Thursday, May 26, 2016

Moments of Sudden Ministry

Have you ever wondered why we merit God’s attention? It was a question that I was considering carefully this week. And that’s when it dawned on me. In Christ, though the incarnation of the Son of God, God has visited and redeemed his people. It is a common theme that runs through the Gospel of Luke and is part of what happens in the Gospel lesson for Sunday (Luke 7.1-10).

With finishing Easter and moving into the Long green season of learning to be disciples. We pick things up again after Luke’s “Sermon on the Plain” which mirrors the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus returns home to Capernaum and is requested to go with some high ranking synagogue officials to heal the servant of a local centurion. The military officer had heard about Jesus and sent people from the community to find him and make the request. When the people get to Jesus, they make the plea for help, and try to sweeten the pot by pointing out to Jesus that he is worthy of this honour because he has done nice, even good things for the community and he cares for the Jewish nation; including building the place of worship.

One of the things that sticks out for me in this story, is that Jesus does not seem to notice or acknowledge the nature of the man that is making the request – that he is a nice guy who has been pleasant and giving towards his neighbours. He considers the life of the person he is being asked to heal and save because a person’s life, physical and spiritual is on the line. As I like to think of it, Jesus is faced with a moment of sudden ministry. There is a request and a demand for salvation. Without batting an eyelash, Jesus agrees to travel with the group that came to fetch him. Remember God is coming to visit and redeem his people. We should keep in mind that the centurion who asks for the healing is a gentile and that the person who needs the healing, is more than likely Jewish.

Ministry has those sudden moments when one is asked to act. It is a simple thing. Either you will or you will not. Its like a wife calling out to you from a hospital room because she is sitting with her dying husband. You know about him because for years he has declared to be an atheist. Facing his own demise and suddenly, maybe for the first time, sensing the presence of the Almighty at the approach of death needed hope and wanted prayer before death came. It is like doing a pastoral visit to an elderly couple who, when you arrive at the door, are invited into a rather loud discussion about the husband giving up his driver’s licence because he is 83 and has had three accidents in the last three weeks. Its like having a 16 year old girl show up at the Office door. She has been thrown out of her home by her stepfather. She moved in with her boyfriend, got into drinking, then into drugs and now finds out that she is three months pregnant and does now where to turn. Or it is like getting a phone call from someone who has a family member who is dealing with grief issues and PTSD. They won’t tell you who they are or where they are but they want your help to make things better all the same.

Where do you go and what name do you call on when you are in trouble? Remember God is coming to you and he wants to redeem, heal and rescue you. Jesus came not just to show us the way but to be the path. And if there is something that this lesson reminds me of it is this simple truth: where prayer is focused, power falls. We can consider the request of all these people to Jesus a prayer. And where prayer is made power falls.

So let me ask you a question then out of all of this, when will you as an individual, when will we as a community of faith put our trust in the living God? When will we take God at his word and begin to live in the hope and the strength that God gives to his people that the world might see Him in us? The world needs to see, to hear and to feel his life in us so that they might to begin to be open to the possibility that they can have this life too. It is time to do more in this Church than just survive. We are made so that we can thrive. The Father loves us and cares for us more than we can ever be aware of. The world needs to see this in us before they will accept that they are being called into the life of the Church. Once they can see that in us, then they can have it for themselves and begin to change the world around them.

And if there is need of encouragement, then remember this, we live our lives, do our ministry and die our deaths and we do it all in the sight of the Lord. As Scripture says “Precious in the sight of the Lord, is the death of his faithful servants.”  Psalm 116.15


Friday, May 13, 2016

The Proclamation of Pentecost

Ever been afraid to take God at this word? Have you struggled to do what you believe he is asking of you? The Apostles were certainly in that kind of spot on the Feast of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-42). And yet they go from being behind locked doors and shuttered window because of the fear they had about what their lives were going to be like now that Jesus had returned to the Father.

Remember last week, how when Jesus was being taken up, he was blessing them. It occurred to me that he is still blessing them and us. Jesus lives to make intercession for us and to see that his Church is blessed. Therefore we need to learn to receive that blessing that Jesus offers, recognizing that we often don’t know what it is we are being blessed for until we actually get there. The blessing he offered them is there for us to live in, if we are smart enough to take it up and live in it. And if you need an example of what I mean, then consider this – the Bishop will bless the whole congregation at the end of the service on Sunday. What are you being blessed to do and to be this coming week? Do you know?

What I find most fascinating, is that in learning to worship and in worship to remember and recall all of the great things that God has done especially in Jesus, is that witness is the other side of that coin. When they were together, in prayer and in living in fear of what those who had Jesus put to death would do to them, the Spirit came to them and they suddenly found themselves outside boldly telling the world what they had known on the inside – that Jesus is Lord. People in the City for the Feast of Pentecost got to hear in their own languages (mother tongues) what God had done for the world in Christ. There was no denying what God was doing. No misunderstanding for people: everyone could connect with what the Church was saying because they were hearing in a way that they could easily comprehend. They had a choice. People could believe what was being preached and proclaimed or not.

Hearing that their rejection of Jesus led to his death and that there was a second chance to put their faith and their lives in the hands of Christ caused thousands that day to do just that. And three thousand people became followers of the Lord Jesus. Making Christ known is what Pentecost and the life in the Spirit is all about.

I know Christians who have and continue to make it more about what a person has got in terms of spiritual gifts. As I consider Pentecost, that is not what the Spirit or the Feast are about. It is about proclaiming in a real and living way that the world put Christ to death but God raised him from the dead, vacating our judgment upon him and offering life in the name of the risen Lord.  The Spirit comes to teach us about Jesus and to reveal all the truth about him and his life with us – even yet. As we are prayed over and blessed; Jesus prays for you and for me that we would be united in love with him as he is with the Father that we might be one. He prays for the unity of his Church and for his Church as we live out his incarnation through the Spirit. This means that every Christian can and must produce the fruit of the Spirit. Jesus will make sure that each community has the gifting it needs to do the ministry that needs to be done. The Spirit makes Jesus real and present to us, “That we might know him in the breaking of bread and in the prayers, ‘ so that we might, “Do this, in remembrance of me.”



Thursday, May 5, 2016

Awaiting the "Go" sign!

Just where did Jesus go? And how are we to be his followers no if we cannot see him? Perhaps it is in the words of the angels, who are standing there with the disciples and ask them this simple question, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky?” (Acts 1.11) The Ascension is not a goodbye or even a farewell. It is a hold on a minute, I’ll be back.”

But then you need to go further back in the Gospel of Luke (24.36-53) to the last of Jesus’ appearances in the upper room. The very same room where they celebrated that last meal together and from they went to the Mount of Olives where Jesus was taken, arrested and led away to his crucifixion. Jesus came to them and spoke his peace over them. He had to continue to show himself to them for them to believe that it was truly himself. As a final proof, he asked for something to eat and they gave him a piece of broiled fish. How many ghost or dead men do you know that can eat a piece of fish? And what did they talk about while Jesus ate his piece of fish? Were they quieted by awe and wonder or struck dumb by incredible impossibility

Then he took the extraordinary step of taking the time to sit down with them and open their minds to see and understand what the Scriptures said about him. It was one last attempt to really know Jesus and his true nature. It would vital for the disciples to know these things in the days ahead. They would be going out into the world and acting like crazy people, like Jesus and everyone else would recognize this.

It would be important to know the Scriptures because knowing who God is and what God has promised to his people aids us in what we need to do.  Knowing and studying the word of God allows for us to see and to know God. Having Jesus speak God’s peace over us is the covering we need to have the staying power necessary to do ministry in the places and spaces to where God calls us.  God’s word spoken over us, moves us from fear to faith; from misery to mercy; and from ignorance into mystery with awe and wonder. But it is so much more to the Christian life than that.

I remember preaching one Sunday morning about the necessity of discipleship in the Church. I thought I had done a reasonable job. I made lots of eye contact After the service I had a dear older soul come to me and quietly whisper to me, “Sir, that was a pretty good message, but I don’t need to be a Christian. I am an Anglican.”  Please understand she was thinking I wanted her to become Pentecostal rather than Anglican and that was not going to happen. She was a dyed in the wool Anglican and was not about to become something else.

So think I need to say two important things. The first is that all baptized people are followers of the Lord Jesus. We are all members of his Body. Anglican, Pentecostal, Roman, United, Baptist: We are all God's children. We need to know him in this life so that our lives can be different. That is what worship is for: so that we can see and hear and know Jesus through sacrament and in each other. We worship so that we can witness to the community beyond the sacrament so that we can show them who Jesus is and draw them into his presence. Sometimes it will happen fast whole other times it will be a long, slow process.

What do you do when you have been blessed and are waiting for the “go” sign? It seems clear that Luke thinks it should be about being in the presence of God for prayer and worship – for us as vessels to be filled to the brim with everything that God has for us and for those around us.

How do we continue the mission? We follow the footsteps of Christ in the dirt and we follow the lead of the Spirit in our hearts and minds. They need to be and are one. We pray to be led and then we act as we believe we are led by the Spirit. Do I and can we as communities of ministry make mistakes? Yes. We can. All of us can and do make mistakes. But on the other hand, I have never found myself in a place and space where God could not use me because I have prayed and stepped out in faith to follow my Master. We are blessed at the end of worship but we often don’t know for what until we get there and that is okay. 

Where did Jesus go? He went home but he’ll be right back.