Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Here I am Lord, send someone else

Over the years, I have lost track of how many times I have heard the song “Here I am Lord”. It comes from a favourite book of the prophets in the Old Testament, namely Isaiah. The passage and the song have to do with the call to ministry which is appropriate to this particular Sunday considering we move now from considering who Jesus is, who he was born, how he lived and taught, how he healed, cared for and had compassion for people and most of all how he died and was raised from not only death but from the earth to the heights of the heavenly throne as well. I have lost track of the number of time I have sung it at camp in church and just in the office by myself.

But when I stop to consider all that Isaiah had to say, the challenges that he and the people of Israel had to face, it becomes even more poignant. We are told that it was in the year 740 BC that Isaiah experienced his call to be a prophet amongst the people of Israel. We know that because that is the year that King Uzziah died. He was a godly, powerful man who was in the later years of his reign stricken with a form of leprosy because he had not obey the restrictions and burnt incense in the temple. He was the last of the good kings of the people of Israel. Why is it important and good that Isaiah have this vision? Because he reminds the people of whom the real and undisputed King of Israel is: The LORD himself.

But that is not the sole remarkable thing about the encounter Isaiah has with God. There is the hem of the garment which God wears and it is only this that fills the temple. We are not told if Isaiah saw more than that. He knew that he was in the presence of God and he thought that time was up. He had seen and known God and that means that his life was finished, or so he thought. In a moment when the nation was about to lose its earthly king, and in the moment of seeing God face to face, a new vision with a new path to walk is given. It is not going to be pleasant, easy or even a short journey. Such vision makes a mortal aware of who God is and God wants in this moment from him. He experiences the holiness and awesomeness of God and in that moment realizes who he is as well. This makes him aware of the state of his life and the state of the people and of the land around him. To show this mere mortal that he is ready for ministry, a coal from the altar of God is taken and put to his lips to cleanse his life to the very core. It helps him to know that he is forgiven by God and no enabled to see things as God sees them and to hear things as God speaks them into his life and thus into the life of the nation.

What will it take for you to stop and see God? What will it take to enable you to hear his voice? Will it take angels calling out in abject worship and attendance of the throne? The tears of a neighbour who is about to lose their home because of the loss of employment? What will it take for you to begin to see God for who he truly is and the way the world truly is? What will it take to shake you up so that God has your complete and undivided attention? And when will we stop saying to God, “Here am I. Send somebody else”?

God’s kingdom and his glory are both real and the kingdom is coming. Perhaps the Church needs a new vision. Perhaps the Church is in need of a real “shake up” to know what it is to be in the presence of the Holy One of Israel, to know the living God again. Maybe we need to see God again lest we get really comfortable and thus complacent making us unuseful servants and stewards of the Gospel. We need to be shaken and stirred so that we will move and live to genuinely proclaim and project the message and reality of God.

So let us present ourselves before the throne and offer ourselves that we might make God known and draw his people closure to his glory and his kingdom.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

To the heights of his throne

In getting ready this week to preach I encountered a lot of people who seemingly cannot make sense of the Ascension of Jesus. Now, to be fair what I encountered was their writings, letters, sermons and blogs; not these people personally. And that is why I would take the whole of the last encounter the apostles have with Jesus and read it with the account of his Ascension. Encounter Jesus in the midst of the Church and experiencing him as the risen and arising Lord go together. They go together like toast and tea; like hand in glove; like peanut This peace is not just any peace but God’s own peace. Peace that moves a person from fear to faith. It is a peace that moves a person from misery to mercy. It is a peace that removes the idols of people’s lives and replaces them with the awe and wonder of the presence of the Almighty and everliving God.
The reaction to Christ’s presence is fear and bewilderment of those who are supposed to know him best. They suppose they are in the presence of a ghost or are hallucinating all together his presence among them because of their shared grief. So he shows them the marks left by the nails in his hands and his feet. Yet knowing it is really him, the Church remains befuddled by this moment. And so Jesus goes one more step and asks for something to eat. Hey give a piece of broiled fish leftovers from the recently completed supper of that day. Jesus goes and washes up and comes to the table and eats his piece of fish.
It is in this moment that I have to wonder what it was that the disciples talked about with each other as they watched the fish disappear into Jesus’ mouth. We aren’t told but I know there must have been something said. Peter, Thomas, even John the beloved disciple must have had something to say, even if it was only “Wow!” Then there was time through the late afternoon for Jesus to open up the Scriptures and show them that everything that needed to be done was done and everything that needed to be said was said. He did this to open not only their minds to understand but also their hearts that they might believe and truly live into the lives they had been given.
Then Jesus took them on a short walk to a familiar place where two important things happened. First Jesus blessed his friends and told them to wait for the power of the Spirit before they go to live into the blessing. Second, Jesus as he leaves takes his humanity with him to the heights of the heavenly throne. And there he waits to come again at the Father’s biding to return and to bring with him the new creation that will last and grow into eternity.
So we await our Lord and his return, not left alone and to our own devices but to live into the blessing he provides and with the power to become the children of God through the indwelling of the Spirit of God.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Learning to love full time

A usually irate parishioner is said to have tackled the rector after church one Sunday morning. "I'm so glad you preached an historical sermon," she said. The rector, shocked by this unusual praise beamed thanks. The parishioner continued, "Yes, because I am sick and tired of hearing about love all the time."

Is it possible that we have not got the message about love yet in the Church? As I approach this Sunday, I cannot help but think that we in the Church, know what, love is and therefore we lack the obedience that God demands of us because we have tuned out and shut down because we think that we have it all together. We have certainly learned that God sent his Son so that Jesus could die for us. Some will understand that there is life after the cross and the grave. But how many will know that they need to continue to stop and listen? Or let’s think of it another way: love expresses itself in obedience and obedience will express itself in love.  And if this is so, let me ask you a question: “What will you lay your own life for?”

Then world around us is constantly worried with who we can love... dating sites on the internet to find that special somebody; trying to find and using drugs to enhance physical expressions of love (also known as sex). The world worries about whether are we being emotionally supported by our significant other and about whether or not are we getting what we need or do we need to go somewhere else? Are we going g to make changes in our life to bring us happiness?  The world’s idea of happiness, far short of the joy that God offers us is what we can get to fill our lives with that will supposedly make us happy. So long as we can get, things are good.

Just in case you haven’t noticed or figured it out, that is not the way that Jesus lived among us. His command to love each other is borne out of how he lives and loves us. He has been teaching us and calling us to live and to love like he does. And he loves us so that we can discover the joy that comes from living such a life. There is a deliberate choice to love God and to love others. So perhaps then the lesson that we need to learn now is that there isn’t a person on the face of the planet that isn’t worth giving, sacrificing and dying for. Didn’t Jesus tell all of his disciples, “By this (sign) all will know you to be my disciples, by your love, one for another”?

Here is a simple truth: the real power of love is not in what it can get and possess. The real power of love is in love’s ability it give and to give freely to another. It is what God teaches us in the death and resurrection of Jesus. If we are God’s, chosen and appointed by God to be his Church in the midst of the life of the world then through our relationship with God we are witnessing the building of the Church and the transformation of human society. We are not a part of the Church or living as spiritual people solely for personal gain or selfish ends. We are the fruit of Christ’s life being offer to the world that they might come and eat and live.

If we claim life with Christ then there is, out of necessity, the need to love both God and neighbour. This means that there will be the need to learn to not only giving but to surrender because we are God’s and his alone. We are called to love and to live, in his name. We are God’s and we need to love all time.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Abiding in the Vine

When I was a little boy I used to spend a lot of time at my maternal grandparents. They had a modest, well kept bungalow in “uptown” Kelowna, better known perhaps as Rutland. My grandparents shared a passion for the care of their yard. The lawn was as thick and as tightly woven as any carpet. My grandfather would mow it in one direct one time and then two weeks later would mow it in the opposite direction the next time. My grandmother had a beautiful rose garden out front and a vegetable garden in back. There were all kinds of flowers and plants in the back yard which required a lot of tender, loving care throughout the growing season.

At the very back of the yard there was an apple tree. I thought the tree marvelous because it grew more than just one kind of apple. In fact it could grow four different kinds of apples. My grandparent would hire an arbourist who over several years built a relationship with the apple tree. I can remember in early spring when the tree was pruned, it would be the ugliest looking thing I had ever seen. But as time passed from spring into the summer, from the ugly barrenness of the pruning phenomenal growth occurred, and the tree would change. Blossoms into buds and buds into fruit. By the end of July the Tree would be so loaded with apples that my grandfather would have to prop up the limbs of the tree so that they would not break off because of the weight of the fruit.

I can also remember one year when my grandparents had someone else come in had prune the tree. The results were less then satisfactory and the tree did not yield the kind of fruit that it normally did. And the next Spring, the regular arbourist was back and there were apples galore!

So how does this matter to the Church? Well first we need to remember who God is and then see what God is doing. The Church needs to learn to abide in God – not just the individual Christians. It is easy to make this all about each person and how God works in each person’s life, though this is important in the growth and life of the Church. John’s recount of life at the table with Jesus reminds us that this is not just about individuals, this is about the community. And the people that are being removed are people who have been unproductive in their faith and practice of that faith. We have been chose and appointed not just to be fruitful. We have been appointed to bear much lasting fruit. In other words there are things that God has called us to do and there are things that God wants to accomplish in us. We cannot stand in the church parking lot or on the sidewalk and claim to love God and be good people if we then turn and mistreat and disregard the people around us. We can also never know the full extent of the height, the depth, and the breadth of God’s love for us. So that same love calls and challenges us to keep love those we find around us because of the circumstances that we find them in.

We are called by God to be the living sacrifice he wants to me in recreating the world into the new creation that will someday manifest itself. We are to live out the dyings and risings of Christ. This is how God “prunes” us a makes us ready to bear the fruit of the spiritual life and to live the life of his Son in this moment. In this way we are slowly becoming the people and the Church that God created us to be in the first place. And if we are becoming the people and the community God intends then this has a benefit of being there for the rest of the world that they too might be drawn in and begin to live the abundant life that God offers. Being in Christ the vine is hard work. It is hard work to stay with him and harder still to be pruned by the Father, but then though such things we are empowered to be the followers and leaders that we are meant to be. We living out the promises that God has made to humanity. This is the life that we are all called to in the Church that others might find abundant life and eternity with us and with God.