There is Enough For All in the Kin[g]dom of Love

In flicking through the weekend papers, I sometimes stumble over the ‘Social Pages,’ the place where the ‘A-listers’ of Sydney society are featured in all their glory – and otherwise.  I’m never really interested to read their stories about the latest party or event that they have attended.  I confess that I’m rather pleased I don’t have to dress up and play that game, of pleasing and impressing people to climb a ladder, social or otherwise.  Likewise, the lavish affairs that follow various entertainment awards ceremonies, the after parties, often seem (to the outsider) orgiastic affairs of rich food, too much drink (and other stimulants) and other ‘entertainment.’  These are for those who are invited, who have made it in the world of entertainment, business, sport, politics; those who are celebrity.  The higher up the ladder the more significant and upmarket the events you are invited to, the more exclusive and lavish.

It was such an affair that is spoken of in Matthew’s story of Jesus.  Herod Antipater, one of the sons of the infamous King Herod ruled over part of his father’s kingdom under Rome.  For his birthday he threw a party, an over-the-top affair for those he wanted to be seen with, to impress or who were sycophantic beings wanting to show their faces at such an event and impress others.  It seems a lavish affair of wine, food and seduction – and violence.  Following a seductive dance, his stepdaughter was promised anything her little heart desired.  She consulted her conniving mother and they decided on the head of John the Baptist.  John was an outspoken prophet who lashed out at the couple because Antipater got rid of his first wife and took Herodias, his half-brother’s wife, for his own.  John railed and Herodias fumed, looking for the moment of vengeance.

So, John’s head was delivered on a platter to the Queen and her daughter, ending a night of lavish food, wine, seduction and violence.  This is the feast of Herod and an echo of how power, wealth and fame so often form exclusive enclaves where the ‘elite’ can lord it over the masses and feel their superiority.  They may also be places where jealousy festers and egos compete for prominence and the upper hand.  Self-centred individualism thrives in these competitive niches and alcohol lowers inhibitions and fuels conflict and violence.  The stories emanating from the rich and famous are legendary and ongoing.

Over and against this lavish feast of orgiastic violence, was a very different gathering.  Matthew (14:13-21) describes a very different affair as Jesus wanders the shores of the Sea of Galilee.  Crowds of ordinary people gather in large numbers.  This crowd probably included anyone and everyone, whether they ought to have been there or not.  The lonely, desperate, powerless and anyone caught in the yearning and longing for life and hope, heard where he was and made their way there.  They gathered to listen, and Jesus filled their mind and being with words and stories that touched them to the core of being.  He lifted spirits and gave hope as the gathered people grew into an inclusive community who shared the pain and joy of life together.

It was late in the day when his disciples realised that there was no food and the people needed to go and find something to eat.  They approached Jesus who told them to feed the crowd themselves!  ‘We have no food!  It would cost us everything we have and more to buy food for this crowd.  We can’t feed them!’  Jesus told them to gather what food was available and bring it to him.  They found some loaves and fish.  Jesus held the food up, gave thanks and blessed it.  He broke it and gave it to the disciples to distribute to the crowd of ‘5000’.  Everyone ate and had enough.  There were 12 baskets full left over. 

This is such a different and contrasting story on so many levels.  The people gathered to learn and grow, to find hope and life.  They were connected in an inclusive gathering where all were welcomed and could find a place.  There were no ‘A-listers’ (nor ‘B-listers’…) but everyone recognised as equal and unique.  They were drawn into a fellowship of love and grace that nurtured them in the lifegiving love of God. 

In the story, everyone receives food – the same food.  It was simple but filling and nourishing and it fed everyone.  There were ‘5000’ and 12 baskets full remained.  The numbers are suggestive – ‘5’ is the number of the Torah, the Law of Moses – 5 books.  This story is about the Jewish people, God’s chosen and those to whom Jesus belonged and proclaimed God’s Reign.  The 12 reminds us of God’s people – represented by 12 tribes and then 12 disciples.  This is a feeding story where all God’s people received their fill for body, mind and spirit – and there is some over!

Further along in Matthew’s story there will be another similar story, a feeding of ‘4000’ with ‘7’ baskets full left over.  It happens on the other side of the lake, the gentile (non-Jewish) side.  The number ‘4’ symbolises the whole world (4 corners of the globe) and ‘7’ is the number of God’s completion (the 7th day is the last day when God rested after creation).  This will represent God feeding the whole world! (with some left over!).

In God there is enough for everyone!  There is enough for body, mind and spirit.  There is enough love, grace, hope, peace and life for all!  In God there is enough!!!  This ‘enough’ is inclusive, life-giving and for all the world.  It is only as we become preoccupied with self and seek to control our own resources rather than generously share what is provided with one another that there becomes lack – as we see terribly visible in so many parts of the world. As nations become exclusive and hoard resources, lend with high interest and are not willing to work together, share and ensure everyone has enough, people will continue to suffer starvation and die – at the rate of 25,000 a day.  Poverty-related illness, death and suffering is an enormous issue that we have the resources to overcome.  The US, for example, spent trillions of dollars on a war against Iraq (and in Afghanistan) that achieved little more than create greater chaos and suffering.  A portion of that money could have brought huge relief to the underdeveloped, hungry world!

The vision of God’s Reign is a feast where everyone has a seat at the table and we all share in the new wine of the Kin[g]dom, a place where all belong and find their life in the inclusive, nurturing, liberating Divine Heart, a Relational Community of Love that holds all things graciously and tenderly.  The vision of ‘heaven on earth’ as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, is for this Reign to take shape in our lives here, now.  We see glimpses of this when humans pull down barriers, share resources and work together in a crisis to help each other.  People share – food, money, beds/housing, clothes.  Everyone has what they need in that moment and we worry about the next moment when it arrives, rather than our continual hoarding and stashing away ‘our stuff.’ 

In God’s Reign, in God’s creation, there is plenty!  There is enough for all the world but only when we are liberated to share and embrace one another in inclusive community.

By geoffstevenson

A Prayer We Find Ourselves in!

Have you ever experienced something that has been so painful and difficult that you all words failed you?  Have you ever been in a place where you were so deeply moved that you inwardly groaned or cried out in inconsolable, incoherent words?  Have you ever felt so overwhelmed that even prayers would not, could not, form in your mouth or mind and you were left with the deep emotive groans and yearning that transcended articulation?

There have been many such moments I could recount.  Times of deep grief where death has surfaced and left its painful shadow over me and others.  I recall how, six years ago this last week, a young man was taken from us, along with nearly 300 other innocent people.  Jack was returning from a wonderful adventure when Russian Separatists took out their vengeful hatred on an innocent passenger jet.  It was an unbelievable experience where words failed me, and prayers were lost to words.  There was only the tearful sobs of Jack’s friends and family and the incredulous, disbelieving groaning of pain.

There have been many other moments of death, where grief has usurped life and joy and drawn me down into its dark abyss.  Mum’s death was as despairing and grief-striking as possible to bear.  There have been others where I have held a phone and stood in dis-believing silence.  I have had to arrange several funerals that were heartbreaking and the painful moments of organising them filled with disbelieving, pain-filled silence – a young girl, murdered and her body dumped behind a shopping centre; a young man murdered in his own home; a middle-aged man with everything to live for, suiciding – and other suicides that were desperately sad and confusing; illnesses, struggles, loss…

I have looked into pages of social media with disbelief and confusion as reports of horror fills the screen.  Animals suffering, the Earth being pillaged and left for dead, landscapes ravaged by bushfire, land-clearing and pollution.  The inhumanity of humans towards each other and the narcissistic greed and abuse of some people over others has left me speechless, disbelieving and overwhelmingly sad.  I felt a desperate confusion (and still do!) about the poor young Sri Lankan family from Bileola who were sent to Christmas Island, despite a community behind them, begging authorities for them to stay (and the concerns for their safety over a return to their homeland).  This week, the mother was finally taken to hospital on the mainland after being in pain for 2 weeks.  The inhumanity of our system is reflected in this Tamil family’s story.  As I read Munjed Al Muderis’s story as a refugee, I was ashamed and speechless.  Munjed is best known as a world leading orthopedic surgeon specialising in prosthetics.  His account is deeply sad and shameful and I am left without words or prayers to pray in the face of such inhumanity and pain.

Paul speaks into this painful lack of words that I feel so often.  He speaks of those moments when we can’t pray, can’t even speak and the Spirit groans within us in sounds deeper than words to express the inexpressible.  The Spirit is revealed in our deepest yearning and longing, even in those moments when we do not know what to say or we feel so numb, confused or overwhelmed to even process anything.  We become part of the groaning within the heart of God!  This is perhaps the beginning of hope – in our absolute weakness and helpless despair, God is revealed in vulnerability and holds us in this gentle place where silence is filled with deep groans and yearning.

Paul’s words in this profound passage from Romans 8 (vv26-39) are about hope.  In the earlier verses Paul speaks of the whole Earth groaning and awaiting its liberation as with the pangs of childbirth – an expectant waiting and hoping.  The liberation of the Earth is connected with the liberation of Humanity and all things in God, who is the deep and profound source of hope for all the world.

The complex thoughts of Paul flow through the remainder of the chapter and it rings with hopeful optimism because we discover our lives in God and there, we stand on the firmest and deepest foundations, grounded in pure love.  ‘If God is for us, who can be against us?’  ‘Through Christ we are more than conquerors…’ These familiar words have provided hope to many as we discover that God is love and reaches out to all people and nothing can break that bond of loving grace that holds us through the deepest darkness and brightest joy.  God is for us and no enemy can overwhelm that love.  They may kill the body, silence the mind but the spirit, our essential being, cannot be quenched because it is held in God’s love and grace.  Nothing, says Paul, can separate us from God’s love – nothing in all creation or beyond, can separate us from the love of God in Christ! 

It is this love, this hopeful, overwhelming love that shines its gentle light into our darkness and illuminates our despair.  This love is the heart of Jesus’ proclamation of God’s Reign that is ever-present, all around and liberating, subversive and just.  In Matthew’s story of Jesus this week (Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52), we read more stories of God’s Reign – the mustard seed and yeast commented on last week.  The subversive way of God who opposes the corruption and injustice in the world.  The Reign of God is described as like a man digging in a field who discovers a treasure.  In his joy, he sells everything he has to buy the field.  Or a man who finds a pearl that is the finest he has ever seen, again he sells everything to buy the pearl.  There are more stories of sorting and even judgement where there is separation of good and evil, those who choose a way that is violent, evil and unjust over and against those who seek love in its vulnerable beauty.

The Reign of God is so precious that a person who experiences the apocalyptic inflowing of the love, acceptance, grace at the heart of God, will do anything to hold onto it, to live within it, to allow it to overwhelm us and flow around us.  There is nothing we can do but reach out and receive the grace that flows from God.

These passages lead us into the deeper experience and wonder of life.  This is not some rose-coloured, superficial bliss that leads us out of the deep groaning we spoke of earlier.  Life is lived in the midst of the harshness of the world and suffering is equally part of our experience as is joy and freedom.  It is through the passages of grief and struggle that life’s colour emerges if we are able to negotiate our way through.  The promise is that the Christ who through crucifixion and resurrection walks our path before us and with us and the way is shared by others who hold us when we cannot stand.  It is a shared life and we don’t do it alone.  We are drawn into the life of Christ in the world, amongst the pain and struggle, to share the joy and hope and live life to the fullest because God is with us in the deepest mystery and hope.  The Spirit’s groaning within us reveals the yearning of God’s prayer for us and the world, a prayer we find ourselves in!

By geoffstevenson

Of Wheat and Weeds, Mustard Seeds, Yeast and Virus!

This week in my video reflection I spoke about 3 areas that COVID-19 has exposed vulnerabilities, weakness and evil within our world order and the way humans interact with one another and the world in which we live.  The 3 areas I have wrestled with over these last few weeks come from various reports and responses from agencies and organisations heavily engaged in health, well-being and justice across the world – for humans and the Earth.  These 3 areas are:

  1. Economic inequality across the world – COVID-19 has revealed the disparity between rich and poor within nations and across the world.  The poor, as usual, suffer more, have slower access (if at all) to resources for health and well-being, including food.  An Oxfam report predicts that as the Coronavirus pandemic continues to build there will be a stark increase in starvation across the world.  Their reports suggests there will be over 12,000 deaths/day due to starvation.  The worst day of COVID-19 has seen 8-9,000 deaths in one day. 
    The inequity of our economic systems is revealed in stark relief through times of crisis and COVID-19 is highlighting the plight of impoverished people.
  2. Environmental Crisis – For some decades, experts in epidemiology, environmental health and other sciences, have been predicting such an epidemic because humans have been increasingly destroying native habitats.  Within, these habitats, animals hosting a range of viruses and diseases specific to their species, have existed away from humans.  The encroachment of humans into these places has greatly increased contact and potential for contact between humans and animal species carrying different viruses.  SARS, HIV and several other viruses (including SARS-CoV-2 Virus) originate from animal species and there is increasing transmission to humans.
    There is a high level of correlation between the impact of Climate Change and the pandemic we are now experiencing.  Some of the ways that this happens are:
    1. Changing weather patterns increase the risk of infectious diseases around the world. 
    1. Air pollution could help viruses become airborne and more deadly.  
    1. Melting of ice and permafrost could lead to the reemergence of ancient diseases.  
    1. Global warming could cause viral mutations that resist our defenses for fighting illness. 
  3. Leadership and Collaboration – The Director-General of the World Health Organisation, this week indicated that the major issue in the rise in rates of pandemic infection is the style of leadership within nations.  Leadership that is strong, wise, collaborative and works with experts, rather than some of the ignorant, arrogant, egocentric leadership within some nations, will help restrict the spread through policies and direction that works for the common good against individualism.
    He went further in saying that this is the time when across the world we need to work together as a human race, rather than maintaining our silos or independence, empire-building and conflict with each other.  We will only resolve the issues confronting our world if we work together across our diversity and access the wisdom of culture and experience that already exists.

Against this background we encounter some strange readings from Matthew’s story of Jesus (Matthew 13:24-43).  There are three stories.  The first is of a farmer who sows wheat in his field.  After some time his labourers tell that someone has sown weeds in the field amongst the wheat.  What should they do?  Pull the weeds out?  The farmer’s response is that some enemy has obviously sown them secretly at night.  He tells his labourers not to pull the weeds out because they are so alike the wheat, they might also remove good plants.  Wait until the time of harvest and the weeds will reveal themselves.

Then particular weeds referred to are very similar to wheat except that when mature they have no seed in their heads – they are empty.  The wheat bend over under the weight of seed and the weeds float in the air and are easy to identify.  The wheat, suggests Jesus is known by its fruit and so with people.  In all of us there is the capacity and presence of both good and evil.  There are things we do that are loving, kind and beautiful.  There are also things that are unloving, unkind, judgemental and exclusive.  We focus on ourselves and can be self-centred, rather than loving others and sharing kindness with them.

Jesus’ point, in part, is that we are to look for and nurture the good, the love, the kindness within ourselves and others rather than judge people on the bad things we experience and see.  In everyone there is goodness and if we can find that, encourage and nurture that, then love may flourish in their lives and ours as well.

In the other two very simple parables, Jesus speaks of a mustard seed, which is very small but when planted in the ground grows into a weed that can be a pest, taking over the countryside.  A simple, small seed can cause chaos and havoc!  He then speaks of a woman rubbing yeast into a load of flour – three measures, which is an extraordinary amount, about 23 kilograms!  It is probably the household supply and this servant is subverting the system because yeast will begin the process of fermentation and the whole batch will rot unless cooked and eaten quickly.

The point is that God’s Reign subverts (or corrupts) the corruption and evil in the systems of the world!  God’s Reign points to something different, a way of love, kindness, generosity and inclusive community.  This community of reconciliation and peace lives to subvert the violence, hatred, injustice and oppression in the world and its systems.  Where the economic systems of the world oppress, exploit and deny people of resources for life and marginalise people in poverty as the few grow more wealthy, this Reign of God subverts and corrupts and works for equality and the sharing of resources for all.  The Reign of God includes the Earth and all its creatures and their habitats.  It recognises the beauty and diversity of life and works to ensure its well-being and sustainability. 

The Reign of God is not about egos or narcissistic, arrogant rule, where the few prosper and the many struggle.  God’s Reign is Love and justice and rulers are invited to be humble servants, giving themselves for the sake of those who they lead.  They work with others , drawing on wisdom and experience to work together for the common good of humanity and the Earth on which we live!

Now is a time more than ever when we need the good, wise, loving, kind and humble ways of God to courageously subvert the evil and injustice in the systems of the world.  This is the time to walk with Jesus in courageous love and grace for the sake of all!

By geoffstevenson

Reflections from the Lake…

Monday morning this week Nico and I set off for our daily walk.  This day, instead of wandering the paths of Toongabbie Creek we went to Lake Parramatta.  It was early and few people were there.  The sun was still fairly low in the sky and our breath steamed.  The cool, crisp air enveloped us as we set off.  It was beautiful and clear, the sky brilliant blue and the lake silky smooth.

Lake Parramatta was built as the domestic water supply for the growing Parramatta region from 1856.  Hunts Creek was dammed with a masonry arch-walled dam – the twelfth built since Roman times and the first in Australia.  The area is a beautiful reserve of Blue-gum forests, Banksia and other native species.  It is tranquil and a beautiful place to walk and ponder.  Both Nico and I walked, he sniffed and dragged me along, I pondered (and took a couple of photographs).

We walked down below the dam wall into a beautiful fern gully, with a small flowing creek.  The track climbed back up and along the shores of the lake through gums and various bushes and shrubs along the shore.  I stopped to look back across the lake and was consumed by the sheer beauty of the reflection of trees and sky across the water.  Everywhere the reflection across the lake captivated me and led me into another place, another world.  Entering the bush track along the lake is really like walking into another world.  A couple of kilometres from Sydney’s second CBD, with its traffic, corporate and political life, glass, steel and bitumen, is a world of nature’s beauty and wonder.  As we walked the birds called, the cockatoos screeched, and insects and other creatures scurried through undergrowth.  Under foot, twigs cracked, and leaves crunched and the rocky path twisted and turned.  We walked and wondered, wandered and pondered and were filled with the peace and beauty of this place.

Earlier that morning I had read through a story of Jesus and as I walked it occurred to me that the story I’d read was a story by the Lake.  Jesus went down to the Sea (Lake) of Galilee, the major source of livelihood and life for the people of the towns and villages of the region.  The Lake provided food and income for the multitude of peasants dwelling in the region.  These people worked hard and survived well in their simple economy until the local rulers under Rome intervened and sought to profit from the Lake.  They imposed taxes on the fisherman, claiming the whole catch for the state and paying the families little in return – after taxes were deducted.  Life became more harsh and a struggle.  Life always has its hard edges and challenges and humans look for hope, something to believe in, trust and look forward to.  Jesus and his stories, provided a vision of something that could be, something that offered more than hope but an experience where everyone could find their place and live equally and well with other people and the earth.  Jesus called this, The Reign of God.  He said it was at hand, all around and he lived in a way that gave expression to this Reign in the world. 

In this story (Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23), Jesus was followed by crowds who wanted to hear him speak, to teach, to inspire and promise life in God’s love.  He was crowded in and got into a boat, set out from the shore, sat and began to teach the crowd.  He taught with parables, stories that were open-ended and drew people into a deeper place of challenge, reflection and often subverted the world as it was/is.

In this story there is a sower who sows seed lavishly and generously around; he seems to literally fling it everywhere.  It lands along the path, the way, with its harder, compacted surface and that seed is picked off by birds.  Seed lands on ground that has rocks and a thin soil layer.  It takes root but not deeply enough to sustain it, and it is scorched and shrivels when the sun is hot.  Some seed lands in good soil that has weeds and thorns.  Seeds germinate and grow but are choked by the weeds and don’t survive.  There is also seed that falls into good soil and flourishes, bearing much fruit. 

The sower is God, who sows the seed which is the Word of God, Christ – the Word that becomes flesh and dwells amongst us.  This is the essence of God’s Reign, the life-giving Word that breathes hope, joy, peace and freedom into the world.  The Sower sows seed everywhere – all over the world in every place.  This Word of hope goes out and is there for everyone to hear, see, experience and embrace.  What does it mean for us to recognise the presence of Christ in everything?  How does it look, feel, seem?  For much of the church, this is a strange message and one at odds with the exclusiveness that often typifies and preoccupies its life and message.  For the wider world, it is a strange claim, that the Word is everywhere and in all things, and it is the essence of love.  Where do we see it, hear it, feel it, experience it?  Do we?

The four soils are the different parts of our lives where ‘seed lands.’  Life is often hard or exhilarating and hearing this Word does not seem important, relevant or real and there are moments, times when we resist or reject it. That is the seed along the path, and it is carried off as we choose to ignore its presence.  There is seed landing in the rocky ground of life where we get excited and get on board quickly, but the passion or engagement isn’t deep, and we let it go.  In the cut and thrust of life, the Word is lost, cast aside, and shrivels within us.  Some seed lands well but as it grows there are also weeds and thorns that choke it out – the wealth, materialism, struggles for power, control, fame and fortune tempt and seduce us.  The Word of life is choked as we are lost in the distractions and seductions we experience.  There are also parts of our lives when the Word lands well in soil that is just right and ready for this mysterious grace and love to blossom and bloom into deeper love, hope and freedom.  The Word takes hold and we are drawn into something bigger and more wondrous.  Our lives open to others, to the Earth and to the mystery and love at the heart of everything, a mystery we may call God.  The seed issues in fruit, actions and responses that are life-giving and hopeful to others.  Random acts of kindness, compassion, love.  Changes in attitude, and openness to the stories, experiences and lives of others whom we embrace into the way that is inclusive and loving.  Sometimes we may not even realise that this is the Word, love, grace… in us, through us.  Where there is fruit that is inspiring, lovely, loving, gracious, inclusive, peace-giving, liberating, joyful, kind, patient… that is the Reign of God growing in the good soil of our lives.

There is much wonder, love, mystery and goodness all around us for those who have ears to hear and eyes to see.  These things lead us beyond belief systems and ideologies into a way of living and being that transforms us and the world.  It happens from beyond us as an act of grace and love.  There is nothing to do but experience it, live it and share it in the way we live with others and the Earth.  This is the Reign of God in our midst.

By geoffstevenson

Whatever Happened to Sin???

I was out wandering with Nico, our dog yesterday and listening to some music from several years ago.  A couple of the songs had titles like, ‘Sin for a Season’ and ‘Whatever Happened to Sin.’  They are interesting songs and, though I’d disagree with Steve Taylor’s take on what constitutes ‘sin’ they raised the ‘S’ word.  Over the last several weeks it has raised its head in various forms through texts and books and stories I’ve read, conversations I’ve had and therefore in my ponderings.

Sin is a word that is used and abused, and its meaning is distorted to the point where most of us avoid it or cringe at its mention.  The vindictive and narrow, judgemental ways it has been used have not been helpful – nor true. 

As I listened to Steve Taylor sing his songs, I wanted to object to some of the things he considers sin and outside God’s gracious love – I even wanted to object to his notion that because people made particular choices they were written off by God.  Sadly, that is the popular and erroneous notion of sin, one that has come down to us through different forms of Christian faith.  Never-the-less, Taylor’s question intrigued me: ‘Whatever happened to sin?’ 

I didn’t come to this pondering simply through Steve Taylor’s songs but through conversations and reflections on the world and life.  What is the essence of ‘Black Lives Matter’ and what lies at its heart or at the heart of responses to it?  Or the protests around Covid-19 lockdown, what do they really say and mean?  How do I hear the rhetoric of world leaders through this time?  How do I respond to the violence, especially domestic violence that has increased through this lockdown?

A few chats along the morning walk with a diversity of people or some conversations in other places have all raised questions in my mind about life and what we are experiencing all around us.  Why do people hoard toilet paper and some fight each other for it?  Why do people defy the physical distancing and other safety measures in public places and some demand that their own rights are upheld – whatever those ‘rights’ are?  I also noticed that in news feeds on my phone, there is an exorbitant amount of encouragement to contemplate how much I need to buy the ‘new thing’.  There is an unwieldy level of expectation to have more, be more, do more, achieve more, earn more…  More, more, more and I can’t – don’t want to – keep up.  There is an enormous sense of expectation on all of us to conform to a way of being that keeps ‘upping the ante’ and increasing prosperity and affluence.  I wonder where it will – must! – end.  How can our world, especially post-Covid-19 (whenever that arrives), sustain more economic growth that depends upon reclaiming forests and bushland, creating more waste, producing more goods, digging up more of the Earth to plunder and use its resources?  How can the high levels of economic development in much of the West be multiplied throughout the world – and do we need it?

All this engenders a high expectation and weighty pressure upon us to conform and work to achieve as much as we can – it becomes very heavy!  I remember a colleague in a developing part of Sydney some years ago telling me a sad story.  He was asked by several people in his community if he would baptise their children, to which he readily agreed and offered to come to their home to meet them and plan the baptism.  Virtually all declined  his invitation to come to their home and met him at the church.  He was puzzled and asked another local what was going on?  The person said that many of these people had brand new homes that were large and had lots of rooms.  They had the ‘right car(s)’ in the drive way and lovely landscaping around the house but they couldn’t afford all the furniture needed to fill the rooms and so few got past the front door.  So much pressure to have, to be something, to conform – to look good and acceptable.

What is sin?  In this week’s readings (Romans 7:15-25 and Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30), there is much to ponder for our world and our lives – far too much for this brief reflection!  Sin is mentioned several times in Paul’s deep reflection on why he does what he doesn’t want to do and doesn’t do what he does want to do…  For Paul, this sin that abounds in human life, is that which reduces everything to ‘me’, ‘my life’ and the belief I have to do it all, have it all and am in control of everything.  Paul arrives at the conclusion that he simply cannot save himself and none of the things that culture, religion, politics, economics or the powers of the world lay on him, will save him of give him freedom and joy in life!  It is a vital recognition from one who was as legalistic and fanatical as anyone can be around any faith, ideology or belief system.  Paul’s prior life was bound with the law of Moses – God’s law – in which he saw the only truth and way to God.  An apocalyptic experience on the Damascus Road changed Paul and opened his being to understand there was nothing he could do – and nothing he needed to do! – to save himself or find his own way into God and life!!  It was a stunning revelation and one that has not been wholly understood.  If we try to stand on our own two feet and control our own lives, we will fall – we may have fun along the way and feel rich at points but it is a heavy, heavy load.  This is where Jesus’ words come in – ‘Come to me if you labour and are tired and I will give you rest for your souls…’  He speaks of learning from his way, the humble, gently way of God, whose load and expectation is light.  The law, or political, economic, cultural, religious or other expectation will be heavy and weigh us down as we try hard to live up to the demands.  When we follow these ways through our own wisdom, we will not find the place we yearn for but a way that is ultimately hard.  Paul wrestles in his soul and recognises he can’t do it but doesn’t have to.  For Paul, the Cross is the place where God has dealt with law and expectations and the alienating way of sin leading us into a resurrection life of hope and joy.  The way of our society is to accumulate more – more things, money, education, experience, ambition, achievement…  The way of Jesus (and of Paul) is to let go and trust in God’s liberation and peace. 

Jesus invites his listeners to come and rest if they are tired and weary, to learn a new way that is life-giving and hopeful.  He insists that he has a way that will give life to their beings and relieve them of the deep stress and struggle they experience in trying to toe the line of societal, religious (and corporate, political…) expectations.  It is a different way, a way of love and grace, of forgiveness and mercy, of justice and peace, of community and working together for the well-being of all people.  Whatever happened to sin?  It’s still there in various forms and guises, disturbing human life through violence and abuse, convincing us we can do it ourselves and accumulating resources, alienating us from others, self, earth and God.  God’s grace is for us to liberate and free us and rest our souls!

By geoffstevenson

2 Systems – Love or Alienation…

One of my favourite U2 songs is, ‘When Love Comes to Town.’  It speaks of the before and after of the transformative experience of love.  It is a love that comes to us from beyond and bursts into our lives with power to transform.  Eyes, mind, hearts open to a new view of the world and life through the power of love.  The words are:

I was a sailor, I was lost at sea/I was under the waves/Before love rescued me
I was a fighter, I could turn on a thread/Now I stand accused of the things I’ve said

Love comes to town I’m gonna jump that train/
When love comes to town I’m gonna catch that flame
Maybe I was wrong to ever let you down/But I did what I did before love came to town

I used to make love under a red sunset/I was making promises I was soon to forget
She was pale as the lace of her wedding gown/
But I left her standing before love came to town

I ran into a juke joint when I heard a guitar scream/
The notes were turning blue, I was dazing in a dream
As the music played I saw my life turn around/That was the day before love came to town

When love comes to town I’m gonna jump that train/
When love comes to town I’m gonna catch that flame
Maybe I was wrong to ever let you down/But I did what I did before love came to town

I was there when they crucified my Lord/
I held the scabbard when the soldier drew his sword
I threw the dice when they pierced his side/But I’ve seen love conquer the great divide

When love comes to town I’m gonna catch that train/
When love comes to town I’m gonna catch that flame
Maybe I was wrong to ever let you down/But I did what I did before love came to town

When love comes to town…  Love has a transformative power to change us in ways that we can’t always imagine.  Love, whether romantic love that swirls through us breaking open our ego boundaries, or the overwhelming love we experience when we look into the eyes of a baby, realising the vulnerability, dependency and sheer wonder of this new life, transforms.  There is a love that surrounds us when we stand before absolute wonder and want to express our sense of awe and delight.  It is mysterious and wondrous.

There is love that we experience when we stand before another person sharing their pain or experience in vulnerability and we suddenly understand more deeply, something of this human being before us.  We feel the inspiring hope in a wonderful story that lifts us and carries us into another place, another world that seems and feels different.  It is this love that lies at the heart of Jesus’ words and actions and his invitation into deeper living, in the life of love itself, the Trinity of Love.  This is the experience that lies at the heart of Paul’s powerful and passionate words that echo through the New Testament.  He experienced the inbreaking apocalypse of love on the road to Damascus.  Paul (or Saul as he was then) breathed fire and brimstone, an agenda of persecution towards the Christians he saw as heretics that were bringing down the law, the holy and wondrous law that was the heart and soul of his life.  Saul was fanatical about the law given to Moses.  It was a belief system that held him tight and he sought to protect it with everything he was. 

On the road to Damascus to round up Christians and imprison them, love came to town for Saul.  A blinding light and a voice broke through him with apocalyptic intensity and turned hi life around.  The passionate defender of law was overwhelmed by love and grace and became the tireless missionary of love, grace and the way of Christ in the Reign of God.  He gave everything to this mission and his passion, hope, joy and journey into the depths of love ring through in his words and life.

This week I have been challenged by Paul’s words in Romans 6 (12-23), where we delve into the middle of a strenuous argument by Paul about the dangers of allowing sin free reign in our lives.  Much of his language jars in a modern world where the haranguing of fire and brimstone preachers and the like have made sin a word we avoid through deep misunderstanding.  Sin, as Paul recognises, is that which leads us into alienation with others, the world beyond, God and ourselves.  Commentator, Bill Loader says:

“It is in the light of entering this new life with its dynamic generation of love and goodness that Paul now declares: so don’t let yourself be ruled by the competing system which generates sin. Paul sees sins as the fruit of relationships with God which have gone wrong resulting in alienation from God, from others and from ourselves. When we enter the new life with its new possibilities the old patterns and systems do not shut down. The destructive ruts and routines are still there. Paul is saying: you don’t have to surrender to them because the new life can lift you beyond them. In 6:12 he identifies them as having their roots in our human bodies, in particular in our appetites. In this he shares the views of many of his time. For Paul the body is not evil; nor are its desires, but when we allow our lives to be determined by satisfying our cravings without any thought for the consequences for ourselves or others – whether that is as unsophisticated as sexual abuse or as sophisticated as ripping off the developing world through hogging wealth and resources – then we are caught up into a power network which produces destructive behaviour. Paul is thinking about two different systems: sin and death on the one side and goodness and love on the other.”

Paul speaks of 2 systems that are at work in our world.  One system is grounded in love and generosity and reflects the generosity and love of God.  It is characterised by forgiveness, mercy, compassion and justice.  It is inclusive and liberating, inviting us to look (and move!) beyond self into a world of wonder, beauty and life. The other system is characterised by sin and the ‘death’ that ensues when we are alienated.  There are signs of this all around us as people cling to their belief systems that are related to wealth, power, and celebrity.  The addictive strands of our lives that elevate ordinary things to idols we give ourselves to until they rule our lives and we find ourselves enslaved – gambling, perverted sex, lust for money and power, ideologies and politics that are hate-filled…

Paul speaks of being slaves – either to love in God or to sin and the alienation that ensues.  One is a liberating ‘slavery’ that finds liberation as we allow ourselves to be drawn into the depths of love.  The other path is desperate and often despairing as we find our lives out of balance and alienated from others, the earth and ourselves – and God.  This alienation is everywhere around us – suicide, climate change, racism and war.  Everywhere around, but often missed is the embrace of love and grace and the invitation to life!

By geoffstevenson

A Life Lived – with Passion, Love and Justice…

I wondered, this week, why there is such a reaction against someone who speaks and stands up for love and justice, inclusivity, equality and compassion?  I thought of people like Archbishop Oscar Romero and Martin Luther King jr, both of whom stood up for justice.  They spoke the way of love and sought equality for different groups of people and both were cut down, assassinated, because of who they were and what they spoke out for.  It does seem that the world can’t always deal with love or justice and many people can’t face being challenged over our own prejudices or place in the world. We feel uncomfortable being challenged about how we perceive the world or our place within it.

There is much going on at the moment to challenge my ways of thinking and being.  The ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement and protests have awakened within our society questions and struggles.  I have been very challenged as it comes at a time when I have been reading Dark Emu and realising the profoundness and sophistication of the most ancient culture in the world – the Australian Aboriginal People.  I am disturbed to read how the white colonial culture of this land assumed that the Indigenous people were savages, and ignorant natives who were not organised nor had they any culture, sophistication or ordered life of agriculture – or anything else.  Despite the evidence before the eyes of early explorers and landholders, they chose to ignore it or interpret it otherwise.  The prejudices of a white colonial system in the Age of Discovery, where the culture was to overwhelm and dominate native peoples across the world and claim lands for the Empires of the West, denied the reality that people who looked and lived differently were and are equally human.  The massacres and enslavement of native people, including our own Aboriginal people, are truly horrific and white culture has benefited, in a material sense, from the demise and destruction of indigenous ownership and culture.

When this is spoken of there is reaction and accusation and the status quo strikes back.  We are uncomfortable and need to shift the blame or responsibility elsewhere.  When the history stories many of us learned at school last century are challenged there is resistance, with phrases such as ‘the black armband view of history.’  When protests and voices spoke out to say ‘Black Lives Matter,’ there were other voices who wanted to claim that ALL lives matter.  This is true: every life is important, significant and valuable.  The point of those who call for Black lives to matter are not claiming that black lives are more important than any others.  They are asking for black lives to matter as much as other lives!

In our world, it is clear that some people and people types have less value than others.  The wealthy and powerful have more privileges and control the systems of power that maintain the status quo.  They are very hard to resist and decision-makers listen to them very carefully.  There are many people across our world who work incredibly hard to feed and house their families and they only just make ends meet.  I know of people in West Papua, our nearest neighbours, who are oppressed and dominated by the powerful Indonesian rulers who ‘own’ the land.  The Indigenous West Papuans are wonderful people who struggle to live and provide safe and good lives for their families and when they speak out for justice, the powers rise up and resist with weapons and punishment.  Their homelands are ruined by mining companies who wreak havoc on the environment and leave it destroyed and dangerous.

When people speak out against these kinds of evils there is resistance and violence.  When politics, cultural expectations and assumptions are challenged, there is reaction and anger. When the church, or anyone, speaks out against injustice, racism, exclusion, violence and impoverishment, there are excuses and resistance and we are told to get back in our box and speak about God who loves and stop making trouble, dabbling in things we know nothing about.  At this point I want to respond that Adolph Hitler told the church to be quiet and talk about ‘God is Love’ but not to comment on his regime – and most of the church, in fear, complied, along with many other parts of society. 

In the passage this week (Matthew 10:24-42), Jesus continues his speech to the disciples he is sending into the world.  He wants them to go and proclaim the Good News of God’s Reign of love and justice for all, to heal the sick, cast out demons and evil, cleanse lepers, bring sight to the blind; to proclaim in words and actions that the Reign of God is here!  It is a good message, one that ought to resonate in a world of struggle and hardship but he warns them that they will be rejected by many, cast out of towns and brought before judges and magistrates.  They will, if they pursue this ministry of love and justice, follow where he is going – to his death.  Ultimately, some of these followers of Jesus will be killed because they dare to name the evils in society and proclaim another way that includes and loves, and brings justice and peace – for all.  There will be those who are the status quo and they will resist with all their power.  Jesus ended up on the cross!

Jesus invites these ordinary, lowly people to follow his way because, although it will be harsh, difficult at moments, it will be a life lived.  It will be a life lived in God who holds everything in grace and no matter what people do to these faithful disciples, they will never be able to separate them from the profound love of God.  There is also nothing else that will ever be able to fill the yearning and hope in the centre of their being and give them a sense of being alive!  I read a reflection called ‘Journey With Jesus’ by Debie Thomas.  In it she says:
“What should we be most afraid of?  Not insult.  Not change.  Not persecution.  Not death.  What we should fear, these passages of Scripture tell us, is a life half-lived.  A life of blandness and niceness, a life of disengaged devotion, a life of piety without power.  What we should fear is any Christianity that is not cruciform.”

I was struck by these words and wondered about them.  How many of us live lives that succumb to the culture of our world and give up the dreams or hopes that lie within our hearts?  How many of us give in to the powers of the world and believe the rhetoric that seeks to keep us all in our place?  How many of us are confined by fear – fear of change or the powers or punishment…?  How many of us glimpse other possibilities but aren’t sure about what we might have to give up and never follow where they lead?

In these words, Jesus is quite firm, saying that there is a way in God that requires courage and faith, that demands we take a stand and step forward into something deep, rich and confronting.  When I read the stories and words of Paul in the New Testament, this is a man, alive.  When I hear Jesus’ words I recognise a wisdom and passion that draws me on to wherever he will lead and whatever that might mean.  It is the invitation to find life in God and the recognition that God’s Spirit will guide and strengthen.  Will we go?

By geoffstevenson

The Gentle Art of Letting Go…

It was an Autumn Day, warm and sunny.  I was working with some young people to prepare a significant event that they were to lead.  Our work was slow, and we seemed to be going round in circles and time was running out.  In the midst of this I received a call from a colleague who asked me to go to the hospital and offer care for a family whom he knew.  They were there with their young child who was diagnosed with a serious illness and things looked dire.  He has offered some support from a distance, but they needed someone to be there with them – would I go, now?

Everything in me wanted to say no, that I was up to my neck in important work and couldn’t leave it.  Everything in me wanted to say that they needed someone else, someone with the right skills and expertise and training…  Everything in me wanted to say that I couldn’t do this, and he needed to ask someone else.  I wondered why he even asked me?  I responded saying that I would go and meet them.  I needed a few minutes to sort things out, but I’d go very soon.  He gave me their details and I went back to organising the young people.  We quickly divided some of the work and I left them to it.  I ran around in some circles wondering what I needed to take with me; what ‘tools’ would be helpful.  There was nothing I could find, nothing I could think to take – it was just me.  I felt very vulnerable and uncertain as I drove to meet this struggling family.  What would I say?  How would I respond?  What would I do?  How could I be of use?

On the way I prayed – I can’t remember what I prayed for but certainly for help to be helpful and useful to these people, an instrument of God’s peace and grace, perhaps.  I went, filled with anxiety and uncertainty, wanting desperately to be there but also not wanting to go.  I suppose part of my anxiety was being confronted by deep pain and suffering that I understood they were feeling.  I had young children and couldn’t imagine myself in this family’s place, how I would be and what I would feel, think, say or do. 

I arrived and found the family.  My colleague had told them I would be coming, and they were waiting.  We introduced ourselves and they began to tell their story.  There were tears and sadness and fear in their words and faces.  Their young child was very ill and there was no guarantee that he would come through.  They told me all that had happened so very quickly and how their lives changed overnight.  They shared their fear and confusion and their absolute powerlessness.  They moved back and forth between where we were sitting and their child, to ensure he was still sleeping and okay.  The conversation went around and around, and I just listened.  I wanted wise and profound words to say but there weren’t any that came.  I wanted to be able to reassure them or do something to turn everything around, and make it good again, but there was nothing I could do.  I felt their powerlessness and wondered if, as a minister, there wasn’t something I should be doing to make this okay??!  There wasn’t.  I felt a sense of being out of control, just as they did.  The control and order we all desired in our lives felt so far away and there was no way to regain that order, that control.  I had been forced to ‘let go.’ 

I realised that as I had travelled to the hospital, I was actually starting to let go of my sense of being in control.  My initial reactions were around the fear of being out of control, being in a place where I couldn’t fix things or make them ‘right.’   I couldn’t make their child well and help him to be restored to proper health.  I couldn’t make their pain go away and I couldn’t hide from the pain of life and the feelings that situations like this raise within me.  I had to let go of my need to be in control and that is so hard! 

The paradox was that when I let go and allowed myself to be vulnerable, the couple found they were able to talk and be present.  They didn’t want or need me to ‘do anything.’  They wanted someone to sit with them, to be there, to listen and to share their burden and pain.  They wanted someone who would pray for them because they could not articulate prayers and didn’t have energy to draw on other resources.  They had doctors who were working to restore their son, but they needed someone who shared their vulnerable place and show them faith and hope, a light in the midst of their deepest darkness.  They didn’t need all the words and empty promises but the presence of one who would sit alongside them and witness to love and grace in the silence and acceptance of their vulnerability.

I thought of this and the many other times when I have found myself out of control, both in my own life, through the experience of pain and struggle, and as I have been invited to share the vulnerable and dark places of people’s lives.  As with most of us, I like some sense of order and control and find letting go difficult.  Sometimes there is no choice but to let go.  I thought of my mother and grandmother, of letting go of them through death.  I thought of our previous dogs, of sitting in the vet’s surgery as these dear friends breathed their last.  Letting go is so difficult when it is giving up people and animals we love into the mystery of death.  Letting go of my control in many other situations is also very hard. 

I thought of this as I read Matthew’s story of Jesus this week (Matthew 9:35-10:10) where Jesus sends the disciples out to proclaim the good news of God’s Reign and to cast out evil, heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, bring sight to the blind…  He sends them out vulnerably – they are to take nothing with them but just go and rely on the grace of those who receive.  They are to go, much as I was asked to go to the hospital, with nothing in hand, feeling unprepared and out of control – and to trust.  Jesus didn’t sugar-coat the task.  There would be people who rejected them and ridicule them.  The task was not easy as they were sent into a pain-filled world to be agents of hope, peace, life and grace – in God.  I can imagine their feelings, their questions, their anxiety.  Having just been announced as disciples, their joy and pride may well have turned a little sour and they may have wished Jesus had chosen someone else – I certainly was wondering why I was asked to attend to the family at the hospital!

They went.  They did what they were asked to do, and they did it in the grace and love of God.  It seems that was enough!??!  They were invited to let go of their need to be in control and ‘do’ something.  They were to witness to what they saw, experienced, and knew through the ministry of Jesus.  They were to witness through lives of love and grace, words and actions, to the Reign of God that was at hand – all around.  This Reign that promises life, hope, peace, healing, justice, belonging, is there and we are invited to participate in it by letting go and allowing it to happen to us.

I found, in attending to this family in their deep pain, that there was something profound and mysterious present in our vulnerable space.  God’s Reign entered into our experience and drew us into the hope and life it promises.  There were tears and struggle but also a sense of calm and peace as we journeyed through the boy’s treatment together – in God.

By geoffstevenson

The Divine Heart of Love – For All!

Across our world there is the combination of struggle and uncertainty mixed with tentative hope and angry demands for freedom from restrictions and the economic implications of Covid-19.  The world wrestles with what to do and how fast to ease back the isolation and physical distancing, how to re-emerge and how quickly to do it.  Tentative steps are met with hesitancy or all-out excitement and expectation.  What will come of this is unknown and the various experts in health and epidemiology are working hard to try and control outbreaks and infections.  In some nations these people are very well supported by national and state leaders and others they are ridiculed and ignored.  In some places the populace feels that they have a better grip on reality than health workers and epidemiologists, and national leaders are happy to follow suit.  It is a strange and difficult time.  In the midst of the most serious pandemic for over a century, the US has added to the plethora of regional protests on Covid-19 restrictions with the extraordinary protests and chaos surrounding the unjust treatment and murder of George Floyd.  The US seems to have descended into chaos and there are few significant voices able to speak into the void with wisdom and compassion. 

I read an op-ed piece written by the famous basketballer, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the Los Angeles Times.  He writes passionately and with despair at these happenings, recognising that at the heart of the matter is an institutional racism and that people of his skin colour do not have equal lives and equal freedom to those with light skin.  That doesn’t justify the evils of anyone looting and rioting violently.  It explains the depth of pain, anger and powerlessness experienced and surfacing in the coloured communities of the US.  Of course, such racism and mistrust is not the exclusive domain of the US.  It is present across the world and many indigenous people, in particular, have experienced and continue to experience the pain and powerlessness of exclusive power and domination through institutionalised racism and abuse.

Amidst these big picture stories, there is a world that is wrestling with its sense of being.  Many struggle to understand where we fit and how we fit in, what our place and purpose is in this big and often difficult world.  There are a plethora of messages and expectations that bombard us from all directions, asserting their truth and pushing us to the next level of hopeful ideology and hope-filled expectation that will bring comfort, security, hope and happiness – as if happiness has some ultimate lasting and meaningful place in human life.  We look to the voices around us, those who look to have ‘made it’ and seek to emulate their ways, their ideals, their lives, only to find that it is another dead end.  When we look more deeply into their lives we find just as much emptiness and despair there as anywhere else.  The rich, famous, powerful and beautiful are playing the game and enjoying their moment of glory, only to find the fall down the other side long and painful.  The clinics are full of the rich and famous looking for meaning at the end of a glass or needle/line of coke…

There is more than one pandemic stressing people and claiming hope and peace across this world.  We experience a pandemic of anxiety, despair, depression, suicide and increasing mental illness.  People are stressed and life, hectic, chaotic and pressured as we seek to perform and match those around – keeping up with anyone and everyone.  It is tiring just to think about it!!  A positive in the Coronavirus world of 2020 is that we have had more time to stop and ponder, to look around us and recognise that all the stuff we have been told we need isn’t actually necessary.

Walking along the local little creek with an overly excited dog, amidst the gums and other trees, lizards, birds and the sun filtering through, I wonder what else I really need?  All around is evidence of the world beyond the world, the one I am constantly told by a modern society, doesn’t exist – the Reign of God!  All around me is the evidence of Spirit that brings life and the evolving re-creation of all things.  This Spirit speaks into this world of beauty and wonder and invites me to lift my eyes above the stuff that fills the pages of newspapers of tablet feeds, facebook posts or tweets – even presidential tweets.

This week celebrates the Trinity, which is a doctrine of the church and can be dry and tedious to work through for most people.  It can also be the most liberating and life-giving reality that we can know and experience.  Perhaps it is this latter that is most instructive – God, as Trinity, is experienced and is the ultimate reality of our lives, whether we recognise it or not.  A little scrutiny bears deep truth and brings freedom from ourselves and that which holds us captive and pressures us in this world.

In a world where there is such expectation to conform and achieve, and to find the place of belonging, it is this Presence of the Living God revealed as 3 in 1 that offers our deepest place to belong, to be and find freedom from expectation and a liberation to live!  At the heart of this experience of God is a relational community of the purest, deepest love.  Three Divine persons held in the most profound relationship of sacrificial love where each is for the other and held in perfect relational unity.  The love that flows through this Divine community overflows into the story of creation, which in the Jewish story is one of love and goodness.  We are created and formed in love, as children of the Living God.  That is our sense of belonging, our sense of being and where we find the deepest truth of life.  We are invited to live into this pure love and be freed from the individualism and stress (pressure) to conform or be something that is not true to our being.  The deep tension and inner conflict that often overwhelms us is the internal struggle between the deep sense of who we are at our core, over and against the pressure, seduction and temptation to do and be who we really aren’t.  I know that I feel it and wrestle with it – the pressure to conform and look like others pushes up against the calling and invitation to become more truly who I am created to be – in God.  The story we read from Genesis 1, a beautiful poetic story of God’s loving grace, reminds us that all creation is good and beautiful, and we are part of this whole world.  We are also reminded that we are created in the Divine image, the Divine community that says – let us create humans in our image!  The Divine ‘DNA’ so to speak, is in us.  The imprint of God is in and through humans and we are able to rise into glorious places of wonder and triumph that is selfless and beautiful. 

In Matthew’s story we are sent into the world to mirror God and show the face and way of God in the world, a way that is love.  We are invited to embrace the deep love of God and share it with a world yearning for a sense of worth and someone to trust, an end to fear and hatred, violence and despair.  We yearn for freedom that is true and liberates all people and the creation.  We yearn for God and the love at the heart of all things – the Trinity!

By geoffstevenson

The Spirit – Power that Overwhelms and Transforms

A brief conversation this morning on the side of the road as we wandered along caused me to ponder.  An elderly fellow Nico and I often meet on our wanderings stopped to chat.  Covid-19 inevitably came up amidst other topics.  We both commented on the response of many people in the USA, how they want to express and emphasise their own individual and personal freedom to choose and ‘do’ over and against the well-being of the communities in which they live.  It certainly isn’t confined to the USA but we wondered how people living in the nation that has over 100,000 deaths and high levels of infection are more concerned about what they want to do than the well-being of the community?  We also commented on the relative capacity and wisdom of various world leaders – the people in power!

It was this line that got me thinking – the people in power, who have power to make decisions on behalf of the societies in which they live.  This notion of power feels, to me, to be at the heart of many things we are seeing around us.  Scientists will tell us that the power of the human race to dominate and destroy land and habitat, and the power to travel and move freely across the world, makes pandemics such as we are experiencing more inevitable.  A virus hidden in deep jungles has more possibility of connecting with humans as the jungles and forests are decimated and we live closer to the sources of such viral enemies.  An infection in one part of the world is able to quickly travel via human movement and soon everyone in impacted.

More than that though, I wonder if what we see in people agitating for more freedoms, protesting and taking action is really about reclaiming some control, order and power in personal life?  I wonder if what we experience is humans who feel the need to be empowered and to control something in life, take things into their own hands and ‘do as they please?’  We see evidence of humanity’s need for power and control in so much of life.  Young (and not so young) who get behind the wheel of a fast, powerful car and feel the sense of exhilaration as they press the pedal to the metal and fly down highway and byway.  They are in control of a great power, whether wisely and skilfully or not is another question.  In political manoeuvrings there is the desire for power and to have authority they can wield for good or ill.  Across the world we see examples of egotistical (narcissistic?) leaders taking control and abusing power to dominate people, violate human rights and use violence and fear to control and manipulate people.

Whether through wealth, positional authority, legal controls, fame or any other means, many seek power they can wield.  This is power that people can hold, control and use.  It is power in their hands and at their disposal and it can be very dangerous!  Such power requires great wisdom and compassionate awareness.  It should be about the common good of the Earth and all inhabitants but rarely is.  There are a few leaders who have been formed through struggle and suffering, whose egos are suitably ‘squashed down’ and who can handle such power with grace and wisdom.  I think of the likes of Nelson Mandela, who through the crucible of suffering (27 years imprisonment) was humbled and vulnerable and gained wisdom.  Alas, much power wrests in the hands of foolish and greedy individuals who are self-interested and think little of others.

This week across the Christian Church, the third major festival occurs.  It is called Pentecost.  Originally this Greek work indicated the Feast of Weeks (a week of weeks after Passover – hence ‘pente’= 50 days).  It was also called Shavuot, a Jewish Festival of harvest but also recalling Moses receiving of the law on Mt Sinai.  The context of the story is the first Jewish Festival of Pentecost after the first Easter (set against Jewish Passover).  The disciples and followers of Jesus were gathered together awaiting the promised gift of the Spirit to come to them – in power.  As they waited, prayed and on this day prepared for the celebration, there was a sound like wind and something like tongues of fire fill their room.  This was Luke’s attempt to describe the Spirit coming upon the people in power.  In the story (Acts 2:1-21), there is confusion and chaos as people are filled with this ‘power from on high’ and their joy, hope and the experience overwhelmed them and flowed out into the city of Jerusalem.  This fearful, uncertain group of people suddenly spoke out with courage and faith, in languages of the world they inhabited.  Jerusalem, filled with pilgrims from across the Empire had people of many language and culture and they all heard the proclamation of God’s love, grace and Reign in the language of their heart.  The joy, passion and vitality of these followers of Jesus overwhelmed many people who responded by joining the group that quickly swelled in number and continued to do so as God’s love and Presence in Spirit transformed them.

The power they felt and experienced was not a power they could control or manipulate.  It was a power they had to submit to and give themselves up to.  It was and is a power that transforms people and communities as the flow of love and justice, wonder and hope, joy and mercy floods life.  It is about the Reign of God that stands over and against all the reigns of kings, queens and rulers of all the dominions on Earth.  It is a Realm of love that draws us out of ourselves and connects us through relationship as a human family that is part of the material world of time and space, which finds life and being in the heart of God’s love.  This is an uncontrollable power that carries us along.  It overwhelms us, like the Apostle Paul who, on his mission to round up and imprison Christians, was overwhelmed on the Damascus Road, brought to his knees by a light and a voice.  He submitted to this power and let himself go into its wonder and life and was given a new direction, mission and way of being that was not his but the Spirit of God’s.

The difference between these powers is that one we want and believe we can have, own and control and the other we must let go of ourselves and allow its flow to take us where it will.  This is a journey of faith, trusting that God’s love and grace is sufficient and answers the deepest yearning of the human heart.  It is the realisation that God is our destination, our home and where we belong, and this power of Spirit will lead us into new life that is connected and relational.  This is the Week of Reconciliation and invites us to think and act for reconciliation with the Indigenous Peoples of this land.  Relationship is at the heart of the Indigenous cultures that occupied this land for millennia.  The Spirit gave wisdom and life to live relationally with land, country, and each other in complex systems.  We have much to learn from their wisdom and to help undo the dominating use of power that dehumanises and destroys.  The power of the Spirit is lifegiving love for all.

By geoffstevenson