Pentecost 16, 5.9.21
Text: Mark 7.24 – 37.
Rev Paul Cannon
The tendency for us is to imagine a half incarnate Jesus, one who is still God in some way and still perfect. But you see, the perfect Jesus doesn’t exist, and today’s text is one of several that proves the point. Jesus is as fully human as you and I are. Jesus is real, approachable, and fully human – he understands us because he is one of us.
Jesus shows how to be open to God. The gospel stories this morning are all about opening to God, to possibility.
The latter story is of the deaf and mute man, and Jesus places his fingers in the deaf man’s ears saying “Be opened.” And then he spits and touches the man’s tongue, and it was released. And the man’s ears are opened, opened to Jesus, to life. The healing is about opening up.
The first story is a different kind of opening up.
Jesus has been busy, calming storms, travelling about, healing the sick and teaching in the synagogues. At some point, after a long debate with the Pharisees, Jesus takes time out. He leaves the town of Gennesaret and walks to Tyre on the coast.
Tyre was in Phoenicia, a Gentile country, which is now part of modern Lebanon. Tyre was an island city just off the coast of Phoenicia. And that’s where Jesus went. There was only a very small Jewish enclave in the city and it is not clear that Jesus was even going to visit his own people.
Mark tells us that Jesus went to someone’s house, whose house we don’t know, but Jesus knew because he just turns up. Other than that he clearly didn’t want to be recognised.
Though we are not told why, we can easily work that out from how busy he’s been. He wants some time out, a retreat of sorts to regain his strength after a gruelling couple of weeks in ministry. Any ministry brings with it physical, emotional and spiritual exhaustion, and Jesus has recently been rejected by his home town, he’s fed a multitude, healed many sick, exorcised demons, confronted the Pharisees and scribes in a series of tense debates, and he’s put up with his clueless disciples. All draining.
But his plan goes awry, someone recognises him and word gets out. He doesn’t get a break at all.
This intrigues me, Jesus is always recognised by someone. Which tells us that he is recognisable, this in an era when news was by word of mouth. Jesus has clearly made a deep impression upon the population, even as far as the Gentile lands, that is some feat.
One of the people who hears about Jesus’ presence is a Syrophoenician
woman, who turns up at the house and asks, demands, that he cast a demon from her daughter.
Now if you’re seeking the perfect Jesus, this is the moment that that myth is completely dispelled. This exchange is very disturbing.
Jesus hears her plea and yet ignores her need. He insults her with words that take my breath away. “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” (v. 27)
The children he refers to are the Children of Israel, the dogs are the Gentiles. Jesus has just favoured the people of Israel and slurred the Gentiles, and he has just called this woman a dog. He is suggesting that Israel comes first, and she can just wait.
Can we offer any excuses for his behaviour? Perhaps. Perhaps Jesus is exhausted and is annoyed she has broken his time out with a demand. Perhaps he’s fed up with people pressuring him, always wanting. Perhaps this slur is just a test, a provocation to prove this woman’s devotion. These are all possibilities.
But such excuses are not evident in the text, they are speculations only, and this exchange is very powerful indeed. In this story we rediscover the incarnate Jesus, the fully human Jesus who is a product of his time and place, who is shaped by the conscious and unconscious biases, prejudices and entitlements of his culture.
Jesus is God incarnate, the son who has been chosen to be one of us, and still working out the vocation his Father has given him. Jesus has been called to share the good news, but in this moment I think he is being challenged to be open to just what that means, that it is to be shared with all and not restricted to the children of Israel.
And it is the Syrophoenician woman who teaches Jesus. She turns his slur right back on him: “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
Wow! What an amazing response!
Jesus is the boundary breaking Rabbi who eats with sinners, whose disciples don’t observe the purity laws for meals, the table is where Jesus shows the world who God is.
And the table is where the outsider, the Gentile, the woman, the outcast, calls Jesus out.
Her response is as if to say – “Lord, where’s my good news? Where’s my place at the table? Where is the love you speak of for my daughter? If you are who you say you are, how can you possibly exclude anyone?”
The woman’s plea is really a plea for Jesus to widen his horizons, to expand the table to be more inclusive.
And Jesus accepts her teaching, accepts that she has a valid point, and that he has learned from her. This is the Jesus who never loses an argument to anyone, who debates the religious experts, who now loses his argument with a Gentile woman.
The text is important here. In the NRSV Mark records Jesus as saying: “For saying that, you may go – the demon has left your daughter.”
In the Greek it says: “Because of your logos (your teaching) the demon has left your daughter.”
Because of your teaching! This woman has taught the Son of God, and she has given him the gospel, the good news. This has deep implications for all disciples – that we can all take authority to live the love that Jesus exampled and show the world, but also to show God the extent of that love in our lives.
What would it mean for us to set aside our prejudices and biases and listen to the other? But then who is the other? The implication of this story is that if we follow Jesus, there is no other, there are no strangers because we have accepted all as welcome.
Jesus humbles himself and receives from this foreigner, this woman!
What does it mean for us to be vulnerable to others? To share the good news with those who don’t look like us, behave like us, or eat or live like us?
Be opened. Be opened to the truth that God isn’t done with you yet. Be opened to the surprises God will bring into your life through other people. Be opened to the fact that God will lead you to places and people you may have considered unholy. Be open to widening the table to include the many. Be open to the good news that will stretch your capacity to love. Be opened!
Pentecost 14, 29.8.2
Text: Mark 7.1 – 8, 14 – 23.
Rev Paul Cannon
Do you remember the saying cleanliness is next to godliness? It's not in the bible. It's a human ideal that we think God would like.
And that’s the point that Jesus makes in this altercation with the Pharisees over purity laws. He opposes human precepts or rules.
Jesus challenges the law and this is sensational. Elsewhere it sounds like Jesus is trying to prop up the law. But here in this exchange Jesus is shown to directly challenge the law.
Paul picks this up in Romans and Galatians, stating that the law is dead. In Galatians Paul concludes with a description of an active person of faith with that famous list of the fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. If you love God these are the attributes you would exhibit, these are the characteristics of a Christian.
In challenging the law Jesus also challenges those who uphold it, the Pharisees and scribes.
The Pharisees and scribes are not evil people. In fact they are earnestly and honestly trying to determine the best way to live as people of God.
But they are so fixated - that the way to live is by proscriptive law that they fail to hear Jesus or understand him. And in dismissing this upstart heretic Jesus they completely miss the way to God.
Paul makes it very clear in Romans and Galatians that Jesus is the promise of God that both precedes the law and therefore supersedes the law. The promises to Abraham and to Moses are fully realised in Jesus. And the law given to Moses ceases in Jesus, because Jesus becomes the law – the law of love, a law which covers everything.
The law that Jesus is criticising is of course the Levitical codes, all that proscribed living and behaving. Read Leviticus and you’ll discover that the old regulations were all about what you ate, what you put into yourself, what illness you had and how that affected your place in the community, what sacrifice you had to make at the temple. All external things.
The law that Jesus claims and teaches is the law of God, the commands, of which Jesus constantly laboured the first two, love God and love one another. These commands are not external, they can only come from within, from the indwelling Spirit, like a spring overflowing.
The two commands of Jesus underpin Paul’s list of the fruit of the Spirit, the fruit cannot, will not be evident in us if we cannot love God and one another. You cannot bear fruit if do not have love.
The Pharisees and scribes are concerned with rituals and rules, the outward things. And in this particular case Jesus confronts the rules around washing and eating. The more extreme Pharisees were even known to ritually wash food that had already been washed and given to them to eat lest anyone had tainted it with unclean hands in the meantime.
Hence the issue of washing hands in this story. Mark adds the detail of the obsession of washing pots and pans. As if that will get you closer to God.
Jesus is brutal in his response, quoting Isaiah he calls them hypocrites, honouring God with their lips but yet in their hearts they are far from God.
And he gives a stinging rebuke when he says: “in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.”
Jesus lays out the trap we can fall into. Teaching human precepts as doctrines of God.
He explains it with the image of consuming food. It is not what goes into a person that matters but what comes out that matters. Now the bit we didn’t read is the bit about bodily waste being evacuated to the sewer. And Jesus explains even the waste doesn’t matter because its not about the body or the food. It doesn’t matter. Jesus isn’t talking about physical things, he’s pointing to our deep spiritual need to look into our hearts.
What really matters is, does what we say match what we hold in our hearts, and are actions consistent with that?
Cleanliness is next to godliness, that’s a human precept we put on God, how many more of these do we know?
A friend of mine always refers to such platitudes as Christian defence. If we judge people by cleanliness, we create a boundary that keeps people away from us. That’s where the companion saying comes from: “the great unwashed” it’s a put down based on the judgement of cleanliness. Jesus will have none of this.
If Jesus is saying that what is important is what comes out of the body, and he’s not talking about waste, then what does he mean?
Well as we have already seen it is love, and the fruit of the Spirit. So he’s talking about the heart response.
What comes out of your heart matters, and it matters very much.
By focussing on the heart Jesus is encouraging us to rethink our approach to the laws of Moses and the attitudes that go with it.
He constantly challenges. “the Sabbath was made for people, not the people for the Sabbath.” The Sabbath is a gift for our use.
Paul says it better when he challenges us with the choice of “to the letter of the law or by the Spirit?”
To follow the letter of the law you have far more control, things are clearly defined, everything is black and white, and people are less important, less of a risk, because they are boxed in definitions.
We have been very slow to learn. Slavery, the rights of women, child labour, apartheid. It still goes on, racism, religious bigotry, sexual orientation, power relations. And will we ever learn to welcome the stranger?
Are we just moving the dirt around in our hearts and masking deeper feelings that need discernment, and healing? Are we professing to love God and yet not everyone? Is it the letter of the law or the Spirit?
The way that Jesus approaches this is to say that everyone matters, and matters very much. In the kingdom there are no distinctions.
The scandalous thing that Jesus has dared to voice, is that biblical commands never, ever take precedence over the cry for compassion, humility, love and wholeness.
Jesus makes it clear that ethical action and attitude really matter. But we still have a choice. Jesus simply asks that if we choose to follow him we should discern the heart in order that we might, through love, bear fruit.
So, what will it be for you?
Pentecost 13, 22.8.21
Text: Ephesians 6.10 – 20.
Rev Paul Cannon
When I read Ephesians 6, a number of old hymns come to mind. Paul's words in this chapter have inspired 245 published hymns and any number of choruses and folk songs! Some that you would know well are: Standing on the Promises of God, And Can It be, Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus and, Onward Christian Soldiers.
Paul occasionally used military imagery. In 2 Tim. 2.4 Paul writes: “No one serving in the army gets entangled in everyday affairs; the soldier’s aim is to please the enlisting officer.”
Paul is trying to help us understand that following Jesus is somehow similar to joining an army, that we have chosen to follow Jesus, and in order to do so we must put aside any entanglement with everyday affairs, and focus on pleasing the one who has called us.
In Ephesians 6.10 – 20, Paul deliberately uses military imagery to make another point.
The church in Ephesus was founded on Paul’s second missionary journey. On his third missionary journey you might remember that Paul met some disciples there but who had not received the Holy Spirit, because they had only received the word and baptism of John the Baptist. Paul rectifies this situation immediately.
Paul passed through quickly on that second journey, but on his third journey he stayed over three years in order to develop the community of there.
This community was quite small, and none of the Christian communities were readily accepted in society, it may have a been a community that felt threatened. There were many Greco-Roman cultic groups in the city, and many nationalities passing through. There was also a Roman garrison. How would such a small community feel safe and secure?
Paul understood their vulnerability, their need to feel safe, and in his letter he gives the Ephesians a way to be secure and grounded in their faith. Paul turns to a battle preparedness.
One of the first things Paul does is to make the context of faith very clear. “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (v.12)
Paul is encouraging the Ephesian church not to feel daunted by their size. The struggles of faith are not struggles of flesh and blood, but rather, they are struggles of the spirit. In Luke 12.4 Jesus encourages his followers not to “… fear those who kill the body …” Paul, as Jesus before him, is focussed fully on the spiritual.
In order to be spiritually protected Paul uses the image of putting on the whole armour of God. There are six pieces of armour:
- The belt of truth: a wide belt of leather that protected the gut and loins, and was also used to hold the sword. Paul issues an instruction with this – stand, meaning stand in the truth, as the belt holds and protects, the truth holds and protects us.
- The breastplate, a piece of armour to protect the heart: The heart is a true centre of our faith and yet is also easily persuaded to distractions. The heart is also the seat of love, which Jesus commands that we live by, so love needs to be nurtured and protected.
- Shoes: Paul is using this as an image of proclaiming the gospel – how unusual, or is it? You can’t be an armchair evangelist, you have to go out into the world to proclaim, the gospel as shoes is the way we travel through life, the way others see us, that is the evangelism Paul is indicating.
- The shield: Paul indicates that the Christian needed to protect against the activities of the evil one which are like arrows that pierce our heart, especially when we are most vulnerable in faith struggles. Paul relates the shield to faith, that by faith we are kept safe.
- The helmet: Paul knows that the mind also needs to be kept safe, focussed on salvation and not distracted by false doctrines or wrong living.
- A sword: Paul says that the sword is the Spirit of God, not for killing but for discernment.
Paul then adds a simple single strategy. In verse 18 Paul’s strategy is that we pray at all times in the Spirit.
The plan for the faith journey, for standing strong in faith – is prayer. This is how we deploy for battle, this is how we engage, how we go out into the world, how we form relationships, discern the truth, find our way. Prayer is the single most fundamental thing we can do as a people of faith. That’s how we stand!
We, like the Ephesians, are a minority in our community, there are many competing doctrines, ideas and colourful experiences, perhaps we feel daunted by the task of reaching out in this kind of world but with prayer we could find a way.
Always remember, Paul makes it clear that our enemy is not people, our enemy is the force of evil that competes for our heart and mind in whatever form that that takes in our lives. And prayer is one way of finding out what that looks like in us.
Put on the whole armour, not bits of it. And Pray in the Spirit at all times. Then you are well prepared and ready.
The Ephesians did as Paul asked as Revelation 2.1 – 7 shows. They are praised for their patient endurance, hard work, testing false apostles, proclaiming the gospel under persecution. But they did fall down on one thing: They had abandoned their first love.
We know that they failed to love one another. Paul exhorted them in Ephesians 4.2 to bear one another in love, but by the time of the writing of Revelation they had fallen down on this.
We do a lot of things well, but what would the messenger of God say of our church?
We can put on the whole armour and pray in the Spirit but we also need to bear one another in love. That way the world can see Jesus alive in us.
Pentecost 11, 8.8.21
Text: John 6.35, 41 – 51.
Rev Paul Cannon
We live in an age of choice, and bread would be a micro example of choice.
We have several bakeries in Bunbury, we have metro deliveries, and many people make their own at home. There are dozens of recipes, we are spoilt for choice.
The term bread has different meanings. Bread in the ancient world was a symbol of life, bread and dough in the 1950s and 60s were pop culture terms for money and wages, and it also means the principal carbohydrate for diet across many cultures.
But in the ancient middle eastern cultures bread was also symbolic of community. To be asked to break bread together meant come and join us for hospitality, conversation, food.
In the Lord’s Prayer, bread means all our worldly needs.
But what does Jesus mean when he says I am the bread of life? Jesus is saying that he is the all-sufficient food for our life.
How does he mean it?
Jesus is not saying that he is the focaccia of our time. He is not offering food and shelter. Yes, he had compassion on the multitude and fed them all, but he also claimed that the Son of God had nowhere to call home.
Jesus’ claim to be the bread of life is to touch the true core of us.
We all need bread to eat to live and survive, we all need shelter. But for humans to really survive we need things other than bread and a roof.
The work of the late Abraham Maslow in his hierarchy of needs is the best beginning point. Malsow showed that we all need bread and shelter as the most basic biological need.
Next in his hierarchy we need safety and security for stability. Thirdly, we need belongingness and love to thrive. Fourthly we have esteem needs, we need to achieve and have responsibility. Finally we need personal growth and fulfilment.
James Fowler added a sixth level to Maslow’s hierarchy. The spiritual need. We all have need of God, and to aspire to spiritual beliefs. Fowler also established that the spiritual was the pinnacle of the hierarchy and it was a maturity thing, to desire God was to really grow as a person.
When Jesus says I am the bread of life Jesus is offering a way of living that can take us to the fulfilment of much of that hierarchy of needs in a very positive and challenging way.
Now Jesus as the bread of life is not offering a typical consumer model. The trouble today is that we buy everything and can control so much of our lives through money and credit. But you can’t buy Jesus.
What he is offering is a simple way to live that will nurture and feed us at every level.
At the very outset, the bread of Jesus is his love, this is the foundation stone of how to live. Love is about relationship, friendship, respect, harmony and forgiveness, as St. Paul tells us in Ephesians.
The main result of love is the formation of community, true community. On that foundation of love and community other things emerge that nurture us.
In loving community there are no thirsty or hungry people, no one goes without clothing or shelter, the stranger is welcomed, there are no refugees, no one is alienated, the sick are not forgotten, and the dead are remembered.
In loving community we develop a sense of care that provides safety at some level, we look out for each other, we listen to one another, we care for one another, we pray for each other.
In loving community we embrace one another in our differences, and provide a place for everyone to belong, a place where we are spiritually at home together.
In loving community we are challenged to take on responsibility and to give of ourselves for the work of this community.
In loving community we are challenged to grow in every way.
In this way Jesus as the bread of life is complete food for the soul, soul food that benefits every aspect of our lives.
It is the food that draws us into community and helps us to maintain it and grow it. It is food that offers forgiveness and compassion that enables us to put aside selfishness, jealousy, judgmentalism and hatred. It is food that enables us to do things we normally wouldn’t consider or want to do, but are able to do because we do it together.
We can be the Samaritan who helps his enemy the Jew, we can be the person who engages the Syrophoenician woman, the woman at the well, the centurion, the synagogue leader, we can be people who learn to love those in society we have been taught to look down upon, we can be people who listen to Jesus rather than the confusion in the world.
The bread of Jesus is loving community.
Community is a word forged from communion, or common unity. It doesn’t mean that we are all the same or should think and act exactly the same. It does mean that we choose to be together and nurture one another in the unity of Jesus’ way.
One of those ways is when we join in worship in this place and pray for one another and the world at large. The other more obvious way is when we share the common cup. That is Holy Communion, or simply the way we remember Jesus together through the one cup and the one bread, but more so by not just receiving, but by giving love. The whole point of communion is the common union of love in Christ we have for each other.
Those symbols of Holy Communion are there to remind us of the real community we are called to form. Because real communion is the common union we have in the way of Christ. It begins with Jesus and it ends with each one of us feeding on his bread of love and sharing it, so that the world around us might be encouraged to join with us and follow his way.
In that way we become bread for others, bread for the world by the way we live in Christian community. We too become signs – signs of love and hope for a better way.
Pentecost 10, 1.8.21
Text: John 6.24 – 35
Rev Paul Cannon
We’re back again at the Sea of Galilee.
If you remember, Jesus has just fed a multitude on the mountain side and they have been so impressed with this miracle that they were `going to forcibly make him their king.
Jesus evades the crowd and sends the disciples off on their own while he goes off to pray.
The multitude have found their way home and they enthuse others, and so the desire becomes one of finding Jesus again. Jesus has food, we must track him down and get the food.
Finally they find Jesus in Capernaum. They ask him “When did you get here?” which is both a question of how did he re-join the disciples because they knew he wasn’t originally in the boat with them. So how was he now in Capernaum with them? And it is also a deeper inner question, How is that you didn’t stay with us because we need you?
But why are they looking for Jesus? They are looking for what he can give them.
And Jesus names what they hold in their hearts, they want him to provide what he gave them on the mountainside, they want their fill of loaves.
Now it's true to say that desire works at different levels. I think the crowd have a sense that Jesus could be a miracle worker, but deeper down Jesus could be their security against the daily anxiety of the next meal, the next sickness, the next problem.
So Jesus nips their desires in the bud. Why? His whole ministry has not been to change everything in the moment. If you stop and think about it, if he could stop a storm and feed a multitude, couldn’t he have just created a small paradise on earth?
Jesus is not focussed on desire, but rather on wholeness.
If we are just focussed on our little bit of security now we will not understand the meaning of our lives.
He tells them that they are merely looking for the quick fix, that’s why he says: “You aren’t looking for me because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.”
His instruction though is very direct, yet mysterious. “Don’t work for this perishable food, but, rather, work for the food that endures for eternal life.
There is clearly a moment of confusion in the crowd. I think they understand what he is getting at, but they cannot comprehend how it will work.
They seem to get that he is speaking about the spiritual food for the journey of life, but they are also calculating the cost and the process.
That’s why they ask; “What must we do to perform the work’s of God?” But the underlying question is “what is the cost?”
And the cost is twofold. It means to make the eternal food a priority, and to do that we need to commit ourselves to this life..
Jesus asks that we believe that he is the work. What an odd thing to say! How is he the work? I think what he is driving at is that following in his way is the work.
And that is really hard work. To put a little of ourselves aside is to tame the ego, to drop our selfish wants and desires, to put aside our suspicions of those nearby and those from far away. That costs us dearly because we have to put ourselves out for love of the other.
And if you’re going to sign up for hard work like that surely you want a sign from God that it is true?
If you’re going to reorient your life to love you’d want to know that Jesus was serious about his demands.
Again they ask for proof. “What sign are you going to give us?”
What a strange request. But it certainly proves what Jesus says of the crowd, they wanted the loaves but they couldn’t see it as a sign at all. How blind were they?
And it begs the question about us too. How blind might we be to the call of God? What bread are we working for and consuming?
The crowd try to solve mystery and concern by suggesting that not much was going on, not like in the good old days of Moses who saved a nation by giving the starving people manna bread. Is that what Jesus offers?
The crowd are still trying to see the call of God as something that won’t cost them, won’t be demanding.
Jesus reminds them that he is talking about spiritual food and life. Moses asked for perishable food. And if you remember the story of the Manna bread you will know that it could not be saved, it was only good for the day it appeared.
And this gives Jesus a great opportunity to reassert that the bread he is talking about is totally different. He is not talking about manna. Yes God provided Manna, but it was not from heaven, it was an earthly provision, perishable. Jesus speaks of the nurture of the Holy Spirit.
And this bread is imperishable and life giving, but not life-giving like ordinary bread, life-giving in the way of the Spirit, eternally life giving. The work of self-giving and love is about healing and wholeness, closeness to God, an understanding of our calling and a clear sense of our place in a confused world.
The temptation is to turn to the quick fix. We sometimes want the Jesus who can reverse the blackness, the misery, the uncertainty, the pain, the confusion of life as we know it. But Jesus asks that we reorient how we see everything.
He asks that we see ourselves and life through the lens of his way. To do his work is not so much to believe, but rather it is to put his way into practice. It is not just words it is a way of living. That’s why he says “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
Manna and loaves are temporary food, the food of Jesus is eternal. But the food of Jesus also reframes how we see life, how we see each other.
Which food is forming you?
Pentecost 9. 25.7.21
Text: John 6.1 – 21.
Rev Paul Cannon
This is an important story because it appears in all four gospels. Multitude stories appear six time in the gospels, the feeding of the 5,000 in all four, the feeding of the 4,000 in Matthew and Mark. And remember that the numbers do not include women and children.
But even so, this is more than a miracle story, because John makes it a parable of what we are called to do and the type of follower we are called to be.
The crux of this story is the question by Jesus to Philip. “How are we going to feed all these people?” Jesus throws this back on the disciples. The question is a test for us all – how do we respond to God’s calling, how do we respond to the needs of others. Jesus is also pointing to the way we are to follow, he is suggesting to Philip that we are not just here to flick our fingers and expect God to do all the work for us, we can just get on with the job.
If we follow Jesus there will come a time when he turns to us and says – “You give them something to eat!” You give them something! And what will be our response? The question causes us to examine ourselves. It gives rise to questions of how we see the world. Are we glass half full or glass half empty people? Do we act or judge? Are we willing or resistant.
This moment on the edge of the Lake is one that questions what we do with what we already have. Sometimes the seemingly insignificant things are the most important in building the community of Jesus. The things we think are useless or unimportant are often crucial to God. Here it is five loaves and two fish. What good are they? Jesus even asks that the remains be gathered up – and they fill twelve baskets, nothing is useless or lost in God’s kingdom.
And this is also a story to remind us that everything we have comes from God.
In the Old Testament the stories of God are stories of God giving out of nothing. The story of creation is God creating out of nothing. God paves a way for the people to flee from Egypt. The story of Israel in the wilderness where manna falls to the ground, is one of God gifting food to the people.
But this feeding story is a little different.
Jesus takes what is already there, what is already available in the community.
Jesus asks what they might do in order to feed so many, and the disciples admit this is an impossible situation, there is no money, and even no place to buy bread. In Matthew’s version, Jesus says to the disciples “They need not go away, you give them something to eat.”
You give them something!
Andrew finds five loaves and two fish. But the mood is not one of hope, what can they possibly do with that? The disciples are coming from a place of fear, there is no way of dealing with this. It raises questions of how we respond to difficult, even impossible circumstances. Do we have a willingness to risk God, or would we rather play safe?
Jesus shows us in this moment that what God has already given is sufficient. If we look at the question in the right way, if we are prepared to go with it, work with it, then we can engage the problem and move forward. If we look at it in the right way, if we’re prepared to share what we have, if we’re prepared to let go of our fears, if we stop hanging on so tightly to what we think is “ours”, if we can get beyond all of that, then we could in fact feed the whole world.
At one level Jesus makes this a banquet by the Lake, but there is also a more significant angle to it.
This is really the First Supper. The Last Supper is not the only Eucharistic feast in the gospel. Every time Jesus broke bread with others it was a thanksgiving, a Eucharist.
Jesus takes the five loaves and two fish, he breaks them, divides them, and joyfully gives them away. Jesus does this with bread every time he shares a meal and he does it with his life – he lives his life for God, is blessed, he breaks it open, and joyfully gives it for the world, for us.
This feeding of the multitude is a Eucharist, a thanksgiving moment and a sharing of self. That is the whole point of Eucharist, it’s not so much about the receiving so much as an act of giving. As Jesus gave, so his followers are also called to give.
The key part of this story is what it invites us to. The taking, blessing, breaking, giving is what he desires of us, what he wants us to live. Jesus is calling us to live for God in the very same open and selfless way. To take our lives and ask for blessing, to break them open, to give ourselves joyfully in service to God, to others.
It’s the breaking that can be hard to face, it is hard to conceive letting go of self, letting go of fears, letting go of what we cling to as “ours.” But, you can’t be a follower of Jesus without the risk of being broken open, to become vulnerable. As a follower everything you hold on to will be challenged.
As Jesus provided Eucharist, as Jesus became Eucharist, we too are called to be Eucharist for the world, to be gift to a world in need, so that as with the multitude, all may be satisfied. We don’t have to provide all of it, just our part of it. The small bit that we have is the bit God wants us to generously give. The miracle of good news happens when we work together, pooling our scraps together to be the baskets of plenty.
If you want to be a follower of Jesus you have to live with the question, the invitation. “What are we to do Jesus, the world’s in a mess, people are hurting, people are hungry, people are in need?” And Jesus will say, “You give them something.”
What fears, what habits prevent you from being gift to the world? Remember, miracles are grounded in what we already have and who we already and, nothing and no one is useless in the kingdom.
Pentecost 8, 18.7.21
Text: Mark 6.30 – 34; 53 – 56.
Rev Paul Cannon
The verse not included in this morning’s segment is verse 46: “After saying farewell to the disciples, he went up on the mountain to pray.”
In Mark 1.35 we learn that early in his ministry Jesus went out to a deserted place to be alone to pray.
In Luke 4.42 we learn that Jesus rose at daybreak and went out to a deserted place to be alone.
“Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.”
Jesus was often surrounded by a great crowd, they clamoured for teaching and healing. Such demands would have been tiring. Jesus recognises the need for all of them to withdraw for rest.
Mark records Jesus as saying ευkαιρουν, meaning to make a point of making time for restoration. The same word is used in the Old Testament to refer to Sabbath rest.
Jesus is saying let us go to a deserted place for a Sabbath time. This is not a suggestion to have a nap, or to go and have a morning at a day spa, or to go visiting, or out to dinner. Such activities are good and useful, even invigorating, but not necessarily restorative at a deep level.
Jesus wants us to go deeper.
Restoration means to return to a former state. It could mean restoring a piece of dilapidated antique furniture or a vintage vehicle to its full original working order.
It doesn’t mean a quick battery recharge or a feel-good opportunity. Such activity will be good for about half a day or more, but what Jesus has in mind is something longer lasting.
If you take note of the preceding passages in Mark you will learn that Jesus and the disciples have been very active in all types of ministry and travelling. They have encountered opposition, pressing crowds, a demon possessed man, many seeking help and a wind storm on Lake Galilee.
This is a roaming band of itinerant disciples, most have no experience in this life, they are used to tax booths, fishing boats and general work. How to face this life is one demand, another is their one source of encouragement and help is Jesus.
“Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.”
The rest Jesus seeks is from the busyness of the clamouring crowds. And every time he seeks a deserted place for them all it is for prayer, teaching and rest, just for them.
Jesus’ retreat time is all about Sabbath and therefore restoration.
And this restorative retreat time has four ingredients to take note of.
To come away, to a deserted place, all by yourselves, and rest a while.
For restoration we need to find places to go to, we have to be intentional, deliberate about getting away to a deserted place, we have to make an effort.
A deserted place is not a luxury motel with all the mod cons and communication provisions we now expect. That is simply a holiday, respite, reinvigoration. That is not a deserted place. Jesus means for us to really take time out from the crowds and the distractions.
However, all by your selves, doesn’t mean alone, Jesus meant those who were in the work of ministry with him needed to have time out together. So he means to avoid the crowds, and rest a while is the Sabbath that restores. So what might they have done?
Many times when Jesus withdraws for rest, he turns to prayer.
Prayer, or προσευχομαι, has a core meaning of paying close attention to someone or something, attending to someone or something. It can carry the meaning of being addicted, to be fond of someone or something, but also to be careful and watchful.
If we’re fond of anyone, if we’re paying attention to anyone even addicted, it surely must be God?
In the call to withdraw, Jesus indicates that our restoration comes from taking time to pay attention to God.
What I find really interesting in this is the complete reversal of values. That to completely focus on God is not about the doing but rather in the being, being present to God. Jesus is not calling for outcomes, but rather he is calling for focused stillness, attentiveness, listening, seeking.
And that is a question before us today, are we choosing the better part? Are we taking time to grow closer to God that we might be restored regularly?
So what would a true deserted place be for you to withdraw to? How do you leave your busyness and distractions in order to draw closer to God, to learn from Jesus, to pray?
Prayer is the most talked about and written about subject that is the least practiced in real life.
I suspect that most of us are caught up in being human doings rather than human beings. Our lives are often neglectful of Sabbath, and yet we often talk of desiring a closer connection to God, we desire rest, but yet we resist rest.
To be is what Jesus calls the disciples to as they withdraw, to be is what Mary desires as she sits under his teaching, to be is what Jesus does when he seeks out the deserted places and moments.
To pray, to meditate, to read, to rest are necessary for our restoration.
Go deep, heed Jesus’ call for restorative Sabbath time, this is how he faces demands and tiredness. Include those four steps in your life, go away, go to a deserted place, go by yourselves, rest, read and pray and be restored.
Pentecost 6, 4.7.21
Text: Mark 6.1 – 13.
Rev Paul Cannon
In a Semitic culture of the first century it would have been quite normal to anticipate being received into the homes of strangers while you shared your beliefs and your life. This was not abnormal. And so Jesus is asking his disciples to do what is reasonable in that time.
I have no doubt that if we thought this was the way to go we would get a lot of refusals out there, very few, if any, would welcome complete strangers into their homes for a religious conversation.
Christian communities are in a completely different place today than even forty years ago.
In my lifetime I have participated in the Explo-81, Bill Newman Crusades, the Franklin Graham crusade, letter drops, Back to Church Sunday, and so on. Alpha has been through two transitions in order to keep it up-to-date and while I enjoyed it I haven’t seen the great results that have often been expected from it.
Things that we buy in or take part in are what I call synthetic programs of evangelism. They might work, even for a while, but out their place of inception they rarely thrive. There’s something about how a successful idea is mostly about the place and people where it originates, most cannot be exported to other places and expected to achieve the same level of success, if success is indeed what God desires at all. Jesus never seems to counting numbers.
What Jesus was interested in, and can be done today, is building meaningful relationships.
It has taken the Christian Church many centuries to get back to the simple idea of authentic relationships as community building.
Mission societies underwent a revolution in the mid-nineteenth century. They realised that mission had absolutely nothing to do with spreading western culture. It had everything to do with how you build bridges with people. William Carey the missionary who went to India observed that he had far more success when he fitted in with Indian culture, Hudson Taylor learned early on that in order to share Christ with the Chinese he needed to live into the culture and so he adopted Chinese dress, learned their language and lived as they lived, C.T. Studd the English cricketer turned missionary followed a similar line in Africa. This came to be known as contextual mission, being authentic in building Christian community.
In recent years there are two books that have really impressed me. One has been the New Parish which models an open community of inclusion and acceptance formed around community access points that enable relationships to form. This is the idea of the Hub, to open the facility of the parish to enable us to connect with the community.
The other book Surprise the World is by Michael Frost the Melbourne mission writer and practitioner, and we studied his book in 2019. Frost, if you remember, talks about becoming questionable people, that is people whose lives raise questions for the community, why do you do that? Why do believe that? What’s your motivation?
Frost went on to say that we need a new set of habits, he talked about how faith is not about mental belief so much as a living belief, action. He proposed five habits for us called BELLS: to Bless rather than converting people, what can we do to bless those we encounter in any one day?
The second was to Eat, proposing that we engage with people by inviting them for meals or afternoon teas, going out for meals whatever, but forming relationships through sharing food. Listening was another, unless we listen how can we ever be heard? Too many people today just want to speak, it costs us to listen but it is only by listening that we can learn how to reach another person. And learning was next, Frost talks about deepening ourselves in the nature of Christ.
The final and fifth Habit was Sent. Frost points out that this may be anything that you have done that is Christlike – mediating in a dispute, giving someone a lift, inviting someone for food, standing with someone who needed support, taking action over injustice, whatever the connection is with another.
You see we’ve lost our way when we say we need a program, when we say we need more clergy to do the work of reaching out, we need more trained lay people, we need education, we need …. Frost is saying e have everything we need already, which is exactly what Jesus showed by choosing such an ordinary group of fishermen, tax collector and others.
But just to reinforce that point the late Eugene Peterson commenting on the Greek of vv 8 and 9 renders these verse as: “Don’t think you need a lot of equipment for this. You are the equipment.”
This neatly ties with St. Theresa’s prayer, that Christ has no body now but yours, we are the equipment, we are, in the Spirit, Christ to the world.
We need to ask ourselves some questions. Do our lives raise questions in others – questions about our motives and our behaviour, questions that cause others to think about Christ values? Do we have good habits? Are we able to bless others? Are we inviting others into our lives and routines? Do we deeply listen to others? Are we willing to learn Christlike ways? And do we realise that by virtue of our Baptism, we are sent to the world to connect in these ways?
Jesus does say, that if we are rejected or rebuffed not to dwell on it, but to move on and find those who are receptive. He makes it clear that our calling is humble, no airs and graces, just authentically ourselves building community.
To form friendships, to be Christlike, to seek the building of community through relationships requires zero training, you are all the equipment you, and God, need to do the work.
You are enough. So, don’t be afraid to step out be surprised
Pentecost 5, 24.6.18
Text: Mark 4.35 – 41.
Rev Paul Cannon
I wonder how many of you have seen at least one of the movies in the Pirates of the Caribbean series of movies? These movies, in amongst the humour and story introduce a number of historical perspectives that go back to ancient times.
The whole superstition of the sea comes to the fore in these movies. Mermaids, dark malevolent forces, demons, the Kracken, the weather. All conspire against the seafarer, all place the seafarer at risk.
The disciples in that boat on the sea of Galilee are terrified as the storm erupts, the power of the storm and the danger of the sea scare them.
But let’s go back a bit. Jesus knows these fishermen are experienced and he requests that they set off for the other side of the sea. The moment of setting off is given to us by the detail that the crowd seeking Jesus were still on the shore, meaning that it wasn’t yet dark.
And they take him – just as he was. What a curious phrase. What might that possibly mean? I think it means that he wasn’t ready for the sea.
The other little, often ignored detail, is that other boats were with him, there’s a fleet, Mark let’s us see something that the other gospel writers ignore.
Well, not long into the journey a great wind storm hits the lake. There was clearly no sign of it when they set off, otherwise they would not have risked it.
It is a powerful wind because the waves were swamping the boat. The threat of sinking was real, some would have been trying to work the sails, others bailing out the water, someone fighting the tiller. I doubt there was much dry space left on the boat. There would have been a lot of activity on the boat, a lot of movement and yelling.
But Jesus is asleep on a cushion in the stern.
The disciples wake him. They were probably confused as to his apparent lack of awareness. But they don’t ask him to stop the storm. So far, Jesus hasn’t performed a major miracle over nature, and they may not have understood what he was capable of. They panic.
And they ask him: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
Remember, this was not the only boat on the Sea of Galilee, other boats were with him, with Jesus. The disciples are concerned for more than just their own safety.
And Jesus wakes and rebukes the storm, silencing it immediately: Did you note that he rebukes the wind and speaks to the sea? “Peace be still.” And so the wind ceases and the water becomes dead calm. And the wind and the sea obey him.
The disciples were filled with awe, and they ask an interesting question – “Who then is this, that even the wind and sea obey him?”
He asks them afterwards why they lacked faith, why did they panic, as if he was expecting them to have worked it all out by now as to who he was. His question about their faith would have been unsettling.
Yet this jars with them taking Jesus just as he was. Well, who was he?
If Jesus was just as he was, he was as they expected, a rabbi, a teacher, and they even call him that, so there’s no sense of Jesus being anything else, he’s simply human. They didn’t ask him to stop the storm because it never entered their minds, instead they asked him why he wasn’t worried like they were. Where was his panic and sense of urgency, his worry for the boats?
But then when Jesus does stop the storm, they are stunned. As the storm is stilled and the sea a dead clam so are his disciples. The story uses a parallel to show that what can happen with Jesus on the outside, in the world, can happen on the inside too.
Jesus is not just as they thought he was. Who is this who doesn’t panic, who is calm and unafraid.
Jesus can still the storm, but as his behaviour and his questions show, he can also stir up a storm too.
If you’ve read the book or seen the movie of C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe you’ll remember that Lucy asks Mrs Beaver a question about Aslan the lion.
‘Is he quite safe? I shall feel quite nervous about meeting a lion.’ ‘That you will … and make no mistake … if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking they’re … braver than most.’ ‘Then, isn’t he safe? Said Lucy. ‘Safe?’ said Mrs Beaver … ‘who said anything about safe? Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King I tell you.’
In the calming of the storm, the disciple’s experienced Jesus as not safe, that is, as not normal, not human, not predictable, not what or who they thought he was. This would have been even more confusing.
The tone of their question is more like “What have we done?” Realising that they brought him onto the boat in the first place.
But as the story shows, Jesus is good, he did care.
The outer storm of wind and wave is stilled, but so is the inner storm of fear. They also have a new insight into Jesus who is one who challenges them, stirs their hearts and makes them think differently.
When you think carefully about this story it is about how we learn to see Jesus differently, and how doing that changes us, changes our lives. When we see Jesus as he really is, as the son of God, we see Jesus as the one who can do all things.
Transformation doesn’t just happen. Transformation comes through challenge to change, through learning, through inner turmoil, through the storms of life. But the good news is that though we go through some awful storms in our lives, Jesus is there to help us still the raging storm inside of us.
But once we become more fully aware of who Jesus is we cannot remain as we are, choosing Jesus may seem risky, even foolish, yet he cares and he can still our storm, we just need to ask.
What storm do you need to hand to him?
Pentecost 4, 13.6.21
Text. Mark 4.26 – 34.
Rev Paul Cannon
What is the kingdom of God?
Some Bible scholars have rightly called for a new word to describe what the kingdom of God really is. The word kingdom is very much an outdated word and has little connection to meaning in our world today, not-with-standing the fact that we still have royal households in a few places in the world.
The word that seems most fitting as I see it is community.
If we dig behind the images that Jesus gives us in these two short parables, we will find out a bit more of what the kingdom or community really is.
So how does the mustard seed explain the kingdom?
If you’ve even seen a photo of a middle east mustard tree you will know that it is not the most lovely or significant plant.
If I were to explain the kingdom of God by a plant I would say a grevillea, or a majestic wandoo or karri tree. Something beautiful and grand, something complex and aromatic. I wouldn’t choose the mustard tree.
A tiny mustard seed planted in the soil and in its natural state grows into a small tree. It is straggly and spreads out at odd angles. Rambling everywhere, it looks like someone with a lot of hair that has never been cut or combed properly. It springs up and grows chaotically and becomes an unmanageable tangled and rambling tree.
In its natural state the mustard tree is ragged.
And yet Jesus makes an important point with this image.
The birds of the air can roost in its shade. It is a home to all and sundry bird life. Here is this humble plain and ragged tree a home to the many common birds of the air.
And so here we have a picture that Jesus paints – not of the mustard tree, instead we have an image of the community of Christ. It is not a monarchy, it is not an oligarchy, or any earthly power of governing.
This kingdom is very different.
Jesus’ kingdom is a ragged kingdom. It is the Spirit planted and let loose in us as it wills and as we work with it.
Jesus is a picture of the raged mustard tree – he mixed with all and sundry, tax collectors, thieves, lepers, the sick, the sinners, adulterers, prostitutes, the ritually unclean, he went to parts of Palestine that were considered unclean for Jews. He did things differently.
He taught subversively. Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s; you can do God’s work on the Sabbath, you can mix with the unclean, the Samaritans are not to be despised, people should be treated with equal dignity, women should not be subjugated, obedience to God comes before self, family, or society, and so on.
Jesus had no permanent home, he was free to travel and teach and be with people – he went here he went there. Jesus had little money. He had few real friends. He was on a mission – to spread the good news of God’s forgiving love.
Jesus’ kingdom begins as a small seed planted in the hearts of each person. It is slow going. The Holy Spirit planted in our hearts doesn’t make us all to be the same. In our natural God-created state we grow up ragged.
We are not perfect. We have rough edges, we have issues, we doubt, we neglect and we do our own thing from time to time without any reference to the God we worship. We are ragged.
We are diverse. We have different talents, gifts and abilities. We have different ways of seeing and doing. Different ways of being. We are ragged.
But together, with the Spirit of God in us, we form a home for the rest of the world to roost in.
In other words we are branches of the kingdom tree where others are drawn to discover who this Jesus is.
The kingdom, the community of God is this.
We in conjunction with the Holy Spirit are the community of God.
When we join together, when we work together, when complement each other in the pursuit of the work of God, we are the kingdom, we are home, we are the community of Christ to which others can join, and come to rest in.
On our own we are less able, but with the ground or soil of the Spirit of God to grow in and each other to be with, we can be the kingdom of God in the world. As small seeds the Spirit takes us and plants us enabling us together to be the community of Christ.
That is, we can be the love and compassion, the healing and wholeness, the prayerfully aware, the face of Jesus to others, and so much more.
From humble seeds we become a community for others, for God, for God’s work in the world in humble ragged ways that are as different as we are different.
The kingdom is small, it is ragged, it is different, it is unpredictable, it is subversive, it is loving and forgiving, it is who we are and what we become in the power of God’s Spirit - together. And together we become the place, the people, the community, the communion, where others are attracted to the ragged way of Jesus.
Pentecost 2, 6.6.21
Text: Mark 3.20 - 35.
Rev Paul Cannon
There’s a lot happening in this Gospel segment. It begins in verse 19 when Jesus decides to go home having been on the road for a while.
But then we learn that Jesus and the disciples are hounded by the crowd.
Mark tells us that Jesus and the disciples had no time to even eat. Mark isn’t telling us this detail so that we come away with a sense that overwork is somehow ennobling, is a virtue, because it isn’t. In my view overwork is risky to health body, mind and spirit, and clearly runs against Sabbathing.
If your remember the idea of Sabbathing is not as simplistic as one day, it is time in every day to do the things that build us up. And, that we carry the Spirit within us, because our bodies are the temple of God, so how does it look when we make a virtue out of exhaustion?
The text does not say that Jesus makes this a virtue, the text tells us that people were desperate, were insistent on seeing him and they pursued Jesus everywhere to the point of his tiredness.
The World Health Organisation study released this year pinpoints the fact that overwork is killing people. 750, 000 people a year are recorded as overwork deaths.
The study picks up on the reasons - fitting too much into a working day; working over time, not having breaks, meals away from the work space, not having a weekend, and not having proper sleep. The study found that much of the western work force was working between 55 - 80 hours a week. That should terrify us, but it doesn’t seem to make an impact in our driven society.
Sadly there are only cameos of work places that try to do the right thing, Google and Apple both went to a four day working week and required that workers hand in their work provided laptops before leaving work so that they couldn’t work into the night or through weekends so that they were fresh. Interestingly, both Google and Apple have discovered that their productivity has gone up, why? Because their workers are refreshed, eating and sleeping properly and have proper time for self and family and the things that interest them.
Unless the West overcomes its fear of financial burden, the workforce will forever be trapped in overwork because the majority of companies are not like Google and Apple.
Mark next tells us that Jesus’ family where concerned. It gets confusing here if you’re not careful. First, Mark makes it clear that Jesus’ family come to take him home because he is exhausted and has no peace. But then there is an additional reason, his family clearly fear for his safety because people are saying that Jesus has lost his mind.
Mark does not tie Jesus’ exhaustion to the accusation, let’s be clear about that., nor do the people, but the reader might make that mistake.
The accusation of Jesus being out of his mind is another problem of ministry, then and now.
What has happened is that Jesus has said things and done things that have rattled and upset people.
Think about the reality of that. Jesus, the Son of God has offended people!
He spoke against puppet government by criticising Herod, he spoke against religious fundamentalism by taking the Pharisees, Saducees, Scribes and priests to task and attacked the law. He did this by preaching resurrection, speaking against the law of Moses as used by interpreters, he elevated the hated Samaritans, the Syro-Phonecians, the Gentiles, he prioritised women and he prioritised the poor, the disabled and the4 marginalised. That should wake us up.
His greatest offence was offering God’s forgiveness, telling people they were loved without judgement or payment.
And then comes the crux of the story.
They accuse Jesus of being out of his mind which somehow makes him a sinner, makes him of the devil in the eyes of his critics. His critics use the term Beelzebul - lord of the flies, in other words, the devil. The import of this is that you can be accused of being of the devil if you publicly declare your compassion and love for those who society wants to judge and marginalise.
I wonder that Jesus had a smile on his face when he respond with “How can satan cast out satan?” He goes on to expound that such a kingdom would be divided against itself and crash and burn. You cannot live what you do not believe to be true, simple as that.
Companies that hold a certain vision publicly and who really do not believe or promote that vision internally usually come undone eventually.
Union Carbide crashed an burned promoting its public image of a caring, compassionate company who believed in the customer and the worker until the infamous Bophal factory inferno that engulfed the factory and surrounding community, polluting the air, ground and water for weeks and decades. It transpired that workers were little more that slaves and the environment did not matter so long as money was made. Nothing mattered except money. Death was incidental to needs of the company.
But Union Carbide had to face the consequences of their actions. They were forced to change, to admit, to address their company culture and actions.
In Luke 12.49 - 51 Jesus speaks bluntly - that his teachings and actions will cause division because people will not be able to accept the, some will be threatened by his teachings and react, others will be fearful and withdraw.
Jesus knows his views and actions will be unpalatable but that doesn’t stop him.
In the context of his ministry it is understandable that such a cataclysmic response would eventuate this is an enslaved, status oriented, pyramidical society.
But what does it mean for us today?
We have to ask ourselves this question. Which people and groups, which beliefs and actions would we label as sinful, excluded, and wrong? Think about that for a moment. Who and what do you disagree with? Where did you get those views and what makes them right?
That is your clue! How society criminalised sexuality, women, children, criticism of government and corporations, LGBQTI, divorce, suicide, pacifism, forgetting the Son of God.
Jesus makes it very clear that his controversial inclusive love will divide the community, but it will never divide itself, the kingdom of God is indivisible. Love, true love, the love of God never excludes. And that is Jesus’ madness, he loves unconditionally, but we as humans live the greatest sin - denial that Jesus is right. In my view the often pondered sin that grieves the Holy Spirit are the actions we take that make God’s love a lie.
I think this passage leaves us with a critical question, who or what is it that you cannot accept? Because that leaves you divided against the love of God, that is what grieves the Spirit.