Wednesday, September 24, 2014

I've got the power!

Our Gospel this week is Matthew 21.23-32 and it concerns itself with power and authority to teach and preach. It occurs to me that in this world, there are many who want authority and many more who seek power, thinking that possessing these things will make them secure and safe.  What Christians often miss is that power and authority are not for personal use but for the good of the community in which they participate. Power and authority are given to the Church by God to serve him in the world and others through his power motivated by God love and compassion for the world. All power and authority belong to God. Power and authority are gifts, given to be held and used for the sake of others not to be used as weapons for maintaining the status quo of the powerful and the gifted.

The strength of a Christian’s life is the witness that is put forth for the world to see. You see, it is not enough to come within four walls and pay what amounts to lip service to a creed and expect that this is all that there is to the Christian faith. If you do get involved and you don’t become active, then how do you know that you actually believe? I know many people around me these days who will openly say, “Oh I’m not religious. I spiritual.” It is not that they don’t want to be identified as believing in God, it is that they do not want to identify or have others identify them as being a part of the Church. they stand back and look at the state of the Church and recognize that the Church in North America has moved away from the teachings of Scripture to try and be popular and trendy so that people will give to support burgeoning budgets for buildings and programs.  Show me a person who claims to be “spiritual” and I will study them and explain their religious liturgy to you.

This is why we need to work on our own relationships with God and with each other so that we can bring a different, a better relationship for the disaffected, the disillusioned, the disinterested to discover. Jesus came to us to restore and rebuild those relationships. And if that means a little death for the institution of the Church and the personal agendas and plans of the Church’s leadership, so be it. We need to learn again to listen to the voice of the Lord and to submit ourselves personally and corporately work together for the sake of the coming life and kingdom.

Don’t just have a faith – even the devil manages this. Have the courage and the conviction of that faith to let your faith move you into places and spaces where he can bless you even more than you are now, that you might serve him in greater and mightier ways and the kingdom through your ministry combined with all our various ministries, builds for the day when he comes again and the kingdom arrives in its fullness. He will give you the power (energy) you need to do this and the authority to accomplish it. He who has called you, is faithful and he will do it.


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Offer mercy, not a sacrifice

“Why does your Teacher eat with those traitorous tax collectors and other publicly known sinners?” It is an interesting question from this week’s Gospel (Matthew 9.9-13 for St. Matthew’s Day). It is often assumed in our faith that because we are formed in God’s image, we are like God and therefore, God must be like us. The ways in which Jesus acts and speaks, the ways in which he loves and heals are totally different from us. This is seen most clearly in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.

The cross and death of Jesus shows us how God acts, how God brings salvation to us. The Cross also shows us who we are and it is not a pretty picture. God in the Old Testament rejects the kind of religion that allows for someone to praise God with fine sounding prayers and great but allows the heart to remain empty and far away for the realities of how God sees us and how God is at work in the word, especially through his own Son. The question posed above operates on an assumption: that God has to act in the same ways that the very religious do. This is an assumption not only of the religious elite, it is also an belief of those who are not involved with organized religion. This is why Jesus challenges those around him to, “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy not sacrifice’”

It is more important, as I understand it, for us as people of faith, to be people who are active in offering mercy. What that means is we are willing to go and seek out the least, the last and the lost and stand between them and their impending disasters and call them, draw them to yourself. We do this so that we can have the opportunity to show compassion and in doing that, to show them who Jesus is for us and who Jesus wants to be for them.

What is the better faith? To offer and empty sacrifice and think one’s self safe and righteous before a holy God or consider the blessing of being merciful, risking one’s own life – remember the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.

The Gospel this Sunday is for the Church; to get us to question our loyalties and priorities. The Gospel challenges the long held prejudices about neighbours and strangers we find both outside and even more inside the Church. We need to offer God, the neighbour, the stranger, and each other a superior religion, than that which we have offered in the past. We need to learn what it is to be merciful and sacrificial, first for God and then for neighbour.  We need to learn what it means to live a life in Christ that is going to enable and encourage others around us to live that kind of life with us and for others. We need to offer the same grace, mercy and blessing that continue to transform our lives as we await the day of Jesus Christ.  If we go on and read the rest of the chapter, we see what we need to do – restore, heal, forgive and when necessary, raise the dead even thought those around us are going to scoff and laugh at us to scorn.

Who are the least, the last and the lost of this city? Who are the shunned people of our congregation that need to be called back to the life at the Table? Perhaps we are “the community of no consequence” in the eyes of the world because we are seen as weak, uniformed, and useless but that is not how God sees us. Maybe we are the gathering of the unwanted and the unpopular but that does not remove our identity in Christ.  And who just are we? We are his called, his chosen, and his sent people. We are God’s people and we are powerful in the eyes of the Almighty Father. God can do through us more than we can ask or even begin to imagine.

Why does Jesus eat with traitors and sinners? Because he calls them home to the Table and to the Great Wedding feast. He calls those who will listen and who will live at the Table and eat a merciful meal and not just think of themselves.  


Friday, September 12, 2014

What do you see when you look at the cross?

What does the cross mean to me when I look at it? What the cross mean to us as a congregation, faith community? It is a question that was put to me earlier this week in a chat that I use a part of my sermon prep. I can remember people being horrified by the movie, “The Passion of the Christ’ and its well documented violence and brutality... but what I find we often missed is the last moments of the movie, and of the Passion narratives themselves. Jesus is raised from death and leaves the tomb. I have placed the video from Youtube for you to watch and would encourage you to do so before you and I continue...

So often, we tend to forget that the plan for salvation was God’s idea. Jesus was born in a stable, to a faithful couple who were open to what God was planning to do in the life of their child, even thought it was hard to see and difficult to understand much less explain to anyone else. The disciples were in that same boat. They could see that God was doing something marvelous in the world through Jesus. They had their own thoughts on who Jesus was and what Jesus should do – to the point where one of them betrayed him into the hands of the authorities to try and force him into open war and rebellion as a way of trying to make a new world and a new life by force. Another disciple, after promising that he would be faithful to follow even though only the two of them be left to face death together, denies that he even knows the man he vowed to follow into the gates of death and hell. God chose the way that salvation is provided for us. God chose the method. God chose the time. Christ chose the nails.    

So when you look at the cross, what do you see? When I regard the cross, I remember him who possessed it as a throne. I see God’s mercy in the face of hostility. I see and hear forgiveness when pain is inflicted. I discover and possess grace for the time of suffering and brutality. I hear and experience the cry of accomplishment and victory at the completion of the mission. I know the helpfulness of community and am grateful for the hospitality of a borrowed tomb. Most of all, I see that the cross and the tomb are empty and that he who died, lives to be with us.

If that is foolishness to the world, so be it. It is self serving and self destructive to think only of one’s self and serve only number one. If you believe that you are fine and that you don’t need God or the community which he calls his own then I suspect that God will honour that choice. If the sight of the cross and the one who occupied it for your sake cannot make you see that he has your lumber and nails; that he has taken on himself your stripes and pain on himself, then you must be truly good and lost. And you have my pity.

God chose the foolish thing to confound the wise and the weakest way possible to make the strong stumble. Was it foolish for God to love us and to choose the nails? I believe that God deliberately chose to love us and to receive the nails. Those amongst the people of the world who would see, hear and respond to him and use the foolish/weak/the thing that are not to nullify the things that are wise/strong/that are seemingly permanent by the worldly standards. Those people are you and me, as God works out salvation among all his people. And he does it to make sure that this world will one day find itself upright and the way it was intended to be, as it was in the beginning.

So what do you see now, when you look at the cross?


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The reverberations of Heaven

I have realized of late that there is a real need for me as a Christian leader, as a pastor and a teacher of the Christian faith, to give more of a vision of not only what God is like and what life around him is like. I have come to realized that much of our teaching and preaching along with much of our music and worship tends to focus on God being great and awesome but at the same time transcendentally aloof. And we seem to like it that way. It is as if we are saying to God, “You can love me, but keep your distance. You can care for me, fulfill my demands and my needs but you are not allowed to impose yourself on me. You just keep your distance, do as we pray and everything will be just fine.”  It sounds like we think we have God over a barrel, up the proverbial creek and held hostage... doesn’t it? If we so have God in this heavenly headlock or arm bar (and we don’t) why is it that we so often pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”? Why do we ask for God to enable us to have his will done in us and to know the will of the living God, if we are not going to do anything about it?

The Gospel (Matthew 18.15-20) the last couple of weeks has been about binding and loosing. That is, whatever you bind or lose on earth will be bound or loosed in heaven. We need to recognize a couple of important things about God and God’s people. First, there is the reality that God has free will. God can choose to bless and to curse, to cure and to punish because his judgment in holy. Things are done in heaven according to only one will – God’s. Period. Finito. Kaput. End of story. Therefore, our daily work is to be about binding and loosing on earth below what we see bound and loosed in heaven. We are meant to work to give a perfect reflection of what happens in heaven above.

It does not mean that we are working to Plato’s idea of a utopian, ideal plane... by no means! All relationships, both with God and with one another are going to need work and are going to need to be maintained. What we do need to remember is that being connected to God means that He is going to have impact and influence on our nature, on our thoughts and our way of living. You see faith is not just about you, or even just about you and God. It is about God you and others. Community and faith are part and parcel of being Christian. I need you and you need me. And we have a personal and a collective need of God. And remember what Jesus said, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” The Church, the ekklesia (called out ones), are meant to be the core of the life and the society that is to come.

This is why Matthew’s Gospel takes some time to show how conflict in the community is to be dealt with. Every effort is to be made to win people over. Please note that it is not to show them where they are wrong but to win them over with grace, care and love. When all that has failed then, treat them as people Jesus loved best – outsiders. Faith is a great gift and it needs to be wielded very carefully so that the community is preserved and protected from bitter rancour and pointless debate and dissention. Expulsion from the Body of Christ is not just a matter of conflict management for harmonious congregational dynamics. Spiritually speaking, being expelled is a matter of eternal life and death. Remember, the things we say and do reverberate in heaven.

Therefore, we need to work to win over those with whom we disagree; with those who have tried to hurt us, who have worked to discredit us, and called our faith into question. We are to draw on the grace and the compassion, on the strength and patience that God can provide and win them over, overcoming with them and for them whatever it is that keeps you apart. In this way, we fulfill the command of Christ, “Love one another as I have loved you.”