In his book “Captains of the Soul: A History of Australian Army Chaplains”, Michael Gladwin tells the story of Padre Hugh Cunningham who was imprisoned by the Japanese on the Burma Thailand railway. Cunningham wore no badge of rank, as was the Army custom for Chaplains until 1942.
The Japanese were puzzled by the great respect and particular “authority” that Cunningham had over the prisoners. The uncertainty around this influence led to his restricted access to prisoners, isolation, and confinement, often in a very low, narrow cage.
As always, it is important to look at the context of this story. In Matthew’s gospel, the story follows discussions between Jesus and the Pharisees about the Jewish purity laws, and what makes a person clean or unclean. In the preceding passages, we have the Pharisees challenging Jesus about not keeping the law, (Your disciples don’t wash their hands before they eat!) but Jesus responds by challenging the Pharisees to think more carefully about what makes a person clean or unclean. He argues that it is not so much washing hands that makes a person clean and what goes into a person’s mouth, but rather what are the words that flow from one’s mouth and what are the thoughts that are in our hearts. This is what true purity is, he argues.
Why do we include art, music and poetry in our worship?
It can be argued that Christian artists, musicians and poets show us how to abide with Christ as friends, not servants, because they explore personal insights into faith through their creativity.
“I do not call you servants any longer because the servant does not know what the master is doing: but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father” (John 15:15).
Jesus said, ‘You have heard it said to those of ancient times, “You shall not kill”; and “whoever kills shall be liable to judgement.” But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.
Although I don’t particularly like the term, I can be characterised as a millennial. As a millennial, I am a part of a generation of individuals who have intrinsically grown up with and around digital technology. The normative usage of personal computers, mobile phones and video game systems are implicit cultural and generational expectations. Particularly of note, however, is the cultural phenomenon that is the Internet. It has been interesting to me to see it develop concurrently as I have developed, from being an obscure blue button that I was never allowed to click on, to a resource that I was sometimes allowed to use for homework, (at the expense of preventing everyone else from making phone calls in the house) to having perpetual, instantaneous, high-speed access even when I’m not at home.
Repeating themes of creation, struggle, death and rebirth run through the greatest literature across all cultures. It seems ironic then, that many of our cleverest minds, having “got the picture”, turn to a condensed version or even, in the case of The Fellowship of the Ring, half a short poem to summarise the plot.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.
(From “All that is gold does not glitter” by J.R.R. Tolkien)
Jesus often spoke in parables to teach the crowds that gathered around when he spoke. This parable tells us that a very small seed, if it is tended well, can grow into a healthy shrub even providing a home for birds. It is important to note the context of this parable, following immediately after the Parable of the Sower where Jesus has explained that seeds that fall on rocky ground or amongst thorns do not grow as well as the seed that falls on rich soil. And likewise, Jesus tells the people, the person who receives the Word of God and understands it, is like the seed that falls on rich soil. It puts down roots and yields a large harvest. The implication is that this tiny mustard seed has fallen on rich soil and has been tended and grown to its full potential, so robust that it can be a home for birds.
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