Saturday, May 26, 2007

Pentecost/Day of Prayer for Reconciliation

Some years – and a number of parishes - ago, Alison and I set up a youth club for a bunch of kids in their first year of high school.  They didn’t want to call it a youth club, of course - that would be a bit naff - we had a long conversation about it and decided we would call ourselves ‘Ab Fab’. 

I remember, particularly vividly, one of our less successful group activities.  We were having an ‘in’ night - that means we were at the church hall rather than going out somewhere - and we set up a number of games and challenges.  One bright spark suggested we do a human pyramid.  This was going to be the biggest, highest, most astounding pyramid ever.  Well, everyone knew how to do a human pyramid - everyone had either done it before, or seen it done, or had a friend who’d done it, or … So we had 18 experts.

The first level - no problem - I thought, ‘so far, so good’.  Then people started climbing on top, and it did cross my mind that there were some things we hadn’t thought through.  Luckily, I knew how to do a human pyramid properly, so I gave some sensible advice - unfortunately, nobody was really listening, because they were all giving advice too.  We got up to four levels before things started to give way, and we ended up in a tangled heap.  Nobody suggested we try again.

Have you worked out I’m telling this story because it’s a metaphor for real life?  We get competitiveness and hostility between ethnic and religious groups, between workers and employers, between city folk and country folk – and two things happen as a result – the first thing is that chaos rules, we end up in a tangled heap – the second thing which is maybe more serious, is that some people and some groups get overlooked – some people’s gifts never get noticed – some people’s needs never get met - because the way to get what you need is to have the loudest voice or the deepest pockets.  So structures of inequality get started.

This very same process is also described in one of the legends of the beginnings of human culture in the book of Genesis - the story of the tower of Babel.  According to this story, the people of the earth all spoke a common language, and when they began to live in cities they decided to build a tower with its top reaching into the heavens.  In the usual way of fairytales, God gets annoyed at their arrogance – even a bit threatened, maybe? - so God destroys their tower and separates them into different language groups - this is where the English word ‘babble’ comes from.  So the tower of Babel is a story that tries to explain the fragmentation of humankind into separate and sometimes hostile groups who don’t understand each other.  On one level, this legend reveals an underlying mistrust of city dwellers – you can read it as propaganda for nomads,  ‘oh, nothing good can come of this new-fangled urge to live all on top of each other’.  But on another level the story of Babel reveals a profound truth, which is that the beginnings of human civilization and culture somehow contain the seeds of our miscommunication, competitiveness and inequality.

It’s a good metaphor, I think, for any of the long-running tragedies of human civilisation, certainly for the two centuries of distrust between Aboriginal Australians and the rest of us who arrived as migrants or whose ancestors came to Australia from the other side of the world.  It’s a history with genuine grievances on both sides – on the one side, invasion and dispossession, government policies that Sir Ronald Wilson as Commissioner of the Stolen Generations inquiry described as genocide, appalling rates of child mortality and a life expectancy that’s still 20 years less than the average for all other Australians.  On the other side, resentment over blanket land claims and ‘sit-down’ money, alarm at rates of criminal behaviour including property offences and sexual abuse in the Aboriginal community.  Reconciliation – that blanket word for the healing of relationships on every level between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians, a process that includes the acknowledgement of past suffering, forgiveness and commitment to working together as Australians for a just and inclusive future – reconciliation I believe needs to be at the very centre of our sense of national identity.

This morning we have read Luke’s version of the story of the arrival of the Holy Spirit at the feast of Pentecost.  There is of course another version of the story at the end of the gospel of John – scholars tell us that Luke’s more colourful version is based on older Jewish stories about the gift of the law on Mt Sinai.  So Acts tells us that the Spirit comes down on the community with the sound of a "rushing wind" and with "tongues of fire" – symbols that are always associated with the presence of God.  Then the followers of Jesus, now "filled with the Holy Spirit," begin to speak in other languages.  Notice that this isn’t the ‘speaking in tongues’ that Paul tells us about – praise and prayer that nobody but God can understand - in Luke’s Pentecost story, the effect is quite the opposite - people from all over the world find they can understand what the followers of Jesus are saying.  Rather than being miraculously unintelligible speech, it is miraculously intelligible. 

And here’s where the two stories come together.  Because what Luke’s story is suggesting, is that the coming of the Spirit is the opposite of the story of the tower of Babel.  What Luke is suggesting, is that the presence of Jesus through the Holy Spirit has brought about a new age in which the fragmentation of humanity has been overcome.  Filled with the Spirit of God, the disciples find they can communicate and be understood by all sorts of different people in all sorts of different languages. What the gift of the Holy Spirit is all about, is God’s power to recreate the human community and break through human boundaries of language and culture that create inequality and mistrust.  God’s power to work in human life what we can’t do for ourselves.

However, as with all of God’s gifts, it is up to us to receive it.  It’s also, I think, not a ‘once and for all’ thing that sets everything to rights just like that – I think the gift of the Holy Spirit is a bit more organic, sometimes moving quickly, sometimes a barely perceptible growth towards trust and wholeness.

Which, in the land that the earliest European explorers named the Great South Land of the Holy Spirit, is an encouraging metaphor for the on-again, off-again progress towards reconciliation.  Today we celebrate a great leap forward, the referendum in 1967, forty years ago today, that saw Aboriginal people reclassified from the Flora and Fauna Act and given full status as citizens.  Recognised, in other words, as human beings.  That, I think, was a good start.  Another great leap forward was the High Court Mabo decision which for the first time recognised that Aboriginal people had rights to the land they lived on.  And another was the Stolen Generations Inquiry that recognised the pain of generations of Aboriginal children removed from their families.  Much has been achieved in the healing of relations between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians over the last forty years, but there’s a long way to go.  Aboriginal children born today still have a higher chance of dying young, a higher chance of going to prison, a lower chance of getting a good education or a job than any other Australians.

What the Pentecost story tells us, more than anything, is that the gift of the Holy Spirit is the gift of recognising that we belong together, that the kaleidoscope of differing cultures and perspectives that make up God’s world are all part of the one pattern, which is the story of God’s love for creation.  We encounter the Holy Spirit when we are prepared to reflect on the value and the beauty of diversity, when we are prepared to see the world through one another’s eyes.

But there’s another side to the story, because the gift of the Spirit is also about repentance and mutual forgiveness – about acknowledging past injustices, about allowing the Holy Spirit to blow through us and clear out the cobwebs of our prejudices and lack of generosity.  The tragedy of Babel keeps getting repeated until God’s people are prepared to believe in the miracle of Pentecost, the reality that the gift of God’s Holy Spirit can unite us and transform us.

Let us pray that as God’s people in the Great South Land of the Holy Spirit, we can claim that gift together.



Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Easter 7

Just this last week, two men met to take an oath of office to serve as elected leaders of their country – one as leader of the government of Northern Ireland and the other as his deputy.  That wouldn’t be such a remarkable thing, except that just a few years ago the Reverend Ian Paisley and Martin McGuiness, as leaders of Northern Ireland’s Protestant and Roman Catholic factions, were trying to kill one another.  With this week’s ceremony, Northern Ireland has at last entered a new era of power-sharing between sworn enemies that represents the best chance yet of finally bring an end to over 30 years of hatred and tit-for-tat bloodshed.

It’s a remarkable step.  Both Paisley and McGuiness find themselves opposed by factional colleagues who distrust the idea of sitting down with former enemies, and you have to wonder what the cost has been for each of these men, how much of the ideals and ideologies they have for so many years held dear have each of them had to set aside in order to work with one another for the sake of the country they both love?

Each year in the Anglican Communion this Sunday, the last Sunday of Easter, is set aside as the day of prayer for unity.  It’s a bitter irony.  Landing on my desk this week, the national Anglican newspaper, The Market-Place, led with a front page article about the top-to-bottom fracture in the Episcopal Church in the US and Canada.  Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola made a lightening trip to the US earlier this month to install his own bishop as the head of a breakaway faction called the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA) which he hopes eventually will be recognised as the real Anglican Church because he says the existing Episcopal Church has drifted away from traditional Anglican teachings by its refusal to discriminate against gays and lesbians both in ordained ministry and in the pews.  I think this is really sad.  It’s a move that makes the future of the worldwide Anglican Communion even shakier, a move that makes trust and cooperation between Anglicans of different cultures and different theological, political and social backgrounds even harder to aspire to.  Lest we think of that sort of stuff, ‘only in America’ – or even, ‘only in Africa’ – consider the atmosphere of distrust between our own Diocese and the Diocese of Sydney when we suspect them of plotting to plant churches and clergy among us that follow their hardline evangelical views.  Right inside our own Diocese we have seen sectarian movements that have divided congregations, distrust between Anglican congregations and clergy who see themselves as evangelical and those who see themselves as progressive.  These are brand-names we put on ourselves that put us out of communion and out of fellowship with one another.  Not only do we find true ecumenism impossible to practically aspire to, we find it impossible to agree on what it means to be Anglican.

So, what’s this unity that Jesus is talking about, and why does it elude us even though we long for it?

It’s not just a Christian thing, is it?  It’s the underlying principle of just about any form of human activity - families, football teams, business empires and armies all know that if they’re not working together, if each of their members don’t give up some personal autonomy and focus on the shared goal then they’ll fall apart.  Unity is about mutual protection and survival, about cooperating to achieve something as a team that individuals can’t achieve on their own, about the paradox that we can only find a personal sense of purpose and identity when we sacrifice something of our personal space for the good of a group.  Unity is a good thing because it’s how human life works best.

But Jesus doesn’t just pray for unity for his followers because it’s a good thing, he prays that we will have unity because that’s what God’s own life is like.  As human beings made in God’s image, we flourish when we work the same way God works.  Jesus doesn’t know about the doctrine of the Trinity, that’s going to get invented a few centuries later, but he tells his disciples, ‘as I and my Father are one, so you also must be one, because that’s how your lives will reflect the life of God’.  This is what we mean when we talk about the mutual love of the Father and the Son that is expressed in the Holy Spirit.  The God that we can best understand as a community of love, is reflected in us when we allow our lives to go with that same flow of divine love, with the mutual – that is, two-way flow - always moving, always enriched by the permutations and new expressions with which it gets reflected back from the one we love – love that is creative and dynamic because it is a reflection of God’s own Trinitarian life.  According to the later reflections of theologians, the fullness of the Father is poured out into the life of the Son, and the life of the Son is poured out in love for the Father, and the result is the Holy Spirit which is the pouring out of God’s life into the life of creation.  Unity, then, becoming one with God and with one another, means letting go of some personal space, but it also means receiving back again that which is richer and fuller than anything we could ever have when we keep it all to ourselves.

Unity then is not an added extra for Christians, it is at the heart of the matter.  But what it doesn’t mean is sameness or uniformity.  There is room for diversity in our responses to the Gospel, there is even room for disagreement.  In John’s gospel itself we hear the pointed comment that the beloved disciples outruns Peter; Paul’s letters also preserve the evidence of fundamental disagreements in the early church.  We do need however to question the motives of those who talk about unity – in some places John’s Gospel and the Johannine letters talk about unity in a way that suggests everybody else should just agree with us.  Or else there’s the sort of unity we have left when everybody else has been excluded.  That’s not real unity, the sort of unity that comes out of God’s own life and recognises the God-given beauty of diversity.  Unity with integrity that respects difference – affirming all that we can agree on but at the same time recognising the need to disagree with respect, even to oppose one another where necessary but without prejudice, without stereotyping or breaking off the relationship that we understand as life-giving – that sort of unity is shaped on God’s own life.  This God-shaped sort of unity is organic, holding together even under tension because it is grounded not just in our understanding of what matters, but our understanding of who we are.

There still might come a time when communion between God’s people is stretched to its limit and beyond.  Practicing unity with integrity automatically excludes agendas that are ungenerous or refuse the demands of inclusiveness.  Practicing unity with integrity should never be confused with the false and toxic unity that comes from avoiding conflict at all costs.  It can be hard sometimes to decide the difference between those things we need to let go of for the sake of unity, and those things we dare not compromise for the sake of that same unity – maybe the guiding principle needs to be that true unity is never self-serving, always oriented towards the needs of others.

Which brings us to the point that Jesus is leading up to.  Practice unity, he tells us, not for your own sakes but for the sake of others.  Unity is not just a good way for us all to get along together and have a cosy Church, but the only way for us to fulfil the Church’s fundamental reason for being, which is to proclaim the gospel.  If we don’t have that unity, then we’re not actually being truthful, because our life together has stopped being grounded in God’s own life.  If you can’t do it for yourselves, Jesus tells us, at least do it for those who will come after you.  When Jesus says that to his disciples he is talking about us, the ones who have come to belief through them.

On one level this just sounds like practical advice.  Get your act together, Jesus is telling them – and us – or else your best efforts at preaching the gospel are going to sound hollow.  Fair enough.  But then we realise that this too is grounded in the dynamics of God’s own life, the mutual love of Father and Son that is too exuberant ever to be confined to a mutual admiration society but extends outwards to encompass all of creation.  That sort of unity doesn’t know where to stop, if we open up our lives to that source of love and unity then who knows where it’s going to lead.  Only that sort of unity, focused not just on ourselves but on the community around us, unity based on the outgoing love of the God we know as the Trinity of love, is powerful enough to sweep aside all our differences.  Ultimately, only the love of others, not just the love of one another, can be powerful enough to unite us.



Saturday, May 12, 2007

Easter 6

The other day I was having that conversation that we probably all start having around about now, and I was saying to a friend, ‘how can it be May already – that doesn’t seem right?’  and I told her it seemed to me the older I get the faster time seems to running, and she said, ‘no, it’s not just you, time really is getting faster.  Even my kids think so’.  I had to wonder about that.  I mean, what have the kids got to compare it with?

In the Church year, too, we’re in a sort of time loop, now that Easter’s cycled past, Ascension and Pentecost coming up and then the long downhill glide all the way back to Advent.  The readings these last few Sundays of Easter reflect the end of one cycle and the beginning of another.  Our readings from John’s Gospel come from Jesus’ long farewell speech before his crucifixion, so that pushes us back before Easter, with the uncomprehending disciples, trying to understand what it means that in a little while we won’t see him, but then we will.  But then, as we listen to Jesus promise us that even though he’s not going to be physically around he’ll always be with us, we start to hear the echoes of another separation and see a glimpse of what lies ahead for disciples who find they can’t hold on to the risen Lord for too long.  In any case, whether we’re looking backwards or forwards, what matters is that we need to get ready to experience Jesus through his absence.  For those first disciples, a literal going away, for us the reality that our experience of the one we call the Christ is never direct - always a look backwards, through the millennia-long memory of Christians who have gone before us, and also a look forwards, through the mysterious gift of the Holy Spirit.

The readings today emphasise this tension between presence and absence, past and future.   The passage we have from John of Patmos, right at the end of the book of Revelation, points us forward.  This strange and lurid vision that comes to us from a Christian community living under persecution simply defies logic – Revelation looks around at the reality of madness and persecution in a world where God quite clearly isn’t in control, and comes up with a vision of hope.  A vision of completion and the fulfillment of God’s design for creation - not just on an individual scale but on a cosmic one.  Not just of heaven as the arena for the fulfilment of God’s promise but of “a new heaven and a new earth,” Revelation builds on the Old Testament understanding of creation as the context of human spirituality and the realm of God’s self-disclosure, the whole creation renewed and transformed by the glory of God.  It’s a vision that sends us scurrying in imagination back to Eden, but at the same time hurtling towards the future in a bold claim that, despite all the evidence of human history, despite AIDS and global war and glue sniffing, the future belongs to God.

It’s a picture that – as I pointed out last week – is a bit curious.  The ocean is no more – according to last week’s reading there’s no room in the new creation for danger or ambiguity, none of the chaos that the ancient world associated with the uncontrollable force of the ocean.  Another glaring – or not so glaring - omission – no sun or moon – no light and shade in the city of God because the presence of God on the premises gives out all the light we need.  The gates of the city stand open for all and sundry.  No patrol boats, no missile defence shield needed in this vision of the world as it never has been, the city sleeps secure in the arms of God.  Nothing grotty, nothing shady or underhand in the city of God – even though the gates are wide open and people are bringing in gifts from all the nations John tells us that undesirables of all description are going to be kept out.  I’m not so sure about that.  I don’t know about you but I’m hoping for a city of God where they do let you in even if your behaviour isn’t 100% squeaky clean.  Actually, I’ve got the idea that God is a lot more relaxed about human imperfection than John of Patmos is, but I don’t think we need to get too concerned about the details.  The main point about John’s vision of the city of God is just this – that the everyday commerce of human community is made sacred when we recognise it as the city of God.

But here’s the biggest surprise of all in John’s remarkable vision of the new creation and the reconstituted Jerusalem – no Temple. 

In the ancient, actual Jerusalem, the Temple signified the core identity of the place and its people.  I think we often don’t realise how important it was, if as Christians we think about it at all, it’s often just to sniff at the religious system of sacrificial offerings, or the supposed hypocrisy of the priestly caste.  We forget the huge importance of the interior structure, the “holy of holies,” and what Rowan Williams calls “the great speaking absence” above the Ark of the Covenant. The space at the very heart of the Temple was empty, a paradox - the most powerful imaginable sign of the presence of the God of heaven and earth.  God in the midst of God’s people, indicated not by a proliferation of statues or icons or neon signs but by an empty space swollen with silence and mystery and the freedom of the God who is present in absence.   

In the vision of John of Patmos, the great speaking absence is the Temple itself.  In the in-between verses that we missed out this morning John tells us that the city is ‘foursquare’, the same dimensions in height and depth and width, just like the internal space of the Temple, so there’s the suggestion that the whole city is a Temple.  But the main reason is, as John tells us, that the real Temple is the crucified and risen Christ, the ‘turning Godself inside-out’ action by which the ‘empty space’ of divine presence is opened up to include creation itself.  In the new heaven and the new earth the promised space and place of God’s presence is everywhere and everywhen.  God present in absence, open, unprotected, and vulnerable to human life and commerce.  

In our Gospel reading we get the same sense of absence that speaks of presence, of future that recalls the past.  The no-longer-physically present Jesus of Nazareth becomes a great speaking absence that – in some mysterious way – is going to be filled with divine presence.  The absence of Jesus that becomes the fullness and the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Just as John of Patmos imagines God’s vulnerable presence throughout the city as the source of the city’s safety, so John the Evangelist sees the presence of the risen Christ through the indwelling of the Spirit as the source of peace for his disciples.  Earlier in the same chapter Jesus speaks of going to his Father to prepare dwelling places for those who love him – here there is a new twist – those who love God will themselves be dwelling places for the Father and the Son.  In the vision of John of Patmos, God declares that God’s home is now with men and women – in the vision of John the Evangelist, God dwells in those who love God.  The city of God, in other words, is us.  In the indwelling of God we know God’s shalom, God’s peace, safety, fulfillment, and joy.

The message couldn’t be clearer.  As disciples who no longer see the physical Jesus we know the risen Christ through the great speaking absence that fills us, the darkness and the silence that points us to where God is.  This is the way of spirituality that the mystics call the via negativa, and it’s especially necessary for us living in the age of noise and information and far, far too many things.  The second thing is to recognise the bustle and the noise of the city we live in as a sacrament, TV screens and kitchen sinks and traffic lights all made holy by the indwelling presence of God.  That’s the way of spirituality that mystics call the via positiva, the spirituality of the everyday.  

In a little while you won’t see me any more, but then you will.  It’s the paradox that defines the vocation for disciples who watch the risen Christ disappear from their sight.  A vocation to be lodging places, lighthouses of divine love, by keeping Jesus’ command to love.  God’s city.



Saturday, May 05, 2007

Easter 5C

Maybe six months out from a Federal election – depending on when the Prime Minister chooses to call it – and the election campaign is in full swing.  The Prime Minister and the alternative Prime Minister are in full campaign mode – you have to wonder how they could possibly maintain the energy and the pace of the last few weeks all the way through till November.  Cracks have been starting to appear, on both sides.  Labor’s starting to release its policies, the Government is starting to hint at a few Budget night sweeteners.

But what’s grabbed my attention at this early stage is how already the issues have been defined.  We know what the main grounds are for this election – global warming and climate change is right up there – Labor promising a whopping 60% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, the Prime Minister stirring the pot by promising nuclear powered electricity generation as a way of cutting CO2 emission – the war in Iraq, Labor’s staged withdrawal versus the Government’s staying the course, Labor’s industrial relations policy versus Howard’s Work Choices.  There are massive issues at stake, the real risk is that it’s all such a turnoff, that we all get so sick of politicians we start turning off the issues, but I hope not.  Politics matters, unfortunately.  At the heart of it is a vision of who we are, what we think we’re about, what we think really matters, and what we want the future to look like.

The reality is that a lot of us never really look beyond which party is promising them the biggest tax cut or the juiciest election bribes.  The danger is that we switch off the big picture because it’s all too much, we can’t stay up there for long in the rarefied atmosphere of visions of the future, we become cynical about promises of a new heaven and a new earth, it’s easier to retreat into the arithmetic of tax cuts and looking out for number one.

Which brings me to the book of Revelation.  A strange letter tacked onto the very end of the Bible - some Christians rather wish it wasn’t there, other Christians apparently read nothing else and claim to see in it a weird and troubling prophecy of the end of the world.  A letter written sometime around the end of the first century, maybe early in the second century when the persecution of Christians by Rome was in full swing, Revelation is big picture stuff.  I think it’s utterly appropriate that it makes us uncomfortable because it is over the top, it’s a sort of religious madness, it comes to us from a community at the end of their rope, a community oppressed and tortured and hounded almost out of existence by the world’s biggest superpower, and like the apocalyptic visions of paranoid and embattled religious sects everywhere it makes wild claims, it looks at the world around it where God seems absent, a world where God obviously isn’t in control, and it defies that.   Revelation says God is in control.  Revelation is a vision of hope that’s completely unrealistic - not just of personal salvation, not just of heaven as the realm where God acts, but of a new earth, a new here and now.  It goes against the evidence.  Revelation says, the God of creation, the God who raised Jesus Christ from the dead, is the God of renewal and hope right in the middle of what seems most hopeless, the God who brings laughter and joy right when pain seems insurmountable.  For us to read Revelation, one of the problems is that living in the wealthy and powerful Western world we actually find it easier to relate to the powerful and the in-control, not the precarious and the helpless.  Revelation is a text for terrified Christians whose thinking is lurid, at times even unbalanced.  But the counter-reality vision of the future that Revelation holds out is I think really, really important for us.

The writer’s done his homework.  It’s a vision that’s firmly grounded in Old Testament theology, and St Paul who in the letter to the Romans also speaks about the renewal of creation.  Here, right at the end of the book of Revelation, the vision of a new heaven and a new earth.  As in the vision of Isaiah, spirituality isn’t seen as a withdrawal from the world but as a deep engagement with creation as the arena of God’s love and concern.  Just as Jesus’ own vision of the kingdom of God is never an invitation to focus on going to heaven, but always a challenge to act and to work for justice in the world we live in, so here in Revelation we see this hint of a deep love for creation, and a desire for it to be transformed into what God intends for it.

There’s some whacky stuff that we need to understand even if it doesn’t ring true for us.  ‘The sea is no more’, in this vision of creation as God intended it.  We might wonder at that – why the heck not?  We might feel that the sea is one of the most wonderful analogies of the depth dimension of spirituality, of the ambiguity and the darkness of God.  We Aussies cling to the edges of our arid country, our imagination and our spirituality equally fired up by the icon of the empty red centre and the restless surf or the powerful forces of the ocean.  The ancient world was a bit different, for them the sea represented chaos and danger, monsters and the unknown.  Maybe emerging from the century that gave us psychoanalysis and total warfare, we’re more aware of our own shadow side, and our need for a spiritual landscape that contains both dark and light.

We might find it easier to relate to the image of the new Jerusalem, the renewed city getting lowered down on a rope from heaven.  If for people close to the land, the image of the earth as our mother seems natural and appropriate, then for urban folk it’s not such a big shift.  The city as our mother, as the natural context for our lives.  It’s important to get what’s being said here – it’s not, as some have seen it, the idea that we might trade in the actual concrete and grime city in favour of some spiritual analogy of it up there in heaven – what it is, is the language of hope translated into the actual context of people’s lives.  ‘Let’s get real’, the writer is saying.  The city is where God acts.  The city which is the womb of our lives, the vessel that contains us and shapes our lives, that’s what we dare to imagine God is going to transform and renew.  And how do we imagine that?  How do we dare claim that?  Because that’s the promise we have in Jesus Christ.  God saying to human beings, ‘from now on, I live with you’.  Jesus shows us the God who gets down and gets personal, the God who does the day-to-day with us.  ‘I live in Cannington’ says God.  How does that affect the way we think about the city we live in?  Doesn’t this transform it into a sort of sacrament?  If we dare to imagine, despite the street crime and the arguments between neighbours, despite the road rage and the price of everything that keeps going up, that this is the new Cannington because it’s the city of God?

You can change that vision a little bit, if you like.  You might want to imagine the city-on-a-rope as a new Mogadishu, or a new Darfur.  The point is that it’s actual places that are the focus of God’s concern, actual places where there’s a major disconnection between the reality that God isn’t in control, the reality that God’s will isn’t being done, and the other, apparently unrealistic claim that Revelation makes, that God is in control, that history in fact is the arena of God’s self-disclosure.

We’re back to big-picture stuff, aren’t we?  Just like the election, the only way we can get away from big-picture concerns about who we are and what sort of world we want to live in, is to focus on the hip pocket.  What’s in the Budget for me?  Am I going to get to heaven when I die?  Revelation challenges us to stay focused on what matters.  Revelation challenges us to gamble everything on the God of life and hope, not just for ourselves but for the world we live in.  Care about creation, care about global warming, care about industrial relations and the part our country plays in global politics.  Recognise your own need for spiritual refreshment, for the living water that is God’s life flowing in and through your own, recognise that as what connects you to the whole of creation, that interdependent web of human beings, and animals and birds and billabongs.  Hey, everyone who is thirsty, come here and drink!