Preening & Prancing and a Culture of Entitlement

Over the last few weeks Anne and I have been reflecting on the observations Jesus made (in Mark 12:38-44) about the preening and prancing of the scribes… “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the market-places, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honour at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

The contrast is the widow who gives her all, ironically, to fund the preening and prancing scribes.

A sense of entitlement is prevalent in our society and has been picked up by the advertisers who keep telling us that we deserve things.

I wonder about the challenges this sense of deserving more and more presents for our society and world?  It seems that we have developed an expectation that the world owes us a good living.  If that means that a significant proportion of the world’s human population has to live with the smallest proportion of things in order to prop up our lifestyles – then so be it.

Coupled with this is a mentality that the earth owes us something and we are prepared to plunder and exploit its resources for maximum profit and, if we cause climate change and some of our poorer low-lying countries sink, well, that is just collateral damage!

In Psalm 24:1-2 it states: ‘The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it; for God has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers.’

I wonder where we got the idea that the earth is ours and all that is in it?
That represents a major theological shift from the stated position in Psalm 24!

In this land of plenty it is challenging to counter the cultural forces that suggest that we deserve more and more.

Maybe a way to live in another framework is to cultivate gratitude for what we have rather than give into the cravings for more.

Brené Brown has some useful things to say on this including this quote:
“I don’t have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness – it’s right in front of me if I’m paying attention and practicing gratitude.”


Thomas, Jesus, doubt, and us. Today’s Sunday after Easter reflection


12-4-15 The Village at Bryndwr John 20:19-31 Thomas, Jesus, doubt, and us.

An interaction with the art of Michelangelo Merisi (or Amerighi) da Caravaggio and a couple of poems.
Reflection by Mart the Rev

We wander this side of Resurrection Day.  It is the only place we have ever wandered, for we weren’t there before the resurrection.  We are ‘after’ people.  Always have been, always will be.

We think we have it hard, being this side.  I mean, we have no hard evidence.  We want and demand proof.  And, if we don’t demand proof then those around us demand proof.  Those around us question resurrection, as they should, but they place limits on how their questions can be answered.  They demand, much as Thomas did, that ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’  But even then, even if they could touch and see, I am not sure that these everyone’s would believe… ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe,’ says Jesus.  Belief is not a foregone conclusion after seeing.  People believe what they want to believe, and, people believe in what it suits them to believe.  Belief in the resurrected Jesus demands something.  Continue reading

Resurrection and RS Thomas

I’m preparing for the mandatory post-Easter encounter between the risen Jesus and Thomas (John 20)…it really is one of the best days to be involved in.  I love the Thomas line: ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’  So bold!  So demanding!  So 21st century!

I will post what I come up with after tomorrow, but there is a grand RS Thomas poem that is getting an airing…The Answer:

Not darkness but twilight
In which even the best of minds must make its way
now. And slowly the questions
occur, vague but formidable
for all that. We pass our hands
over their surface like blind
men feeling for the mechanism
that will swing them aside. They
yield, but only to re-form
as new problems; and one
does not even do that
but towers immovable
before us.

[resurrection is one of these questions that towers immovable before us!]

Is there no way
of other thought of answering
its challenge? There is an anticipation
of it to the point of
dying. There have been times
when, after long on my knees
in a cold chancel, a stone has rolled
from my mind, and I have looked
in and seen the old questions lie
folded and in a place
by themselves, like the piled
grave-clothes of love’s risen body.  The Answer R S Thomas

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

Do we deserve anything? Reflection on the Lost Son/Waiting Father/Graceless older brother…

Today’s sermon from Luke 15:11-32… the passage from the Bible against wish I reckon anything else we say about God should be tested!

Anne and I have always raised our eyebrows when we hear people use the word ‘deserve’ or talk in ways that use the concept.  For us the idea that we deserve anything is anti-gospel… it is the opposite of grace… it is ungodly.  The idea that we deserve or merit anything defies the teachings of the scriptures, of Jesus and Paul.  There is nothing you can do to put yourself right with God, they say… nothing.  That is what we believe is at the core of the Christian Faith.  For us, the idea of deserve is the opposite of how God is and how we are called to be.  Deserve is de-serve… the opposite of serving.  Deserve is another form of me-first… the me-centred life that the gospel won’t have a bar of.  Life is a gift – a grace.  We don’t deserve it – it just comes at us.  We don’t deserve an easy life, a healthy life, or a life free of pain and suffering… as nice as these things are and as grateful as we are when things are going well, we don’t deserve them as such… life is a privilege not a right, we don’t deserve, we serve.  We are called to give thanks to God in all things and to live our lives as a gift.  Grace is the only show in town.

Interestingly, most of us, one way or another, seem to regularly slink off to the outskirts of the town and practice other ways of seeing. Continue reading

Peace & Christmas

Luke chapter 3 opens with a long sentence outlining the context of Jesus’ birth, and we get the idea very clearly that there is no peace.

“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.”

Roman occupation, a Roman governor, the Herods – collaborating puppet rulers hated by their own kind, and chief priests who try to keep the peace by shutting down any voices of discontent.  These characters and their institutions will appear again three years later to collectively shut down the Prince of Peace in the name of peace.  That’s what Jesus was born into and the system he was crucified under.

There is no peace.

We remember that as we make room this Christmas.  There is no peace.  Bombs traded between Israel and Palestine.  Civil War in Syria.  Political unrest in Egypt.  NATO restless on the Turkish border. Nothing has really changed in the political landscape.  The world is still hazardous for the Prince of Peace and his followers.

Yet Jesus seemed to walk in peace.  There was courageousness about his attitude.  He wasn’t being silly or light, or avoiding reality – reality came at him and his family quite quickly and they fled to Egypt – and reality soon caught up with him as he embarked on his ministry that ended so horribly three years later.

No, there was about him an inner peace – a deep well of grace that he drew on.  From time to time we meet people with this inner peace.  Many of them are his followers.  They seem to have cultivated an inner peace.

A disciple asked his master, ‘How am I to attain peace when there is so much noise around this village?  Every time I try to meditate, there’s a rooster crowing or a child crying or a dog barking.  I can’t concentrate on my prayers.’  The master said nothing, but took the man by the hand and led him into the forest.  They walked for some time until they came across a small pool.  It was a windy day, and the surface of the pond had become choppy.  ‘What do you see in the pool?’ the master asked.  ‘It is troubled,’ replied the disciple.  His master then bid him dive into the pool, to the bottom.  When he emerged from the water, his master asked him again what he saw in the pool.  ‘It is still and deep,’ the man answered.  ‘So then,’ said the master, ‘you must learn how to pray from the water.’

To find our peace we need to go deep.  The New Zealand writer and film-maker Mike Riddell writes: “To discover peace is to know yourself held and loved in the heart of God.  This is the source and secret of it; a deep and untouchable certainty which is harboured in the depth of our souls.  It exists there as a great reservoir which can be tapped and drawn upon at any time and in any circumstances.  Once we know where it is and how to reach it, peace is always available to us.  We lose our peace when our attention gets diverted by the choppy surface of life.”

Peaceful people are grounded people.  Grounded in God’s promises that all will be well and that these things that trouble us will soon pass.  It is not easy to be so grounded.  It takes practice, and discipline and attention.  We can pray for it because one way or another we will all encounter situations when we will require a depth of inner peace in order to calm our fears.
“Keep the earth below my feet
For all my sweat, my blood runs weak
Let me learn from where I have been
Keep my eyes to serve, my hands to learn” Mumford & Sons Below My Feet

Our prayer at Advent is that the peace of God made known so profoundly in Jesus’ life and teachings, will unfold in the world and take hold.  We, of course, catch glimpses of it, and are called to live into it – even if we have fears and troubles.

We pray that our feet may be grounded in the peace of Christ.

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7

Sermon from this week

Reflection on the Realm of Christ by Mart the Rev

‘Then Pilate entered the headquarters, summoned Jesus, and asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over… But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.’ John 18:33-38

Do you agree that we can talk more easily about Jesus the man than about Jesus the ‘Ascended Lord’ who sits at the right hand of the Father?  We hear stories told of him and we like the way he saw the world.  We are drawn to him – we take up the call to follow him.  We seek to live like him.  We are part of a community that lives in his way and reveres him.  So far, we can do all of those things and not attend to the risen and ascended dimensions of Jesus that are unfolded in the scriptures.  But these other dimensions to who Christ is are also part of the story!  Actually all of the New Testament scriptures Continue reading

Sermon from Sunday

16-9-12 St Stephen’s in Bryndwr Proverbs 22:7 & Mark 8:27-38
Being bound in order to be free
Sermon by Mart the Rev

Last week as part of one of the readings we heard the proverb: ‘The poor are ruled by the rich, and those who borrow are slaves of moneylenders.’
I was waffling on about something else that day and didn’t pay it much attention, but it stuck in my mind all week. What really brought it home was what happened on Thursday after the very Big Wednesday Lotto draw was made and someone in Tauranga won the $27million first prize. Apparently the odds of winning the first prize of the Wednesday Lotto is quite a few several millions to one – it is easier for a Cinderella carriage to turn back into a pumpkin than it is to win Big Wednesday! But still people try. They really do try! Continue reading

Fringe Jesus

I preached last Sunday on the tendency Jesus had to hang out on the edges of towns and cities where, of course, edgy and marginalised people are to be found.
Here are the words…
Mark 7:24-37  Jesus on the margins   Sermon by Mart the Rev
I am interested in the context of the two healing stories from Jesus ministry that we heard this morning.  The first, the encounter with the Syro- Phoenician woman who badgered Jesus into offering just some of the crumbs from the table of the ‘Chosen People’ so that he would heal her daughter’s malady, and the second, the healing of the deaf man who could not speak clearly because of his disability.  Both stories are from the margins.  One, across the border in what we now know as Syria (an interesting place for Jesus to go!)  The other, in the region of the ten cities of the Decapolis.  The Decapolis was the name given to cities that the Greeks and then the Romans had developed over the centuries.  They were cities influenced more by these cultures than by the cultures of the natives of the regions in which they were located.  They were cosmopolitan cities and the population of these cities was mainly Gentile.  The only one of these cities mentioned in the gospels is Caesarea Philippi – and then only in reference to Jesus and the disciples visiting the villages nearby.  Continue reading