Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The more lively liturgy

Lately, people have been asking “Why the church cannot be full and things be livelier in the service?” So I have been thinking about that issue and many other issues that impact the life of the Church on an ongoing basis.  It fits with what happens in the Gospel for this coming Sunday when the people tell Jesus about what a murderous Governor they have in Pontius Pilate and what he did to worshippers in the Temple (Luke 13.1-8).

Jesus asks the crowd, “Are these people worse than other people? Or did they deserve this death as opposed to living a good long life and quietly dying in bed many years from now?” Jesus then questions the crowd about the unsuspecting 18 people who died when the wall tower on the way to Siloam fell apart and fell on them. “Were these people punished more than others who deserved to be punished?”

I think one of the important parts about this whole encounter is the view that people have of death and therefore of life in general and of this life in particular. We as people tend to live like this life is all there is and that there is nothing other than this life. If you carefully consider how Jesus lives, preaches and acts, he does so in the full knowledge that there are things in this life worse than death. Jesus calls on people to stop and recognize that this human life is fragile. We need to know that this life is limited, finite. We need to take in that God came to us in the fragile frame of his Son to call us back to him and we nailed him to a cross for it because our will, our way and this life were more important to us than what lays ahead in the life beyond death.

What we need from God is mercy. Authentic, reliable mercy. Why do we need it? We need mercy because we are frail and prone to sin. We miss the mark and fall short of what it is that God asks of us. We forget who God is and we don’t love our neighbours as ourselves. We have not done those things that ought to have been done and we have done those things that we ought not to have done and there is no health in us; no salvation in us. We need mercy and we need a saviour. We need God’s mercy because God’s judgment is real. That is why we need God’s mercy to be genuine and powerful. We have fallen down and fallen short. We cannot get up. There is not one of us righteous, not even one.

Suffering and pain in your life are not an indication of a bad life. It is an indication that we live in a world that is affected by sin, death, and the grave. We need to know God’s mercy through hearing the Word from Scripture and by participating in confession and absolution. If you want the liturgy to be relevant, ask yourself what you want God to forgive you for. Then ask for it and then live like a person who has received it. If you really want your prayers answered, do you keep asking until you believe that you have an answer? Or is it a one and done for you, thinking that because it didn’t get answered right away? Have you considered that God is working on an answer to your prayer that not only answers it but goes well beyond to help and to bless others in the process?... That the answer that comes back is better than the prayer that was prayed – even if the answer might have been “No”?

Being religious or calling one’s self spiritual does not make you right with God. God does that through his own Son Jesus. Jesus came to make us holy – to set us aside as God’s one people, a holy nation and a royal priesthood who serve him. God shouts in our joy and he whispers in our pain and suffering to cut through the fear, disbelief and despair that happens because we think there is no hope and too many believe that this transitory life is all there is. God calls to us to show us mercy, grace and blessing that we might make a difference in this world. People are dying. People are scared and fed up. It is perhaps time we as God’s Church become the light and the community of mercy and grace that God can make us to be. Maybe it is time to call this city to repentance and belief because God is drawing close to us. Maybe we start with ourselves so that people can see God at work in us. Wouldn’t that make our services more lively?


Thursday, February 18, 2016

Outta our way, we're on a mission from God

What would it take, to scare you off doing what God has called you to do? What would it take for you to run in the other direction from what you know is God’s will for you? This week’s Gospel begs such a question (Luke 13.31-35). Pharisees come to Jesus and till him that Herod is plotting to kill him. Therefore the Pharisees urge Jesus to “Stop this noise and find a safe place to hide until things blow over.”

If you’ll bear with me for a moment, there are a couple of things that I think we can learn from here, using the barnyard analogies that Jesus used to shed some light on things. First, one needs to remember that Herod Antipas and the Pharisees have no love for each other. The Pharisees perceive Antipas as an extension of the hated occupying Roman Empire and as an outsider because Antipas is the son of an Idumean. Herod has no use for the Pharisees and thinks of them as religious zealots. So when the Pharisees come to Jesus, we can perceive the threat against his life is real. Like his father (Herod the Great) he has no use and gives no truck to those who might try to claim his throne.

Jesus’ response to the announcement that Herod wants and is trying to kill him gives rise to an interesting response: “Go tell that fox ... That sly and crafty man that I will finish what I have started. He cannot touch this!” If you know the Gospel of Luke, you know that Jesus and Herod will eventually meet and that even Herod will find Jesus “not guilty”. Jesus will be proclaimed in Luke’s Gospel as the “Innocent” and the “Rejected” Prophet. But if we go deeper, we see how Jesus has confidence in His Father to help him get to the goals that are set for the kingdom, and his commitment to making that happen. There is a fox, and that fox is apparently in the hen house. But this is not the time to pay attention to him – not yet. It is time work at protecting the children of the City and to focus on what is ahead rather than trying to be crafty and political to get what we want. It reminds me of that great one liner from the Blues Brothers’ movie, “Outta our way, we are on a mission from God!”

Second there is the issue of rejecting the message and the messenger – doing so has consequences. It would seem logical, that the purpose of any journey is to reach the destination of the journey. A journey has a purpose and s destination that one must reach. Anything else would seem to be wandering aimlessly. So if I leave my house to go to the grocery store and the post office and then come home but never do, is that not a wasted trip? Remember that Jesus has set his face like flint (stone) towards the goal of reaching Jerusalem (Luke 9.51), the Cross and the Day of the Resurrection. If Jesus does not get there; if he does not rise from the grave then there is no rising and we are all dead people. Jesus makes this journey so that we can have healing and deliverance from sin and death. He also was raised from the dead so that we can draw others into that same life, to know that same forgiveness and mercy and learn to really, truly live this risen life that has been given to us.

And we must countenance that there is going to be struggles and pain. There will be afflictions and suffering for delivering such a message to our city and our culture. Such a message that calls this culture, this people to repentance (starting with this congregation and this priest) is not going to be popular or welcomed. And because people have forsaken the mercy of God, their house (temple) has been devoid of God’s presence. It will eventually be razed and removed from the earth. This is why it is important to consider carefully the message that God is sending to us through his prophet. God will have mercy on those whom he will have mercy. We are called to strive to make it through the narrow door and into the banquet before the door is shut and none will be able to open. Live life n such a way that you will enter through the narrow door and so that your life is not just an offering, but an act of worship.