Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The undomesticated God

The Gospel this week is about the unknown day and hour of the return of Jesus (Matthew 24.36-44). And as I say that, I recognize that the pericope (piece of the Scriptures) that we have to work with is too small. We actually need to include, at the very least what Jesus has to say about the fig tree and recognizing the season... when will it be summer again (v. 32-35)? I suggest this because to say that we know nothing about when the kingdom will come, is not true. There are things that we have been told will happen – things that will need to happen before Jesus returns. We know how to interpret the changing of a season from one to another. We will gamble on what we think the outcome of a role of dice or the outcome of a particular sports game or match will be. We can see when a human crisis is about to erupt and hear all about on a 24 hour news channel. But we still fail to see the coming of the kingdom of God.

We have been asked in the baptismal rites in the past few weeks, if we would seek Christ, loving our neighbours as ourselves and if we would serve Christ wherever we find him. We are asked to do these thing so that we are not passive about our waiting and watching for him. We’re asked not to concentrate on ourselves but rather to seek Christ in other places and spaces. We are asked to serve Christ by serving other people. We do this service to keep our faith and our lives from becoming selfish and idolatrous.

The problem is that our society has bought into the myth of progressive thinking and living. People think and believe that this world is basically a good place and what we need to do is make is a better and that will make everything good. Such thinking is not Christian thinking. If we were able to make this world a better place, would we have not done so already? More than that, f we could make this world into the kingdom that God desires to build, then why did Jesus come into this world to save us?

People were waiting and looking for the King that would take the nation back to the good old days of David and Solomon (which by the way were not as great as some would have you believe) when the kingdom was free and doing its own thing. Humanity has not changed that much in the last few thousand years. “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man” Jesus reminds us. People are going to choose themselves over God and are going to go their own way. Sin and evil are rampant. People are unaware that the next visitation is coming and that they are not ready. It reminds me of one of my favourite books, CS Lewis’ “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardorbe” when Mr. Beaver and Lucy are taking about meeting Aslan for the first time:

“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion." "Ooh" said Susan. "I'd thought he was a man. Is he quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion"..."Safe?" said Mr Beaver ..."Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you.”  C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
Following the King into the Kingdom is not about being safe. It is about meeting him and building a relationship with him that will lead you into living his life with him for an eternity. God made this possible because God did the unexpected. God came to a darkened manger in an out of the way place. He came through blood and water, through some fear and pain. He did not come to a palace with fanfare. He was received with joy by those who listened to the announcement of his birth by angels.
Christ’s coming to us caused Crisis in the places and spaces of power. There was palpable fear in the people of authority because the King could take it away from them. We shall hear of how these men will react in the coming days and months.
Advent is a time for preparations and for amends. It is time to take care of those things so that we are ready for his coming. He is coming. And until he does, we have as his Church been instructed and enabled to be his community in the world. We’re expected and required to seek him out and to serve him where we find him. Remember, he is coming back not as a baby in a manger, but as the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess him but not all will do so happily or willingly.
And as we wait, watch and seek Christ out, remember to manage your expectations of neighbour and even more so of God. After all the Lion of Judah is not a tamed Lion; the domesticated God. But he is God, and God is good, all the time. And remember, God will do the unexpected. Don’t worry about what time it is.


Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Of saints and the Christian soul

All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day have happened this week. And because All Saints is a major (Easter type) Festival and its also the anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood, I move it and celebrate it on the Sunday after. It is usually a good celebration and there are some times baptisms to do with it, like there will be this Sunday.

The Gospel this week (Luke 6.20-31) notes that people are coming to Jesus. They come for at least one of two and maybe more reasons. First, people come because they are seeing deeds of power being done: the blind are seeing, the deaf are hearing, the lame are walking and the poor are becoming rich. Plus, people are hearing what God is saying through Jesus – they are hearing words of power (dynamos) and they explode just like dynamite. Second people, because they are experiencing God, come to Jesus to be cured – made whole. People are coming to and find Jesus because they want to be whole and free like they have never been before. They finding that being with Jesus is making them whole and setting them free. It is in this context (Isaiah 61.1-3) that Jesus ministers to people healing every person that comes to him, without reservation, without caveat. And in some real ways the Church grows.

Jesus and the Twelve have come down from a spiritual mountain top into the places and spaces where most people dwell. Jesus sits down and talks to them about what is important and what the nature and work of the Church should look like. Looking directly at his chosen leaders, he begins to talk about blessedness or righteousness: “Righteous are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” Now, it is important to keep in mind that righteousness, from a Christian point of view is not something we do to become, but rather it is something that we are given by God and because we have it we need to act in a righteous manner. That is, we need to live as people who are in relationship with God – because we are.  So if we look at this, those who are economically disadvantaged, who are hungry because they have no food, who are weeping because they see and understand the state of the people and the Land – these are blessed and are righteous, because they are in the presence of God.

It is the inversion of what the world says and thinks blessedness is about. If you have lots of stuff – wealth, position, power you must be blessed. If you have lots to eat and drink and are able to eat five times a day, you must be blessed. If you have lots of friends and are able to party, laugh and carry on, you must be blessed. But that is not how Jesus and therefore God sees it. In fact he takes the time to warn people thusly by saying to them “Woe to you is coming if you have these things and do not bless”  Woes were used by the OT prophets to warn the nation and individuals about their impending disaster if they did not changes their ways and live a righteous life towards God and neighbour. These warnings were given because people had become arrogant and were ignoring the visitation of God for the purposes of redeeming them and shaping them into his priesthood, his holy nation.

God calls us to love our neighbours, ourselves, each other and even our enemies. We are commanded to act well towards others who we believe hate us. We are to do good to those who persecute us and to bless them. We are to move away from the idea of retribution, the eye for an eye mentality – no wonder we live in a world of sightless people. We are too busy taking out each other’s eyes and we live in a world that is blinded by fear and hate, by mistrust and self righteousness. We are too quick to try and take out the speck in our neighbour’s eye.

We are to offer whatever it is that our neighbour demands of us and we are to bless them by giving and not withholding. We are to hold an attitude of love so that when we speak to them or about them we don’t offer insult and cause ourselves to sin. We are to pray for them and ask God to bless them even in spite of (or maybe because of) what they have done to us or our lives.  We can do this because God will “save us from the hands of all that hate us” (Zach 1.71)

What do we do when we discover that we are in the presence of God, that we are indeed being visited and redeemed? We must give and we must dance! We need to give to God and to others until it pinches our lives, The amount is somewhat immaterial – it is how you give and therefore how you chose to dance that matters. What matters is whether or not your heart, your life and your home are open and ready to offer self and hospitality to those who will come. We are to give without thought of reward or return.

As Saints of the living God, as Christian souls, if we work at that, then the Son can shine through us and that means an awful lot to a world that is lost in sin, fear and the growing darkness.