Following the recent statement from Gosford Anglican Church, St Michaels Church, Collins Street, Melbourne have now publicly stated support for Marriage Equality.
From St Michaels Church...
"A large rainbow sign has been placed on the Collins Street side of St Michael’s Uniting Church in a show of support for Marriage Equality. Executive Minister Rev Ric Holland says...“We stand in total opposition to the so-called Christian Lobby. Lyle Shelton’s views are homophobic and contrary to the spirit of Christianity and the teaching of Jesus, who took a firm stand on equality.”
St Michael’s is an inclusive congregation, accepting and welcoming people of all faiths, cultures, and sexuality. For many months, Rev Holland has been encouraging those attending St Michael’s Sunday Service to be “a loud voice in the field of social justice, which includes in no small part marriage equality”. Rev Holland says... “I want St Michael’s to be the first church to legally marry same-sex couples in Australia. Marriage equality is important as it is simply natural justice for all people to be treated equally. The Church in Australia should be standing up for this human right loud and clear.”
The discrimination and marginalisation experienced by the LGBTI population increase the risk of developing mental health issues and encourages community division.
“It is the churches task to stand up for people who are marginalised; to be constructive rather than destructive and to breakdown barriers rather than build walls,” says Rev Holland.
I met up with an old friend recently and as we chatted about times past, we mentioned various people we had known. On the mention of one person, he commented that the person had been a real seeker for meaning. Such a description speaks of the spiritual hunger that stirs the human soul.
The arousal of such inner depths might remain relatively mysterious, but it won’t let go. In the hurley burly of daily life it will find a way to stir a question, arouse a feeling, entice a review, or spur an action. To ignore its call is to lose an opportunity for the fulness of life is to grow in the totality of our being.
This spiritual journey is the foundation of all experience and it is a lifetime journey.
Life itself, places us in many stages, with each stage, presenting different perspectives from which we must tackle its quest. From infant, to teenager, adult and aged, each stage has a godly purpose offering the opportunity to mature by feeding our spiritual hunger.
It’s this hunger that keeps us moving forward, the questions not necessarily the answers, for the answers eventually need to be reviewed and re-expressed.
As the disciples trekked the journey north to the village of Ceasarea Philippi, the silent walk and times of quiet conversation were eventually broken by the attention catching question of Jesus directed to his small group of followers.
‘Tell me, who do people say I am?’
Were they taken aback, possibly but for them it was also a question they would no doubt have wrestled with.
On meeting Jesus it was hard not to begin questioning.
He was one of those extraordinary personalities whose reputation had spread far and wide. Most were wondering who he was, for he spoke with eloquence and authority, he healed the sick and cleansed the possessed, ultimately raising the dead. Of the disciples some in turn dared to speak, comparing him to another great figure, John the Baptist or even one of the great prophets, returned from the past.
What others were saying was important, but ultimately not as much as what they personally thought. Jesus regularly drew large crowds to himself, but mostly ending up by focusing upon those in front of him, often one individual, for that’s where the core of our spiritual search is found, right in our own very heart and mind. But who do you say I am, he challenges each to determine.
It’s Peter who speaks boldly and loudly, perhaps on their behalf, ‘You are the Christ, Son of the living God.’ Jesus is delighted, a human mind has broken opened to a most inspirational insight.
A human mind has penetrated the mystery of creation. The divine is its essence. It dwells in our midst.
What perception, in figurative terms ‘rock like’, for nothing is more permanent, eternal than what we call, being, it is spirit, from which everything emanates.
For this precious moment Peter, has the penetrating sight of spirit. But like the sun on a cloudy day, it might only appear for a short moment. The story of Peter is fascinating, but important. It maps the life journey for all of us. He has both strengths and weakness. He might have those glorious moments of insight, but so easily tumbles toward denial when challenged.
THE NATURE OF SPIRITUAL SIGHT
The nature of spiritual sight is such that it informs as well as challenges, for its purpose is human growth. It is designed to draw us toward what we see in our mind and we see what we are becoming. If we resist this pathway of becoming what we see, we turn others into idols.
Our world is full of the so-called super hero’s, celebrities, and idols. They remain false to the spiritual and remain stagnant. When we welcome growth, rather than becoming like the other, we are inspired to become ourselves.
Jesus would never have been so interested in what Peter saw in him, but rather he would have wanted Peter to become what he saw in Jesus.
This is the Christ in all of us. It is the universal expression of the divine. It is the spiritual journey.
THE NEW JOURNEY
I want to suggest that we are at a time in history, when we are being challenged to see the Christ in ways, humanity might not truly have perceived before. We have always spoken of the universal as the Christ.
In recent times we have been challenged by the belief of others who have declared their own perceptions of the Universal being. This presents a new vision for all. It comes with a challenge to re-ask ourselves that Jesus question.
Who do you believe I am?
The age-old adage of ‘fight or flight’ is a simple saying that highlights the volatility of our primary instincts. The instinctive root of our very existence always lurks in the background of our waking hours. Certain circumstances can trigger this primal depth and our deepest fears explode and take over.
DEALING WITH FEARS
How do we deal with fears that challenge our very existence?
Peters episode on the water was one example that illustrates how life’s circumstance can make us so vulnerable to instinctive fear. As a disposition of our mind, fear can rob us of our sense of wellbeing. It can blind us of hope, and rob us of belief in our competence and worth.
Today’s gospel presents us with a second example that highlights a common experience that places us vulnerably exposed to our primal instinct of fear. It’s the story of the Canaanite woman from Tyre and Sidon whose daughter has suffered what we would call a severe mental health condition. She referred to it as demon possession.
A precise description or definition of evil possession or mental health is not necessary for us to address the issue. Overwhelmed by fear is what it can feel like. We feel we have lost all control of our life. Whether like Peters possible drowning or her battle with a mental health like condition, humans must learn to address this deep instinctive challenge to our very existence.
Must we remain subject to such powers, or is there something we can do to address the vulnerability of our human existence?
Jesus encounter with the Canaanite woman offers some interesting insights. The disciples and Jesus travel through a foreign territory. A woman who has a desperately sick, demented daughter learns of Jesus being in the district. One assumes she has heard of his reputation.
Any parent will know how deeply they are concerned when a child is sick.
There are many examples of sick children presented via our news media and one cannot help but be amazed at the extraordinary devotion and courage of parents who devote their life to their child’s wellbeing. It’s hard not to regard them as heroes.
This woman displays all such characteristics. We can imagine this has been a long and torturous journey for the whole family. She is desperate and approaches Jesus. Not a flight, but certainly a fight.
THE MYSTERIOUS TEST
What unfolds is a strange encounter, which often baffles. Seemingly so un-Jesus like. He appears aloof and with little compassion. His disciples encourage him to tell her to go away. He ignores her. She persists. He justifies his response by claiming he is focused upon people of the Jewish faith. This excuse is no deterrent for a desperate mother. Her fight continues by pushing to the front of the crowd and kneeling before him.
This is not a pious kneeling. Rather a flinging of herself before him. Maybe something like a dog jumping up on its master. Her deep instinctive fight bursts forth in its most honest and transparent explosion of emotion.
‘Lord, help me.’
Is this raw humanity driven by fear, where one’s soul is laid bare before all and sundry? Jesus sticks to his guns, and tests her in a search for something more. He declares, ‘It’s not right to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’
Some commentators suggest that this is not as derogatory as it seems, but rather a Jewish saying emphasising the distinctive identity of the Jewish nationality. He is repeating the central purpose of his earlier argument.
HER FAITH REVEALED
Now her response brings to light an extraordinary insight of her perception that reveals she is not only a desperate parent. At the beginning of the passage, while being a Canaanite woman, she declares Jesus to not only be a Jew. She has come to recognise he is an extraordinary Jew. She addresses him as Lord. One who fits the identity of the long held Jewish belief in the coming Messiah, the Son of David.
The encounter reaches its climax, when she responds so insightfully, Yes, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the table. If Jesus has preserved his purpose of mission to be to the Jews. She has broken through this national boundary and revealed himself as Jewish like.
There is the touch of the universal human.
If fear is an instinctive response from our most primitive depth, faith is greater, for it flows from the divine centre from where life itself emanates. And Jesus recognises this strength of life gushing forth within her humble desperation.
He declares, ‘Woman great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.
Fear is a condition that in some cases is valuable, but mostly, threatens to destroy our very humanity.
Last week with Peter attempting to walk on water and today the Canaanite woman faced with such a desperate and debilitating illness, we are shown that faith is an attitude that transcends fear. Fear threatens life, faith expands life.
A simple saying, declares, 'Fear knocked at the door, faith answered and no one was there.'
All of life is a relationship, and we live in the roller-coaster journey of its emotional highs and lows. It consists of a great community of people involved in a dynamic exchange of involvement; pleasure and pain, sharing and withdrawing, dreams and regrets, clustering or isolating.
But this is only just the beginning, for people are nature itself. We are no different than the world around us. Everything is made of atoms and electrons, teaming with the quanta of energy and much more that science can tell us about. Philosophers and theologians will tell us that all is one.
HISTORY OF RELATIONSHIPS
Historians outline a simple story of the relationship between people and nature. From earliest time the journey from subservience to domination is significant as it reflects, our behaviour, our attitude, our trust...
The dominance of God
Initially in its earliest days humans felt inferior to nature. They associated the work of God with the grand characteristics of creation, storms, thunder, floods, fire and earthquake.
Partnership of Mutuality
As time passed and the ways of people developed, they established a co-operative partnership with nature in the more predictable cycle of seasons, planting, harvesting and storing or hunting preserving to endure the chilling winter months. The notion of cooperative blessing developed.
With the arrival of the Industrial Age, humans self-confidence increased as they explored creations resources for its potential and wealth. Concern for its care diminished. Virtually we came to regard ourselves as masters of our world.
The Great Debate
Our once great planet is now deeply wounded. It has us arguing about its remaining capacity to be home to humanity. With humanity’s countless voices some are saying we should even look elsewhere for we have outgrown it and its time, we find an alternate planet.
The great marriage relationship between humanity and planet is precariously poised on the edge of divorce. Our relationship with nature tells us so much about ourselves and the divine.
Today we read our second great nature miracle, last week the loaves and fishes, this week from Mark it tells us of Jesus walking on the water. It has another version of calming the storm at sea in the gospel of Luke.
These events are often spoken of as nature miracles. I want to suggest they cannot ultimately be explained. People tend to dismiss them or accept them. For this reason I believe their real purpose is for meditation. Whether literal fact or developed description they do reflect life and are really for meditation.
In meditation, Jesus became the voice of the Divine speaking of the relationship between the creator and creation, Creator and creature, creature and creation. This addresses the fulness of our relationality.
All is sacred.
THE CHARACTERISTICS OF OUR RELATIONSHIP
As we take the totality of life’s relationality then we need to know that we do not live in a passive context. All of life including our relationship with nature is a volatile dynamic. It has its ups and downs, its challenges and blessings its waves and storms.
It involves a balance between the blessing of its fruit necessary for our nourishment and survival, and the challenges of disaster. Feast and famine, fish and scarcity. The blessings remind us of its beauty and richness, the challenges humble us and remind us that the creation is bigger than us.
It’s actually the tension in this balance that provides us with the energy of life to keep us moving forward and growing. As I say life is relational, it is not static, but vibrant and dynamic. Life giving and nourishing.
THE VOICE OF THE DIVINE
So rather than picturing Jesus as a separate individual, he is more accurately to be perceived as the divine voice representing the mind of God in the totality of experience. Jesus presents the eternal mystery that embraces and transcends all that is.
So often one can return to the story of Elijah who sought refuge in the mountainous cave. How easy to be caught up in the terror of thunderstorms, earthquakes or harrowing fires. Elijah found the need to penetrate these challenges to be inwardly centred where all seemed to transcend the obvious with a sheer silence. A quality of life that was eternally divine.
This is the depth of ‘being’ Jesus was displaying to his disciples. Far deeper than the Sea of Galilee, the deepest Ocean, maybe Peter thought that for a moment. But its hard to stay there. However it is the place to rest in our inner being.
The depth where the truly faithful soul meets the divine, as if on solid ground. This is the journey of life. It is the journey which Peter dared to enter, but one that takes a lifetime to mature. There are many stumbling steps. From fear to hope – an approach to life of faith and trust. These are vital.
These nature miracles are inexplicable to our analytical minds. As I say, they are for meditative pondering. This is where they become soul food. Let ones soul be nourished in this truth, for this is where life’s ultimate gifts are being offered.
I heard an interview on the radio recently when the host commented to the guest, ‘So Christians still believe that Jesus was a saint’. I’ve never heard that one before, but what we do hear in our far more knowledgeable era are questions about the nature of great prophetic personalities, from Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed through to Mother Teresa, the Dali Lama, Nelson Mandela etc.
Certain figures stand out as of extraordinary character and we would like to understand their status in the midst of all others.
When Jesus arrived in Palestine 2000 years ago, his life inspired questions about his extraordinary capacity, far beyond the common human ways, he roused the imagination of many to speculate on divinity.
A few sample verses….
‘No one has ever healed a man born blind.’
‘Who is this that even the spirits obey him.’
‘No-one can forgive sins but god alone.’
And while many were shocked so for many others belief in Jesus grew.
Our gospel of the loaves and fishes today is one of the extremely challenging passages, for it describes an event which was best described as out of this world. Could such an event really be possible. The loaves and fishes story is a prime target of those who question the authenticity of what Jesus is described to have done.
I met up with some old school friends recently, and as we shared opinions on various topics, one friend responded cynically to one of my comments, ‘Sounds like the loaves and fishes to me Geoff.’ He was clearly unimpressed with my piece of information. The loaves and fishes is our topic today.
What does it tell us about Jesus? What do you believe?
For those who are inclined to dismiss the events authenticity I offer a caution. It can easily be misleading when we close down our focus to a simple portion of an event. Life is often far broader than we initially observe.
THE TWO SIDES
The story of the loaves and fishes is set in an interesting context. It tells us of John the Baptists death.
John was Jesus cousin, virtually the same age. No doubt they met often while growing up and probably knew each other well with a sense of one another’s strong devotion to God. John had publicly declared his mission to call all to repentance. He had spoken of another greater than he, one who was still to come.
For speaking out he had been killed.
Jesus is human. He grieves the loss of his close cousin and seeks solace in the privacy of the quiet wilderness. A man with a broken heart. His own humanity is the context of our story. Against this background we are lead on another journey.
Truly a human, but what more are we to glean?
JESUS THE TEACHER
The next thing that our story highlights is that he is a compelling, charismatic character. A teacher like no other, for people want to hear all that he might say. His wisdom we are told is like no other. The Jews did declare that no one spoke as he did. They follow him into the wilderness, intruding upon his personal reflection. For a considerable time he teaches them and as the day lengthens we see he is more than a teacher. He is compassionate.
A MAN OF COMPASSION
Presumably it has been a long hot day, they have attentively listened, and there is a distance to return home. If he knows his own human needs, then he is also aware of the needs of others. Whatever his mission was. Whatever he did, if it did not reveal love, then his mission was fraudulent, or like a noisy, hollow gong, as St Paul described, actions without love.
He was a grand and compassionate Social worker.
THE LOAVES AND FISHES
It is at this point that the account confronts human perception. He learns of the little boys offering of two small fish and a roll. Without attempting to fill in the details of how the event proceeds, for we cannot know precisely what happened. That is for prayerful meditation. We do know that eventually all in the crowd felt adequately fed.
The account implies that Jesus miraculously multiplied the small contributions offered by the boy. In our day many scoff at such a notion. Even though the world of science has enabled us to turn many things into something different.
The examples are limitless. Other than to say we live in an artificial world, of human making. We have learnt much through history and no doubt we will learn much more. Why wouldn’t we expect this? Jesus said, you also will do these things and in fact much more.
Of course, Jesus life was constantly confronting people and challenging them to think about him and his trust in God. It’s good to see what we believe he could do. We need to know him.
ONLY HALF THE STORY
I want to suggest this is only half the story. Was Jesus only interested in having people ask who he was. I want to suggest he also wanted to ask a question of us. Did not the event also ask something about the crowd?
Who are we?
What can we as a people aspire to?
Can we transcend the common and find that divine spark within, so that we will be inspired to do things we might not have believed possible. His impact upon the people ensured that they were all well fed. Who knows how, what was the miracle. Perhaps sharing amongst one another. I think he would hope that through his teachings and actions they were also fed in their minds to find ways of caring with others.
We need to take seriously Jesus challenge to us to think about who he was, but equally we must ask who we think we are. Do we emulate the divine spirit as he displayed?