Subversive, Radical Praying…

Last year our dogs jumped up to greet Susan and our large dog landed heavily on our small dog. He lay on the ground with his leg sticking out strangely. He was in pain and shock and Susan picked him up gently. He didn’t want anything near his leg and at the vet’s he was reluctant to allow her to feel around to discern the extent of the damage. Eventually our dog had to trust this stranger who did things he didn’t want and were contrary to what he perhaps felt was right. We had to help him trust and relax and let the vet do what she had to do, which would be for his own good and well-being.

I thought of this when I read the Gospel reading this week. It’s from Luke 11:1-11. Jesus was praying and his disciples asked him to teach them to pray as John had taught his disciples. The first part of Jesus’ response is a shorter version of what we know to be the Lord’s Prayer.

Very often we pray the Lord’s Prayer as if it is a sacred and holy set of words that must be prayed as is because that’s how Jesus gave it to us. Saying the words in the form we have seems to be important beyond anything else and we fail to recognise the transformative power of what we call the Lord’s Prayer. It is a subversive and world-changing prayer. It invites us into a place where our complete trust is in God and the way of God – rather than the systems or powers of the world that seem to dominate us. Praying the Lord’s Prayer is to connect ourselves to God and commit ourselves into God’s way, God’s program, in the world.

This is the connection with my opening story. We had to help our dog to trust a vet he didn’t know and relax and allow this person to do what was best for him – even if it seemed at odds with what he may have naturally felt.

In a deeper and more profound way, Jesus is inviting his disciples to connect themselves to the way of God, to  trust in God and to commit themselves to the way of God in the world. The Lord’s Prayer invites us to place our lives, our purposes, our hope in God!

Luke’s version is simpler than that which we recite publicly (that is Matthew’s embellished version). It begins simply with ‘Father’. That sounds a little formal to our ears. It was actually a very intimate and unusual way of speaking to God. In Jewish faith, God’s name was so holy that it was not uttered aloud. God was addressed is very formal ways and was completely distant and ‘other’ to humanity. Jesus introduces an intimate form of address of children speaking to their fathers – ‘daddy’.

This designation and address for God draws us into a relationship of intimacy where God is named as the strong, caring, protective, loving parent of vulnerable children. In 1st Century Jewish life, a strong, loving and protective father was a vital asset for any child. It was the most significant relationship of protection in a male dominated world. But also note that many of the characteristics we attribute to God as parent, are equally or even more properly attributed to mothers as they nurse and nurture young and vulnerable children. So Jesus is inviting us into the place of intimate, loving and protective relationship with God; to put ourselves into God’s embrace wholly and fully.

‘May your name be holy,’ follows ‘Father’. This is about placing ourselves in the place where we hallow (make holy) God ad God’s name in such way as to commit ourselves to this One, rather than some other god or power. This hallowing is about relationship in which we allow ourselves to be embraced in the holiness of God as the one, true way. It is an intimate, loving, passionate relationship of mutual commitment.

‘Your Kingdom come.’ In Matthew there is the additional ‘Your will be done on earth as in heaven.’ This latter fills out the meaning. In other words Heaven is run pretty well and is in good shape but earth could do with some cleaning up. We yearn for the transformation that God’s Kingdom, God’s Reign will wrought upon the earth. This is both subversive and radical because it will mean a transformation of the world as we know it. If God is King, then human powers are not. If God rules then the economic and political priorities will change –dramatically (and we may not like some of them!). Mostly this prayer is prayed with the mind that we want all the good things to come and blessings to shower down upon us (and others) but don’t change the good things too much.

What would the world look like if we lived with God’s justice, God’s peace, God’s generous hospitality and welcome, God’s economics and God’s call for equality across the human race and care for the earth beyond?

‘Give us today the bread we need.’ This runs against everything that our society believes and understands. We store up, we save, we invest and we seek to ensure everything is okay today, tomorrow, next week, next year…

This phrase takes us back to the trust and faith the Hebrew people coming out of Egypt were asked to express when there was quail and manna provided each day. They were to take enough for the day and no more – they had to learn that there would be sufficient today and tomorrow would take care of itself. What do we need for this day? What grace, what strength, what wisdom, what hope and what food do we need for today?

Forgiveness is next but asks that we be forgiven as we forgive. It is more than a quid pro quo (for every time I forgive, forgive me something). It is about entering into a place where we understand ourselves as forgiven and loved, where the guilt or shame we may live with is not help in the heart of God! It is to live in forgiven freedom and that means we don’t hold onto resentments and hatreds… We cannot experience forgiveness and freedom if we live with hatred, bitterness and unforgiveness.

We also seek God’s comfort and security amidst the challenges and trials of life. May we be held and supported, sustained and even relieved as we trust in God and rely on God’s deep grace.

The remainder of the teaching describes a relationship of deep trust in which we come before God with the deep yearnings of the heart. We persevere in our longings and hopes which are transformed in the deepening relationship with this God of love. In our prayer we are changed in our being and through us, the world around such that we become, in part, the answer to our prayers. As we pray and meditate on the Lord’s Prayer we deepen our relationship in God.

By geoffstevenson

When Wonder Breaks In…

This week both Susan and I succumbed to the flu. It took Susan down on Tuesday and I followed day later. It is surprising how little you can do when the flu is at its most potent. The body seems to close down and focus on fighting the virus. It is interesting to observe how my focus narrowed, how ‘I couldn’t be bothered…’ There were things I had to do, people I was supposed to see and places I was supposed to be but I couldn’t. I couldn’t do any of it. As far as I am aware the world didn’t stop – nor did the church or anything else. It is quite a reversal from activity to complete non-activity. I was able to read some stories but none of the stuff I really wanted to read – it was hard to concentrate.

There were long periods where there wasn’t even much activity going on in my head (some would say that’s normal!) – I just lay half way between wakefulness and sleep. There were other times when thinking/pondering with eyes closed was easier on the sore head than anything else with eyes open. Somehow there’s a different perspective gained from a period of enforced inactivity.

There are times when frenetic activity is required, when lots of activity is necessary to get important things done – no choice. There are also times when stopping to take stock, reassess, renew in strength and energy and so on, is a desired state. There is the time for busy activity and the time to stop and listen. There is the time to put out and work hard and the time to renew your energy. There is the time to act and the time to ponder, plan, assess.  There is the time for work and the time for rest. There is the time to do and the time to be, to play, to create and to have fun.

Often it isn’t until we stop and listen that we realise where we are and whether what is engaging our time and energy is actually the best option, the right direction…

In this week’s Gospel reading (Luke 10:38-42) there is the well-known story of Mary and Martha. Basically, the story is of two sisters who welcome Jesus into their home. Martha gets busy preparing the meal and making everything just so. Her sister Mary sits before Jesus and listens. Martha finally gets so annoyed she tells Jesus to tell her lazy sister to help her with the tasks. Jesus responds to Martha by suggesting that she is too distracted by the many tasks and that Mary has chosen the best course – there is only one thing necessary and Mary has chosen it.

It sounds like a harsh call by Jesus. If he wants to eat tonight then someone has to prepare the meal! Some of the distractions are around hospitality and there are cultural rules around hospitality that Mary seems clueless about. If not for Martha would anything get done?

Jesus seems to be saying that there are many options and things that distract us from listening to the voice of God in our midst – and that is quite true! Whilst this passage is often used as a compelling argument for stopping and listening, for a life of reflective prayer and learning, I don’t think that is actually what Jesus means nor is it a helpful way to live. I think Jesus is calling for a balance between being and doing, acting and listening. The important skill is in discerning when and where we need to stop and listen (and to whom we should listen). We need the wisdom to realise when we should act and when we should stop and ponder, listen, plan, evaluate…

Martha, suggests Jesus, has a unique opportunity to sit at the feet of a wise rabbi and to learn. This is something that will not come along every day. This once off opportunity ought to be embraced and relished. This moment is not an ordinary moment but a God-filled opportunity to listen, learn and encounter grace. This seems to be something Mary has grasped and she delights in sitting and listening.

It is the many various tasks and expectations that Martha feels and that she responds to that distracts her from recognising the God-presence in her midst. How often are we distracted from the God-presence in our midst? How do we miss God’s word spoken to us in the ordinary and the sacred elements of each day? Where do we encounter the wonder and mystery of God present in our world – or do we miss them because we’re distracted? I read this recently:

The Vicar piously told his congregation, ‘There is a sermon in every blade of grass.’

Later that week the Vicar was out mowing his lawn when a church member drove by, stopped and rolled down the window and shouted, ‘That’s right, Vicar. Cut those sermons short!’

A silly joke but the Vicar was correct in suggesting that everywhere there is the possibility of encountering and hearing God but we mostly miss it. In everything little and big, God can speak because God is present in the world in its very being. In all of the experiences of life and in all of the moments of life, God is present and comes close in wonder, mystery and quiet words of wisdom.

Hence, beyond the times of activity and inactivity, of work and rest, of action and listening, there are other moments that are holy gifts where the sacred and holy mystery we call God breaks into the moments of our lives. There are moments when we stop before God and stand in awe and wonder, when the ordinary is suddenly imbued with extraordinary qualities such that we see or hear something we’ve not understood or even recognised before. It may be in the wonder of the setting sun or gentle lick of the pet dog. It may be in the way the dew rests on a lovely flower or the kind look or word of friend or stranger. It may be in an experience, new or old, that is suddenly transformed as we attend to it with openness, listening without distraction to hear a word from God.

In the program of Jesus, there is a time and place for everything. The time to stop and rest; the time to be busy and full of action. There is a balance required in life between the place of listening and the place of activity. There is also the special time, the moment of holiness where everything else pales before the presence of God revealed in the ordinary and the wonderful. When a simple meal becomes the moment to hear the word of God.

When do you stop to be recharged and renewed in the presence of God – without all the noise and distraction of the world around? When do you dig in and give it everything to fulfil your own God-given calling to love and justice? Do you give yourself over to wonder and mystery, to God-filled moments?

By geoffstevenson

More – Crazy Thing Called Love!

I am pondering what it might actually look like, this crazy love. I am pondering how, where and who neighbourliness might be directed to in my life. I am thinking about the implications of such reckless love in our community and nation and world at this time.

The news is filled with conflict and strife – the only bright light seems to be the astounding success of a teenage debutant playing cricket and scoring a few runs against the old ‘enemy’ in England. We need such brightness amidst the news of murder-suicide, asylum seekers, aboriginal affairs, Syrian and Egypt conflicts… that all grace the news this sunny morning.

I am aware of people I visited yesterday in hospital, along with a conversation with the chaplain. These people face uncertain futures in many ways – unknown diagnoses, possible nursing home care, which is a huge change and is a step closer to complete dependence upon others. Life closes in.

What is love in these contexts and what might a neighbour do? A brief chat, a prayer and blessing. Perhaps the opportunity for them to be heard amidst their struggles. Some asked questions of faith, surprising questions about what it all really meant and was it okay to question some of it. Another spoke of accepting this faith thing as something that probably seemed important, although God was always there. In these places love seems to move deeper than ‘doing’ things for others. It is a place of being vulnerable and powerless before people who feel powerless and vulnerable. I can’t fix any of these people or even nurse their wounds like a good Samaritan; I can only listen and invite them into God’s space – it seems important.

My mind turns to bigger issues. I am troubled by the stories I have heard from Sri Lankan asylum seekers released on bridging Visas that all but keep them bound and trapped in helplessness. I cannot comprehend their stories – secreted out of Sri Lanka and smuggled onto boats that barely bear out that name. The only way to escape the impending danger of death that they face is to risk all on this leaky vessel with its thieving sailors. The family has scrabbled together as much money as they can to save these lives and they send them into the unknown in the hope that they will survive.

They did survive an horrendous ordeal – 20 days on a small boat in a big ocean. They ran out of food and water. There was no sleep and they felt fear and grief. The end of their journey was the beginning of another torture imprisoned in detention centres like common criminals. Struggling with homesickness, fear, confusion, battling depression… they are hopeless.

Finally released into the community with insufficient funds to house, clothe and feed themselves, dependent upon people, anyone who might take some sympathy upon them and offer a meagre bit of love. One young man rings his mother everyday just to talk with her and feel a little hope. He wants to go home but can’t because he will be killed – something our nation doesn’t seem to understand.

These men, whom I can hardly understand or speak with, whose culture I don’t know and whose stories I can barely comprehend, are my neighbours! But what might a good Samaritan do with and for these men? What might a nation that prides itself on egalitarianism actually do for and with such men if we were truly egalitarian, caring and loving?

Love for God, as Jesus proclaims, makes me ponder my connections to other people and to the created world around me. So often I am an individual, defining myself over and against others. Fear, uncertainty, suspicion and all else the powers that be have led me to feel, believe and be wary of doesn’t work! As an independent individual I am somehow disconnected from myself and the world around me. So often, in the past, I have felt the church’s call to be isolated from a world that is overwhelming. I see the same in other people beyond the church – they escape the realities of a world that is too vast, confusing and fearful. We hide from that which is different and become absorbed into our own being, our own lives. There is much to the world that is awful and horrible, that needs transforming. There is also much that is beautiful, whether the families of ducks that will waddle around the creek near our home in the next few months, the gentle warmth of the sun or the greens and colours of the garden. I watch the birds come and pick in garden beds until the kitten on his lead scares them away in his curiosity. These simple things remind me I am connected to a world, an earth that not only provides food and resources but a connectedness with all of God’s creation. I depend on all of it but blindly participate in the degradation and destruction of the environment. How does love for God inform me in the way I care for the earth and fight the relentless devastation of the environment?

I am aware that at this time Muslim brothers and sisters are engaged in their annual fasting of Ramadan. I don’t know much of their faith beyond the extremist reporting in media of fanatics. Those I’ve met are generally gentle and interested in my faith. I know that their praying is intended to connect them more deeply with God and lead them into moments of reflection on life, caring, justice and acts of charity. I am also aware of those whose faith traditions have no common roots with my own – those especially of the east. Again I am ignorant of Buddhist, Hindus, Sikhs and others. I experience them as very different – in look, culture, theology, ritual and more. At heart, though, so many also speak of love and of connecting to the world and other people. They speak in terms of ‘God as love’ in their own ways and traditions and I wonder why I am meant to treat these people as enemy? Why can’t I embrace them as brothers and sisters, fellow sojourners on the spiritual journey? Sure, we are on different paths and we will have many differences in perspective and intent but why should we disrespect one another? Why should I be so intent to change them or they me? If Jesus’ words are true then God loves these people as well – in profound ways. Perhaps God has spoken to these people in different ways to me because they have truth to teach me that I suddenly realise is right there in my Scripture but I’ve missed it before.

Love, crazy little love, urges me to reckless thinking and action and to discover God in these places!!

By geoffstevenson

Crazy Thing Called Love!

I’ve been working on a jazz band arrangement of the Michael Buble version of Queen’s ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’. Apparently Freddie Mercury wrote this song in a very short time. It has simple chords because he claimed he wasn’t a great guitarist. The words aren’t too complex either but there’s a good beat and a sense of fun.

I have had to listen to the song several times to get the sense of it and hear the background brass/sax parts. As I listened the various parts of the lyric amused me: ‘It cries all night like a baby in a cradle…’; ‘It shakes all over like  jelly fish…’. The phrases about hot and cold fevers and a cool, cool sweat…

I began to think about the notion that love is a crazy little thing. The song is probably more about infatuation than love but the point is taken that love is often irrational, odd, strange and leads us to do things we may not consider logical, reasonable or even in our best interests. In the name of love (to quote another song by U2) we do all manner of things that we may not do in our right, logical, rational mind. There is something about love that drives us via our emotional self rather than rational self. When the heart is engaged and can dominate over the mind, we are capable of some very different possibilities – perhaps crazy possibilities?

Watch the tough teenagers at school who melt before a pretty girl who wants to talk to them. Watch the girls preen themselves and melt before the heart throb that looks their way. People leave home, work, country, culture… to follow the ‘love of their heart’ to another place. We are able to overlook all manner of things in another person because of love.

Scott Peck in his renowned book, ‘The Road Less Travelled’ speaks of love, and in particular infatuation, as having the capacity to extend our ego boundary to embrace another person. He says that left to the rational mind, we would never embrace another into our close boundary space. The capacity to love opens us up to drop our natural defences and embrace another person into a closeness of being that is increasingly intimate. We are able to overlook various prejudices and other characteristics that may otherwise cause us concern. Love has drawn otherwise rational and careful people into all manner of risky pursuits!

Love is indeed a crazy thing that isn’t all rational. There are dangers in this irrationality of love – people have been led into all manner of dangerous activities and been transformed in negative ways. It is this very irrationality, however, that is also a great hope for the world. The crazy nature of love is the very thing that will potentially change our world for the good. We need love’s transformative capacity in our lives to risk living in new ways.

It is precisely this irrationality and recklessness of love that Jesus works with. More than that, Jesus affirms the reckless, generous, abundant love of God. God makes rain to fall on the just and unjust. God’s love is available to anyone and everyone no matter what we have done or who we might be. Paul suggests that there is nothing, absolutely nothing that can separate us from the love of God! Jesus’ incarnation of God’s love was confronting in its reckless and broad embrace. Jesus reached out to everyone regardless of their race, creed, culture, health, lifestyle or anything else. He touched untouchables with leprosy. He went into places of death and hopelessness and spoke words of love and inclusion to people pushed to the margins, excluded and hated. He reached out to those who no-one else would love and loved them.

The most astounding thing was that when Jesus loved with such abandon, people were transformed! Horrible, low life scum who ripped people off and were abusive, turned their lives around when they experienced love – reckless, risky, inclusive love!

In the Gospel reading this week (Luke 10:25-37) we read of a religious leader speaking with Jesus about what the greatest commandment was – the Jewish leaders were big on commandments! Jesus asked the man what he thought and he quoted a couple of verse from Jewish Scripture – ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ This was everything Jesus believed and gave him the thumbs up. But the man wanted to be sure and asked who his neighbour really was.

Jesus told him a story about a man beaten and left for dead. A priest came by saw the man lying near death and walked by on the other side. Another religious man did likewise. Finally a Samaritan man, an enemy of the Jews, walked by and saw the man. He stopped, tended the man’s wounds, placed him onto his donkey and took him to a hotel where he left him in the care of staff, paying the man’s expenses. Such outrageous and generous love!

There are many layers in the story and ways in which we might allow it to challenge us, confront us and inspire us. Jesus ended the story by asking the religious leader: ‘Which was a neighbour to the man beaten and left for dead?’ When the man answered, ‘The one who showed him mercy,’ Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise.’

In the context of this story-telling we need to realise that the only ‘good’ Samaritan was a dead Samaritan! Saying that any Samaritan was good would be like saying that a suicide bomber was good… The religious leader couldn’t even say ‘the Samaritan’ in response to Jesus’ question – he says ‘the one who showed mercy.’

This story is extends love for God and neighbour into a reckless abandonment of cultural, religious and political categorisation of people. It opens the boundaries of love to include everyone! For all are created in the image of God – only humans divide and separate and exclude. Love when lived in such open, inclusive ways is dangerous, breaks many rules of cultural expectation, religious law and rational common sense!

When we look at other people and begin by judging, categorising and ultimately rejecting them as justifying our concern, let alone love, we are closing ourselves to love and God’s way. Old hatreds continue and conflict, violence and exclusion fills our heart.

The song begins with the words: ‘I just can’t handle this thing called love/I must get around to it…’ Crazy Love is God’s way! What about you?

By geoffstevenson

Invitation to Vulnerability…

This week I conducted one of the monthly services in a local aged care facility. It was a full house with people who were very dependent and suffering with dementia through to those who were still relatively able. I took the opportunity to catch up with a few of the residents, particularly a couple who are struggling with life in deep ways. They are older, tired and feeling the struggle of life. I have also made a few hospital visits this week as there have been several members of the congregation undergoing surgery or receiving treatment in hospital.

The thing that struck me this week was the vulnerability of people in these situations of life. The more helpless they feel, the more powerless they are, the more vulnerable they become. Some of the conversations with such people are very raw and fundamental. They deal with issues that are often avoided and they say things they might not voice at other times.

It is in these moments of vulnerability that we come face to face with each person’s deep humanity. We recognise our mortality, vulnerability and deeply profound humanness. When our resources are stripped away and our facades fall away, the essential reality of our being stands raw for others to see.

It isn’t an easy place to be – for the one feeling vulnerable or for the one experiencing such vulnerability. It can be confronting as we realise that we are not in control of life or circumstance as much as we might like to believe. We realise that we are ultimately powerless and that everything we have accumulated is of little consequence. Our education, that served us so well in vocation and life, seems utterly useless. Our well planned and organised investment schemes are of no value because money cannot heal.

In the rawest moments of life, when we have felt weak and powerless because of the overwhelming pain or struggle we confront, we recognise our deep humanity and our need to reach out beyond ourselves. We recognise our need of other people, those who might care for, love and support us. We also recognise that ultimately these are also vulnerable humans who can only share out of whatever strength they might currently experience. We recognise our need for a strength and hope beyond ourselves and in fact beyond human life.

There is a love that will not let me go,’ sang one Christian singer/songwriter. It reflects the deep truth of much of the Bible’s story about a God of deep compassion and love who comes close to human beings with gracious acceptance. I thought about how important it is to build our spiritual resources through life – much as we build the other resources of life on which we depend. How will we live, hope, cope or deal with the moment when we feel deeply vulnerable and helpless? If we haven’t built up resources through opening ourselves to the loving God who comes to us and will not let us go, how will we know how to reach out, to trust and to rest in such grace with faith, when that becomes our deep need?

In this week’s stories from both the Old Testament (2 Kings 5:1-14) and the Gospel (Luke 10:1-20) there are situations of people required to trust in something beyond themselves, to have faith. Naaman is a Syrian commander of the army and well-respected and loved by the King. He develops leprosy and tries everything within his power to receive healing to no avail. A servant of his wife’s tells of the prophet of the Jewish God in Samaria who could heal him. Desperate and with nothing to lose, Naaman takes a letter from his king and expensive gifts and sets off to seek healing. The King of Israel fearfully receives the letter and feels helpless – he is not God and cannot heal. Elisha, the prophet, hears of the king’s despair and sends a message to him that he should send Naaman to him.

Naaman and his entourage stop outside Elisha’s house and are met by a servant boy who tells Naaman to go and dip in the Jordan River 7 times and that will cure him! Naaman is outraged that the prophet will not even come out to meet him. He feels it is a waste of time having come to Israel and he is angry. Naaman wants a show of power. He knows power and needs to experience a power greater than he can muster because nothing he has done can heal him.

Finally, his servants convince him to give it a go – what can hurt (except Naaman’s vulnerability – it is hard for the powerful to become vulnerable!). So he strips and dips in the dirty Jordan River – 7 times. He comes up clean and well and confused. Naaman wanted a great and powerful act because he was powerful and important. He had to become vulnerable and humble – more-so than the illness had already made him.

In the Gospel story, Jesus sent out 70 disciples to spread the message of God’s Kingdom in word and action. The threatening and challenging element of the story is that they were to go as they were. They were not to take anything with them – no extra clothes, money, shoes… They were to be vulnerable and dependent upon God and the gracious acceptance of other people. They were to go amongst those who received them with the message of God’s Kingdom, a powerful presence in their midst. They were to heal the sick, speak words of hope and life and spread the love of God everywhere people received them. They were to bless such homes and communities with the blessing of peace.

Jesus also warned them that they would be like lambs among the wolves – vulnerable amidst power and violence. They were not to take anything to use in their defence and they were not to resist. They were to declare God’s Kingdom of love and stay where they were welcomed and move on in the face of rejection.

There were no shows of human power and might. There were no long degrees or impressive CV’s. These were vulnerable people who were learning to place their lives in God’s hands. Even the outcome was not predictable, nor theirs to be concerned about. Contrary to the ways of the world (and the church!) success wasn’t measurable in terms of numbers or victories. Success was essentially measured in their being willing to be embraced within God’s grace in faith. They were to simply do what they were called to do! Nothing more, nothing less! Speak in love of God’s Reign, heal the sick and bless with peace – people would either accept or reject.

Vulnerable people in the hands of God! Will you allow yourself to be vulnerable and humble in God’s grace?

By geoffstevenson

The Call to Lead and Serve

The family’s television viewing was severely disrupted on Wednesday evening when QI was set aside for ABC’s pursuit of the implications of the Labor Leadership vote and outcome. I confess I wasn’t much interested in the various ‘experts’ and journalists trying to find the inside information and present their predictions of what it all means. As others occasionally flicked over to see if their program was on I heard, from afar, a few comments. I was largely dismayed, as I have been for some time, by the bitterness within the various political parties and the competing egos that demand attention and to be taken seriously. In our current political landscape, leadership is no longer about wisdom and the common good but about personal ambition and claiming power. Such leaders are rarely held in high regard and make decisions based on popularity, polls and opposing the other side – regardless of whether they are good ideas or not.

There doesn’t seem to be any sense of passing on the mantle to rightly anointed successors who display the characteristics of humility, courage, integrity, wisdom and a desire to serve the well-being of all people for the common good. Perhaps the major parties no longer see these values as important? Certainly few have exhibited these in recent times.

One of the other stories on the news has been the declining health of Nelson Mandela. I remember reading his autobiography: The Long Walk to Freedom. What a remarkable story! I kept having to remind myself that this was the one who led South Africa – the first man of coloured skin to do so. His humility was quite astounding – especially in comparison to our current crop of political leaders! He was a very wise and gracious leader who demonstrated compassion and grace. These virtues were no doubt forged in the 27 years he was imprisoned. Patience, integrity, a sense of justice, hope, peace, gentleness, courage and inner strength, compassion… were all there in the leadership of Nelson Mandela. I suppose that his experiences might have led to bitterness, anger and despair but it didn’t! Mandela was and is a great man who is a model to emulate. I can’t think of many leading our major political parties (a couple perhaps but not too many).

I wonder who you have been inspired by? Are there people, famous and well known or personally known to you, who have inspired, mentored, encouraged, nurtured or simply pushed you to be or do something greater than you ever thought you could? Is there someone who believed in you and helped you believe in something greater and more profound than you ever considered?

I have spoken often of some of the great heroes of faith and life who inspire and challenge me – Martin Luther King jr, Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, Archbishop Oscar Romero, Bonhoeffer, St Francis of Assisi. There are other whose works I have read and who teach me, challenge me and push me to think and do more than I thought I could or should. I would also include the nurture and encouragement of mum and dad who always believed in me and encouraged me to do what I really wanted. They supported me through school and university and their encouragement and belief was important. They also showed me values of love and care for other people – that we are all equal and people worthy of respect and to be taken seriously. I was taught the value of working hard as I watched dad in his various roles at work, around the home… I also learned that faith must be relevant to real life, practical and lived in the context the world we inhabit.

This week’s Old Testament reading (2 Kings 2:1-14) is about an older prophet, Elijah, passing on the mantle to the younger prophet, Elisha. Elijah has made mistakes, had highs and lows but to his credit was open to the challenge of God’s Spirit. He learned patience, faith, perseverance and the ways of God – and especially humility. He grew in wisdom and grace. When his time had come he was ready to hand over his prophetic role and authority to the younger man, Elisha, whom he had earlier identified to be his successor. For Elisha’s part he was a faithful follower, a disciple, one who learned and wanted to be the best he could. The prophetic role wasn’t for everyone. It wasn’t the best role for those who wanted, needed, to be popular! He would called upon to say some harsh and confronting things to powerful people. If he was to take himself too seriously he would fail. If he trusted in his own authority, power and wisdom alone, he would fail.

When Elijah’s time had come his mantle fell from his shoulders and Elisha placed it upon his own – an indication of his willingness to take up Elijah’s role. He became the chosen and anointed successor of Elijah. He was affirmed in the role by God’s Spirit and became the next prophetic to Israel.

In the Gospel reading (Luke 9:51-62) some of Jesus’ disciples indicated their desire to follow Jesus and Jesus reminded them that discipleship is not for the faint-hearted. He spoke to others inviting them to follow and they said they had to do a few things first and then they would be there with him. Jesus warned them of the urgency and priority of following and living out the life of God’s Kingdom – NOW! In this passage Jesus warns that whilst even the wild animals have places to rest their heads he doesn’t and his followers should not expect to either.

Following such leaders – Jesus, Elijah, Mandela… is not easy. They call forth in us something deeper and more profound than we might ordinarily expect of ourselves. They anoint us with the calling of God to be people willing to live with a transformed and transforming vision for the world. We receive a calling to be bigger and more compassionate, gracious loving and prophetic than we ever believed possible. We have the calling to love in a deeper more profound manner than we experience in a world of struggle, individualism, materialism and fear. We are called to work for the common good and to welcome all people as God’s beloved in grace and peace. It is quite a calling!

If perchance our political leaders caught a glimpse of the profound truth in God’s Reign of justice, compassion, truth, mercy and peace they might lead us truly and wisely. They might lead us into a deeper sense of being community and working for the common good of all people – in the way of Jesus!

 

By geoffstevenson