Tuesday, May 27, 2014

And remember, the Father is watching!

A while back, a friend of mine once observed and commented to me that the Church is often like a hockey game: it is 12 guys slugging it out on the ice, in dire need of a rest being watched but 19,000 people in real need of some spiritual exercise. This thought came to me again as we look to another Sunday, to Baptism, and to the Anniversary of my ordination as a deacon on the Feast of the Ascension. And while some may consider these things to be totally diverse, I have noticed that there is a commonality amongst them – then ongoing life of the Church community and the need to witness to the reality of all that God has done in Christ for us.

The Gospel this week (John 17:1-11) is the high priestly prayer for Jesus and his followers before the events of the Arrest at Gethsemane take place. The first thing that I cannot help but notice is that the lectionary does not include the entire prayer. Jesus prays for himself, that he may glorify God and do everything that needs to be done to make salvation possible for us. Jesus also prays and gives thanks for those who have followed him on this earth and who have witnessed all the things that he has done.  And that is where things are left off but it is not where Jesus stops. Jesus goes on to pray for those whom he is leaving behind and will be entrusted with the mission he began. And he prays for those who will come and will participate in the proclaiming of the Gospel through their ministry - he prayed for us: for you and for me that we would be where he is. He prayed that we would be in the presence of the Father and come into the kingdom.

The whole prayer is about the unity of the community. He prayed that all that needed to be done would b done and would glorify the Father and bring the kingdom. These days, it seems like there are so many other things that are demanded but are not a part of the unity of the Church. Unity is not about the doctrine a Church holds, it is about learning to be in whole and healthy relations with those around us. Unity is not so much about what we believe as learning to live and express a real and true love out of obedience to divine will. This is what Jesus did. Jesus lived his life in love and obedience to the Father. He listened and did not take his eyes off of what the Father was asking of him. he lived it to the full and because of that the Father responded by raising him not only from the dead, but also to his right place at the right hand of the throne of God.

For the Church, unity is not a lofty goal on a chart or in a business plan – it is and must be a lived reality. It is the hardest and yet the most powerful thing I have done in my life, having spent five years as a student and as an officer in the Church Army. There were days as a student that I would have to work, pray, and eat with someone that I just argued with in the classroom. We had to find ways to make things work to hold the welfare of the community together both for the sake of our common witness and for the good of those with whom we served. In doing so I learned that faith is not a dreary duty but rather a refined joy. The faith that we hold is not just about memories, it is about where we start with Christ and return to him when we have stopped following. Finding the faith and rediscovering the hope that is always there for us because of the Spirit. He brings us all kinds of gifts, starting with faith, hope and love. In this way, God gives the Church unity in such a manner with such strength, that it can never be achieved through human will or creativity.

Why does the Ascension matter? It is what makes us focus on “What’s next?” It draws us into worship because we recognize that God has affirmed Jesus’ ministry and has given the Holy Spirit to enable, empower and embolden us in ours. We are at work with God because God is here and has called us into his labour. We have been left behind, but not as orphans – he is here and we are with him. And remember, in all of this, the Father is watching.


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

That where He is, we might be also


If you knew that there was limited time left and there where things that you needed your family and friends to know about life, death and the life after your death, what would you take the time to tell them? In its essence that is what the Farewell Discourse of John’s Gospel is all about. Jesus is both telling those closest to him and demonstrating to them with action what he thinks is the most important things to concern themselves with – both personally and corporately.

To that end there are two important things, two themes that get expressed in the Gospel lesson (John 14:15-21) this week. The first theme is the need for love to be expressed in obedience. The second theme is the coming and work of the Spirit. So if you will allow, I want to examine these themes apart and then see how they come together, in light of what we heard last week (John 14:1-14); that Jesus is the very presence of the Living God and that we have gone from building to person, from geography to relationship again.

So let’s start with the second theme first. In recent weeks, I have been considering how the Resurrection was not the culmination of God’s plan for salvation but rather the beachhead to launch the Church so that the work of building the kingdom up might continue through Christ and the Church working with and in the Holy Spirit. this makes the Resurrection more about Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit and less about the Resurrection being the end game. The Spirit is going to be given to enable, embolden and empower the work of the Church community to active witness to the truth of the Gospel. Over and over again in the preaching of the apostles, people are called to repentance because they participated in the death of Jesus and to live the new life found in him because God raised him from the dead.

The Church is that community which witnesses to all the things which Christ is doing in the world, and continues to do with the presence and work of the Spirit. The Church is being drawn and led to live out the dyings and risings of Jesus on a daily basis in the everyday world. Or as St. Paul would have it, “I die daily”. But there is something that we need as Church acknowledge here: Christ is not absent but real and present to the Church. Each time we celebrate the Eucharist we remember his words, “Do this, in remembrance of me.” We do this thing so that we can recall that he is One amongst us. I believe that Jesus is present even now to his community, his Church. And we are being given another Advocate, the Spirit. This second Advocate is here to teach us about God, to help us remember Jesus whom we serve and the things that he taught, and he is with us to lead us into all the truth about Jesus and God. And because Jesus is in the presence of the Father and the Spirit is with us, we are enabled, empowered and emboldened to do things that still amaze and draw attention to the growing kingdom, just as Jesus promised.

What about the other theme? Well it seems to me that this is how we demonstrate the presence of Christ, the Spirit and the kingdom of God amongst us. Being in relationship with God should and must invade our personal space and pervade our corporate relationships. Making this happen is the work of the Spirit – to bring about the unity of the witness of the Body and make it work to make it clear to the rest of the world that there is something more to life than death and taxes.

What is the command that we are given to keep? Is it not that very command that he gives next, to love one another has Christ has loved us? Can we claim to be followers of his and do harm to each other mentally and physically in his name and call that Christianity? Life in the kingdom comes from God and depends on being received – the Spirit is God’s first gift of all the gifts that he desires to give us. There is more to the Christian life than the sight of a lonely cross and an empty grave. It is the knowledge of the presence of the Living God in your life. The incarnation does not end with the Ascension, it goes on in you and me. We are to embody Christ so that others can see and know that we are with him. The world needs to see us acting and reacting as Christ does, loving, caring and having compassion on those who, in the eyes of the world, aren’t worth it.

How do we make this come together? Take the direction of St. Paul: “Be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Take the time to be filled up over and over again so that you can do the things that God calls you to do, to overcome and to build for the kingdom that is coming. We work with God to help heaven and earth to come together; to interlock and be wedded together. Are there questions and struggles? Are there hurts and pains along the way to getting there. Yes there have been, and so long as we are apart from God; as long as we try to do it ourselves, there are going to be struggles, trails and pains. What we look to is the intimacy of the relationship we are building with God and with neighbour, knowing that such a binding leads into that abundant life that overflows into eternity. After all didn't the Saviour promise, “Where I am, you may also be”?


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

What to expect when you are facing death

There are certain things that I expect to hear when I am at a funeral... or even more so when I am doing one. The words are familiar: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God. Believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you I will come again and take you to myself, that where I am you maybe also.” (John 14.1-3) We hear these words in moments of sorrow and fear; in time of pain and loss. It was such a moment when Jesus first spoke them to the 12 and the other disciples gathered in that room that night he was betrayed by one of his own to death. What we don’t often hear or understand is that the trials and Jesus’ death are not the last word. It is not the end of all things but the start of the new thing that God is doing.

We are encouraged by Jesus to keep moving forward into what is going to happen next. Yes, there is going to be an arrest. Yes there are going to be trails and there is going to be false witness. True beatings are going to be administered and most certainly blood is going to be split. It is who were are and it has been displayed in the life and death of Jesus. Yet in spite of all that is going to happen, including the fact that the 12 are going to run away and hide, they and we with them, are called to continue in our faith, trust and participation in Jesus. Faith is more than knowledge of something; it is what we act upon when things are hard and despite. Faith is what we learning when things are good and quiet so that we can continue to live the same when it feels like the world is coming completely apart.

Trust is where we choose to put our personal and corporate faith. It goes to that one person, that one thing that we will trust above all else and above all others. Trust is what propels us through days of calamity and upholds us through nights of worry, sorrow and despair. We tend to worship what we trust. We are often inclined to exalt that which we trust; most often ourselves. We are invited by Christ to look past all that we think is coming and recognize that he is in control. He is the One with the plan and he is the One who will see it through to fruition. Trusting Jesus, means that we are going to be faithful to him and him alone. Putting our faith in him means that we are going to participate in living the life he has and that we are called to in him.

In moments of heartache and disappointment, we can remember this: we are not forgotten. We are expected and God is ready for us. We are not mistakes. We are not accidents. God is ready and waiting for us, having made both room and ready for each and for all of us. Do you want to see heaven? Do you want to know what it is like? Then come and see. Come with us and find Jesus in Galilee. Come and see and live the live that he is offering us. Learn to trust him now, in the small things and in the easy seasons so that when the water is rough and the waves and wind are high we have someone to call out to and depend on. Expect to hear his voice, to know his presence and to live his life because someday we will live it forever.