Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Will you come and follow?

People are often shocked when I tell them that Jesus didn’t preach to people and tell them to love one another. To be sure he did command the Church to love; starting with God and with each other but it was not a general principle. It was a specific demand, “Love one another as I have loved you”. The message that Jesus preached was different from that. He preached a message of repentance. He preached a message that calls people to recognise that God and the heavenly kingdom were coming to them and that they need to be ready for that. This is why Jesus was preaching, calling others to come and join him in the drawing and healing all those who were in need of rescue. (Matthew 4.12-23)

Jesus did not preach a gospel of toleration. He did not come to make people nice. He came that people would be delivered from sin and death. He came to turn this world not upside down – for it is already that – but right side up. Jesus came to show us how much God loves us and to make us aware that God desires and is pursuing us. Jesus not to see people included but for the purpose of deliverance.

There is a reason why we have a general confession in the liturgy. It is not because one or even some of us are bad. We all have things that we need to repent of; every last one of us. All of us have sinned. All of us have fallen short of God’s glory and we are, as a consequence, all in the same boat. We are in need of mercy and grace. We are in need of help and rescue precisely because there is, as the Book of Common Prayer says, “No health (salvation) in us.” Each and all of us are called to repentance and to embrace both God and each other as family.

Preaching a gospel of inclusion means that some needs to become something that they are not already. They have a lower status and need to be raised up to be like everyone else. Looking at someone with a “tag” or a label creates distance and therefore disunity. Tolerance allows for people to harbour feelings envy and even hatred that can lead to harmful actions that are hurtful and mortifying to another person. The demand that Jesus makes upon his Church is that we love each other as he does is not tolerance. Such love seeks the highest good of its object so that you are willing to serve the object of your love, suffer humiliation for doing so and even being willing to sacrifice your life if necessary.

Jesus starts his ministry in the north and the west of Israel. He spent his time calling and drawing people into the Lord’s Table. He consistently invited people to come and enjoy the preparation of the great meal: to let the smells create anticipation and the hopes of fulfilling all that might be. Think of it this way. Recently we had friends over for supper. We had a great meal of spaghetti with salad and garlic bread. Days before the friends were preparing us so that we were not disappointed when their three-year-old did not each much. Well, the tables were turned. The three-year-old gulped down her supper and then demolished the bowl of ice cream, strawberries and bananas for dessert. Her parents were shocked, in a bit of disbelief but nevertheless happy. And the fellowship was even deeper because they came and we ate together.

It is what the Church was founded on and it is what holds the Church together today. Those early disciples, with little training or prep, heard the message and responded without delay. They followed him as his disciples (akoloutheo). The Church began at the supper table, without much warning or fanfare but they followed him. They followed him from the table into the streets and places of worship. They followed him in the heat, the rain and the snow. They follow him on the road and rowed him in the boat. They followed when it was easy and when it was hard. Think of it as divine inclusion in the messianic mission and in the Incarnation.

The question is, “Will you come and follow Jesus?”


Friday, January 6, 2017

Some thoughts on Baptism

Above is a hymn - just the organ - "O Love, how deep, how broad, how high!" - it is one of the hymns that we are singing here this Sunday

I often struggle to find something new and fresh to say when it comes talking about Baptism. It is not that I don’t like doing baptisms, I very much do. Like the time I baptized a gentleman who grew up in the Salvation Army and at the tender age of 87 asked if I would be so kind as to baptize him. “Uncle Wilf” had known Jesus for many years but had never participated in a baptism until he saw baptisms in the local Anglican Church where we lived. He and some others had started coming to the little Anglican Church by the Sea because they church had been closed.  He was fascinated by it and wanted it for himself. As I understood it, it was a way for him to express to the community what God had been doing in his life and what God wanted to continue to do in his life in spite of his age. And so, I had the great privilege of baptizing him and his common law wife. No sooner was he baptized, water dripping onto his collar then he asked, “So when is the Bishop coming so I can get confirmed?”

The Gospel this week looks at Jesus and his baptism (Matthew 3.13-17) and what it means for us as believers, personally and corporately.  We need to turn up. We need as baptized people to get out and participate – and not just at Church either. I know too many Christians who go from home to the house to the Church and back and from the house to church programs and bible study and back but never really spend any time with non-Christian folks. In order for people to begin to what to see Jesus, we need to take the time to actually be with them. No one cares about who or what we know until they know that we, in fact, care about them. I suspect that as we move further into the digital age, 'community' is going to become increasingly more and more important because, without community, we lose our humanity. God call us to community with him and to things like righteousness and holiness which are essential for the maintenance of the sacred community. Community and participating in community is the cornerstone of our well being.

Moreover, who wouldn’t want to be a friend to a righteous person? Righteous people know how to be good friends. Good friends will care for us not matter what comes. Righteous people are always seeking to find the heart of God and ways in which they could serve the people they find around them. People who love God will seek the highest good of the people they serve.

So what does this have to do with Baptism and with Jesus? Well, simply put, everything. Within the Church, Baptism is how we relate to one another and to God. Jesus accepted baptism from John not because he had sins to deal with but because we do. We enter into a new life and a new relationship with God because we experience the death of the old life and are working on living the new one. I would also remind all of us that, it is not we who live, but Christ in us. He is our righteousness and our way to connect with God and with each other. We begin by recognizing that all of us have been bought with a price and we need to honour God with all that we have and all that we are because of it. As we do that, how we interact with one another should change – seeking to see Christ in all persons, loving our neighbours as ourselves. We must act and live with grace and integrity, with charity and meekness. But being loving, compassionate, acting with uprightness does make us weak but rather put God’s strength on display. After all, does not the Scriptures say, “But (Christ) said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2nd Corinthians 12.9 ESV)

One last thought in all this: God is at work in us and through us by the Holy Spirit. We are God’s children. We are guided and sometimes goaded by the Spirit into doing the things that God has prepared in advance for us to do. Know that your heavenly Father is not only watching you and that he loves you, he is cheering you on as you grow into the full stature of Christ and the person he created each and all of us to be and to become. All that I can ask God for is the defence that is prayed over each and all of us who come to confirmation and that we would live out the life of Christ so that the kingdom may be extended to its fullest.