When I am weak, I am strong.

Previously we undertook a preaching series on the Holy Spirit: the identity of the Holy Spirit, fellowship with the Holy Spirit, the empowering of the Holy Spirit for ministry and the empowering of the Holy Spirit in relationships.  I produced a booklet of that preaching series with an additional chapter on the experiences people describe when the Holy Spirit is present.

If we believe that God can do things through the Holy Spirit we need to provide an opportunity for God to do what he wants to do.  For this reason, for more years than  can remember, we have had a healing Eucharist on the morning of the fourth Friday of each month; providing an opportunity for the laying on of hands, anointing with oil, and prayer for whatever is of concern for those who seek it.

You may be aware that we have begun, what we are calling, Seeking the Spirit, on the second Wednesday evening of each month.  The purpose of this group was to be intentional about worshipping the Holy Spirit and seeking the Spirit for the building up of the Parish and for praying for those things and people that need praying for in the Spirit.  It has also been a time when we can talk about our experiences of the Holy Spirit so that others may realise that the Holy Spirit is at work in and through them without them realising.

We have also taken the opportunity to offer to pray spontaneously for people when a need is expressed.  I continue to be amazed, perhaps ashamedly, about how many amazing things, dare I call them miracles, have taken place in the last month or so as a result of this willingness to provide opportunity for God the Holy Spirit to do what he wants to do through prayer ministry.

Some time ago we prayed for one of the Friday morning attenders shoulders.  They have caused such pain.  Although the pain has since returned, the following week they told me that for a whole weekend they were pain free.

Another member of the Friday morning congregation was recently diagnosed with an aggressive secondary cancer on the lung from a breast cancer previously in remission.  While undergoing difficult and painful tests she found herself praying and the experience she described while undergoing examination can only be attributed to the Holy Spirit.  As a part of the Friday morning service we prayed for her.  At the next medical examination, before any medical intervention had begun, the doctor was surprised to declare that the cancer had already decreased in size.

After an 8.00 am Sunday service, one of the members of the congregation, who had been unable to stand when they normally would during the service, explained that they had pain in their back.  The pain had been a long standing condition that had been particularly bad that day.  I offered to pray for her, which she accepted.  On the Monday night following she telephoned me to say that she had been pain free for two whole days and I have had no reports that the pain has returned.

Just this week I heard that another of the 8.00 am had an open wound on their leg for some time that would not heal.  One of our parishioners offered prayer ministry for healing.  Later the member of the 8.00 service reported that their next medical visit had revealed that the wound was finally beginning to heal.

I don’t know why there is sometimes healing and other times appears to be nothing.  But these incidences are not things that have happened to people we do not know, in times now gone, and in far off places.  They have happened to people we know, here in this place, and in our time.

I feel like Paul sometimes as he writes, ‘on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, even considering the exceptional character of the revelations.’ (2 Corinthians 12:5-7)

Amazing things have happened to Paul.  In this passage from 2 Corinthians, Paul is defending his credentials as an apostle, as we often find him doing.  He is speaking of himself in the third person as having an experience of revelation by the Holy Spirit.  He is probably doing this in response to his critics claiming credentials for themselves through their ecstatic experiences.  By using the third person, however, he is not drawing focus on himself, he is calling the readers to identify those who are worthy by their being ‘in Christ’.

Rather, Paul owns his faults—he boasts of his weaknesses.  He doesn’t want anyone to think more highly of him than he is, despite what they see happening in and through him, lest it causes them to focus on him rather than on Christ who is in him—‘so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.’  There is a hierarchy in the Christian Godhead.  The Holy Spirit points us to Christ Jesus who, in turn, points us to the Father.  We are not to draw attention to ourselves, but always be pointing others to Christ Jesus.  Any revelations, any miracles, are not done by us, but are done through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

It is interesting that in the face of these amazing things that have been happening in our midst, I find myself amazed that they should be happening through me.  They seem to be happening despite me.  I have taken myself off to have some counselling because of some baggage I am carrying over from my marriage.  My internal life is a mess.  As a result of my messy internal life, my spiritual life is also a mess.  Despite these things, God is doing some amazing things.  Dare I say it, because of these things, God is able to act amazingly.  My ego is not getting in the way.  I can’t fall into the trap of taking credit for it.  It is not because I am psychologically together, it is not because I am deeply prayerful; it is simply that God has the opportunity to do something.

I am constantly reminded that his strength made known in my weakness.  Here is the paradox, ‘whenever I am weak, then I am strong.’

The point is this.  If we want to see the things God can do, we need to enable the opportunities for God to act.  We don’t have to be super-spiritual, we don’t have to be perfect, we don’t have to be deeply prayerful, we just need to be in Christ and respond as we best understand we should.  It is not we who do it, it is Christ who does it, we need to accept what we can offer and let him get on with it.  It won’t happen if we make it all about us and by our effort.  His grace is sufficient for you, for his power is made perfect in our weakness.

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Maundy Thursday – Food and Community

Most of you know how much I like food and exploring different kinds of food.  I put this down to my parents who, before Australia had become as multicultural as it is today, were always experimenting with food.  We were taught to sit and eat at a table, what we call table manners, so we could go to restaurants.  I never understood why McDonalds and Pizza Hut, when they came to Australia, were called family restaurants because every restaurant, for me, was a family restaurant.  It was at one restaurant I first fell in love with Chicken a la Orange and would order it whenever it came up on a menu.

It is no wonder I have a love of food and food from other cultures and my brother became a chef.  We have talked about it and we both think that it was this introduction from our parents that has given us a love of food.  I have to own, however, that including wine in that culinary journey was my own doing.  My parents drank that awful early Australian Moselle, which was reputed to have been made of sultana grapes, or a red out of a box.

Yeah!  I am a tosser.

Whenever I have travelled I have partaken in the kind of food they have in the culture I have visited.  I have eaten chili roti for breakfast in Singapore.  I have drunk kava in Fiji.  I have eaten taro cooked in coconut milk in Papua New Guinea.  I have eaten a seaweed called sea grapes in Fiji.  I have eaten snails in garlic butter in Paris.  I have eaten roast beef out of a Yorkshire pudding bowl in the oldest pub in England.  I have eaten kangaroo in a restaurant in Halls Gap.  At home I have cooked Italian, Thai, Chinese, French, Indonesian, Syrian, Mexican, Japanese, Indian; there are very few things I do not eat.

I list among those things I don’t like: okra, also known as ladies fingers, and a spinach like vegetable in PNG.  Both exude a clear mucous when cooked.  I don’t like the taste of okra, even in a tomato and onion sauce, but I can’t get used to the visual of a green leafy vegetable swimming in a wad of snot.

There is something about cultural identity and food and eating that food.  The Italians spend all morning as a family preparing and cooking and then, again as a whole family, spend the rest of the day eating it.  It is spoken of as the slow food movement.  The Chinese place all their food in the centre of the table and eat out of the same bowls using small bowls of rice to place the food on between mouthfuls.

However, in western culture we have allowed food to be something that just gives us energy.  We go into a store and buy prepared meals to quickly heat up in the microwave, or a drive through where we don’t even have to get out of our car and apparently eat as we drive.  We will sit and eat in front of the television with our food on our lap or tray.  Food has lost its place in bringing people together, creating and nurturing family and community.

I am envious of those cultures who continue to see food as a source of family gathering and community bonding.

Someone tried to define Australian cuisine some time ago.  Most people think that it is defined by using kangaroo and bush tucker foods.  In her recent book, Eat your History, by Sydney Living Museums resident gastronomer, Jacqui Newling, she confirms that, in the early settlement of white Australia, much of the English influence of our food was adapted by the available resources.  For example kangaroo tail was a substitute for ox tail.  However, I am in agreement with another argument that claims Australian cuisine may use bush tucker resources, but draws on the food of the multicultural society we have become.  Australian cuisine is the fruit of community and the source of community.

There are many arguments made regarding whether the meal Jesus shared with his disciples was a Passover Meal or was it was simply a regular agape, love, meal he would have with his disciples.  Participating in the sharing of food as the source of community is just what Jesus achieved with the meal he shared with his disciples.  Not only is sharing a meal part of the Palestinian culture it was also a part of the culture of a teacher with his disciples.  The important thing, however, is that he commanded us to continue to do it when we could.

Certainly we do it formally in the context of our worship whether we call it Communion, Last Supper, Lord’s Supper, Eucharist, Mass, Divine Liturgy, we share in the symbol of a meal with small piece of bread and a sip, or dip, of wine. This has significant meaning for us as we remember the death and resurrection of Jesus, his presence with us in these elements of bread and wine as if we were with him back then when he instituted these words with his disciples.

However, I can’t help thinking; these elements of bread and wine were then a part of a larger meal, so they are also symbolic of our larger meals.  That every meal we have at home is a communion when we share it with others – after all, where two are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them.

This is why I place a high importance on sharing in meals whenever we get together.  It is around food that we connect, converse, and bond.    We say grace, give thanks for the food and company, as a part of our meal time.  If this is taking place, when it is possible, every time we eat a meal, then every meal is communion and where these things are happening we are also obeying Jesus command.  In this sense our formal communion reflects the informal communion of our meals that take place in our homes around our kitchen or dining room tables.

Sharing a meal is more than providing our bodies with a source of energy, it is the catalyst for the fullness of life Jesus lived, died, and rose again, for us to have.  Sharing in this Holy Communion as Jesus called us to do is a symbol, a means, and a reminder for us to grow as a community in Christ Jesus.

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Amazement – the beginning of a creative end to conflict

Whenever I peel a ripe banana I am amazed at the seamless transition between the flesh of the fruit and the skin and yet it peels so effortlessly.  How does it become like that?  There are other fruit, of course, where the flesh and the skin are distinct, but more difficult to separate the two.

Whenever I think about the human body I am amazed that from two distinct cells, when they unite, become a living thing and as the cells divide they begin to take on their own function.  How do all these cells, dividing from the same single cell, become a kidney cell, a brain cell, a muscle cell?  And when, if some parts of the human body are damaged, it can heal itself.

When I look into the sky at night I am amazed by the concept of infinity, by the thought that the universe is expanding at an ever increasing speed – from what, into what?  Nothingness?  And in all this an ever-increasing realisation that the chances of another planet having the necessary characteristics to sustain a level of life equal to humanity is improbable.  The chances that we should even exist are so small that we ought to consider ourselves unique.

These are just a few of the things that I find amazing and led me, from my science background, to believe that God exists.  Jesus, by his life, teaching, healing and miracles, repeatedly caused amazement in those who witnessed these things to encourage them to respond to God in a new way.  Pontius Pilate was no exception.

‘But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed (thaumazein).’ (Mark 15:5)  Matthew puts it this way, ‘But [Jesus] gave no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly (lian) amazed (thaumazein).’  Matthew 27:14

Amazed, elsewhere in the New Testament carries a sense of doubt, astonishment, surprised by the charm and grace of Jesus, or surprised by the wisdom of Jesus’ answers.  But here Pilate seems to be amazed that Jesus does not defend himself against the charges that have been brought against him.  I find myself wondering what Pilate may have been thinking after his amazed response to Jesus’ silence.  Or, to put it another way, asking, ‘What is motivating Jesus to not defend himself?’  Clearly he expected him to.  Did he think that he was wise not to say anything?  Did he think that he had some sort of plan taking place?  Did he think he was being graceful, or forgiving, or compassionate to his accusers?   We don’t know, but Pilate seems not to be convinced that Jesus had any case to answer – the charges against him were spurious and malicious; based on the jealousy of the Jewish religious hierarchy.

We do have the sense that Pilate was either a coward or stuck between a rock and a hard place.  It was his responsibility to keep the peace in the place of his assigned protectorate.  So, he handed the decision on to the crowd, according to a custom that Mark records.  The crowd call for the release of Barabbas and Pilate acquiesces.

There is something in this idea of amazement that expresses an internal conflict, a moment of mental crisis.  What is seen or experienced does not match up with our expectations of what will happen, or should happen.

The interesting thing about this kind of conflict, or crisis, is that it causes us to rethink, to re-evaluate, what we originally thought or believed.  Or we can just bury our head in the sand and do the same thing we have always done; believed the same thing we have always believed.

As disciples of Jesus, these moments of conflict or crisis of thinking are the beginning of the process of repentance, of coming to believe in something new, or believe in something in a different way.  We have been calling, in our discipleship process, this moment of crisis of thought, Kairos, the God moment.  Kairos is the moment in our life experience where God breaks in and reveals something new about himself, about our self, or about the world in which we live.  Repentance is the process where we open ourselves to the possibility that there is a different way of believing.  Conflict and crisis, therefore, has the potential to bring about something new if we allow ourselves to respond creatively.

There was no conflict for Jesus in these things that were taking place.  He expected them.  So there was no need to change what he did.  Jesus’ silence was intentional.  He was not going to defend himself because they were correct.  The only question he answered was, “Are you the King of the Jews?”  Of course he had a completely different understanding of what being the King of the Jews was all about and what the kingdom was.  Jesus had set his face to the inevitable suffering that would come.  And he did so with true human expression, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  I can’t think of a better description of the real pain he was experiencing.  Jesus’ response in the light of what took place, according to Philippians, led to him glorifying God and him being highly exalted by God.

We don’t expect suffering and we don’t wish for suffering, unless we have a substantial mental disorder.  Jesus didn’t want to suffer, but I think he knew that was going to be the inevitable outcome of his continued proclamation of the kingdom of God and challenge of the religious hierarchy of his day.  Jesus was a conflict for them and, instead of looking for a creative response to the challenge he presented, they chose to remove the source of their conflict.  They lobbied to have him crucified.  With our 20/20 hindsight this did not get rid of the problem; Jesus was raised from the dead to have a greater impact on the world than he did while he was alive.  It does not help us to deny the conflict – it only means we are postponing the inevitable.

When those who complain that there can be no God in the face of suffering that takes place in the world, they are making a statement that the conflict that causes suffering does not exist.  Suffering in the world is conflict and crisis at its greatest, but the problem is not that it proves God does not exist, it shows that in our sinfulness humans are unable to act creatively in the face of it; or to avoid it.

We are amazed by the level of suffering in the world, but, like Pilate, we do not do anything differently and so suffering continues.  As Irish Statesman, Edmund Burke said, ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men [sic] to do nothing.’  Our being amazed should lead us to consider how we need to act in new and creative ways in the world in which we live and by the nature of the God in whom we believe to bring an end to conflict.

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