Thursday, October 31, 2013

Sycamore Street

This Sunday we observe All Saints Sunday but if we remained on the ordinary cycle of readings we would encounter the story of the tax collector Zaccheus who, tradition has it, climbed a sycamore tree the better to see Jesus amidst the crowd.  An extraordinary story about a dodgy character making good and, at the same time as many churches (including this Cathedral) prepare stewardship drives and draft budgets for the coming year, Thom Schuman came up with this reflection - he does this kind of thing rather well.

sycamore street

when the ragtagged fellow
         came by with his
         empty cup held out,
   looking for a cool drink
   on the hottest day of the year,
               i turned on
               the hose very slowly
      so he could get
      a few drips;

walking by the volunteer
         standing by the red kettle
         and ringing the handbell,
   i reached in my pocket
   and dropped a shiny coin
      listening as it clinked
      against the other change;

as the plate
      down the pew
      toward me, i pull
   out my wallet
         and pour
         a wee dram
            for God;

a drip
      a drop
            a dram
   a dollop of generosity
   here and there . . .

if i'm not careful
all my possessions
will dribble away
                 and i'll end up
                 like poor Zach
   down the street.

(c) 2013 Thom M. Shuman
Interim Pastor

Immanuel Presbyterian Church, Cincinnati, OH Associate Member, Iona Community

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A foundation for authentic spiritual life: last Sunday's sermon

This sermon will also appear on the Cathedral website but it has been asked that it also appear here ...

First Reading: Joel 2:23-32
Second Reading: 2 Tim 4:6-8, 16-18
Gospel: Luke 18:9-14

Preached at Choral Eucharist 30 Ordinary Sunday 27/10/2013

In the pewsheet for this morning you have as usual, printed in full, each of the readings we have just heard. Now I am confident that each of these readings speaks to our attitude toward God and ourselves (i.e. is about our relatedness, our connectedness, our wholeness) but I find myself asking how the very familiar anecdote that constitutes our gospel reading (the moral lesson concerning the religious behaviour of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector) ‘connects’ with the readings from Joel and 2 Timothy.

We don’t have a reliable date for Joel and his circumstances but it seems that the prophet speaks to a people trapped in moral lethargy; they seem to have lost hope and vision; they lament the past.  In some of the most eloquent and poetical passages of the scriptures he rouses them to hope for restoration of what has been lost and to look to a future in which they will see that God has acted.

There is a wonderful phrase: Joel hears God say ‘I will restore the years that the locust has eaten’.  That is not a bad description of how we may feel when we look back over the years and wonder perhaps why things went wrong for us, why did so and so die or fall gravely ill; why all that period of fear, worry and depression – we all have known ‘years that the locust has eaten’ – and times, it may be, when we have lost faith and hope.  This morning if we feel some resonance, any sense of recognition – then Joel speaks to us, to all who lament the past, who are short on hope, lethargic – depressed - if you like.  To us, Joel says – wait and see – God will restore ‘the years that the locust has eaten’.

Written about 5 or 6 hundred years later, we listen to a fragment from Paul’s second letter to Timothy.  We hear the words of an older man, someone exhausted by struggle, disputation and privation; someone who has lived his life under the cross.  He remembers the loneliness and the hardship of his calling.  The voice we hear speaking is of someone who knows what a called life is like; the gritty reality of a life that can leave you drained while everyone else seems free to get on with their lives; and yet running along within this there is also Paul’s strong sense that in the weakness, the tiredness, the sense of being abandoned, Christ is always present and active.

The line that both rends the heart and warms it is:
6As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. 7I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
The idea of Paul as being a libation – a sacrificial offering – his life being poured out onto the sand of the arena, the place of testing, as so many martyrs blood was spilled – is the heart-holding image that we can take from this letter this morning.  In this one passage Paul’s letter invites us to consider how we see ourselves and God: do we live under the cross? 

By contrast with the sheer reality of Paul’s experience, our gospel reading offers us a moral anecdote with cardboard cut-out figures – they represent attitudes rather than real people.  My hunch here is that Jesus is setting out the foundation of any authentic spiritual life.

So, if we read this gospel anecdote against the Joel and Paul passages we can start to ask some questions.  For instance, does the Pharisee persona strike you as someone who is drained by living a sacrificial life?  Does he strike you as someone troubled by ‘the years the locust has eaten’?  I think not!

What concerns me about the Pharisee’s condition is that he comes across as someone with ‘smooth surfaces’ – he appears untroubled by doubt, want or misfortune.  He seems to inhabit a world where his place is assured, he is convinced of his righteousness and that the good opinion he has of himself is shared by others and by God.  He seems to possess no inner awareness, no discernment – and even more tragic is that he acts as if God is equally lacking in discernment and does not see through him.

By contrast the Tax Collector represents the unacceptable edge of Jewish society: he is an agent of the Roman authorities and his social and ethical status is utterly compromised.  He is a man ‘on the edge’. He is not a man of smooth surfaces, but of broken surfaces – and he knows it.

I suggest that he strikes us as a man who just might know something of ‘years that the locust has eaten’; know something of shame and loss; something of poor choices and a life not well lived; something of loneliness, uncertainty and vulnerability. He offers no defences or excuses; no rationalizations or special pleas; instead just a broken recognition of his condition.  God can work with someone like that.

Who do we recognise in ourselves: Pharisee or tax collector?  Who comes in us to the sacrament this morning?

Monday, October 28, 2013

St Francis Day: Thank God for Dogs!

It is pure indulgence to publish this but St Francis Day was a joy and I am so gratefully proud of our two English Setters especially our darling old Mac who is centre-stage in this ODT newsclipping.  He was happy to be with me but really wanted to cosy-up to Dunstan our youngest (but slightly nervy) younger setter (we see his back).
It was an interesting Sunday afternoon, a joy to be accompanied by Br. Christopher SSF and we had a fine and moving address from Stephanie Saunders of the SPCA.   It is a service marked by a high degree of informality and unpredictability - but flowing through it also is a sense of God's grace and something too of wonder.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

A Navy service: HMNZS Toroa's 85th Anniversary

One of the many joys of Cathedral life is the opportunity to share in and support the life of the city; our naval HQ HMNZS Toroa has been around for 85 years and it was our privilege to host their service for this weekend. From all over the country (and abroad) navy people appeared.  We must have had about 200 for the service with a fine sermon preached by the Reverend Colin Hay RNZNVR (retired) with The Reverend  Dr Tony Martin participating as Officiating Chaplain.  The photo below was captured by Tony - a little detail of life below stairs before the service!
I'm just cutting it, not eating it

Mignon and a team of helpers

Ready at the door

The White Ensign

Processing the White Ensign

Its a very long aisle

The gathering afterwards in the Crypt
I have decided to add a brief historical note that was given me.
Since its inception in 1928, HMNZS TOROA has been a large part of Dunedin’s history and during this period has played a vital role in the City’s history.  During World War 2 numerous members of TOROA were drafted into the New Zealand Division of the Royal Navy and then in 1941, the Royal New Zealand Navy.  Assistance was also offered during the 1959 fire that devastated the Arthur Barnett store and again in 1990 during the Aramoana massacre, when members of HMNZS TOROA manning the inshore patrol Vessel HMNZS MOA positioned it to seal off the harbour entrance to all shipping.”

Monday, October 21, 2013

Len Brown: Please Don't Resign

Today is supposed to be Len Brown's first day back in the office since the storm broke with the publication of news of his relationship with Bevan Chuang. He and his family are very much in my prayers; especially I hope that he will be able to reconcile with his wife and his family; be able also to do the hard personal inner work of the spirit from which healing and growth can occur. One prays for the necessary grace, strength, courage and wisdom to be given: Len and his family will need all that - and in abundance.

I have no sympathy or patience with those who call for him to resign. He has betrayed his wife and family - not the ratepayers of Auckland (and the independent Council inquiry should be able to confirm this). The only moral and Christian position I can see as appropriate for anyone to take is that modelled by our Lord who,when asked for judgement, responded with the invitation that those without sin should cast the first stones.

This week Len's tragedy assumed almost Shakespearean dimensions as it illustrated the hazards of hubris: from the bright lights of a victor in the election who was flanked by a supportive family, then almost overnight the dizzy fall into shame with the 'Whaleoil' blog disclosures and the excruciating revelations levered out of Ms Chuang. No family, no one, should ever have been exposed to such personal disclosures, such humiliation and pain.

The more the facts behind this start to emerge, the clearer it becomes that there was a conspiracy to damage Len Brown and that the identified politician and assorted hangers-on behind this used the shallow and appalling Ms Chuang for their purposes.

What these people have done is unspeakably cruel to the truly innocent parties in this wretched business: the humiliation and pain felt by Len's wife and daughters can only be imagined as every ghastly detail and humiliating comment provided through Ms Chaung have been gloatingly disclosed in Mr Slater's blog.

Of less importance is what this incident has introduced to New Zealand politics - for the first time in my recollection the flaws and follies of someone's private life have been ruthlessly made public to achieve a political gain. For that reason alone I earnestly hope that Len does not resign - evil acts should not be rewarded by their success!