Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Walking with flinty faces into the kingdom

If there is one thing that I have notice about Christians of all stripes of late, it is the struggle over keeping churches going. This was on my mind when I went to visit a parishioner recently. This person is very elderly. This person’s hearing and eyesight are nearly gone. Age limits mobility. Age limits time that can be spent somewhere and doing something. And yet there is a remarkable resilience in this person who made two things very clear as we visited: (1) Christ is her King and (2) she can pray because she knows her King is listening and will act. And then she began to sing a little chorus to me about following Jesus, leading a holy life, shunning the wrong and choosing the write and the Lord will make a way for her and me.

So this visit made me stop and think: what does it mean to be a follower of Christ, in this digital age? That’s because we live in a society that sees people increasingly isolated and insulated from each other because of where we live, how we live and most importantly what we live with. Canadians are increasingly living in large urban and suburban areas, in large homes. They seldom get to know their neighbours and spend time with them. People are avoiding community clubs, organizations and fraternal societies in favour of being in front of the television, the computer, on the phone or on a game system. The days of the kind of “community” that my great grandparents knew are virtually gone. Affluence allows us to pay somebody else to do the things we don’t like or want to do.  We have become a society who will “like” something on Facebook, but will never really buy into that thing or be in a real, substantive relationship with that person. We live in world where we believe that we can do it all on our own, leaving both God and each other out of the equation.

The Gospel this week confronts that kind of thinking and that kind of living on different levels. There is nothing new about humans wanting their own way, wanting it how they want it and wanting it when they want it. It has been going on since the first people rejected God and began to sin. Oh, just in case you think that there is something new or improved about you, me and us over them, remember this: there is nothing “original” about your sin. One of the “in” thing these days is to claim something like, “Oh, I am not religious, I’m spiritual.” In fact I was reading an article recently that there is a new trend in North American Christianity where apparently it is cool to use profanity in one’s speech to prove that you are a rebel unfettered or otherwise restricted by the Church and its rules.

Well consider carefully then what is said in the Gospel. First of all, we are told that Jesus walks with a “flinty” face towards his goal – the city of Jerusalem and his date with the cross. He found his resolve to live and to walk as God wants him to walk. Going into the capital and facing what will happen is a choice. His choice. It was not fate or an accident that put him there. It was not a cruel joke nor was it a simple mistake. It was Jesus’ choice to go. He decided and then he walked; others went with him. Along the way there are various people and a certain community who see Jesus and they react to the fact that he is going to Jerusalem and apparently to his death. The community rejects Jesus because he favours going to Jerusalem rather than hanging out and agreeing with them. Jesus is in charge and is free to serve. He knows where he is going and knows what it is going to cost to get us there. A couple of his followers go to him and ask to be allowed to call down fire from heaven like Elijah did on the prophets of Baal to wipe out the village to teach them and the rest of the world whose right and whose wrong. Jesus resists this idea, telling them to keep quiet and keep going.

Then a man known to  Jesus comes and makes a grand gesture by publicly announcing that will go wherever Jesus goes and do has he is told. A brave thought but there is a problem or two here. First, there is the issue of choice. Those who follow Jesus don’t just choose to follow him. They are chosen by the Master. He gets to decide and he calls. Thus we need to make sure that we are ready to answer that call and to know what we have to bring with us when we leave. We will travel far. We will travel light and we will travel fast. There is urgency in what we have to tell people. He is King and He is coming again.  We need to let them know Jesus is King and that he is coming. Therefore we need to make the city ready. We need to straighten the road and prepare the streets. Then we need to go out and meet him as he comes to us and comes to this city. And as we work away at welcoming the King we need to act in his name and do some of the following:
·         When you go leave. There is no reason to agree with Jesus and then do nothing he has asked of you.
·         Walk with resolve. That’s what it means to have a flinty face. Count the costs both of what it will take for you to follow Jesus and what happens if you stay home.
·         Talk with love and with urgency. What you have to share is important news. It has both eternal benefits and eternal consequences. We need to share with people about the life, the kingdom and our King.
·         When you leave, leave alone what you leave behind. It is hard work to plow the field, scatter the seed, patiently watch and tend the field, and harvest the crop at the right time. Constantly looking back means the furrows are crooked which makes more work and causes pain and pressure for the farm. Learn to let go of the past so that the future is bright.
·         GO even if it means that you miss your father’s blessing. There is now time like the present to go and share the kingdom with the city around you. Our heavenly Father who is the source of each and every blessing will provide what you need and you progress and walk your way to him.

Therefore, let us go in peace, to love and to serve the Lord, to build his city and drawn in his community and tell his people, he is King and he is coming home.


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A man named Legion

When I was a student in theological college, we had a day in homiletics (preaching) class where we had to call in and talk to a talk show host about this awful incident of losing the community’s pig herd because of something a fellow named Jesus and his rescue a poor fellow who had been possessed. There was lots of laughter as we had our roles assigned, and uproarious laughter as each of us called in to the show from our imaginary community “out around the bay” to talk to “Bill” (which was extra funny because our professor was a woman). If you want to check it out try this link: The shows are on from 9am to 1130am, 2-4pm and 8-10pm weekdays. Listen carefully to what is going on in the world when you do this!

We did this exercise for a simple reason... It got the class to look at a story of the Gospels from different angles. This in turn, helped us to see Jesus, the possessed man and the community involved in a variety of ways.

The story this Sunday is about Jesus and the disciples crossing the lake to get to a gentile area so that Jesus could have time to teach them before he sets out for Jerusalem and the cross. It is the only time that he makes this kind of trip; the only time he heals one person. Jesus tells that one man to “Go home and tell home much God has done for you”. The story is a foreshadowing of the mission of the 70 and of the events around the transfiguration which will happen in chapter 9.

What does the story tell us?
·         There is the disciples of Jesus who are silent witnesses of this act though they were in full flight in the boat, fearing that they were about to drowned because of the storm and the lack of response of Jesus until he is aroused from his nap on the pilot’s cushion. It leaves the disciples wondering what kind of Saviour is Jesus, because he commands creation and it obeys him.

·         There is the community and the people who live on that side of the Lake who may or may not have heard about Jesus until he arrived on their shore. They didn’t know why they had lost their herd and thus their income. They were fearful of what they had seen and heard and wanted nothing more to do with Jesus. They asked him to go way so that they wouldn’t suffer anymore. They had suffered in trying to deal with this man who had been occupied by evil. The people had tied him up, bound him with ropes and chains and yet he could still free himself. They were genuinely afraid of him and what he could do to himself and to them.

·          There is the man named Legion. Jesus came to rescue him and to make him whole. He was not just possessed when Jesus came to free him, Legion was occupied. More than likely he had been taken to exorcists by family and friends, only to find that at some point, this man was to fall back under the control of evil and have the situation worse than it was before.  It is both devastating and harsh that this man had been robbed of everything that made him human and himself, including his own name. The personal evil within answers for him with their own name. The man is totally enslaved to evil; totally occupied by a legion and therefore claimed territory of evil.

And remember something important: “God has visited and redeemed his people”. Luke makes this bold statement here to help the readers of the Gospel to understand that the good news that is proclaimed about Jesus is not just for one, or for some but for all. The world and some within the Church are going to have a real struggle with the idea that there is a personal form of evil. Often people will think and say that disease is a human thing. Physical, mental, spiritual disease can have human sources but there is a force at work in the world that would see you separated, alienated from the One who has created and is redeeming you. We acknowledge this in our baptism service, renouncing Satan, the spiritual powers and sinful desires that would corrupt and destroy us as creatures of God. The thief comes for nothing but to kill to steal and to destroy but Jesus comes that we might have life and have it more abundantly. We need to be freed from those things that possess us, enslave us, and even occupy us. Freedom is not a DIY project. We need others, and in particular we need to be visited by God so that we can be set free. We need divine mercy, grace, compassion and love in our lives. In short, we need God. God visits all of his people and redeems them. Even if it only one person and that person by worldly standards is deemed to be a hopeless case, God works to move us from being occupied by evil by transforming us into the likeness of Jesus and into being his people, his children. For the Son of man came to seek and to save that which is lost (Lk.19.10)

God comes to cast out the demons, to restore our identity as his own people and to remind us that he does visit and redeem his own because we are his and no other’s.


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

I thought I would warm up with this Brian Doerksen song, "Its time for the reign of God"!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Let the eyes have it!

There is a thought that came to me this morning: maybe the Church lives in a culture of “little” because it will not acknowledge the abundance we have all around us. And we don’t acknowledge what we have got because we are told we can have it all but we don’t have it all yet. Therefore we think that we are living these impoverished lives, believing that we don’t have it all and need to pursue it. Yet we live surrounded by all this “stuff”.

Have we actually stopped lately to open our eyes to see what we do have? In conversations recently, a number of times people have acknowledge that they do not know who Jesus is or what he is about. They haven’t seen him. I find that somewhat concerning since we are the church that is named after the apostle who took people, starting with his own brother, to see Jesus. Andrew did not hand out books or tracts, he did not preach a sermon nor did he ask them if they had an appointment. What did he do? He took them to see Jesus. NO programs. NO forms. NO screenings or background checks. No requirements of tithes, offerings or gifts. He took them to see Jesus.

The great thing is that when they get to Jesus, he sees them too. He sees people for whom and what they are. Christ sees and understands the situation of each and is prepared to reach out and bring both life and death to a halt. Jesus reaches out to transform the life of this world into the life of the kingdom. He reaches out to make the blind see, the deaf to hear, the lame to walk, the mute to sing, the dead to rise and the poor to be rich.

Christ seeks to save that which is lost: us. He seeks to bring healing and restoration to that which has grown old and has fallen down so that all things and all people will be made new and upright and brought to their perfect in him on his day at the end of all things. It is why he went to the cross and through the grave: that we might live for him and in him. God bodily raised Christ from the dead so that we might live and be with God forever – body and soul.  Every eye shall see the salvation of our God.

So let us look around with open eyes and see what God is doing and let the eyes have it!