Writing

  • Holy Spirit

    Holy Spirit

    Sermon preached on the 8th Sunday after Pentecost [B]
    15 July 2018

    Readings: Ephesians 1.1-14; Mark 6.14-29

    Two stories running through my head all week. The gospel, preparing for today; and the recent saga of the soccer team trapped with their coach in Chiang Rai caves.

    These stories couldn’t be more different. Yet we need them both, because they open out into the realities of human life – its debasement and despair, its joy and triumph – because they balance each other. Tip too far towards the first, and you’re into despair; too far towards triumph, and you are into the rose-coloured world where dreams come true for those who hope and work and pray hard enough.

    The gospel is brutal, describing Herod’s cynical and spur-of-the-moment murder of John the Baptist, who had rightly rebuked Herod about marrying his own (Herod’s) sister-in-law. Not that Herod cared about the Jewish Law; but he was “pleased” (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) at his daughter’s dancing, and makes her a rash promise – only to be quickly checkmated by her mother.

    Remember, the John beheaded is the John who was miraculously conceived by the elderly priest Zechariah and his barren wife Elizabeth; the John who had a powerful preaching baptising and revival ministry in the wilderness, and who had baptised Jesus himself. Surely God has let the side down, here, and owes John something better than a demeaning execution at the hands of a despot in his cups? But Mark is brutally honest … because sometimes that is exactly how life can be, for faithful and unfaithful alike. No point relying on Paul’s words in Romans 8.28 (“all things work together for good for those who love God”); no get out of gaol card for John; nor later for Paul. All things do work together for good, for those who love God; except it’s Gods definition of “good”, not ours. [1]

    Fast forward to Chiang Rai in Thailand, which dramatically hit world news Saturday 23 June when a soccer team of twelve boys aged between 11 and 16 along with their 25-year-old coach were reported missing in an extensive cave system. The mammoth search and rescue operation required ingenuity, precision, courage, stamina; and heaps of equipment. It took nine days to find the boys and their coach, another 8 days to get them all out, the only fatality, a volunteer Thai Navy Seal who died in the rescue.

    Coach and team were guided out, one by one, each by two experienced cave-divers, one ahead and one close behind. The smallest aperture they all went through (in the water and darkness) was only 38 cm high. It gives me claustrophobia to imagine it.

    Quite apart from the impressive skill courage and stamina of all involved, quite apart from the significant Australian involvement, and quite apart from its inherent drama, why does this story attract and hold our attention? Because it touches our humanity, our compassion, and our deepest fears, including our mortality.

    The gospel story assaults our sense of justice. More subversively, it challenges our conception of God. Isn’t God “just”? Isn’t God “powerful”? Why didn’t God protect his faithful servant John the Baptist, now in the despot Herod’s hands because of his faithfulness to God’s call?

    *****

    These are all human questions, urgent human questions, which confront us daily. Questions for which we have no satisfying or compelling answers … until we glimpse and grasp what God has done for us in Christ Jesus. Beautifully summarised in the Letter to the Ephesian Christians.

    God has “destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ”, richly lavished his grace upon us, and shown us his deeper and eternal purposes in creation, in “the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth”. We have obtained an inheritance in Christ and been marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit – as “pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God's own people, to the praise of his glory”.

    Now that’s too much to take in quickly, so that’s your homework for this week, to read the Ephesians reading as often as you can, trying to get your head around it all as best you can.

    Just this last week, I was alerted to a poem by G K Chesterton, where Jesus the Eternal Word is the speaker.[2] Some lines:

    Last night I held all evil in my hand
    Closed: and behold it was a little thing.

    At the end, referring to the resurrection as bursting death’s bubble (wherein we are held ever captive to the grave), … [I] woke “laughing with laughter such as shakes the stars”.

    Can you put that into your perspective on death and dying? This comes packed inside the pledge of our inheritance – sealed in baptism.

    *****

    Back to our two contrasting stories. Trying to see through God’s lens, they make some sort of partial sense. John the Baptist’s execution was – in secular terms – similar to what happened to Jesus who was also executed for being faithful; John’s death was a clear signal to Jesus of what was ahead; Matthew records, significantly, that Jesus, hearing the news, “withdrew … to a deserted place by himself” (except the crowd tracked him down).[3]

    But what about the cave rescue? The boys and their coach were piloted out by skilled and experienced divers. My picture of my own dying (described in a poem I wrote called The Ridge) was inspired in part by a verse of the 23rd Psalm:

    Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil:
    for you are with me, your rod and your staff comfort me.

    So I imagine Jesus piloting me through to safety, along a track he knows well …

    I’d like to close with the prayer, Jesus, Saviour of the World on p 414 of APBA. Let’s pray it together. After which: Don’t forget your homework!

    Jesus, Saviour of the world, come to us in your mercy:
    we look to you to save and help us.
    By your cross and your life laid down, you set your people free:
    we look to you to save and help us.
    When they were ready to perish, you saved your disciples:
    we look to you to come to our help.
    In the greatness of your mercy, loose us from our chains:
    forgive the sins of all your people.
    Make yourself known as our Saviour and mighty deliverer:
    save and help us that we may praise you.
    Come now and dwell with us, Lord Christ Jesus:
    hear our prayer and be with us always.
    And when you come in your glory:
    make us to be one with you and to share the life of your kingdom.

    © the Rev. Canon Dr. James M. McPherson
    Image Tony Reid on Unsplash

     

     

     

     

    [1] St Teresa of Avila: “Lord, if this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few of them!”

    [2] G K Chesterton 1874-1936, English writer; creator of the detective-priest character Father Brown.

    [3] Matthew 14.13.

  • The Knee Replacement (Improv. on Phillipians 2)

     

    It’s been a long time
    since this knee could bend
    at the name of Jesus, or anything else –

    the challenge to clamber
    over rocks on a hillside
    hiking with teenagers
    in spite of their playlists and texts,

    the sharp cry of a small child
    skinned up from a fall
    or wanting to show me an ant,

    the longing to gather
    a handful of sand at the beach
    and let it run through my fingers
    remembering someone
    whose life slides like grains
    into the sweet saltiness of the ocean.

    (those may actually be the name of Jesus
    just in some other Pentecost.)

    And I am anticipating
    a certain emptying
    to let go my signature impairment --

    emptying anaesthesia, for one –
    a fold in reality,
    protecting me from what
    I can never grasp,

    and being humbled to
    catheters, johnnies, and opioids
    in spite of not liking the idea
    of any one of them,
    being obedient to physical therapy,
    not to speak of the
    continuous motion machine
    which is not …
    No! absolutely not a cross.

    So what kind of mind
    is Paul suggesting
    that I am supposed to have?

    Perhaps a light one
    that slips into anthroplasty
    on my way to confessing
    the truest Name of all –

    and bends for a hill walk,
    a child’s call of fear and joy,
    and handfuls of love
    for people I know or will never meet,

    also many other unexpected
    holy kneelings.

    ©Maren Tirabassi
     

     

  • The Pentecostal lady apostle from Brisbane

    Tess Ashton 7 June 2015

    The Pentecostal lady apostle from Brisbane

    The pentecostal lady apostle
    from Brisbane
    heard recently
    at a women’s conference
    had a dream
    Aunty came to visit
    after a bit
    announced
    was leaving for home
    back over a perilously rising
    river

    You can’t go now aunty
    you’ll drown…
    but Aunt Hope
    was determined
    and quickly made off
    toward the gushing stream

    The apostle tried her best to stop
    the worst from happening
    but fast as a firebrand
    the old lady
    threw herself
    Into the swirling foam

    come back Aunt Hope
    come back
    come back Hope
    Hope
    come back
    Hoooope
    cooome baaaack

    but now Aunt Hope
    was being washed away
    like limp tinder
    until her plucky foot struck a sandbank
    and held her fast

    then the apostle
    plunged forth
    and believing with all her heart
    reached out and
    grabbed Aunt Hope’s hand
    she pulled and pulled
    and pulled until
    the two lay gasping
    on the grass

    Oh said Aunt Hope
    I’m going to come
    and live with you
    sleep with you
    in your double bed
    in your motel home
    never leave you
    Ok thought the apostle
    I’ll cope

    It was a dream remember

    Pushing her luck Aunt Hope said
    but I’ll have to bring
    my friend with me
    and the apostle thought
    that’ll be a squeeze

    but ok
    the friend can have
    the little annexe
    off the main bedroom
    there’s a bed
    pretty messy
    lots of junk on it

    so the friend arrived
    and had a look and said
    oh no
    I’m not sleeping there
    I’m sleeping in the double bed
    with you and Hope
    where you and Hope are
    I’ve gotta be
    said Aunt Faith

    And that’s the story of how
    the pentecostal apostle
    from Brisbane
    got hope back
    and once she got hope back then
    faith moved back too

    soon it was all

    moving mountains
    from here
    to there
    faith stuff
    true evidence
    of hope’s return

    ©Tess Ashton
    Image  www.pinterest.com

  • new positivity buzz

    Tess Ashton 31 May 2015

    new positivity buzz

     

    I got my hair cut
    On Saturday
    felt I had a winner
    as I peered,
    younger,
    in the salon mirror

    Strange how this hairdresser
    put me
    on another level
    my husband kept looking at me
    appreciatively later

    Wow 15 years
    smashed
    said a workmate
    on Monday

    My spiritual director
    found me lighter
    on Tuesday

    It’s my positivity theology
    I explained
    I cut off the dead wood:
    my hair’s
    a symbol of that

    I’m experimenting
    with happiness
    joy
    and optimism
    am on the lookout
    for coins in the mouths
    of fishes

    like the feel
    of the breeze
    round my neck as I worship
    it’s a wind blowing
    and kind of
    delicious

    Now the
    angels all praising
    and the power
    of the Spirit
    are free to attend
    to all
    my good wishes

    it’s Pentecost time
    I’m playing
    with fire
    standing right
    in the way
    of all heaven’s
    chances

    To start with some
    negative ghosts
    hanging round
    kicked up –
    shoved off
    once they knew
    I meant business

    Once I’d staked out my ground

    ©Tess Ashton
    Image: Evening Breeze, Henri-Edmond Cross 1894

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • The Cost of It

    The Cost of It

    What the festival costs

    is more than the price of helium
    in a few small red balloons,
    and a birthday cake for the church
    during coffee hour.

     

    It costs going out to the streets,
    speaking words we don’t understand,
    listening to languages of
    our neighbors,
    tomorrow and the next day
    and when the streets are hot or icy,
    and words are more dangerous
    than churchy,

     

    and get us thrown into prison,
    not to speak of what happens
    when we try to heal our poor neighbors
    of the justice wounds
    that keep them begging.

     

    Did I mention health care,
    for the body and for the mind,
    rights of indigenous peoples
    throughout the earth,

     

    and care for the earth,
    O sweet groaning earth-loving Spirit,

     

    veterans’ justice and immigrants’ justice,
    an end to gun tragedy,
    addictions, homelessness,
    hunger, human trafficking?

     

    What Pentecost costs,
    if it is going to mean anything at all —
    is a lot of breaking silence,

     

    and so much listening
    to the languages of our neighbors,
    not just yesterday,
    and not just tomorrow or election day,
    but when we’re all singing carols,
    or wearing ashes

     

    and, of course, always and everyday
    spending our love like red. 

    © Maren Tirabassi, www.giftsinopenhands.wordpress.com

    Image www.jasonvalendy.net

     

     

  • Moments: Pentecost - The Cost of It

    Moments: Pentecost - The Cost of It

    What the festival costs

    is more than the price of helium
    in a few small red balloons,
    and a birthday cake for the church
    during coffee hour.

    It costs going out to the streets,
    speaking words we don’t understand,
    listening to languages of
    our neighbors,
    tomorrow and the next day
    and when the streets are hot or icy,
    and words are more dangerous
    than churchy,

    and get us thrown into prison,
    not to speak of what happens
    when we try to heal our poor neighbors
    of the justice wounds
    that keep them begging.

    Did I mention health care,
    for the body and for the mind,
    rights of indigenous peoples
    throughout the earth,

    and care for the earth,
    O sweet groaning earth-loving Spirit,

    veterans’ justice and immigrants’ justice,
    an end to gun tragedy,
    addictions, homelessness,
    hunger, human trafficking?

    What Pentecost costs,
    if it is going to mean anything at all —
    is a lot of breaking silence,

    and so much listening
    to the languages of our neighbors,
    not just yesterday,
    and not just tomorrow or election day,
    but when we’re all singing carols,
    or wearing ashes

    and, of course, always and everyday
    spending our love like red. 

    © Maren Tirabassi, www.giftsinopenhands.wordpress.com
    ©Image Philippe de Rodrigues, www.unsplash.com

     

  • Moments: In The Space Of One Breath, One Heartbeat

    Moments:  In The Space Of One Breath, One Heartbeat

    In the dark of many nights hallowed out by the silence in my heart, and in the now shadowed light of the hope of Pentecost where we celebrate the giving of the breath/spirit of God so we may have life - a prayer emerged from the depth of my being. I share it with you in the hope that it may find an echo in your heart, ease spirit-ache and help us breathe a little easier in this time.                                                                              

    In the light of Pentecost,
    in the shadow of inexplicable horror,
    the sanctity of life,
    this gift of breath
    which belongs to no-one and everyone,
    ceased in the space of a single heartbeat
    despite a voice that pleaded to be heard.
    George Floyd, loved son and father died.

    I offer these prayers and reflection,
    in the light of truth
    in the spark of life,
    in the hope of change,
    in dark shadow of this grievous injustice.

    In silence, let us breathe
    slowly.
                   In and out
                              In and out
                                          In and out

    and as we do,
    let us give thanks for our breath
    for spirit,
    for life,
    for the sound of our heartbeat
    for the safety of living in bodies coloured white,
    Let us be deeply mindful of all who are not,
    for whom living their God-given life is a risky undertaking,
    overshadowed by fear.

    God of infinite mercy,
    We weep when holy text is used to deny others’ breath.
    open our eyes, our ears, our hearts
    to the truth that for you,
    love without justice, is not love at all.
    When holy word is conscripted
    to deny breath and support the loss of life,
    remind us that your holy texts speak more about justice
    than they ever do of love.
    Love without just-living, is not love.
    Give us courageous hearts to love and live justly,
    so we might join with you in co-creating a world
    where all lives matter,
    and the breath of 'one'
    is valued as highly as the breath of many.

    God whose spirit enlivens and sustains all life
    May justice roll down like a river.

    God of infinite mercy whose love is embedded in justice,
    as embers of anger are fanned into flame
    for this sacred Black life deprived of spirit-breath,
    we give thanks that anger is an appropriate first response
    to such grievous wrongdoing,
    but God, let it not be the last response.
    May the energy of fiery anger,
    burning from within ancient cauldrons
    of inter-generational memory,
    be harnessed and do no harm,
    especially for those most harmed at this time.
    Instead may all anger serve as catalysts of empowerment,
    sparking a raft of creative ways worldwide for us
    to engage in effective subversive non-violent action;
    the kind of action that turns the tide,
    and ushers in irrevocable change for good,
    and enables all whose breath is held in,
    for fear of being noticed, be released.
    Fire our imaginations,
    enliven us to act courageously in solidarity
    so we may all live and breathe without fear
    from this day onwards.
    Help us be the change we want to see.

    God whose spirit enlivens and sustains all life
    May justice roll down like a river.

    God of infinite mercy,
    We hold before you:

                    all whose breath does not come easily,
                   whose breath is too slow, fast, or shallow,
                   or is held suspended by fear.

    We hold before you:

                    all who struggle to breath in and out with ease.

    We give thanks for all who work tirelessly
    to relieve their distress,
    ease their struggle
    and soften their pain so life is sustained.

    We pray, also for those who are close to death in this hour,
    and ask that your compassionate presence will,
    in the space of their last in-breath and heartbeat,
    carry them with great tenderness
    from life through in death to life.

    God whose spirit enlivens and sustains all life
    May justice roll down like a river.

    God of infinite mercy
    Infuse us with you spirit,
    breathe in us,
    through us,
    around us
    and energize us to do the work you call us today.
    May we be bearers of your holy just-love,
    holding hope for those who have none
    until they do.

    We ask this in the name of your Son,
    who hung on a cross,
    and yielded his last painful breath to death,
    knowing that his death would bring breath and life to all.
    May it be so.


    ©The Rev. Gayanne Frater, Hospital Chaplain, Counsellor, Supervisor, Spiritual Companion
    4 June 2020
    Image Holy Fire, Gayanne Frater