Christ creates a generous, open community of belonging where all are safe

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Rev’d Peter Balabanski

Pentecost + 9 – Isa 1.1, 10-20 – Ps 50.1-8, 23-4 – Heb 11.1-3, 8-16 – Lk 12.32-40

It’s lovely to be back here with you all. Week by week during our absence, you’ve faithfully gathered here to worship God with your usual care and friendly joy. I’m very grateful to all of you who’ve seen to that.

Those services have often been a pleasure we’ve shared with you online as we’ve responded to the text message that St John’s has gone live. We’ve been in lots of places over the past months, had some wonderful experiences and learnt a huge amount. Thank you for helping to enable that.

Some time ago, I started looking at the Bible passages set for today and I worried about how they’d come across. People often tell me they struggle with the God of the Old Testament, and today, Isaiah’s in full flight letting us have it. Isa 1.15 When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. They’re confronting words. I worry about how the kind, faithful people of St John’s feel when this is read out at them?

Lots of people have trouble with Old Testament portrayals of God, and I worry that today’s readings contain just the sorts of sayings that drive people away from reading the Hebrew Scriptures. It’s unfortunate that we don’t get to hear these readings in their full context.

In this case, we need to be aware of the oppression of poor peasant farming families back then by a rich, politically-connected religious elite. Isaiah is saying what God feels about corrupt Temple priests who required compulsory offerings three times a year from these poor people. And they set the level of offering, not the peasants; the poor people had no option to say they couldn’t afford it.

So you might understand God’s disgust at these priests as they offered sacrifices which cost them nothing, but left many farming families destitute? That’s where the strength of the language comes from.

But that was thousands of years ago; what’s it got to do with today? I heard similar words to Isaiah’s at the Receptive Ecumenism conference. A distinctive focus of RE is that we seek healing from other traditions for the wounds and failings of our own churches.

One speaker – a Pentecostal professor from the USA – told us Pentecostals have wounded, dirty, bloody hands; they’ve lost some of their inclusiveness, and have become more identified with fundamentalism and nationalism. One practical outworking of that was their participation in the religious right’s support for Donald Trump. She was gutted to have to own this. Her words bloody hands echoed Isaiah’s!

Our tradition has blood on its hands too. Our history as a church putting its prestige first and protecting paedophiles is just one case in point.

So should we want God’s view voiced any less forcefully than Isaiah put it today? I think not. But without access to historical context and such a present-day parallels, Isaiah can be hard to read.

The difficult readings don’t stop with him today. Isaiah and our gospel both recall last week’s warning parable from Luke 12 about the rich farmer. I shudder at the way ‘giving texts’ like this used to be brandished in stewardship campaigns. People felt hounded by a Church that just seemed to be after them for their money. Historical context helps us to read these texts too in a way that Jesus might have wanted us to.

At the New Testament conference last week, Prof John Barclay gave an extraordinary paper about the social significance of giving in the time of Jesus. He started by talking about a 2nd century writer called Artemidorus who interpreted people’s dreams; people from all walks of life.

Unusually for an ancient writer he didn’t just deal with rich, influential people, so he opens a rare window onto the world of ordinary people in antiquity. Many dreams he interpreted from poor people revealed that their deepest desire was to be able to give. That’s interesting!

Prof Barclay spoke of a strict social convention in the ancient world about reciprocity and equal exchange. It was so strict that many poor people weren’t just denied life’s chances like poor people are today, but in their inevitable, frequent times of crisis, they got locked out of almost all social relationships.

To survive, you needed ‘a network of mutual support, where you could hope for material aid from relatives, neighbours, and friends on the assumption of a commitment to help them when they needed it.’ The ability to give and receive on equal terms decided if you belonged in society or not.

So when Jesus calls people to give, he’s saying something quite different from what we might have heard during the Gospel reading. It’s not about making us feel guilty, it’s caring about our survival; about helping us to belong. We need to belong. In the majority / poor world, this value persists.

We all have stories of being in tight situations where help has been offered just when it was needed. And like many of you, I’ve heard travel stories where the people who gave help were extremely poor. What they gave represented a really significant part of what they possessed, like a whole week’s food.

So today’s scriptures don’t confront us with the challenges we might have felt when we first heard them today. But they do confront us. They bring us face to face with God’s passion for justice for the poor, and for rehabilitating the rich and powerful: face to face with God in Christ who would go to the Cross to create a generous, open community of belonging where all are safe.

We are called to be that community here and now. Amen

Secret Christians

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David Hilliard OAM

 As some of you know, I am a retired academic historian, and when I lead the intercessions at our Sunday eucharist I try to say something about the lives of the saints and heroes of the church who are commemorated in the Anglican Church calendar around that day. This morning I would like us to think about the significance in the Christian story of a man we commemorated yesterday, Joseph of Arimathea.

Joseph from Arimathea we meet in the gospel accounts of the crucifixion of Jesus. All that we know of him is that he was a wealthy man and a member of the Jewish council but had taken no part in the condemnation of Jesus. He was ‘a good and righteous man’, says St Luke, ‘looking for the kingdom of God’, a disciple of Jesus but secretly. After the death of Jesus Joseph bravely asked Pilate for his body and buried it in the tomb that he had prepared for himself, newly hewn in the rock.

Early in the history of the Christian Church Joseph of Arimathea became the subject of legends which reached their peak in the twelfth century – that he was in possession of the holy grail, the cup that Jesus used at the Last Supper, and that he had gone to Gaul (France) with the apostle Philip to preach the gospel. Philip had sent him to England and the king who received him gave him an island later called Glastonbury, in Somerset. It was later claimed that Joseph of Arimathea was buried at Glastonbury and that the staff he planted in the ground produced a thorn bush which flowered at Christmas, and so on. Combine these stories with legends about King Arthur that associate him with the same place and you will see why modern Glastonbury is such a popular place for tourists and for those who gravitate to places they see as magical, endowed with supernatural vibes.

Joseph is associated with Nicodemus, an influential Pharisee whom we meet in St John’s Gospel. In chapter 3 Nicodemus came to Jesus by night to ask him questions about his teachings, in chapter 7 he speaks up on behalf of Jesus, and in chapter 19 he assists Joseph of Arimathea in preparing the body of Jesus for burial, binding it up in linen cloths with an expensive mixture of spices that he himself had contributed. One wonders about what happened to these men afterwards but they disappear from the New Testament writings.

Both men, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, were disciples of Jesus in secret. This idea of the secret followers of Jesus is worth thinking about. These have been many Christians who have made themselves invisible in order to survive. The theologian John Calvin coined the term ‘Nicodemites’ to refer to them. It was not a compliment. He saw them as cowards, timorous people who refused to stand up and witness to the truth before kings and those in authority. He could point to those words of Jesus (Matthew 10: 33): ‘Everyone who acknowledges me before men I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies me I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.’

There are many examples of ‘Nicodemites’ in Christian history. When the Christian Church began to persecute heretics – those it regarded as holding erroneous beliefs and therefore sought to exterminate – to avoid death, the so-called heretics had a habit of conforming outwardly but still holding their views. They held the faith within their families and remained in contact with like-minded people through secretive networks. In England for example there were the Lollards, the followers of the fourteenth-century heretic John Wycliffe who survived in some places for 150 years. In those parts of Europe and the Middle East where militant Islam overran the early Christian communities and imposed mass conversions there were many crypto-Christians in Syria and Turkey and Cyprus and other regions who outwardly conformed to Islam but managed to survive by practising their faith in private, in their own households.

During the English Reformation of the sixteenth century that minority of the population that persisted in their loyalty to the Pope rather than accepting the monarch as the head of the church managed to survive as an underground Roman Catholic network under the protection of gentry or aristocratic families. Their big houses provided space for secret chapels and places to shelter visiting priests.

There were secret Christians in Stalin’s Russia when his persecution of the church was at its peak in the 1930s. In China, Christians learnt to hide during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s. Since then, Christianity has been tolerated and the major denominations are recognised by the government; they are the only authorised Christian churches. However, it is estimated that tens of millions of Chinese Christians – some say the majority of them – do not identify with what they see as government-controlled churches. They prefer to worship in small groups, meeting in private houses as unregistered gatherings, and keep a low profile. The government of course knows who they are but occasionally, to make life uncomfortable, they might get a visit from the police, or someone gets arrested for infringing a government regulation or other offence.

How did these secret Christians sustain their faith over time? This is an important question but often hard to answer because secret groups by definition tend not to leave much (or anything) in the way of records. For Protestant Christians underground it was the Bible and well-known psalms and hymns. For Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians underground it was prayer books, liturgical texts, holy pictures, icons for the Orthodox, the rosary for Catholics. And sometimes they might get a visit from a priest in disguise to celebrate Mass and administer the sacraments.

So Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus as secret followers of Jesus had many successors. Most of us would not seek martyrdom. At a time of persecution we would all want to survive if we had a chance, and probably we would learn to compromise and lie low. We should honour those who have maintained their Christian faith underground.

Obviously if all Christians had been secret and kept their faith to themselves the Christian Church would never have got off the ground. It would have withered and died. On the other hand, those underground Christians over the centuries have displayed great courage in just holding on, in very hostile environments. They kept their eyes on Jesus. They remembered his teaching, in today’s gospel, that one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions. They absorbed St Paul’s words in his letter to the Colossians that we heard this morning: ‘Seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.’

The best-known prayer of God’s family.

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Canon Bill Goodes

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost  2022  Hosea 1:2-10,  Psalm 85, Colossians 2:6 – 15, Luke 11:1 – 13

“The Lord said, ‘Go, take yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord’ ”  (Hosea 1:2)

No, I am not going to get into the arguments concerning the legalization of Prostitution, and I don’t think that the prophet Hosea had anything to say about it either.   He was using that irregular expression of sexual urges as a picture of the way the people of Israel were practising religion in an irregular way.   He went on to use the names of the children that he and his wife had as clear messages about the fate that was to befall Israel at the hands of the Assyrians — a fate that Hosea was quite clear was God’s punishment for Israel’s disloyalty.   The children are named “Jezreel,” the valley where Israel’s defeat will happen, “Not Pitied” (Lo-ruhamah), because the Lord will no longer pity his people, and finally “Not my People” (Lo-ammi), because the Lord has rejected them as his own.

These family relationships were to be seen as a picture of God’s relationship with his people.   In the final paragraph of the section we had read this morning, God promises to restore the fortunes of his people.  Even there it is in terms of family relationships that this restoration is pictured:  they will be  “Children of the living God”.

It is no surprise, then, when Jesus is asked to teach his disciples to pray, that he begins with a familiar relationship, “Father”.   For some people today this presents difficulties, but it is important to recognize that the term is a picture of the disciples’ relationship with God, not a theological statement of God’s very nature.   It is but one of any number of such pictures of God, and it is useful as it pictures our relationship with God in family terms.

I’d like us to spend a little time this morning with this best-known prayer of God’s family.

There are two versions of the prayer in the Gospels, both of them rather shorter than the version that we use day by day.    The version in Luke that was part of this morning’s gospel is  the shorter of the two.   It addresses God:  “Father”.    It  goes on to express something of right relationship with God:  “may your holy nature be recognized” — “hallowed be your name”.   It prays that God’s purposes might be fulfilled, as God’s rule is expressed in the life of the world — “your kingdom come”.   It prays that our daily needs might be met— not of course our accumulation of wealth, but what we need each day — “give us each day our daily bread”.   It asks that our fractured relationships with those around us might be restored — “forgive us our sins”.   It asks that we might be spared from “the time of Trial”, usually thought of as an end-time, eschatological event rather than earthly trials and tribulations.

So, on which of these clauses do you focus as you pray the prayer?

Clearly Matthew and Luke had different ideas as to the heart of the prayer.   Matthew places the prayer in the context of forgiveness.   The prayer is introduced there with talk about not heaping up of empty phrases, expecting our prayer to be better heard because of the many words.   Jesus assures his hearers that “your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”   Matthew adds to Luke’s shorter version the request “your will be done on earth as in heaven”, and at the end “rescue us from the evil one”, but moves immediately from the text of the prayer to unpack its content: “for if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you”.   He clearly wants his readers to see the prayer giving attention to forgiveness.

Today’s Gospel reading makes it clear that Luke thinks that the focus of the pattern prayer is on “Give us each day our daily bread” — he follows the prayer with all that teaching about asking and receiving:  “Friend lend me three loaves…” and even though the friend is reluctant, (who likes being disturbed from a warm bed these nights for any reason?) finally he gives what is requested.   Then he gives the assurance that we will be given what we ask for, what we seek, where we need to enter — and that the gift will be what we really need, not some poor substitute.   Did you like the way today’s  Prayer of the day expressed it:  “we ask, we seek, we knock at your door:  help us so to seek that we may truly find, so to ask that we may joyfully receive, and so to knock that the door of mercy may be opened for us.”

So, we are to ask for the meeting of our daily needs — but somehow we have become conditioned to say “I shouldn’t ask for anything for myself”, but clearly this teaching of Jesus encourages us to ask.   I sometimes wonder whether we forget this when it comes to praying for healing:  somehow we think it is better to ask for healing for other people than to admit our own need for greater wholeness.   “Ask, and you will receive”, Jesus assures us — even if we ask for ourselves!

Certainly, our prayer for forgiveness, and for the healing of human relationships is important also.   And the prayer suggests that those who are unwilling or unable to forgive others may find it difficult to accept forgiveness for themselves.   (It is interesting to compare the two gospel writers here, as well:  Luke: “forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us”  — does he have a rather rosy view of our willingness to forgive those who owe us something?    Matthew: “forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors”, rather giving the impression that our receiving of forgiveness will happen in the same way as we have offered it to others).

But our prayers for ourselves, whether in terms of daily needs, forgiveness, or in eternity, are always made in the context of God’s nature, God’s relationship with us, and the structure of the Prayer Book collects makes that clear.   These beautifully-crafted prayers begin with an address to God, and then a remembering of some of God’s character.   For example, the Prayer of the week for this week begins “O God, the protector of all that trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy” — and it prays all this before it goes on to pray “increase and multiply upon us your mercy”.   Is this something that we need to remember as we come to God in prayer, or as we lead the prayers of the congregation?   Certainly we are to place our requests, our needs, our concerns clearly before our loving Father, Mother. King, Lord, Provider,…, but it is good for us to recall something of the richness of God’s nature as we do so.   “Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come” comes always before “Give us” or “forgive us” or “save us”.

Thanks be to God for this wonderful prayer:  may we use it not simply as a summary but also as a pattern of our prayer day by day, and Sunday by Sunday.

For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and for ever.

 

Give ourselves to lives of righteousness in both our cosmic and commercial contexts.

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Canon Bill Goodes

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost  2022  Amos 8:1-12,  Psalm 52, Colossians 1:15 – 29, Luke 10:38 – 42

Sunday 17 July 2022

“Hear this, you who say, ’We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practise deceit with false balances’”  (Amos 8:5)

This is a verse we could well have quoted when some weeks ago, a neighbour left a note for us objecting to the Climate Change Now banner outside the Church.   “I want climate change action,” he wrote, “but it is not the concern of the Church!”

Well, clearly, Amos the prophet, speaking God’s word to the people of Israel, would disagree:  the dishonest dealing in the market-place, “buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals and selling the sweepings of the wheat” — this was just as much an affront to God’s righteousness and the integrity of God’s people, as was any hypocritical reliance on the externals of worship.

As we think about that little section of the prophet’s message, we see how the dealings in the market-place were placed in the context of cosmic events: “I will make the sun go down at noon, and darken the earth in broad daylight”.   And within this connection between cosmic and commercial, the prophet identifies “a famine…of hearing the words of the Lord.”

We find this connection also in the domestic setting in the Gospel reading, with Martha, the conscientious hostess being “distracted with much serving”, while Mary “sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying”.   It is easy for us to become “distracted”, particularly by the word “better” in the Lord’s answer to Martha’s complaint — in fact the adjective is not comparative at all, it is the word for “lovely”:  “Mary has chosen the lovely part, which shall not be taken away from her” —  clearly both the listening to God’s message, and the daily domestic duties were significant offerings to the Master.

When Saint Paul wrote to the Colossian Christians, he was concerned to stress this concern of God for everything in life.   In the first paragraph of the reading from Colossians 1 that we heard this morning, Paul uses the word “all” over and over again.   “In Christ all things in heaven and earth were created”, “in him all things hold together”, “through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things”.   Through the cross, Jesus is making peace with all things.

What comes to mind for you when you hear “all things” in this context?   Is it the amazing photos of far-off galaxies taken by the latest space telescope — are these among the “all things seen and unseen” of the Creator, and of him “through whom all things were made”?   Or is your picture  of “all things” one of land-forms, oceans and atmosphere —do we see that these geographical features can come to a state of peace through Christ?   Perhaps “all things” for you conjures up pictures of the vast range of different plants or animals, not only surviving but thriving under the hand of the creator.   What an amazing claim the writer is making — that it is in Christ that these mind-blowing collections of creatures find their place, their purpose, their peace!   But of course “all things” does not only refer to the grand celestial scale, but the mundane as well — it includes the activities, the ideas, the people that we deal with day by day, in what Amos would refer to as “the market-place” — the commercial as well as the cosmic!

Paul goes on from these exalted heights to talk directly to his Colossian readers, for these are clearly among the “all things” that he is singing about:  “you …he has reconciled”.   It is the one who deals with “all things” who also deals with us, and presents us “holy and blameless and irreproachable before him”.   He then draws on his own experience of suffering to point to his calling as an apostle of Christ’s reconciling work, and then directs his readers to “the riches of the glory of this mystery”, — and that word “mystery” might be better translated as “the revealed secret “ — these riches are “Christ in you, the hope of glory”.   We move swiftly from inter-galactic space to the human heart!

Does that expression give you a warm feeling in your heart — that this amazing, creating, reconciling Christ is “in you, the hope of glory”?   Perhaps the message of the Psalmist occurs to you, “What are we that you should be mindful of us:” he cries:  “what are we that you should care for us?”    The one whose glory is proclaimed by the heavens themselves, is in us, filling us with “the hope of glory”!    Amazing!

But the warm feeling is all very well, but it should express itself in worship and praise, in the common life of the People of God, in our joining in the worship of the church.   (Though all these things are motivated not simply from the warm feelings, but from deeper, more lasting convictions and from a faith that says, “no matter what I am feeling, God is true, God is love, God is calling me into relationship with him”.)

But whatever is motivating our being with the Church this morning as it offers worship and celebrates the Sacrament, the prophet makes it quite clear that even this activity is worthless unless it is done in the context of the integrity and honesty of our life in the daily activity of the market-place. Earlier in his short book of prophecy Amos puts it most starkly, in the words of the God who called him to be a prophet, “Take away from me the noise of your songs;  I will not listen to the melody of your harps, but let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

And what comes to your mind when you think of this justice, this righteousness?   Is it in ecological crises that this rolling down needs to take place?   Or is it in the warfare and civil strife that we see so starkly displayed in the news?   Is it in climate change, in family violence, in employment conditions, in social security provisions, in political dealings, in racial relationships, in gender equality?   Is it in some of these that we long to see justice and righteousness flowing?   In all these areas and many more, God, the God who made, loves, reconciles all things, calls for “justice to roll down like waters”, and calls us, in whom Christ lives, “the hope of glory”, to give ourselves to lives of righteousness in both our cosmic and commercial contexts.

When, at the end of our liturgy, we respond to the Deacon’s cry, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord”, we are committing ourselves to the pursuit of this justice, this reconciliation, this peace, this hope of glory!   “In the name of Christ.   Amen!”

Being Good Samaritans in the community

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Canon Bill Goodes

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost  2022   Colossians 1:1 – 14,, Luke 10:25 – 37

“A Samaritan while travelling came near him”  (Luke 10:31)

Across the road from Saint Peter’s Cathedral in North Adelaide there is an inn, known for many years as The Cathedral Hotel.   In fact, I remember when it had painted in large letters on its roof “Vic Peters Cathedral Hotel”!   In the corner of that building operates a coffee shop, named for the parable in today’s Gospel reading:  “The Good Samaritan”.   To this bustling establishment come numbers of the other Cathedral’s members, along with staff and visitors from the nearby hospitals and other businesses for coffee, conversation, or even simply warmth.

For this particular section of the Christian story has caught the imagination of people from all sorts of backgrounds.   The “Good Samaritan” has given his name to charitable institutions, indeed to the very act of caring for people in need.   Much of this use, of course, skates conveniently over the subtleties of the parable, like the fact that the Samaritan was a person who was himself “on the outer” — perhaps not so much in need of food and clothing hand-outs, but very much despised and ostracised by polite society at the time.   Or subtleties like the overflowing generosity of his response to the traveller’s need.

In spite of this, we can thank God for those in our society who act as “Good Samaritans” in their response to human need, and we can pledge ourselves to join them as we find opportunity.

However, if we are to be fair to the biblical record of the ministry of Jesus Christ, we will also recognize where that parable comes from.   We will see that it is told in response to a question put by a person who may not have had the best motives for his enquiry.   Remember, “a lawyer stood up to test Jesus”, and then “but wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus.”   And the question that sparked the parable was, “and who is my neighbour?”

For his initial question had been met with another question, “What is written in the law?”, and he had given a very correct answer, which Jesus applauded,   “You have given the right answer;  do this, and you will live”.   And this right answer had two parts:  Love God, and love neighbour.

The lawyer homed in the second part to continue his test.   In our day, we perhaps have a clearer idea of who we think our neighbour is:  perhaps our question today to test Jesus might be, “And who is my God?”   What story might Jesus tell to answer that question, so vital to our age?

It occurs to me that we might have a couple of possibilities right here in front of us.

A young couple came to Adelaide from a distant country.  Reflecting the complexities of the culture of their home land, they came from different faiths, but they had found their way of living with that difference with integrity.  However, after some time they had a baby boy, and it was decided that he should be brought up as a Christian, and so he was brought to Baptism.

Now if Jesus had told that parable, what would preachers have made of it — they might be asking how had Jesus provided an answer to the question, “and who is my God?”   Well, I would have said that the parable tells me that God can cope with a bit of messiness!   God doesn’t wait until everything is tidily arranged before acting in love.   It tells me also that God wants people to belong to him, and that the very smallest step towards him is taken up with astonishing generosity.   God even wants little babies, who cannot make decisions for themselves, to be taken into his fold, in love, and he accepts the assurances that sponsors give that the child will learn and come to value what God has done for him.   I would remember what Jesus said when mothers were bringing children to him for his blessing, “Let the children come to me… for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs”.

And the second parable?   Well, when European settlement in the Colony of South Australia was less than three years old, a prominent land-holder with property in the south-eastern corner of the newly-laid-out city of Adelaide, donated a block of land to the Church of England, and people began the task of building a church.   At that time, the land was in a somewhat remote area of the city, and the infrastructure was pretty primitive, but it was near the outer suburbs of Kent Town and Norwood, so a brick church dedicated to Saint John was duly opened, and church-life began here “in the wilderness”.   In the years since then the original church became unsafe, was demolished and re-erected near the centre of the city, and in 1887 a somewhat grander building was erected, and the parish of Saint John, Adelaide continued its life.   There have been many ups and downs in the church and in the surrounding area, in the years that followed, but the faithful offering of worship, the witness to the gospel in loving service to the community, the living out of the Kingdom of God, has continued to this day

And what would a preacher make of this parable?   What does it say about the question “And who is my God?”   Well, I would say that it shows God to be faithful over time, tailoring his gifts of grace to the circumstances of the age, and to the resources at God’s disposal in this place.   I would want to say that God is calling people of all ages and abilities, all states of health, to encourage one another, to join in prayer and worship, to be Good Samaritans in their community, and that he uses whoever is placed before him to accomplish his loving, healing, reconciling creative purposes.

“And who is our God?”   Yes, this is our God:  this is the one who works among us:  this is the one who takes Jordan Luke to be his own:  this is the one who calls us into his service.   Thanks be to God!

 

Marks of Mission

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Canon Bill Goodes

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost  2022  II Kings 5:1-14,  Psalm 30, Galatians 6:7 – 18,, Luke 10:1 – 12, 17 – 24

“Cure the sick who are there, and say to them ‘The Kingdom of God has come near’”  (Luke 10:9)

One of the buzz words of the Church today is that we should all be involved in Mission Action Planning, and last month your Parish Council spent some time putting together some preliminary ideas about such a plan for this parish.   The Anglican Consultative Council has identified five “Marks” of mission for the Anglican Communion —

  1. To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
  2. To teach, baptise and nurture new believers
  3. To respond to human need by loving service
  4. To transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation
  5. To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth

These marks may give a wider picture of “mission” than we have traditionally used, but each depends on the others for completeness.  Our Mission Action Plan is to be aligned to these “marks”, and the whole congregation will have the opportunity to contribute to the formulation of this Plan, as well as being responsible for its implementation!

We noted last Sunday that Jesus had earlier sent the twelve apostles on his mission, and now, after their return, as Jesus’ face is “set to go to Jerusalem”, he expands the mission work-force to involve “seventy others”.  Some have seen this expansion to such a large number of “missioners”, as a sign that mission is the responsibility of the widest possible group of Jesus’ followers.  The whole congregation perhaps?   What do his instructions to the Seventy suggest about our responsibility?

First, it seems, we are to be bearers of a message of peace:  “first say ‘peace to this house!’”  “Peace”, for those who schooled in the Hebrew language, was a greeting that carried with it a richness which is much deeper than the absence of warfare — shalom meant more a total well-being, with everything in its proper place, and a fulness of life.  Our mission, Jesus’ mission, always has that as its primary characteristic — we want everyone to enjoy this richness of peace, and to have that fullness of life that Jesus came to bring.

Then there is an interesting little sidelight there about justice — “eating and drinking whatever they provide,  for the labourer deserves to be paid”.    This refers not only to our responsibility to provide for  suitable living arrangements for people like our parish priests, but also the wider responsibility for ensuring that there is a just recompense for all who work.   The present cost of living concern in our society makes the question of what workers are paid an urgent issue for our community and its leaders to wrestle with.

But there’s the other side of that clause, too: the missioners are to be “eating and drinking whatever they provide”.   There is a responsibility of the guest towards the hosts, the responsibility of identifying with the hosts’ culture, and not imposing foreign values on them.  One of the most encouraging aspects of much of the Church’s mission today is that it tries to value the culture of those to whom it takes the good news of Jesus, not forcing people to abandon their culture and ways (language even!) to conform to foreign customs  before they become Christians.  Those photos of aboriginal children on mission stations dressed in western clothes and forbidden to use their own language, still makes me profoundly uncomfortable!

One of the qualities valued by those who follow a Benedictine spirituality, is Stability.  This has its basis in the instruction Jesus gives his missioners, “Remain in the same house…do not move about from house to house”.   This can speak to us in two directions: the first is about the base for mission.  This parish has been the base for mission for generations of people who have called it “home”.  One of the principal tasks of the parish is to provide a stable basis for people to continue the mission of Christ’s disciples.  We need to remember that stability, and to ensure that the parish provides a consistent encouragement to all its members to continue in mission.  That consistency is greatly strengthened by our regular attendance at worship and other activities.  The whole “two by two” direction to missioners speaks of this mutual encouragement that Jesus saw as fundamental to the task.

The stability works in the other direction as well — in the “targets” of our mission.  Mission requires a commitment and a perseverance with those to whom we take the good news of Jesus.  No flitting about from target to target!

When we listen to Jesus’ instruction to his missioners in the context of our “Healing Sunday” service, of course we will focus on the “cure the sick who are there” direction.  Our care in prayer and loving concern for our sisters and brothers who are dis-eased in any way is fundamental to our mission.  Sometimes we will see improvements in the physical, mental, or spiritual well-being of those whose cure we are seeking, and perhaps there should be more prominence given to our thanksgiving for these improvements.  I like to think of us wanting our friends to experience “wholeness” — after all, that is the word that first became “hale” (as in “hale and hearty”), and then became “healthy”.  Such wholeness (health) has physical, mental and spiritual aspects to its description of a person’s complete well-being, and any move closer to such wholeness can be seen as “healing” and greeted with thanksgiving.

But notice the twice-repeated “the kingdom of God has come near” message that accompanies the curing of the sick who are there.  For the mission that we are involved in is all about the kingdom of God, and the later section of the long Gospel reading today sets out that wider context most clearly.  Jesus’ prayer “I thank you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent, and revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”   For the Mission that we are planning into action is not our mission — it is God’s mission, and God graciously reveals to us, infants that we are in so many ways, what this mission is, and how we might co-operate with God in it.  God bless us in our Mission Action Planning, and in our pursuit of that mission

 

 

Live by the Spirit

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Canon Bill Goodes

Third Sunday after Pentecost – II Kings 2:1-2, 6-14,  Psalm 77:1-2, 10-20, Galatians 51,13 – 25, Luke 9:51 – 62

“Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh.”  (Galatians 5:16)

For something like the next 20 weeks, we will be observing the so-called “Sundays after Pentecost”, which we began last week.   This sequence will be interrupted only by the Church’s Dedication Festival, and the month of the Season of Creation.   During these weeks, we follow three independent series of readings:  the first will be the ones from the Old Testament (properly now referred to as “the Hebrew scriptures”), and these will focus on the work of the prophets — this series began last week with the prophet Elijah, and today introduces his successor, Elisha.   The Psalm that is set each Sunday is meant to pick up some part of the theme of the first reading.   Today’s is a lament in which the Psalmist comes to question what God is up to making him suffer like he is — but then he goes on to a confident recital of God’s past actions.

The Gospel readings this year are mainly from the Gospel of Luke and we come today to a turning point in the story that that Gospel portrays of Jesus’ ministry — the point in his ministry where he “sets his face to go to Jerusalem”.   John’s Gospel has Jesus in Jerusalem on a number of occasions before his final time there, but the other three see his move from Galilee to Jerusalem as something that only happens once — as the time of Jesus’ death approaches.   These writers are not so much interested in a kind of Google Timeline, which tracks Jesus’ movements in diary form:  rather they construct their telling of the story in a way that helps the reader to see the logic of Jesus’ ministry, rather than its calendar.

It is interesting, too, to see that Luke places this ‘turning to Jerusalem’ rather earlier in the story than do Matthew and Mark.   The first three chapters in Luke are taken up with the birth stories of Jesus and John Baptist, and then Jesus’ Baptism and Testing. This rite of commissioning and direction-setting  leads to a confident, popular ministry of healing, exorcising, teaching, feeding in the region of Galilee.    He is assisted in this ministry by his twelve apostles.   It is when they return from their mission of preaching the kingdom that Jesus reaches the turning point in his ministry in the crucial events recorded in chapter 9 — in that chapter we have the story where Peter acknowledges Jesus as Son of God, and then Jesus takes Peter, James and John to a mountain where he is transfigured in their sight.   And now, he “sets his face to go to Jerusalem”, because “the days drew near for him to be taken up”.   Over the next Sundays we will follow this journey, with stories of success and threat, until, ten chapters later, Jesus enters Jerusalem and the story of Holy Week begins.    As Luke tells the story, throughout this period “his face is set towards Jerusalem”, and what follows his entry into Jerusalem cannot be avoided:  it is who Jesus is!

The other series of readings is from the letters of Paul — beginning with the earliest of them, the letter to the Galatians.   Each of these letters tries to address particular situations in the life of the various congregations.  They do so by focussing on the person of Jesus, and on the appropriate way of life for followers of Jesus.   Today’s reading is a particularly significant one in describing that way of life — it lists the results of living a life only concerned with what our physical instincts and desires direct, and contrasts that with the fruits of living “in the Spirit”.

One of the principal situations that Paul addresses in this letter is that some people are telling the Galatian Christians they must follow the Jewish Law — and Paul’s experience of that Law is that it imposes a virtual slavery on people:  he contrasts this experience with the gift of freedom which life in Jesus brings:  “For freedom Christ has set us free…do not submit again to a yoke of slavery!” today’s reading began.   However, this very freedom, fundamental to the life in Christ, carries with it a danger:  is the Christian disciple so “free” that there are no boundaries to the disciple’s behaviour?  “you were called to freedom…only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence”.

To make quite clear what he means, Paul then goes on to contrast “gratifying the desires of the flesh” with “living by the Spirit”.    Now this contrast between “flesh” and “spirit” raises some questions for us, because we have grown up being told that “flesh is good” —  our bodies are beautiful, objects of delight, God-given, to be cherished and valued.    Hating the body is thought of as “Victorian”, and out of touch with who we really  are.   The Greek word used for flesh is sarx, which comes into English in words like “sarcoma” or “sarcophagus” , and in Latin this becomes “carnis”, which gives rise  in English to both “carnal” and “incarnation” — perhaps giving an idea of just how revolutionary Christ’s coming “in the flesh” really is!

When I am guiding school-children on a tour of the Cathedral, I often ask them to look at the outside of the building, and ask them which way it points.   While some would say immediately “it points to heaven”, I have to try to steer away from that crude geography, and talk of “higher things” or “pointing away from those concerns that are only to be found in the earthly”.   I don’t know how much that takes root in their understandings, but it is the same contrast that Paul is addressing. For Paul here is using the term “flesh” in the sense of a direction of life governed only by carnal desires, those desires that deal only with the satisfaction of my wants — with no relation to other people or to God.

When we live “according to the flesh”, he says, it results in fifteen types of anti-social and destructive behaviours — these are the obvious ones, and there are others like them.   When we live by the Spirit, are guided by the Spirit, instead we show the fruits of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”

This list of “fruits” comes with its challenge to our personal ways of working with one another:  do we always demonstrate these in our relationships in family, neighbourhood, political life, or even in our world-wide considerations?   But what about our Church relationships?   I am afraid that too often we see congregations demonstrating the “works of the flesh” that Paul is talking about — things like “enmities, strife, quarrels, dissensions, factions”.   Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, in researching the story of this Parish, this Diocese, the Anglican Communion, historians were able to look at our story as demonstrating “kindness, generosity, love, self-control”   I don’t know why the compilers of our lectionary left out the final verse of this chapter — perhaps it was too close to the bone even then:  it says “Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another”!

“Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh.”

What are you doing here?

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Canon Bill Goodes

Second Sunday after Pentecost  2022  I Kings 19:1-4., 8-15a,  Psalm 42, Galatians 3:10 – 14, 23 – 29, Luke 8:26 – 39:

“What are you doing here, Elijah?”  (I Kings 19:9, 13)

Well, there’s a challenge for you!  It was a challenge for Elijah, and it is just as much a challenge for us.  “What are you doing here?

It came to Elijah who was feeling pretty depressed, Queen Jezebel, in all her power and deviousness, had made a public statement, on oath, that Elijah’s head was for the block!   Having a contract put on you by such a person would justify anyone fleeing for their life.  And Elijah had run for six weeks from Israel and finished up at Mount Sinai, the mountain of God.

We can feel a certain sympathy with the prophet here, as he answers the voice of God by saying “I have been very zealous for the Lord of hosts, for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant…killed your prophets…I alone am left, and they are seeking my life!”  When we think of how things used to be, and how this occasion would see the Church filled with parishioners and members of the Great Priory and their families and friends, we might well be feeling “I alone am left…!”  For that’s not how things are today:   we look around at who we are, all too conscious of our age and our many infirmities, and feel very much with the prophet.  And God says to us “What are you doing here?”

God responds to the prophet in two ways.  First, he shows Elijah something of God’s nature, and goes on to speak of God’s continuing call for the prophet.

God’s nature?  “Stand on the mountain before the Lord”  Then came the tempestuous wind, ripping the countryside to shreds — “but the Lord was not in the wind”.  Then came the trembling of the foundations as the earth rocked — “but the Lord was not in the earthquake”.  Then came a wild-fire, fearsome  and destructive in its intensity — “but the Lord was not in the fire”.  After the fire, “a sound of sheer silence” or “a mere whisper” — the older translations spoke of “a still small voice.”  Elijah then covered his face, stood outside the cave, and heard again the challenging voice “What are you doing here, Elijah?” I wonder whether his carefully rehearsed response might have been delivered a little more hesitantly in the face of this display of God’s presence (and God’s absence!).

There are some very loud voices in our experience, sounding like wind, earthquake, fire:  these voices clamour for our attention, saying “This is where the power is — you’ve got to listen to us!  Listen to our message of wars and rumours of wars, of broken-down systems, of terrible behaviour by people who ought to know better and yet who are in positions of authority themselves.  Listen to our message that says there is no reality other than the material world around us.  Listen to our message that says there is nothing that you can do.”  God’s message to the prophet comes in the quiet which the desert is so capable of — a silence in which one might hear God’s message, God’s challenge, God’s call, God’s reassurance.

God’s call comes to Elijah in two parts:  first he is to go and anoint some new leaders — in Aram, Syria, that power which is the greatest threat to Israel’s peace.  The passage goes on after the part we read, to speak of Israel, anointing Jehu to be king — which means that Jezebel is to get her come-uppance at the hands of one “who drives furiously”.  Then, in the prophetic field, Elisha is to take over from Elijah himself, for Elijah is about to come to the end of the ministry in which he has been so loyal.   And the call has a reassurance at the end of it, “Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel” who have remained steadfast in their loyalty to the Lord God.  Elijah is not the only one left!

What is God’s call to us, as we put those loud voices behind us, and listen to God in the sound of sheer silence?  Do we look for new leaders, even if we know that they will “drive furiously”?  Do we anticipate our own dying, the ending of things as we know them, so that another may come in our place?  But whatever lies ahead of us, God’s assurance remains, “there are still seven thousand in Israel” — we are not alone in our loyalty to the Lord, the God of hosts”, in spite of how few and how weak we seem to be.

The question “What are you doing here?” comes with a challenge, not only to Elijah, but also to us.  And there is another challenge in today’s readings.  Jesus comes to the Gerasene man, clearly in need of healing, and Jesus is greeted with the challenge, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?”  That challenge continues, after the man is healed, and appears “clothed and in his right mind”, when the villagers come out to see what has happened.  Faced not only with the healed man, but also the loss of a herd of pigs, they “asked Jesus to leave them”.  The man wants to go with Jesus, but is told, “Return home, and tell how much God has done for you.”

Even in our loyalty to the Lord of Hosts, we too are tempted to challenge Jesus with the same message, “What have you to do with me?”  Somehow we find Jesus’ presence even more confronting than the still small voice with which God can speak with us.  We have our ways of “asking him to leave” — I remember when our present Archbishop came to this Church for the first time, one of the comments someone made was “Too much mention of Jesus!”  Perhaps it is because of the kind of challenge that  Jesus gave the Gerasene man,and confronts us as well — “Return to your home and tell how much God has done for you”.

“What are you doing here?”

“What have you to do with me?”

And perhaps for us, nearly as challenging are the words of Paul to the Church in Galatia, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”  Can we make this real in our particular circumstances?

The different “persons” of our God

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Canon Bill Goodes

Trinity Sunday 2022  Proverbs 8:1 -4, 22-31, Psalm 8, Romans 5:1 – 5, John 16:12-15

“…we have peace with God through our Lord, Jesus Christ…God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who  has been given to us”   (Romans 5:1, 5)

You may have noticed that we have included in the order of service today the Nicene Creed, which we normally omit on the Sunday we offer the Healing ministry in our more formal way.   But of course it is Trinity Sunday, and our readings focus on the different “persons” of our God,.   So it is important for us on this day to recite together this expanded form of the doctrine of the Trinity that was agreed to at the Councils of Nicaea and Chalcedon in the 4th and 5th centuries.

What are we doing when we recite a creed?   In a few weeks we will have a Baptism at this service, and those who are bringing the baby for Baptism will be asked to answer on the child’s behalf, “Do you believe in God the Father?…Do you believe in God the Son?…Do you believe in the Holy Spirit?”   And in each case they will answer with the appropriate  paragraph from the so-called “Apostles Creed”.   After this all of us will be challenged,  “This is the faith of the Church” and we will respond, “This is our faith, We believe in one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”   “the Faith of the Church”;  “our faith” — what does it mean?

When we use the Nicene Creed nowadays, we use the original beginning, “We believe…”   The Apostles Creed has always been a statement of personal faith  “I believe…”   But how does it relate to my own understanding of God’s action and God’s nature?   I grew up in the Methodist Church, and in a tradition which was always rather suspicious of the Roman Catholic Church, so I remember struggling as a young man with the phrase in the Apostles Creed “I believe in …the holy Catholic Church” — could I really say that with integrity?   In fact the Methodist Communion service amended this expression to “the holy Christian Church”.

On Trinity Sunday in days gone by, the Prayer Book ordered that instead of either of these creeds, we should recite “the confession of faith known as the Athanasian creed”.   This is still printed in A Prayer Book for Australia, right up the back, but it is a long time since I have heard it used in public.   It begins in an uncompromising way, “Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholick Faith.  Which Faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly”.   It then goes on in complex philosophical language to make statements about what God’s nature is and what it is not.   This statement of right belief sets our “believing” in the context of everlasting salvation, and affirms that this salvation depends on our accepting as right belief all that this statement sets out.

One problem is that each of these “creeds” — “I believe”s — is couched in the language of its time, along with the philosophical background of that language.    However, this language does not always reveal or express the truth of God in terms that people of a different age might use.   But rather than have each generation write a new statement, we continue to use these historical statements and say, in effect, “I want to assert that I belong to the same faith community that developed this statement.”   We remember, too, that the statements were developed in the context of controversy about what was genuine, authentic Christian belief — a belief that would place its believers in the ambit of  the saving, reconciling work of Jesus.   And because the agreed statements were meant to address the ideas that were thought inauthentic, they place what we would see as a rather unbalanced stress on certain aspects of their statements — all that “God from God, Light from Light, …begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father” all contradict particular aspects of what they saw as false beliefs.

But this whole concept of “right belief” or “orthodoxy” or “Catholick Faith” is used to exclude rather than include — Nicaea asserted that those who are “in” say that Jesus is “of the same nature” as God, and any who would dare say Jesus is “of a similar nature” to God are “out”.    The whole approach which divides people into those who are “in” and those who are “out” is one which has a long and deeply biblical background.   It took a revolution for Jewish people to accept that God’s purposes were not simply for them but for the whole of the created order.   There were hints of this wider reference from time to time, but the dominant theme was one of separation, of being chosen,  favoured, entitled.  (A bit like the attitudes of some of the British settlers to the indigenous people in our own land!)  The early Christians struggled mightily with the question of whether following Christ demanded becoming an observant Jew first.   Christian history, too, is full of stories of people who were not simply excluded, but even killed because their beliefs and practices were not those of the dominant group — carefully expressed in terms of orthodoxy of belief, but often underlying that were questions of power — “I have the power here;  you will believe what I believe, or else!”

When we recite a creed today, though, our aim is not so much to exclude people as to assert our unity with those who have held the faith of Jesus Christ down the ages.   Today we are wanting to say that we are “in”, while at the same time not wanting to claim that everyone else is “out”.   We are prepared to recognize that  truth can be expressed in many ways, and that a person’s integrity carries more weight than their stated beliefs.   And this, of course, is in line with the predominant philosophy of our age!   We have been able to find support for this way of working in the biblical record, although this interpretation is still contested by some.   Many of us find comfort in the words in this morning’s Gospel reading, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth…”   We have come to understand that this process of “guiding” has stretched out over the centuries, and we believe that some of the things that Jesus has had to say to us have taken a long time for us to “bear”!

So, on this Trinity Sunday, let us give thanks to the God of grace for calling us into the fellowship of “the Spirit of truth”, and that this Spirit has continued to guide us closer to the fulness of the truth.

We are all the body of Christ

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Rev’d Susan F. Straub

‘Waiting on God in the Eucharist’

Introduction

Today is the Sunday after the Ascension: Thursday was Ascension Day. The forty days from Jesus’ crucifixion was ended. In that time. a transformative time, he continued to be seen by his disciples. Now the disciples enter a time of transition. They wait for promised power from on high: a wait of expectation. The gospel passage we’ve just heard is Jesus’ parting prayer for them and for us. Yes, for us. “I ask not only on behalf of these (the disciples with him at the time), but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word” and his prayer was that we may all be one. Not as a one solid lump, as all ‘one in solidarity’  would imply, but as individuals of every time and place, each with our peculiarities, united by the love and worship of Jesus Christ – relating to each other in brotherly, sisterly love.

In remembering and showing love and thankfulness for one person, whether the occasion is Mothers’ or Fathers’ Day, or a birthday, a family maintains, or sometimes even renews contact, strengthens the ties that bind families together and, where those families can physically gather, a celebratory meal is part of the day.

Jesus’ not only prayed for our unity, our belonging together, but also gave us the means of experiencing it, maintaining it and strengthening it: the very act that we’ve gathered together to do, the eucharist. This is the joyful meal in which as brothers and sisters, we remember and show love and thankfulness for our one God: God, our father, God, our eldest brother, and God, who binds us together.

John 17:20-26

Jesus prayed: ‘As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us.’ In the eucharist we’re united with God as we eat the bread of Christ’s body and drink the wine of his blood.

The bread and wine, fruit of human hands, are transformed for us through the power of the Holy Spirit into the Body and Blood of Christ. They become a pledge of the ‘new heaven and new earth’ (Rev 21:1). For Christ died not only for those who loved and love him, but for all. The reality of God’s gift of salvation can be seen, heard, tasted, touched, and smelled in the eucharist. Then we’re sent into the world. The more we are nourished by Him, the more we understand that we have a missionary task, in other words, what we experience is too good to keep to ourselves. We are to be ‘acceptable as an offering, made holy by the Holy Spirit’ (Romans 15:16) in order to be more and more ‘one, in heart and mind’ (Acts 4:32), in unity with God and each other. Why? So we can be witnesses and ambassadors of his love wherever we find ourselves, to tell of his love, to speak and act as he would, that is, in his name, so that others can experience God’s love

Unity is not an extra: it’s essential to what it means to be Christian. Did Jesus pray that we could all be equal to each other or that we should all be like each other, Jesus-clones, or even that we should like each other all the time?  No, but that we should love one another. To come together to celebrate, whether we’re here physically or joining on-line, leaving our differences at the door of this sacred place rather than our shoes! United in love, our mission, our meaning and purpose, is to show the way of Jesus, an alternative to evil, and to combat its acts of obvious or insidious harm. To show a love that doesn’t demand or expect reciprocity, ‘karma’, tit-for-tat.

We are all, however we come, whoever we are, the body of Christ. We celebrate the Eucharist together as a sign of our unity, joining with others all over the world. We belong to Christ and each other. We rejoice together as children of God the Father.