Sunday reflection 22 May

Readings: Acts 15:22-29; Psalm 67:2-8; Rev 21:10-14; John 14:23-29

Lent and Easter occur each year as a spiritual ‘reset’: discard our old habits and adopt practices and a frame of mind that will draw us closer to God and God’s reign. Today’s Gospel sets out the promises for those who believe.

Firstly, Jesus said, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love them,
and we will come to them and make our dwelling with them.” There can be times when we feel adrift and alone – but this promise of faith of God being with us? Happy that person! Yet, it is a different way of saying what we hear at Christmas: Emmanuel – ‘God with us’. If we truly love Jesus that means that we pray regularly and are also a person of love and compassion to those around us. So our faith and living it are what connect us to God.

Likewise with that connection in faith we will listen to and hear the promptings of the Holy Spirit – so that we can call to mind at the right time the teachings of Jesus. Thus the faith connection can keep us on an even keel through life’s challenges.

The third promise Jesus makes in this Gospel is peace. Our faith connection can help us to deal with what life throws at us and can allow us to be people of love and compassion. Surely a consequence of that is being at peace.

So, whether it is through our connection with God – as Father, Son and Spirit – or through being at peace, faith brings rewards that are worth the effort.

Sunday reflection 15 May

Readings: Acts 14:21-27; Ps 145:8-13; Rev 21:1-5; John 13:31-35

What might the full life of Easter look like?

In today’s Gospel Jesus says: ’Love one another as I have loved you’. We have heard these words so many times – and their challenge remains. When we want to judge and hate on others, we have missed the point of our universal connection in Christ, in God, with every other thing in the universe. Instead we are judging and hating on part of ourselves. When we greet others with acceptance and compassion – we make their day, and our own.

That brings us to the second clause in that sentence: ‘as I have loved you’. Let’s say we’re getting it right, we’re loving, accepting and compassionate – but are we doing as Jesus did – who loved unto death? That’s a big ask. That really raises the bar. Thus the ongoing challenge of this passage.

The second reading reminds us of a central tenet of our faith: God dwells with us. Yet our hang-ups or feelings of lack of worthiness push God away – somewhere, anywhere else. I am sinful – so are we all – but God dwells with us. We do not earn this. It is grace. We know of and ‘believe’ in grace but are we willing to let go in our hearts and minds and accept our failings – and so accept God’s unearned favours to us?

As much as we can live this we will be closer to the full life – and our salvation.

Sunday reflection 8 May

Readings: Acts 13:43-52; Psalm 100:1-5; Rev 7:14-17; John 10:27-30

Over the past few weeks the readings have spoken about coming to faith, a journey best taken intentionally. Today’s readings speak about being ‘the sheep of his flock’ and that we ‘hear his voice’. If I am on an intentional faith journey, how am I encouraging that?

One way might be to see and foster my connection with those around me. How am I behaving as a brother or sister to others? Then we can take it one step further to follow our spiritual brother, Francis of Assisi, and behave as a sister or brother to all of creation. In what ways might that change my behaviour on an everyday basis?

If I am a sheep of his flock how am I working for justice and right relationships that will bring God’s reign? As a Church, how are we sheep of his flock? The kind of systematic harassment and persecution faced by early Christians is a long way from our current reality. Rather the Church finds itself in a place of relative power. Such power should only be used to bring God’s reign through justice and right relationships. In that sense much good has been done and is being done in hospitals, schools and other church-run charitable institutions. Yet, Pope Francis’ exhortation to pastors to ‘smell like the sheep’ is important. Many of us have been fortunate to be looked after in that way. Would that that were universal. As an organisation that does not fully embrace and utilise the God-given gifts of women, I pray that this Mother’s Day will mark the beginning of a change in the Church.

In the Gospel, Jesus says that ‘my sheep hear my voice’. On this intentional journey of faith, may we each take the time to listen for the voice of Jesus in prayer, scriptures, creation and our interactions with others.

Sunday reflection 1 May

Readings: Acts 5:27-32; Ps 30:2-13; Rev 5:11-14; John 21:1-19

The journey of coming to faith has highs and lows. There may be times when we are emboldened to speak of our faith, like the apostles in the first reading, and it doesn’t matter what the consequences are. We are happy to speak the truth of our faith.

Then there are times when it is all too much and we can feel like we are drowning until we feel God’s rescuing hand like in today’s psalm.

When things are going well we can see God’s hand in the people and events of our lives, turning things towards the good. Then there are times when we sit in awe and wonder at God’s majesty – that we might glimpse through God’s creation – such as today’s second reading.

Today’s gospel addresses the challenge of public lack of faith by Peter, who denied Jesus three times. Our leaders deserve to be held to account for their behaviour but it’s best for all of us if we leave the judging to God. Though that is easier said than done during an election campaign! Peter was a flawed individual but paid for his faith with his life. How might I hold up to such scrutiny?

The reassuring thing for us is that if Peter can stuff up so monumentally, our mistakes can be forgiven too. And when it comes to our leaders, of whatever situation, be compassionate with their faults – without putting them on a pedestal.

Sunday reflection 24 April

Readings: Acts 5:12-16; Psalm 118:2-24; Rev 1:9-19; John 20:19-31

Lent directs us towards Easter, so there is a lot of build-up. After the celebration of Easter, we can ask, ‘what now?’ In the end it is about living our faith, living the full life to which we are called at Easter. But what does that look like in reality?

In John’s Gospel, Jesus promises the disciples that the Holy Spirit will come to them after his death. In today’s Gospel, the disciples receive the Holy Spirit. The first reading demonstrates all that the disciples could achieve through the Holy Spirit. Yet our experience tells us that not everything goes to plan. There are challenges. There are difficulties. We can lack faith. What then?

Today’s Gospel tells the story of the apostle Thomas who is frequently called ‘doubting Thomas’ – with more than a hint of judgment. Would I have believed the disciples if I was told of Jesus’ resurrection? It is very easy to say ‘yes’. The story provides us with a few points from which we can learn: 1) Thomas made a mistake but he gets it right in the end 2) if a close disciple of Jesus can get it wrong, we are allowed to make mistakes too 3) blessed are we who have not seen Jesus yet we believe. As has been said, ‘failure is not in the falling down but the staying down’. 

The Gospel invites us to ‘come to believe’. The Gospel tells us that faith is a verb and it is also a process. So, if so soon after Jesus they had this idea of coming to believe, then it is OK for you and I to make mistakes, as part of our journey of faith.

Easter Sunday 2022

I don’t want pain – give me happiness!

On Easter Sunday we celebrate the completion of the cycle: the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. There are echoes of that cycle today. The longer we live, the more likely we are to discover that life comes through the cross. We cannot avoid pain and struggle. These last two years have emphasised that point. Then, as always, there have been opportunities for significant personal growth, new outlook or new capacity, through that pain.

Part of the fullness of life toward which we are all called at Easter (John 10:10) is to see others as God sees them – beloved children, our sisters and brothers. Our community – our family or otherwise – where we feel we belong.

What our faith teaches us is that we are saved in community, by community: ‘may the body of Christ bring us to everlasting life’. What does this look like? Whether it is those enduring a type of crucifixion due to illness, addiction, abuse or mental health issues, their resurrection comes through the prayer and concerted action of a community. Such a community works with and for all – since all are sisters and brothers. Such a community asks: what’s in it for we? The more whole and happy each member of the community is, the better it is for the community. Such is the work of the Holy Spirit which guides us into the truth (John 16:13) – about ourselves, our world and God – and calls us forward into the light, together.

Sunday reflection 10 April – Palm Sunday

Readings: Luke 19:28-40; Is 50:4-7; Ps 22:8-24; Phil 2:6-11; Luke 22:14 – 23:56

There is a double edge to Palm Sunday. Jesus is worshipped as he enters Jerusalem. Yet we know a similar crowd will be baying for his blood in a few short days. 

What should we take from the account of the events of Jesus’ passion and death? Here we go again? Rather, let us ponder these events, contemplating the intersections with our lives.

Ultimately, Jesus came to bring the reign of God. The scriptures tell us the reign of God is brought about through justice and right relationships. In following that path, that is why so many people, both here and overseas, march for peace and justice on Palm Sunday. 

Both the first reading from Isaiah, one of the songs of the suffering servant and the second reading from Paul’s letter to the Philippians emphasise that Jesus died willingly: ‘obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross’.

We can learn dignity in our trials, such as the death of a loved one, the pain of bullying or the many and varied ways that people have had to endure the pandemic. Like people of faith before us, we might utter the response from today’s psalm as we feel abandoned by God at times. Hopefully in the end we will echo the final verse from today’s first reading:

The Lord GOD is my help,
            therefore I am not disgraced;
I have set my face like flint,
            knowing that I shall not be put to shame. (Is 50:7)

Jesus preached peace and justice – but not in a subservient way. Rather his words of justice for the downtrodden annoyed the authorities so much, he was killed. Thus we can learn integrity. Ultimately, may we be people of justice like Jesus and so echo these adapted words from the prophet Micah:

Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly now. Love mercy now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.

Sunday reflection 3 April

Readings: Is 43:16-21; Ps 126:1-6; Phil 3:8-14; John 8:1-11 

God speaks to us through the prophet Isaiah: ‘see, I am doing something new!’ Humans watch the new out of curiosity, alert for danger. The new thing that God is doing is calling us together, as Paul said in the second reading, so that we might be one ‘in Christ’.

Another facet of this newness is seen in today’s Gospel. Rather than more judgment, Jesus shows us a way of wisdom and compassion. Elsewhere it has been said, ‘if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got’. You may prefer the quote attributed to Albert Einstein as a definition of insanity: ‘doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result’. Despite our almost burning need, we will not judge our way to a better world. The new way is old but easily forgotten: compassion and wisdom.

The Gospel shows the woman caught in adultery brought before Jesus. We may well ask, ‘what about the man?’ Jewish law states that the man and woman caught in adultery should be stoned to death (Lev 20:10). Sadly, patriarchy is not new. Patriarchy also undercuts God’s plan from Genesis 1 – men and women are created in God’s image. What Jesus does here is cast new light on this situation.

Jesus confronts the need for judgment by saying ‘let he who is without sin cast the first stone’. The older people are the first to realise the import of Jesus’ words. Jesus does not ‘let her off’. He names the woman’s behaviour as sinful but he does not condemn her.

This powerful passage goes to the heart of what it means to be human. Through this reminder of wisdom and compassion we can echo the response from today’s psalm: The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy. 

Sunday reflection 27 March

Readings: Joshua 5:9-12; Ps 34:2-7; 2 Cor 5:17-21; Luke 15:11-32

An important part of our Lenten journey is acknowledging that God’s love and mercy will always be there to carry us through. We do not deserve it. It is gift and grace. 

This is borne out in each of today’s readings. The Israelites have been brought out of slavery in Egypt by God and in our first reading come to the promised land. In the second reading Paul reminds us how when we are in Christ we are a ‘new creation’ and the ‘old things have passed away’. Importantly being in Christ is not just about my faith but about the community of faith to which we belong. How might we be God’s love by helping others feel more included in our communities?

The piece de résistance is in the Gospel. The parable of the Loving Father. While we know the parable by another name, the unconditional love of the father is the rightful focus of the story. The problem is that we have read into the text all of our judgmental attitudes, puzzling over the sons. Instead we should read out of the text the father’s love and forgiveness, the contrition of the younger son and the judgment of the older son.

We have heard it said ‘God’s ways are not human ways’. So let us emulate God’s ways, focusing on love and forgiveness. In that way we will live out the response from today’s psalm: ‘taste and see the goodness of the Lord’.

Held

Late summer twilight,

Balmy,

Sun’s glow fading.

The cacophony of crickets,

more than a sound

has a physical effect.

I am held

in a moment

of gratitude

for life.