The Reformation – of Church and World!

I had occasion to visit the local shopping centre this week (shopping isn’t my highest priority) and was surprised again at all the Halloween stuff for sale.  I remember being surprised last year and probably the year before… It has really taken on a life of its own but seems rather removed from the real traditions that surround All Hallows Eve.  On Tuesday evening whilst children are running the streets threatening to trick if a treat isn’t forthcoming (or whatever happens), others (probably relatively fewer) will remember that this is All Hallows Eve, the night before All Saints Day.  Perhaps fewer still may even recall that it is 500 years since the frustrated priest, Martin Luther, nailed 95 theses to the door of the church in the German town of Wittenberg.  Luther knew that the next day, All Saints day, would bring large crowds to the church to celebrate and remember the significant saints of the Christian faith.  The theses on the door drew great attention as they laid out compelling arguments against the state of the church.  Ultimately, with the help of the relatively new printing press, these reforming statements led to the Protestant Reformation, the most significant change the church had experienced for 500 years.  The last great change was the separation of the Eastern and Western church (into Orthodox and Roman Catholic) in the 11th century.

The reality is that it wasn’t just Luther’s 95 statements that wrought such dramatic change in the church.  There were gathering forces in the western world for 100 or more years that were driving wholesale change across Europe.  The Renaissance brought light and life through music, art, architecture, poetry and literature.  There was the rise in modern science through the Enlightenment and the world emerged from the Dark Ages into a new era.  Liberal Democracy became the political ideology and Capitalism the economic foundation of this new, emerging world.  The printing press ushered in a communications revolution such as the world had never known – its impact was on a level with what we experience in the modern communications revolution.  There was a movement away from the fiefdoms and serfdoms, the local Landlord structure with extended families and clans to the rise of small (nuclear) families moving into the cities for work.  The king grew in status and power with more centralised authority and every institution of their world was under threat as everything changed.  This included the church!  It was clear that the church needed a great overhaul and realignment.

The ensuing Reformation brought such profound change that the church emerged from this era in forms that would never have been recognised or imagined 100 years earlier.  The Protestant Church emerged in a variety of forms depending on the context and leadership in which it was birthed.  It looks different in different places – the Lutheran Church, the Church of Scotland and Presbyterian Church, the Church of England and so on.  The Roman catholic Church underwent its own inner reformation through its various Vatican Councils and other enforced changes.  As the winds of societal change blew through the Western world, the church was swept up in reformation and transformation.

We are experiencing this same level of change and threat in our own era.  Our world is experiencing a level of change not seen since this last major upheaval.  The depth of change and transformative forces in our world are challenging every level of society and every level of authority.  The shape and form of family, for example, has changed dramatically from the extended clans through nuclear family to the multitudinous forms we encounter as normal today.  The nature of authority in people’s lives is changing as we seek that in which we can put out trust and hope – King and country have declined in a world of competing powers and trans-continental corporations, travel and the shrinking of the world through transportation, communications and technological revolutions.

The church is struggling – at every point it is struggling.  There is a rapid decline in how people negotiate a spiritual connection in their lives.  Droves of people have left organised religion for a vast variety of reasons, not the least because answers to the real questions of their lives aren’t honestly dealt with.  Too much religion, it seems, has focussed upon a strict set of beliefs and how to get into heaven when we die.  The reports from Europe, North America and Australia, describe how people want something deeper and transformative of life, something that touches on the deep questions and hopes, fears and concerns of their lives.  People are constantly listening to what various Christians say in the public realm and are left cold by the arguments we seem to be having or the crises and evils we have to deal with.  Religious people abusing children and leaders covering that up does nothing to kindle people’s positive attitude towards the church but nor does arguing over furniture in the church or some irrelevant piece of theology.

Whilst the world around becomes more lonely and isolated and depression and anxiety continue to increase in pandemic levels, the church has missed the point that Jesus’ message was about getting heaven into earth (not getting us into heaven!).  After all his prayer invokes, ‘May your Kingdom come and your will be done on EARTH as it is in heaven.’  His central teaching is about the work of love – loving God with all we are and our neighbours as we love ourselves.  This is the reading for this Sunday (Matthew 22:34-46 – another is Deuteronomy 34:1-12).  It speaks quite bluntly about love as the central action of God’s people.  This love requires a radical reorientation of our lives and invites us into a new way of being towards the world.  Whilst many accumulate wealth or power or prestige or chase fame and are addicted to a lifestyle that denies them the freedom of being in relationships of joy and openness, Jesus invites us to love.  It is immensely practical and action-oriented.  It doesn’t require too much deep study, although getting together and exploring the depths of love is valuable.  It requires a commitment to act and be a person of love.  It is a choice to love another person, one we don’t know or even someone who is opposed to us or so different we do not understand and presume we will not like.  It takes us into acts, small and large, of kindness and relationship that when added together will change the world.  Love is the only source of power that builds and gives life.  It shares, embraces, unites, seeks justice and life and seeks these for all people.  Love is not a competition but a community that is inclusive and celebrates the diversity and uniqueness of all people.  We are each values for who we are as children of God and here is no hierarchy, only community.  This is the vision that will guide the church – and which the world needs! – as we move through this period of immense change and transformation in our world.  In the Deuteronomy reading Moses stands on Mt Nebo and sees before him the Promised Land that they are journeyed towards for so long.  It looms as a vision of joy.  Jesus gives us a vision of life, hope, peace and joy as we love in God.

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By geoffstevenson

A Communal Vision of Life…

Our son graduated from Macquarie University earlier this year.  It was a lovely day and special time.  At the beginning of the ceremony I was quite challenged and inspired by Chris Tobin, a local descendent of the Darug people, who gave the Welcome to Country.  He spoke of how the individual and community were connected in Aboriginal culture and how the individual’s work and contributions benefitted others and how they were then cared for by the community.  He went on to say:

“We can live quite beautifully when we work together.  Our Aboriginal ancestors lived well in many respects and I use occasions like this to recommend them to yourselves as a model or benchmark of how good to expect our lives today.  When Captain Cook arrived here over 200 years ago he encountered a people he described as some of the happiest he’d ever met.  They were naked. They just owned what they could carry, made their shelter from bark without cutting down the trees.  They harvested food from the earth without excessive tilling or clearing.  These were not primitive societies but an ancient culture.  There was no slavery, no rich or poor, no rents or mortgages and no homelessness.  People cooperated to collect the resources that were needed and then they were shared out according to strict Aboriginal law.  The land was maintained with fire and responsible harvesting; our waterways kept clean and unpolluted with people drinking out of them as they have done so for the past 20,000 years.  So remember this is not a dream or an ideal; it is normal life – and for the longest time and not so long ago.  There is no reason we should expect less for ourselves and our children than our ancestors enjoyed. Admittedly there is a lot more of us but we are a clever people and there is still much magic in the world I believe…”

Chris went on to congratulate the graduands and implore them to use their gifts and skills for the benefit of all, to work together for the collective good and to help build a better world for all people.

I was really impressed by the words of this Welcome to Country because he related Aboriginal  culture and community to modern life and demonstrated an alternate vision of what can be, not an ideal but that which was a reality only a couple of hundred years ago.  As I heard his words there was a truth and wisdom that struck me.  We have so many social issues that plague people and communities in modern Australia.  In Sydney, affordable housing and homelessness are significant issues.  Poverty and its impact on families and communities pervades many parts of Australia.  Across our world poverty reduces people to sheer desperation and incomprehensible suffering.  The gaps between rich and poor, both locally and across the world, are stretching out ever more widely.  The environment struggles under the weight of human intervention.  Global warming and the changing climate are capturing the attention and concern of more and more leaders of nations and corporations and the need for change grows more serious by the year.  People seek to accumulate more possessions that require bigger houses to store all their stuff.  We have doors and gates, locks and security systems to protect ourselves and our accumulated possessions.  As a nation we invest in extensive military hardware to protect what we have, what we own, our wealth, from everyone else.  The wealthier and more powerful a nation, the more guns and bombs they need and want to protect their accumulated power and position in the world.

I wonder how much money, time and energy we invest in dealing with the major issues of our lives and whether we find the state of contentment or even happiness that Chris quotes Captain Cook as observing in Aboriginal Australia.  I am drawn to the communal dimension of how the indigenous people of so much of our world have lived.  The simpler lives they enjoyed ought not be glorified or idealised but we can certainly learn from ancient cultures.  So many problems and so much stress in our lives is generated from the drive to accumulate money, power, glory or whatever makes us feel we have made it and are okay.  We yearn for something deep but I wonder if we seek in all the wrong places?

This week I have been pondering the gospel for this Sunday – Matthew 22:15-22.  It is, for me, somewhat familiar.  Religious leaders seeking to trap Jesus ask him whether it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar.  He responded by suggesting that they give to Caesar that which is Caesar’s and to God that which is God’s.  In the process he asked them for a coin of the realm – a Roman coin.  On it is the face of Caesar and the words, “Tiberius, Emperor, son of God.”  These words are in direct opposition to Israel’s 10 Commandments and of having no other gods.  The fact that they have a coin and Jesus doesn’t reveals their own hypocrisy in carrying the unlawful image.  The coinage of Rome and its confrontation with Jewish faith also reveals the reality of life for the faithful.  They had to use the Roman coin to participate in the wider world.  Within the Temple precincts there were money changers so people could exchange Roman money for Temple currency and so fulfil righteousness within the Temple.

Underlying Jesus’ response, though, is the whole concept of who owns what and how we relate to one another.  His teaching challenges the ways of power and possession in his world where everything ought belong to God (Psalm 24).  His critique of the Temple is based on the fact that it was intended to be the centre of justice and faith.  It was intended to provide the means of redistribution of wealth so that the poor and vulnerable, usually referred to as ‘widows and orphans,’ would be cared for and embraced securely within the community of God’s gracious care and love.  It played a political role (in the deepest and truest sense) within the nation’s life.  In the complex world of competing and conquering powers, powers that maintained control over the Jewish homelands for millennia, the ‘pure way of Jewish faith’ was always compromised.  In the midst of this the Temple was to maintain the central point of justice, compassion, peace, faith and God’s love.  It was to hold firm to the way of God and serve as a fulcrum to leverage faithful, compassionate and just communal life within Israel.  The reality was that power and wealth corrupted the religious/political leaders and the disciplines of compassion and justice declined.  Jesus stood strongly and firmly for the powerless and vulnerable and revealed the hypocrisy of the leadership until they struck back through arrest, torture and crucifixion.

In 21st century Australia churches still fulfil something of this role but the governments of the land have the primary responsibility of caring for the vulnerable and weak, which they do to varying levels of effectiveness.  The way of Jesus invites us to ponder how we interact with one another and how we care for and love our brothers and sisters, the human family, who share the ‘commonwealth’ of this land and indeed the world.

By geoffstevenson

God’s Reign is One of Love, Peace and Joy!

A colleague recently shared some stories from a mission trip he and some of his congregation members experienced recently.  They went to the Philippines and he shared some wonderful stories of meeting Filipino people and sharing food and other resources with some of the very poor.  He also told a story of a man they met and talked to at length.  He shared the story of his brother who has had some problems with drugs.  He has been addicted and struggling.  He sometimes seels drugs to fund his own addiction.  All of this has put this young man on the radar of the authorities.  All who have been involved in drugs come under surveillance of the authorities and President Duterte’s extreme line on drugs.  Over the last little while police have killed thousands of people involved in drugs.  The man was very concerned for his brother and wanted to get him into rehabilitation to overcome the effects of drugs on his life.  He became increasingly worried when he discovered that his brother was on the list of people under surveillance and would likely be killed in a few weeks as he rose higher on the list.  The man managed to get his brother into rehabilitation in time to save his life.  Many other people have not been as fortunate.

By all accounts President Duterte is brutal violent in his dealing with people who cross him.  He one of a long list of brutal leaders who have tyrannised their people.  Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, Gaddafi, Pinochet, Hussein, Putin and many, many others are/have been ruthless and brutal.  The use of violence to punish and control the populace has been common throughout history – on all sides of the political spectrum.  Donald Trump’s rhetoric is violent and relies upon the power he controls through military might.  Violence or the threat of violence is often believed to be the means of establishing ‘peace’ or at least the sense of peace the powerful seek.  Mostly this is obeisance and subservience to power.  In world affairs it has forever held that violence and military might are the only means of achieving lasting peace and equanimity.  When the USA experienced the horrific evil of September 11, 2001 the response was swift retaliatory military strike, a brutal show of power.  The only problem was that no-one knew where Osama bin Laden, the source of the horror, was hiding out.  A broad and brutal attack on the supposed or potential sites in Afghanistan unleashed more suffering and pain, principally upon innocent civilians such that more people died than in the original attacks.  The whole show of might did little to stop other brutalities or the work of Al Qaeda, who continued on with relentless violence.  The next phase took the attack to Iraq and unleashed brutal power onto the Hussein regime and destroyed that leadership, whilst more innocents died in the crossfire and bomb raids.  In both of these places the ensuing vacuum opened the way for other evil to emerge in response to the violence they experienced – especially ISIS.  The spiralling nature of violence upon violence upon violence has only unleashed more energy into the spiral and resulted in more innocents dying and less real peace or hope in the lives of many people.

This, it seems, is the dominant way of the world and the way that humans have constantly been dealing with differences, conflict and the use of power.  I remember teaching a year 6 Scripture class and we were talking about peace and loving others.  In the midst of a discussion two children began hitting each other and shouting at each other.  I intervened and stopped the conflict and screaming and asked what was happening.  It seems that the boy looked over and saw the girl’s homework book open and she had completed some beautiful work, which he had struggled with and could never match her artistic skills.  He was jealous, upset… and reached over and put a pencil mark through some of the work.  She was angry and grabbed his eraser and tried to get rid of it but there remained a line in the paper.  She threw his rubber onto the floor so he grabbed her pencil and threw it on the floor.  She hit him; he hit her.  She hit harder; he hit back and on it went.  The screaming came with harder hits.  The cycle was exploding out of control until I intervened.  If they were older and the issue more significant it may have escalated into the playground and involved others as two sides formed and the violence grew into something dangerous and serious.

I pondered all of this as I read a strange story from Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 22:1-14).  In it Jesus says ; the Kingdom of Heaven/God can be compared to a King…’ It goes onto say that the king’s son was being married and a feast was being prepared.  Invitations were sent out to the A-list crowd presumably.  When all was ready the king’s slave were sent out to gather the guests who all gave excuses and treated the slaves badly, some were killed.  Evidently the king wasn’t well-respected.  When he heard, the king was furious and sent troops in to kill the murderers and destroy their cities.  He sent other slaves out to gather in anyone they could find and essentially order them to come along.  One man was not dressed appropriately and the king had him bound and cast out brutally into the darkness.  It isn’t a pretty story!

At first I struggled to see how God and God’s Reign was like this king, brutal, murderous, vindictive and violent.  How could I compare God to this man?  It was then that a commentator suggested that we might compare and contrast the two stories – the story of this king and the story of God revealed in Jesus.  I was further drawn to the notion that the king in this story may have been an image on a real king that Matthew’s readers would have readily identified – perhaps the brutal King Herod who murdered anyone who was a threat.  In Matthew’s own story he had all the children two years and under killed for fear that the infant Jesus was a threat as a ‘new king’.  There are many stories of Herod’s brutality.  There are also many other brutal leaders in the Roman world that threatened the people of the Empire, especially minority groups and religions such as the Christians.  The commentator led me to ponder how God’s way offers an alternative to the way of escalating violence (known as the ‘Myth of Redemptive Violence’).  God’s Reign, as we hear and perceive in the life of Jesus is one that counters violence with love and courageous non-violence.  We see this reflected in Ghandi, Martin Luther King jr, Oscar Romero and many others.  We saw it powerfully reflected in the end of apartheid in South Africa led by F W de Klerk and Nelson Mandella and through their Truth and Reconciliation Commission led by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, which tells profound and very moving stories of grace, love, forgiveness and reconciliation.

God’s Reign is very different from the world’s continuing dependence on power, might and violence.  It invites us into a life of relationship and reconciliation, peace and joy.  In another reading this week (Philippians 4:4-9) we read the exhortation to rejoice, to be joyful because God is with us and God is love.  This love is for all people.  Rejoice!

By geoffstevenson

Is There an Alternate Story to Violence and Hatred?

Gunfire rings through the night piercing the music at the giant hoe-down.  The repetitive rat-a-tat imbues the night with crisis, fear and unfurls sounds of pain, dread and even death.  Squeals, screams and shouts compete in this night of terror as bodies fall and dive and run and head for anywhere but here.

A lone gunman sits by his window coldly firing, reloading and firing again.  Mass chaos, blood and fear collide on this night of madness and evil.  He fires more and more go down, and down, and down.  The smell of fear fills the air, along with death and still he fires into the heaving mass of humanity writhing is tremulous fear and pain. It ends with his ending the night entering into the oblivion of death he has created for others and we ask, ‘Why?’

Why does this madness invade our world and overwhelm us?  Why does this Second Amendment madness of keep recurring?  Why/how does evil continually pervade the normality of human life?  It isn’t only Vegas or even US of A where such futile human loss seems to intrude on our being.  The world over is filled with the horror of killing.  Warfare with its collateral damage and drones and bombs and guns and everything aimed at death.  Terror that rips life away from innocents and leaves ripples of pain and heartbreak rolling ever outward and embracing innocents, forever changing life.  Backstreet revenge and domestic horror unfurled in murderous rage fills our news bulletins.  And I read in the words, the 10 Words given Moses, ‘ Do not kill!’  I wonder what this means and how it applies to the world I inhabit?

Do not kill is one of these commandments.  It echoes through the ages and informs laws and rules and expectations – for most of us.  But does it mean anything in our world – really?  Does it have any significance?  Do people really hear and heed and believe or do we abandon any sense of authority in these words?

There are other rules in the 10 Words of Moses.  Do not steal.  Do not commit adultery.  Do not bear false witness.  Do not covet your neighbour’s stuff.  And on they go.  Believe in God, this One who brought people from captivity and oppression into life and freedom.  Trust this One who made all things and made them good and whole and well but watches on as we descend into cycles of chaos and restoration and ever onwards wrestling with personal and communal temptations and challenges.

 

This week one of the passages I have to consider for Sunday’s services is from Exodus 20 – the Ten Commandments.  My first image is Cecil B DeMille’s epic movie of the same name.  It was high drama with Charlton Heston as Moses and leading the way.

My second thought is that ‘no-one really cares anymore’.   Charlton Heston went from Moses to President of the National Rifle Association in the US.  I’m not sure how the two work together?  When I consider the various commandments I can’t see that many, if any are taken terribly seriously these days – no-one really cares.

Do not kill.  How can I take that seriously in the wake of the horrific evil perpetrated in Las Vegas over the weekend?  How can I take it seriously in the light of ISIS and international terrorism or the waging of wars where there is much ‘collateral damage’  (not to mention just a little bit of outright killing of specifies targets).  I was staggered to hear that there have been over 11,000 deaths by guns in the US this year.  We are nowhere near that but murder and manslaughter registers most weeks on our evening news.

Do not commit adultery is another that seems to have little, if any impact, on our society – certainly if various sit-coms etc are any indication of societal attitudes.  People hop in and out of bed with whoever takes their fancy regardless of marriage, commitment or significant relationship in their lives.

Do not steal is most certainly outdated as taking what we can from the tax office is more than an Aussie past time – it seems to be mandatory.  Take what you can, where you can, when you can is often the rule.  Much of the commonwealth of the modern world’s nation-states is predicated upon stolen lands from indigenous peoples who were considered so inferior and sub-human that they could not, or should not, own the land.  Much has been stolen from the poor and vulnerable – some of this is material or monetary and much in terms of human rights, needs, equality and security.  Lives have been stolen, taken away from people through murder.  Reputations and trust have been stolen away through gossip, rumour and false accusations.  Basic theft in retail stores is rife.

Do not bear false witness.  Social media is filled with stories of people bullying, abusing and all manner of accusations being made against people.  Various forms of media exist on the basis of sensationalised gossip and exaggerated ‘news’ and stories that make all manner of accusations where truth is never the guiding force.  Politicians have exalted false witness to an art form as they seek to bring opposition parties to their knees in the fight for power.

I won’t touch do not covet because greed and jealousy seem to be a dominant force in modern market economy.  ‘Greed is good,’ said Gordon Gecko in the movie Wall Street.  The Big Short, a movie telling the story of the Global Financial Crisis is grounded in greed and the desire for more at any cost.  This is our world and the 10 C’s don’t rate much in many people’s consciousness.

So what should I do with them?  Are they pertinent?  Do they still have authority, power or prophetic voice speaking into a world confused and brazenly and bullishly arrogant and violent?  I think they do because I think we need some foundational principles that help us to live together.  We need a structure on which to build a common life that embraces people into a world where they are valued, secure, loved and have their fundamental needs met.  After all, that’s what we want for ourselves and our families and friends – isn’t it?  Don’t we all want a world where we don’t have to fear or worry where the next meal is coming from?  Don’t we all want a world where violence and greed aren’t dominant factors in controlling life and values and the decisions of powerful people?  Don’t we want a world where there is equality rather than prejudice and hatred, contempt and fear?  Don’t we want a world that drove Moses who caught the vision of God for a new, free community where love and justice undergirded the common life, a world where all had a place that was valued and true and all were recognised for who they were and what they contribute?  This is what the 10 Words open for us.  They provide a foundation upon which to build our lives.  Of course it will take some faith, some courage and some trust in this God who holds all things in grace and love.

By geoffstevenson

Putting Ourselves into the Story!

Over the last couple of weeks Susan and I have adventured in and around the beautiful region of Far North Queensland.  We stayed in Cairns, which has changed substantially in the 30 years since we last ventured that far north.  The region boasts two world heritage sites that meet.  The Wet Tropics Rainforest (the broad region around the Daintree and beyond) meets the Great Barrier Reef.  We spent a little time in each and felt the wonder and immersed ourselves in the raw, wild beauty.

Every time I wandered through the rainforests surrounding Cairns, I felt I was entering another world.  The smell, feel and wonder was marvellous and unique.  I cannot do justice to the rich diversity and awe-inspiring beauty.  The colours and shades and the variety of plants and flowers, were remarkable.  The small glimpse of the reef was spectacular as I floated through this underwater world.  The colours of the fish, the gracefulness of the gentle giant of a sea turtle and the beauty of coral as we snorkelled the reef, were a delight.  Watching rays and sharks, along with an abundance of marine creatures in the beautiful Cairns aquarium was quite amazing.

There were spectacular crater lakes and views from the tableland.  Butterflies unimaginably rich in colour fluttered by in a large sanctuary.  Birds and animals abounded throughout the region.  We stumbled upon a cassowary, saw crocs sunning themselves along the Daintree River, spotted pythons and water dragons, eels and turtles and bird life in abundance.  Every moment was a postcard view of wonder and beauty and filled me with a sense of awe and peace.  It was important to be present within this wonderland of nature and to experience a natural landscape that was so different from what I am used to.

The experience was important for me in understanding and recognising not only the beauty and wonder our world but how real, unique and vulnerable the world in which we live really is.  As I wandered in awe through the rich beauty of Far North Queensland I realised that this landscape was not an object to be dominated, controlled, owned and certainly not one to be abused.  It is a living thing, an eco-system of life and relationships that is important in and of itself.  It is important for the world because we need beauty and wonder to enrich life and broaden our perspective, wisdom and sense of wonder.  We also need this region because it is a living entity that nurtures our own well-being in so many ways.  The order of life and the world depends upon the variety of eco-systems each functioning in balance and contributing to life and the world.  When we destroy eco-systems, as we endlessly do, we are harming our own well-being and abusing Mother Earth who nurtures and cares for us.

What I discovered was that I  needed to enter into this place for myself.  Photos and images, videos and documentaries are wonderful but to breathe, feel, see and hear the rainforest is a transformative experience.  To venture beneath the waves into the underworld universe that is so foreign and mysterious left me speechless and revealed my vulnerability before this very large, diverse and incredible world.  As I put myself into the story of this different landscape, a place very different to what I know and so immensely beautiful, I came away realising that I am part of all this.  I am a creature who is vulnerable and very small before the incredible immensity of the world in which I live.  I am also part of an incredibly arrogant and greedy species that demands so much, takes so much and hoards so much – at the expense of other people and other creatures of this beautiful earth.  Sometimes, perhaps mostly, I am incredibly naïve and ignorant of what is happening all around me.  I believe the stories spun by the powers that be, those who have vested interests in developing the earth for economic gain.  I believe the stories that others spin and accept them often without critique or question and ignorantly participate in the destruction of habitat, eco-system and beauty.

It is only as I put myself into the story and become a participant, finding my place among the creatures and feeling the wonder and beauty and how it moves me, transforms me and lifts me that I realise there is a deeper and more profound truth in the world.  I understand myself as part of another story, a deeper, richer one that I share with all people and the creatures of the earth.  This is a story of connection and relationship.  It is a story of mutual benefit, of interdependence and interconnectivity.  It is a story grounded in inclusivity and community (not just human community).  It is a relational story where love, justice, mercy, compassion and peace inhabit the landscape and characterise our participation and the life we share together.  I enter the story and discover a new reality.

This week we read a couple of passages about Jesus (Philippians 2:1-13 and Matthew 21:23-32).  In the Philippians poem Paul, some years after Jesus, tried to reflect something of the vulnerable and humble nature of Jesus who draws us into a relationship of love and interconnectivity, of relational, inclusive community.  The story from Matthew’s Gospel has Jesus confronting religious leaders.  They don’t like his presumptive ways.  Jesus forgives people and speaks of God as loving all people and embracing the poor, ignorant and wayward.  He forgives people in God’s name and lifts them into an awareness of God’s love for them and all people – and all the earth.

In this story from Matthew, Jesus speaks of a father with 2 sons.  He asks the first, the one who is obliging, obedient and in a good space to do something.  The son agrees: he offers the pious affirmation to the father.  It is, in a sense, about belief, giving ascent to the father but he doesn’t actually do anything.  The second, wayward son is also asked and he says no, you know I won’t or can’t…  He does not hold to the belief system and does not affirm anything in his father’s statement but he goes and does the very thing his father wants.  Jesus is no so subtly suggesting that those who give ascent to God don’t necessarily do what God wants – ie. love!  Similarly not everyone who refuses to give ascent to God fails to do what God really wants – they may choose the way of love.

Both of these stories invite us into the deeper story and meaning of what it is to be human.  Whilst the religious leaders defend their turf on the grounds of Scripture, tradition and law, they are defending a status quo in which they benefit but has little to do with love and what God is really about.  The Jesus portrayed by Paul is one who is humble and loving and is motivated by compassion and the pull of love.  This Jesus Story is one that welcomes us into its transformative richness.  It opens our vision to deeper mystery and wonder and the profound power of love – for God, other people and the earth.

.  It is only when we enter into the story and live it that we discover the way of God, the way of love, the essential way of life and it is all God really wants.  Will you put yourself into this love story?  Will you enter into it and share its wisdom, life and joy?

By geoffstevenson