Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Faith is a verb, not just a noun!

In the parish throughout Lent, we are going to consider the Creeds. especially the Apostles' Creed - I post a copy of it here for reference sake. Aside from Scripture itself, this is one of the oldest and most enduring confessions of the Christian faith. Tradition says that each of the Apostles, the 12 disciple contributed a line to it. 

Let us confess our faith as we say: 

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
Creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
and born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again
to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

Where does the Christian faith begin? Faith begins when we attend to the reality that God is revealing who he is through the person of Jesus Christ and that we are accepting the invitation to come into relationship with God through Christ for Scripture, “Commands all men everywhere to repent and believe in the name of the Lord Jesus... as he commanded us (Acts 17.30, 1 John 3.23 and John 6.28) Believing in God is more that an assent, an acknowledgement that he is real and out there somewhere in the cosmos. Faith and belief is about a commitment to a vital relationship with the God who created all that is, seen and unseen; of heaven and of earth. This belief is also a commitment to actively express the personal conviction that God has drawn me into this relationship and that I have accepted and am living out the reality of that invitation and relationship in this world and this life.

Some will ask, “What if I have doubts? What if I get it wrong? What if I make mistakes?” First, I would point out that without doubts we cannot be certain of what it is that we actually believe. Moreover, we need to be aware that we need to examine both what we believe and where we have doubts. We need to know that there are, according to JI Packer, two types of doubt. There are those inside doubts: that is there is faith that has become infected, sick from a lack of faith and confidence in God and in the Scriptures leaving our faith “out of sorts”. There is also the external pressures that cause doubts. They often com about because we have laid to one side the faith we place in God and the Scriptures because we have chosen to believe in human expert opinion or a deep involvements that have take us way from both God and Church, or even the fear of ridicule from others for believing they way you do about a particular thing as you do. Often doubts will come because of personal experience and allowing that to override where faith is concerned.

So how do we overcome doubt? This is the moment where we need to be aware that we need the community of faith to get through these things. We need people in the churches whom people can talk to, to explain the difficulty that one is having. We need to explore and examine the Scriptures and prayerfully speak with God, considering what both the Word and the Spirit have to say on the subject and reason things out (Faith is not against reason and logical, faith is above reason). Then it is important to explore what there might be in one’s life that would give rise to the doubts. It is important to remember that time and perspective will make things clearer and easier to understand.

So when we come to say the creed, it is crucial to remember that when we proclaim, “I believe in God” that the God we proclaim is the God of the Scriptures, the God that is revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. It means also that we do not believe in any other gods; that we don’t put our lives into the hands of something or someone else, be they metal or mental. We proclaim that we believe in God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The God who is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity ... but who will by no means clear the guilty.” (Exodus 34.5-7) John’s Gospel reminds us that God is both light and love. God is both lover and judge. God loves and at the same time requires righteousness and purity. God demands morality and compassion at the same time because that is his nature and his role. We see and learn this in Jesus, the Son.

When we proclaim that we believe, we claim to be participating in the worship of the Father, who is above us, with the Son Jesus, who is one among us and beside us through the Spirit who is within us. The worship and mission of God come from God himself and we are the divine community which God has created to be his Church and in God the Church lives and moves and has its being. And maybe that is the most important thing about faith... it is not just about the head knowledge that we can collect nor is about all the things the heart can feel, it is the realization that faith (pisteuo) is a verb. Faith informs the  mind and emboldens the heart which in turn, empowers the hands and the feet of those who proclaim their relationship with God.

It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God. – Hebrews 10.31


Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Truth finds us and lives through us

For truth to be real, it first needs to be spoken. Then it needs to be demonstrated through action, or in this case, revelation. We are at a serious juncture of the Gospel of Mark and we are to the end of the Season of Epiphany with one more revelation of monumental proportions.

The Gospel lesson for this Sunday is about the Transfiguration of Jesus (Mark 9.2-9). Personally I would go so far as to include the walk back down the mountain and right smack dab into the middle of controversy over the boy with the demon the disciples could not overcome. 

This part of Mark needs to be expanded if we are going to read it for all that is worth. So we need to go back to the city of Capernaum and to Peter confessing that the disciples believe that Jesus is the Christ – the Anointed One. The disciples believed that Jesus was send from God and that he was the Messiah. But they also had ideas of how Jesus was going to be Messiah and King. Ideas that did not coincide with what Jesus was teaching. So when Jesus told them that he was about to die in Jerusalem, Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him fiercely. Jesus in turn, told him to get back in line behind him or get out of the way. Six days after all this Jesus took Peter, James and John up the mountain and there, Jesus was transfigured before them, and the disciples saw Jesus as he really is.

Jesus literally changed. The change was not a soft glow or a low light. It was as bright as anything those men had ever seen. Jesus actually changed his form and he radiated pure light. Then he spoke to Elijah the Prophet and Moses, the law giver. And what do they talk about: Jesus’ Exodus; his departure for home. They talked about the realities of what was ahead in the crucifixion, death and burial, and about his resurrection and ascension.

What I find amazing is that the disciples still didn't get it. They wanted to hold on to and hoard the moment for themselves through tenting up and staying on that blessed mountain top. They wanted to remain there and never let things go forward. They wanted to do this in favour of life back down in the valley where they had to  That’s why I believe they still did not get it. Here they are in a small outcrop on a large mountain and very near the top. They are high enough that they encounter a cloud and they are spoken to from out of the cloud by the Father – the same Father who spoke at Jesus’ baptism. The Father reaffirmed his relationship and devotion to his son and commanded the disciples to “Listen to him.”

Faith comes to us through God’s revelation of himself to us. We need to see and know that God desires to give Himself to us through Christ – and he is smiling and laughing about it!

The truth found me in a little Anglican Church about four and a half hours from where I currently live and the Truth found me about 33 years ago. I discovered that God loved me and that has made all the difference. There is a plain truth about God that abides in the person and life of Jesus. But I have come to realize that Jesus is who he said he is and what we need to do about is not always plain and evident to everybody- responses to that are going to vary from person to person. Even those of us who are experienced in the faith find that they are lost and wayward from time to time. And please note, that I did not call it simple either. After all, the plural of disciple is not disciples, but Church. Faith is worked out and lived into within community. Truth belongs not to the individual disciple but rather to the community to which that believer belongs and in which the believer lives. So let us together proclaim him who is the Way, the Truth and the Life that others might see him and come to follow alongside him.


Thursday, February 5, 2015

The kind of Church that God wants

Have you ever taken the time to consider what kind of Church God wants to build? The matter of the church building has been one that has been on my heart and in my head this past week. Especially after learning we have raised nearly $25,000 for the next stage in the roof project and are $899.01 away from our goal. Well known parishioners, people and groups from the rest of the Diocese and folks from other places and spaces well beyond our Diocese, having encountered a video or seen the Diocesan newspaper, have been so generous and have given of themselves to help us to fix our roof. It is on times, overwhelming the kindness and the generosity of people.

But then I am confronted with the fact that Jesus did not possess an edifice complex. In his ministry, he did not build buildings. Jesus made disciples. Jesus’ ministry, as was witnessed last week, set a man who had been invaded by evil, free. A single act of power set a man free. And what did he do after that experience? He told others. He told others what Jesus had done for him and at sunset, others came to Jesus and they were set free too. Every person who heard what Jesus had done, those who wanted relief left to seek Jesus out - to find health and freedom from evil. All because of what happened with one man, in a congregation on the Sabbath.

Our Gospel this week (Mark 1:29-39) has Jesus and the disciples (Simon, Andrew, James and John) leaving right after worship and going to Simon and Andrew’s house. Simon’s mother-in-law was ill and they told Jesus about it. Jesus goes to the woman and takes her by the hand and assists her up out of bed. Jesus, according to Mark, gives this woman her health back. This is another act of power, so that the woman can serve and follow Jesus – a foreshadowing of the cross and burial of Jesus when the women will take charge and then a woman will declare the good news of the resurrection to the Apostles. The woman looking after her guests is also a witness to the disciples that she is really and truly healed – that she has been given back herself and she serves because of it. Wholeness is marked by the presence of peace (shalom) which allows for the person who has been healed to go forth and participate in the life that God has given.

And it got busier as the people came to the house and Jesus continued to heal and to break down the hold that evil had on people. And his fame grew exponentially as he continued to minister to people. The power of God to give health and life was not abated – all who had need where made whole.

They moved on from Capernaum, and Jesus continued to heal, to teach and to drive out demons, offering health, wholeness and freedom. The disciples were witnesses of this and participated in this. Together they traveled much, and did much.

So what kind of Church does God want? He wants a community that is going to teach and preach the need for repentance and faith. He wants a community of apostles who are going to seek out people who need God and share with them that they are not alone – that the kingdom has come near and God is with them. Let that be our call and our duty too.