Tag Archives: climate change

Lip service or life? Called to courageous loving

Preached today to my wonderful community that give me all the support and love and really are a family in faith to me…

As I prayed and reflected on today’s readings, it was very hard for me to separate out the escalating feelings of fear, grief and hurt I have felt over the last week from some of the homophobic comments and lies that are circulating at the moment. As a queer woman, some people would say that I am “going to hell” or am locked out of God’s community, yet I experience God as knowing me better than I know myself and loving me deeply- allowing for my slowness to learn how best to live and encouraging my good intention. I have tried to resist the temptation to make my journey with this week’s readings nothing more than an expression of the pain I feel in this time. Yet I will name the pain because it is there. And then I will try to move on…

The first reading is the last part of a longer discussion about the way that each person owns their own conscience. Within it, a person is not judged by their family, culture or community nor by how others around them choose to live but insofar as they themselves respond to God and do what is right their path will be always into life. This is both a liberating and a troubling concept in our historical context, where we are increasingly facing the reality of climate change that will take more than the actions of a handful of well-meaning individuals to reverse.

And yet this is the reality we live in, things are happening around us that we have limited control to halt or change and we must somehow keep finding hope and meaning. Perhaps what we can find here is an antidote to the sorts of thinking that see decreasing compassion and rising inequality as inevitable. God does not desire our death, the call is always into life. We must embrace hope so that seeing the fallenness, imperfection or powerlessness of ourselves or those around us we must look for the potential for liberation and healing.

In the psalm we cry out to God to be compassionate and to teach us, this echoes both the awareness that things may be wrong and the determination to hope of the first reading. In the verses, God’s nature is revealed to be goodness and kindness, love and compassion. We can and must depend upon that whatever else we are emboldened to do.

The second reading is a sort of counterpoint to the first. Just as in the first reading, each of us was asked to think for ourselves, and to do good even if we are surrounded by wrong-doing, the second reading calls us to be community, to seek harmony and connection with others and to work for the good of others, not just selfishness. Hope then, is no longer a lonely place and we do not stand and judge from a moral high-ground but seek to know and serve whatever is vulnerable in each other.

Thus we come to the gospel, and the difference between giving lip-service to faith and living it. The first son is foolish and rebellious, he does not like to be told. I relate to him a lot and I see my own children in him too. And yet, once he has given his tokenistic resistance to the authority of his “father” he realises that the vineyard is something he is involved in and responsible for and he quietly gets in and works for the harvest. The second son is all performative obedience and moral superiority but when it comes down to it does not contribute to getting the harvest in.

This is a theology that Jesus points out even the religiously impure ones, even the tax collectors and prostitutes, instinctively understand. So what of us? Are we brave and honest enough to argue with the “father” when we do not feel as committed or engaged as we are told we ought to be? Would we dare to refuse to do what we are told…and then give ourselves the chance to rethink what we are really being asked to do, and what our role may be in the vineyard of God.

Or would we opt to look “respectable”, to follow from as great a distance as possible, paying lip-service but avoiding getting our hands dirty? Do we only go along with the call to love and accept the vulnerable so far as they don’t challenge or disgust us? Is there a limit to our ability to transmit God’s grace, or is it simply that we are busy and there are higher priorities than loving? But the first son’s apparently sullen attitude masks a deep love. Sometimes things may be better than they seem at first sight.

All three of the readings seem very sure in telling us that we need to risk being authentic before God. God’s desire is to always keep the option open for us to return and return and return into the heart of the community, into the work of the harvest, into life.

If we are called today, then what is our direction? Let us become aware of God’s love and allow ourselves to be authentic before it. Let us reflect on the readings for a short time and then as is our custom you might share your thoughts with the people sitting near you.

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Only you God can fill me

I remember a long time ago having a lunch with a friend who was a priest. Before eating he said “only you oh God can fill me” or something similarly worded. He said the idea was to not overeat. I can be a bit of a comfort eater myself. If I feel anxious or lonely or bored or guilty or any negative feeling I can imagine that I need something that tastes nice to distract me and then I eat it fast and want more. I thought the words were a good meditation, encouraging me to stop, consider my need for food- for the physical sustenance of it as well as the sensuous pleasure and to remember that food is a good but it is not the ultimate.

God is the ultimate.

I am still a person full of nervous habits- overeating, chewing pens or my own lip, tensing my jaw, tapping things. I still struggle to get a hold of myself and defeat panic and procrastination and the tendency to isolate myself or binge on social networking. I often focus on my flaws and unworthiness. I often obsessively need to be approved of by others, to be seen to be performing well, to be seen as someone gifted or good. I still have willpower issues and sometimes stay at a party too late or drink too much.

So I am not sharing this sentence as a magical “cure” for human frailty but it is a useful sentence nevertheless.

As I have meditated on it, in the context of letting go of a past relationship that was not working, in the context of choosing to accept that I am gay, in the promise to myself that I will say “no” or “maybe” to as many people as I need to rather than rushing desperately into any relationship available I think I have started to grow- not necessarily in virtue but in joy and quality of life. Because only God can fill me, so I can let go of my need for someone else to say “sorry” or to hold me. I can let go of my envy that someone has an easier life than I do. I can let go (slowly) even of my anger at the opportunities I feel I was robbed of, by being raised so fearful. I can let go of anything that demands that I hurt of humiliate others. I can really and truly love without the desperate need for someone to make it “worth it”. I can love as an act of freedom, rather than as a transaction, and I can accept love with gratefulness rather than skepticism or the burden of obligation.

Because only God can fill me.

God is always listening, always breathing with me. Always watching and holding and knowing. God fills up my days with the million things I used to dare not believe in- the phone-call may be from someone who cares about me. The coffee may clear my head. The birds singing may be a sign of a beautiful day to come. There are no guarantees of exactly how the day will unroll, except that God will be there.

Filling me with love. Filling me with joy. Filling me with sacrament.

I woke in horrible flu and asthma pain the other night and thought long and hard about this idea that only God can fill me. And I was filled with tears and snot and desperation for a still space in the night for me to breathe and not be in pain and that space was simply not available. And I saw what a coward I am about pain and I felt that I really couldn’t bear it and I started weeping tears for people on hard inadequate beds on manus island or on the streets. I started weeping for people dying or terminal diseases. I was angry with God, because I wanted to feel joy and love and all the good things and I simply wasn’t feeling anything precious or peaceful or even bearable. All the world felt like it was camped on my chest squishing the life out of me, and since I had run out of ventolin I couldn’t even alleviate my asthma enough to breathe properly.

“I said you were what could fill me God” I said and I was angry because I never asked for snot and horrible feelings. And I thought of Jesus, full of Godness and love being crucified and how horrible it must be to wait for nothing better than death.

I stretched out my arms and there was the box of tissues and water bottle and lozenges that my son had brought to me as part of his “caring about mum” dance of the evening before. I was in pain and angry but I was loved. I am always loved.

It’s hard to put into words what that means because the pain was still pain and I am no damn good with pain. The pain was there but it was not everything, it can never be everything even when it takes over. Even if (God forbid) it had kept going forever or killed me it would not have been everything.

Because only God can fill me.

As I think of the way the environment is dying (which is already causing huge human suffering) and the hate-talk by so many people in society and the way we treat refugees and basically anyone different from us, my heart is more than sore. It is hard to see any hope for a future and I love my children and want them to be able to have children in turn- I want this world to work better so we can continue as a species. It looks pretty bleak I must say.

I see no realistic way anything good will happen.

I see no future for our species at the moment.

People say I am an “idealist” full of crazy hopes because I get political and try to help make a better world but I know the odds are stacked against us. I don’t hope because I am some sort of a naive optimist, or because I am unaware of how powerful the human forces are that keep all the various oppressions in place.

I hope because only God can fill me. Despair is there but it does not fill me.

Only God can fill me.