Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Bread King

It has been said that the definition of insanity goes something like this: it is the doing of something over and over again in the exact same way while expecting a different result. There are lots of things that we continually do over, hoping that things will turn out differently… better. It is I think the way that at least some in our society perceive religion. You have to be a good person, do the right things and say the right words and maybe God will listen… maybe. In the meantime, perhaps we look a bit foolish praying prayers and doing good things hoping all the long that God is there, watching and blessing.

That’s the way I view the gospel lesson for this week. People have been impressed. They have been taught. They have been fed and they have had their fill. And the disciples are now cleaning up their mess with twelve rather large baskets, filling them with the “couldn’ts” or leftovers that the multitude was not able to consume. But if you listen carefully, there is no response from the people after they are fed. There was no “wow” factor in this particular miracle. They had been impressed, fed and then went away. I would reflect that it is easier to be impressed than to be impacted. It is easier to keep a distance and not get really involved in something that it is to bring yourself closer and be affected by what is going on around you.

It reminds of the time in Toronto, when I was in training at Church Army College when we were sent to a youth street mission to be “street proofed”. We spent the night on the streets with kids from the mission learning about their lives and how they survived. It wasn’t until I crawled into my soft, clean, warm bed at 7am the next morning that I realized something really important. I was safe. I was warm. And if I wanted I could shower or have a meal. The people I had just spent the night with could not do or be most if any of those things. That’s when I stumbled on something important. Jesus and his disciples feeding the people was an act of compassion. Jesus knew that the people needed to eat and he wanted to teach his Church that people need to be fed. And then I realized that God was looking after us all. God in a real sense was caring for us, providing what we needed according to our circumstances.

Isn’t it true that we all want to be fed? That we will come back for more bread because we will be hungry again? Isn’t it also true that God desires to give us our daily bread? That God desires to care for us, to show us how much he loves us so that we might learn to love him in return? The context of this miracle is that Jesus wants to show the Church that they have what is necessary for them to care for those they find in their charge. It is a miracle in some sense of compassion. We recognize what it is to be hungry. If that is the case should we not care about others in our midst that might also be hungry and thirsty?

In this, there is a clear connection between the Church and the celebration of the Eucharist. It is important for us to enter into and to renew the presence of God in our lives on a regular basis. We need the renewed awareness of God and his presence in our lives and in the world. And we need this renewal because we forget and we struggle and we get hungry and thirsty. That is why God desires to see us fed and to look after us: so that we can respond to him, in prayer, in worship and in acts of kindness and love. All this is so we can re-present Jesus in the world to those who would come to him. So that through us others can see us in him and with him, wherever we are and wherever we go.

There are those who will see him as the “Bread King” and all they will desire is to have their full tummies. But God offers so much more than that. God offers life beyond the bread of this moment; he offers bread that gives eternal life – his Son. People around us are hungry, thirsty cold and in need of shelter. They want something that is not just more but better that what they have now. Offer them what you have; that they too can move into the presence and life of God which is better by far that we might all truly live. God is indeeed with us and he is ready to give and to bless that we might sidover that he is faith to us and awaiting our response.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Please keep off the Weeds!

If the parables of Mathew’s Gospel are to teach us about God then what can we learn about God from the Parable of the weeds (Matthew 13:24-30; 36-40)? Jesus takes the time to explain the parable to the disciples who are still trying to work everything out. The disciples are finding it hard to understand why Jesus would not want them to confront and overcome evil, especially if they find it amongst themselves.

So it is understandable that they might be mixed up when Jesus tells them that the Kingdom is like a mixed up field in this moment; that has both wheat and tares growing in it. The natural reaction of any good gardener is to go and deal with the weeds. You spray them with chemicals. You run them over with lawnmowers. You pull them out by their roots, either with some specially design garden implement or by hand. But weeds must be deal with at all costs!

That is not how God deals with such a situation. God takes time and patience. God waits. He watches as the fields ripple in the wind like waves on the ocean. God witnesses the fight of the birds in the air and the swimming of the fish in the sea. God sits with children on his knee, listening with joy to their tales. Then he takes them and bless them. God considers how the grasses and flowers of the field grow and array themselves. God even takes the time to wait at the gates for that prodigal child who is late in coming home, having plundered his inheritance. God waits for that child to embrace, forgive and welcome him and her home.

What can this parable each us? That we cannot judge like God judges. Our desire is to get to the root of the matter, by holding an inquest, a trial, or even a royal commission. We will get all the relevant “facts” and make a supposed dispassionate decision and then of course dispense punishment. The recent case of Casey Anthony is a perfect point. Many people, including members of the jury, believe that she has harmed her daughter and that she is a very shallow person capable of all most anything. Many will believe that justice has been denied the little girl. Casey Anthony has been found not guilty of the crimes many believe she was accused of. And some I suspect would like to take justice into their own hands. Shouldn’t we stand back and realize that all of us are in the same position where God is concerned? Shouldn’t we recognize that there is no health, no salvation in any of us? That judgment and salvation both belong to God and not to anyone else?

Jesus points out to his disciples that rushing to judgment when we cannot see clearly causes more grief and does more damage than when we are patient and wait. God meets us here in this place, in this community, this Bethel where we are living and suffering. You know the feeling… when parents used to tell about how hard it was when they were kids. They would say things like, “At least Jacob had stone for a pillow. We had nothing and we were always happy! It’s not like it is now days.” We are not dealing with a God who is going to wait until we get it right and we make ourselves ready to be in relationship with him. God in Christ active seeks us out. God is generous not only in the supplying of the ministry of the Church but in the building of every relationship with every person. God is wildly generous to all who will come to him with love grace and mercy. And God is not waiting until we in the Church “get it”. The truth about God is at hand and the kingdom is here, in us.

We are called by God to be patient and to prayerfully watch and wait – like him! The Church in the midst of this world and this life is to overcome evil and temptation not with brute power and fit of temper but with patience and forbearance. We as individuals and as community can do more damage and evil if we answer in rash and inconsiderate words and actions the words and deeds of others. One injustice cannot correct another. If we act in such a manner, then we risk becoming that very thing which we abhor.

So this week, let’s try to be patient, knowing that there is work to be done. Like those servants heed the Master and wait so that we might yet be a blessing to those who are still growing up and draw others into the kingdom, that the Banquet room might be filled.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Welcome Home

There is a great little book written by Max Lucado, called “The Applause of Heaven” I want to acknowledge Pastor Max because much of what I want to share with you comes from his book, though I have taken it and put my own slant to it.

I have been a way for a time, on a trip. There have been different airplanes and airlines, airports and hotel beds. There has been a lot of time sitting in meetings, stand in Conference rooms speaking and teaching. But now I am almost home. After four different nights in four different beds and one airplane seat over night, I am almost home. After drinking my umpteenth diet Pepsi® or bottle of water, and having eaten a few restaurant meals, I am almost home. After bags of salty nuts and grumpy airline personnel, line ups for tickets, boarding passes and to check luggage, I am almost home… and in the end that is what matters to me.

Home. It was the first though each morning when I rose up and it was the last thought when I crawled into bed each night. It was my first thought when I stepped down from the pulpit; it was my first thought when I said good bye to my hosts and I boarded the ferry to take me to the airport. There are lots of things that I recognize that are special about home. For example, tea never tastes better than it does out of your own kettle and your own mug. There is nothing like the meals shared around your own table. There is nothing like a hug for one of your own family. I am never in as much of a rush to leave as I am to come home. If I can, I like to be one of the first off the plane and first to get his bag – though this rarely happens. There is a drama that plays out around you as you wait, squealing kids excited to see a long lost relative, couples reunited after time apart, and students heading back to school for the fall semester. “Rejoice and be glad for great is your reward in heaven.” And what is our reward? To finally be home.

And such a thought is important in this world, because when I awoke this morning, there was a mother on trail for her life, having been accused of murdering her daughter. This morning, there are people who are waking up to realize that their husband or wife is still away on mission in Afghanistan. There is a widow who is going to have to go and bury her young, brave Constable husband after an accident that cost him his life in the performance of a simple traffic stop. When you look at this worn down, heart sick, gotten old world, does it make you wish you were home?

Scripture reminds us to live in hope because there is going to be a day when we will be face to face with the living God and that God himself is going to wipe away the last of the tears. There will be no more tears or mourning, there will be no more graves or death. We will not know the separation and the silence of the grave; we not be removed from each other and good bye will never be spoken again. We are given in Christ, a new and living hope that will not only help us live but will bring us together and build us into a new and living temple for God.

In this life we come to know God – we must live and remain in God to live that hope forever. In this place we recall to mind the grace love and mercy of a God who would rather die himself than live in eternal bliss without us.

You’ll be home soon too. Each breath is a moment of grace. Each day is a gift of another mile walked. Each mile that is walked is part of the journey that draws us closer to God and to being home. Your arrival is awaited and anticipated. Your will walk down the flyway and into the arms of those who wait for everything to be made new. There will be faces happy and glad to see you. And from the back of the crowd there will be hands uncovered from the folds of robes; these nail scared hands will applaud Those same hands will be extended to embrace you and welcome you home.

Growing where we are planted

There is something missing from the passages over the next couple of weeks. You might be surprised at my saying so but it is true. There is a growing opposition to Jesus and everything he is saying and doing. For reasons I don’t quite understand the lectionary seems to leave these important bits of information out. if we ignore such things then we are impoverished because we are hurt and discouraged when we discover that there are people around us who react the same way. There are people who will choose not to hear. There are people who will not believe – that is participate in the life of God. Most everyone acknowledges that there is a God. Whether they will came and participate in God is another question and perhaps we’ll deal with that another time.

Nonetheless there are people who won’t believe. People who have been deafened by the world and its incessant din of what we need and what we want and what we must have. There are people who have blinded themselves so that they cannot respond to what they see and know about the message of the kingdom because they cannot see it nor hear it. And let’s keep in mind that many of these people are the “religious” people, both of Jesus’ day and of our own.

Jesus uses everything around his to help these people to help them to hear God calling out to them. He starts out on the hillside and when the crowd gets too large he climbs into a boat and uses the water to help magnify his voice so that more can hear him.

Why is Jesus encountering opposition from others? Is it because he is getting more and more popular? Partly. The jealous of other teachers is one of the motivators that gets others to get Jesus arrested. But is it not possible that Jesus has taken some of mystery and more of the work out being a person of God than the other teachers would like? Jesus’ teaching is both deep and earthy, rooted in the things that everybody knows and can relate to. He helps those closest to him to interpret what he has said and then to live out what they have learned. Isn’t that what a teacher should do? He also helps those who will teach with him to understand that people will react out where their lives are at the moment. The religious leaders can’t dance and they won’t cry. The crowds are seeking their own moment with Jesus to get their own miracle so that their lives in the moment will be different. Some want to come and take and make him the new king by force. And then there are those people, who like the rich young ruler who have heard the message, who understand it but are not willing to give up their agendas and their own self concerns.

This leaves us with those who are following Jesus, where are they in all of this? Jesus asks them if they understand what he is teaching them and they give at least a tacit “yes”. Before long it is going to become clear that they don’t “get it”. And because of that we are going to see something of the nature of Jesus and therefore of God that we don’t often here about. Jesus is going to keep going with them. Notice that Jesus does not give up and walk away because they can’t appreciate what is really happening. He stays with them and continues to teach them and to be with them and to lead them. He doesn’t get up and walk away.

It is the character of the Sower that we see in Jesus. He scatters the seed heedlessly and expects there to be a bumper crop. He has chosen ground (the disciples) that seemingly will not bear much of a crop. He hangs out with all forms and manner of social outcasts, is accused of being a glutton and a drunk because he eats and drinks with everyone else.

Often when we hear this teaching (Parable of the Sower) we hear the need for us to become good soil. In fact, this is not the case. We need to respond to the message. We are called to growth not to pick our own rocks, not to pull our own weeds or to water ourselves. We are called to allow the growth of the message within ourselves. We need to respond to the grace and the care that the Sower shows to the seed and to offer to the Sower whatever it is that we can yield without allowing these other things to choke out what it is that we have to offer the kingdom and its mission. Our response to the message is not to be better people but to answer the message with growth – growth in the knowledge of Scripture, growth in the gifts of the Spirit and deepening and growing love for the Saviour. Let this grow in us this week.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The yoke is on us.

In 1945, John Blanchard straightened his Navy uniform and studied the crowd making their way through Grand Central Station. He looked for the girl whose heart he knew, but whose face he didn't, the girl with the rose. His interest in her had begun thirteen months before in a Florida library. Taking a book off the shelf he was intrigued by the thoughtful notes written in the margins. He discovered the previous owner's name, Miss Hollis Maynell on the book flap. He wrote her a letter introducing himself and inviting her to correspond. While overseas during World War II, John continued to write and the two grew to know each other through letters. Blanchard requested a photograph, but she refused. She felt that if he really cared, it wouldn't matter what she looked like. Now John spotted a beautiful young woman in a green suit walking toward him. She smiled and said: "Going my way, sailor?" Then he noticed she wasn't wearing a rose. He then saw Hollis Maynell wearing a rose. She was a woman much older than John, well past 40. He didn't hesitate. Nervously he walked up to her and said, "I'm Lieutenant John Blanchard, and you must be Miss Maynell. I am so glad you could meet me; may I take you to dinner?" The woman smiled: "I don't know what this is about, son," she answered, "but the young lady in the green suit that just went by, she begged me to wear this rose on my coat. And she said if you were to ask me out to dinner, I should tell you that she is waiting for you in the big restaurant across the street. She said it was some kind of test!

How we act says a lot about the kind of people we are. Jesus challenges the people who are listening to him about how they react to John the Baptiser and to him and their ministries. No matter how the religious are entreated, be it through a pleasant song or a mournful dirge, they will not respond because what is offered to them is not what they want nor have lived. They law made the law their servant, useful to themselves in building their stature and maintain the position and authority while at the same time making it useless to everyone else. The keepers of the Law were in a Newfoundland word, ‘contrary’. And it saddened Jesus that there were so many that would not respond to his message – of freedom and of peace, of life and of grace. It was easier to sit and find fault with everything and everyone else. It was simpler to remain skeptical of anything that sounded different and to remain unwilling to budge one single inch.

How do we over come such a thing. We stop and we give thanks to God for where we are and who we minister to. Doing so keeps our focus where it needs to be, namely on God and what God is doing. To not only realize that God is present in every situation, but to be aware that God is already acting to bring about those things that are in concert with his will.

That is why Jesus invites us to be yoked with him. He will do the majority of the pulling. He will make sure that it fits properly. He can teach us to pull load well beyond our own strength. But we need to come to him. We need to abide with and learn from him about the Father and what God wants of us and from the world. Jesus tells us that his burden (the things he asks of us in our life with him) is easy, that it is not trying to fulfill the heavy burden of the Law and the lawyers. We are in a sense invited to throw away our religion. If we are tired of trying to be the good person that never measures up, of being the nice person that someone else appears to be but is not, then it is maybe time to throw away our religion and come to Jesus. We are invited to come and rest a while with him. We are called to walk with him and to be with him through thick and thin. The life of a Christian is not going to be easy because it is full of hardship and challenges that need to be faced and overcome. The call of Christ in the face of this is to a life of humble and obedient service, a life of freedom and joy because the bond to sin death as been severed. We too are being tested and tried in our relationship with God. Therefore let us recognize these things and celebrate our yokedness to Christ for we are count worthy of going and serving with and in him. The yoke really is on us.

Fine speeches

If we heard it last week, we have been sent to all the nations starting with our nearest neighbour. We are to go into life, and as we do, we are to make disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are to baptize them and to teach them everything that he has taught and commanded us. Here is the ‘kicker’: we are all sent. Every last one of us. It’s not if you want to participate but how you will participate in the name of the Lord Jesus. It is a command after all. Either you do it or you don’t. Let’s keep in mind though that making disciples and building up churches is a life’s work. My children have been teaching me this. There are lots of moments when our children will look at us and want to know that God is there and that God will look after us, no matter what lies ahead. Nova and I consistently reassure them that this is true and as we go, we will see and know him. We will know his promises and how he has been faithful both to his promises and to us.

Maybe last why I like hero speeches in movies. That is what in some sense Matthew 10 is. It is a speech of a hero – even before he is truly tested in battle and found to be a hero. There have been things that might point to who and what our hero is – but the full evidence is to come.

In sending the Twelve, Jesus has called those whom he wants to send. He has picked those people to be his “sent ones” and has given them power and authority for ministry to preach and teach, to heal and to set free those who are bound by evil. To these sent ones he gave specific instructions on how to go about ministry. Jesus told them to go and go quickly to each town along the way and declare the kingdom.

I often hear people say that they don’t need to hear about the kingdom. I’m told that everybody knows know about church and they can be good people apart from the church. They do need church as part of their lives. I would acknowledge this as all true. People don’t need the church to be good and have good lives. They can be very moral people and never set foot inside the doors of a sacred building. But here’s the rub: God does look for good people. God looks for those who desire him and want to be with him. God will reach out to those who wanted him and need him. God will rescue those who are in peril and are ready to perish. These are the people that God draws into the kingdom, regardless of who they are or what they may or may not have done. But then this brings a question to the Church, “Are we ready to make speeches and to act to draw others into the kingdom?”

Jesus points out that to the apostles that they are going to faced with opposition and rejection. Not everyone is going to like their message. Not every person is going to be ‘wowed’ by a fine sounding argument. When you are rejected, walk away and leave the dirt behind. Leave it all behind. It is for you that you do this so that it does not consume you as you move on.

We are sent by God through Christ to active sign and proclaim the kingdom in this place. People need to see that the God is not the gods of this technological age and culture. God shows that he is faithful to his promises and therefore is faithful both to us and to his word. God provides what is needed at the right time for those who need it. And in that same vain we are meant to come and participate in the missio Dei. And if you think you cannot go than give; if you cannot give then encourage; if you cannot encourage then pray. There is something that each and all of us can do to respond and participate in his great commission. That way, please God, the world might know the life, the freedom and the peace we all so badly desire but cannot find. Let it be found in Christ and in his Church. The time for fine speeches is over, its time to act in his name.