|Pen and Ink Reflections||
What experiences have we had of the fabled Australian ‘Tall Poppy Sydrome’? ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’ is of course known in other countries by other names, yet it is true to say that it has had a particular strong place in our own national culture, and that of Aotearoa New Zealand. For it has been used, pejoratively, to describe the way in which people of sometimes outstanding merit can be resented, attacked, criticised, or cut down, because their talents or achievements distinguish them from their peers. Or, as a saying in Chinese and Japanese culture has it: ‘the nail that stands out gets hammered down’. Some have thus wondered recently whether ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’ is a factor in our remarkable turnover of Prime Ministers, something which has made us the puzzlement, and to some extent the laughing stock, of the rest of the world What do you think? I feel that there are other concerning factors too, including certain limitations and power structures of our political parties, the undoubted personality weaknesses of some politicians who have risen to power, and, not least, the unusually short gap between elections compared to other developed nations. Yet ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’ is surely a reality in our politics, as it is in many aspects of our national life. So, as we hear today the great Gospel story of Jesus and his community’s ‘Tall Poppy’ reaction, what are we to make of our gifts and talents?...
Jesus has come to his hometown. And of course everyone wants to see him and to hear their local hero speak. Next week we will hear how what he had to say next got him into trouble. But today we hear how he announces himself with words that must have been music to their ears - indeed the very next verse reads, 'and all spoke well of him'.
Jesus reads the words of Isaiah and takes them as his own mission statement - 'today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing " he says. It is a scripture that talks about good news for the poor, release to the captive, sight for the blind, and freedom for the oppressed.' Now most of his listeners would have counted themselves among the poor and oppressed, so no wonder they were pleased...
I want to talk about wine, woman and wedding; and about what Jesus's first sign can teach us about our Mission Action Plan and our giftedness in this parish. First of all however, just notice how our gospel reading begins. It starts with the words "on the third day" - and that's very odd, because in the previous chapter we have had a day when the Pharisees question John the Baptist, then a day when John sees Jesus, then a day when he declares Jesus the lamb of God, and then a day when Jesus calls Philip and Nathaniel, so that by the count of the narrative we are now up to at least the fifth day not the third. Which should alert us that the counting that is happening here is not literal but symbolic. So if symbolic, what as Christians do we all know happens on the third day? ...that's right, Jesus is raised from the dead. So this tells us that the story that follows is a highly symbolic story, all about Jesus's resurrection and what it achieves. This is going to be a story about transformation, that is for the whole church. And if we are in any doubt about that we need only look to the last sentence of the story, ' Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him'. There are to be six more 'signs' in the gospel of John, each of them revealing more of the glory of Jesus, culminating in the raising of Lazarus, before John turns to the final story, the story of the death and resurrection. So this story, which appears at first glance to be about a good time at a wedding, is in fact all about Jesus and the transformative power of his death and resurrection...
Let me begin with poem - A Man is Dying for a Piece of Bread (for Adonis Musati, Zimbabwean asylum seeker
a man is lying dead
on a busy street
in carefree cape town
the crumbs of excess
he is far from home
an ordinary young man
in want of an ordinary life
or just a piece of bread
and so he eats his own shadow
consumes the last twinkle in his eye
swallows handfuls of poisonous hope
his teeth crack biting the pavement
the world passes by
except those who know
the taste of a shadow
and stop to mourn him
Jesus declared himself the bread of life. He also proclaimed that we, his followers are his body, made part of him precisely by consuming the bread of the Eucharist. It is an almost scarily simple and visceral instruction - not think this, or even believe this, but simply eat this. Eat this and by doing so become my body in the world - become in our turn the living bread that brings life and peace to the world...
I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live for ever. And the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.
Today and tomorrow our morning prayer readings bring us the concluding sections of John's great meditation on Jesus as the Bread of Life, his 'technological upgrade' for the synoptic accounts of the Institution of the Lord's Supper. I am going to invite you in these two brief talks to enter into that core image of the Bread of Life, and reflect on two questions. The first, which we will think about today, is Are We Hungry? And the second, which I will address tomorrow is Are We Willing to be bread? I will begin and end each reflection with a poem, as I believe poetry can speak more powerfully than prose, and I have re-produced copies of those poems for your further delight...
When does a Christian become a Christian? That might seem like a silly question, but no. In fact, it helps explain quite a number of differences between those who have called themselves Christian, today and in the past. We can also tell a good deal about a person by their answer to that question, for it contains a variety of assumptions about God and God’s relationship to us as individuals, as people together, and as a world.
When does a Christian become a Christian? For simplicity, let me offer four possibilities. Which option, or combination of options, makes best sense to you?...
Today we are keeping the feast of the epiphany - not any old epiphany, not the kind of epiphany I have as I am walking along thinking about nothing in particular and then realise what it is I need to cook for dinner- no, THE epiphany, the big one, the one that makes all the others make sense. And what is that exactly? It is when the wisest ones in the world, bring everything the world has to offer - wealth, power and even suffering, disguised as gold, frankincense and myrrh - and lay it all at the feet of a helpless, speechless baby of dubious parentage born in the poorest of circumstances and say ' this is it'! This is Emmanuel - God with us.
Once we understand that epiphany everything else that happens in the life of Jesus Christ and in our lives falls into place. Once we realise, once we truly SEE- because epiphany is always about seeing, about the light bulb moments of our lives - once we truly see that the incarnation is all that truly matters, then everything else makes sense...