Thursday, January 28, 2010

Great expectations

Soren Kierkegaard, a 19th Century Danish philosopher and theologian, once remarked that many of the greatest minds of his day were working to make people’s lives easier – inventing labour saving devices and machines. Thus Kierkegaard decided to make people lives more difficult. He would become a preacher.  And maybe he had Jesus first visit home to Nazareth as something of a celebrity, having come back to Nazareth after being coming a hit in most other places he had been, especially in Capernaum. After all, look at all the good things he had been saying doing. We are his “peeps”; his buds and his family. If he has done all these marvelous things elsewhere for people he doesn’t know then what has he saved for those who love him and know him best? Isn’t that what happens when we become familiar with someone? When expect certain things and expect the person to act in particular ways with particular mannerisms. And when we don’t get it, we get upset wanting to know where the person and the action we were expecting has gone. And then we need to lay blame. Unfulfilled expectations need to be blamed on someone. And in anger we are not very fussy about whom we blame it on and if we can focus our resentment on a particular person, all the better.

This is why I keep a particular piece of advice given to me by a mentor in my heart – be careful to choose what hill you want to die on – you can only do it once. We know that Jesus going to do what God asks of him – he will make it to that hill in spite of the fact he has been dragged to the hill where he played as a child with his friends. They used to drop rocks over the edge just to see what would happen when the rocks got to where they were going at the bottom. Now, friends and neighbours have form a mob and they are picking up stones just in case Jesus strives the fall when they throw him over. They are moved swiftly from prayer to criticism and from worship to a nearly blinding rage. All this commotion is created because the hometown favourite has refused to put on a good show. But more than that, those who are confronted with the fact that they want to be entertained rather than to encounter the Gospel and be touched by the presence of the kingdom, such people become angry even violent. Such things are the last defense of those whose expectations are confronted, exposed and even shattered by the truth. Truth cannot be ignored or extinguished. And such people who have been exposed by the truth are at war with themselves and will make causalities of those who seek to do them good. People of Nazareth didn’t reject Jesus and so he went somewhere else and to proclaim the News, teach and heal. They got angry because he went somewhere else first and then refused to treat his own like everyone else because he had been teaching and proclaiming and healing others
It’s like the man who was trapped on the roof of his house during a flash flood. He prayed that God would rescue him and then in the pouring rain and rising torrent, the man waited. It wasn’t long before a family on a makeshift raft floated by and offered the waiting man a ride. “No, but thanks, God is going to save me!” And so the family let go of the house and waved goodbye to the wet and waiting man. A little later a rescue boat used by the police came along. The two constables in the boat tried as hard as they could to convince the man that it was better for him in the boat than on the roof. Still the man would not leave insisting that God was going to come and get him. And so the constables left to check on other houses and other people. Later on, as the rain poured down and the waters continued to rise, a news helicopter came along and the news crew tried desperately to save the man, even tossing him a rope so that they could pull him off his roof top. Even in spite of the situation and how extreme it had become, the man still shouted back, “God will save me!” Only a moment or so after the helicopter had pulled away, the news crew watched as the torrent washed the man and his house away. When the man reached the Gates of Heaven he was greeted and given a towel to dry off and was escorted into the throne room where he came face to face with the Almighty. Wet, confused and a little angry the man asked God, “Why didn’t you save me?” To the man God replied, “But I did try! I sent you a raft, a boat and helicopter. What more did you need my son, what more did you need?”   

What we hear in this Gospel is not something to soothe and make everything better – in fact this not soothing at all. This is not the Gentle Jesus, meek and mild that we are always used to hearing about. He makes it clear from the outset that he is here to do God’s will and fulfill the desires of his Father’s heart not ours. He is not here to pander to our expectations but to be a man of bold courage and conviction who is not going to mince words and is not afraid to jolt people from their assumptions, aspirations or expectations when they are in conflict with what God desires. Mercy is shown to those who do not deserve it not only to those who will receive it but as an indictment on those who would rather save themselves.

It is no small wondered that he enraged the congregation that morning and yet he at end walked through them and on his way. This was not his hill. It was not his time. Who receives grace and who gets mercy and when they get it is up to God. The choice is not ours but his. Living the truth as we need to do, will expose people’s strengths and weaknesses, the good and the bad. We need to make sure that we are ready to follow. Let us go with Christ and follow him whether it be easy or hard.

Making Good on Promises

Promises, promises. We like to make them and we think that we can hold each other to them. Consider those we have elected to the federal parliament. They will talk and they will promise. We mere mortals demand that we get effective political leadership and that everything must go smoothly into the vision of whatever the utopian ideal we have set for ourselves. We hold up democracy as the way to live in a pluralistic society and yet we seem to live frozen in fear that someone is going to come along and shatter that dream and we aren’t going to receive what we have been promised. We see such things all over the place and particularly in the media. In fact I can remember when my wife and I were getting ready to be married there were many people who kept telling us that the odds were that more than half of the marriages would fail to live up to their promises and would fail to be life long bonds.

Oh yes we like to make our promises and yet we forget that there is a need to keep them. It is not so with God. Even when we prove faithless and our word is shown to be something else that true. When we don’t live up to what we have promised God is still faithful and chooses to live up to what he has promised. The Scriptures reminds us that, “if we confess our sins (God) is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) So maybe it is good news that ministry – all ministry, whether it is lay or ordained, personal or public – is about God. God almighty calls you and I into mission and ministry with him that he might work in us and through us to change us and to transform this world so that it might come back to the relationship it was meant to have. God desires to have you come with him and serve him that he can use you to impact the world around you.  God has promised to bring people back to him and he is going to use you and I to do that.

Divine Promise is more than just the simple things. Being poor is not alleviated by lots of money. You can be a billionaire and still be poor. You can have everything that the world can offer and still be in jail. You can go and offer yourself to this world and this culture and find you are held captive by it. You will never be free if that is the way that you choose to live. The promise of eternal life and the freedom of serving God might not compare well with what seems sexy or right in this world but then this world is changing because God is at work in it – drawing people to himself.

What promises have you made in your lives that are unfulfilled? Promises to a spouse? Promises to a child? Promises to a friend or a colleague? What have you promised God that remains left between you?
Let us take this opportunity to recommit ourselves to honouring those things in our lives that will honour both God and neighbour. And let us listen for the voice of God that we might be encouraged to keep going and keep faithful this week, in Jesus name.       

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Let Christ be revealed in us

A wife noted for her husband that their 10th wedding anniversary was coming up and that she thought that was an important milestone. Then she politely and firmly suggested that his gift to her should reflect the importance of such an occasion and that the gift should be something befitting this important occasion. She then suggested politely that it should be able to go from 0-200 in about 3 seconds. What did the husband go and find for that special gift? A new set of scales.

Revelations can be a scary thing. And perhaps that makes Epiphany a scary season of the Church. Things are revealed. Maybe it is something new that we have never seen before. Maybe its that we have seen before but have not seen it or understood that thing we have known in this way before. After all every knows about parties and no one likes to run out of their favourite beverage. No one wants to make that late evening dash to the store because they are out of chip dip. Everything is supposed to be done decently and in order. Yet this season should disturb us at least a little. We are getting glimpses of God on his way to the cross and to resurrection.

Much is made of how much wine there was at that feast. First of all the wedding planner blew it because the feast was ongoing and there wasn’t enough wine – perhaps not even enough to last the night. In urgency, Mary goes to Jesus and tells him, “They have no wine.” Jesus responds with a cryptic tease by telling his mother that his hour had not yet come. Mary could be any person, even you or me, complaining that there is little time left because the life of the party will soon run out and so the party will end. After all as a song from my childhood state, “We are here for a good time, not a long time. So have a good time… the sun does not shine every day.”

In a sense, Jesus came not only to show us how to celebrate but to change the reason for us to celebrate.  So what did Jesus come to show exactly this Sunday? He came to give us a sign of his glory in the midst of everyday celebrating. Some will worry about how much wine was made – what we need to know is that there was an abundance of what was needed to sustain the party. God will sustain the life of his people. And in the process Jesus did something that most were not aware of. He took something (the large pots) that was empty and inadequate and gave it a new purpose and a new meaning, bring it to life. He allowed something to point to the glory of the Lord almighty so that those who knew could put their trust and faith in. The Law had failed to give life and so God comes to us to restore and to renew the life he put in us. In essence, because of Jesus there is a new measure, a new scale and we need to be aware of that. And thus we discover that God’s agenda and our agendas are not always the same thing. We desire the party of our own making while God comes and reveals to us that the reason for the party is about to change. The party is not about us anymore; its about Jesus and the God given desire to bring forth new life.

We seem to live in the Church in the same way these days: thinking that there is little time left until the Church fails and falls and we will need someone else to turn out the lights and lock the doors. We worry about there being no life left in us. Why haven’t we as individuals and as Church asked God to fill us with what we need to live that abundant life. And it s does not matter how old we are – young or old – will we not live the life that is within us to the fullest extent? Remember the words of Mary to the household servants: “Do whatever he tells you”. There are moments and perhaps this is one of them when we need to move from just being prayerfully aware bemoaning the circumstances around us into prayerfully doing whatever it is we are led by the Spirit to do. We don’t always have the answers, the magic words, the map, the program or whatever it is we think we are supposed to have to get knew people into the Church. We need to be at all times that people whom God calls by name. It is time to listen and to do what the Master says. It is okay to have questions, worries and concerns. Yet we need to keep walking, praying and doing that his Light might shine in us and that people might see the face of Jesus in us. Let Jesus Christ be revealed in us this way in this week.         

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Why did he do it? So you could go and live it!

Have you ever wondered why he did it? Why did Jesus allow himself to be baptized? For certain he wanted to identify with us, to be like us in every way that he could and so he did something totally human: he was washed. Luke’s Gospel does not talk about how things happened nor does it mention explicitly John being the one who does the baptism. It is possible that in our post Christendom age of the Church that we are still pushing the idea that we need to deal with sin and that we need to get clean. This is still both true and real. We need to be made holy. We need to be made clean. But if that is where we leave this passage of Scripture and our understanding of what baptism is all about, then I believe we do both God and ourselves a great disservice.
Why did Jesus submit to baptism? Here is a list that I considered so that I might know my own self.  These are in no particular order but are interrelated:
  •         Jesus wanted to be with us and because he wanted us to be with him. His desire for us is that we be united in community. Baptism is the level ground on which we meet with him and with one another in community. Baptism makes him the focus of our community and of what we do as community both when we are together and when we are apart.
  •       Jesus submitted to baptism so that we might join him in his submission and humility to the Father. He chose command us to baptize so to draw us in to his life that we might be like him: in his death and so that like him we can know his resurrection. 
  •            Jesus entered that moment that there might be the possibility of a life directed towards God. Baptism is more than a sweet little moment. It is a precious moment – a great and costly one. Jesus came because we are worth something to God – we are his precious ones.  
  •      Jesus came to his baptism to show that God was about to do a new thing that would supersede what had come before without nullifying the past. The past is important because in the past God has told us what he thinks about us: “I have redeemed you. I have called you by name. You are mine.” He told us about hearing the Father when he was baptized so that we could stop and listen for the Father to tell us: “You are my child, my beloved, with you I am pleased!”

·         Jesus wanted to so us what to do when we discover that we separated from God that we know how to respond. Jesus knows that people need salvation so he took it all on and did it by honouring God at the start of his ministry that would make it possible for him to offer us salvation. A new person lives a new life directed towards God – we can live like him.

How then should we understand our own baptisms? Like so many others that have been baptized as young children, I do not have that moment to draw upon. There have certainly been other moments, like confirmation, being commissioned as a Church Army Captain, being ordained as a deacon and as a priest. All of those moments though, as great and as important as they are in my life,  are subordinate to that moment when I was washed and recognized as being precious to God. No Christian has a greater, more important moment in one’s life than that moment when we are washed and recognized as precious, both to God and to the Christian community.

Baptism is about living out the life as a Christian person. It is not about avoiding judgment and a fiery hell. Baptism does not make you anything but someone who is a member of the household of God who confesses Christ crucified, waits for the resurrection and shares with the rest of God’s household in Christ’s eternal priesthood. A person is not “saved” or redeemed simply because they get wet or “dedicated”. People are not safe because of how they are baptized or because they have prayed a particular prayer in a particular place.  God is active in the life of his precious people. They are his and he calls them by name. It is God who judges and God who redeems and saves his people. It is not about us but about God.

Baptism is about living a life that refuses to live in solitude, only living for and caring about one’s self. Baptism is about living a life that is totally in love with the Savoiur and completely in service to one’s neighbours. Baptism is about living out the promises made to God concerning renouncing evil and accepting and serving Christ every day of your life. How will you live out your baptism this week? Will you participate in the breaking of bread and in the prayers? Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbour as yourself? Will you will you treat people with justice and peace, respecting the dignity of every human being (even the ones you don’t like)? How will you honour Christ this week?

Monday, January 4, 2010

Living out the name of Jesus

What’s in a name? Any name? Let’s take the name “McDonald” as an example. What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the name “McDonald”. Hearing that name makes me think of at least two things. First it makes me want to sing “ei, ei, O!” Second it makes me think of that hamburger chain that I used to love to go to when I was a child. It was a decent hamburger back then and it wasn’t the merchandising machine it is now. But we certainly do recognize the things that are associated with a name.   Another would be a group of Lutheran churches named “Grace” in the U.S.

There was a Grace Church in Texas that heard about the plight of a “Grace Church” in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The building that Grace Church was using was destroyed by the hurricane leaving them without worship space. The Grace Church in Texas wanted to help their namesakes in Louisiana so they got involved. They could see how they were related, at least by name and that these relations needed to be cared for. As a result, a network of Grace Churches grew up to help those affected by Hurricane Katrina- they wanted to live up to their name and live out the grace poured out on them. 

Then there are people and their nicknames. For example I have a number of nicknames from my time in the North. Clergy are given “nicknames by the elders out of the clergy’s personality and a common understanding of who the person is. So, to some of the elders in the Tahltan nation, I am known as liptlaidda (spelt phonetically) which means “preacher” or “storyteller”. To one elder in Old Crow Yukon I am gii hii inzi – the kind one who speaks the Truth. Some people in a congregation in another parish called me gii sill cho which I would translate as “little bishop” because of an incident with a bridge that got broken. All of us have our tags and labels that we wear – some by choice and others by imposition of others. Some of the tags are pleasant and others not so pleasant.

What is in the name of Jesus? It is important to know that Jesus is not a Hebrew name first of all but a Latin one. Jesus is from the name Hebrew name “Joshua” which means “God saves” or “God is salvation”. In this case it bespeaks the efforts that God is going to make to reach out and save his people through is only begotten Son. God is going to act and is going to heal and save his people. In naming their son Jesus, Mary and Joseph have accepted who their son is and they put their faith in God precisely because God has done what he said he would do. Having faith and belief answered makes them more devout and aware of their faith and the need to live it out.

On top of this, they had people coming to them for weeks after the child was born to see him and to then go and speak about him to others so that they might come and see him for themselves and praise God for what he is about to do in and through this child. The shepherds came and told what they had seen and heard and by doing so, surprised and encouraged Mary and Joseph after months of turmoil, fear and pain. The shepherds – outcasts in the rest of the society are the first humans to welcome the Christ Child into the world. Later on, the Magi came, bring their gifts and Simeon and Anna were in the Temple to welcome him when the matters of the Law came into play.    

How does this impact on us? We as his Church as the Body of Christ, we need to bear his name, to tell of the deeds of Christ and live out the promise of God in his name. Mary and Joseph were faithful to live out what they had seen and heard. They named the boy Jesus. And through their faith and willingness to follow, they worked with God to enable salvation for all people. Others like the angels and the shepherds, the pilgrims including the Magi came to see the boy and left proclaiming the greatness of God and the wonders he is going to perform to save his people. We need to continue to do this, to bear the name of Christ faithfully in our own lives and tell people of the deeds God has done in Christ so that they might come home to God.   As Church we need to live as people who know that God is faithful to his promises and will lead is people into health and salvation. God is faithful to his promises and he calls us to be faithful to our promises to him that we might live out our lives as witnesses to his grace and glory.

As we begin another year, let us take up his name, tell of his deeds and live into the promises that God has made to us and let us do so in Christ’s name.