Tuesday, May 31, 2011

I am with you.

The lessons for this particular Sunday give direction and encouragement to those who are going to follow and lead the Church in God’s mission to the whole world. If you love me, obey my commands. There is only one test of faith that matters in John’s Gospel – obedience. If you say that you love someone, then you will listen to what the person has to say and will do as the person asks. Therefore no one can say that they love someone else and then do things that would disregard, disrespect or event injure the loved one. And living in obedience to the command of Christ shows not only that we love him (and good religious people should love Christ), it also helps us to have opportunities to speak the good news to those who need to hear it in a way that will enable them to receive it with the grace and the love that God intends.

The Gospel needs to engage and enmesh with the culture we live in so that people can hear it. We as the Church need to model it so that people can see it, be drawn to it and then begin to live it. It does not mean that once they accept the good news that everything is all right, perfect and that they don’t need anything else, in fact the opposite is true. They need the Church more not less. This is where the Spirit works in the life of the Church. The Spirit enables the Church to “re-language” the Gospel so that the culture can hear what God is saying to them and to understand what God has done for them in sending his Son Jesus to us.  This does not mean that the principles of the Gospel change to fit the culture but rather that the culture is challenged to change and be transformed.

And we need to recognize that we are not left behind to do this great thing on our own. We are guided by the person of the Holy Spirit. We are given another Advocate who will be with us and within us throughout our ministries. The Spirit is here to defend us against charges of serious nature, specially charges that would carry penalties like death. The Spirit enables the Church to defend (in the sense that Christians can actively proclaim) the good news of God in Christ when they are brought before people of position power to actively witness to the world that God is making things new. The Spirit witnesses to the people around us as to who God is and is for them through our own lives. Christians, as it was once said, are not perfect, just forgiven. The Spirit enables the people in the world to see and hear God through the Church as we live and move and have our being. The Spirit also draws people who would respond to the message to the Church and begins the transformation of lives that will not finish until they are made perfect in Christ at the end of this age. And last but certainly not least, the Spirit comes to us and within us to give us strength and to embolden us to be and to do what we need to be and to do that we would make the kingdom known in the world. The Spirit fills us with the love and the courage of Jesus that we might look, sound and act like Jesus.

It is noted in the lessons that no one usually suffers for going about and doing good for people. But if it were to happen, count yourself blessed and endure whatever it is you need to go through. None of us should shrink back from doing good nor should we avoid doing good even when it means there is a price to be paid for it. God calls us to love and to live with him and sometimes that means that there are moments when life and faith are going to be tested and refined. We have known such things in the past while through tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, fires. We have seen scandal in sporting events and in government. We are calling to continue loving God through the hard spots and tough times. And when we still our hearts we can hear God over the rolling of the thunder and the falling of the rain, “I am still with you” and we can say, “Amen.”     

Monday, May 30, 2011

Behind the right door

I have spent a fair bit of time lately with the words of John’s Gospel, particularly Chapter 14. It is one of the those passages that we often hear at a funeral, or when there has been a tragedy of some kind and the world has seemingly changed in significant ways, personally and corporately. But I think we spent too much time about the personal comfort we can expect to get from God when things are hard and not really look at what is being said.

This is an important moment before everything that is going to happen with Jesus actually takes place. The Disciples are getting ready to face what looks to be the end of everything. It is going to be the worst time of their lives and they are not going to get what they were hoping for in Jesus becoming Messiah. I was the worst of times. So Jesus reminds his followers in this moment of some very important things:
(1) they are reminded that they are not alone.

(2) they are not forgotten, that God is with them so they need to keep believing.

(3) they are reminded that Jesus is coming back to them and that they can trust and rely on him.

We need to hear that in this moment of the life of the Church. The Church is not alone. We have not been abandoned and worse we have not been forgotten by God. Jesus calls on his followers to calm their lives. “Don’t let your hearts be slackened and wobbly; keep them still. Continue believing and participating with God. Keep on participating and trusting me. Redouble your trust because of what is to come. The way ahead is harder, steeper, deadly. Trust me when I say to you that I am working to bring you back to the Father. So don’t allow your lives to be shaken so badly that you cannot hear God speak to you. Calm and quiet yourselves. This is preparation for the main event – the Supper of the Kingdom of God.

We struggle with what to do with our institutions, our buildings and our budgets. We work tirelessly to try and prop up that which is falling down wondering when God is going to make things like they used to be… back in the ‘good old days’. We need to learn again to trust and to rely on Christ. We need to stop looking at the loss of buildings and institution as defeats or worse death. We are not called to build any structure or institution but God’s kingdom. We are called by God to go into his world and to help in its transformation into what it is – God’s.
This means that we cannot afford a church life that is six days invisible and one day incomprehensible. We live in a day and age where the pace of change and upheaval move at an astonishing rate. We cannot, for the sake of the world around us, be anything more than ministers and stewards of change. With great hope the Church can be more than this because of Jesus, but we cannot settle for less. We cannot be satisfied with less and still believe that we can claim that we are being faithful to a God who is moving and working to make all things new. We live in a world that needs to hear of hope and of life when there is so much that speaks death, destruction and decay. We need to tell and show the world who God is in the power of the Spirit. What we do and who we are is what we do and who we are because of Christ. We are his people, his holy nation. And we serve him as his royal priesthood.

We have been with him and now it is coming our turn to go and shine for the kingdom, having been made God’s own. Let us go and show and tell; in Jesus’ name.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The right Door

Therefore Jesus said again, “I will tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal, to kill and to destroy; I have come that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”

Many like to think of the comfortable image of Jesus (and therefore God too) as the Good Shepherd. A pristine Jesus dress in a white robe, surrounded by a few sheep, a staff in his right hand and a lamb draped over the left arm. There is nothing threatening about this kind of Jesus. But there are a few things that we ought to consider about this passage if we are going to address it properly; and maybe it is going to make a few and maybe many of us uncomfortable.

For example, it is impolite if not outright scandalous, to suggest that Jesus is the only way the Father.   Many in the wider society and even some within the Church would suggest that we need to get over such thinking. We are (supposedly) beyond all that now. We don’t need to talk about the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. That is all in the past. And we are smarter than that now.

What would be scandalous to us? Well first, Jesus claims more than just a mere connection to God. He is telling us that he is God through saying, “I am the door”. He makes it clear who he is and who he is for all of us. We have a choice: we can go through Jesus to receive life, our faith encouraged and our joy made complete by being in relationship with him and through him with the Father.  Or we can listen to someone else, anybody else we like and find our door opens to having our lives, our joy and our faith stolen, murdered and utterly vanquished. This is the challenge that Jesus puts to the Pharisees. The Pharisees want their own righteousness, to make themselves good people. Rather than letting God make them holy people, entire his people.  Jesus, in claiming to be the only door to life, shows us who God is and what real joy and real freedom are like as he lives such things out in his own life.

And if we leave things there, we might leave many in the Church happy because, there are many in the Church who seem to think that once you are in, that’s enough. That’s all there is. They would be what I often think of as “wrong”. Sheep are not kept in the fold against their will. The shepherd at night would lie down across the narrow entrance so that if some restless lamb needs to go out and run around for a bit, the shepherd knows that the lamb is gone and knows to keep one eye peeled and one ear open as well as his rod and staff close at hand, to watch and listen for trouble.

Moreover the life we are given is not meant to be spent “all penned up”. We are not given this life to play it safe and to be nice people and that we are “good enough” to get in when our time comes. Rather our community centers itself around the Shepherd who not only who is the life of the flock, but willing gives his own life to make the flock what it needs to be. So if I am going to rally around something, then I am going to rally around the Shepherd who not only lays down his life for the flock, I am going to celebrate the Shepherd who rises again that he might lead us on. I choose to rally around a Christ who loved us so much that he would not live without us; that he offered himself in our place to suffer our pain and death in our place. Because he has done so and because God has raise Jesus from the dead, I too shall rise some day.    So in this moment, we need to stop and listen, hear Christ’s voice and follow on. Which door will you choose?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

"What things?"

“What things?” I am certain that the question hit like a ton of bricks. Not just because the person asking seemed to be so unaware of his surroundings and had managed to miss everything that had happened to Jesus. It is deeper than that. Cleopas and his traveling companion had to stop right there in the middle of the road and once again face everything they had seen and been through in order to re tell the events that had just happened. They were leaving the city now. They had waited the three days. And in the soft evening, has the pair trudged along the Emmaus Road (Lk. 24:13-35), they had been consoling each other, wondering what was next. Time had passed. There were still no trumpets, no resurrection, no earthquake and no Jesus. Certainly the dreams of a renewed Israel were fading fast with the sinking sun.

All of a sudden there was with them another traveler. They did not know him or recognized him. After all who looks for the dead among the living? We should note that has the trio now walk in step together which quickened the pace. The steps are easier and the hearts of the sorrowful are becoming lighter. The traveler spoke with confidence about the Scriptures and how God had acted to bring about the work of the Messiah and how the Messiah would bring about the start of the new creation. Cleopas and his companion had waited and wondered what would happen next. They were still waiting and hoping for everything to make sense; “We had hoped… we had waited…” and as they continued to walk and talk the duo found courage in the travelers’ words. When it came time for the trio to part and become a duo again, Cleopas and his companion would not take “no” for answer to their offer of hospitality when the time to part ways came. They would twist the arm of this traveler and force him to turn in for the night if they had to.  They thought that the least they could do for this traveler was offer a simple meal and a warm bed for the night. They compelled the traveler to come with them.

At the table, with the breaking of the bread, they finally knew him: fully and suddenly. They knew that they knew. Their faith and their unbounded joy returned to them, like a warm, refreshing summertime rain. They found that the embers of their hearts were once again fanned into full flame. Just as important, they wasted no time. They left and returned to the city as fast as their legs would carry them – running and sprinting as fast as they could go, to share the good news that they had seen and known the risen Jesus in the walking and in the breaking of the bread.

We as a Church need to renew ourselves in the word. We need to deepen our knowledge of the Scriptures not just that we can have better debates but so that we can begin to hope and to see on the way, at the table and in our everyday moments all day long! We need to see ourselves as being in this part of the resurrection story. We care a lot and we know a lot. As Church we think about and talk about the things we face and the things that sadden us, make us fearful and that disappoint us. We worry about our hope being diminished and our dreams being dashed.
We (the Church)  need to walk, talk and we need to have our hearts opened again by the presence of God and we need to have our eyes opened that we would see Jesus so our hearts might be on fire and we would be fearless to tell others where we see and know Jesus in the here and now. And we need to be patient to the end of the Day when God will have made all things new again. We can and do know him on the side of the road. We do know him in the breaking of the bread and the prayers.  We too shall know that we know his presence and thanks be to God for that.