The Jug

Jug 1 Jug 2In our kitchen we have a big glass milk jug.
When it is newly cleaned and glistening in the sunlight it is beautiful, a stunning example of the glassblower’s art. Too soon we refill it and return it to the fridge.
Best of all, it pours well. The real test of a jug is that it should pour well, and so not only be beautiful, but very useful for all the tasks a domestic jug is called on to fulfill.

This morning I read these words in Romans 5.5: God’s love is poured into our hearts….
His love is poured into our hearts like we pour milk on our cereal and into our tea or coffee – for nourishment for daily living.
It occurs to me that this is what God does with us – he pours his love in to our hearts for nourishment for daily living.
That pouring continues day by day, whether or not we are conscious of it.
There is something ‘awe-full’ here that calls for further reflection….

A Frightened Society and a Generous God

Travelled to the USA recently? Hard work, isn’t it? Lots of hoops to jump through and queues to stand in and questions to answer, especially if you could possibly have any links with anyone anywhere in the Middle East. Or a strange sounding surname. Sue and I have ESTA pre-approval born of several years of coming and going to the USA and get to go in the short lines. We’re no possible risk!!
Of course, all countries haveUS customs border controls, but countries like the USA and China exemplify paranoia. The Chinese seem to be worried about who might get out, but the Americans are more worried about who might come in and ruffle the waves on their continental pond.
The USA is a frightened society, like a castle with the drawbridge pulled up, only to be lowered for the ‘right’ people. Preferably affluent, English speaking first language, and the whiter the better! They are frightened that what they have may be taken away from them, and so they build walls to, supposedly, protect it. Walls against the Mexicans, the Iranians, Palestinians and anyone perceived to be ‘un-American’.
The rise of Donald Trump, the US anti-establishment hero, with the astonishing amount of support he is garnering, is a sure sign of a fearful populace. The possibility that he may become the next US president is sending shockwaves around the English-speaking world.
But it occurs to me that the frightened society is not just the preserve of our American friends. It is the preserve of that small fraction of the world, of which we in New Zealand are a part, who are the ‘have’s’. The rich right of US society is what we hear and see in the media, but it includes us in our beautiful South Pacific cocoon.
One of the evidences that we are a frightened society is the requirement for orthodoxy – of belief, behaviour, custom, and culture.
The move towards conservatism, even fundamentalism, in both politics and church is the unfailing pointer towards our anxiety and fear. We are threatened by difference. Our security is in having people like us populating our country, and sharing our worship. ‘Doing it like we do!’
When our life and lifestyle, when the way we have believed for generations (we think) comes under threat, we hunker down, pull up the drawbridges, and retreat into the rigid security of orthodoxy.
We get to vote about a new flag, but not about the TPPA, which has infinitely greater implications for our ordinary life and the way we relate to other beyond our shores. Let’s not rock thehands boat, let’s stay away from topics that make us different.
The Christian gospel is supposedly about freedom, life in all its full-ness (John 10.10)and unconditional acceptance and welcoming of others, irrespective of colour, creed, sexual orientation, politics. It’s about doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God (Micah 6.8) When our church talk is primarily about personal individual relationships with God, important thought that is, and heaven, rather than the here and now, I begin to wonder if we are a frightened church. I wonder if we are really uneasy about exposing ourselves to diversity and difference. I wonder if our ‘castle’ is that of a false orthodoxy of belief and behaviour that is actually rooted in the culture of individualism, but not in the Gospel.
It isn’t new. Jesus encountered the conservatism of his local community when he read the scripture in the synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4). The locals liked what they heard at first, but when the implication of what he said sank in he quickly became ‘personna non grata’! They too wanted someone to be religious, but to fit their mould and not suggest they should change the way they dealt with God and others.
We often seem to be scared to think in new ways…or maybe don’t have the imagination to do so. We are anchored to the idea that truth is a solid unchangeable block that was established some time ago, and from which we may not depart….or even look at iBe generousn a different way.
The Biblical image of God, life-giver and sustainer, is one of generosity. God is generous with us…why do we struggle to be generous with others?
Let’s overcome this fear by modelling openness, relationship risk-taking, grace, acceptance and generosity towards those who are different from us, in church and community. It will be action that aligns us with Jesus and his kingly rule.
Perchance, then, we may have opened the door of darkness to a few amazing chinks of light!

Living with The Reality of Mortality.


Living with the Reality of Mortality
Three of my friends have died recently. Contemporaries. Men with whom I had shared part of life’s journey. One after a long battle with cancer, one suddenly of a heart attack while out walking with his beloved wife, and the most recent, tragically, in a car accident last Wednesday.
I will attend the most recent friend’s funeral in Taupo tomorrow. And I will grieve for him, for his wife and children and grandchildren.
But I will also grieve for myself. For the passing of life, thankfully for the good times and successes, and regretfully for the mistakes and wrong turns I have made in life. Is that morbid self-pity? Yes, in some wayswinding valley. it is, but it is also coming to terms with the reality of mortality.
Of course, once you get into your 60’s and 70’s, your contemporaries start dying. That’s what happens in life. And you know your own turn comes relentlessly closer. I’m comfortable with that event, if not with the process.
Tomorrow I will honour my friend, speak words of sympathy to his family, laugh at the events recalled, affirm some of the great words of the Christian faith, and probably weep a little. I will thank God for the times our life journeys intersected and ran together.
At the funeral of the first-mentioned friend I jotted down my own funeral eulogy in the margins of the service sheet. Those who know me will be amused to learn that I got it down in 40 words. I am comfortable with both the form and content of what I wrote.
I don’t have a detailed idea of what happens after physical death, and that doesn’t bother me.
In the little self-eulogy I wrote, I finiGrief C S Lewsshed with the statement “Now he is with God.” And now, so are each of my three friends. That is enough.
C S Lewis wrote: “Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape.” A Grief Observed
I expect to see some new landscapes tomorrow.

Did Jesus get bored?

Do you think Jesus ever got bored?
Yes, I know it’s a strange question.
I’ve always had a fear of being bored. A sort of underlying anxiety about not having enough to do. If I voice it, my ever-practical orgboredom-005anised wife will present me with a list of possible activities as long as my arm! Children are sometimes heard to declare, “I’m bored.” They want us to entertain them or help them connect with some new and interesting activity.

In the Gospels we get a picture of Jesus’ life that is quite the opposite to boredom. In this week’s lectionary gospel, Mark 6.30 – 34, 53 – 56, we get images of frenetic activity. Boredom was never an issue for Jesus.
So many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat.(v31)
As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognised Jesus.(v54)
Wherever he went – into villages, towns or countryside – they placed the sick in the market places. (v56)
Wherever he went, there was a buzz, milling crowds, people to talk with, to care for, to heal, to inspire and encourage.
Jesus recognised that endless round of busy-ness in the people who surrounded hibusynessm, to the point that he saw them as like direction-less sheep. Sheep without a shepherd to protect them and guide them to ‘life-giving grass’.
It seems to me that being bored can only be an affliction for the affluent. It is for those whose life is so comfortable that they are not engaged in the constant round of activities associated with earning a living, looking after a family, staying alive.
One of the attractions of Jesus for ordinary people was his apparent sense of direction. His life was filled with purposeful activity. But even he couldn’t keep going all the time. Come with me to quiet place and get some rest, he said (verse 31).
The balance between too much and too little activity is not always easy to achieve, especially in our productive middle years when we have a family to care for, and employment commitments to fulfill. As an older person I hunger for worthwhile things to do, the busy-ness of my younger years, while my body reminds me – occasionally!! – that I can’t now live at the pace I once took for granted.

The overall Biblical picture is of people being made in the image of God, partners with him in the re-creation of the world. All of them, including those we read about in today’s Gospel. Helping to make your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Jesus saw the people of his day as ‘sheep without a shepherd’. How, in our modern world do you think that Jesus gives purpose and direction to the rich and famous, the poor and needy….and to ordinary people like you and me? And keeps us from the perils of boredom?

The Kikuyu Project, episode 3

Front lawn like you’ve never seen it!!

A neighbour gave us a house-lot of carpet so I’ve used it to cover everything. Old style but good quality. Blowing the dust away is different from mowing the grass!

Carpet 3It is three months today until we return from overseas, so it has three months to suppress everything underneath it.

Tall Poppy Nazareth Style

It must have been tough being a sibling of Jesus. A brother or a sister, I mean. James, Joseph, Judas, Simon or one of his sisters. (Mark 6.3) Sorry, sisters, you don’t get named – it’s a patriarchal society. And don’t forget the cousins and uncles and aunties – the ‘relatives’ referred to in verse 4.
The lectionarybrothers and sisters gospel this week takes us to Nazareth, Jesus’ home town. We don’t know why he went there. Home to see his mother, Mary? Time out with the family?
Jesus was the oldest, remember? What happens to oldest children? What do they get? Responsibility, privileges, authority. They get to do some of the child minding of the younger ones. They get to help Mum bring up the little kids, especially if Dad dies – like Joseph almost certainly did. That was big brother Jesus’ role.
And then big brother moved out, got a following, and became known for ‘miracles’ , and teaching about God that carried weight with ordinary people because he ‘spoke with authority, and not as the scribes.” Simply put he made sense, he connected. He was real. And people who came into contact with him got better – physically, emotionally, spiritually.
This guy is the big brother of the family. He’s a name. The rest of you are known by your relationship with him, like “he’s the brother/sister of Jesus, the famous teacher and healer.”
And now he’s in your patch, home for a visit, and everyone wants a slice of the Jesus action. Surely he will have some pretty good miracles for the home-town folk.
But when big brother goes into the synagogue and teaches, he somehow upsets the locals and they run him out of town. “They took offence at him.” They know this guy, he’s a local. Others further afield might be impressed, but not the Nazareth folks. They grew up with him. Their kids played with him.
What an upstart! Who does he think he is? ‘What is this wisdom that is given him, that he even does miracles?’
How do you feel now, as a brother or a sister of Jesus? How do the other townsfolk relate to you, speak to you? He can leave town, but you have to continue living there, and deal with the fall-out of his visit.
Sure, the main thrust of this passage is about the rejection of Jesus in his own town, and the lack of faith among the locals. But the family stuff is worth thinking about too, because that’s what we’re most likely to encounter. Really, when did you last have a local big-name guy hit town, upset the locals, and then tell them he felt rejected.
What’s it like today, when one member of the family is a star? What’s it like being a brother or a sister of Richie McCaw? Or Lorde? Or Kate Sylvester? Or John Key? Or John Campbell?
You’re always being compared, always an also-ran. You’re the brother or sister of that other person.
Okay, so I’ve over-drawn the picture a bit. But you get what I’m on about, don’t you?
It takes a lot of strength of character, God-given strength, to be your own person.
One of the most important things we can affirm in each other is that strength of character and colour of personality are God’s gifts to us at conception. We make that character stronger when we love and accept and affirm others as the people they are, with all their strengths and weaknesses. Just as they are and not in comparison with anyone else. God’s gifts to us – just as they are.

The Kikuyu Project, Episode 2

On 20 May I posted a report of the project I have undertaken to try to rid a significant section of our lawn of kikuyu, the highly invasive fast growing grass that inhabits many parts of the northern North Island.
In April I sprayed the area twice, 2 weeks apart, with glyphosate. After another two weeks I began deep digging the ground, allowing myself 15 minutes per day on what has become known as “The Project”. Since then I have continued digging it over and painstakingly removed the dead roots – and some that looked like they were only sleeping! I have taken three large tarpaulins full to the local organic dump.
As at 20 May I had nearly finished digging over the main section.
Yesterday I finally completed the section on the grass verge, thus finishing all the digging. It has been hard work.
Recently I  o5.6.15-2btained some pieces of old carpet from the local flooring firm and spread them out to cover about half the dirt area. Yesterday a neighbour offered me a house lot of carpet and when that I arrives I will be able to cover all of it completely. I will then leave it completely covered until we return from overseas at the beginning of October.
Hopefully I will then be able to remove the old carpet, rake it out again and sow grass seed.
The photos show me nearly finished digging over the main patch (June 5) and the patches of carpet with the remaining areas of bare dirt waiting to be covered, and me doing the final raking of the grass verge section (28 June)Kikuyu Project 29.6.15.