Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Go and do likewise ... and find life

We like our hot topic debates in the Church, this much we can agree on. It is almost like we need some sort of controversy to drive the Church forward these days. There are lots of topics to pick from though let me be clear, I don’t think that the colours of the church building would be one them! Jesus is confronted by a lawyer, someone who is well trained in the Scriptures (the Torah) and is used to having such debates amongst his peers. This unnamed lawyer asks Jesus a question that we might well ask in this day and age – what can I do to live forever like God?

Jesus answers his question with another question, “What did you learn in the Scriptures?” The lawyer smiles and replies, “Oh, that’s easy, love God with your heart soul mind and strength and your neighbour as yourself!”    “Great,” confirms Jesus, “You have the right answer. If you know what to do, go and do it. In the doing of it you will find that you have eternal life; a life like God’s life.  “Surprised that he is on the short end of this conversation, the lawyer asks another question, “Teacher, can you tell me, who precisely is my neighbour?” and this is really the heart of the parable – whom is it that we serve? The lawyer presumes that there are people in the world that don’t need or deserve his help and that these people can be safely ignored without being judged by others including God. And isn’t it interesting that we as human being find that the simplest things to do are also the hardest things in life to do.

So Jesus tells the lawyer a parabolic story. “There once was a man who traveled from Jerusalem down the road to Jericho. Along the way he was attacked by robbers. And because he had very little, all he had for the trip home were his own clothes. These were taken from him. The traveler was beaten savagely with his own walking stick and left for dead in the ditch along the edge of the road by the thieves. A priest on his way home from doing his duty at the Temple saw the man half alive and heard his cries for aid but the priest did not stop to lend assistance, choosing instead to think of him as already dead. Then a lawyer came along, saw this man in his awful state and chose not to see or to hear anything because he had pressing business to attend to in Jericho.   

But then came along a Samaritan, a foreigner. Someone who no self respecting, religious person would dare go near. He came to the spot in the road where the badly injured man lay in the ditch. The Samaritan saw the injured man, heard the plea for help, had compassion for him, and when into action. He got the injured man out of the ditch, cleaned and bandaged his wounds, using wine to disinfect and oil to protect the wounds. He put him on his own animal and led the animal to the nearest in where the ill-treated sojourner could recover from his experience and hurts. Then when he could delay no more he passed the care over to the inn keeper telling him that the convalescing traveler was to be cared for and any expense that the innkeeper incurred would be paid for upon the Samaritan’s return.

“Now then who was the neighbour?” asked Jesus of the now sheepish lawyer. “The one who showed mercy on the injured man,” answered the scribe, refusing to name the Samaritan. “Right, so go and do the same,” commanded Jesus.   

What’s the hot topic this week? Who can we not serve and get away with it? There must be people in the world that we can ignore and forget about, people that we don’t have to tend on… isn’t there?  Maybe we should consider the nature of the mission of God, and therefore of the Church. What unique characteristics are there that we discover about the mission of God from this parable? First of all, no one calls the Samaritan “good”. No one recognizes the possibility that this could be how God acts or even that this could be God himself acting. This “do gooder” is an outsider, a foreigner, the enemy. He is considered to be a reprobate and a heretic by so called the respectable, holy people. And yet the religious people fail to see the true nature of God and his mission to the world.

They are shocked to learn that such low life type person would even be capable of such an act. God is capable of having mercy on those who need to be shown mercy. God is able to show compassion to very person, not just to the good and the nice, but also to those of us who find ourselves, half dressed, half dead, and totally in the ditch and absolutely in need of help.

Being a help to another human being at the side of the road and in the ditch is what faith and ministry is all about. We as a community should and must be committed to drawing people to us and we should be ready to care for them regardless of who they are or what they have done. Faith and ministry are also as much about the attitudes we carry about other people as it is about the things we do for other people. Attitudes determine how will pray for people and what we will do and not do for others.  We need to bring hope to those who need faith. We need to bring joy to those who mourn. We need to feed the hungry and give drink to those who are thirsty. We need to set free those who are captive and in prisons. We must proclaim the moment of freedom to move into God’s reign for that moment is now.

We know what Jesus would do. If God goes to those who are fallen, beaten and injured, th question then becomes what will we do? How will we respond to finding others on the side of the road? Will we treat them as neighbours or pretend that they are dead? Go and do like God does - be merciful. Be a neighbour and a friend. Go and find that you have eternal life in Jesus’ name.    

Friday, July 2, 2010

No more prints in the sand!

Imagine that you are one of the seventy apostles that Jesus send out ahead of him, as he is making his way to Jerusalem, to preach and proclaim the coming of the kingdom. What would be the biggest challenge that you and your partner would face? Would it be the lack of a credit card and money? Might it be the lack of food between where you start and where you might end up tonight? Could be that you aren’t dressed just right for the journey or to preach? Are you afraid that you might be unsuccessful? What is it that stops you from making that first step?   Recently I came across another poem that speaks to the struggles we experience as Church when we think about our walk with Christ:

One night I had a wondrous dream. One set of foot prints there were seen.  The foot prints of my precious Lord but mine were not along the shore.  But then some stranger prints appeared.  I asked the Lord, “What have we here?”  These prints are large and round and neat but Lord, they are too big for feet.   My child he said in somber tones.  For miles I carried you alone.  I challenged you to walk in faith but you refused and made me wait.  You disobeyed, you would not grow; the walk of faith you would not know.  So I got tired, I got fed up and there I dropped you on your butt.  Because in life there comes a time when one must fight and one must climb; when one must rise and take a stand…or leave your butt prints in the sand.                 - Unknown

Those of us who follow Christ often worry about the implications and the complications of following Christ in the everyday world: will this place be a good place? Will I be well received? Will this be good for me and my family. That is the difference between religion and discipleship. Being religious means that you can stay right where you are and be religious and to be religious on your own terms. Being a disciple means that we are under the discipline of another and that means we are not in charge. And the more that we take charge of our own lives and situations the harder it becomes for us both personally and corporately to live in moments when we must yield and when we must surrender to the call and to the will of the Master. What gets in the way of your discipleship, of your obedience to the Master? Obedience requires that we be near to the Master to hear him so that we know how he wants us to serve him. After all it is in Christ that we live and move and have our being, is it not? We need to stop, to be still and to listen so that we can in turn, move and serve in his power and in his name. To do otherwise means that we fail to hear and thus are not where we ought to be. Such failure makes us an absurd (the opposite of obedient) community who lives to itself and therefore slowly dies to itself. There is no health and there is no salvation within such a community because it is away from God.

God calls his people in to mission with him so that they might not only have life but all that his life has to offer us. It is in living such a life that we are able to draw others into relationship with us and with God. The Church is not called to turn the world upside down but rather turn itself inside out. Being this kind of inside out community is never going to be easy – there are going to be struggles in being community before we can reaching out to draw others in. Other people need to see in us a glimpse of us as community at table with Jesus. The world needs to observe the love that overflows and abounds through the hospitality that we give one another. People need to see that relationships are transformed not just people; that the old is being made young,  the broken are being made whole and that all things are being brought to perfection in Christ.

Take a risk this week and make the kingdom known through your life and ministry and let’s make castles at play lest we find our own butt prints in the sand.

Moving with Jesus

There once was a little boy named Johnny who was seven when he and his three year old sister Sarah were brought to church and baptized by the local clergy. On the way home, little Johnny was all teary –eyed, and his lower lip was all trembly. His parents asked him what was wrong. Johnny would not answer. His parents asked him a second time but again he would not answer.  As they pulled in the driveway of their family home, Johnny broke into huge sobs. The father asked Johnny asked again sternly, “what is wrong?” Brushing back the tears and hold off a sob, Johnny blurts out “The minister said that he wants me and Sarah to grow up in a Christian family but I want to stay with you guys!”

We begin the “stony-faced” journey with Christ. For some they will think, “Oh, yes we had to be good and do our duty and be good. We need to follow and do as we are told so that everything is alright while others will concentrate on their salvation and watch for the rapture so that they can declare, “We’re out of here!” But have you ever consider that there is something more to religion than that? Like Martin Luther once said “A religion that gives nothing, costs nothing and suffers nothing isn’t worth anything”? 

So let consider carefully some of what follows and see how it might fit into your life:
·         Have you ever been rendered powerless? The Church is actually meant to be a reflector. Something that shows something else – but it has no power of its own. It can only reflect what it is given to reflect. So in the case of God, the Church can reflect God to show who God is to the world. We can be the first images that people see of God and how they might relate to God. So what is it that we are telling the world about God? It is important for each of us, and equally important for all of us as a community to consider what it is that we are showing the world in terms of who God is. And at the same time we can reflect the praises of the Church of and the world to God which is a part of the priestly function of the Church. We are not meant to just gather in the people, we are expected to gather up the praises of God in the world and offer that praise before God in worship of him. Would that make Church more interesting on Sundays? One thing is clear though: it is not about us – it is about God and his mission to the world and we are called to play our part and not use our own strength to make it happen.

·         Why would you choose to use your freedom to do something that will make you a slave again? Christ died to set us free that we might live lives given to service to God so that we might remain free. We are beings who are made for worship and we will worship. The question is who or what will we worship? There is urgency in going and in proclaiming the Gospel. Some want to wait on blessings or signs or in natural courses of life. The good news that we have been set free needs to be proclaimed in the here and now so that others can be set free. The things that we bind ourselves to are the things that we place worth in and therefore will worship. The Church is called to bind itself the to things of God and to the love of Christ that we might remain free and serve and worship God in our generation.  

·         Aren’t you going to slaughter the oxen? Jesus tells us that if we start to walk with him and keep turning around to see what we have left behind that we have not really left and that we are of no use the kingdom of God. Elisha understood that. He slaughtered the oxen that he had used so that there was nothing to come back to. He had to leave them behind. He understood that there had been a change in his life and that his life was going to be very different from now on. Within the church today there is a call to “radical discipleship”. In reality there should be a call to commitment; a move toward being obedient and to being the people in Christ that we have been called to be by God. Then the radical life to which so many think we are called will be far more possible. There is a need to be totally focused on where it is we are going. And in being single minded this does not mean that we have a single track mind, quite the opposite! In being focused our lives become directed to share with all those we encounter, who God is and where it is that we are going. Through that we will invite others to come with us and for them to focus on the journey.  

We’ve decided to follow Jesus so let us move forward in his strength and in his name to the glory of the coming kingdom.