Monday, January 30, 2012

Righting the Church and the world

They walked the north eastern shore of the Lake and went on the way to Capernaum. And when the Sabbath came Jesus went into the Synagogue and he taught – as was his custom.  The people noticed that he was not like the other teachers. He was different from the scribes because he taught as one who had authority. Jesus did not rely on his latest book and he was worried about who had taught him the past that made him acceptable to the religious establishment.  He concentrated on teaching what the Scriptures taught and revealing the presence of the Kingdom of God to those around him. And he showed us that we live a upside-down world. Think  I am kidding – try this on for size!

“The Upside down Mice” by Roald Dahl and sort of written out and illustrated by Antony Maitland

Once upon a time there lived an old man of 87 whose name was Labon. All his life he had been a quiet and peaceful person. He was very poor and very happy.

When Labon discovered that he had mice in his house, he did not at first bother himself greatly about it. But the mice multiplied. They kept right on multiplying and finally there came a time when he could stand it no longer.

"This is too much," he said. "This really is going a bit too far." He hobbled out of the house and down the road to a shop where he bought himself some mousetraps, a piece of cheese and some glue.

When he got home, he put the glue on the underneath of the mousetraps and stuck them to the ceiling. Then he baited them carefully with pieces of cheese and set them to go off.

That night when the mice came out of their holes and saw the mousetraps on the ceiling, they thought it a tremendous joke. They walked around on the floor, nudging each other and pointing up with their front paws and roaring with laughter. After all it was pretty silly, mousetraps on the ceiling.

When Labon came down the next morning and saw that there were no mice caught in the traps, he smiled but said nothing.

He took a chair and put glue on the bottom of its' legs and stuck it upside down to the ceiling, near the mousetraps. He did the same with the table, the television set and the lamp. He took everything that was on the floor and stuck it upside down on the ceiling. He even put a little carpet up there.

The next night when the mice came out of their holes they were still joking and laughing about what they had seen the night before. But now, when they looked up at the ceiling, they stopped laughing very suddenly.

"Good gracious me!" cried one. "Look up there! There's the floor!"

"Heavens above!" shouted another. "We must be standing on the ceiling."

"I'm beginning to feel a little giddy," said another.

"All the blood's going to my head," said another.

"This is terrible!" said a very senior mouse with long whiskers. "This is really terrible! We must do something about it at once."

"I shall faint if I have to stand on my head any longer!" shouted a young mouse.

"Me too!" ---- "I can't stand it!" ---- "Save us! Do something somebody, quick!"

"I know what we'll do," said the very senior mouse. "We'll all stand on our heads, then anyway we'll be the right way up."

Obediently, they all stood on their heads, and after a long time, one by one, they fainted from a rush of blood to their brains.

When Labon came down the next morning the floor was littered with mice. Quickly he gathered them up and popped them all in a basket.

So the thing to remember is this: Whenever the world seems to be terribly upside down, make sure you keep your feet firmly on the ground.

Keep in mind that Jesus has come to show us not only that our world is upside down and to put it right again, he has come that we might move with him through death and the grave, that we would live in freedom and in service in the life that is to come.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Sudden Departures

There was once back in the days of Apartheid, a British Airways flight was getting ready to fly from Johannesburg to Heathrow, when suddenly, a middle-aged, well-off white South African lady had found herself sitting next to a black man. She pressed the call button and called the cabin attendant over to complain about her seating. "What seems to be the problem Madam?" asked the attendant. "Can't you see?" she said. "You've seated me next to a kaffir. I can't possibly sit next to this disgusting human. Find me another seat!" "Please calm down Madam." the stewardess replied. I'll go see if we have any seats available in club or first class. A few minutes later the stewardess returns. "Well, I have good news. We do have one seat in first class." Then she turned to the black man, and said, "Sir, if you'd like to get your things, you can follow me to your new seat in first class." At which point, the surrounding passengers stood and gave a standing ovation while the man followed the flight attendant up to the front of the plane, disappearing behind the curtain.

What would you consider to be good news?  Would it be finding out that the dream job you had applied for is going to be yours? What would it take you get you to drop everything and live the way  you were called to? Would take a lot of money? Would it take a great marriage proposal? Could it be as simple as finding out that you have been upgraded and you are going to get away from that obnoxious passenger in 26D? Perhaps. 

I know that on many levels, I would be glad and relieved to get away from that passenger. I might have stood and applauded with other passengers if I had witness that event. But it also occurs to me that there is a greater challenge for us as believers. We are called to love that same person in seat 26D in the same ways that the Master does. He would call us to catch her and to invite her; to let her life be transformed by answering the call to come and follow him. And would surprise you to find out that this lady considered herself to already be a good Christian?

Here is the great thing but being invited to go with Jesus: he will take you where you are at, no questions asked, warts and all. And here is the hard thing about accepting that same invitation: You are never going to be the same again. He is going to change you. Your whole life is going to revolve around what you see and do not only for him and in his name. Your life is going to be about responding to Jesus and to the life he has called you to in his kingdom.

I think of these fishermen and the lives they chose to leave behind. They left for time, everything they had built up. They left their homes, their families, their parents and maybe even children behind to go chasing after this one man they believe is the real deal. They want to be a part of what is about to happen. They have bought into everything the Master is teaching and they are going to go and learn about the kingdom. And these men don’t know it yet but their lives are going to be radically different and in turn, so too is the world. The world is going to be transformed and know the reign and kingdom of God.

But how does this relate to us? Well stop and consider the same question those four men did, will you come forward and follow Jesus as his disciple?  Can you say that your words and deeds will be seen as words and deeds that amplify and declare the kingdom? Would God say the same thing? And most of all are you ready for your sudden departure?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Won't you come and see Him?

Can anything good come from there? That is the question that gets asked and there is a common response to such a question in John’s Gospel: “Come and see.” I don’t know about you, but I find that helpful and encouraging. We aren’t left in the dark. We are not left wondering and guessing. We are invited in. And that we are invited in, we are also welcomed. This story (John 1:43-51) about Philip and Nathan helps us to know how we, as the Church, can introduce others to Jesus. We invite others, and they in turn receive not only the invitation to come into the community, they receive the welcome of Christ himself. Sound too bold for you...maybe not, Come with me and see.

We start this story with Jesus deciding that it is time to go forward and preach, teach and heal. And he is headed north and towards home to the Galilee. Jesus deliberately goes looking for Philip. He calls and invites Philip to go with him and the others that Jesus has called. Philip has heard Jesus’ message and now is the time to choose. Will he leave the life he has known and risk the uncertainty of what Jesus offers. He knows and likes Jesus. But what about the life they are going to lead and live... will everything be okay? Will there be a roof to cover their heads? Will there be enough to eat? And how long will we be gone? And most of all, what’s in it for me? One thing is for certain though, if he is going he is not about to go alone. Philip goes and finds his friend Nathaniel and invites him on the trip. And Nathaniel, when he is told of Jesus, gets the same invite that everyone else has received, “Come and see”.

The two men go to the arranged meeting place with some of their belongings in sacks slung over their shoulders. They find Jesus and the other disciples waiting (some rather impatiently) to get on the road. Jesus even before there is a word out of Nathaniel’s mouth greats him and describes him to a tee. “Nobody is going to fool this one!” says Jesus, “He knows the truth.”

“What! What! How do you know me? We’ve never met before,” Stammers Nathaniel.

“I saw you over by the fig tree and you were praying to be shown the Messiah and for the consolation of the Kingdom,” replies Jesus.

To which Nathaniel exclaims, “Ah, now I see! Know I see that you are the One I have been asking for, Teacher. You are the Messiah... you are the Son of God!”

“Come with me  and you will see greater things... even be touched by angels. Come and see my friend, come and see.”

What will you do this week? Will you lay back and do nothing? Be critical of what you hear and not respond? Will you not come and see and then go and shine that others might see Jesus?

Living the grace to show the Light

As I sit here looking at a... well, looking at a blank page, I have to stop and think about the circumstances of my own baptism and how the journey has gone so far. My family, that is my parents, my maternal grandparents and I were on the run. Now we had not done anything wrong nor did we desire to run away from the crowded city. That for me would come later. My parents are dutiful people and they discussed who would take me to church and thus that is the church I would be baptised into. After all, the BCP does remind us that, the Minister of the Parish shall often admonish the people that they should bring their church for baptism as soon as possible after birth; and that except for urgent cause and necessity they seek not to have their children baptized in their houses.

I imagine that the day of my Baptism was hot and muggy because it was the Lower Mainland of British Columbia and because it was the Feast of the Transfiguration which means that it was early August. And because it was hot and muggy, the cool water put on my forehead was a shock and refreshment. Plus, like many little ones in similar situations, I probably “rang the rafters” with tones of disagreement as someone wiped the excess water from my face.

And that got me to thinking about the theological matters that seem to come with such a moment. Over the years I have listen and even from time to time participated in the battle about whether or not to wait concerning baptism. I have come to only one conclusion in it all, having been baptized, confirmed, commissioned and served as evangelist, studied and been ordained deacon and subsequently priest: as power as any of those moments might have been, what matters is not that moment but the  after.

What matters is how one responses to the grace that is conferred to us for the moments that will follow a baptism, a confirmation or even an ordination. When I was first ordained I (perhaps foolishly) waited for there to be a moment when I would feel like, that I would become and be a superhero that could preach and teach and lead thereby making the churches I served perfect and without a single problem. Yes I am aware the Church is not perfect but thank God we are being made perfect. Thank God also for the fact that we are gifted and that all the gifts and the things that we need to make Christ known in this city are here and are giving for us to use and to share. We become the “gifts of God for the people, the world of God.”

That is why it is important to be at worship with the rest of the Church on a regular basis: we need to present ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable and living sacrifice to God. We need to live the grace of the moment of baptism in each and every moment that follows so that others will see, seek and serve Christ and learn to love as he does and to start learning by caring, sharing and loving one another. So let us take this opportunity to live out that grace and make it and Christ known to the praise of his kingdom and the glory of the Father almighty.