Thursday, 31 March 2011

je suis arrivée à Genève

Gosh - a whole month living and working in Geneva - with the CofS congregation meeting in what used to be Knox and Goodman's church when they were in exile.
I love Ministries Council for going outside of the box and letting me do this - hurrah! 
A super opportunity.
Arrived yesterday and wondering what the crucial thing is I have forgotten.  I expect I shall find out presently.  Have at least now worked out the intricacies of the Swiss electrical system 'no, we don't use European adaptors, we use Swiss'.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

woman at the well...

The gospel reading for today is taken from John 4: 5-42.
It's the story of the meeting between Jesus and the Samaritan woman, at a well, in the heat of the midday sun.
There's an implication in many commentaries on the passage, and indeed, from the poem above taken from youtube, that the woman was 'dodgy'.
That she had a slightly dubious morality.
Five husbands?
Currently living with a man who was not her husband?
Knowing glances all around: we know why she's coming to the well in midday when 'normal' people come in the cool of the morning and evening.
She's sinful - 'unclean' and ashamed.

And yet, I've struggled for some time with that particular hermeneutic - the hermeneutic of shame, if you like.  Thinking back to the cultural context, I wonder if it is equally as valid to interject a hermeneutic of compassion?
So, a way of reading this text that takes into account:
  • the husbands: we do not know what had happened to them.  
    • Divorce was easy to get, a matter of the chap getting a certificate and that was that. [Mt 19:7; Mk 10:2-5].  Through potentially very little fault of her own, the husbands could have just dumped her really rather easily.
    • There was also the case of Levirate marriage.  Had she been unfortunate enough to have been married down the brotherly line.  This is not to suggest all five were brothers, but it does give an interesting twist to the tale even if a couple of them were.  [see Mt 22: 23-33; Mk 12: 18-27; Lk 20: 27-40]  Perhaps her reputation was more about being 'the kiss of death' if you were unlucky enough to marry her...?  Small village, rumours, fearful people, not always a winning combination.
  • the man she was living with: we know nothing about her family.  No mention of parents or siblings.  Was she alone?  For her own protection, was it safer for her to attach herself to a chap than be alone?  And for a woman to live alone was rather unthinkable in that culture.
I do keep wandering back to this unnamed woman:
has she been overly, and unfairly, maligned?
Was she just doing what she needed to do to survive?
And how does the water she finds at the well through her conversation with Jesus transform her, and her village?

And then my pointing finger points back at me:
how often do I unfairly malign others/ label them/ and through doing so, dehumanise them when they don't fit in with my particular hermeneutic of life?
How do I allow the water of life that is offered transform me...and in turn, through its sharing, allow it to transform others?
Perhaps I am picking up the theme from last week again - the wideness of God's mercy.
Who do I share the water with?
Who do I refuse to give water to?

So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 
Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, 
was sitting by the well. 
It was about noon. 
A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, 
“Give me a drink.” 
(His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 
The Samaritan woman said to him, 
“How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” 
(Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) 
Jesus answered her, 
“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, 
‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, 
and he would have given you living water.” 
The woman said to him, 
“Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. 
Where do you get that living water? 
Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, 
and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 
Jesus said to her, 
“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 
but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty.
The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water 
gushing up to eternal life.” 
The woman said to him, 
“Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty 
or have to keep coming here to draw water.” 
Jesus said to her, 
“Go, call your husband, and come back.” 
The woman answered him, 
“I have no husband.” 
Jesus said to her, 
“You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 
for you have had five husbands, 
and the one you have now is not your husband. 
What you have said is true!” 
The woman said to him, 
“Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 
Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, 
but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 
Jesus said to her, 
“Woman, believe me, the hour is coming 
when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.
You worship what you do not know; 
we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 
But the hour is coming, and is now here, 
when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, 
for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 
God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 
The woman said to him, 
“I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). 
“When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” 
Jesus said to her, 
“I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”
Just then his disciples came. 
They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, 
but no one said, 
“What do you want?” 
or, “Why are you speaking with her?” 
Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. 
She said to the people, 
“Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! 
He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” 
They left the city and were on their way to him. ...

Many Samaritans from that city believed in him 
because of the woman’s testimony, 
“He told me everything I have ever done.” 
So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; 
and he stayed there two days. 
And many more believed because of his word. 
They said to the woman, 
“It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, 
for we have heard for ourselves, 
and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”

Friday, 25 March 2011

an 'in tents' experience?

It seemed like a crazy, over-complicated idea.
It also seemed like fun.
Fun won and so the scene was set:
  • long, suitably lenten purple cloth [with flowers from the previous week decorating the first section]
  • a small tent, on cloth, by flowers,
  • prior to worship, everyone handed a coloured plastic ball with the order of service
  • several dubious signs with 'ooooh', 'aaaah', 'baaaa', 'phew', and 'stomp feet'
  • a group of incredibly cooperative and fun kids
  • a congregation who are wonderfully long-suffering and who have a fabulous sense of the ridiculous

As part of an ongoing collage aimed to last over Lent, there was I, Sunday morning, sitting on the chancel steps at 'leafy parish in the burgh', with the young 'uns.
We'd been listening to the reading about God's call to Abram to up and leave, destination unknown.  I do love the honesty of children: when I wondered if any of them might have listened to the reading, several did say 'no', and a couple said 'sort of'.  They'd managed to listen well enough to work out the gist of the story, and that was the main thing.

Part the First: I wondered if we might retell the story, making particular use of sound effects - cue signs as per above list.
I further wondered whether those sitting in the seats might make passable sheep noises... they were really rather excellent at this.  And so, we re-told the story together - pointing at various signs on the way, listening to the 'ooohs' and the 'aaahs', not to mention the 'baaahs'.

Part the Second: as we collapsed on the stairs from our story telling exertions, I mentioned the plastic balls.  Knowing that to avoid sniggers I needed to be quite specific in my articulations, I noted that these were 'journey balls' and we talked a little of those things that helped/ didn't help us become closer to God.  I invited the congregation to hold their 'journey' balls and reflect quietly on their journey with God.
All was quiet - even the kids... miraculously, no balls were used as missiles.
We then prayed.

Part the Third: having happily remembered to grab some large plastic bins, the kids then collected the 'journey' balls and threw them in the bi... er, gently placed them in the 'journey' ball receptacles, while we sang 'one more step'.  The balls were put into the tent, through holes in the top, or by small people throwing themselves bodily inside said tent.
[No broken bones is always a good sign of a successful all-age address]
And there they'll stay until Easter - the balls, not the kids - a colourful reminder that as we journey with God, we are not alone - we are in this together.

Finis: I love it when a plan comes together.
I also love it when folks get that 'reflective' and 'playful' don't have to be mutually exclusive.
I also love it when the people on the following weeks have to deal with tents and coloured balls and I will have fled the country to Switzerland... :)

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Lent 2A sermon: 'A Tale of Two Journeys'

Too woolly by half... c'est la vie!!

Texts: Gen. 12: 1-9;  John 3: 1-17

Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

Two journeys:
One made in the light of day;
The other made in the silence of the night.
One made through the barren wastes and oases, with family and friends – companions on the way – [and some rather noisy sheep]
The other made through a breathless maze of city streets,
a solitary shadow slinking through the dark.

Two journeys:
One journey made at the behest of the God who spoke and said to Abram:
Leave your own country,
Leave your kin.
I’ll show you another country
I’ll make of you a great nation.
In that place, and as you journey,
You will be a blessing to others.

The other journey?
Nicodemus, the Pharisee:
driven by his own needs,
his own questions,
his particular assumptions,
and theological viewpoint...
searching, seeking,
and in the dark on so many levels.

Two journeys:
Yet with strangely similar parallels –
People travelling to places they had never been,
whether geographically, intellectually, or spiritually.
Both journeys requiring openness,
the readiness to embrace newness:
new frontiers of place,
of heart,
of mind and of soul.
Both journeys requiring a degree of risk:
Of having to leave some things behind –
a comfortable settled life,
people, places,
positions of power, attitudes.
Both journeys that had at their heart an encounter with God:
the God of Abram,
and God made flesh –
the God who speaks,
and the Living Word, Jesus.

Two journeys.
Two very different conversations.
Two very different mindsets.
But both filled with the potential of transformation,
both filled with possibilities...
and both filled with faith:
Abram was perhaps the more obvious – he seems to get the better press –
as he responded willingly to God’s call to embrace an unknown future –
packing up the tents and launching out
just at that time in his life when he could have been enjoying the benefits of his bus pass,
or relaxing in the jacuzzi in the oasis
and talking about days gone by.
But instead of looking back to the past,
And, having passed the prime of his life,
instead, he looked to the future and walked towards it.

But Nicodemus, too, was a man of faith –
doubt does not mean lack of faith.
A blogging friend, and inspiration, Jan Richardson, writes:
I'm intrigued by Nicodemus,
and by how intrigued he is by Jesus.
I love the wonderful detail that John includes about Nicodemus in chapter 19,
... Joseph of Arimathea tends the body of Jesus...
"Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds."
And then Nicodemus and Joseph together wrap Jesus' body with the spices and linen cloth and place his body in a tomb.
We don't know a ... lot about Nicodemus, but this strikes me as a wondrous glimpse into the effect that his night-time conversation with Jesus had on him.’

Somewhere, deep within Nicodemus, in amongst the doubts and questions, was a hope,
a faith that this rabbi, Jesus, would have the answers to the questions in his heart. 
Even though he chose to meet with Jesus in a clandestine way,
meet him he did.
And had he been discovered, he may very well have lost his position,
his status as a leader and a teacher of the Jews,
as a person who was respected. 
And yet, he risked it all and made a journey to Jesus.

In doing so,
Nicodemus, cautious, hesitant and afraid, acknowledged that God appeared to ‘be’ with Jesus, and talked of signs and wonders...
And was then rebuked quite soundly by Jesus the Teacher,
and told that he really didn’t understand.

In the rebuke,
and in the ensuing conversation,
Nicodemus was to get a lesson in the wideness of faith that he didn’t quite bargain for. 

We so easily get caught up in John 3, verse 16, that we can overlook verse 17 –
‘It was not to judge the world that God sent his Son into the world, but that through him the world might be saved.’
And in the Greek, it not only means to save or rescue, but also means to heal, and to preserve.
And this for the entire world... not just the people Nicodemus perhaps had assumed. 

A tale of two journeys:
journeys about new birth, new creation, new life,
new relationship with God...
the gift of a fresh start.
And perhaps, in this season of Lent,
not two journeys,
but a tale of three:
for we also are a journeying people,
responding to God’s call in our lives.
Sometimes, we hear God’s call and respond like Abram –
even though we might be comfortable where we are, we may nod to ourselves, smile, and respond freely, willingly...
and jump into the next part of the journey,
and in the process, surprise not only those around us, who might think we’re utterly mad,
but perhaps surprise ourselves as well.

At other times as we walk with God,
we may be like Nicodemus –
questioning, fearful, hesitant...
yet even in the midst of the doubts,
still respond to God’s call, as we wrestle and fight and pray.
As Abram and Nicodemus responded to God, and were challenged to think beyond their own personal boundaries –
or, if you like, to think outside of the box –
we too are challenged in the way we respond to God’s call.
How do we journey?
Who do we journey with?
Who are we afraid to journey with?...
Whose company do we refuse and
who do we try to prevent from undertaking the journey with us?

There’s an old hymn I’ve been thinking of recently, which says:
‘There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
Like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in his justice,
Which is more than liberty...’

As God’s called people
We are called not only to journey with God,
And not only to journey with those who are like us –
or indeed, who like us and who we like.
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy which compels us to widen our own boundaries,
to open the boxes,
to question our assumptions about who fits in
and who does not.

The season of Lent gives us time and space, as we journey to the Cross and beyond it, to the Resurrection, to reflect upon the way in which we respond to God’s calling – both as individuals, but also as the gathered community of God’s people here in [parish in the 'burgh].

We step into a future without compass or map, called to take risks,
called to new levels of trust and reliance on God.
Instead of exclusionary parochialism –
a version of ‘this is a local church for local people’ –
instead of defining people out of the community "according to our own tastes and predispositions" [Eugene Peterson]
God calls us to a universal and inclusive embrace of everyone and
"all peoples on earth."

We are called to be the community of the fresh start,
the second, the third, the fourth,
the infinite chance:
to demonstrate the healing, saving, wideness of God’s mercy.
‘The purpose of Lent is not to dwell on suffering,
or to spend 40 days bewailing
our manifold sins and wickedness
for the sake of feeling our pain. 
Lent is about engaging in the ongoing process
of renewal, regeneration, and new birth,
it is about encouraging us to trust, and to risk,
going forth and being sent out with the promise of new life.’  [Angela Askew]

And back to another verse from the hymn mentioned earlier:
‘For the love of God is broader
Than the grasp of human mind;
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.’

The God who spoke to Abram and asked him to go,
to leave his kin
and his country
and who said that Abram would be a blessing to others
is the same God that we worship.
As we journey with God through Lent and beyond,
may we respond to God’s call,
the call to trust God’s creative,
transforming power in our lives,
the call that urges,
entices us into an unknown future,
a future that is filled with new possibilities.
And may we, like Abram, be a blessing:
a blessing to one another -
those we know
And those we do not.
May we be a blessing –
as we share the good news of
God’s healing, restoring grace to the world....

Thursday, 17 March 2011

you don't want to be a raisin in the vineyard of the Lord...

I've always been a bit of an Amy Grant fan - great voice, some excellent songs. But...I guess everyone can have an off day... tho' to be kind, Amy was about about 15 at the time. A funky li'l country and western ye-haar kind of tune and ... remember kids, you don't want to be a raisin...

I am a small and lonely grape,
Clutching to the vine,
Waiting for the day when i'll become my savior's wine!

Oh, wouldn't french cuisine just yearn it,
I've eternity to ferment,
But knowing me I'd end up ripple
In a cellar of chablis.

Are you a small and lonely grape
Clutching to the vine,
Waiting for the day when you'll become your savior's wine?

Don't give up hope ye heavy laden,
You don't want to be a raisin;
There's a grape grape joy in jesus,
In the vineyard of the lord.

Thursday, 10 March 2011


Meant to post this on the 8th - International Women's Day - but got sidetracked by Mr Knox... which has its own particular irony given the caricature of him as a misogynist, which is not entirely true....

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Words I loathe...#1 'frape'

This is a somewhat meandering rant.
A friend of mine has posted, much more eloquently than I, about her rage at the use of the word 'frape'

First, what is meant by the term?
An example: you happen to leave your computer unlocked, with your Facebook page open... a friend walks by, notices and decides to play a joke on you and messes about with your status updates/ info.  You come back and find various bemused comments regarding said changes.  Either you, or someone commenting exclaims that you have been 'fraped' - Facebook raped.  Other comments ensue, such as: 'well, if you leave your computer unlocked, you're just asking for it'.  Oh jolly japes, and comic moments....
However, underneath all of the 'banter', is an appalling and unthinking trivialisation of the crime of rape itself.

While hijacking someone's computer may be rather crass behaviour, to equate messing about on Facebook to being raped goes beyond crass and moves into the realms of eye-popping incredulity.  I loathe the term 'frape' as it casualises or makes light of the serious horror of a particularly agonising type of violent attack.  The other week I was listening to Radio 4 - an interview with a woman from Northern Uganda who had been mutilated by the Lord's Resistance Army.  While she was not raped, the group itself appears to use not only mutilation, but rape and sexual enslavement of women as part of its campaign of terror.  Elsewhere, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, women are systematically raped: a particularly grim strategic /deliberate tool of war.  These are not the only places in the world where women are violently and appallingly brutalised.

Mind you, I still find it shocking that it is deemed to be acceptable in a court of law to ask female rape victims why they were out so late at night, in a particular part of town, and what they were wearing.
Nope.  Not acceptable, actually.
In the same way that nobody walking down the street is just asking to be beaten over the head with a hammer, nobody 'asks' to be raped.
That anyone could even believe that someone is asking to be horrifically assaulted just because they happen to be wearing something deemed 'provocative' astonishes me: it is an all too convenient shifting of responsibility onto the person attacked, when in reality, the attacker is utterly responsible.

The term 'Frape' is an alarming sign to me that as a society there is still an, if not overt, subconscious understanding that violence against women is not only tolerable, but acceptable.
What part of 'no' don't some folk understand?
Hence my twitchiness and loathing of 'frape'.
It is not 'hilarious'.
Just say 'no' to using it, yeah?