Thursday, August 25, 2016

Guess who is coming to Dinner?

I wonder, if when Jesus accepted the invite to dinner at this prominent Pharisee’s house (Luke 14.1-14), if that man went home and said to his wife, “Dear, you’ll never guess who’s coming to dinner!” So when the time came and the guests arrived including Jesus at the appointed hour, everything including the trap. And by trap, I mean the one man they had invited that would never get an invitation otherwise. The trap was a man with dropsy. The Pharisees and the Scribes were looking for something that they could use against Jesus as a charge so that they could silence him. But then something else happened, something that they did not expect. These men were also being watched; being watch by Jesus.

So before dinner was served, Jesus, knowing that he was being watched started the confrontation with a question and therefore a challenge: “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” In doing so, he anticipates the objections of those who are trying to ensnare him. His potential accusers remain quiet, perhaps because after last week they learned that to try and accuse him of anything immediately would bring about refutation and shame of their position.

Jesus does then, what Jesus does – he heals the man with dropsy. Still the religious men say nothing.

As they moved into the meal, Jesus recognized how these men were choosing their seats – decided who was who and who ranked higher than another. Jesus seizes the opportunity to turn this into a bit of a lesson on humbleness and humility. He challenges them not to take the place of honour but to take a lower place. By taking the lower place, you enable your host to honour you with a higher position. It causes both you and your host to be honoured – you get to move up and your host is shown to be attentive to his guests. And in doing so, your collective worth in the eyes of those around you is raised.

In fact Jesus goes so far as to suggest to his host and to the other invited guests that when you have a reception like the one they were having, it is important to include others where God is concerned. In particular, we should invite the poor, the blind, the crippled and the lame into our lives and call them friends. This is about sharing with them the good things that God has given to you. In doing so, you raise the level of honour that the people whom the world says has none and shows to God that you are aware that he is watching us. Moreover we show that we are keeping an eye on eternity and the fact that there will be another greater feast at the end of time. Where will you sit at that feast?

Move to being a faithful servant of God than being humble. One needs to act with mercy. Jesus points out to the dinner party that it is easy to invite those that are going to make you look good, give you brownie points and invite you to their house for the same purpose and reasons. If that is all you want then that is all that you shall receive and your account is paid in full. But one needs to recognize that in hosting those who can invite you back is not the kind of generosity God is looking for. Real and true generosity comes from giving to those who are without and cannot repay you for what you have done.

Think of it this way: last Sunday I was on my way to another community in the diocese to celebrate a Eucharist for the congregation because their clergy was away. I left before first light on that Sunday morning and when I came to a Tim Horton’s I stopped to get something to eat and to drink to enable the rest of the journey. When I returned to my car, there was a young couple struggling to get in car because the dogs had managed to lock the doors. Part of me just wanted to mind my own business and get on my way. After all I was on a mission from God, right?

But then I chose to take a few moments to help them out by taking my window scraper and we jimmied the door open. There was much relief and then some happiness that I had taken the time on a Sunday morning to help this couple continue their move home to another province in Canada. Why is this important and why would I mention it? Remember what the Scriptures say, ”Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Hebrews 13.16 NRSV). It was only a few moments to open the car door and I was on my way with my breakfast and tea but it meant the world to that young couple who were so stuck in the rain.

Take time to give and to be generous this week and remember, God is watching and rejoicing when we do. After all, we always know that Jesus will be there for dinner and he is the same: yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13.8).


Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Stand up straight and bless the Lord

The Gospel this week (Luke 13.10-17) recounts the last time that Jesus is seen and heard inside a Synagogue before he goes to the Temple in Jerusalem and all that happens around Holy Week, and his death and resurrection. He was there to teach and preach as was his custom but there was a difference. This was not the North (Galilee), this was by Jewish standards, the South. And trouble was brewing. The forth right preaching of the young rabbi from the north was turning heads and not all of them were happy.

Luke shows Jesus in the middle of the Sabbath service teaching something and then spots this woman who was clearly deformed. She suffered from what is identified as Spondylitis defomans which is the spine being fused into one rigid mass. This left the woman hunched over and crippled. And Luke makes two other things really clear. This woman, in spite of the pain and the struggle to be at worship, was at worship and that this thing that had happened to her was done by the prince of evil, Satan himself. This woman did not come to worship looking for Jesus, she came to worship God. She had not sought healing or made even a request for prayer. Luke asks us to “behold, the woman”. She came to worship and to heard the word though she could not fully participating because she could not stand up and bless the Lord. She had been crippled by evil in spite of her pious life and had been this way for 18 years. (This by the way, should be connected with those poor folks who died in the collapse of the Tower at Siloam.)

Jesus sees this woman and everything that she is and has been through. He calls her to come up front from the back and he says to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” He lays hands on her. This is not for prayer but to acknowledge her as in relationship with him. She straightens up and begins to praise God: celebrating, praising and leaping about in a way few seldom do because she is finally free of the evil and the pain.

This action, this healing, irritated the president of the synagogue. Irritated? He was afflicted with much grief and so displeased that the Sabbath Law was broken. So much so the castigated the congregation for breaking the laws of the Sabbath, rather than directly confront Jesus and possibly risk dismerit and embarrassment for challenging the healing, a work of God, on the Sabbath.

Jesus points out to those who are angered by this, the fact that they have oxen and donkeys that they untie from the hitching post and lead to water so that the animal can drink. That is a double breech of the Sabbath law and yet if they do not do the animals die.  Why then, does a daughter of Abraham have to remain tied p and unable to worship God as she needs to? Why can’t healing happen on the Sabbath? Is it not wrong to allow a child of God to continue suffering from evil and pain when we as the community of faith have the power to stop it.

It is interesting that has those who opposed this find themselves humiliated, they continue as time goes on, to oppose this teaching only to discover that they are further humiliated. In contrast, the crowd, is amazed by everything that Jesus is saying and doing and glorified God for what was happening – God is visiting and redeeming his people. But there is clearly trouble ahead.

Where does this leave us? Let’s face it: we live in a sinful and dying world. We live in a world that is still vexed by evil. The Good News is that God comes to visit and to redeem his people. This is the central theme of Luke’s Gospel. And more to the point, healing, rescue and salvation need to be an everyday not just a work day matter like getting your license or paying your taxes. There must be celebration of what God is amongst his people. This is the purpose of worship: that we would get rid of our idols, our agendas and begin to turn our eyes on the Author and Perfecter of our Faith. We need to turn our eyes upon Jesus and keep them there. In doing so we are more likely to be found doing the things that God calls us to do and doing less of the things that take us away from God and distance us from one other. It is why we need God to come to us and we need to work at abiding in Christ.


Thursday, August 11, 2016

More than the Community of kum-ba-ah

This past week, I have being thinking about the nature of the Church and the nature of the Christian life. There is clearly a disconnect in the life of the Church and its members in how this life ought to be lived. Part and parcel of this is a lack of the idea of the need in the Christian life for holiness and righteousness as well as for love and grace. The Gospel this week (Luke 12.49-56) might come as a bit of a shock and will certainly be made uncomfortable by its language. So often we think of Jesus as being, “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild.” What tend to forget is that though the Gospel is good news, it can also be experienced as terribly bad news.

In our contemporary society and even more so in the ecclesiastical community, there is an almost automatic repulsion to the idea of judgement and especially of God executing any kind of divine judgement at all on earth. The difficultly is that the Church, if it does not embrace this concept which is clearly believed in the Church and in the Scriptures, we fall short of who we are intended to be. There is no need for the transformation of a person’s life and even more so the structures of human society if there is no judgment and consequences to the ways in which we live our lives. In effect, we declare ourselves righteous and without sin if we fail to acknowledge that God is both holy and righteous on his own. And please know that I speak to you about this subject not only as one who shares in the same judgement with you for what we had done with and about Jesus Christ. I say this to you as someone who faces double judgement as a pastor and a priest in the Church, for claiming to know Christ in the world and how I have led the people of God.

There is a reality that Christians in the Anglican tradition on the North American continent need to grasp: there is judgement on each and every life. There is judgement on every person and only the righteous will stand; the rest will not.  That is why Jesus came in the first place. God loves this God hating empire so much, that he send his one and only Son, that whoever believes (participates and trusts) in him should not have to perish but have eternal life (John 3.16 translation mine).

We cannot use or religion and religiosity as a shield and a guarantee of personal salvation – it is not just about one person but about all of God’s people coming to God through Christ in the Spirit. Christ went to that hill and to give his life that we might live his in ours. As St. Paul say, “It is not I who live but Christ in me.” We have been claimed by God in baptism not because we are the best, the brightest, the richest or the smartest. We are his because we are willing to be known as his. We identify with Christ through baptism and because of this we die to this sinful, divided and dying world. And in this daily cycle of dying and rising to life, we know that conflict with the world is inevitable. Combat however, is optional.

We rightly fear judgement because we like to think that we are in control of our own lives. No one call tell us what to do because it belongs to us. Divine fire and judgement are a reminder it is God who is in control. We are constantly being reminded that we are not our own, that we were bought with a price and therefore we should honour God with our lives, lock, stock and body. Thinking that we are in control leads to a life that is latently filled with hypocrisy and therefore increasingly without God. Being leaves us as a bunch of play actors with a form of self righteousness and there is no health, no salvation in us.

So where does this leave us? Let’s keep in mind that holiness and righteousness are relational words not verbs. That is, it is not so much about what we do as it is about the relationship we have and how we keep them. It is time to move beyond a superficial living the Gospel into all that God holds and has for us, know that we are going to live out the dyings and risings of Christ in daily life. We need to learn to be peace filled people rather than trying to make this empire a peaceful, secure society. Such a place can only exist when the hearts of men and women, with God’s transforming love are filled.

How does this start? By fixing our eyes on Christ, who settling aside the shame and scorn of his own death on a cross,Christ offered it to God. He has been there and he will walk with you through it all. So let go of all those things that weigh you down and of the sin that so easily entangles, and run the race with endurance so to remain close to the Master and continue giving yourself him into that abundant life. Get underneath and bear up all of the things that need to be endured and live into all of it. After all, the Church, the People of God, are not meant to be just the community of the kum-by-ah.


Friday, August 5, 2016

It is more blessed to receive than give

I have a friend who has a number of catch phrases. He likes making them up. For example, he likes to remind those he’s teaching that “Any text without a context is a pretext.” Or another favourite, “Its a rough life laddybuck, but she be a short one.” Or another one I saw on his Facebook page recently said, “Any dead fish can float downstream.”  But if there is a saying of his that I remember more and like more than any of the others, it is this one: “It is more blessed to receive than to give.” Now, I know that you might be thinking that this is backwards... that this is not what Jesus said. Jesus said we need to give; that it is more blessed to give that to receive. The Gospel this week supports that notion, doesn’t it? We need to sell what we have and give.

So why would the opposite also be true? One of the things that I have learnt over the years in public ministry, is that until we learn to receive, we have nothing that we can give and we have nothing to offer – not until we learn to receive from God. The words at the offertory in the Book of Common Prayer come back to me at times like this, and memories of standing at the altar with bread, wine, money and stuff for the food bank and uttering these familiar words: Blessed be thou Lord God of Israel forever and ever. All that is in the heavens and in earth is thine. All things come of thee, O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee. It continues to serve as a weekly reminder that everything that I have in this life is on loan to me and that I need to be aware of this and not think myself safe or secure because of what I think I have. Car. The roof over my head. The television I watch and the attending Xbox 360 in play on. The food and drink I will consume today. God knows our needs and provides for us so that we can have things in our lives so that we can be a blessing to others: family, friends and neighbours.

The one thing that I have not borrowed is time. Each moment I live, this present moment is a gift that God gives. I am not now living nor have I ever lived on borrowed time. Time and the relationship that I have been given to build them is a gift of God. I am given time to learn to receive. I am given time to learn to give as Christ gave of himself, even if it means that I need to learn how to bleed. This is what my family, friends, the Church and God teach me on a daily basis. They teach me to receive what it is that I need to receive and they teach me to give what I have to offer. Why is learning to receive so important? Well consider this: we live in a world that is concentrating on getting stuff. It concentrates on the hoarding and abusing of wealth for one’s own personal status, position and gain. After all, the Jones’ are worse than we are, they not? All I am trying to do is keep up with the Jones... While at the same time most of the people I know, live in the fear of what happens if that next paycheck is not there? What do we do and where do we go, if we don’t have enough? What happens if God does not provide our daily bread?

Jesus in the Gospel this week (Luke 12.32-40) calls us to consider God and the fact that it gives God pleasure to give us the kingdom. We are told 365 times in Scripture (which means at least once a day) not to be afraid, because God knows you and is willing to give to you. Can you receive? And before some think that I have gone all prosperity gospel on them, let me reassure that this is not the case. Life, eternal life itself is a gift. Grace, love, mercy are all gifts from God: have you received them? Can you receive them or is there something in the way that The problem with the prosperity Gospel and with secular life in general is that they are not able to sustain life – certainly not for an eternity. It makes life all about you. Learning to receive and to give shows us who God is and to show others too. We don’t have to sell everything and make ourselves destitute – and thus holy paupers who are a burden on the community. Rather we are meant to share everything so that all benefit from what has been received.  

In a country and society where so many have so much in terms of material wealth, there is little concern for the neighbour, for God or for the spiritual life. We demand independence and rights with being aware of the need for taking responsibility and living in interdependence. I cannot detect anymore, any real concern in the life of my denomination these days for the life that is to come. There are concerns for social justice and equality. There are concerns for refugees and for the environment. There is a real desire to try transform the world by acting like the world only acting like the world only nicer. People in the Church keep rushing to the mirror to see if they can detect God in what they see, only to discover that they are sorely disappointed.

As a Church, we lack a real concern for seeing people coming into the kingdom and into the life that God offers through Christ.  We lack the passion for seeing people being transformed into the people God has called them to be. The best way to regain that passion, that concern is to open ourselves to the Holy Spirit and to that transformation ourselves. In doing so, issues around structures, budgets and issues become less and or community, centered on Christ grows in faith, the Holy Spirit with spiritual gifts, and God willing, in numbers of worshippers.

So let us ask ourselves: where is our trust? Where is our hearts? Where is our stuff? Because where these things are, so will our lives, here and in eternity be.