Tag Archives: vulnerable

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.

Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh

I am humbled and grateful for the people reminding me to post each week. I apologise that it is late. I had the opportunity to put together a little liturgy including this reflection at my church. Like a miracle, the minute (ie after a few months) I committed to writing this blog weekly God started throwing me back in the way for little opportunities to do the work I love! That connects with the reflection itself as the frankincense of my life that I am finding to offer after all!

I want to keep the words I use short as I think the readings have already given us a rich tapestry of images to work with. So I will just briefly highlight  a couple that strike me…

… images of people from far away, with different cultures and beliefs yet drawn to the beauty and transformative power of God embodied in Jesus. I think it is very important to note that they come, give their gifts to Jesus and then return to their own country and presumably their own way of life. This is not a conversion story giving us permission to colonise others, it is a story of trusting, as believers, that God is big enough to be noticed by people from other places, people who will use their own beliefs and traditions to come to the one we call Christ in their own way.

Another image is of the smallness and vulnerability of God in this story: Jesus is a tiny baby, passive and waiting and receptive for the action of others. In a world that tells us that what is active and acting and ruling is important, Jesus dares to be the weaker half of a relationship.  God here as a tiny baby draws people in, presence is shown to be greater and more mysterious than mere power.

So what of us? As the magi we can travel to be in the presence of God and stop asking what God will “do” or trying to have beliefs or rituals or to justify that thing we call faith. We are simply drawn into presence by God as we are by babies who wrap their tiny fingers around our larger fingers and bring our chattering hearts to silence in awe and adoration. We come into the presence not just to ask for something, not to cower as before an overlord or to appease God. We kneel down to the baby’s level and we simply love, we simply gaze in love.

We are called to be like the magi and leave aside the “rational” in order to waste a lot of time following an elusive star to bring our gifts to this baby who neither tries to control us not is really owned by us.

The gifts are gold- sometimes this is said to symbolise kingship. What else might it symbolise? All the material wealth that we have, all of our resources that we control and decide about. All the status and power and influence we have in society and in our smaller communities. This we bring and gift to Jesus. What if we used the gold of our resources and our influence for God’s reign? I am not advocating some sort of radical giving-up of the good things in life: far from it. But how can we enjoy the great things we have in the fairest way that most furthers God’s interests?

Then there is frankincense sometimes seen as a gift of priesthood. Do we bring our priesthood to Jesus? By priesthood I mean our call to take Christ and break with Christ and distribute the body of Christ to feed people’s spirits. Our spiritual gifts, our identity, our deepest desires and knowledge brought to the waiting, patient baby-who-is-God. Each of us has some sort of a call to minister to the spiritual reality of our church and we do that well here by sharing the ministry. Where else are we called to be priests? In our workplace? In our daily struggle?

Finally there is myrrh, often said to symbolise death. Do we bring the myrrh of opening our eyes and hearts to noticing suffering and darkness and death in the world? Do we refuse to let faith be simply escapism as we bring myrrh to the human suffering one, the one who will die a horrible death rather than turn aside from integrity. I wouldn’t want to look for suffering and death – I certainly don’t want to be crucified. But perhaps I am called to walk with the Christ who suffers oppression, exploitation, silencing or death?

The Herods of this world would prevent us bringing these gifts to God. It would be more convenient for rulers like Herod if we did not dare to connect all that we have and all that we are to God’s interests. And yet we are here at the epiphany, yearning toward the quietly waiting baby- arms and hearts aching to hold the tiny bundle of fullness of life.

You may wish to reflect upon the gifts that are implicit in the gold of your life, frankincense of your identity and myrrh of your compassion. Or there may be other images in today’s readings that grab you more and after reflecting you may wish to share a small part of your thoughts with others.