Tag Archives: Spirit

Gloria

The Gloria comes after the penitential rite. It is joyful, especially as I recall at Christmas when the church bells were rung when it was sung. Liturgically it lifts everyone out of the depressive aspect of reflecting on “sin” into a focus on God’s redemptive greatness. God, within the prayer is constructed in a trinitarian framework. There is a paragraph each for the “Father” and “Son”. Words that are used to express their glory are masculine and kyriearchal “Lord…heavenly King, almighty…Lord…only Son…Holy One…Most High”

The Holy Spirit not being masculine enough I guess receives a mention in passing, as Jesus’ plus one while throughout the prayer Father and Son reflect masculine glory at each other in a smug exclusive fraternity. As a child I just went with the bell ringing and the soaring music and the relief from the “have mercy, have mercy” that perceded it (and possibly I should have written a post on the Kyrie as distinct from the penitential rite, perhaps I will consider that for the coming week).

Considering “Gloria” is also the real first name of the writer calling herself bell hooks, an considering the happy feel of the Gloria, let’s rework it. Before I start I return to Pied Beauty but Gerard Manley Hopkins which also starts “Glory be to God” but is written by a queer man.

What does a queer woman on the fringes of the church write. How do I relate to God’s “glory” and access that joy. I will go through the original prayer line by line and allow myself to subvert the things I can’t relate to, but attempt to be faithful to my tradition.

“Glory to Godde in the mundane routines of living,

and her joy infuse our every day.

 

Creating God- eternally working and caring,

infuser of hope into human history

we become still to be mindful of you, we learn gratefulness

praise bursts from us as song, dance, creative expression.

 

Jesus Christ, embodiment of God’s Word and Wisdom in history,

friend of humanity, Lamb of God

you transgress against every oppressive structure,

liberate us;

you live forever in the deep love of God

inspire us.

 

Holy Spirit, movement and fire of love

burn away our reluctance to generosity and compassion,

dance us into right relationship.

 

For you are the Godde who made, call and companion us

in a neverending dance together

in love. Amen

(as the rubrics in the original book instruct that the Gloria may be said or sung, so also it may be danced, drawn, silently known, loved, hugged, yelled, heard, modelled in clay or in any other way prayed. I believe as a teenager I used to dance it on the beach sometimes at night or once on the end of a jetty. Perhaps it is also there in ecstatic moment of conception of a future baby or an idea for writing)

I did not know about your vocation, but I remained open to seeing the Spirit in you

In between the unrelatable metaphor of “servant” (exploited labour) and the nicer but possibly still dangerous concept of “light” to the nations the first reading is telling us that God’s knowing of us, relationship and call go back to when we were in the womb, pre-existing any decisions, social influences and learning we had acquired. This to me is what grace means, that we do not earn or compete for positions in the household of God but we are already called before we even take a breath. To be called into being is to be called into the household, the body of God.Our vocation is not a skill-set or an honour it is our deep and true IDENTITY. What God knows us as, is what we were always meant to be- beyond questions of recognition of the church.

We know this about Jesus. We read about the annunciation and the visitation and the baby in a manger and we are already seeing God in the swell of Mary’s belly, the kick of joy from the baptist (already following his vocation in the womb), the first staggering steps holding a parents hands begin the thousand steps of a ministry. It’s true for each of us. We are already physically star-dust and emotionally God-stuff before we choose how to inhabit that identity.

The psalm agrees. Our deepest longing is for God to come and recognise this in us, the deep longing to be fulfilled in the vocation to follow Christ (as toddlers follow the admired older sibling), to be bigger than our littleness- to strive into the fullness of God. Which is our essence. We are the image of God (we and all of creation) and we are ourselves truly when we honour the possibilities for deep love and hope in ourselves and others. “here I am God, a better thing than any sort of commodified “thing” of religion, more meaningful than sacrifices and offerings- here am I and my deep longing for and delight in your Word, in my potential to actualise you” I love the unsilenced jubilation of the final verse of this psalm, I have for many years on taken it on as a sort of motto:

“I announced your justice in the vast assembly;
I did not restrain my lips, as you, O LORD, know.”

I did not restrain my lips…but of course I did when I was young because I was told that women were supposed to. Luckily the sinful state of silent obedience was unnatural for me and God’s constant egging on broke through it. Of course once we unsilence ourselves we do become responsible for what we say. God’s justice (and some translations add loving-kindness) are worthy topics for ranting.

The second reading is very short, only just long enough to introduce ideas of being “called”, being “sanctified”  Part of our work is building a communion of the called and sanctified, that is recognising the Godness of each other and the vocations in others. It makes me a better person, renews my hope and sense of purpose to be recognised by other humans and it diminished and depressed me for years that the church could not and would not recognise me (but now for me “church” is whoever brings Christ to me and not associated with the hierarchy except sometimes by coincidence).

So then with the customary “Alleluia” we turn to the Word made flesh who chose and chooses to live with and in us. To Jesus the purest version of who we are supposed to be.John the Baptist as the established church is busy practising his ministry, at times having trouble being heard but having a power of sorts. What does he do when his younger cousin Jesus comes up filled with vocation? He not only moves over and makes room for the ministry of Jesus but he proclaims and assists that ministry. This is a part of the servant-leadership of priesthood that can be hard- sharing the spotlight, easing the ministry of others and the paths of people to the good news as proclaimed by someone who is not ME.

John did not “know Jesus” but being an open sort of a person he “saw the Spirit” alight on him. This is our challenge to remain open to the Spirit in each other and in nature. We need to look beyond ourselves and beyond our pre-determined ideas of God. In Scripture and beyond scripture. In the church however flawed it might be and beyond the church into the apparently sinful world and apparently dangerous nature and apparent heathens and queers and transgressives of all types. And even the hierarchy (Elizabeth Johnson does this well and shames me for so quickly dismissing the “church Fathers”).

John teaches us to look for and recognise God in our cousins and other young upstarts- but Jesus trusts John to work with him and comes to him openly too. The church is not one individual- it isn’t about superstars and heroes. We listen, affirm, work together. We see the Spirit in each other, we baptise each other and confirm the pre-existing touch of God in each life.

Our ministry is not judgement and separation. It is connection. It is love.

Creator, Wisdom and Spirit invite us into their work

There very nearly was no blog this week. I was aware that last week I didn’t manage to write very well and between that awareness and my general state of mind it was very hard to force myself to write. When I forced myself it was somehow not working. There was no heart and no joy in it and I just “couldn’t” do it. On Saturday morning I went to an event and heard a man speak and he changed my whole thinking around what I could say and what would have meaning. I had ridden my bike there and was really overtired afterward and had a lot of other things to do so I still did not write down my thoughts, although I felt them in my heart and thought that God had perhaps wanted me to wait and be enlightened by this other person, not to hurry in and do it badly for myself.

I woke up several times during the night thinking of my blog and praying but too tired to write. I woke in the morning sluggish, but my son expected to go to church and was sort of a solid influence toward that so I managed to get there. When I did I saw two members of the community running around doing thousands of jobs to prepare a liturgy at the last minute (not their fault, they were coming in to cover up for someone else’s mistake). I tried to help although they were the experts and I was not. I asked if there was anyone to do the “reflection” and there was not. I offered to do it, feeling very cheeky for doing so and believing I would not be allowed to, since I had not prepared. After a short pause I was granted this privilege. 

As a teacher it is true that I often speak off the cuff. However I felt a great sense of belonging and acceptance in being allowed to do this risky thing. I felt trusted and supported and people smiled at me so that I knew I had been let into an “insider” place within that community. My hope is that that is how everyone feels there. I spoke a few short words to connect the wisdom of yesterday’s speaker with the really lovely readings of the day. As far as I remember this is how my short reflection went:

Yesterday, Sebastian and I rode our bikes down to Glenelg for “Hands across the sand” which was protesting against unnecessary drilling that could ruin South Australian beaches. One of the speakers there was an Aboriginal man who focused on his great love for the whales and the dolphins. He was telling us the names of all the whales in the local language and then he said that each whale says its name as a way of honouring and expressing love for their creator.

He talked about the Dreaming, the time of creation and he said it is a mistake to view it as only part of the past, that the time of creation is ongoing and we are living in it. He said: “Right now is the time of creation, today is still the time of creation. It is still happening. The past is the present and the future all is one” and I couldn’t help but hear that through the filter of my own Christian tradition and consider that this weekend was the feast of the Trinity.

I consider that man’s words in the light of today’s gospel where Jesus admits he has not had time to tell us every single thing, or to address every possible situation for us in a legalistic way, or to leave a set of step by step instructions. What we have is what we know of Jesus along with the Spirit who is living and moving in the world with us. We can still find Wisdom in the world through that Spirit. We can still know the Creator.

What if right now is the time of creation? I often feel despair and see the present as a sort of end time when I consider the harm we have done to the environment, what we are doing to refugees, the way we as a society destroy even our own children. But what if it is not an end time, but a beginning time? What if today is the time of creation and a new reality is possible?

That first reading which is so beautiful it almost brings me to tears then becomes an ongoing event. That beautiful Wisdom figure is still being a master-worker delighting in our world as she makes and remakes it with the Creator and the movement and work of the Spirit. If that collaborative work of God  is now then we are invited into it, not just as products of creation but also to collaborate in any way we can in the act of creating.

We are living in the act of creation. It begins again every moment. Including right now.

It is interesting to me, how the  Pentecost story disrupts the orderly group-think of church. And yet as church we are really uncomfortable with heterodox thoughts and even diverse ways of expression aren’t we? I wonder if the Spirit was moving in the words of the apostles or in the ears of the hearers to make sense? I love that there was not one message, in one voice, in one language but understanding was brought into the culture and world of each “in our own languages”. This fits with the psalms portrayal of creation as “manifold” and diverse, yet all going back to the same source, the same God.

I have felt recreated this week in some of the happenings of my life. I feel God patiently waiting for me to get over my flaws and reluctance. I had a paper to write for university, an academic piece of work with no direct connection to God or to my Vocation. I could not get through my anxiety and writers block, and in the end I recognised that this was exactly the same anxiety and writer’s block I feel every week about my blog posts, and especially the weeks when I am “actually preaching”, giving the talk to a group of people.

So I did what I do when faced with that block, I prayed that God would help and inspire me to bring me through the block. Then I apologised to God for praying this in a secular matter “I can’t pretend it is for your glory” I said, feeling guilty and shallow when surely there are far more important things in the world than my paper. I think God shook her head, she seemed to say to me “All this time we have grappled with this and still you do not understand! What other evidence do you need? Your real life, your identity, the things that give you joy and put fire in your heart are not opposed to your vocation. I call you as you are. I call a nerdy person who wants to write academic papers. Did I ever ask you to stop? No. I want you to stop doubting and trust me and use your gifts.”

I tried saying “after this God I will return to things that really matter.”

God said, “Try to have integrity in your work, in everything you do. There does not need to be seperation between your life in yourself and your life in me” And then God added “but you do need to show more love, thoughtfulness and care for others. I am not letting you off from that higher duty.” God’s spirit is radical and unsettling, but it is a spirit of good news and being humanised. We work to orient our lives and our motivations to her, but we DO live on this earth.

This brings me to my quarrel with the second reading. I think that we are made “in the flesh” and we can and do please God “in the flesh”. I’d love to rehabilitate that idea of the Spirit being higher than the Flesh somehow but I cannot. We are fleshly creatures and our spirits live in flesh and have the needs and desires of flesh and when people try to be “higher” than the flesh too much and repress their flesh then all sorts of unhealthy extremes result. On a simple level if I am too holy to eat then I will collapse. If I am too holy to sleep then my mind will be compromised and I will lose the ability to relate to others. If I set myself apart from human interactions or over/above the earth itself then I will fall into sinful arrogance.

If Christ is in us, then the BREAD of life is in us. Bread. Food. Material good. Christ walked upon the earth and with hands that touched the skin of another human being and laughed and cried and coughed and sneezed and yes even relieved himself. The church has attempted to “put to death the deeds of the body” and has shunned women who are less able to be out of touch with bodies that bleed or swell with new life. But without their mother’s fleshly life which of us would have life? Without the hands that perform base chores like feeding and washing and holding what would we be? We would not even be human, we would not live long and our lives would be nothing.

And there’s the flaw with the spirit of “adoption” theory (sorry to Paul or whoever wrote the letter to the Romans) because it is grounded in a FATHERHOOD from a very patriarchal time,where fatherhood was far removed from the reality of baby vomit, nappies and such mundane fleshly matters. But what if we are adopted instead by a nurturing God who holds us as we are and loves us even when we are less than pristine? Because how can we say “we have suffered with him” whose real flesh was torn by nails and thorn and scourged, whose heart broke at the physical sound of taunting voices and lost, grieving followers? How can we tell Jesus who told the women of Jerusalem to look to their own suffering, how can we tell that Christ that with him we simply rise above worldly messes.

This sort of apolitical thinking, this sort of compartmentalised way of being is a trap of privilege. In the church it has been spread and glorified through men, largely white men and through those who wield power over others. I cannot agree with what this reading seems to be saying, God does not call me out of my flesh, God calls me to let the Spirit into my flesh and allow her to orient my life toward happiness. Happiness does not mean self-indulgence but it may involve self-care as well as care for others.

And so having dared to quarrel with scripture I move on to the gospel. Jesus here equates love with keeping words. There is a unity of purpose within the trinity, in that the “father” with Jesus and the Spirit all love on each other’s behalf and all move on each other’s behalf and it it that life we are called into. The life where we participate in that unity of purpose and that love is what we are invited to, but in acknowledgement that we are still learning how to live it and be it the Spirit comes to us as a teacher, to “teach us everything”. The Spirit who is always new must be aware that there is a movement in teaching toward play-based and inquiry-based pedagogies. We don’t sit in rows spouting rote-learned dogma, we live our lives and follow our interests while paying attention to the rich, deep learning offered by the spirit in how to be love.

In the words of Miriam Therese Winter: “Come Spirit come and be, a new reality, your touch is guarantee, of love alive in me” And to each of us she will come in a language we can understand. “May my meditation be pleasing to her”

Gazing heavenward is missing the point

I was allowed to preach again. It gave me great joy and some measure of struggle. These were the readings (I used an inclusive language version prepared by the liturgists for the week and the Ephesians option for second reading) and here is the reflection I ended up coming up with…

Men of Galilee! Why do you stand there looking up toward heaven? A valid question for them but also I would suggest for the women and men of the church in Adelaide in 2016. For us.

Why do we stand looking up toward heaven? Is it that we want to catch Jesus by the ankles and pull him back down to earth, to make him a king by force as was tried at one point in the gospels?

Let’s remember that the human person we call Jesus, was an embodiment of a person of the Trinity that existed in the beginning creating all things with God. In the Old Testament this same character is often called Sophia. In the person of Jesus we see the courage and the strength of will, the utter commitment to liberation that characterises Sophia, Wisdom.  In Jesus, also called “the Word” or Logos in John’s gospel we see a good news that cannot be stopped, cannot be suppressed, can be killed but springs up again and continues to love and liberate beyond what for a human would be possible.

This essence of who Jesus always was, and continues to be; becomes accessible to us through the Holy Spirit. Jesus has finished the embodied ministry, which was confined to one place and one time. He can no longer walk on the earth, can no longer sit and eat with one small group of friends. Now the meaning and power of Jesus needs to be diffused to all creation. We can no longer look inward solely to those we belong with, to feel the cosiness of a Jesus clique or a church, we can no longer gaze to an escapist heaven as though the ministry of Sophia were finished and Jesus left us nothing to do but act religiously happy.

Even in the Old Testament Sophia always avoided being caught, controlled or domesticated. She goes out everywhere at all hours. In the same way, if we want Jesus we stop gazing upward, wishing the ascending Jesus would pluck us out of the dilemmas and headaches of everyday life and human politics and drag us into the clouds.

We still find Jesus where the disciples always found him, on the road, in their homes, sending them out, breaking their bread, receiving their hospitality and modelling foot washing. We still find Sophia speaking loudly on street corners and opening up her home to all sorts of people for hospitality; always causing an upset of the ordinary and a broadening out of the exclusive ways of being church. We look forward to Pentecost, to being infused within our own bodies and lives with the same Spirit that emanates from God, from Jesus/Sophia.

Church often gets re-imagined as a sort of posse of Jesus’ home-boys who are the clergy and can tell the rest of us what to do. Or even if we have a broader idea of grace and vocation, we still in some way might think of insiders and outsiders and who has “met Christ” and who hasn’t and we might feel superior to others who do not understand or follow Christian values. But that is not our true vocation- to feel superior or comfy within our faith, nor to draw a line between earth and heaven and allow faith to be nothing more than a once a week or few minutes a day gazing upward.

The “glorious inheritance” that we are promised in the second reading will include work and pain and struggle if we look at the realities of Holy Week that we celebrated so recently, or the lives of the saints that (within that inheritance) we aspire to. The hopes that we have are hopes for a world infused with the Spirit of God, guided by Wisdom and honouring its creation and recreation in the image of God. The good news is not a news of escapism upward, it is that Jesus, having ascended, is also still the eternal God that is constantly with us giving meaning to our lives, to the joys and loves as well as the struggles and feelings of inadequacy. This life here is what has meaning and importance. The Spirit is always coming to us to reignite our vocation. The kingdom of God is where we are, wherever we choose to bring it about together with others.

We don’t control Sophia, we cannot chain Jesus to our small section of earth.  In the Spirit of wisdom and perception we come to know her, we come to sense the good news in the possibilities of our own life and relationships. To paraphrase the conclusion of the gospel reading:

And they loved her and returned into ordinary life with great joy and hope, and they were constantly in amongst God’s beloved- healing, working, bringing love to all they met.

Please take a few minutes of silence, knowing Jesus/Sophia in these readings and in your own life and then you may like to talk them over with the people sitting near you.

 

Free to collaborate in love

“Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” Can this suggestion by Jesus undercut the overall tenor of the way these readings have been combined seemingly to try to argue for an authoritarian and patriarchal (based on the 12 patriarchs of the 12 tribes) view of church authority? What then if we refused to let our hearts be troubled or afraid but stoutly look for a transgressive reading that will liberate us from the more oppressively traditional interpretations?

In the first reading, some unnamed people have decided that they can speak with authority of the church and preach a rules-based slavish adherence to one part of the cultural heritage of the church. They say that you can’t follow Christ unless you are circumscised. Rather than reading this in an anti-semitic way, let us consider other church teachings over the years that have been needlessly prescriptive, oppressive or misguidedly heaped on the shoulders of the laity?

Unless you eat fish on Fridays you cannot be saved

Unless you go to church every single week you cannot be saved

Unless you are heterosexual you cannot be saved

If you use contraception you cannot be saved

If you disobey the clergy you cannot be saved

If you read and interpret the bible for yourself instead of trusting the church hierarchy you cannot be saved.

Some of these seem ludicrous to us today, but would have been the church’s common sense not so long ago. Some sadly there are still many people within the church who would subscribe. This is the prescriptive and narrow-minded side of church teaching, all of that which is dogmatic but not liberative and ignores the autonomy of the person to respond to God in free relationship rather than only through trembling obedience to the church. This compares to the circumcision argument in the first reading.

Along come Paul and Barnabbas from the apostles and elders and tell them they have no mandate to be so bossy. The wording is unfortunate “you have no mandate from us” as if Paul and Barnabbas et al run the church. The real point is “you have no mandate from God to be needlessly prescriptive and bind people into rigid, lifeless traditions”. The traditional reading here of course is that the “apostles and elders” are the proper authorities and the way we are church needs to always be guided by their authority. They are shown to be a liberative and wise authority that prevents abuses of power. OH IF ONLY!!!!

The fact is as women we know that the “apostles and elders”, or at least the officially sanctioned ones are all too often the ones doing the opressing, repressing and abusing. There are voices of abuse victims reverbating from several generations of having the courage to speak out and I think we risk a very serious sin indeed if we ignore these voices (like the blood of Abel calling for vengeance at the dawn-times of our tradition). There is also the present, ongoing prevention of women from having full participation and fair representation in how the church makes decisions about things that frankly men have amply demonstrated they neither understand nor are capable of understanding.

So the call to obey the “right authority” of the church is one that makes the hairs on my neck stand up. There is danger here, engage hermeneutic of suspicion! But the overarching agenda to reduce unnecessary burden on the believer, yes this is an important point. To do this well, I think we understand in the 21st century, needs a degree of democratic engagement (time for the catholic church to come out of its medieval cave and realise this) and a respect for boundaries and for the autonomy of the individual. That is I can have a rational discussion with you about whether contraception is good, bad or indifferent but if my life experiences are very different than yours, and I in no way (or in minimal ways) am able to support the consequences of what you decide, then I don’t really get to make that decision for you. This is called respect, it’s a side-effect of character traits like peace, gentleness and self-control which are supposed to be  fruits of the Holy Spirit. But the spirit of slavery that Paul warns about is rife in the church, in the way authority cracks down on people but also in us, in the way we accept unwise authority and do not take responsibility to think for ourselves.

Even though there is this picture in the second reading of a dazzling construction that is the “city of God” and perhaps a metaphor of the church, and it has inscibed on it the names of the Twelve, again appearing to lend credibility to patriarchal authority. There are significantly no temples or lights in the city. The lamb is enough. We do not need other rituals or lights shedding light for us, each one who comes to the city can directly look upon “the lamb” for light and for inspiration, each of us can personally worship not through the mediating influence of a temple. The Twelve are mere gates or foundations of tradition, but who says there may not be other ways to come to the lamb, to the only light.

Once again there has been enough in the reading to engage my hermeneutic of suspicion but I can respect that tradition has at times a richness without being bogged down in the tradition, I can pass on through to Godself. It would be easier and safer if tradition was reliable and if church authorities were infallible but there is light more than sun or moon for us. There is the lamb.

And so we pass onto the gospel and see what this “lamb” has to say.

Jesus here once again like last week shows that his words and deeds are identical to the words and deeds of God (here called the father). The Spirit is also brought into the discussion and we see the identical interests and work of the Spirit as one with the “father” and with Jesus. So in a sense there is grounding for trinitarian understanding here, but it is also about an alignment of interests and trusting collaboration as discussed last week. Love of Jesus is shown by keeping Jesus’ word. It sounds as if Jesus has made promises about the reign of God and if we love him we will try to keep those promises. But it is a mistake to see the vocation here as merely words, preaching in the narrow sense. The word of God is elsewhere called “alive and active” it actualises what it preaches. And that is what we do to keep the word of Jesus. So then we are brought into trinitarian action through love. I don’t say we become God, as I am not attempting idolatry here but we ARE CALLED to move toward becoming one with God in interests, intention and action. So that if our response to our vocation was perfect we WOULD be drawn into God’s identity but at least through our love for Jesus we achieve this partially (and more when the Spirit teaches us).

Lastly as a look forward to next week’s attention, if we loved Jesus we would rejoice that he was going to the “Father”. So if we selfishly hand onto the feet of Jesus and try to keep him here as a rigid idol or a fossilised token of assurance then we are not loving Jesus. Jesus asks for the same freedom and autonomy he is offering us. We become unified through the Holy Spirit’s movement and out love-response not through obedient or co-dependent toxic relationships.

And if that is Jesus’ desire then it really needs to become the church’s desire too. We the church will resemble our beloved Christ when we stop trying to control people, when we trust people’s free love-responses and movement toward the beloved. In a flawed and hurtful world that is very hard to believe of course. But this is what it measn to love God. Challenge accepted.

Sharing the small loaves: trusting that this is bigger than me.

Responding to lectionary readings. Where there are alternatives I tend to go with the first one I have a gut reaction to. Because this is not a scientific text and you are free to disagree with me.

Oh, here we go, the Bathsheba story! 😦

I have always hated that story even as a child. David is the villain, Uriah is the victim and what is Bathsheba? Nothing. Sometimes people blame her for what happened, sometimes not but she never gets to be a full person in the story- does not have a voice or a point of view, whether she is seen as actively “tempting” or as passively a victim, she is two-dimensional, a stereotype. She is just a woman when real character are men.

I hate the story. I don’t engage with it except in a resistant, sulky, want-to-vomit, gut churning, hating it too much to be coherent sort of a way which earned me one of my lowest marks in my theology degree. So I won’t waste any more of your time with my non-engagement but I will make the sort of faces children make when they think adults are full of offensive nonsense and will drag my feet and

Psalm 14. Hard to believe it was not written about the 2015 political scene, except of course all of our politicians say they are Christians (as opposed to our implied enemies the Muslims…and please note I don’t share this view) they don’t openly go about saying there is no God. They merely act as if “the economy” is their only God. I echo the sentiment here, none of them is good, no not even one. Judgemental of me I know and to be honest there may be a “good” person somewhere in that nest of vipers who is merely cowardly or ignorant rather than out-and-out evil. Only God knows. And God will show me my own cowardice and ignorance and selfishness for calling it in others, but I accept that and pray for grace to be better as I learn how.

But for those who would confound the plan of the poor- when the poor have a plan to flee from terror and death to a new country… when the poor have a plan to look after their children and their health…when the poor have a plan to be workers and earn enough to support themselves and also be things other than “worker”, and to have some leisure time…when the poor have a plan to subsist off the land or to live in the land without being flooded in poison…when the poor have a plan to continue culturally appropriate ways of life on their own original land…when the poor have a plan to better themselves through education…when the poor have a plan to marry the person they love…whatever plan about ordinary day to day life, about safety and food and water and family that the poor have…those who confound these plans risk offending God who is their refuge.

Oh that deliverance would come! Oh that justice would seem less impossible and distant. I also would be glad and rejoice. This psalm seems to build toward that Utopian vision and then trail off as if the psalmist doesn’t quite believe it either…

For this reason I think archaic ideas such as “bowing the knee” are no help whatsoever. Because that is what the ruling class want, a lot of blind obedience and bowing and humility by the oppressed. But every family in heaven and on earth does indeed take God’s name; we all come out of God as out of a labouring mother, struggling for breath and life and learning and desiring loving (re)union with that source.

And if through the Spirit and indwelled by Christ we are strengthened in our “inner being” (by implication there is some sort of pure goodness at the inner-part of each of us) which will cause us to be rooted and grounded in love- then maybe hope will come. Because maybe we will begin to comprehend the mystery of the infinity and eternity and surpassing fullness of God’s love. But I don’t say that for us to have an apathy toward injustice as if it doesn’t matter that hideous things happen to people because God’s love is greater than anything that happens.

It matters a lot when any of our creation-family is hurt or injured or oppressed. God’s infinite love wraps that person so completely, that when that person suffers and injustice God in love also suffers. And if we love God then this suffering is painful (luckily in a smaller way) even to us. So to learn to accept the injustice would be to learn to love God less and to take God’s love for us for granted a little more. That sort of neglect is a type of abuse. We need to nurture God as a beloved, as a child, as our dearest treasure and to desire justice is responding to God’s boundless love with passion. God’s power within us will somehow accomplish something mysterious and transformative. The writer of Ephesians says : “ to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

I paraphrase it: “BRING IT ON!!!!!!”

Much could be said about the gospel, but in the context of desiring justice within a parsimonious society, I think there is a very simple lesson here. Jesus simply does not accept excuses about not having enough for everybody. Jesus is not interested in your “efficiency dividend” or your preventing of a budget deficit or your cost cutting measures. Jesus sees hungry people and wants to feed them. He gives them “As much as they wanted”. Materially of course that is not possible from 5 loaves and 2 fish. Something is going on here.

Jesus blesses and distributes, and we could simply see this as a miracle in the naïve sense: a magic trick. Which is no help at all in the real world because having tried as a child praying and praying for magical miracles like that, and getting nowhere I need to find something here more transformative than the passivity of waiting for Super Jesus to rescue us with magic. I prefer to look to the verse before Jesus distributes where he is “testing” Philip by asking “Where do we find food for these people?” “We” is a collaborative word, not the individual Jesus but the “we” of faith must grapple with feeding the people. Philip responds with an understandable despair “What is that among so many?”

Jesus takes it and blesses it and distributes it. This is Jesus who will walk on the water, and defy the forces of despair and chaos. Whatever tiny amount we have to distribute we begin the job. How does Jesus continue it? There is mystery there, perhaps he also asks someone else- not just Philip. Perhaps some other disciple knows some other person with a fragment of food. Sometimes all it takes is beginning a movement- or following one, sometimes you can’t do everything as an individual. Philip does not feed the people, but he does respond to Jesus’ demand that he begin the impossible task and somehow the task is accomplished.

My challenge this week then is to find where in my life there are five loaves and two fishes I can begin to distribute. Where are the crumbs of justice for a hungry people? Jesus intends them to be satisfied with “as much as they wanted”; my little cannot do all that, but it can be a beginning….somewhere….blessed and increased in the fullness of love that calls this from me.