the resurrection however is not something so easy silenced. It still speaks to us today never silenced and still transformative. In such lies the reality of the resurrection. We cannot prove it by usual categories of truth and proof. We cannot compel belief in it by reference to history or creed. Rather we bear witness to it by how we allow it to transform our lives and the life of our world. We see it at work and help others to so see it, when we make visible those small signs of God’s reign, germinating beneath the ground, to be seen by ‘those who have eyes to see.’

Marcus Borg quotes the Amerindian storyteller, ‘Now I don’t know if it happened this way or not, but I do know this story is true.’ That should be our attitude with the resurrection stories. The truth of those stories will be in how they transform our lives. In spite, despite of, we believe and in believing are transformed and act as transforming agents in our world. That is the true proof of the resurrection and in that it is truly miraculous beyond words!                     
John Queripel

 

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<![CDATA[From death to life: Hope reborn]]>Mon, 07 Apr 2014 00:25:25 GMThttp://chapelbytheseabondi.weebly.com/sermons/from-death-to-life-hope-rebornEzekiel 37:1-14
John 11:1-45

Lent 5   6th April 2014     Year A

John’s gospel scholars believe contains within it seven great miracles, seven being a sacred number,  commencing with the changing of water into wine at Cana in Galilee and culminating in that which we have read here, the raising of Lazarus. This great final miracle is understood by John as something which prefigures of course the greatest miracle of all, the raising to life of Jesus following the crucifixion. 
In a modern age we may find the type of resurrection, as described here, difficult. We know of course of resuscitation to life from death achieved through such medical interventions from as basic as C.P.R. to fibulators and other more complicated medical procedures, but the idea of someone being brought back to physical embodied life after four days, or three days in the case of Jesus, after having died, perhaps stretches us. For us as Christians however resurrection lies at the heart of faith so it is crucially important that we can make some authentic sense of it. My study has driven me to the conclusion that the very earliest written Christian tradition, that of Paul, speaks of resurrection in a non-physical manner. ‘That which is sown physical is raised spiritual’ he writes (1 Corinthians15:42). Only later do we get writers wishing to objectify and prove resurrection by accounts of revived bodies, empty tombs and the like. My thinking is that this line of thought is not to make, however, resurrection any less profound. The greatest proof for it lies not in fantastic stories about it but rather in the transformation it wrought upon the early disciples, transformed from cowardice and confusion to emboldened witness. The reality of resurrection was such that it enabled these early believers in Jesus from their Jewish background where by all standards Jesus as messiah had proved a disappointing failure, to affirm that indeed he was the messiah for resurrection had vindicated his way and suffering. Not long after the depth of their belief in this resurrection experience allowed these strict monotheists to make the momentous claim that this crucified Jesus was divine! Such was the deep reality of the resurrection for them.

The ancient world was different to us in its attitude to resurrection. While some of the sophisticated elite rejected the idea of any physical resurrection the majority regarded resurrection as not only possible, but desirable. This was the case in both the Jewish and pagan world. The idea of resurrection was fairly recent for the Jews. Indeed at the time of Jesus not all believed in it, the most obvious non-believers as we read in our gospels being the establishment represented by the Sadducees. The Hebrew Scriptures, our Old Testament, understand death as the end with any survival after it being an unsought shadowy existence in Sheol. The idea of resurrection came into Judaism from Zoroastrianism, the prevailing religion in the Persian Empire. Zoroastrians survive today primarily in the Parsees of Mumbai. Once it entered Judaism however the idea of resurrection took hold. This was especially the case during the Maccabean period when in the Jewish revolt the fate of the many righteous who suffered led to the questioning of the orthodox idea that in this life the good prosper and the evil suffer. The solution was to transfer God’s righteous judgment to an afterlife in which good would come to the righteous while the evil would be punished. This however of course was not resurrection back to earth but to heaven

Within the pagan world belief in resurrection was quite widespread. Many believed in dying and rising gods: Demeter, Dionysus, Osiris, Innana, Isis and Adonis among others, but also in mortals who had been raised such as Hercules and Asclepius with the last named was held to have the power of resurrecting others. So widespread was this belief that the 2nd century Christian apologist, Justin Martyr could only argue that the resurrection of Jesus was unique by claiming that all other resurrections were done in the power of the Devil.

The Bible actually has a very limited list of persons who are said to have been raised from the dead. Apart from Jesus, they are all presumed to have subsequently experienced another normal human death experience from which they did not return. Elijah raises the dead son of a widow at Zarepath (1 Kings 17:17-24). Elisha raises the dead son of pious woman from Shunem (2 Kings 4:18-37) while accidental contact with the bones of the virtuous Elisha raise a dead man to life (2 Kings 13:20-21). Jesus, other than our account here, raises the daughter of Jairus (Mark 5:21-24, 35-43) and the dead son of a widow from Nain (Luke 7:11-17), while the faithful dead are raised at the time of his death (Matthew 27:53). Later Peter raises Tabitha from death (Acts 9:36-43) and Paul restores Eutychus to life after an accidental death (Acts 20:9-12).

We may or may not have difficulty with the literal physical resurrection as given in this story among these others but we need remember however that the miracles in John’s Gospel are understood as signs meant to point beyond themselves to something deeper. For this purpose John builds his narrative accounts around them. They therefore are not meant to be some unbiased reporters’ factual accounts.

First John understands this as a fulfillment of that which he has had Jesus say earlier. ‘The time is coming, and indeed is already here when the dead will hear the voice of God and live’ (John 5:25). As stated earlier, belief in some general resurrection at the end of time had become widespread in Israel. Martha gives testimony to that when she says replying to Jesus’ statement that her brother will live again, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day’ (verse 24). In bringing about this resurrection Jesus is showing that this culminating time has already come. As distinct from the other gospels where the eschaton or end is seen as future John develops a ‘realised eschatology’, an understanding that sees the end as already being realised in Jesus. Thus in Jesus the great final act of resurrection begins to take place.

In Jesus John is telling us resurrected life has already begun. This of course is not without cost and therefore we read of how to bring that life Jesus must enter into the dangerous place, in this case Judea where they had already tried to kill him (verses 7-8). Thomas is made to then make the discipleship statement that John wishes his readers to make; ‘let us go with Jesus that we may also die with him’ (verse 16). This is the call to discipleship to which John wishes his readers to commit. In like manner Martha is made to say, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died’ (verse 21). John is telling us that where Christ is there is no death. In case you don’t get it the first time around John later has the other sister Mary repeat the same words (verse 32). To the future hope of resurrection John next has Jesus say, ‘I am the resurrection’ (verse 25). Resurrection is centred in him and rather than being merely a future hope it begins now. Jesus, rather than the eschaton and the final judgment, is the determining point for resurrection. The statement ‘I am’ is crucially important. God, who could never be named by the Jews was understood as the ‘I am’ (see the original encounter with Moses at the burning bush. Exodus 3: 14). When Jesus all those ‘I am’ statements, as he does so often in this gospel, no less claim is being made by John  than in him the divinity of God is present. Next Martha is made by John to declare that which as a profession of faith he wants all his readers to declare; ‘Yes Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the son of God come into the world’ (verse 27). 

The story of course culminates at the grave where Jesus raises Lazarus. The parallels with Jesus’ own resurrection are very deliberate from the question of ‘where have you laid him’ (verse 34 c.f. 20:15) to the style of grave with the stone needing to be rolled aside. With that stone rolled away Jesus cries in a loud voice. This voice the Jewish people would have known as the ‘dabar’ the word of God which never returns empty (Isaiah 55:11). This same ‘word’ we have seen brings life to those dry bones in the desert. Jesus finally announces that Lazarus be freed, the Greek word used (luo) having a double meaning of freeing or destroying. In freeing Lazarus Jesus is destroying death.

Our story then calls us on to discipleship with Jesus, even if we ‘may die with him’ because it affirms that in him the power of death is overcome. We are to oppose all in our world which stands as the power of death, from our personal relationships, violence, war, poverty, power politics and dominance that we need to oppose. In Jesus the final time of life has begun. We are able to do so in the confidence that life, not death, has the final word. Let us like Jesus be life givers.     John Queripel

 

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<![CDATA[The seeing blind, the blind seeing]]>Mon, 31 Mar 2014 00:29:14 GMThttp://chapelbytheseabondi.weebly.com/sermons/the-seeing-blind-the-blind-seeingSamuel 16:1-13
John 9:1-41

Lent 4  30th March 2014     Year A

As I have said John’s Gospel is far different from those other three we call the synoptics. While for Matthew, Mark and Luke miracles as ‘powers’ and ‘wonders’ are evidence in themselves as to whom Jesus is, in John’s gospel miracles of themselves do not tell us much but rather act as ‘signs’ (the word John uses) in order to point to something deeper. Thus it is in this story that the actual miracle is dealt with in just two verses, while its significance is surveyed in the other 39 verses.
John loves to move beyond the merely physical to play with symbol and metaphor and he clearly is doing so here. Blindness takes on a double meaning, that of the physical but also that of the spiritual. The latter is tied to just how open one is to see just whom Jesus is. Of course when John is writing this account he is faced with the quandary as to why so many of his fellow Jews, especially those in the Jewish leadership, have chosen to reject Jesus. By the time of John’s writing that leadership is represented by the Pharisees. Thus John develops this story in such a manner as to contrast the blindness of the Pharisees with the ability of those whom the Pharisees accuse of being blind, the infant church, to actually be able to see. He uses this miracle account in order to develop this theological perspective and rationale. Of course the truth is also present in the story that not all the Pharisees opposed Jesus. Thus we read of a division among the Pharisees as to whether Jesus is from God (verse 16). In his own lifetime it was probable that Jesus was identified by most as being one of the Pharisees. By the time of John’s writing however the Pharisees are identified as those representative of the opponents of Jesus. The division spoken of here among the Pharisees reflects the context in which John writes, that after the destruction of the Temple there was primarily a choice for Jewish people between following Jesus, or following one of the Pharisaic groups re-establishing themselves as rabbinic Judaism. Other forms of Judaism after all had fallen along with the walls of the Temple. Will one identify oneself then with the rabbis proclaiming Jesus or identify oneself with one of the more orthodox rabbis rejecting the Jesus message?

Our story commences with theological orthodoxy. The disciples on seeing a blind man ask of Jesus as to who sinned this man or his parents given that he was born blind. Physical illness in the Israel of Jesus’ time, as in much of the ancient world was held to have spiritual roots in that either one or one’s forebears had done wrong. Illness in the time of Jesus not only had a physical dimension to it but also a societal and theological dimension. It could cause one to be cast both out of the society and relationship with God as one was regarded as being unclean. This type of understanding is a very comfortable one to hold while one is in good physical health allowing you to push off sin onto the one who is ill while simultaneously affirming one’s own virtue. . Jesus rejects this sort of speculative orthodoxy as to the cause of the man’s blindness and announces the positive action he will undertake to restore the man’s sight in order that God might be glorified. Jesus, rather than being involved in idle speculation as to cause moves to bring healing and wholeness. Then he affects this strange cure. The manner of the cure makes Jesus to look like a magician, common in the ancient world. It is of a different order to his usual cures affected either by prayer or just through his own powers. Here he appears to use a magical means.

Whatever the means, the formerly blind man now sees and comes to see ever more profoundly while those claiming sight fall ever more deeply into darkness. The neighbours and friends are initially those portrayed as blind in their doubting as to whether this was the man they formerly knew, but it will be the religious leaders, the Pharisees who will be shown primarily as those descending into darkness. Let us first turn however to the healed man. John uses subtle nuances in the text to indicate the man’s growing vision of just who Jesus is. At first asked as to where Jesus is he replies, ‘I do not know’ (verse 12). Later on asked his opinion on Jesus he states ‘he is a prophet’ (verse 17). Later on being questioned further he comments ‘that having done such a thing this man must be from God’ (verse 33). By the end of our reading in his conversation with Jesus, the man declares, ‘Lord, I believe.’ In this final part of our reading, the conversation with Jesus, there is also a play on the word ‘kyrie’ which from the Greek may be translated ‘sir’ or ‘lord.’ Initially the man is using it in the former sense but by the end of the conversation he is using it in the latter deeper sense.

The opponents in this episode, the Pharisees, however, plunge into the growing blindness of incomprehension. Their attitude becomes progressively more rigid and close-minded toward Jesus. Initially they claim that this man, because he does not keep the Sabbath Law, cannot be from God (verse 16). Next they refuse to believe that the man had indeed been born blind (verse 18), before simply dismissing this man as ‘a sinner’ (verse 24). Later they simply revile him (verse 28-29). Here there is a subtle dig at Jesus parentage, ‘we do not know where this man comes from?’ This reflects the charge being made at the time of John’s writing in the face of Christian claims regarding the miraculous nature of Jesus’ birth, that in reality it was dubious. Finally they begin to heap malice upon him charging him with being one ‘born in utter sin’ (verse 34). John concludes his account by the assertion that their attitude has caused them to sink into deep blindness (verse 41). Three times in our reading they are made to say how well they claim to be able to see but in reality as we have seen, they are falling into blindness.

In constructing this dialogue John contrasts the arrogant confidence of the Pharisees with their assertions as to how they know exactly who Jesus is; one ‘not from God’ (verse 16), that Jesus ‘is a sinner’ (verse 24), that his birth is questionable (verse 29), whereas the blind man is presented as humbly being open to a growing understanding about Jesus.

As I said John has a very particular use of miracles. They are not an end in themselves but as signs point to something deeper which we are called to understand. To what deeper things does this miracle point? What lessons are we meant to learn from it?

First we need to understand how in God a great reversal takes place. It is so easy for those claiming sight from perhaps holding the right tradition or orthodox understanding of God, and confidently dismissing those others who differ from them as sinners, it may be that they are falling into blindness in their religious arrogance while it is those so confidently dismissed as ‘sinners’ who are actually those with growing sight. There is a cautionary tale for us in such. God has a different way of doing things. Is that not the lesson we learn from our 1 Samuel reading where we learn of the choice of David? God is not captive to our ways and when we attempt to so make God we are falling into darkness.

God, and God’s actions, cannot be contained within our own categories of certainty. When we so try to capture God it may be that we who claim to be the ‘seeing’ smugly judging the ‘blind’, are falling into blindness, while those we accuse of ‘blindness’ are those who exhibit growing (in)sight. This is the danger which Jesus makes clear to us where he speaks of the blind seeing and the seeing becoming blind (verse 39). The story calls us to rejoice in the blind seeing while also issuing us, who may all too easily claim to see, a salutatory caution. We come to share in the feast at this table. Let us always remember the radically open nature of the table.                            
John Queripel

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<![CDATA[Drink of Living Water]]>Mon, 24 Mar 2014 01:38:00 GMThttp://chapelbytheseabondi.weebly.com/sermons/drink-of-living-waterExodus 17:1-7, John 4:5-42
Lent 3  
23rd March 2014     Year A

The encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman is perhaps one of the best known of our biblical stories. When those from Galilee travelled to the great festivals in Jerusalem they usually went by the more circuitous route of travelling east of the Jordan so to avoid passing through Samaritan territory such was the mutual distain between Jew and Samaritan. Jesus and his disciples however have chosen to pass through Samaritan territory perhaps on returning from one of these festivals. Because the hatred was so deep our reading tells us that Jews and Samaritans had no dealings, though this is an exaggeration for we read here that the disciples had gone into town in order to procure food, That hatred’s genesis lay first in the division of the kingdom into the ten northern tribes properly called Israel, and the two southern tribes of Judah after the death of Solomon. During the 8th century Assyrian invasion when the northern tribes were carried off and foreigners in turn brought into the land to replace them. From that point on those of the north were regarded as religiously and ritually impure. 


While Jesus alone is resting by Jacob’s well, the same well where Jacob dreamt of the ladder to heaven, he is joined by a Samaritan woman who has come to draw water. Jesus enters into conversation with her with the request that she draw him some water. She expresses surprise, for well knowing the antipathy Jews had for her people, she asks how is it that you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan, for water? Of course John’s gospel loves to use symbol and metaphor so we find then Jesus immediately moving the conversation about water to another level. The woman of course, like Nicodemus last week, stays with the literal stating that Jesus has no bucket with which to draw this living water. She seems to have some understanding however, for she next asks, ‘are you better than our ancestor who gave us this well?’ In this we see how close really the Jews and Samaritans were for they each held that their common ancestor was Jacob. Jesus then again moves the discussion this time beyond history and the question of who were the true inheritors of the Jacob tradition. He does this by moving the discussion to himself and his capacity to give water that unlike that drawn here will lead to a permanent assuaging of thirst. In answering the woman’s question therefore he is implying that yes, he is someone greater even than Jacob. In response she seems to suddenly understand the metaphor of living water and its reference to Jesus, responding, ‘give me this water that I may not thirst, nor again come here to draw.’ Divine epiphanies taking place at wells are a common occurrence in the Hebrew Scriptural tradition and here is another.

Jesus next asks her to call her husband. The woman responds, ‘I have no husband’ to which Jesus with some sort of miraculous divine insight replies that she has had five husbands. The idea of a spousal relationship was one used in understanding Israel’s relationship with God, God as the husband and Israel as the wife. Reference then is probably being made here to Samaria having five husbands or gods, those gods introduced by the foreigners forcibly resettled in the land by the Assyrians (2 Kings 17). Shocked by his knowledge of her she retorts, ‘Sir, I perceive you are a prophet.’ The term translated ‘sir’ (Greek: kyrie) may equally be translated ‘Lord.’ The ambiguity in the Greek is introduced by John as the original conversation would have been in Aramaic. The woman then asks a question as to the true religious tradition, that of the Samaritans with their worship on Mount Gerazim, worship which continues to this day, or that centred on Jerusalem. Jesus replies that worship of the true God will move beyond local expressions and ritual centres to something more profound. While the religious tradition has found its way through the Jewish people, who ‘know what they worship’ it no longer can be contained within that framework alone. Those who truly worship God charges Jesus will do so in spirit and truth. There is something profoundly beautiful about this. In such the woman perhaps sees the messianic age, the time of peace, justice, love and the harmony of all things. Her conversation thus moves to speaking of the messiah. Jesus responds that he is the one who is messiah. He even uses the words ‘I am.’ The expression ‘I am’ is a circumlocution for the divine name often used in John’s gospel where Jesus often uses the ‘I am’ of himself. I am the truth, I am the life, I am the way, I am the good shepherd among others. In such usage John’s gospel is telling us that Jesus is divine.

As to Jesus own self-knowledge and extravagant self-claims here and elsewhere in John’s I concur with nearly all scholars these words in John’s Gospel reflect the views of the infant church reflecting on Jesus rather than his own actual spoken words .Certainly the Jesus as presented in John’s gospel with long discourses centred around himself is far different to the Jesus of the synoptic gospels with his parables not about himself but rather the kingdom of God. That is why scholars almost universally hold that the Jesus of the earlier written synoptic gospels is closer to the truth while that Jesus presented in John reflects a later theological development of the church as they reflected on Jesus’ significance. This doesn’t make the Jesus of John’s gospel any less valuable for our task is always to understand the significance of Jesus for ourselves in our evolving context. It just means that the Jesus presented in this gospel is probably further removed that that who actually walked the roads of Galilee.

Returning to our story, the disciples return and the woman departs leaving her water jar. Seemingly she has no more need of the type of water that such a jar can carry for she now has the living water within ‘welling up’ to eternal life. She, on reaching her hometown, begins to spread the news about the one she has just met; proclaiming that perhaps here is the Christ (the Greek term for the Hebrew messiah). One always does well to read between the lines for while the Christian Scriptures both coming out of a patriarchal tradition and then being developed by the patriarchal tradition of the church, diminish the significance of women thereby giving rise to the patriarchal institution of the church, we by reading between the lines can see glimpses of the truth. Here is a woman doubly disadvantaged in terms of the tradition in that she is both a woman and a Samaritan who becomes one of the first to understand and proclaim the good news of Jesus. Of course a not so subtle shot is being fired across the bow of the Jewish readers who very well knew their failure to appreciate living water in the desert as we read in our first reading.

The disciples have returned to Jesus with sustenance but of course he has sustenance of which they cannot know. As he has used water metaphorically to speak of something deeper now likewise he uses food as metaphor. His food and sustenance is in doing the will of God. While as I have said we cannot be sure of the depths of Jesus’ self-knowledge there seems to be little doubt that he saw himself as being significant in terms of the will of God being done. In what follows then to do with the time of the harvest being ready there seems to be a self-understanding that in him the messianic time of judgment is at hand. Here is a time of gathering in, of harvesting God’s people. This is John’s understanding of the eschaton or end. In John’s understanding, contrary to the other gospels where it is the future, the end is not future but is already present wherever God’s will is being done and it has begun in Jesus. The task then is to gather the harvest in Jesus’ name. It does not matter who sows the crop, be it the Samaritans, Jews or indeed any other tradition. ‘One sows and another reaps.’ Whatever and whoever gather it in!

The woman now returns with many of the Samaritans from the city who implore Jesus to stay with them. We are told that he and his disciples did so. This is certainly a dramatic case of intercultural coming together across barriers of hatred long built up. John then concludes the story by having Jesus say the words which he wishes his readers including us to believe, that Jesus ‘is indeed the saviour of the world.’

Here in Jesus then is true living water, water which assuages all thirsts and does so eternally. Such imagery as I have already said draws from the tradition. One of those stories within the tradition in which God is presented as assuaging thirst is that we read from Exodus, the episode at Massah and Meribah in the desert. Here those on an exodus journey through the desert, their faith having been found wanting, have their thirst assuaged. We too are called on to a journey. In that journey, often through the desert, we as those of old lacking faith will find our thirst assuaged in an even more miraculous way than that of old, for the water which will assuage our thirst has an eternal quality about it. This water is nothing less than Jesus himself. This one who assuages our thirst is thus the one who breaks down all our faith boundaries. Many may sow from all sorts of traditions but it matters not in the harvest. Thus we have here the truth proclaimed by one doubly excluded from the sacred tradition; this Samaritan woman here. Is it still not true that in such we so often find the divine while those wishing to lay claim to the divine are left in blindness. Such is the way of the divine in Jesus! Our mission must then know no exclusion but reaches out into the whole world, for as we are told here, ‘this is indeed the saviour of the world.’ Indeed that mission, the proclamation of the good news may be carried out, like in this episode by those, like the Samaritans, excluded from the tradition.    
John Queripel

 

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<![CDATA[Don't fence me in]]>Mon, 17 Mar 2014 01:44:07 GMThttp://chapelbytheseabondi.weebly.com/sermons/dont-fence-me-inRomans 4:1-5, 13-17
John 3:1-17

Lent 2    16th March 2014  Year A

Familiarity can breed if not contempt at least indifference. A passage like this can become so well known that its profundity can slip pass us all too easily.

Two men meet, representing two very different ways of thinking and being. Jesus is seen in John’s Gospel to represent something radically new. Thus this gospel has John the Baptist as the high point of the old order before stepping aside with the words, ‘I’m not worthy to untie his sandals.’ Jesus then commences his ministry in this gospel at the wedding in Cana of Galilee where the symbolism of water being changed to wine represents that all is made new and the old is past.  Jesus, symbolised by wine, is not of the same order as the old water.  He next cleanses the temple. This episode is surely placed here by John as distinct from the other gospel writers who more naturally, and I am sure historically correctly, place it as the beginning of the last week of his ministry. John moves the episode to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry to emphasise the point again that in clearing or even symbolically destroying the Temple Jesus is meant to be seen as something radically new which can’t be fitted into the old system. John is pointing out that Jesus’ sacrifice will replace those sacrifices of the old temple. Now this encounter comes between Jesus and Nicodemus in order again to make the same point.
Nicodemus was we are told a Jewish leader. Elsewhere we are told (7:45-52) that he probably was a member of the ruling Jewish authority; the Sanhedrin. If that were so he must have been highly regarded as a Pharisee as most members of that august body were Sadducees. In this episode Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night. There seem to be several clues that John has moved to episode from near the end of Jesus’ ministry to the commencement to make a similar point, that Jesus is radically different to the old order, as he has made with the temple cleansing or destruction, Given that Jesus has such a dangerous reputation that Nicodemus must meet him at night clearly this is near the culmination of his ministry, not at the beginning as John has placed it here. John is wishing again to indicate the complete difference of Jesus and the old religious order. Of course the coming in night also has a symbolic significance for John. John has a great interest in drawing dualities or contrasts, light and dark, life and death, evil and good. Thus Nicodemus is the one who comes to Jesus as he is, though a great teacher in Israel, in the dark. Jesus is presented on the other hand as one who lives in the light. ‘I am the light of the world’ John has him say elsewhere.

The conversation of the two is initiated by Nicodemus. Rabbi or teacher you are one sent by God. Perhaps Nicodemus is simply buttering up his conversation partner here or perhaps his words reflect genuine respect. In chapter 7 of this gospel he is presented as one who does have genuine respect for Jesus, while tradition has him with Jesus’ followers after Jesus’ death. Perhaps Nicodemus is wishing to enter perhaps into some nice theological discourse with Jesus in the manner in which Pharisees were so want to do. Jesus has none of this. Jesus makes clear there will be no allowance for containing and restraining the conversation in terms of the old, keeping Jesus contained within those old categories. Jesus thus immediately moves the conversation to a completely new domain. ‘No one,’ he says, ‘can see the Kingdom of God unless they are born from above’. Jesus has moved the conversation from the theoretical and purely rational to the deeply experiential. Nicodemus wishes to remain with the purely rational and so retorts, ‘How can a grown person be born again. Can they enter again the womb?’ Nicodemus has in his opening words referred to some of the great miracles Jesus has done but is unable to grasp the radicalism of that to which they point. One needs, says Jesus, to be born spiritually to go alongside our physical birth. This birth links to Jesus birth in such manner as seen in Jesus’ own baptism where the heavens open and the Spirit descends (John 1),  We, along with Nicodemus, are being called to be reborn again in the Spirit. By such birth we are then incorporated into Jesus born in such manner.

Next Jesus speaks of the wind and how it blows. Here there is a play on words. In either the Aramaic or Hebrew original tongue of Jesus and also in the Greek of John’s writing, the term used has a double meaning of wind and spirit. Nicodemus quite incredibly seems to be stuck with the literal. ‘How can this be?’ he replies. Jesus dismisses his simplistic understanding with, ‘you are a great teacher in Israel and you don’t know this?’ Jesus then replies of how ‘we speak of what we know and report of what we have seen’ before adding and yet you will not accept our message.

John’s Gospel like all the gospels is not an historical biography of Jesus but rather is a construct of the church, a theological reflection on what Jesus meant to the church some 70-80 years in the case of this gospel, after his life. The use of the plural ‘we’ here would seem to indicate that it is the church rather than Jesus himself who is saying these words. As such these words are a reflection of the confusion and pain that the church felt in that many, especially of their own people, the Jews, would not respond to their good news of Jesus. Then the text again turns to the singular ‘I’. Jesus then replies to Nicodemus in terms of, ‘you don’t know the simple observational things of this world, how then can you know the deeper things of heaven?’ Then we return again to what would seem to be a later church addition about the son of man gone up to heaven having first come down. Obviously the earthly Jesus had not yet done that so these words are a later addition.

Next we move to Jesus speaking of the episode in the desert when Moses lifted up the bronze snake.. The reference comes from the exodus journey when many were being fatally bitten by poisonous serpents. On the thus lifting up of the bronzed serpent those who had been bitten were healed. The symbol is still that of the healing profession today. Jesus then goes on to say that like the snake being lifted up in order to heal and save, and those two words are interchangeable in the original Greek, so will he, the son of man, be lifted up to heal and save. In John’s Gospel as distinct from the other gospels, where the cross is the prelude to resurrection glory, in John’s gospel the being lifted up itself on the cross is itself a part of Jesus being lifted up to glory which continues in the resurrection and ascension. The cross itself is full of glory because it celebrates love, another central theme of this gospel. Then follows that verse probably most famous of all, seen everywhere from placards at the Olympic Games to churches all over the world. What that verse centrally affirms is that God is the God of love. That has been just spoken of when we heard that the son of man must be lifted up. Rather than the narrow God of harsh judgment we learn the central truth that God’s love knows no bounds but rather extends to the whole world. This ironically is somewhat contrary to the narrow restrictive theologies of so many who use this verse. Our final verse affirms again the early church reflection on that truth, when it affirms, by that time acknowledging that Jesus is the Son of God, that God did not send his son into the world to judge but rather to save.

What do we take from such a reading as that of today? First Jesus cannot be contained within the old categories. Jesus is so radically different he blows them apart. To share in that way with Jesus is so radical that the best metaphor to be used is that you need to be reborn. Only such a radical metaphor can pick up the radicality of the change that is brought about by our following Jesus. Those reborn in such manner are reborn in the Spirit, and the Spirit like the wind knows no restraints. It can’t be boxed in. As followers of Jesus we have a wonderful freedom. That freedom however, is a freedom to love, for that is the second great theme of our gospel today. It is that love of God as seen in Christ which brings life. It is that love we are called to bear to bring life. Love lies at the heart of our faith. That love, not Law, not religious prescriptions or whatever which is celebrated by Paul in his letter to the Romans where he gives Abraham as the great example. He journeys the journey of faith and love. Let us do likewise.      
John Queripel

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<![CDATA[From the deserts the prophets come]]>Mon, 10 Mar 2014 01:42:24 GMThttp://chapelbytheseabondi.weebly.com/sermons/from-the-deserts-the-prophets-comeGenesis 2: 15-17, 3:1-7  
Matthew 4:1-11

Lent 1  9th March 2014  Year A

Jesus goes into the desert.for between and waters and the annunciation of the call to living, there must be a desert sojourn. As was the case for Israel of old where the passing through the waters of the Red Sea would be followed by a desert journey and the giving of the Law on a mountain, so here the passing through the waters by Jesus at baptism is followed by his desert sojourn, that in turn being followed by his giving of a new law on another mountain. Matthew in his writing is wishing to make the parallel very explicit. In this Jesus there is a new exodus out of slavery, the reception of a new law, to live as a new community. To reach that point there must be a time of orientation and testing between. For Israel that time was a 40 year exodus journey, a time in which they bowed to temptation, while for Jesus representing the new Israel there is a 40 day retreat to the desert where he succeeds in resisting the trials and temptations put before him. The number 40 is one commonly used in the Scriptures and really signifies ‘a long time.’
Taking up the earlier Marcan story Matthew expands it filling in more details. What informs him in giving these details is not that he was there and knew Jesus’ temptations, but rather  the ancient account of the desert sojourn of the Israelites of old. Thus Matthew has Jesus faced with the very same temptations with which Israel were faced. This is all part of Matthew, being the most Jewish of all the gospels, to use parallel, or what the biblical scholars call midrash, to show that Jesus is the fulfillment of the biblical hope. Thus while the Israel of old fails the new Israel of Jesus succeeds in meeting each of the three temptations with which he is faced.

Let us turn to those temptations. Israel we know was miraculously provided with provisions in the desert, the quail, bread and water. Nonetheless they failed in still not trusting God. In one episode at Manasseh their complaints were such that their tradition from that time often referred to that place as being synonymous with their lack of faith in God. ‘Did you bring us out into the desert to die’ they complained to Moses. It would be better to go back to slavery in Egypt. In the particular case of bread they again failed. Promised bread each day in the desert and enough to sustain them on the sixth day over the Sabbath, they sought instead to hoard it. Jesus is faced with the same temptation to do with bread. Thus Satan,, and one can take the figure literally or metaphorically as symbolizing evil and temptation, comes to Jesus and seeks to test him by calling him to turn stones into bread. Temptation is subtle of course masking itself as piety by using the old tradition by saying God must provide for you in the desert. If God does not, why serve God? Jesus, unlike the Israel of old, resists the temptation, giving evil its answer by quoting from the Scriptural tradition. Thus whereas Israel failed to trust God even in the midst of God’s provision for them, Jesus shows trust in God even in the midst of deprivation.

We then come to the second temptation. The evil one taking on board Jesus’ answer comes back at Jesus along the lines of, well if God then cares for you such to the point that you do not even need bread, then surely God’s care will extend to your doing something wonderfully spectacular for God. Go then and cast yourself off the pinnacle of the temple. What makes the temptation more powerful is that Scripture is quoted in order to justify it. Little wonder it is said that ‘the devil can quote Scripture.’ Perhaps never before has Scripture being more misused in order to justify all sorts of evil than it is today! Jesus once again retorts to the evil one using Scripture. ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’ The Israel of old had for them provided miracles in the desert which enabled them to survive and should have fortified their trust in God, and yet they failed. Jesus has no need of miracles to sustain his trust in God. What a lesson this is for faith today which seems to be ever more centred on the need for the miraculous and spectacular in order to sustain faith.

Thus we come to the third temptation, Jesus facing a temptation that would ever be before him for the rest of his ministry. The temptation is a very alluring one. Your ends are good so why not use power to obtain them. The evil one has Jesus from a high mountain image the kingdoms of the world. No doubt then as now the wrongs and evils of those kingdoms are before Jesus. If you truly want the good says the evil one then take these kingdoms from my hands and thus possessing them bring about good in them. The exchange is simple. All you need do is fall down before me and offer worship. Jesus is tempted with power, the use of the methodology of the world. Through the gospels it is clear that Jesus does indeed possess power. He raises by his charisma a tribe of followers. How tempting it would be for Jesus to misuse that power, as do so many then and now, politicians and religious leaders among them, but Jesus resists the temptation. He knows he cannot bring the good by those means. Thus Jesus tells the evil one that worship belongs only to God alone. Here again Jesus succeeds in overcoming temptation in the desert whereas the Israel of old failed, that failure seen in their construction of the golden calf at the foot of Mt. Sinai. After thus successfully resisting the evil one three times Jesus turns and says ‘begone.’ It is interesting that the only other time Jesus uses those words ‘begone Satan’ is when Peter later tempts him in the same manner, to yes go to Jerusalem but in power and prestige, but not to suffer and die as Jesus has intimated he must.

In a world and church increasingly attracted by the use of power, where manipulation is a scientifically worked out system employed by spin doctors, Jesus way stands as still the great challenge for us.

Like Jesus perhaps we need our desert sojourns in order to prepare us to live the way that God would have us to live, to follow the path that God would have us follow. The deserts have always been the places from where it is said the prophets come. They come from that experience of radically preparing themselves, from time spent in that solitude which strips all else away so leaving us facing our deepest inner impulses, fears and wants. It is interesting that another great faith tradition has its founder likewise in solitude facing those same deep impulses, before he, like Jesus, is able to commence his ministry. I am referring of course to Siddhartha Gautama, to be known following his passing through the time of trial and temptation as the Buddha.

To take that time is to acknowledge just how subtle and yet profound evil can be and the need to be prepared for it. That subtle depth of evil is what our story from Genesis is all about. It gives no real explanation for evil impulses but rather seeks to acknowledge their very real presence in the heart of human existence, present from the very beginning. Already there from the beginning with all their subtlety and depth evil is present.

Today we are often so busy doing and planning, surrounding ourselves with noise, even in our religious life, that we never allow ourselves to take that space, that silence, to explore our deeper motivations. Having not allowed our times that truly sacred space and time we are unable to face those trials and temptations when they come to us. Jesus having faced them off in the desert was however ready to meet them in his life and ministry. We do well to follow his example.                           John Queripel

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<![CDATA[Transfigured Understandings: Suffering & Divinity]]>Mon, 03 Mar 2014 01:46:00 GMThttp://chapelbytheseabondi.weebly.com/sermons/transfigured-understandings-suffering-divinityExodus 24:12-18
Matthew 17:1-9                    


Transfiguration 2nd  March 2014 Year A

We don’t do the sacred, the mysterious or the transcendent very well. As a secularised society we find these things very difficult. The ancients, and indeed many cultures even today, handle these things far more proficiently and with greater aplomb than we ever could. They understand that there is a need for sacred space and one doesn’t just go blundering into it. Rather one enters with awe and trepidation, wonder and fear. Our stories from the Scriptures, one from the Hebrew Scriptures and one from the Christian Scriptures are accounts of such entering into the realm of awe and wonder. The experience, as we can see in these two accounts, can be overwhelming and transforming.
This is certainly the case for Moses as he ascends Mount Sinai. Mountains are of course the usual place for such encounters. He receives the Ten Commandments and descends again to the realm of the mundane. He transformed however brings that transformation with him with the commandments to be the mark of a transformed community. So transformed is he by the encounter that those who initially meet him following the descent are afraid to come near him. His face having encounted the divine has a mysterious shine about it so strong that they need have it veiled. We can see just how overwhelming then is the divine encounter that those unprepared for it are completely unable to deal with it, to the point that we are told elsewhere about this episode that they are not even to set foot upon the holy mountain. The sacred encounter still has that ability to break people. Our hospitals and psych units are full of such people overwhelmed by their encounter with the divine. The high incidence of such illness couched in religious terms is a sure sign of our inability and lack of training to handle the sacred as it touches our lives. We have no mechanism with which to handle it. Indeed so fearful of it are we that we refuse to even allow the silence in which it could take place. We instead clutter up our lives with noise and doings.

The Jewish people knew all about transcendence. Determined to preclude God being conveniently formed in our own image to meet our own needs, they held that God could neither be imaged nor named. Despite such cultural training in dealing transcendence Peter, James and John are nonetheless overwhelmed by the experience they undergo on the mountain as described in our Gospel. We are of course again in the usual place for such transcendent experiences and sacred encounters, up upon a mountain. The usual sorts of things occur, mist, cloud, change of appearance and clothes, the very same things as happened on the mountain with Moses long before. Then Moses and Elijah appear. They represent the great symbols of the Law and the Prophets. Jesus, they are testifying, is the fulfilment of both these.

Yet in the midst of classic religious imagery to do with the divine and transcendence I want to suggest something far more radical happens. Matthew like Mark before him, and also like his contemporary Luke, places the story immediately following the episode of Peter’s confession of faith that Jesus is the Messiah, that in turn being followed by Jesus’ preaching to those going with to Jerusalem and how that journey will culminate in his death and of how it will entail for those going with him that they pick up their own cross. To this Peter responds that such an ignominious death must never come to Jesus, with Jesus in turn responding with great vehemence calling Peter’s protest that framed by Satan.

Given the context then in which this account takes place it represents not the classic epiphany of divine power but rather is a means of transforming the image we hold of the divine. In Jesus the divine leaves that sphere of the transcendent and mysterious behind to descend down the mountain and continue that journey to Jerusalem and suffering death. That those symbolising the Law and Prophets give testimony to his way is to confirm it against Peter’s earlier rebuke that this must not happen to Jesus. The episode with the heavenly words of God, ‘this is my beloved son, with whom I am pleased’ is paralleled with a previous occasion when those same words were uttered by God, the baptism of Jesus. In this episode Jesus is being baptised into his suffering death. As he was baptised into his ministry now he is being baptised into the culmination of that ministry.

Here then we have a transformation, a transfiguration of the divine. God rather than being remote from human suffering, omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient, is now the one who in Christ chooses to be specifically present in our world with all the limitations which human existence brings. However, even more than that, the human existence which God in Christ takes on, is one which involves suffering and death. The divine normally encountered in the transcendent mountaintop experience is found now in the midst of our world, even at the point of its greatest injustice and suffering. After-all could there be a greater unjust suffering than that which will be meted out upon Jesus when he reaches Jerusalem?  The mountaintop points to Jerusalem. It is there that the truer and fuller encounter with the divine will take place, the point where God in Christ suffers in the midst of, and for the world. For the Christian the encounter with God is not through the mystical taking place in some transcendent place but through the cross, as sign of suffering for and with our world. The transcendent and mystical only have validity when rooted in our world.

This surely is the lesson in both our stories from the Gospel and from the Hebrew Scriptures. The transcendent experience for Moses is to equip him to lead the community on the continuation of the exodus journey, that community living in a new manner, under the commandments of God which he passes to them. The Gospel story links also with that exodus tradition. The tents that are offered by Peter are those usually used during the harvest season when the harvesters, rushing to get the harvest, would sleep out in the field. They later became associated with the Exodus story and the need to camp along the way. In Jesus a new exodus to freedom, a new liberation is taking place. How strange however, that a journey into suffering and death is liberating. How can Jesus’ journey be so liberating? It is so because it tells us that God is always present with us. There is nowhere which is ‘God forsaken’. God is not just present in the mystical religious experience, in the transcendent places, but present in the whole of the human journey even when it is a journey to death; an unjust, torturous death in this case. There is a transformation, a transfiguration of both the concepts of the divine and human suffering. No longer is human suffering pointless or God forsaken. Instead God is present in the midst of our human existence, even in its suffering. The God present in only the good times, or only in the times of mountain top religious experience is not much help when most needed. The God who joins us in our human journey in all of its aspects, especially in its suffering, is the God by whom we are much better served.

Jesus’ journey into that suffering service is affirmed by the divine voice, ‘this is my son in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.’ Let us coming down from the mountain top go with him.                        
John Queripel

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<![CDATA[Subversive Wisdom]]>Mon, 24 Feb 2014 01:43:34 GMThttp://chapelbytheseabondi.weebly.com/sermons/subversive-wisdomLeviticus 19:1-2, 9-18 
Matthew 5:38-48

Epiphany 7  23rd February 2014     Year A

This week’s excerpt from Matthew completes the series of antitheses from the Sermon on the Mount with which we began last week. ‘You have heard it said….but now I say to you.’ In such manner we have already seen Jesus tells us of how while in the past there was to be no murder, now there is to be no hatred; while there was to be no adultery now there is to be no lust; how in the past divorce was permitted with a certificate, now marriage is indissoluble (a protection for a woman’s dignity in that society) and last how in the previously there was a prohibition on swearing false oaths while now there is to be no swearing of oaths at all. Now we turn to the final two of the antitheses, the giving of an eye for an eye being replaced by a turning of the other cheek and the going of the second mile and last the past call to love one’s neighbour and hate one’s enemy being replaced with the call to love one’s enemy. Jesus is both deepening and intensifying the Law or Torah but at points is also prepared to break it. This is no mean feat in a context where the Law or Torah was becoming ever more strongly the identity of the Jewish people. Cast by Matthew as a new Moses upon a mountain with a new Law Jesus is seen as one by Matthew who is even greater than Moses. This was indeed a high call given Matthew’s readers who, though being followers of Jesus, were still so firmly established within the Jewish tradition.
The two antitheses which are found in our gospel reading today are among the most distinctive and often quoted teachings of Jesus. The injunction to turn the other cheek when already struck on one, and to give one’s cloak, used for night time protection, also when one’s clothes are demanded, and to carry a soldier’s load an additional mile beyond that which he could legally require is to make a series of radical demands. Choosing not to retaliate but rather to serve more generously than was unjustly demanded by the oppressor is a supreme test of the human spirit. Yet these examples are not as innocent as they may first appear. To turn the other cheek would require the enemy to dishonor himself by using his left hand to strike that cheek. To relinquish one’s legal right to the overnight protection of a cloak would be to disclose the shameful conduct of the oppressor. To insist on carrying the soldier’s equipment an additional mile would undermine his sense of supremacy, as well as deftly challenging his capacity to control and coerce by his military powers. This is all representative of subversive wisdom at its best. Using the means of the oppressor it turns those means against them.

In this one is reminded of the example of Mahatma Gandhi who acknowledged his indebtedness to this sermon. Gandhi often subverted the power of the colonial oppressor by making clear the depth of the unjust nature of that oppression. The famous salt march comes to mind. The British had precluded the collection of salt, an abundant natural resource as they wished to tax it. Gandhi indicated to one and all just what he was to do marching to the sea and collecting it. When later he and his supporters walked to the Salt Works in order to claim those works to be met by brutal means which lay bear the wrong of British rule, the game was up for the oppressor. Negotiations would have to take place between the viceroy and Gandhi who course then to make the point clear took some of the salt he had collected with him to that meeting.

There is no commandment to hate one’s enemy in the Hebrew Scriptures though there are plenty of examples of tribal violence and even ethnic cleansing directed to the enemies of ancient Israel. It is easy of course to love one’s neighbour while at the same time exacting vengeance on one’s enemy. Jesus tells us anyone can do that and then calls us to a higher and more perfect way. To be truly authentic the person of faith must do far better than caring only for a neighbour or friend. To be ‘perfect just as your father in heaven is perfect’ requires a calling to this higher and more holy path as exemplified by loving one’s enemies. Once again what a subversive action this represents. It breaks down all the coercive power structures of the world. What would it mean if, as those who follow Jesus, we listened not to the many voices in our world spewing words of hatred against our so called enemies but instead listened to Jesus’ words? What difference would mean to the church if we really practiced these injunctions?

We have lost Jesus’ call to a radical and new Law which reaches into our very hearts searching out our motivations and calling us to a holiness of living. That emphasis we find here and right through Matthew’s gospel where Jesus is seen as one who deepens and intensifies the Law and the call to ethics, an exceeding of the ‘righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees’ lost out to a view where the Law was understood as a negative to be replaced by faith and grace. Gradually the figure of Jesus became isolated from his Jewish roots and was seen soon as one who stood against that tradition. So radical was the separation of Jesus from those Jewish roots that a Christian scholar, Marcion, as early as the second century could call for the exclusion of the Jewish Scriptures from the Christian Scriptures, while also calling for the excision of a large part of the gospels, in particular that of Matthew. You can see how we lost so easily the radical call of Jesus to ethical living by this new Law which springs from the old. Christians still like to contrast themselves as people of grace and distinct and superior to the people of Law and when they do so they risk emptying their faith of radical the ethical demands such as Jesus gives here.

Our reading from Leviticus gives us some examples of the ethical demands that an understanding of God makes upon us. The Jewish people were largely unique in the ancient world in that they understood that religion was not confined to the cultus, to the religious ritual, the appeasement of God by such means, but that faith also had an ethical dimension, thus the development of the Law or Torah, 613 laws which were to govern their life together as a community of God’s people, before God. 

There are many of those Laws which we may rightly find distasteful, such as the punishment of death by stoning for disrespect shown to one’s parents (I wonder how many of us would still be living!) or that to have intercourse with another man’s slave was punishable by less than to do so with a free woman; or just plain strange such as a couple found here to do with cross-breeding of animals or plants or that there could be no mixing of cloth in one garment. Thus the reading today has been carefully chosen by those who set our lectionary or cycle of readings to exclude such. We find however, a clear call for a just living with each other before God. In that calling there is a special concern for the poor. In a society almost entirely agricultural precepts are given which ensure their well-being.

At a time when there is so much individualistic searching for spiritualities, both Christian and otherwise, those which serve oneself and lack a concern for one’s neighbour we are reminded by Jesus so deeply rooted in the Torah tradition that faith and spirituality must have an ethical dimension. There is a call to a just and holy living. That living subverts the values of our world. It lays bare its manifold oppressions and wrongs showing them for what they really are. In such living we live in true faith, in true alignment with that way of Jesus to which he calls us. Let us hear that call to a subversive living but not to hear but go so to live!                                                                      
John Queripel

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<![CDATA[Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany]]>Mon, 17 Feb 2014 03:20:04 GMThttp://chapelbytheseabondi.weebly.com/sermons/sixth-sunday-after-the-epiphanyPsalm 119: 1-8 Matthew 5: 21-37

Year A Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany February 16th 2014

Hmmm

Where do I start?

I’ll keep this week short and sweet. 
‘I will praise you with an upright heart as I learn your righteous laws.’

Aleph – Alpha – The Beginning.

This is the beginning of something new. A shift from an eye for an eye, to reconciliation, toward a way, which include forgiveness, includes learning to be righteous. There is a hint of this fundamental shift from the angry God of old to the new God to come in Psalm 119 as God asks us to seek Him with all our hearts and praise him during our learning.

Matthew continues in the Gospel reading of this week, with Jesus now being clear on what keeping the law truthfully means. It’s shifting from some ritualistic construct, as in Psalms, to a new place within the heart, a place within the soul, the spirit, to the light in relationship with Him and with us.

Timing plus. I love how God works. He confronts us with what we need to work upon. And this reading is about relationship. With Him, with your partner, with your neighbour with yourself.  That the only way to create relationship with Him, with Love, is through behaviours He commands from us. We don’t literally need to poke our eyes out when walking along Bondi Beach, nor cut off our hands. We know what’s right, really, when we look within ourselves. We know that looking at that person sunbaking at the beach, while walking with our partner who loves and trusts us, really isn’t ok. That somewhere deep within hurts them and it hurts us. But we’re human. And we know that it’s really difficult to keep our eyes firmly focused on Love, rather than the short term fulfilment that lust brings. That the challenges of a long term relationship, no matter how difficult, hurt far less than the pain that betrayal in your heart or the heart of the one you love will bring, to both of you and your extended family, friends and community. The light that Love brings, surpasses anything physical. It radiates, it shines. It illuminates all those around, and it is truly good.

The right, in the old and new testaments represent the right side of God, the side being that of Mercy, goodness, kindness, benevolence, of masculinity and harmony. In the body, it represents the conscious nervous system, self-awareness. It represents world knowledge, and the ability to work within the constructs of the world and in helping others. If we are to falter in being able to remain righteous then it is better to cut the infected area away, be that an adulterous relationship, working too many hours in the office, being on the internet too much, holding onto anger, gossiping, speaking ill of your neighbour, selfishness, sex for lust rather than sex as spiritual fulfilment and then there’s always that negative self-talk. It’s better to get rid of it. But how? It’s really hard to give away these learned and earned behaviours, the ones we have to protect ourselves, the ones through fear and some argue , the ones ingrained by an animal predisposition. The spirit asks a lot more from us. It is a higher place of being. And it is truly necessary to ask Jesus to help us here. Digging out negative behaviours can be done through the gifts God gives to people here on earth who support us wanting to work through physical, emotional and spiritual issues and Jesus is the one to call to, for supernatural healing, to give Him these hindrance’s, to give them to the one that sits at the right hand of the Lord.

The right hand pillar of Mercy. Where Jesus sits with God at His throne. Jesus is the mercy we require to get through the rough road to remaining faithful. To Him and to the people in our lives and to ourselves.

Relationship means a whole lot of things. Yes of course it makes sense to remain faithful and true to the ones you love. It’s pretty messy if you don’t because people get hurt, and this is where the light, as we know it, gets covered. We can build huge brick walls within ourselves, blocking out any connection we may wish to share. Those brick walls could have been created through relationships in our childhood. Through abuse, through addiction. But what Jesus is saying to us here is that to promise Him and ourselves and the ones we reach out to with love, to the ones who are damaged, to ourselves who are damaged. That Yes means Yes and No means No. No pussy footing around. Just be honest. Just hand over your challenges to him. This is a journey. We’re not perfect.

I will praise you in an upright heart as I learn your righteous laws.

I am not perfect. I get angry, I make mistakes, I have broken relationships, I get sick, I have guilt and sadness and loss. I could feel sorry really for myself, I could play a victim. But I won’t. I choose not too. That right eye, that right hand, that right part of my body I need to throw away in order to give it to God, will save me from Hell. Here and for eternity. I know Christ died for me, because there is no way, and I say this often, to myself and others, there is no way on earth I would make it through this life alone and get into the gates of heaven, even if I had a million life times to get it perfect, because honestly I’m not. I’m honest about that.  But Christ is. Perfect and merciful, and loving, and forgiving. God loves us so much, He just says, give it to Him.

I hope you’re able to be honest with yourselves too, and if not, listen to the ones that love you. Because honesty gets you everywhere. It will give you better relationships. Allow others to make healthy decision for themselves, allow you to make healthy decisions for yourself and the wider world and ultimately allow you to ask God for forgiveness and guidance. He wants you to feel peace and joy. That’s gonna occur when you’re aware that His teachings are there to benefit, not stifle your life.

Be good to one another, reconcile quickly, speak your truth, be compassionate, listen. Be heard. Go out and do what you’re here to do and know you are loved. Knowing you are loved will allow you to love, in whatever form that takes.

That doesn’t mean be a doormat. It does mean being real.

Be real. Be light and go in God’s good grace.

I could have given a speech on Valentine’s Day. I could’ve been self-righteous. But I can’t do those things today. I do have a relationship with Jesus. He is my first love. Every day is Valentine’s day, when I give myself to Him.

And self-righteous…me? Naaaa. Not by a long shot…my past is blacker than black, and the light revealed through that darkness, shines, like a diamond.

God bless, thank you Jesus and may the Holy Spirit continue to shine with lots of Love. 

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<![CDATA[A call to a higher way]]>Mon, 17 Feb 2014 01:38:23 GMThttp://chapelbytheseabondi.weebly.com/sermons/a-call-to-a-higher-wayDeuteronomy 30:15-30
Matthew 5:21-37

Epiphany 6  16th February 2014     Year A

As we have followed through this section of Matthew’s gospel known as the Sermon on the Mount we have noted how Jesus is cast by Matthew as being a new Moses bringing a new Law. Like that of old it is associated with a mountain, often seen in all sorts of cultures as being places close to God. Here however Jesus is seen as being more than Moses for while Moses receives the Law of old as pronounced by God, Jesus here pronounces himself the new Law. The Law that Jesus gives intensifies and deepens the old Law by searching into people’s hearts and motivations. Yet it also, despite Matthew having Jesus say, ‘not an iota of the Law will be done away with’ (5:17-19) in actuality has Jesus countermanding the Law at several places.
The Hebrew Scriptures had looked forward to a time when hearts of stone would be changed to hearts of flesh (Ezekiel 11:19-20) and to the time when the Law would be inscribed not upon stone but on people’s hearts (Jeremiah 31:33). In this Gospel by the words of Jesus reaching to the purity of people’s hearts we are meant to understand that this time has come as he searches our inner motivations and desires.

Our reading today begins with Jesus referring to the sixth commandment in the Decalogue or ten commandments regarding killing. Jesus desires to drive this command deeper to its motivational source. Anger breeds that which leads to killing. If you call your neighbour an ‘imbecile’ or ‘blockhead’, which is what literally the word used here means, you begin that process of depersonalization whereby you may end up killing them. Rabbi Eliezar just after the time of Jesus (c.90) gives us an interesting parallel, ‘those who hate their neighbour belong to the shedders of blood.’ To act in such manner charges Jesus has very severe consequences, the casting into the fires of ‘hell’ (literally Gehenna). Gehenna, is a valley south of Jerusalem where originally the god Moloch had been worshipped and which was at this time the place where the city’s refuse was burnt. According to popular belief the final judgment would take place. This Gehenna image is one well-liked by Matthew and he uses it another six times.

The leaving of the gift at the altar tells us that the Christians, most of them Jews, were still involved in temple worship with this requirement. We are told however, that not even religious duties, no matter how sacred or important, are to take preference over those duties commanded by God to our neighbour. These verses go even beyond that called for earlier. Here there is not just a prohibition of the negative anger, but a positive call to reconciliation with those whom one has offended, and not only just with those who have offended oneself. It can be easy to forgive a wrong-doer to you and be reconciled with them. Coming from this weaker position oneself being the guilty one the disciple’s call is all the harder.

Next Jesus speaks to the seventh commandment, adultery. As anger is the motive behind killing, so lust is the motive behind adultery. Again Jesus is concerned to deepen the Law to the question of motivation and purity of desire. This idea of using the eye in looking then links us to that section following where two metaphors are used, the first being the eye, to indicate the seriousness of avoiding wrong. The metaphor makes clear the seriousness with which Jesus here deals with wrongdoing and even wrong desire. One is called to a truly radical holy living.

Then follows another section, contrasting the righteousness of the Scribes and the Pharisees with that to which Jesus calls us. Divorce was permitted under the Law (Deuteronomy 24:1-4) giving permission for a man to write his wife a bill of divorce if his wife, ‘finds no favour in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her.’ Indeed the Law demanded a man divorce his wife if she was not found to be a virgin at the point of consummation (Deuteronomy 22:13-14). Jesus forbids divorce. No exception to that ruling by him is allowed for in parallels to this reading in Mark 10:11 and Luke16:18 while Matthew’s Jesus allows for the exception of ‘unfaithfulness’ (here and 19:9). Matthew understands the church having been given the power to ‘bind or loose’, to adapt and make exceptions to the commands of Jesus (16:19, 18:18), and this would seem to be a case of such use of this authority by the early church. As for the reason it is hard to know. It may be associated, in this the most Jewish influenced of the early churches, with the ‘unfaithfulness’ of prohibited marriage unions under the Jewish Law (Leviticus 18:6-18). With Gentiles coming into this church not bound by Jewish marriage codes it may have acted as a way in which they could break these marriages not sanctioned by the Torah. As such I would see this as a falling from the original intention of Jesus. Paul likewise allows exceptions to the rigour of this command (1 Corinthians 7:12-15). Given that women were the ones harshly and inequitably treated by the divorce codes of the Law Jesus may well have them in mind by this prohibition. The original allowance of divorce Jesus claims later in this gospel was ‘due to their hardness of heart’ (19:7-8). The nature however of the children of the kingdom is precisely a changed and pure heart. Thus in the original intention of Jesus the exception is removed. Here of course Jesus is at his most radical not only deepening the Law but actually abrogating it!

The fourth contrast between the old Law and that which is new given here by Jesus is to do with oaths. The Law forbade untruthful oaths in the third of the Ten Commandments. Given that oaths were given in the name of God, the making of false oaths was taking God’s name in vain. Penalties were thus severe. In the time of Jesus so as to avoid the swearing of an oath so serious in God’s name people swore by other things, ‘by heaven’, ‘by earth’, ‘by Jerusalem’ or ‘by one’s head’. All of these subterfuges are rejected by Jesus. These things after-all are all given by God and are dependent on God. Thus Jesus forbids oaths ipso-facto. Here again he is radically rejecting the letter of the Scriptures which in places called for oaths to be made. The community of his followers should hold the truth in such high regard that there is no need for them. A strong ‘yes’ or ‘no’ was sufficient. Jesus preceded his important statements with such, words that are often translated ‘amen, amen.’

Jesus presents for us a radical challenge, a challenge in which we have all surely failed. He calls us to a holy living, a living transformative of our living and through our living our world. We may like to domesticate Jesus making him one who affirms our way, but the Jesus here presented is anything but that. He calls us to aspire to perhaps unreachable heights. Perhaps he does so in order to strip away any false smug self-righteousness we may hold as we compare ourselves to others who we like to cast as ‘sinners.’ To call us to the heart of a new Law Jesus is prepared to intensify and deepen that of old, but on occasions even to break that which was holiest to his faith tradition and community. How often do we find circumlocutions around our deep ethical responsibilities by our claiming to be good in that we keep to the external aspects in being ‘good?’ Jesus calls us to something far deeper, a radical inward purity which leads to a true living for the good. In this is true life. As the Deuteronomist had written, ‘I have set before you life and good, death and evil…choose therefore life.’ Let us so choose life that we and others may live. It is in that calling we find our lives transformed and through that transformation our world transformed. 

John Queripel

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