Locum Letter for the First Sunday in Lent

The season of Lent began on Ash Wednesday.

The Christian tradition has always taught that spiritual growth and development involves prayer, study and work. As with many things in life it is important that from time to time we review, take stock and reflect on who we are and our responsibility and place in God’s creation.

The season also provides us as a community of faith the time for repentance and recreation. One of the differences it seems to me at the present time between those of Christian faith and the wider secular world is the notion that we are the forgiven and yet broken people of God. The Christian understanding of justice in our community is not about revenge or punishment but about forgiveness and restoration.

This is not to say that people should not make amends for crime or mistakes. It is often I know difficult to reconcile the act of a crime and justice for the victim, but it is not helpful when political and community leaders seek to raise fear among the populace, ignore facts and fail to understand the importance of rehabilitation and treatment for offenders and long term social cohesion in our life together.Jesus the victim of our brokenness is the one who forgives and provides the model for our life together.

During this season of Lent it is my prayer and hope that you will avail yourself of the Sunday Taize meditations, the Wednesday Eucharist’s and the reading of Mark’s Gospel as your Lenten discipline.

Shalom Ray

The Reverend Canon Dr. Ray Cleary – Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent


ST George’s Ivanhoe Easy

LENT 1

18th February 2018

When I was a teenager a few years ago now I experienced Lent as a time of endurance, a sombre period that one had to “bare and grind ones teeth over” rather than as a time for reflection, recreation, repentance and preparation for the Feast of the Resurrection we celebrate on Easter Day, by the way not Easter Sunday. The themes of fasting, prayer and repentance were more of a hindrance than help. They were always framed in the negative and often sent me on a guilt trip. I know I was not alone and many people who have abandoned faith speak about a guilt psychosis bordering on spiritual abuse brought about by the way faith was presented and taught. AS we have been reading from Mark’s Gospel we learn that the teaching of Jesus embraced challenge, openness and listening not manipulation and pressure. Over the years my understanding of God has changed dramatically from my teenage years, and even further since ordination. I understand increasingly the message of the Gospels as good news seeking to liberate us from the shackles we bind around ourselves and the false senses of security we create for self-protection. As I said on Ash Wednesday Lent is a time to reaffirm that the God of the Christian faith is not some far off spectator, running the world on miracles, nor the old man and distant God of the views of Philip Adams, Christopher Hitchin Richard Dawkins and the like{ I would not believe in a God they describe} but rather the God who experienced the humiliation of rejection and death at the hands of those he loved and cared about, and came to be with. Lent is a time to remind ourselves that God is not a genie in a bottle that we let out from time to time to suit our own needs but the one who was the victim of those who plotted to kill him, experiencing a vile and excruciating death.

I am pleased that over the years the emphasis of the season of Lent has shifted and while the themes of prayer, fasting and repentance are still central to the churches observance, the wallowing, in guilt, in our sin, has shifted ground to an understanding that encourages and stimulates us to think about new opportunities for us to know the loving nature of God’s being and the ache God feels when we are separated from the experience of Divine love.

The first two Sundays in Lent call us to focus on God who answers our insecurity and anxiety if only we will embrace his offer. Where did the world come from

One of my favourite authors is Philip Yancey a Christian from the evangelical tradition in the United States who writes about his experiences as a Christian pastor. In his book titled “Soul Survivor, How my faith survived the Church” he tells the stories of some well known individual Christians and their early experiences of church life including those of Martin Luther King, GK Chesterton, Dr Paul Brand, Leo Tolstoy, Mahatma Ghandi, John Donne and Henry Nouwen. Each of them have been bruised and scared from their relationship with the Church and their involvement in the community of faith, yet each has sustained a search and journey with ”the hope “of gaining a “glimpse of God,” free of the paraphernalia and dogmas so often associated with Christian belief and practice.

The book is without doubt very much about Philip Yancey’s own bruising, faith journey and brokenness, recognised in part through the struggles of others. He speaks about the abuses hurled at Ghandi and his family, the struggles of Martin Luther King with his own church, his infidelity, his vulnerability, his long absences from home, and the threats to his life. He describes how King was “demonized” by large sections of the Church who believed that “whites were meant to rule over blacks”.

In the last Chapter of his book he tells the story of the life of Henry Nouwen, “the wounded healer”. Nouwen a distinguished theologian and teacher priest struggled throughout his life with the image of himself as the responsible and obedient older brother. He describes the expectations of others on him and the sense in which he is held in esteem for his theological insights, his skill and his personality-and he struggles with the responsibility of being the older obedient brother, an image I suspect lingers not far from the surface in may of us. Throughout his life Nouwen struggles with depression, a crisis of sexual identity and loneliness. People respond to him for what he can offer to them but few recognise his own needs and feelings. He loves the Church for its potential and hope, yet despairs of its lack of pastoral sensitivity and at times ignorance and arrogance.{I should add that during my own ministry I have often encountered similar stories }

During my time as CEO of Anglicare Victoria I was privy to stories of hurt and abuse that people spoke about in their relationship with the church. A refusal to marry, baptize and conduct funerals were common experiences, not to mention violence. Many spoke about their wilderness experiences of being lost, challenged and alienated when a marriage or relationship breakdown occurred and stopped attending Church.

All of those Yancey wrote about suggests that the temptation at times must have been great to leave the Church and faith yet they have all remained faithful during times of testing and doubt. They saw beyond the glitter and tinsel of life to what really counts. What I describe as the great Christian narrative of redemption.

Both Luke’s and Matthew’s accounts of the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness unlike mark with few details are rich in images and ideals. Places of wilderness have grown in significance and importance in recent years as the “Greenies” and other environmentalists have reminded us of the importance of wilderness space for the health of our community. In recent years the church itself has rethought the place of the environment in creating and sustaining God’s kingdom. In Australia we have rediscovered the devastation that we have caused to our forests, our deserts and our waterways in recent years with growing concern about the change in climate and the impact it has on communities.

We have also re-discovered the place of wilderness as a place of solace, a place of inspiration, a place for reflection and essential for the health of our community.

I think it not ironic then that Jesus goes into the wilderness, living off what nature provides, almost an idealistic paradisiacal picture ministered to by Angels, locusts and wild honey. But it is also a time of challenge to his purpose and mission.

Before suggesting as some may that this is naïve idealism (I hope you suppress that thought) let’s at least reflect on how the wilderness space in itself becomes an alternative place for Jesus to engage with his God and to accept his mission. Picture this engagement of Jesus as having this kind of alternative or protest element to it. His abandonment of home and possessions, his questioning of family, and the priorities he set for himself in his engagement with the outcasts and sinners challenges much of what we would regard as normal and acceptable in our community today.

Jesus then lives the lifestyle of an itinerant journeyman. Here from the very beginning of his mission, we gain a glimpse that Jesus is protesting against the norms of the day, including lifestyle questions and issues. Alone and in exile he wrestles with himself as we so often do and with the options available to him. Here as Jesus puts himself to the test, we can see the connection with the story of Moses and the testing of the Hebrew people. The outcome for both is food or manna from God. As the story infolds, Jesus rejects compromising the will of God by his refusal of seduction by the powers of darkness contrary to God’s dream.

Old Testament scholar Walter Bruggerman, in his works entitled, “The Prophetic Imagination” sees exile and wilderness as the place and voice of hope.

If we think for a moment so often what we see as barren has much potential. Exile, Bruggerman says, is a time for discovery or rediscovery of the great Christian noble vision and it may be that we in the church at this time are in a place of wilderness, as we grapple with the coming and building of the Kingdom of God. Bruggerman says:

that the loss of the authority and dynasty and temple in Jerusalem is analogous to the loss of certainty, dominance and legitimacy in or own time.

Like Jesus a wilderness experience can provide us with the space and opportunity to rethink and even test our faith. It provides us with the opportunity to move from the centre, one of safety to the edge. Jesus knew he was moving away from the centre when he declared his mission to be God’s mission discovering true power and authority not as the world defines it but in a ministry of servant hood and being for the other.

Lent is a time to sort out and evaluate our priorities, to reaffirm our discipleship and to imagine what life could be like without money, power and control. Matthew is making an important yet simple theological point about the identity of Jesus. It is that in Jesus we meet God, who is not remote from us but shares our life and in that sharing redeems it. Like Ghandi, King and Nouwen he experienced exposure to the brokenness of the creation and yet remained Faithfull and committed to building God’s Kingdom.

During this Lent we are invited to be more than spectators to the drama that is to unfold. We are invited, even challenged to be active participants and to remember to do the right thing we also are tempted. By our deeds the Kingdom of God is known.

May this Lent be a time of recreation in your spiritual and community life?

Amen

The Reverend Canon Dr. Ray Cleary – Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany

6th Sunday after Epiphany St George’s Ivanhoe East 2018

Who are our modern day Lepers? {I am speaking metaphorically here}

A few years ago, in the mid 1980’s people with HIV Aids were regarded in many circles as modern day lepers with their sickness due to their unacceptable behavior and as a result of their sin. There was maligning of those affected and their life style condemned. Some more conservative and Fundamentalist Christians claimed God was punishing them for their behavior quoting Old Testament texts to justify their position. It is interesting and I suspect surprising to some now that same sex relationships are not condemned in the manner of the 1980’s and our nation has approved the marriage of couples of the same sex. In the Anglican Church community there is a diversity of opinion and attitude to the recognition given to this matter, whether it is due to advances in medical science to prevent the disease or for other reasons.

Then there are the refuges and asylum seekers, or as our politicians describe them as “boat people” or illegimates, many if not the majority fleeing from persecution and abuse in their homelands. Today there are 60 million people who are homeless and on the move due to persecution and corruption, with nearly 35% being children. As a nation we allow and treat those held in detention centers with disdain, arrogance self interest and aggression, making derogatory comments about their faith and backgrounds and deny them access to community life. I hear you say not all of us, but we allow governments to act as though we do by not speaking out and challenging the policies. We forget also that we are a nation made up of asylum seekers, refuges from the days of the first colonies in this country with the British beginning the practice of offshore detention.

Then there are Rohingas in Myanmar today, and do not let us forget the genocides in Rwanda, Cambodia and even of our indigenous people in parts of Australia.

Then there are Muslims, pedophiles, the homeless, the mentally ill to name some, but with the proviso that they are not all discriminated by and in the eyes of everyone. It is often in the eyes of those who see or feel themselves as marginalized and on the fringe and excluded from mainstream society today who are the loudest critics and dissenters.

Leprosy as spoken about in the Old Testament lesson and Gospel we just heard is still feared in some parts of the global community, even though with modern health care I am told it can be controlled and cured. Within living memory people who contracted the disease were cut off from community, family and friends.

Up until the late 70’s and early 80’s children who were removed from the families including many Indigenous children, others with a disability of many kinds were placed in residential care, large institutions out of sight and mind. In Victoria our institutions were located outside Melbourne or on the fringe of the city limits at the time, making it often difficult for families and friends to remain contact and visit. Thankfully that is now not the case although the lack of resources to support vulnerable families and children remain a problem. We are also seeing a new wave I suggest of isolating, alienation, discrimination and abuse of older people.

The Old Testament and Gospel readings for today are parallel stories. Both tell of the rehabilitation of a person with Leprosy through an individual.

In the time of Jesus there were no social or community services as we know and experience them today. Those with leprosy and other diseases were shunned and quarantined and at the same time the widely held view was that their condition was a result of sin. Sufferers were then victims and culprits even if their condition was a result of the sin of another family member. It is the same as saying that diseases, or earthquakes or homelessness are a result of personal sin. While yes it is true that lifestyles may cause some illnesses, and the destruction of rain forest causes havoc in many areas on other parts of the landscape, we also know that similar lifestyles or activities do not effect everyone in the same way, and certainly good people get sick, while others with shady backgrounds or whatever live long and healthy life. I for one do not believe that God has his favourites and picks and choses. God does not zap in and then out according to his mood.

In today’s Gospel Jesus shows the depth and warmth of his compassion. Even though the leper has no right to approach Jesus he does so. The words that Jesus felt pity for him is an under statement. The Greek is far stronger and can be translated as “Jesus was gutted and felt immense sorrow to the depth of his being”. The leper’s condition got to him and he was overcome with fierce emotion. Why was this so we may ask? Was the leper taunting Jesus, “Come on Jesus show me what you can do God man? Is he seeking to embarrass Jesus? Whatever his motive Jesus felt the moment and responded. He did not discriminated he responded with compassion whatever the circumstances. Oh how I wish I could when I see the way in which our governments and we seem unable, unwilling or powerless to intervene when we are presented with a tragedy of any sort. How I think to myself why I cannot do something more meaningful to the homeless or drug dependent person. I recall a number of years ago when visiting the then Footscray Office of Anglicare and coming face to face with a group of 16-18 year olds “shooting up as we say”. I asked them why? They answered with words “it is the only time we feel really good about ourselves”. I though at the time, Why can we not do better for these young people?

Jesus does the non permissible in today’s Gospel. He touched someone excluded from the community, ritually unclean and open to infection. Jesus opens his heart to this man whatever his motives. One can imagine the look of horror on the face of the onlookers at this action of an outrageous expression of love and hope. Likewise I received a similar response when I suggested to the Archbishop and Cathedral Chapter that we open the back of the Cathedral to accommodate homeless people. I wonder how we would respond?

Jesus then sternly sends this man away and tells him not to speak, or perhaps brag about what has happened other than to go to the priest to show his healing. By doing this he can be re integrated into the community. Jesus does not want any bragging about what he has done and as I said last week the miracle is not the centre piece of the story but rather that the Kingdom of God is at hand.

As followers of Jesus, people of the Kingdom, we are called to act and speak as Jesus. When faced with sickness, discrimination, prejudice, hatred and segregation we are called to move into action. If we want to change things , we like Jesus, need to be humble and listen. We need to challenge propaganda that seeks to discriminate, dehumanize and scapegoat those who are different, difficult or dissident. Empathy and direct engagement rather then fluffy liberal or religious speak should be guiding principles that embrace compassion and justice central to our Christian witness in today’s world.

At the end of the Gospel story today Jesus finds himself once more besieged. Earlier he left Capernaum because the whole town was after him. Now no town offers him refuge and he must stay away in the country.

While we may not be sent away, our voice may be muffled and ignored but as Fr. Noel Whale reminded those of us who attended his lecture last Tuesday night we need to find new ways to connect, to listen, to be outrageous and provocative and to open to the disturbing spirit of God for our times.

Amen

Locum letter for the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany

Today’s Old Testament Lesson speaks about Naaman’s wife’s maid knowing more about Elisha’s healing power than the King of Israel. All the king could do was to tear his clothes, rant and rave believing that the request for healing, a sign of friendship and health was a ploy and renewed hostility over border disputes and a grab for power. We know today some 3000 years later that border disputes and power grabs, either through terrorism, brute strength and commercial exploitation still continues and attempts at peaceful settlements, fall on deaf ears and closed minds.

Tom Wright noted New Testament scholar asks the question of Naamam’s story – could this be a way forward? Can we learn from the mistakes of others? Naaman in today’s Old Testament lesson has to learn from his servant. How often do we refuse to see, hear or learn the obvious from others and in particular those who do not follow Christ or practice any religion. Why do we reject the science of climate change or ignore the cries of the outcast or the abused and neglected?

How often would words such as sorry, forgiveness, reconciliation and
compromise be the solution to our worlds ills , rather than the pursuit of revenge and might.

Lent begins this Wednesday. Details of service times are listed
elsewhere in the Bulletin. Avail yourself of one of the times on this day, where as a community of faith we travel the journey to Jerusalem where freedom and liberation is celebrated on Easter day with the promise of God to be with us, is proclaimed with rejoicing.

Shalom

Ray

The Reverend Canon Dr. Ray Cleary – Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

Ivanhoe East St George’s 4th February 2018

It is often the case that a book you may have been required to read at school, or you were encouraged to read by others, perhaps because they had enjoyed reading it, or because it was described to you as a must read, perhaps because it is recognised as one of the classics of literature but the first time you read it however it made little impression on you. Only on a second reading does the depth and fullness of the writing emerge. Like wise I suggest when you read the Scripture, yes the bible, not something I believe many Anglicans read as often as they should, other than in Church, new themes or understandings emerge.

As A Lenten discipline let me encourage you to spend time reading Mark’s Gospel and spend 10 minutes each day reflecting upon what you have read and how it impacts on your own faith journey.

Increasingly I am discovering that each time I read a passage of scripture I discover things I have not seen previously, nuances and images that I have overlooked. So often our reading is superficial, or we see what we want or expect to see. Much of our media reporting falls into this category. We know the general themes pursued in our major media outlets and we chose what we read according to our own expectations and interests. I know that I certainly skip over some items and ignore the writings of others.

Christians often do the same thing when they come to scripture. We chose the bits we like and ignore or shelve those parts that do not fit comfortably with our own theology and ideology. The lectionary that we follow here at St Georges and used in many churches ensures that we read a wide selection of scripture, although I have to admit that some of the readings seem a little odd at times and certainly require study at a level not available to the preacher on a Sunday. If we read the readings listed in the lectionary everyday at every service we would read most of scripture.

This year we are to read on Sundays from the Gospel of Mark, other than for the Season of Easter, and unless a Feast days occurs on the Sunday, although we often transfer a Feast day that occurs throughout the week to the nearest Sunday.

The Liturgical calendar was fixed at a different time in history and in a predominantly agrarian society. While our adaptions are a good thing to do in our 21st Century context it does mean that we do not hear the full text and often miss out on the connections from one week to another.

The Gospel of Mark has often been neglected, or ignored in the Church’s liturgy. It says little about the Jesus’ early life, teaching and resurrection appearances and in some circles, due to its brevity, is regarded as inferior to the fuller accounts to be found in Matthew, Luke and then John, expand in detail and story. The earliest manuscripts of Mark do not have a resurrection account, and some thought that this was missing, and added a part at a later time. But it is a mistake to brush of or shake off Mark as lean and lacking theological perspectives. As Rowan Williams says in his little book on Mark, titled, “Meeting God in Mark”,

The point of the Gospel is that we should encounter there a reality alarmingly and beyond human expectation and human capacity: and that though this encounter we should be changed bit by bit into the sort of person who can actually understand what is asked from us and what has been made possible for us in the life, death and raising of Jesus. “

Today’s and the Gospel passages set for the past three weeks are to be understood in the context of Mark claiming and proclaiming that Jesus is the anointed one of God. In the very beginning of chapter one Mark announces it is time, time for a regime change, a new regime is to be inaugurated, a new way of thinking and believing. This would have been a radical and provocative announcement and would have been picked up by the religious and political authorities of the day. Mark’s Jesus is I suggest a revolutionary for his times and Jesus is pushed centre stage without a word of introduction as in Matthew and Luke. There is no family background, no Christmas story and an abrupt end to his death. Mark’s Jesus then reinforces this theme after John the Baptist had been handed over for imprisonment; Jesus proclaims that the rule of God has come. It is an announcement that God is taking over and so we are warned from the beginning of the Gospel to take note, repent and heed what is to come. Mark as I have already said does not bother with much detail. He does not give dates. Instead he gives a number of snapshots. Here is the anointed Jesus doing this, doing that, meeting one person, then another drawing forth their reactions. eg “So he said , and they were all amazed”.

So this year as we read from Mark let me urge you to allow yourself to reject the fact that you have heard the stories of Mark many times and think you know it, but rather like reading a book for a second time, allow the story, its nuances and themes to surface as a new light and allow the central character of his Gospel Jesus speak to you directly. It is an invitation to enter into a relationship with this Jesus, as Mark portrays and presents him, and allow yourself to be challenged and changed by what is written and heard. Mark’s account of the life and death of Jesus is a story of radical change. It is a voice from heaven, from earthly experiences and from hell. It challenges the power brokers to take note and encourages the people to be the bearers of this new regime.

Christmas and Epiphany have been the focus of our thoughts over the past few weeks. An Epiphany focused church is one that is dazzled by God, intoxicated by God, so that its whole life and witness boils over with love, a radical love that respects the world we live in and have been given, or inherited. A world today besieged by doubt, political unease in may places, shifting values, abused religious and faith perspectives, self-interest and plain human stupidity and blindness. Mark’s Jesus is asking us to be intoxicated in the same way with this revolutionary call.

Mark’s Jesus offers a radical alternative to this world in the parables and accounts of the ministry of Jesus, of a new regime, all pointing to a radical reordering of power and relationships. Todays Gospel shows how this vision is acted out in the midst of human need. Jesus emphasizes not the miracle but the context in which he moves, that is the real reason for healing and change. The miracles, as I said last week, are a by-product not to be understood as the centrepiece to the text. Jesus is not primarily about doing well for goodness sake. This is why Jesus regularly asks those who see him perform a miracle not to speak about it. To speak about the miracles is to miss the point as the disciples did so often. The Kingdom of God is not to come because of his miracles but only when the hearts of all who hear, heed the call.

Throughout the Gospel Jesus reminds the disciples and others who come into contact with him to remain silent and not brag about what has happened. It is the midst of human need that the power of God can be tapped into and the Kingdom of God has the potential to be realized, not because of his miracles. Yes I know we need Mission Action plans, and budgets, and even laws for community and parish life, but not as ends in themselves, but as a means to achieving the building of God’s Kingdom where all are treated equally and with respect whatever their race, faith, colour or social Status.

Paul in our second lesson writing 10 years before Mark is smitten with the love of Jesus. It is this love and conviction that drives him and his exhortations to the various churches he visits. It is the same passion that drives the Mother Theresa of our times or the Desmond Tutus. People are attracted to them because they show in their life, passion and enthusiasm for their faith and their God. While we may not have the same gifts or charisma each and every one of us has a gift, something that we can call upon or use {other than our good looks}.

Have you in recent times thought about what your gifts may be?

Finally the Gospel for today has three scenes. The first is a tense miracle story. The second has Jesus healing. The third is a confrontation between Simon and Jesus.

While each of the stories are helpful in unfolding Jesus and his persona, Jesus I suggest is concerned with something greater, and central to the whole of Mark’s gospel, namely not himself but the Kingdom of God. As Rowan Williams so eloquently says,

So when miracles do happen, they arise from that immediacy of compassion or indeed of anger, anger at the way that sickness imprisons people but also in which religious zealotry cannot cope with the promise of release.” It is only in the Kingdom of God that ultimate healing and hope can be found. While indeed individual miracles and acts of Charity are important, they are not to be seen as substitutes or ends in themselves. The fullness of the Kingdom of God can only be achieved when God is the centre of our thinking and living. Mark calls us to place our trust in Jesus, to engage in anew way of living, to be willing to change our hearts, to transform the world, not easy in a context where the miracles are not coming fast and regularly, but rather one where religion and faith appear to be regularly discredited.

Mark was writing to such a community. Likewise he writes and speaks to us in the same way with Jesus as the anointed one of God to show the way.

Are we like the disciples struggling and afraid to hear the message? Or do we have the courage and the passion to be the deliverers for our time the Kingdom news? A kingdom that embraces the integrity of God as Compassion and justice for all irrespective of creed, colour, ethnic back ground or status.

Locum letter for the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

Welcome back to those who have been away or perhaps are joining us for worship today after a break. Please join us for morning tea and the “sausage sizzle to follow”. A welcome back to members of the choir and to Roger Brown our Musical Director. Special thanks also to Cyril Thomas for playing the organ during the holiday season. Holidays are now over for the time being and its back to work, school and parish activities. Please see the calendar in this bulletin for details of Ash Wednesday services and the Pancake party on the 13th February.

Paul is on the defensive in today’s reading from Corinthians. There have been other teachers who have made their way into the community of Corinth, preachers who can boast of their eloquence, who expect to be rewarded for their words. The reading is a lively expression of Paul’s feelings and joy in preaching. He is prepared to give up everything for his Lord.
Today’s Gospel is another typical day in the ministry of Jesus. He is among the crowd healing and teaching. In the morning he makes time for prayer.

As we prepare for Lent may we take a few minutes out of our busy day for prayer and mediation. It works wonders helping is to focus and be prepared.

Shalom

Ray