The Mustard Seed

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The Mustard Seed

August Reflection 2017

One of my favourite images of the Kingdom of God, and the church is the mustard seed, the tiniest of seeds (its presence and energy hidden in mystery) which becomes a huge tree, so that the birds come and nest in its branches, the creatures of the field nestle in its shade, and people come take the fruit –go home, sit around a table, light a candle and create a feast of food, conversation and culture.

How lovely when we see this image revealed in a person. A good friend of mine John Cobby died recently at the age of 93. He was such a person, a forester in Kenya, and South Africa. I got to know him in his later years. He had such green fingers, hands like soil, he could make plants grow in his hands. Flowers streamed like crimson rivers from his pots. I enjoyed his knowledge, conversation and humanity – loved the way he and his wife made friends with younger people. He was the delight of his whole family, all his grandchildren – a huge tree. There are two words that speak of him”: hospitality and invitation.

He was like the householder in the parable who took out of his store: things old and things new.

There was that sense of about him, of the old and the new coming together, and of the adventure of life going forward.

How lovely when we see the image of the mustard tree revealed in a person.

Two poems on the theme.

Trees

 

Trees I see you in a new way,

You are the great earth mothers,

You rise from her depths like a hand,

and where there is nothing,

Slowly, steadily, you reach

into it. And you say to us,

see nothing teems with life.

The song of birds celebrate sky

Insects burrow mansions unimaginable

Water falls and rises with a heartbeat

Shadows shape new moments

and moons ease through your leaves.

Mornings you bathe with fragrances

and like one who nurtures,

you give your bark, your leaves and fruit,

even your tears of resin.

Teasing our imaginations you say,

What will you do with these?

You say, when will you take

your hand and reach into nothing.

Bob Commin

 

 

 

Tree  Blessing

 

Soak up the sun

Affirm life’s magic

Be graceful in the wind

Stand tall after a storm

Feel refreshed after it rains

Grow strong without notice

Be prepared for each season

Hang tough through a cold spell

Emerge renewed at the first signs of spring

Stay deeply rooted while reaching for the sky

Be still long enough to

hear your own leaves rustling.

I ShraggIMG_2386

Sermon for the Dedication of St Mary the Virgin, Woodstock, Cape Town

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Service of the Dedication St Mary’s Woodstock

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What a privilege to be here on your day of Dedication your Church of St Mary the Virgin, Woodstock, Cape Town…..

All the readings today are wonderful passages of scripture – you can spend this whole week just meditating on them.

The beautiful prayer of Solomon on the dedication of the first Temple of Jerusalem

‘But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built! ….29 May your eyes be open towards this temple night and day, this place of which you said, “My Name shall be there,” …. 30 Hear the supplication of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray towards this place. Hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive. New International Version – UK (NIVUK)

 

Psalm 8

How lovely is your dwelling-place,
Lord Almighty!
My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God.
Even the sparrow has found a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may have her young –
a place near your altar,

New International Version – UK (NIVUK)

I Peter 2

9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. New International Version – UK (NIVUK)

 And then the Gospel

Luke 19: The story of Zacchaeus – the example of a new human being, the change of heart, the transformed individual.

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, ‘Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.’ New International Version – UK (NIVUK)

 So we start with stones. Solomon offers the prayer for the dedication of the first Temple – but how can the great God of all creation dwell in a house of stone. How can God’s name be here! Bricks and mortar. Forgive us for thinking that it is even possible.

The Psalmist though seem to have a deep sense that the Temple is a place of beauty where God dwells:

How lovely is your dwelling-place,
Lord Almighty!
My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God.

What a transformation this area of Woodstock has gone through over the years, the buildings had become run down, and many people and St Mary’s people moved out of the area.  Then the outside of the church was transformed and stood as the most beautiful and valued structures in the area, holding the story of Woodstock’s past. The stones a golden honey in its busy and noisy surroundings.

Mary Oliver has an interesting poem:

The spirit

likes to dress up like this:

ten fingers,

ten toes,

 

shoulders, and all the rest

at night

in the black branches,

in the morning

…………………………….

It could float, of course,

but would rather

 

plumb rough matter.

Airy and shapeless thing,

it needs

the metaphor of the body,

From Thirst

God comes to us on our journey, God likes to dress up – God comes to us under the forms of Bread and Wine to feed us his Community, to feed us Body and Soul. God is found under the form, of churches, trees, sky, mountains, earth, sea.

St Francis must have known, at least intuitively, that there is only one enduring spiritual insight and everything else follows from it: The visible world is an active doorway to the invisible world, and the invisible world is much larger than the visible. (From Richard Rohr)

This special and sacred building reminds us that every building, our homes and business, our work place, our school can be a meeting place with the divine, round the table, in the garden under the tree, in the playground.

Some recollection of St Mary’s

My first experience of Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dream coat – it must have been in 1970s, the boys and girls of St Mary’s and this area, made up the cast. They were dressed in Hessian bags.

 Then another memory of St Mary’s is of the saintly Fr John Rowland who had been here for many years. St Mary’s is built on his prayers:

Do you know that the new liturgy started here? Fr Rowland started what became known as the Woodstock Rite.  A movement away from the high altar, and priest facing away, like a great leader, to an altar in our midst, and priest and people together, being the people of God, the priesthood of all believers. Such a creative liturgical movement took place here at St Mary’s, then came liturgy for Africa, then Liturgy 75, then prayer-book we use today.

And of course Bishop Mervyn Castle was a great son of St Mary’s, a man who helped to shape the spirituality of our church, with his gentle personality.

As one walks through Woodstock on a Sunday, you will notice that worship is pouring out of so many buildings, and in many languages praising God. And the poorest attended churches are the most beautiful, Anglican, Presbyterian and Dutch Reformed churches.

Does it speak of a failure on our behalf? Have we missed many opportunities to grow the church into the lives of people?

Richard Rohr says in his Thursday Meditation: Once we can accept that God is in all situations, and that God can and will use even bad situations for good, then everything and everywhere becomes an occasion for good and an encounter with God.

Soon the flats across the way will be filling up with people – they will see this beautiful church on the road and enquire about it. Will you even want some of those people here, and how will you engage them?

  • Perhaps in this new upmarket area, lunch time or Sunday evening music/concerts, a jazz eucharist, will be a way to bring people into this lovely church which speaks of the beauty, holiness and humanity of God, and of course you may have many plans to engage new people.
  • We engage people by our warm humanity. There is a movement in Scripture from stone temples to the pulsing temple of the heart where God’s Holy Spirit indwells.
  • And the story of Zaccheaus is a story of a life transformed, a movement from a scheming, corrupt and deceitful individual, so that this cheat becomes an example of the new human being, a Christ conscious person.
  • At an Interfaith gathering a few evenings ago I came away with these thoughts:
  • Never think of a person as a problem but as a mystery to be contemplated – Jesus and Zaccheaus
  • How much personal self-reflection are we doing
  • And when we change, the whole world changes
  • And we become who we are: Who are we?
  • 9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

Bob Commin

 

 

 

 

 

Sermon on The Feast of Corpus Christi

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Sermon on Corpus Christi 2017

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; 54 he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day
man does not live by bread alone, but that man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD.
The Feast of Corpus Christi, the Feast of the Body of Christ is celebrated on the eighth Thursday after Easter. It celebrates and gives thanks for The Eucharist. It remembers and reflects on Maundy Thursday. Holy Week has its own focus – tonight we have space to reflect on the meaning of this wonderful meal
Corpus Christi’s was only instituted in the 14th century. St Juliana of Belgium, woman, was the great inspiration of the day. It was dropped in the reformation, but has made a gradual return.

We call this service we enter into tonight, – this sacred meal of the bread and wine, the liturgy of the Eucharist. How powerful is Liturgy, which means the work of the people of God?
I tell a story to show how powerful it is: I Communist Russia at a great gathering of people in a certain town, the leaders of the Communist regime are addressing the people. The Russian Orthodox priest is also invited to address the people. He is first told that he has 30 minutes to speaks, but the other leaders speak too long. They come to him and say, “you now have only ten minutes”. He say that that is all ne needs. They then come to tell him he has only five minutes. All the others they spoken too long in their praise of the party. Finally it is his turn. He only has two minutes, but he seems happy with that. He goes to the podium. There is a great silence. Then he cries aloud: Christ is Risen
And as one person they cry back in return, the great Easter response
Christ is risen Indeed. The story shows how deep the liturgy goes in us It is the
Frame/ the trellis/the container/ format – which often holds us as God’s people, through our faith times and our times of doubts.
Is it something that was just made up, certainly it evolved over the centuries?
It has its roots in the Scriptures?
It is like a dance, with many steps, many responses, but once you know the steps, you can fly like a dancer. Just a word or sentence may carry you away, so that you may end up in a different place, to the preacher, prayers, and others.
The great thanksgiving, for in it is the offering of the whole of life to God, through art, music, ritual, tradition, culture, material possessions and the offering of yourself, for consecration, for blessing and transformation, “that heaven and earth may be filled with the glory of God.”
Here is the still point in time when the past, present and future merge into one. Jesus told us to do this in Remembrance of him – when we remember something that thing in the past becomes a present reality, so that we experience it again. Through the Scriptures we experience our common past again. But the future for which we pray becomes present too. In the Eucharist Prayer we have a glimpse of that future: We call upon, “Angels and archangels, with all the company of heaven- the whole church past and present, all the saints and martyrs and heavenly beings to join us in the GREAT THANSGIVING. The future too is present.
And in it all this act of remembrance Christ becomes present for us.
From Mary Oliver’s Thirst:
1. The Vast Ocean Begins Just Outside Our Church – the eucharist
Something has happened
to the bread
and the wine.
They have been blessed.
What now?
The body leans forward
to receive the gift
from the priest’s hand,
then the chalice.
They are something else now
from what they were
before this began.
I want
to see Jesus,
maybe in the clouds
or on the shore,
just walking,
beautiful man
and clearly
someone else
besides.
On the hard days
I ask myself
if I ever will.
Also there are times
my body whispers to me
that I have. —Mary Oliver
I love to refer to this meal of the Bread and Wine as the Meal of our Humanity. As we break bread together we share in the brotherhood and sisterhood of humanity. For here we are fed by the one who is so truly human, and who shows us how to be human: Love one another as I have love you.
man does not live by bread alone, but that man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD
Bread – material possessions only, or Bread – spiritual manner from heaven, bread filled with divine presence
In another poems Mary Oliver says:
The spirit
likes to dress up like this:
ten fingers,
ten toes,

shoulders, and all the rest
at night
in the black branches,
in the morning
…………………………….
It could float, of course,
but would rather

plumb rough matter.
Airy and shapeless thing,
it needs
the metaphor of the body,

God comes to us on our journey, God likes to dress up – God comes to us under the forms of Bread and Wine to feed us his Community, to feed us Body and Soul.
Because of this sacred meal, we are reminded that every meal is important and sacred. That is why we say grace before meals – a meal is a grace, a gift. We are people of grace who sit around our table and enter into conversation respecting the humanity of everyone present.
I wonder what Grace you say: Zorba the Greek is a famous character in work of Nikos Kazanzakis – he is a very earthy and inspirational character: I love his graces: he would look at the food on the table and say something like this:
Lord may this bread, and this leg of lamb, and these beans, become in us, be transformed into wonderful conversation, respect for each other, compassion for the needy, may this food become in us art and music and song and dance.
Some meal!
That’s how we are being fed in the Eucharist, God in bread and wine, transforming us.
One last thought Remember is to make present: When two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in their midst.

But there is another meaning: Re – member – to put all the members together again. To reassemble, to put all the parts together.
To become the members in the world that will make Christ present
Together as we share our gifts and talents – we make Christ active in the world
I came across this saying by Mahatma Ghandi, and it really blew my mind.
There are many people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of Bread.
There is mission in the Eucharist – God out be Christ in the would.
That is why Teresa of Avila can say this prayer, and I close with it.

Teresa of Avila (1515–1582)
Christ Has No Body
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

Pentecost Reflection

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My 70th birthday fell on the eve of Pentecost, the celebration of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples and the church, the community of the Holy Spirit. On the day I have often used, the medium of dance, the appearance of red balloons, and the breath to inflate them, for breath is another word for “spirit” in the New Testament, and children playing with the gyrations of poi. I have always fancied using fire poi in swivelling circles. All of these is to capture the dynamic of the Holy Spirit, the breath and wind of God alive in the world!

The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. And so it is with everyone who is given life by the Spirit. (John 3:8) I heard a mediocre sermon the other day about the Ascension which failed to stir very much in me. Then the preacher climbed down from the pulpit and the stopped at the lectern, and, as though he had forgotten something important, and said: “Here is a quotation from the Little Prince,” Here is my secret. It is very simple: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” Ah, I thought if only he had started with that! Then things opened up for me. What are those invisible things from the heart, and you may make your own reflective meditation on this. I thought of the following:

Prayer/beauty/light/forgiveness/enduring unconditional love/honesty/inspiration/influence/joy/dedication/intuition/faithfulness/desire/trust/faith/nurturing/empathy/compassion/honour/friendship. You may want to write about each of those themes in your spiritual journal.

How is the Holy Spirit working in the world to bring about the ubuntu of humankind? I think there is the nudging of the Holy Spirit in the lives of great leaders and movements in the world, and there is also the nudging of our hearts, the hearts and minds of the ordinary people; to phone someone, say something, find something, acknowlege someone, encourage someone, listen to someone, and to act with compassion. There are little circles on the pond of the world that can grow, joining other circles of many peoples and cultures and faiths, that can embrace the world.

I have attached two poems on Holy Spirit which I found I had written in 2001.

May the rains arrive soon.

He breathed on them
St John 21:20-25
Jesus said again, “Peace be with you! As the Father sent me, so I send you”. Then he breathed on them, saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit!”
You gently, very gently breathed on the disciples
The breath that woke the creation out of chaos
That set the pulse of day and night on its course
That brought the peace of Eden,
The dawn of freedom,
And a reaching out for the tree of knowledge,
Which brought beauty and suffering,
And left us broken.

The disciples gently breathe in your spirit
And feel a peace of the first day
Awakening in them,
A new poetry coming
For a new day
That already has an ending
And a power like a wind,
Present everywhere,
To move us beyond faith and hope
Into the ocean of love
Bob Commin

The Day of Pentecost
Acts 2: 1-13
We are all together in one place,
Though divided in our expectation,
Caught between waiting and irrelevance.

A driving wind breaks lose
Above our heads and a noise like a sea whirls
Through and over us until the whole house thunders
With the vibrations, as fire begins to tear through us
And flames leap into life like tongues
Bursting from the creation,
Then coming to rest
With a feminine gentleness
Upon each of us.

Something is bubbling and bursting in me,
Like the birthing of a new spirit,
Searching and finding a voice that cannot speak its praises
Fast enough, like a well springing into life,
Leaving me elated and babbling
In a language of sounds and sighs.

I am filled with new wine,
And am dancing in the market place
And speaking the tongue of love
As others coming rushing towards me.

The Race to the Tomb by Bob Commin

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The Race to the Tomb

Mary Magdalene came running
She came crying and running
She cried: ‘Peter! John!
They have taken the body.
The stone is rolled away.

The huge stone, taller than a man
Wider than a team of oxen,
Rolled away. The tomb empty,
the body of Jesus gone.

Peter looked up,
saw the stress and tears in Mary’s face,
and began to run to the tomb.
Peter was running swift as a deer
His cloak a sail in the wind.

John was behind the house,
heard Mary’s piercing cry
and came running too,
like an athlete, strong and swift

Peter heard his footsteps,
then the wind of his presence
as he passed him on the road.

What did Peter see and hear
on this crisp dewy morning
as he rushed to the tomb?

He saw donkeys scatter from his path
And he remembered…(What did he remember?)
Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey
‘Hosanna, Hosanna
Save us! Save us!’ the people sang.

Hens and chicks scurried from his steps
cheep cheep, cheep, cheep.
A cock crowed from a rooftop
Cockildoodil doo
And he remembered…(What did he remember?)
denying he knew Jesus, three times,
‘I do not know the man’

Doves fluttered into the air
Coo cooooo coo, coo cooooo coo
he saw a fledgling with a fresh twig in its mouth
And he remembered…(What did he remember?)
Noah’s dove and the rainbow of a new world.

He ran past a twisted sycamore tree
twisted into the shape of a cross
And he remembered …(What did he remember?)
Three crosses on the Friday sky
And tears filled his eyes.

He turned as he reached the Rams Horn Inn
And heard drunken laughter.
He saw men throwing their dice
three sixes and a four
two sixes and a two
And he remembered …(What did he remember?),
Soldiers dicing for the clothes of Jesus
beneath the cross.

He crossed the field of bleating lambs
baa, baa, baa, baa, baa.
And remembered …(What did he remember?)
the sad Passover meal,
the bread and the wine of the kingdom.

He reached the garden,
saw the tomb with the stone rolled away
saw John standing outside,
just looking in,
panting and staring.

He rushed past John,
into the darkened tomb,
He saw the grave clothes lying on a stone
the body was gone.
He remembered the words of Jesus:
‘On the third day he will rise again.’
In that moment he realized,
Jesus is risen.
He took a deep breath
a long calm breath.
Then he turned around
and walked away from the tomb.
He saw an eagle with outstretched wings
Rise up into the morning sky.

Bob Commin

Thomas the twin

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Ever thought of Thomas’s twin
Where doors are shut in the upper room
The twins, faith and doubt
Of science’s fact, of faith’s trust
How the one leaps into the mystery of the other
How I trust the one, deny the other
But one is the mirror of the other
Who is the twin I see in the mirror
It is the Christ, the becalmed Self
Hands of my sister, side of my brother
Bob Commin

Poem reflections on the Resurrection

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Poems on the Resurrection

1
You caught them by surprise
On the third morning
At the day’s awakening.
Shedding oil and spices in the way
The women run in fear

2
He sees the early morning
Emptiness of the tomb.
Felt the warmth of the linen cloths
And the moth-like pulse across his brow
He is risen now.

3
Mary looks into the darkness
The tomb of all her sadness
Facing her fears
she gazes,
Until angels shimmer in a dance of light.

4
Mary is not mistaken
thinking you to be the gardener.
The earthiness of your presence
Standing there
Clutching the shoots of new life

5
Mary has found you
And with joy mounting all sorrow
Reaches out to hold you
“Do not cling to me”
There was no returning
To the master she once knew.

6
When you came to Thomas, the Twin
you came to all of us
We celebrate the twin in us
faith and doubt.
Questions fly kites whose cords run
To wells of faith in the deep earth.

7
On the road to Emmaus
You wander like a minstrel
into all our conversations
restoring our past
and we become the tellers of the future

8
What a surprise for Peter
He has had enough and will return to work.
“I am going fishing”
Safely in the smell of the sea he lets down the nets
And there you are on the shore smiling like the Buddha

9
In the resurrection appearances
They know you in the breaking of the bread
In the sharing of a hearty meal
You are remembered
You are re-membered.

10
In the Upper Room you came to your disciples
And breathed on them.
Like a lover blowing a kiss
And in that moment
You gave them the Guide

11
You rose on the third day
I rise everyday
And because of you
My story will meander through the eons
Until love is worked out in me

12
Now this beautiful body of the gardener
That walks through doors
That carries its story in hands and side
Will I get one?
And can I choose?
Will you rather who fixed broken bodies
Let mine find its fullest beauty

Bob Commin 2015