All posts by Judy

Follow the Healer – to help carry each other’s burdens

Rev’d Peter Balabanski

Pentecost +5A Mt 11.14-30 – Healing Sunday

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. Mt 11.28-30

We carry terrible burdens in our lives. It never fails to shock me – the size of the burdens people stagger along under. It doesn’t matter how rich, how successful, how clever, how attractive, how good or how blessed a person is, there will often be a burden. It might be a terrible memory, a disabling sickness or injury, a poisoned relationship, a terrifying decision, a festering resentment, an unresolved sadness or guilt, a deep fear, a tormenting grief or regret – you name it. Each one is a burden, and each burden, carried alone and unrelieved, can cripple us in time.

Jesus says bring those burdens to him and he will give us the rest we long for. We lay them at the foot of his Cross and in return, he offers us his yoke. A yoke is a long piece of wood we sling over our shoulders with a heavy load swung from each end. Maybe this offer of a yoke doesn’t sound all that attractive at first glance.

One of my images of the yoke Jesus offers us is his arm around our shoulder. His skin bears the chafing with ours: his shoulder bear the weight with ours. He faces in the same direction we do; we don’t have to face our challenges alone.

I find this image encouraging because quite often, someone in pain gradually ends up alone. Their pain makes other people feel uncomfortable – maybe even guilty about not being able to help. And so, far from helping, sometimes people will even lash out with something illogical and cruel, writing sufferers off with cop-outs like They must have brought it on themselves. That’s what the Hindu / Buddhist doctrine of Karma works like. The suffering person must have done something to bring on their misfortune. Rape victims often suffer this too: ‘asking for it!’ And poor people in the developing world apparently ‘shouldn’t have had so many children’.

Followers of Christ are needed to help the world see things differently. Christ sees burdens and suffering through the eyes of compassion – through the eyes of a fellow sufferer: and so do the followers of Jesus. If Jesus, who was so good, could suffer the way he did, who’s to assume that bad things that happens to people could only be their own fault, or that their suffering is God’s judgement? The Cross shows me the opposite: that suffering is actually a place where God draws nearest to us. God chooses to be here in solidarity with us in our pain.

Jesus didn’t make his followers invulnerable. He was vulnerable himself. He became entirely one of us. He came to help us discover his freedom in our weakness; to give us peace with who we are. Jesus accepts our reality: our being human; mortal; and he loves us for it. Being mortal is a condition which means that suffering is inevitable for us. But into our mortality, Jesus brings healing – not an end to suffering; not a change in our being; not a cure – but healing. He puts an arm around our shoulder, and faces our pain with us. Healing. I once saw on a poster in a hospital; ‘Suffering is inevitable; misery is optional’.

And that’s where we can fit into the picture. Some women who’d lost partners to workplace accidents started visiting work-places where people had died. They went to help the survivors move towards healing and wholeness. They did it by staying with them in their time of suffering. That’s not easy, but they knew it’s what was needed to bring healing. These women ministered out of their own experience of suffering. They had true compassion, for they knew what that suffering felt like.

So if anyone with a sad past thinks they’re too damaged to give pastoral care, think again. In the way of Jesus, our pain is a qualification as one of His healers. Today can we see in our own arms the arms of Christ – just as we find his arms in the arms of the dear ones who help us. We’re called to follow the Healer; to help carry each other’s burdens; to be ready to shoulder them at times when they’re too heavy and they need to be handed over. That’s what it is to be the body of Christ. Amen

 

We rejoice to worhip together again

Rev’d Peter Balabanski

Pentecost + 5A –  Gen 22 1-14 –

The Aqedah and the Pandemic
Abraham bound his son Isaac … Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son (22:9-10).

Christians call this story “the sacrifice of Isaac” and Jews call it “the Aqedah” (the “binding” of Isaac). It’s always scandalised us. Is it a story of an abusive God? Of a deluded Abraham? Of religious violence at its worst? Or is it about God helping Abraham to discover grace? Many scholars say it’s essentially a tale of the shift from human sacrifice to animal sacrifice. That’s because of the mention of Mount Moriah, named elsewhere only in 2 Chr 3.1 as the mountain where Solomon built the Temple. So the sacrifice of the ram instead of Isaac at Moriah is for Jews the prototype of all the animal sacrifices to happen on the Temple Mount – Mt Moriah.
For very early Christians, Abraham’s obedience – being ready to sacrifice his son – was one of the greatest examples of his faith: (Heb 11:17, 19) By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac … He considered the fact that God is able even to raise someone from the dead. In Romans 4, Paul sees Abraham’s obedience as a model of faith against all odds, (Rom 4.32). And of course there’s the sense for Christians that this story foreshadows God’s self-giving in Jesus Christ.

God promises Abraham that he’ll be the father of a great nation. Yet he and Sarah endure long years of waiting. So they contrive the just-in-case birth of Ishmael with the servant woman Hagar. But at long last, the impossible happens; Sarah and Abraham rejoice in the birth of a boy they call Isaac [laughter]. But today, we see God demand a most horrible thing: “Take your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I will show you” (22:2).
We know the end of the story, thank heaven – we’ve just heard it. But what do we do with this story? I believe it can help us explore and address the difficulties confronting the people of the world at the moment. Let me explain.

For better or worse, not so long ago, we Australians lived in a world which seemed safe and predictable. Then came the fires and life’s certainties were rocked. With no time to recover, just as we were gathering resources to help, floods came. The word unprecedented was run up every masthead again. But in the background, like a growing storm-cloud, news was gathering about a new virus. In far distant places, we saw lockdowns, hospitals on life-support as staff went under, fear-crazed panic buying, normal freedoms axed, gatherings limited, then suddenly prohibited.

When that storm finally broke over us, our nation shut down; even churches had to close. Our predictable world – our old certainties, our plans, our security – none of them were safe. This catastrophe is mirrored for us in today’s shocking story of the binding of Isaac. Abraham’s hopes for a future – for a life with any meaning – were abruptly replaced by a vision of bitter emptiness. We felt these fears and confusion when we had to shut ourselves off from friends and family; from this parish family. Would we ever see each other again? Would we ever hold our loved ones again?

And yet here we are today, praise God, gathered again. At first I was shocked that this story was the one set for us to read on this day of joyful reunion. But on reflection, given the end of the story, it’s the right one for today. Our comfortable rhythm, for so many years, of predictability, of peaceful enjoyment of each other’s love and support has been shaken; threatened. We’ve learnt that it can’t be taken for granted – that it’s a fragile treasure which God has sustained and continued to bless for the 4,000 years since the gift of laughter was given back to Abraham and Sarah.

We rejoice today that we have also been given back that gift. I thank God that we are back here safe. We know what a treasure it is we’ve been given back, and I ask that our prayers and thanksgiving might bear practical fruit which can help poorer communities survive unimaginable threats in the coming days. ‘Whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple – truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.’ Mt 10.42 Amen

Faith can unite and divide

Rev’d Peter Balabanski

Pentecost +3A – Mt 10 24-39

Faith can unite families and friends – it can also divide us. It can be a costly commitment. Today’s Gospel calls us to explore the cost. Jesus tells his followers they must expect persecution and hardship as they follow his Way. Some of their families will divide because one member accepts and another rejects the Gospel. It won’t be easy to bear. But the importance of the mission is so great that all this must be faced and endured. Where does all this come from, and what is it to us?

Matthew’s record of the missionary teachings of Jesus – the Mission Discourse – was written down years after his ministry among us. It speaks out of a community struggling with the traumatic side of their missionary activities; family breakdowns, contempt from the mainstream community – accusations being misguided by some, and downright evil sect by others. The religious and civil authorities were united in their persecution of what they saw as a dangerous pop-up religion. They’d go for a believer’s family if it meant quickly wiping out the group. Power still protects itself like that today.

We might find it hard to imagine some of the words in this passage ever having crossed the lips of gentle Jesus. Yet they’re the sayings the community remembered when they were facing times of extreme stress. Many considered renouncing their faith altogether, apostasy. But it would have destroyed the morale of their little persecuted community. So they recalled and recorded the sayings in today’s Gospel to galvanise their courage; sayings which helped them remember what Jesus himself had gone through to bring them the message of the Kingdom.

They were disciples of the crucified one, they would follow his example. A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; … if they’ve called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household! … Followers of Jesus can live quiet, safe lives – not rock the boat; be left in peace to make our way. Or we can choose a life which responds to the extraordinary demands of Jesus’ teaching and his lived example.

That’s a life where we choose to love, to forgive, to heal, and to set captives free. Setting captives free is something daily more important as the number and misery of refugees around the world inexorably grows. Following Jesus is a life where we choose at every moment to be like him, confronting violence with peace, standing up for justice, mercy and faith, and by doing that, giving people a living, breathing introduction to the teachings of Jesus. Jesus calls us to answer to his authority; not that of our popular culture. Obeying him will mean a life of confrontation and danger both for us and our loved ones. Jesus calls us to risk this; to trust him.

26have no fear of them; [he says] for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. 27 What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. 28 Don’t fear those who kill the body but can’t kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

That may sound like living for a heavenly reward. But following Jesus is about the now; not just the hereafter. For Jesus’ disciples to have betrayed the discovery they had made about him – to have gone silent about him – would’ve been unthinkable.

32 “Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; 33 but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.

Not to have told the world that in this Jesus, they’d met their loving maker, they’d experienced the certainty of God’s love for them – they’d have denied others the chance to know the freedom that belonging to Jesus meant to them.

During the ministry of Jesus, he gave a huge focus to care for the outcast and the untouchable. These people are still with us in ever greater numbers; displaced people, refugees and homeless people. Much of today’s gospel resonates with these people’s experience? They’re sayings Matthew’s community remembered when they were facing times of extreme stress. Can we imagine discussing these words with someone in such a predicament? If that prospect chills us, can we ask ourselves what that’s about? And maybe can we consider directing our charitable giving this year to include support for people who are persecuted for their faith.

A personal journey: Rev’d Dr John Beiers

Rev’d Dr John Beiers

50th Anniversary of Priestly Ordination

My journey to ordination on 11 th June, 1070

I am grateful to Fr. Peter for the opportunity to celebrate a thanksgiving Eucharist here this morning, in gratitude to God for my 50 years as a priest in the Church of God. On St. Barnabas’ Day, 1970, I was ordained priest in St. John’s Cathedral, Brisbane, by the Archbishop, Philip Strong. I want to tell you something of God’s graciousness in revealing His purpose to me, and some of the journey towards ordination. People have often asked me how I recognised God’s call, so I will recount it today, not for any reason of self glorification, but in recognition of God’s greatness, kindness, patience and love.

As a child, I lived in a very small village near Maryborough in Queensland, called Mungar Junction. My father asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and, of course, I said “Engine Driver”, because a favourite pastime of us kids was to stand in the white steam that the engine blew out when the train was standing at the Mungar station. He asked what the second option was. “School teacher”, I replied, because dad was a teacher, and I admired him. “Not on your life,” he said, “the Education Department has had me here for 15 years, with no transfer.” I mulled over this.

Later, when I was 13 years old, I was given a copy of “Les Miserables” written by Victor Hugo in 1862. I was entranced by the story, especially The Bishop’s Candlesticks, well known now, but not in1950. In this early part of the novel, a starving ex-convict called Jean Valjean is given a meal and a bed overnight at a country bishop’s palace. He rises before dawn, takes all of the silver cutlery in his bag, and runs away. When he is caught and brought before the old bishop by the police, the bishop takes two beautiful silver candlesticks from the shelf over the fireplace, gives them to Valjean, and says, “You forgot these, which I also gave to you.” When the police leave, he says to the thief, “Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to God. I have bought your soul of you. I withdraw it from dark thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and give it to God.” With these words, the bishop saved Valjean from being sentenced to the rest of his life in the galleys, where he had already spent 19 years for initially stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s starving children. With these words also, my heart was caught by the godly goodness of the bishop, and I wanted to be a priest like him. I told dad, who said, “No way, you will have a life of poverty, like Father Glazier”, our visiting priest. And that was that.

But somehow, my Father God had caught me, and I did not even know at the time. High school and University days passed in a haze of sport and study, and I gained a Bachelor degree in Mining Engineering. Then, in 1960 I settled down to post-graduate research at the University of Queensland, in, of all things, the reduction of noise in pneumatic percussive machines such as rock drills and pavement breakers. In the ensuing four years, my parents died, and I found myself living alone in the family home, in a big high set Queenslander house in Brisbane. I had nearly completed the experimental work for the degree, but I ran out of money. Meals were frugal and highly planned, down to the last baked bean.

And it was then that God started to take care of me in a noticeable way. Firstly, my aunt rang me, and enquired whether I needed a cash loan, which I quickly accepted. Secondly, a fellow student’s mother offered me an evening meal each day. Thirdly, I should have been grief stricken over the death of my parents, but I experienced a quiet peace until the thesis was written, and then the sorrow really hit me, at a time when I could manage it.

However, during this period, I was never content with the amount of work I was achieving each day, but I had become aware of God’s love providing all my daily needs, so I decided to start off each day with Matins, or Morning Prayer from the Prayer Book, as a sort of thank-you, before I began work. At that time, my work consisted of analysing all the experimental results that I had accumulated over the years. This required a clear head and no distractions. I found that this was now happening, so I started to pray Evensong, or Evening Prayer as a thank-you before going to bed, A wonderful thing happened. Whereas before giving this time to God, I had never been able to accomplish the amount of work I would set myself each day, now I was achieving even more. Wow! So I began to pause at midday, and to say the Midday Office as I ate my little can of tuna and a slice of bread.

You need to understand that this was all so unexpected that it could only be the hand of God. I was experiencing at first hand, in my own life, the great love of God that other Christians talked about, but until then it had been only theory for me. I started to see that God was clearing the path for me, for something that He was planning. I wondered what tangible thing I could do to say thank-you, and the idea of being a priest once again popped into my head. I went to the selection Committee of St. Francis’ College in Brisbane and had a talk with them. I was accepted, but I set the entrance date at two years in the future. You see, I had my degree in Mining Engineering, but two years practical experience underground were required,
and a Pass Degree in Mining Law was necessary before I could qualify as a mine manager. I felt that I needed to complete so much previous study by going the full course. Then I went to Broken Hill to New Broken Hill Consolidated, where I was accepted. The Mine Manager was a practising Anglican. I confided in him my plans to go to Theological College, and he understood completely.

Like the convict, Jean Valjean, God had got me. For all the 50 years since then, I thank God that I have had His unconditional love, whether I was within His will, or disobedient. He has never failed me, and the recollection of all His past love to me is what sustains me, comforts me, and leads me forward.

 

God loves diversity

Rev’d Peter Balabanski

Pentecost 2020

In the story from Acts 2, we heard the story of the first Christian Pentecost; the birthday of the Church. And we saw that the distinguishing mark of both the Judaism of the time, and of the Church at its birth was diversity. There were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. At [the sound of the disciples speaking in the various languages] the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.

I’m struck by the fact that it was this diversity that the Holy Spirit chose to highlight as our inheritance from Judaism on the day she brought the Church to birth. It speaks to me – like forests and people do – of the special delight God takes in diversity. The Psalm set for this morning says it too. “Lord, how various are your works … you rejoice in [them]”. Ps 104.26, 33

But in all the diversity of this first Pentecost, one unified message went out. Everyone heard about God’s deeds of power. Everyone heard this message in their own language. They were hearing of the power of the God of all nations.

This passage from Acts reminds us of a story from the OT where there were also a lot of languages – the story of the tower of Babel in Genesis 11. That’s the story of a time when the people of the earth all had one language. They gathered and decided to build a tower with its top in the heavens in order to make a name for themselves – to take God’s place. God stopped this, confusing their language and scattering them abroad. Some people call this the story of the curse of Babel. And they say that in today’s story from Acts, the curse of Babel is reversed.

I want to suggest something different. Certainly there was a gathering for the Jewish festival of Pentecost – a gathering that reverses at least the scattering that happened at Babel. But in the Acts story, the languages remain diverse, don’t they. The Holy Spirit didn’t give the gift of a single language that everyone could use at the birthday of the Church. No; she publicly affirmed diversity by giving those Galileans the gift of many languages. So what happened at Babel wasn’t reversed at Pentecost; I’d say it was healed. And this healing preserved the diversity. There is no spiritual gift of uniformity – of sameness – to be found in the Bible.

What are the implications of that for us? What does it mean that God started us off as a multi-cultural body? It means God doesn’t mind our differences in the worldwide Church, or the differences between churches in our area. God nowhere demands that we standardise our language, our liturgy or our cultural values.

Our story tells us that the God of love created diversity; that our God loves diversity. Nature tells us the same thing. Whenever we standardise or ‘rationalise’ as we say these days, I believe we oppose the very heart of God; we shun the birthright we inherited at the first Christian Pentecost. The Church as a body is far more diverse that we imagine, and God loves that diversity.

In this combined week of prayer for Christian unity and prayer for reconciliation, let’s make a couple of resolutions.

Firstly, let’s resolve to accept that what we might not experience or wish for in our own midst is nevertheless experienced as God-given and life-giving among people of other churches.

Secondly, let’s resolve that each year at Pentecost – starting this year – we will ask the Spirit what new things she might wish to bring to birth amongst us – and commit to nurture that new life.

And as you and I grow in Christian maturity, let’s wonder what gift God might give us that we could offer in the Church for the common good?    Amen

 

Be an effective witness to the love of Jesus

Rev’d Peter Balabanski

Ascension – Acts 1 1-11  Ps 47  Mt 28 16-20

A colleague of mine was out at a local community event. A stranger noticed her collar and asked if she had a moment to chat with him privately. As they moved away from the crowd, he said, ‘I don’t have anything to do with the Church, but I have a couple of questions.’ He was very churned up. A good friend of his had died recently. And now, with a growing sense of emptiness and loneliness, two questions kept plaguing him. His tears started when he asked his questions out loud. ‘Where is she now? Is it okay that I keep talking to her?’

They’re really important questions. Probably every one of us will ask them one day. It’s a terribly painful place to be; Where is s/he? Will s/he hear me if I talk to her/him? None of us can say for certain. And our un-knowing clouds our peace; it unsettles our happiness. We could wish that before Jesus’ Ascension he might have shone a definite light on our questions. But no, the light’s blocked by a cloud of unknowing; a barrier they say only Love can pierce.

Jesus’ friends thought they’d lost him forever on Good Friday. But he rose to life again on Easter Day. It was so unexpected that some friends didn’t even recognise him until he said their name, or broke bread with them. Today we watched with them as Jesus disappeared into the cloud of all our unknowing. Jesus, the only one who knows the answer to our hearts’ most agonized questions – dead on Friday, alive again on Sunday – he leaves us without answering.

Does that mean our questions have failed us? No; I don’t think so. They’ve drawn us to Jesus. They’ve drawn us to this gathering where we strain to see where it is he does go. We concentrate on that last glimpse – will we see what others have missed – his trajectory? Our questions must be answered. But maybe we concentrate so hard on our questions that we miss what Jesus has actually said.

Let’s face it; our priorities and questions often aren’t that important. Apart from times when we have lost someone precious or when someone we love is deathly ill, our questions can be amazingly trivial – tomorrow’s shopping plans; our favourite team; dinner tonight; the details of some scandal in the news. His disciples were like that too. They had their resurrected Lord with them … and they asked him about … his politics. Now that you’ve risen from the dead, will you restore the kingdom to Israel – by which they meant, will you get rid of the Romans?

But even if they had asked him the Big Questions – the life and death questions – I think his answer would have been the same as his answer to the political question. Jesus replied, ‘It’s not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ Acts 1.7-8

Poor question: but what an answer! As I said, our questions don’t fail us. Deep or trivial, they’ve drawn us to this place where Jesus is. And then Jesus calls us to journey on with him. And on that journey, we’re not given answers to our questions; we’re set free from them. We can leave them safely and respectfully at the foot of the Cross. Then, in place of our heavy load of questions, we’re given a calling. We are entrusted with a purpose for our lives that is utterly breathtaking.

Our calling is nothing less than the ministry of Jesus himself. We are invited to put on his sandals, to journey out, and to bless the world. We heard that majestic call in today’s Gospel.

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you… . Mt 28.18b-20a   

It’s not that our questions have been ignored. Our Lord Jesus does know the pain of our questions. He’s lived and died them – he’s dealt with them first hand. No, our questions did their job. They brought us to the foot of the Cross There we can leave them and follow Jesus, baptizing and teaching as he commanded.

That means our job – yours, mine, every one of ours – our job is to help people to get to know Jesus. But how?

Let’s bring this question to our risen, ascended Lord Jesus. ‘How do we do something like this when it’s going to take us so far out of our comfort zones?’ I think Jesus’ answer will be the same as it was at his Ascension: You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses … to the ends of the earth.

The Holy Spirit comes. Next Sunday is Pentecost – there we’ll hear again how the power of the Holy Spirit dissolved the boundaries of a frightened Church’s comfort zone and sent ordinary men and women to bring Christ’s freedom to their neighbours.

We experience this at Ascension in a particular way It’s the moment where we see Jesus leave behind the ‘here and now’ – the ‘there and then’ – to be revealed as the Christ we know as ‘everywhere and always’. This is the Christ we will experience within and around us because of Pentecost – because of the presence of the Holy Spirit within and among us –the One who emboldens and strengthens us.

Please pray this over the coming week – We pray Holy Spirit that we might be an effective witness to the love of Jesus; please help us to make, nurture and love new disciples.

Pray this please, and let’s see what happens at Pentecost.  Amen

The tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Altar of the Unknown God

Rev’d Peter Balabanski

Easter 6 A – Acts 17 22-31, Ps 66 7-19, Ist Pt 3 8-22, Jn 14 15-21

The story of the altar to the unknown God reminds me of the first thing you see when you go into Westminster Abbey. It’s one of the most striking of the 170 odd monuments that you can see there; the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

It’s just inside the west door, right in the middle, and surrounded by a tiny hedge of brilliant red poppies. The poppies set it apart, and so does the inscription – not just what it says, but also its brand new appearance. The lettering on this monument is as crisp as it was on the day it was unveiled – Armistice Day 1920. Many other tombs set in the floor of the abbey are barely legible; worn out by the feet of millions of pilgrims. But no-one walks on this one; ‘it’s so sacred’, somebody there told me, ‘that even Princess Diana’s funeral procession had to detour around it.’

I’m reminded of this today by Paul talking to the philosophers about an altar he’d discovered in Athens; an altar dedicated to ‘the unknown God’. There’s something especially sacred in this blending of the unknown with the ordinary, and it’s there in both the tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the altar to the unknown God. The Unknown Soldier represents an ordinary person – it could be you or me. The unknown God could be our God; somehow bound to us by the same sense of mixed familiarity and mystery. No arcane knowledge or ritual stands between us and the possibility that this God might just be our God – yours and mine.

The Unknown Soldier and the unknown God could be nothing to us, yet somehow they represent what is common to all of us. Somehow they are present to us, and apparently they are to everyone else too. In today’s gospel, Jesus touches on this commonality between us. He’s just told his friends that he’s going away. But two things will protect us from losing our connection with him; first, keeping his commandments – particularly the new commandment he had just given to love each other as he loves us – and second, the gift of the Holy Spirit. These two things will work together to see us embody and honour Jesus who will soon be invisible to us.

Our two monuments to Jesus are our love and our unity; they are sacred. The altar to the unknown God, and the tomb of the Unknown Soldier – express these sacred gifts in a similar way. They each speak of those who’ve been like Jesus for us; blessing and defending us even before we knew of them. They also say there’s something sacred about each of us; they assert our commonality through the mystery of our connection to a God and a person who are both unknown to us.

Undeserved grace is the name of this connection; the soldier, the unknown God, Jesus – they’ve taken us on trust; they’ve given us the benediction of their trust, and by doing that, they’ve somehow declared us to be their family, and they’ve called us to be that family for each other. Grace believes in us; grace takes us on trust.

Christians proclaim this grace to be perfectly expressed in Jesus. His acceptance and support were available to us before we’d ever been, and he still offers us free acceptance no matter how – or how often – we let his trust down. When someone trusts you to be a better person than you think you really are, it’s lovely! When you know there’s someone who always thinks the best of you, it makes you do just that little bit better. You want to vindicate their trust; make them glad they trusted you. Grace is something we experience as healing. It’s much more than physical healing. Something much deeper than what we ask is given to us. Grace can make us whole.

What do the unknown God and the Unknown Soldier have to do with all this? They’re unknown to us, but we know deep down that they’ve done something for us all the same. They’re a secret friend to us, and to everyone around us. These unknowns are pictures – symbols of a secret friend whose identity we discover through countless little meetings and experiences; a secret friend who, we ultimately discover, is with us – who is in us – just as Jesus said he would be.

Jn 14.18 “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.  19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” Amen

Don’t let your hearts be troubled

Rev’d Peter Balabanski

Easter 5A Comfort and inclusion- Acts 7 55-60, John 14 1-14

There are two moments in today’s Gospel I want to reflect on today. The first is where Jesus says; don’t let your hearts be troubled. At our saddest times, we believe these are the words we need to hear. So this gospel passage is often heard at funerals. But what about a time of crisis? Don’t let your hearts be troubled. What!? We can’t just sit around and let the crisis overwhelm us!

Today we saw the crisis of persecution take Stephen the first Christian martyr; him and so many since. There are hundreds of thousands of Christians being harassed and killed right now. For these, you’d imagine don’t let your hearts be troubled might be a bit hard to swallow. Yet for many it’s still a comfort.

Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Faith to withstand persecution demands extraordinary courage and conviction. Remember how Stephen stuck to the deepest values of Jesus’ way of living and dying as he was being murdered. He echoed words from the Cross; Lord, don’t hold this sin against them. Our faith is rarely likely to be tested in this way – how might we react? Would we let our hearts be troubled?

Stephen was killed because of a fiery sermon he’d preached, challenging the religious authorities. What do we think of him? Was he a saint or a religious fanatic to die like that? Those equipped to say are people who’ve known persecution for their faith. Do we have a faith we’d be prepared to die for?

Our distance from the life and death implications of our faith sees many of us troubled by strong religious claims. Our discomfort isn’t helped by news of fanatics of all creeds who do dreadful things to other people in the name of their faiths and ours.

We live in a community where people are free to speak out against any and every faith. Unlike many of the world’s people, when we come to the scriptures, most of us do so from a long experience of religious freedom. And that makes it hard for us to hear what most others might hear in the scriptures.

I’m stressing this because of the second moment in John 14 I want to reflect on. It’s where we hear Jesus say; I am the way and truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. We hear these words a world away from their setting in the gospel. We hear them in a time and in a country where there’s religious freedom – where we have choices to believe or not; freedom to dwell on such impractical questions instead of where the next meal might come from. Yet even here in our free society, these words may be brandished as a threat by people who say that those who haven’t proclaimed Jesus as their Lord and Saviour are lost forever. These people turn Jesus’ words into a threat.

But as we know, Jesus said these words to the disciples as they first struggled with the idea that he wouldn’t be with them for much longer. Thomas – him again – Lord, we don’t know where you’re going. How can we know the way? Jesus said to him, I am the way… You know me; you’ll be fine. These weren’t words of threat or exclusion, but words of comfort; of embrace. They were a simple statement of fact; Jesus is the way God has provided for the world to know God, and Jesus has come for us, and he will come again … for us.

The way to be with God isn’t earned through our actions but through God’s action; the gift of God in Jesus. We can’t reach God in our own strength. But in Jesus God reaches out to us; reaches out across time, across culture, across barriers we believe are impassable to draw us to God. God’s grace in Jesus reaches out further than we can imagine; I go and prepare a place for you … I’ll come again and take you to myself, so that where I am, you may be also.

Firebrand preachers might say Jesus is drawing a line in the sand to exclude unbelieving people. And occasionally that can be a useful word for an obdurately destructive person to hear. But in Scripture, we can also witness Jesus bending that line in the sand into a circle; a larger and larger circle which is meant to embrace the whole world. Edwin Markham wrote, “[They] drew a circle that shut me out – Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout. But love and I had the wit to win: We drew a circle and took [them] In!”

Part of what’s comforting about John 14 is that even amongst Jesus’ closest friends, we find blindness and doubt. Judas has just run off to betray Jesus; Peter’s been blustering; overconfident; Thomas can’t imagine where Jesus might be leading them; Philip hasn’t recognised who Jesus truly is. But Jesus is not put off. He started the friendship with them, and he’s sticking by them/us.

I am the way, and truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. Of course not. But that’s not because Jesus rejects anyone – Jesus is God reaching out to the world. These are words of embrace – of inclusion. We struggle to see how Jesus does this. With our value system of everything having to be earned, we can’t really grasp such grace. We need to remember, that Jesus said, ‘God didn’t send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.’ Jn 3.17 

We’re all embraced here – invited; included. God’s intention is that the world be might be saved; not condemned. So our proclamation can be guided by what we’ve heard today. We are to comfort a troubled world with his words of hope, and we are to be loyal and patient like Jesus – I will come for you so that where I am, you may be also; I am the way, the truth and the life.

Praise him for his love, his grace and favour!   Amen

 

Love III – George Herbert

 

Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back

Guilty of dust and sin.

But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack

From my first entrance in,

Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,

If I lacked any thing.

 

A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:

Love said, ‘You shall be he’.

‘I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,

I cannot look on thee’.

Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,

‘Who made the eyes but I’?

 

‘Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame

Go where it doth deserve’.

‘And know you not’, says Love, ‘who bore the blame’?

‘My dear, then I will serve’.

‘You must sit down’, says Love, ‘and taste my meat’:

So I did sit and eat.

 

 

Prince Emeth, life-long worshipper of the Calormenes’ god Tash talks of his first meeting with the great Lion Aslan, the Christ figure of the Narnia stories.

 

[Aslan] bent down his golden head and touched my forehead with his tongue and said, Son, thou art welcome.

But I said, Alas, Lord, I am no son of Thine but the servant of Tash.

He answered, Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me. …  I take to me the services which thou hast done to him, for I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him.

From The Last Battle by CS Lewis the beginning of Ch 15 ‘Further up and further in’

 

 

Not everybody has a sense of a destination or a path in life; it’s actually a privilege to have that. The path that Jesus is talking about isn’t one that is laid out as though we have no choice in the matter. The path that Jesus is, is a relationship – and it’s a relationship that assures us that no matter how the path twists and winds, it leads us to a loving home in the end. VSB

Who is the ‘Good Shepherd’ ?

Rev’d Peter Balabanski

Easter 4A Good Shepherd Sunday – Acts 2 42-47, Ps 23 1, Pt 2 1-10, Jn 10 1-10.

Who is a ‘good shepherd’ to you? Out in the community, we might think of a Firie or an Ambo. But here in church, probably most of us think first of the divine shepherd of the 23rd Psalm. We often sing it at funerals. We love its assurance that our dear ones will be in good hands from now on: and in God’s house for evermore our dwelling place shall be. But what about farming shepherds? For Australians, to get what our Jewish-Christian tradition means by a ‘good shepherd’, we have to put aside our image of someone with a dog on the back of their ute or trail bike and think about the shepherds of Bible times – and as it happens, shepherds in many parts of the world still today.

The shepherd whom the Bible knows stays with the flock day and night. This shepherd’s job is to make sure every member of the flock stays healthy and safe; to lead them to places where they’ll be well fed and watered. And this traditional shepherd is more than a guide and provider, they’re also the midwife when the lambs and kids are born, and the protector from wild animals and any other hazards. None of the flock may be lost. Any stray must be found. And any that suffer injury or sickness must receive the best possible attention. It’s a matter of personal honour for the shepherd that every one is accounted for at the end of each day; all present, fed, watered, well and safe.

To do all this, a good shepherd needs to be vigilant, courageous and dedicated. You have to be able to trust your shepherd to live out their lonely, precarious vocation with all due diligence. A lot depends on this, because the animals in the flock are the living, breathing, walking bank balance of whoever it is that owns them. A shepherd is ultimately responsible to the owner of the flock. Personally responsible! And in the Middle East of Jesus’ time, and today, shepherds are mostly the owners’ children; often as young as five or six.

My family’s experience of this shepherding culture has been mostly with the Bedouin people of Palestine and the Sinai Desert. They add another dimension to the way we can read today’s Gospel; but more about that in a moment.

In this part of John’s Gospel, Jesus is speaking to some Pharisees who’ve just rejected his healing of a man who was blind from birth. They’ve driven the healed man out of the Synagogue – excommunicated him. Jesus confronts the Pharisees with their blindness to God’s grace. Then we come into the story.

Characteristically, coming out of left field, Jesus begins to tell them that anyone who doesn’t enter the sheepfold by the gate, but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. What is he talking about? He describes how the gatekeeper recognises the true shepherd and opens up the gate; how the sheep know the shepherd’s voice and follow trustingly – where they’d run in fear from a stranger’s voice. The Pharisees don’t get what he’s talking about. But if they’d read the old Bible prophecies about good and bad shepherds (eg Ezek 34), they’d know he was saying they were bad shepherds for their ill treatment of the man blind from birth, and for their wilful blindness to God’s gift of his healing. They were the bad shepherds, and Jesus the good one. People who hear his voice – who trust him and follow him – will be safe.

Then Jesus develops the image, and gives the first of his great I am statements in this Shepherd Discourse. Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.… Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. I came that [you] may have life, and have it abundantly.

It’s ironic that the Church down the centuries has debated whether this ‘gate’ is meant to let people in – if it’s an opening for entrance and exit (BAGD θύρα) – or a barrier to keep them out (LSJ cf Roman Circus). … Let me read those verses again, and you decide which you think Jesus means – opening or barrier.

Vicky and I have encountered Bedouin families who still keep flocks in the traditional, nomadic way. When they’re away from their village at night, they gather their flocks into a rough pen of stones topped with thorny branches and, once the flock is inside the pen, the shepherd lies across its entrance and sleeps there. The shepherd’s body is quite literally set between the flock and any dangers of the night. It makes us read differently the verse that follows today’s reading. Jesus says, I am the Good Shepherd. The shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. And he did this literally – as we know.

The image of the ‘good shepherd’ is a very rich one indeed. We can translate it into the way we must live as Jesus’ followers in a non-traditional culture. Our collect prayer today sets it out quite clearly: Send us as shepherds to rescue the lost, to heal the injured, and to feed one another with understanding. We are called to be good shepherds now, following Jesus’ example. We are his body now; his hands, his feet and his eyes. Anything Jesus would want to see done now must be done by us, selflessly, compassionately, courageously, in love.

We saw the early Church in today’s reading from Acts doing just that. People selling their possessions if necessary to provide for others in need were doing what they saw Jesus do for them – he emptied himself for our sake. Phil 2.7-8

That spirit is alive and well in this parish, and always has been. I can’t think of any appeal from a person or group in need that this parish has not responded to. The job, though, is bigger than just us. Christ’s intention is that the world should be saved. Jn 10.15I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

We are safe; we are well, fed and watered. But there are others who don’t know such comfort. Can we please pray again our collect prayer?  Amen.

God of all power,

you called from death our Lord Jesus,

the great shepherd of the sheep:

send us as shepherds to rescue the lost,

to heal the injured,

and to feed one another with understanding;

through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and for ever. Amen.

 

The Emmaus Walk; a new way of seeing

Rev’d Peter Balabanski

Easter 3  Emmaus Walk Luke 24.13-49

Children: The Horse and his Boy: CS Lewis; Ch 11 p.157f ‘The unwelcome fellow traveller’

The Emmaus Walk is a journey that means something different to each of us. For some, it’s a treasured eyewitness account of the risen Jesus; Jesus actually eating with the two disciples is a witness to his physical resurrection. Other people hear of the disciples’ hearts set afire by Jesus’ teaching and it resonates with the way the study of scripture has opened life up in a new way for them.

The Emmaus Road is a journey of the lost being found; the directionless being given a renewed sense of purpose and hope. It’s the journey all of us travel again and again through life – from childhood to adolescence, to adulthood, to parenthood, to retirement, to dependence. These changes often see the end of central relationships. Every change begins with a mixture of loss, emptiness and fear. But later on, by God’s grace, we will look back and see blessing in it with God’s own perspective. Philip Newell captures this in a lovely prayer.

Like an infant’s open-eyed wonder

and the insights of a wise grandmother,

like a young man’s vision for justice

and the vitality that shines in a girl’s face,

like tears that flow in a friend bereaved

and laughter in a lover’s eyes,

you have given me ways of seeing, O God,

you have endowed me with sight like your own.

let these be alive in me this day,

let these be alive in me.                     J Philip Newell Sounds of the Eternal

The Emmaus Walk begins as the journey of dejection; of farewell to old certainties where hope seems to abandon us. We trudge without purpose; we stumble blindly. But just when the emptiness threatens to swallow us entirely, we are found, we are given ourselves. And then in hindsight we can see that our new self is in clear continuity with everyone we’ve ever been.

Billions of people around the world today feel like we are caught up in the first stage of the Emmaus Journey. A tiny virus has smashed down all our certainties and priorities. We’ve been sucked up suddenly into some sort of a vacuum – set adrift on a directionless journey. But today’s Gospel reminds us that we will have a companion on this journey – it’s someone we might not recognise at first, but this lovely companion will be with us. So let’s trust; let’s step out together and see where the Emmaus Journey might lead.

The Emmaus story represents the human journey beautifully. Just as we seem to be driven away from all we believe is most real – when it feels like hope and truth have entirely abandoned us – we will be given a new way of seeing which is utterly transformative. Suddenly, we are new-made, and amazingly, that newness seems given to us simply by the way we can now see everything.

It may seem strange that a healthy faith should necessarily involve times in the wilderness, despondent and sad, with cherished certainties torn away. But it does. Sometimes, the old, fading truth we’re clinging to can seem impossible to let go – far too precious. But unless we can do it, we cannot be reborn. We’ll be like a chrysalis who never becomes a butterfly.

We see this in today’s story. What were Cleopas and his friend talking about so sadly? – the greatest hope of their lives; the political redemption of Israel. But it all depended utterly on Jesus living on in the way they thought they knew him. That hope had been dashed. Anywhere they went now was away; away from that lost joyful hope. But Jesus came to accompany them – gently to teach them again – to prise open those wounded hearts and eyes to reveal a deeper hope; a hope so deep in them that they hardly recognised it. But they could feel it. Talking about it later, they said their hearts had been set on fire by his words.

There was nothing inherently bad about their old hopes and dreams. But they couldn’t contain the bigger picture that Jesus’ death and resurrection opened up. Walking sadly away from Jerusalem was part of their journey – away from their limited vision, and on to where Jesus would meet them and give them what their hearts needed. Then they could go back and give new heart to the others – and now to us. The Emmaus Walk isn’t just for personal healing; it’s the way God begins the transformation of communities – through you and me.

Another thing; you’d think spiritual renewal / redemption / revelation might only come to those who actively seek it. But what we see here is that this new life comes looking for those who least expect it – and it comes in a way that is different altogether from what we’d normally imagine possible.

A funny thing is that the exact location of Emmaus isn’t known. So Emmaus may be anywhere. Hearts burning and eyes opening aren’t confined to just one place, either geographical or spiritual; nor is spirituality confined to one way of doing things. Emmaus comes into view wherever a path has led us into communion with God; whenever we recognize that the risen Christ has been among us. That’s just like the Holy Spirit; you can never quite catch her, but you can always tell where she’s been.

Three questions for silent meditation, or for discussion.

Have you had an Emmaus Walk?

Has Jesus come to travel with you when you least expected him to?

Did he tell you something that you should run back and tell us?

You can post your answers now if you like. Post them as a story or a prayer.

Footsteps in The Sand

One night I had a dream.

I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord.

Across the sky flashed scenes from my life.

For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand:

one belonging to me, and the other to the Lord.

When the last scene of my life flashed before me

I looked back, at the footprints in the sand.

I noticed that many times along the path of my life

there was only one set of footprints.

I also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times of my life.

This really bothered me and I questioned the Lord about it:

“Lord, you said that once I decided to follow you,

you’d walk with me all the way.

But I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life

there’s only one set of footprints.

I don’t understand why, when I needed you most, you would leave me.”

The Lord replied:

“My precious child, I love you and I would never leave you.

During your times of trial and suffering,

when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”

Mary Stevenson, 1936