what is right in front of me
goes missing
depending too heavily on my eyes
to convey all truth
my eyes only see what the eyes
have been trained to see

looking deeper you allow
yourself to be found
mind’s-eye dreaming
revelations and wonderings
signs and visions
fantasy and imagination

this side of resurrection
your truth comes to me

an ever renewing category
that I may know enough to know

I want a face that reveals

Bosch Christ Carrying the Cross
A poem as I contemplated the face of Christ
in Hieronymus Bosch’s painting ‘Christ Carrying the Cross’


I want a face that reveals
what is going on inside me.

It is not that I want to show off
the speed of my understanding
For most of my understandings
have taken so much time to sink in
that the face I wore at the time
I first heard any revelation
is long forgotten.
Nor is it because I am now
so happy with what is inside me
that the beauty of what lies within
will radiate all the loveliness
of my soul at peace.
No, I want a face that reveals
that fear no longer dominates
I want a face that reveals
openness to the wind
confidence in the light
ease with my neighbour
forgiveness of those who would harm me
a posture of delight in the possibility of things…
a face so free,
that I can be courageous
even when descending into a mess
martin stewart 2016

Palm Sunday prayer written for tomorrow

Palm Sunday Prayer

[Using the John O’Donohue poem Fluent]

I would love to live
Like a river flows,
Carried by the surprise
Of its own unfolding
– John O’Donohue

This Palm Sunday remembrance suggests such a flow
– an ease – feeling good, all going well,
heads lifted to the shining sun
and arms waving in the gentle breeze,
with you O God, at the centre,
and a vibrant path of possibilities unfolding before us.

But the thud of the real world comes upon us. Continue reading

crosses in the rubble

crosses at St Stephen's

crosses at St Stephen’s

There is not much left of the St Stephen’s Church building where I work… even the wooden cross up the front of the chancel (remains pictured above and on earlier blogs) has been removed and is currently stored in the front porch-way at our house.  Yet from the rafters today a cross hung – and around it through a combination of shadows other crosses appeared around it.
I am reminded of quote, part of which St Stephen’s has inscribed on a small plaque and was rescued from the building ahead of the demolition written by George MacLeod of Iona:

George MacLeod on Where Jesus Died

Only One Way Left (The Iona Community: 1956), p. 38.

The cross must be raised again at the centre of the marketplace as well as on the steeple of the church. I am claiming that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves; on the town garbage heap, at a crossroads so cosmopolitan they had to write His title in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. At the kind of place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse, and soldiers gamble, because that is where He died and that is what he died about and that is where church-people ought to be and what church-people should be about.

Easter Sunday sermon…

cross on sunday31-3-13 John 20:1-18  Easter Day reflection by Mart the Rev (delivered at the St Giles/St Stephen’s morning service)

There are quite a few references to seeing or looking in the John resurrection day readings we have just heard – eight in fact.

In the dark Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been rolled away.  The other disciple and Peter saw the strips of linen cloth and Peter entered the tomb and saw the cloth used to cover Jesus’ face.  The other disciple then entered, and when he saw it, he believed.  They made their way back to the other disciples but Mary stayed – she stood crying outside the tomb and then stooped down and saw two angels inside the tomb… after speaking to the angels she turned and saw Jesus standing there but she did not know who she was…

Jesus asked her, ‘Why are you crying?  What are you looking for?’  Continue reading

the start of tomorrow’s post-easter sermon

Here’s how tomorrow’s reflection begins…

This side of Easter, we are in the business of living out what it means that God raised Jesus.  I would venture to say that whatever the church thinks its business is, this ‘living out what it means that God raised Jesus’ has to be at the core of what we do.  Let me expand on that a little.  God having raised Jesus means this to me:

  1. God does things;
  2. death and all its cousins – fear, hopelessness, defeat, apathy, anxiety, doubt, and despair (to name a few), could not stop God doing things;
  3. God does not fit our boundaries – resurrection was a boundary defying event;
  4. even though he looked and acted differently in his resurrected state, God did something bodily with Jesus;
  5. because God did this, resurrection now becomes a category of possibility for us – by this I mean that we should not be surprised if still God raises things;
  6. the Risen Jesus hasn’t been crucified again – in other words he still lives;
  7. we don’t know a whole lot about how he lives – but we do get glimpses of him… and there are many who have gone before us who have stories to tell of this… John Wesley’s heart strangely warmed, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s courage, Martin Luther King’s vision, Mother Theresa’s self-sacrifice, and so on
  8. we also receive these glimpses of him in our journeys of faith, in our experiences of God speaking to us even if they are hard to explain;
  9. Jesus living means that he pops up all over the place… we don’t hold him, we don’t have his measure, we can’t limit the ways he is at work, he is present with us and despite us… his generosity, his grace, his love, his capacity to forgive and raise up… they are without limit…
    10. The church has to constantly re-learn what it means that God raised Jesus.  The church often behaves as if it is the bearer of God’s life in the world… we behave as if you have to come in here to get God, and worse, that God’s mission is defined by what we do.  Archbishop Rowan Williams makes a useful statement, “It is not the church of God that has a mission.  It’s the God of mission who has a church.”

We are in the business of living out what it means that God raised Jesus.  In this new framework of understanding the church has to find its way on the strange ground of knowing enough to know.  We don’t know everything.  We can’t explain everything.  We can’t explain resurrection very easily, nor can we explain it away.  But what God is doing is not limited by our intellectual struggles.  What God is doing wraps us up into it… we are caught up and embraced and called to live into it.  This is big!

A child’s view of Easter

This Easter a friend Dave and his 5-year old son Oscar had the following conversation:

Oscar:  Dad who’s that man that they hung on a cross [names not being Oscar’s strong point!].

Dave:  Oh that would be Jesus.

Oscar:  Yes that’s him, we played Jesus at school the other day.

Dave:  What do you mean you played Jesus?

Oscar:  Well we got this boy and tied him to a piece of wood with his arms out.

Dave:  Oscar I don’t think it’s a very good idea to do that to a boy.

Oscar:  Oh it’s ok Dad, I was God, so I untied him!

Good Friday – St Stephen’s & St Giles

Stronghold by Sieger Koder
Good Friday 2012  Deep Waters
(with gratitude to the wonderful ideas of Walter Brueggemann)

We sit before the cross
We take some time to be in vigil.
The scriptures claim it took 3 hours for Jesus to die
We are part of that 3 hours today where the chaos rises up against Jesus and against all that we hold dear.
Let us sit before the cross in the quiet… (music plays)

Prayer: God we are here.  On this day where chaos rises against all that is good we maintain vigil.  We do not ask to be comfortable – we know that we live in a world where the chaos threatens so many – terror, violence, poverty, the poisoning of the earth, hopelessness, darkness, despair and disorder – these forces seek to have their way with us and people like us… we cannot sit here and ignore this… and we cannot help but see the cross as your identifying with us… so wait with us.  We are here God, and you are here – that is your promise.  So we wait in the name of the crucified one – Jesus.  Amen.

The psalmist gives voice to what it means to be in the midst of threat
Read Psalm 69:2, 14-15
“I sink in deep mire
where there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters,
and the flood sweeps over me…
Rescue me from sinking in the mire:
let me be delivered from my enemies
and from the deep waters.
Do not let the flood sweep over me,
or the deep swallow me up
or the Pit close its mouth over me.”

The psalm speaks of deep waters rising and sweeping over
How many of we and those before us have experienced such deep waters… near drowning in grief, in anger, in fear, in despair, in depression, in feeling helpless in the face of injustice, brutality, uncaring institutions, and apathetic neighbours.

We know these deep waters.
But on Good Friday they rise higher than we have experienced – the threat of them reaches even to the throne of God – these primordial, elemental, untamed, chaotic forces rise up against the dry land of creation… the Old Testament theologian Walter Brueggemann puts it this way: “the power of death does its worst work on this day.”

And there up against this power and this chaos is Jesus.
Can we boldly say that the voice in the psalm today is that of Jesus.  Crying out and giving voice to his fears as he hangs on the cross and struggles for breath as the chaos rises and surges against him seeming to have its way… “Do not let the flood sweep over me, or the deep swallow me up, or the Pit close its mouth over me…”

The image above, the Koder painting, contains a curious mixture of images – Jesus pulling the sinking, drowning, Peter out of the water, as he and the disciples, many of whom are hardened fishermen, are fearing for their lives.  That is there, but maybe also there is Jonah being rescued, God’s hand coming to him representing the large fish, but maybe also the psalmist and his cry is in the image, as the deep waters threaten to overwhelm, and, of course, it could be Jesus being held as the waters rise…with us looking on from the boat… we need him to get through this!  The artist leaves us the room for imagining.

Have you, some of your own stories of sensing God reaching out to you?
In the silence before the cross I invite you to bring those stories to mind.

We sing in faith and hope ‘O love that wilt not let me go.’

In the midst of chaos faith finds its voice: the psalmist is not in despair – frightened and overwhelmed, but still hopeful and trusting.  Was Jesus also this way?  Surely.
Jesus lived out before us what it means to live into God’s big picture – the reign of God among us, within us, and coming at us.  He lived and breathed this version of reality.  Surely the line in the prayer he taught would be the line he held to on the cross… ‘Thy will be done.’  ‘If it is your will that I drink from this cup, then I will drink it.’

We see something of God’s big picture in the psalm… the pray-er is hopeful, calling out to God to rescue him.  He believes in God at work… in something more powerful and more abiding than the chaos.  “This very act of prayer is an affirmation that the watery chaos has limits, boundaries, and edges because the waters butt up against the power of God.”  (Walter Brueggeman again).

The chaos does its very worst to Jesus, but he replies with a word of triumph – a form of ‘Thy will be done’ – he cried out – not in despair but in triumph – “It is finished!”  It is decided.  It is accomplished.

And does he hear in his dying breath the word of God spoken to Isaiah?  “Do not fear, I have redeemed you, I have called you by name, and you are mine.  When you pass through the water I will be with you, and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you.” (Isaiah 43:1b-2a)

Is there an ‘Amen’ in his ‘It is finished!’  A ‘so be it.’ A ‘thy will be done.’  Yes there is – he has the audacity and nerve to trust that the waters will recede and life in all its fullness will begin again, on Friday towards Sunday.
And in that moment, surely the deep waters of chaos are transformed into the rescuing, saving, baptising waters of the Jordan.
Yes, we believe it.  For him we believe it.  And therefore for us and whatever is ahead of us.  So be it!

Prayer: In these next few days gracious God, we journey in your Friday to Sunday,
all our struggles and fears and longings we carry with us – looking for your day of all being restored.
We identify that there might be stones you might roll away.
We recognise that there are ways about us that we might need to let go and submit to you.
We walk in trust and hope for the new day because of Jesus’ willingness to bear the chaos once and for all.  Amen.
If it be your will by Leonard Cohen (from Live in London sung by the Webb Sisters)
If it be your will that I speak no more and my voice be still as it was before
I will speak no more I shall abide until I am spoken for
If it be your will, if it be your will
That a voice be true from this broken hill I will sing to you from this broken hill.
All your praises they shall ring if it be your will to let me sing
From this broken hill all your praises they shall ring
If it be your will, to let me sing
If it be your will, if there is a choice let the rivers fill, let the hills rejoice
Let your mercy spill on all these burning hearts in hell
If it be your will, to make us well
And draw us near, and bind us tight all your children here in their rags of light
In our rags of light all dressed to kill, and end this night
If it be your will, if it be your will.