Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Is there any hope?

“Is there any hope?” That was the question that was put to me by a friend and colleague. We were having a meal together after a long day of meetings filled with facts and figures, joys and sorrows in life and ministry.  We spent hours sharing, talking and eating. Eventually I answered his question and said, “Yes there is hope. But remember: Love God and pray for the Church.”

When I look at the descriptions that Jesus lays out for us in the Gospel (Luke 21.25-40) it might be frightening. It might be hard to remember that there is good going to come from the upheaval of not only this world, but of the entire cosmos. Looking at the state of the okiumene (Empire, the world) it is easy to get discouraged and doubtful. We spend some much of our lives trying to making ourselves feel safe and secure. Yet the world and its ways always seem to manage to ravage what we have and what we are leaving us on the side of the road like an abandoned child.

We do need to stop and recognize that there are things that we can do and situations we can exercise authority in but we can never have control. And when we recognize that we see that there is nothing in this world, this transitory life that we can honest have dominion over. Nothing of this world, this life is permanent: not the sun, the moon, the stars, this planet. Not the kingdoms, empires or nations of the earth. Nothing will remain. There will be signs that this life will pass away. There will be signs that things are about to change. No one will be left out of the judgment – not one person.

But lest you think that we are left without hope, we are not.  That is why we are getting ready for the coming of the King – and I don’t mean Elvis either, thank you, thank you very much. God decided that he was going to send his Son to “stabilize” the situation (and yes, the pun is intended). Jesus is our hope and there is no one and nothing better than that. The King is coming and is coming soon. We can expect to see great and awful things happening. Signs in the sun and the moon and the stars. We will see things happen between nations and kingdoms both earthly and spiritually including wars and rumours of wars. There will be earthquakes, acid rain, global warming and so on. Things are not going to get better soon. They will more than likely get worse.

Where is the hope? As I have said, it is in knowing that Jesus is coming and the sign of that is the cross. Jesus through his own life staked his claim to this earth and all that is in it. He brings with him his rule of the new earth and the new heaven. Our hope is in Jesus. The important part for us to play is to be willing and to actually seek out Christ to find in him something more profound than that which we call ‘Merry’ or ‘Happy’. We seek his presence. We want and desire his divine presence. We seek the serenity and calm of his presence. We seek to be in that place, in his presence for eternity. This is why it is our parish’s mission to seek, to see and to serve God in Christ – to find our perfect freedom. I pray that you rediscover the hope and the peace that God offers in Christ by loving us enough that he did not withdraw but give himself completely.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. (Romans 15:13)


Friday, November 6, 2015

Will you be a Charlie Brown?

Throughout the years that I was growing up, my dad had various nicknames for me. I came to realize that those names could be somewhat situational. For example, when we were discussing work, politics, religion (which for me were all the same thing!) or whatever, he would call me by my initials “R.J.” and at times when I was struggling, fearful or afraid of failing yet again, he would call me “Charlie Brown”. I was never quite sure as a kid, what he meant by that. And when I came to really understand who and what Charlie Brown was as a teenager, it became an irritant and a blessing all at the same time. After all, just how many times did Lucy coax Charlie Brown into trying to kick the football? And how many times did he try and fail? Every time she pulled that ball away! And why did Charlie Brown keep going back, over and over again? He goes back time after time because of the hope and possibility that this time might be different... that he would finally get his due and he would boot that ball over the moon. It is not in his nature to give up hope of to fail to return again.

What does this have to do with the widow and her mite? (Mark 12:38-44) Everything!

One needs to read this part of the Markan Gospel keeping in mind what Jesus has Jesus said about religion and religious people: There is no faith, no trust and no love in a self made person and in self reliance. Men and women of wealth were come to the Temple to in a sense, “Pay the Church”. They came and they gave our of their abundance, making a great show of how much they were giving by the noise of the coins they had purchased to pour into the Treasury. The Rich and powerful were pouring in the large amounts of coin in to the trumpets of the Treasury created quite a din as the coins made their way into the bank. The greater the gift, the greater the pride of the giver and the bigger show in giving. But this is not what God is looking for. As Jesus makes it clear, they gave out of their abundance and it has not really cost them anything. It has not pushed them into the hands of God but into a self reliance that God has blessed and so long as there is lots, there is no motivation to see what’s happening; with God and with others. What happens when their homeostasis shifts? What do they do then?

Jesus watch this all going on, then observed a widow who had bought two messily coins and dropped them in. They barely made a sound as they slid down the pipes. It was certainly not the great show that others had made but it was this widow that Jesus pointed out to the others has having gave more than anybody else. Everyone else had given out of their wealth, but she out of the little she had, gave all she had to give. Who of us, has done that? Who has run the race, kept the Faith and is ready to be poured out like a drink offering, offering all they you are and have? She came and offered what she has to give, and gave it to God as a sacrifice and as an act of worship, putting her life into God’s hands. How many of us are willing to do this?

Some of the scholars I have read say that she was giving for the last time and that she was going home to die. But I think that we make certain choices that do not guide us to a good conclusion. For example, we assume that she is old but we are not told that. Plus we assume that she is alone. This widow is not. Even if there was no family, God is with her and favours her mightily. And I think that this is a major mistake on our part – to think that God cannot see or hear and that God does not care.

I believe that this woman has learned how to put herself into the hands of God – to depend upon God. It is not something that any believer automatically does. It has to be learned so that it can be a habit and the generosity that comes from learning to give and to live sacrificially becomes a part of a person nature and character. We aren’t told but I think this is not the first time that she had done this – that she has come and given all that she has had to God, asking God to support and give to her. Choosing to give and to sacrifice so that others might live is what Jesus does and calls all who say that they believe in him to imitate him in his life, his death and his resurrection. We are called to participate in it all that – that we might be finally found in Jesus at the last Day.

So if I need to be a Charlie Brown, I accept that there are going to be things I am going to having keep trying and things I am going to have hope in because, for now it is beyond me and my reach. Why would I do this? Because it is a part of my witness in the world that God is at work in me and making me ready for him and the coming of his kingdom and the bringing of the eternity that we will spend with him. Will you come and be a Charlie Brown too?