Tag Archives: Philippians

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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Some parenting tips for God

(yes I am making fun of myself in the title)

This is one of those weeks when the readings are alienating and my tradition seems inaccessible at best and oppressive at worst. I wasn’t sure whether to refocus on something more liberating, ignoring the texts (or just referring to them in passing) or whether even to take a week off as I should focus on job-seeking.

But there is a commitment here. I will grapple. I will read in painful detail as it seems to be that, hoping to glean something…or outright dismissal.

The first reading, Abram’s story begins unpromisingly with references to rewards and shields. These quasi-militaristic symbols are scattered not just through the bible but through all aspects of our culture so that they provoke usually a mild cringe or less, often we just gloss over them, don’t even notice them. I have been glossing over such details for weeks and heading into the main point (as I see it) of a reading. But the main point of this one does not become immediately apparent (not if we assume that it is definitely going to be good news).

Abram is whinging about his childlessness- not from the point of view of wanting to nurture (although even this has aspects of selfishness) but purely from resentment that all his property and acquired wealth and privilege will be inherited by a slave. Where do I even start with that? Slaves? The non-entity of the women of the household? The patriarchal preoccupation with fathering children you then don’t look after…and the way it plays out in modern anti-abortion movements?

So you’d expect Abram’s selfish and immature whinging to get short shrift from God who elsewhere claims to be an advocate for the downtrodden- slaves and women surely? I want God to say “Get your hand off it you privileged, wealthy male.” But God seems to see a need to soothe and pamper the already spoilt brat Abram. I really want to give God some parenting tips here for Abram’s own good!

God makes outrageous promises based on a sort of arrogance “I am the one…” a bit like “Who’s the man?” Even then Abram asks for surety and the (imperfect) vegan in me really wants to skim over the wasteful killing that happens next (yes that was a different time but nevertheless). God then gives the land (currently inhabited by other people but you know…Terra Nullius) to Abram’s descendants. This is such a significant part of our cultural thinking, and sadly we have to blame our Judeo-Christian heritage for it. God gives land to specific people- this thinking leads to nationalism, xenophobia and lack of compassion for others.

We fear relinquishing land to another nation, another faith, another God. We feel that we have some rightful claim to the land God has “allowed” us to take away from the others. Look at the sorts of things American’s were saying about God’s favour in the wake of 9/11? Look at how reluctant we are in Australia to “let them stay”.

But this is supposedly God’s word. The privileged and powerful shall be pampered and inherit the earth. Onward to the psalm!
The Lord is my light and salvation. I can be a fat-cat basking in the kyriarchy and see myself as above reproach. God is a stronghold for me to protect my wealth and privilege. I need not think of others

When those I oppress say “eat the rich” I can laugh because they will fail.

When war breaks out (incited by me?) I can rejoice in my protected status while other people suffer and die.
But then as the psalm continues, what if the less privileged…Abram’s wife or concubine or slave seek to live in the house of God and enjoy God’s beauty and God’s favour? What happens then? What if little refugee babies seek to be hidden in the shelter of God’s grace in their day of trouble?

If our head is lifted up above our “enemies” then it suggests that there is not equal treatment, not equal favour…that curse of “chosenness” is back and in lent too when we ought to be examining our way of life not creating smugness over it!

And my heart really and truly does seek her face. Desperately! But it seems these readings are determined to hide it from me. Within tradition I feel God has forsaken me (a mere woman) and has even more forsaken those that need her even more). This is a grave charge to bring against tradition, so I better keep sifting the evidence hoping to be proven wrong…

“27:10 If my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will take me up.” But for many the issue is not their loving, impoverished mothers and fathers forsaking them, the issue is that the world is an unjust, racist and hurting place for whole nations of people!

“27:11 Teach me your way, O LORD, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies.” Because of my enemies? Not a Lenten idea at all. There is no repentance here, no attempt to seek justice, kindness and right relationship. All that is here is a sort of spiritual pride, a vain excellence like the horrible teacher’s pet who hides behind their goody-goody status to oppress and bully others. Like the worst excesses of abuse we have witnessed (as a community) from the clergy.

27:13 I believe that I shall see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.

I wish I could still believe

27:14 Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!

I am mindful of last time I went to church and one of the thinkers and key people of the community reminded us to try to avoid the metaphor of “Lord” for our loving and equalising God. Who shall I wait for? Can I rephrase a better message to myself?

“Wait for liberation; be strong and let your heart take courage, hope in liberation”
“Wait for Wisdom; be strong and let your heart take courage, hope in Wisdom”

“Wait for transformation; be strong and let your heart take courage, hope in transformation”

There is something of God that we be strong and hope in…even now…even when the tradition is so oppressive and excluding!

The second reading, which at first seemed to self-righteous to me, now that I have put into words my distaste for many aspects of the tradition, seems to seek into that. Because once again (like the Philippians did) we are living in a decadent age.

Enemies of the cross of Christ might worship the belly, seeking to pursue “bucket lists” of pleasure and novelty and sumptuous food while we arrest people offshore for the sin of wanting basic food and education. Glorying in “shame” a society might build bigger and better buildings, technologies, arts and consumables all for the benefit of those who can afford them…might pursue excellence in education (for the elite few) and immortality through cures from everything (for the elite few) and beauty of environment and the individual human body (once again with a price-tag that not everyone can pay) and say “too bad” to the many who labour and are exploited or are cast off as useless by a profit and novelty-seeking world. Out glory is the shame of “consumer choice” in all things even education.

Earthly things that the Christian churches glory in (to their shame) such as opposing Safe Schools Coalition and defending Cardinal Pell. Save us God who has any more wisdom than this, the flower of our civilisation! Transform the body of our humiliation into something that does not dazzle with glitter and sequins, but glows with genuine goodness to overcome all obstacles to love.

But here again words of the great Lord coming to save and conform and subject us to “himself”. The language itself makes difficult faith in liberative intepretations. How to stand form in a faith that is so riddled with kyriarchal, exploitative and power-abusing metaphors? Is not the tradition itself partly responsible for many of the things we want to be saved from?

How to stand firm?

In the gospel Jesus wants to gather us together like a hen gathering the baby chickens under her wing. I used to play this game with my children when they were little, in winter when they were all shivering I would put my coat over them and say “under my wing”. Recently when I was feeling cross and sad my youngest put the corner of his hoodie over my shoulder and said “under my wing” to remind me of the love and comfort we can give each other.

If Jesus yearns to have that sort of maternal, nurturing relationship with the hurting world, how do we enter into that relationship? How do we put under our wing all the poor and vulnerable and anyone who needs us? How do we find the safe wing to hide under when we are lost little chickens and there are predators about? “Under the wing” is the place of nurture, mentoring and closeness to warmth and a beating heart.

Perhaps the only vaguely hopeful direction for this week is looking to see who is in my life for friendship, who has emotional needs that I could help with and who is offering the hope I crave. There is that, and there is widening that circle to make a safer world that is more like under mother-hen’s roomy wing and less like a competition.

Mother-hen hear our prayer.