Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The "C" word

The “C” word. Nobody likes the “C” word. No, not Cancer. The word “Commitment”. In our society these days, it is a word that has fallen into disrepute if not disuse. People like to be involved in things but do not want to be seen as being committed to something. To be committed, especially when it comes to religion, it makes you seem, weird or even fanatical. Being involved allows for response and for participation but only to a point – so long as it remains good for me (and my family) if one has family. The moment that there is an inconvenience then there is the refusal to participate our even involve one’s self.

This week’s Gospel Lesson is about making commitments to Christ and learning to follow him. it is split into two stories that are joined together. The first is about Jesus choosing to get flinty faced about going to Jerusalem the reaction of the Samaritans (northerners) about Jesus choosing to go South and eventually die. Along the way, as word spread throughout the North of Israel that Jesus was going to Jerusalem, villages and towns rejected him because he was going South and making a big deal about Jerusalem. I can hear it now... what are there no good places to worship here” No crosses to die on and no tombs to be buried in that he has to go up there?  After one such rejection, James and John wanted to call down fire to show the people around them a thing or two. God could put on this great display just like when the prophets of Baal got barbequed and then no one would dare question Jesus or his disciples. James and John wanted to get all “shock and awe” on the Samaritans. What does Jesus do? Well essentially nothing, except that he admonishes and chastened the disciples for wanting retribution on those who had rejected them – they kept walking and moved on to the next village.

The second part of the story is about being on the road with Jesus and having people who wanted to come and follow him. One fellow offered to commit to an opened ended mission saying, “Wherever you go, I go.” Jesus points out to the person that they need to be careful of what they are promising and have counted the costs of the decision they have made. The mission is not going to have fancy hotel rooms to sleep in at night. There will be no five star dining. There will be no of this calling down fire from heaven business. You will have to say good bye to your family, your life as it is now and the security you have built up for yourself? Are you ready to do that? Make sure.

The next person Jesus personally calls. He is willing but wants to wait until his father has died. That may be many years away from happening and the man wants his blessing and his share of the inheritance. This was something major in ancient Middle Eastern culture. But Jesus points out that those who are unaware of the kingdom and of the life that God offers (the spiritually dead) can handle the affairs of a physically dead person. In other words there is no time to waste. Announcing that God is coming to visit and to redeem his people is of first and utmost importance. Nothing, not even the blessing of a dying father was to get in the way of the kingdom being announced to the world.

The third person also offers freely to go with Jesus but first wants to go home and say his goodbyes. In my study bible, there is a note beside this verse that says, “Leave alone, the things you leave be behind.” This man wants to follow Jesus but wants to take leave of his family. What happens when he walks in the door and tells his mother and father that he is off to follow Jesus? Wouldn’t they try to lock him in his room and put bars on the window? Or at least would they not have a strongly worded conversation to make it clear that if he goes out the door he is cut off? The imperative of going to proclaim that God is coming to visit and redeem his people, is so important that we can take the time for a goodbye and a hug. It is that important.

What I gain from this is some simple things. God is looking for people who are going to go and go now to proclaim his message. The going, the proclaiming, and the living of the message of the kingdom are what matter. We need to let go of what was and stretch out for what is to come because in doing so, what you what will go with you. God is not looking for people of tremendous faith or great smarts or fantastic wealth. He is looking for people who will find their flinty faced resolve and join him in the journey through the cross and the grave to the resurrection and ascension.

Or if you wish think of mission and evangelism this way, we are the communion of God for the city we live in. God wants to take us and bless us then to break us up and send us to the city that we might feed and draw someone to God. It is important that we go with God and do what needs to be done. Let’s try that this week and see what happens in Jesus’ name.


Friday, June 10, 2016

The Feast is ready to begin

The kingdom of God is like a dinner party with a lot of guests and all of them with reputations. Or at least that is how one could look at it. If you think about the various people who are in this story: the Pharisee, Jesus and the “sinner” woman, they all have reputations that go ahead of them. Take the Pharisee in our Gospel story as an example (Luke 7.36-8.3). He had a reputation as being a man of great faith and of observing the Law. He did not want to be seen as someone who would not take a pilgrim in and feed him and so he invited Jesus and the Twelve to come and dine with him.  Hospitality for him and for a great many people in different places and spaces is a great honour and is important in spiritual matters for various reasons.

Enters in a woman who is known in the community to be a “public sinner” but we are not told what her particular sin is and why she is reviled by the Pharisee (and others). But whatever the sin and the circumstances around it, she is known as a public sinner.

Then there is Jesus himself. He has a reputation for being a prophet and a holy man. And as such Jesus, so the Pharisee thinks, should know a “sinner” when he sees one and should have the common sense to avoid such a person because it will muck up his reputation. It will leave him open to the charge that he allows sinners to touch him and that he eats and drinks with them. In reality, Jesus does identify with sinners. He cares about those who have fallen short and fallen away from God and he is here to bring them back. He has come to seek and to save that which is lost – God’s own people. God is visiting and redeeming his people.

The Pharisee thinks he is seeing something awful and believes that if Jesus were really as holy as his reputation says he is, he would know about this woman and not allow himself to be polluted and corrupted by her. This is important because as we noted last week, Jesus is not worried about what other people think. He is doing what needs to be done for the person who needs it. It is acts of grace and of love that set people free. And out of people acting to do for another in love, grows an attitude of gratitude. Because we have been loved with an everlasting love and shown mercy without limits and given forgiveness, our lives are being chained by God through Christ who lives in us. It is not I who live now but Christ in me.

And because in am being changed, how I deal with other people is changing. My attitudes of gratitude (thanksgiving) and fortitude (spiritual strength) grow has I know and receive the love and the grace that God gives me – my daily bread. I need to remind myself that there is not a person that I encounter for whom Christ did not give his life; for whom his blood was not shed. As Christians we need to see with new eyes the people around us. We need to see, really see, who God has given to us and learn to love and to serve them and love them as God does through his Son.

This woman, because of her act of devotion, the change of eyes and of heart leads her to being made whole. The woman’s response to hearing the good news has brought her salvation and she needs to get on with life now because it is different and it matters for an eternity her and ours not just for this minute.

How do you see the people around you? Can you see them, really see them, as God does? Can you see them and how much God loves them and can you serve them in the ways that Jesus is serving them? Can you see them at tale with you? Come and see and then go and tell. After all if not you, then who?  

I wrote a collect (short prayer) for this week too and I’ll finish with this: Have mercy O Lord, upon all those whom you call into your service and to reflect your likeness and glory: that we might faithfully reflect your love and offer your mercy through your Spirit. Through us, fill the places of your banquet table that all the world may come to rejoice and feast with the saints in light; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Friday, June 3, 2016

God is visiting and redeeming his people

When I started reading the commentaries for this week’s Gospel (Luke 7.11-17) I could not help but notice all of the similarities that there are between the text and the contemporary situation we face in this city. Let’s see if you can hear what I was hearing:

The name “Nain” means beauty and pleasantness. Once very prosperous, the town had fallen on hard times because the price of the one commodity people wanted (called simsum) fell through the floor. The local economy was yet to recover for all of that. Plus its geography did not led itself to helping things out. It is 3 miles south and west of Mount Tabor in the Galilee. Nain was also 25 miles south and west of Capernaum and it was a steep climb on the road from one to the other. So it was not the usual route people would take to the larger centers in the south.

So the fact that Jesus deliberately sets out for this place is a bit of a wonder not to mention a shock. And it was as much of a shock to the people of Nain as it was to the people that were following Jesus. As they came to the town and entered from the West they came across the funeral procession of a man who had died very recently – the day before. Purity laws demanded that the body be buried in 24 hours after death and anyone who touched the body was spiritually polluted for a length of time – a week usually.

Why is all of this important? Because there is a theme that we need to pay attention to here that comes up over and over again in Luke’s Gospel: who is lost and how do they get found?  And we need to be aware of the fact that God is coming and visiting his people to redeem them and make them his people. It is building on the theme that we heard in Nazareth when Jesus read from Isaiah at the Synagogue:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4.18-21)

God anoints his servants to do the things that are going to build his nation, God’s priesthood in the world. And more to the point of the Gospel we are considering, dead men not only don’t tell tales, they don’t provide for their widowed mothers either. Jesus and those following him, meet this group of people led by a women who is now at the mercy of everything bad that has happened to her in her family and in her community.

I consider this a moment of sudden ministry. It is not a moment where one is invited in, you just know that you know that you need to do something, anything because you have looked at the this pitiable woman and recognized the state of her life and her situation. What does Jesus do? He confronts the situation by telling this grieving widow not to cry but to dry her tears. The he reaches out and touches the beir – causing the procession to grind to a halt. Then Jesus says to the dead man – “Get up!” Not only did he sit up but he began to talk – proof that he was not dead or a spirit but truly alive! Doesn’t that make you wonder what happened next? Does it raise in your mind the question of how the bearers of the body reacted? Did they lower him gentle like or did he get dumped? And how did this man “stick the landing” having fallen from a height if he was dumped?

Then the most remarkable thing happened – Jesus gave him back to his mother. He wasn’t just set free to do whatever. He was raised to life again and that life had a purpose – to care for his widowed mother, that he might be her help and her defense. In turn this means that he was sent back to the community that was prepared to bury him. It would have an impact on the community in terms of joy in having this young man back and give them hope that more help and a turnaround was just around the corner. Most of all, the people praised God for this and claimed Jesus as a prophet because he made them aware of God’s presence and power among them. And the news of this happen spread all over the land, including to John the Baptist. All of this happened during a funeral in the middle of a cemetery and a burial. God visited and redeemed his people.

Where does this leave us? Let me ask you a question: where is God for you when you are suffering, crying or in pain? Where is God for you when you believe that there is nothing life to do but die yourself? I wish I could show you (but cannot for pastoral reason and privacy concerns) where God is at work in the lives of people in this congregation right now. If God is here and he does visit, heal and redeem his people then there is a connection to be made in the words that we hear in the Eucharist, “Do this for the remembrance of me.” God in Christ is here and we are with him. God has come to visit, heal and redeem this congregation. He has come to you, to heal you and to heal you and to celebrate your redemption.

Seeing Isaiah fulfilled is only the first steps in moving into the kingdom. God calls on us to reach out to this city as only we can. If not us, then who? Do you really see the people of this city and know people who need those moments of sudden ministry? Do you love them enough to draw them in and share with them what we have?

Recently at coffee after Church I was a part of a conversation about how to grow the Church. There were thoughts about programs and so on. It has become clearer and clearer to me that we as Christians need to live in the Scriptures and the fulfillment there of. We need to see people get their sight back, the deaf their hearing and enable the lame to walk up right. We need to see the dead rise and talk. It is a good thing to come here, into this place and to worship and pray but it is a better thing, having done that to go and tell this city, one person at a time that God is coming to visit and to redeem this people and share the joy that comes with having a relationship with a God who will interrupt a funeral to make the kingdom known.