Thursday, March 27, 2014

Learning to see and having fun doing it.

One of the few memories I have of my paternal grandfather is a rather interesting moment when I was five or maybe six years old. My parents had bought me a gift: a Tonka toy forklift. The forklift came with a box and a few barrels and other things. I remember this because I was playing with new toy while seated at the dining room table. My grandfather came into the room and took a seat at the table but said nothing. Then in came my father who sat down with a cup of coffee and he too said nothing for a moment. The pair of them simply watched me play.

After a few moments of watching me play with the forklift, my father challenged me to put the box with the barrel on the forklift without using my fingers to guide the box on the forks. I protested a little and pointed out that it was my forklift and that I was playing with it my way. And at that precise moment my grandfather, who happen to be blind, spoke up and said,”Yes I could see that you where having fun and I didn’t want to interrupt you.”

There is a basic theme that runs through the Gospel of John that constantly invites people to come and really “see” Jesus. In the Gospel for this week (John 9.1-41), we don’t so much learn about Jesus or learn to see Jesus and therefore God in new ways, as we do about other people and how they are working on and living out their faith having encountered Jesus. We get to see how faith grows as it is tested and formed in a man, who was born blind and then is used of God to declare the divine power to forgive and to heal.

In the beginning, there is Jesus and the disciples who encounter this man who had been born blind. The natural question comes up, “Why did God allow this suffering? Who was in the wrong? Who is to blame? Was it him or his parents? Who can we hold responsible?” If this where to be happening in our day, some would demand a royal commission to study who was at fault, who should be held responsible and then there would be press conferences and recriminations all over the place. And nothing would get done and nothing would be clearly seen.

Jesus makes it clear that some times, things happen. And because this man was born blind and that God knew this was going to happen, this man was chosen him to be used in a special way to show other people their blindness and blind spots.

In particular in this situation, the spiritual blindness of the spiritual people is made evident. There are rules and the rules in this man’s case were broken. Mud was made and making mud and putting it on a person’s face and making them walk too far is a whole bunch of work. It was done on the Sabbath and that is against the rules. Anyone can see that! Yet there were others who argued that God does not listen to or honour sinners, so how is it possible for Jesus to have done this powerful thing and still be a sinner? The authorities had already made up their minds about Jesus and had made it known that anyone who acknowledges Jesus as the Messiah would be put out of the community. So they repeatedly challenged the man who had been healed on the Sabbath: give glory to God and accuse this man Jesus we know he is a sinner. How do we properly judge a person we have never met?

To me this is where the rubber meets the road. The authorities are bent on getting the confession they want and they pressure people to tell them what they want to hear. However, in doing so these same authorities end up proving to others that Jesus is who he is by their obstinacy. The leaders fail to stop, look and listen to him themselves. All they want is what they have. These men are comfortable and settled. Anything that does not fit the pattern is a problem and such a problem must be dealt with. If they had stopped to listen they would have heard Moses and the Law being fulfilled. These men would have seen a new thing that God was doing through this man Jesus. 
Perhaps they might have been like the disciples and not perceived everything and understood what was coming. But maybe they would have opened themselves up to what was possible. They would have seen it all coming. Nevertheless they chose to be blind.

So where does this leave you and me? Well first of all, remember that mud pies are for play not for work. That is, let us learn to see God delighting in doing things that are healing and restorative. Such things are not only creative on God’s part; they go from being work to being a state of play. So we need to see how God is playing and then do the same. Moreover we need to keep our eyes and our ears open. We need to both see and hear the Spirit at work in creation, with people and how God is leading his Church. failing to see and to hear God does not make the Church disobedient so much as it makes the Church irrelevant – unhelpful and unuseful to God and to the kingdom of heaven. If there is something that I have learned in the last 23 years of ministry it is this: “God is not that much of a gentleman.” God will act to rescue his people and in doing so may act outside of the ways that we think are the so called normal. It will still be consistent with God and his nature, it will still accomplish his will but we will not be a part of it. We don’t have to agree or understand completely to be used of God for heavenly purposes.

That is why it is vital that we be alert and be aware of what it is that God is doing in our midst. We need to stop so that we can see Christ in and near others. We need to halt and stop making noises so we can hear the whispers of the Spirit in our ears and in our hearts. And we need to be prepared and ready to address the issues that are right in front of us and serve the people that are nearest us so that they might see God in us.

Seek out those who are hungry and feed them and give the thirsty something to drink. Care for the sick and visit those in prison. Clothe the naked and befriend the lonely. If you want to see the Master, do this and when you do, you will see him in them. And then you will truly see and have some fun doing it.


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Are you talking to me?

The Gospel this week (John 4.5-42) is a follow up from John 3.1-17. It is in some ways, a reversal of what we see in Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus. The Pharisee was wealthy, powerful, well positioned in society, honoured among his peers and considered a powerful figure in terms of his nation’s spiritual life.

We encounter someone in the Gospel this week that is the opposite of that. She is a Northerner – a Samaritan. She is without a husband, or worse in chattel marriage with a brother of a dead husband to provide offspring to continue the family line. She has little money, no social standing and she has to go at odd hours of the day to retrieve water from the well for the household so as to avoid the gossip mongers on the street and at the well. She is not even given a name. We are only told of where she was from.  But in that there is some good news. This unnamed lady was possibly well known later on in the Church. For that reason, it was not necessary to name her – because her story was well known to other believers. She had a reputation of another, better kind. The question is, how did she get from being this poor pathetic soul to be a woman of worth and of spiritual power within the life of the Church?

Well, as one might expect, it starts with encountering Jesus that day at the Well of Jacob near to the town of Sychar. She is stunned by this Jewish Rabbi addressing her. He is crashing through every social barrier there is in even speaking to her. Jesus starts with the obvious physical issue of needing a drink of water and tells her that if she understood who he really was, she would ask and he would give her water so that she would never need to go to the Well again. The woman thinks and says that this is foolishness because he cannot get himself a drink of water. This is where things go from the physical to the spiritual and this is where I think in our modern age, we have gotten off the rails.

I have heard lots of descriptions of this unnamed woman, about the things she has done. In particular, I have heard her being accused of being a prostitute. That is not how I read this passage. If you notice, Jesus in confronting her about her life does not tell her to stop doing what she is doing or something worse will happen to her like with the woman caught in adultery. He challenges how she has handled her life and the choices she has made. Jesus calls on her to make better choices. The first choice is to choose where she will find her worth: will it be with God or will it be in the current relationship she has? Will she choose to see her as God does or choose to blindly keep seeing herself has she hopes to be someday.

And in looking at herself, can she see what God sees? Is she willing to see how far God will come to get to her at the well, to show himself to her, and hope that she will can how she sees herself and thus the world around her?  That, in part and in parcel, is what worship is all about. It isn't about the kind of liturgy that is used. It is not about the building and how pretty it is. It is not about where you are or the building is that is important. What is essential is to recognize that God is already here and that we gather with Him.

We need to know what we mean to God which is why we read the Scriptures. In this way we learn what is in God’s heart and on God’s mind. We begin to discern what we are worth where God and his kingdom are concerned. We enter into the praise and worship that is constantly and consistently ongoing throughout the entire universe. We join in with that which is already going on. There will come a time when we won’t worry about what books were using. We won’t fret about the rain coming in through the roof. We would have to worry about what is in the collection plate because our hearts will be all that is required.

So how does all this play out in everyday life? Let me share something with you out of my own life and experience. Shortly after we went to our last parish, the community we lived in had a summer festival. During that festival, the local RCMP would raise funds for cancer research doing the “Shave for the Brave”. I was invited to join them and this of course necessitated me raising funds and joining them for the “Shave”. It was a humbling experience having my head shaved bald. But then I went one step further: I had my 19 year old mustache shaved off to honour my late father who had died of cancer a couple of years before. My wife and two boys had never seen me clean shaven and their reactions were priceless. People in the parish and community would ask me, “Why did you do such a thing?” In reply, I answered, “So that someone else might live.” It was so like the woman going back to town and telling people, “Come and meet the man who told me everything I ever did!” It drew people into places where spiritual conversations could begin and they could be drawn closer to the heart of the Father and to the kingdom.

Take the time this week, not only to have an encounter with Jesus, but also pray for the chance to allow others to see and know Christ in you: for you to offer the opportunity for them to come and meet Him who would rather die than live without them; who can tell them everything they ever did!


Friday, March 14, 2014

Learning to see Jesus

I once had an in class assignment to do when I was studying for ordination. The professor required all of us find someone else in the class that we did not know, or that at least we did not know every well and sit with them. I was put together with a lady who came into take just that class on Tuesday nights. I was one of the guys in the ordination stream who was quite comfortable sitting at the back of the class, paying attention and just doing my thing. I had to move up to the front of the class and was feeling somewhat silly about what came next. The assignment was this: We were to turn and face each other and look intently at one another for three whole minutes. Then we were to return to our seats and journal for ten minutes about what we saw and how we felt about what we saw.

Now please understand something. I have never thought of myself as someone who was hugely attractive nor did I think myself ugly either. If I thought I was any one thing it was invisible. I was the most popular guy’s loveable, affable sidekick. I was there, in the background ready for whatever but only just. So when this older lady was unable to look at me, I wasn’t surprised. The averting of her eyes to the floor or the chalk board accompanied by the fidgeting made it clear that this was going to be a long three minutes for her, for both of us.

So needless to say when it was time to go back to my seat and my anonymity, I bolted for my spot. I feverishly wrote down whatever was on my mind at that point and then prayed that we would be sent to our regularly scheduled coffee break.  Sure enough after the ten minutes were up and we had passed in our reflections we were sent for our break. As I made for the door, this same dear soul tapped me on the shoulder and asked if she could speak to me for a moment.

She asked me to sit down and then what she said to me nearly knocked me flat.

“I want you to know that it was not you that I could not look at,” she said. “I could see Jesus in you and it was him that I could not look at because he was so bright in his appearance. The light was almost intolerable it was so bright.” I leaned back in my chair in amazement as I listened to this woman and what she said she saw in me as she tried to watch.

It made me think of the Gospel that is appointed for this Sunday (Matthew 17.1-11). The disciples followed Jesus up the mountain and there, as he prayed, he was transfigured before them. His clothes, his body, his face and his company were all changed. Moses, the holder of the Torah, the Law and Elijah, the leader of the prophets came and spoke to Jesus. The conversation was about the coming exodus and how Jesus was going to lead into not only a new way of life, but more importantly into the new life itself. And then into the middle of the conversation (not knowing what it was he was actually advocating for) Peter interjects himself and suggests that they should stay in that place and maintain the moment for a lifetime. So there is no doubt in my mind that when they experienced the cloud and heard the voice of the Father, declaring Jesus to be his Son and insisting that the disciples listen to Jesus and what he is telling them: they got low and they got low fast.  

It took both the voice and the touch of Jesus himself for the others to begin to realize that it was okay to look up and then get up. In essence, it was like Jesus had touched them and raised them from the dead. He brought them back from what they understood to be certain death – being in the presence of God and hearing the voice of the Almighty. In one felled swoop, God had not only made clear to these three men who Jesus was, he also settled the argument over who was in the lead and where they where going – to Jerusalem and the cross.

Following Jesus from this moment on also meant that the disciples were going to have to surrender to him and his leadership. They were going to have to let go of their agendas, their thoughts of power, prominence and glory. They were going to have to let go of their thoughts of revolution and revenge where the local government was concerned. And they were going to have to being to shift their thinking about how God is working in the world, to fall back in line and do as the Master does. Failure to do so leaves them acting like little devils who think they are in charge and in control. This means they have failed to listen and are becoming irrelevant to both the kingdom and to God.

So this week, take the time to see Jesus, even if it is only for a moment. Then live that vision out. Then do it all over again.


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

What's on the test?

When I was in school, I had a classmate who was forever asking a simple yet amazingly irritating questing, “Will this be on the test?” We always knew it was coming and would sometimes try to short circuit or circumvent the question being asked by saying, “It will all be on the test!”  Nevertheless the classmate was compelled to ask that same nauseating question over and over again.

This week’s gospel is about testing (Matthew 4.1-11). Some will call it “temptation”. Let’s be clear about what temptation is and is not. The temptation itself is not a sin. What we do with the temptation could potentially be sin or not, depending on how we deal with it. So if we remember that and the fact that as baptized people we have the Spirit indwelling – we are going to be led to a test. The test is meant to let us know what it is we have inside and what we are willing to do with it. We need to know the quality of the person inside, keeping in mind that God is still at work in our lives as we are brought to the test. We don’t ask to avoid the test because we are going to all have to take it. But we do ask that God not let us succumb to the evil that might be present in it and so allow us to be overwhelmed and overcome. We ask for protection as we face and deal with each test. So what, as Christian people, will have us ready for the tests? Prayer in the exam room? Perhaps. I have always maintained that so long as there are tests and exams in school there will be prayer. But more importantly we need to study the one thing that will have us ready to deal with life as it comes: the Bible.

The Scriptures make us aware of the failure of Adam in the Garden, causing all of the disruption and disillusion of the relationship between people and God. Scriptures also make us aware of the path back to God through Christ because he maintained trust and his relationship with the Father. This is what qualifies Jesus to be our Saviour: at the right time, when we were powerless, Christ died for the ungodly (Romans 5.8). All of his life Jesus was tested and tried. People were constantly poking and prodding him; inquiring about his abilities and what he could do and thereby confirm his identity. The lesson of the time in the wilderness was not about who was right and who was wrong (though the Israelites were wrong to forsake God as we all are) but about learning to trust again.

Jesus could have made it easy for everyone by doing the easy thing and supplying every need because he had the power to do it. Through such thinking and guidance, it reminds us that God can and does say no to us when we ask in prayer.  Jesus could have dominated the population and commanded the people to obey him. After all he had the power, the right, the bloodline and the followers to make war and bring back the old Davidic kingdom and rule as a earthly king does. Jesus still chooses to honour God, to give such things to him. Lastly Jesus could have impressed them and let the chips fall where they might and try to fake his into being Saviour but that is not his way. He has impact when he does and when he speaks. He doesn’t need to be impressive and be found a fake – he impacts people’s lives to make them better – to see people transformed that they too might work to see transformation.

So where does this leave us? Well first, how well are you living out your life and faith? Where is your focus and to what and to whom are you giving your time, talents, treasure, trees and tears? Are you focused on God and what God wants of you or are you choosing to turn and blind ear and a deaf eye to the whole affair? Know who you are. Know that you are a child of God and that he has given you the gifts you need to have and a place to use them. Do you know what you have been given and where you are to use them?

Second, most really strong Christians I know accept who and what they are and acknowledge that they are 100% dependent upon God for their daily bread. Know that you matter to God in this life and that God knows all our needs and our ignorance in asking. Know that God kept the nation of Israel fed and watered,  not just the people but also the flocks and herds as well in the desert of Sinai for 40 years – believe that he can and will do it for you.

Lastly, be prepared to wait upon God for our needs, to fill our hunger and quench our thirst. Look to God for what is needed that day. Learn to be satisfied with what is given. And remember most of all to give thanks to God for what you receive.

Then you find the mark and not have to worry about what is on the test.