South of the Hugh River, NT 2016

One Man's Web

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Let's translate the reading into 'Austrayan.'

In Luke Chapter 12 Jesus is preaching a long sermon. And near the end of it, things are a bit uncomfortable, because people are beginning to realise that being a Christian might not be as simple as they imagined. It might involve serious arguments within families: two against three, and three against two.

Somebody in the crowd is feeling a bit uncomfortable about all this and they cry out to Jesus, "Yeah, but God will still punish the sinners, won't he? You know: Like that time Pilate murdered those Galileans in the temple.  I mean, if they had been real, faithful followers of God, then God would have protected them, right?"

And Jesus says, "No. Not at all. That's not how God works. Those Galileans in the temple were no bigger sinners than any other Galileans. Just like the people that had the tower of Siloam fall on top of them. They were no more sinners, and no less sinners than anybody else."

This is sometimes profoundly challenging to us, because we like to think— somewhere in the back of our mind— that really, if you get cancer, then probably you were doing something wrong and God is punishing you...

Well, usually we don't quite come out and say it like that— although I have heard it. What we tend to do is say things like, "They didn't have enough faith," when someone doesn't get healed after prayer. And, while I don't think I ever thought God was punishing someone because they got sick, I always had the feeling that I wouldn't get cancer, and I wouldn't get sick because, after all, I was a good Christian, and God would look after me. But if you think about it, it all amounts to the same thing: God will protect those who are on God's side. And those who are not on God's side... the ones that God ...  maybe...   doesn't love as much? ... ... ... Well, anything could happen to them.

But Jesus says, "No. That's not how God is. Life is not like that." ... Read on >>>>

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Through the stop start of the lights down Fullarton and along Greenhill Road, we tracked alongside a Jeep stripped down to its roll cage and painted non-reflective black. It was a machine which could have been dropped alongside us from any battlefield in the world. The young owner had added expensive aftermarket rims and tyres, and other bling, to upgrade his projected persona to something truly perverse. For the eye which had sculpted this monstrosity had an obvious aesthetic skill. Yet what had been created was a prettified killing machine, an homage to the myth of redemptive violence. Only the machine gun in the rear tray was missing. We were on our way to a vigil for the victims of the Christchurch terrorist attack, which was held at the Marion Mosque last night. I do not know where the jeep was taking its driver.

More than a thousand people overflowed the under croft of the Mosque. In the heat, a young Muslim woman offered her water bottle to my daughter, and then to me. The Master of Ceremonies began his welcome with the formal listing of dignitaries: "Your Excellency the Honourable Hieu Van Le, Governor of South Australia..." and then took several minutes to complete the list. And so began a long series of speeches as South Australia repudiated terror and hate, and mixed raw grief and pain with an affirmation of humanity's best hopes for itself. Here was a place where young men distributed cups of cold water amongst the crowd, where little children played at our feet, where feminist anglo women wore scarves out of respect, and those who had not were still respected; where those who were faint in the heat were cared for; where Muslim, Jew, Christian, and those of no faith stood together: old, young, women and men; where children played catch in the side street with a couple of plastic water bottles, and good natured police stepped into the Marion Road traffic to allow pedestrians to cross.

This was glory. In the heat, and on sore feet, we were standing somewhere close by the Kingdom of God, the place where "the wolf shall live with the lamb...  and a little child shall lead them, [and]  they will not hurt or destroy  on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
   as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11)

Why start a reflection on Luke 13:1-9 here? It's because the reading is suddenly very clear, and full of pathos, and promise, if we read it from the perspective of the Kingdom of God.

In this text, Jesus repudiates any idea that the Galileans murdered by Pilate, or that the people killed in the collapse of a tower, were in some way deserving of death. God does not punish people like that. God does not use ungodly state sanctioned terror, much less fundamental cowards like the Christchurch terrorist, to punish people. We are all, in fact, little different to those killed by Pilate. We are little different to those who happened to be nearby when the tower fell; God does not punish like that. "Suffering is not a form of punishment." ... Read on >>>>

Wikilyiri came up from the farm one morning to tell me that a dingo had broken into the chook shed. All the hens were dead. Over a hundred of them were torn to pieces with the needless savagery we associate with humans rather than animals.

In Luke, Jesus is doing God's work in Galilee, casting out demons, performing cures. The ruler in Galilee is Herod Antipas. He is part of a dynasty who rule by terror. He has already killed John the Baptist, and now he also wants to kill Jesus. Some Pharisees warn Jesus about this. Jesus says something like

Tell him he can do what he likes. I'm doing God's work, and I'm on the way to Jerusalem where they will kill me anyway. Yes, Herod is a fox in the hen house; a dingo-vicious, mean killer. But in the plan of God, Herod is irrelevant.  He has no power over me; I am to die in Jerusalem.

In God's reality, death is nothing. Hebrews 2 says Jesus frees us from our slavery to death, (2:15) which means he takes all the power of the Herods of this world... away from them. Jesus shows us God's reality which is, despite all our fears, that death is nothing.

Jerusalem is meant to be the city of God. It claimed to worship God. It claimed to long for the coming of the Messiah. But in Jesus' eyes it is no more than another Herod, for it will kill him.

Jerusalem will think it is killing Jesus in order to remain the City of God... and to keep the city safe, but in doing that it will reject God, just as it has when it has killed every other prophet.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!

And Jesus, speaking for God as he says this, does not hate Jerusalem, does not fear it, but mourns for it.

And then we have the most remarkable image of God. For God reveals herself as the  mother hen who places her wings around us, her little chickens, and comforts us when we are afraid. God styles herself, describes herself, .... as one of those hens who are torn apart by the dingos and foxes as they shelter the chicks.... Read on >>>>

From the text: Brene Brown says that we cannot selectively numb our emotions. When we numb pain, we numb joy. I experienced the truth of this: I lived in a perpetual melancholy, a sort of subacute depression.  In the same way, when we numb our vulnerability; that is, when we silence our fears of failure, and of not measuring up, we numb our ability to see and articulate the world. In other words, we blind ourselves. It has taken me forty years to articulate in a few paragraphs what a part of me saw with great clarity, although I had no words for it, as a small child! The point I am wanting to make here is that this process of growing up to a mature vision of life is not simply a matter of gaining intellectual maturity. Until we can be honest about not knowing what is going on in life, we box ourselves in with the fear of life and death. It's this fear, of course, which starts the whole cycle. I wonder how different life would be if we could tell someone, "I don't know what is going on. I am afraid." ... Read on >>>>

Christ_in_the_Wilderness_-_Ivan_Kramskoy_-_Google_Cultural_InstitutecloseIf we take Luke at his word, Jesus knows what he is doing. Jesus is choosing the life-path which means he will be killed, and he knows this. (Luke 9:21-27) Jesus is going to this dying without proofs and guarantees,  but only in the trust that God will in some way preserve him despite death. There is no getting out of this life alive, and if Jesus does not suffer the agony of this contemplation with the same grief that it brings to us, then he is not fully human. It is during the temptations that Jesus first sets his face towards Jerusalem. (Luke 9:51)

I place Ivan Kramoskoi's Christ in the Desert  alongside these words from Nora Gallagher:  "I once asked a friend of mine who is a therapist how to stop projecting onto others my own fears and weakness, that is, how to love, and she said: “You must enlarge your capacity to suffer.”"

Jesus, full of the spirit, deeply shaped and moved by his experience of God, is driven into the wilderness. He sits by the remains of the river downstream from Cloncurry: thirty-three of his 40 days exceed 40 degrees centigrade. Who will he be, and what will he say to us as he comes out of the desert, when the heat slowly eases sometime in March, and we begin to forget the simmering fear of this last summer? And who will we be? How will we follow him? Will we follow him?

Read on >>>>

There is an empty billboard on my ride home where the owners have a big sign: Unsee This! The point, of course, is that once we see certain things, we can't unsee them; life is forever different because of what we have seen. Carole Etzler wrote:

Sometimes I wish my eyes hadn't been opened
Sometimes I wish I could no longer see….

just for an hour how sweet it would be
not to be struggling, not to be striving
but just sleep securely in our slavery.

The desire to return to Egypt, as we sometimes put it, is because reality and freedom are not only hard won. It is hard to live within them. They demand much of us.

To be human seems to be to live in terror of both life and death. We have to dumb ourselves down, turn down the volume on our emotions, to even cope with the richness into which we are born. Ernest Becker said

one of the first things a child has to do is to learn to "abandon ecstasy," to do without awe, to leave fear and trembling behind. Only then can we act with a certain oblivious self confidence.... (The Denial of Death pp55)

People carve their names into trees, moan about trivia as they walk through the overwhelming aura of Uluru, smash rock carvings, turn up the sound system in the middle of the desert as they unload a truck full of unnecessary camping material: anything to drown out the overwhelming ecstasy of existence. Listen again when you hear a gauche or off-key response to something beautiful or profound. Do you hear the fear?

At the other end of life, is the other fear, the fear of dying... Read on >>>>

This didn't happen, of course, because I can't tell you about the lives of my congregation; other things happened. But this morning began with Tom pulling a few weeds in his front yard while he waited for me to pick him up on the way to church. Tom hates the police because... well, we've never quite found out why, but to be disabled is to be vulnerable. And there's something about small rooms that gets Tom talking compulsively about the police. Which means that when some bastard neighbour rings the police and says you're shouting and screaming and smashing stuff, you're not in very good shape when the minister arrives. It was a long drive to church. Three blocks back from the church, Gerry was asleep on her front veranda, so I knew she wouldn't be coming. I always feel I should stop and wake her up to make sure she hasn't died out there, and I guess one day, I'll find out she has.

During church, the bloody ants got into the cake and the jelly.... Read on >>>>

You can listen here. Trigger: this post mentions domestic violence and sexual assault.

I trust that there is a God because it is the only thing which makes sense of the world that I know.  I cannot believe that I, and that we, are just some bunch of chemicals in a strange cosmic accident which just happened to be.  There is too much glory, too much complexity, and too much beauty and joy for such a thing to be true. To say it is all accidental, all just chemicals, would be to deny everything I experience in the world.

To be clear, the fact of God... doesn't answer any of my problems with the world. It says nothing about the savagery, nothing about the evil, and nothing about the horror. To say that God has a lot to answer for, is to state the truth. But the horror of things do not mean there is no-God. If we were just chemicals, just bodies, why and how would we recognise horror? What would it matter?

The old hymn says "eternal life hath God implanted in the soul." The fact that we can even consider such things as our existence, and our pain, along with our joys, is itself the sign of God. It is the witness of something more than mere matter. It is the first fruits of eternal life, a completely different way of seeing the world and living within it.... Read on >>>>

Triggers: extreme domestic violence, existential doubt about one's own existence.

But I say to you that listen... these seven words from the beginning of the reading set for this week, point us to the end of what we call Luke Chapter 6:  

I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them. 48That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built.

Listen to these words, act on them, and you will build your house; that is, your life and your very being, upon bedrock. Don't act on them, and you risk all that you build being swept away in life's floods.

I find it extraordinarily valuable— and discomforting— to ask how it is that I am reading a text. What am I bringing to it; what affects how I read it; what blinds me to aspects of it; what do I want to see in it?

So I begin this reflection about a 'house' with firm foundations by asking:

How do we find bedrock in a world of terror?

Ernest Becker, in his book The Denial of Death1, says that humans live a vital lie.

All our meanings are built into us from the outside, from our dealings with others. This is what gives us a self... Our whole world of right and wrong, good and bad, our name, precisely who we are, is grafted into us; and we never feel we have authority to offer things on our own... (pp48)

See this, and it is difficult not to wonder if "we" have any existence at all... Read on >>>>

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