Monday, February 27, 2017

Are you dead enough yet?

Last week there was a baptism in the Parish and a little fellow named Logan was welcomed into the Christian faith and into the fellowship of the Church. This week we begin our observance of Lent has begun and we are undoubtedly asking each other, “So, what are you giving up for Lent?” This is what go me to thinking about being tested and tempted by things and wondering if giving something up for Lent is actually a productive thing for most of us. I was thinking about giving up caffeine. But the thing with caffeine in our society is that it is incredibly hard to get away from. And what is the point of giving it up for Lent if we are going to take it up again on Easter Day or just thereafter? What do we actually get from it but maybe some self-satisfaction?

When I think of Jesus being led by the Spirit (Matthew 4.1-13) out into the Wilderness (please note I did not call it the Desert, because it does not have cactus, sand, endless roads, Wylie E. Coyote and the Roadrunner. Jesus was led by the Spirit into the Wilderness (Jeshimmon). He was led there as he was with what little he might have had at his own Baptism. The Wilderness was also known as “the Devastation” It was an area of Israel 35 miles long by 15 miles wide. It stands between the inhabited plateau of Judea and the Dead Sea. The hills were like dust heaps. The limestone looked like it had blistered and flaked. It felt like a glowing crucible. Jesus went here intentionally to be tested concerning his ideas about ministry and how he would serve God. He was to be tested as he considered how to win the hearts of men and women so that he could draw them into the kingdom of God. It was a battle would not end until his last breath on the Cross at Calvary.

Think of it this way: before you actually begin a project of any kind, it is important to think about and carefully choose the methods that you are going to use to get to your goal. And if I understand things correctly, Jesus is treating salvation like air conditioning. It is great to be in and even better to be shared. But in order for it to be a blessing, you have to choose to walk into it. It is free to all who would come into but it is not free to provide it.

Jesus, by going to the Wilderness, left behind the world. By not resorting to the uses of divine grace and power, chose to leave behind the easier path of riches, power and fame to get people to salvation. Instead, he chose the path of suffering, humiliation and death – the harder road by far. Jesus was tested in every way that we are. He was given the opportunity to use power for himself, to call upon his relationship with his Father and to compromise his way into things by offering his worship to someone else. He was tested in every way, as we are, but did not sin.

As I look at the Church today, I often here the grumbles and stumbles of those people who were led on that first Exodus out of slavery in Egypt and into the Wilderness. I wonder who often Moses and Joshua heard the same question, “Are we there yet?” How many times did Moses have to put up with the people asking, “Were there no graves in Egypt, that you had to bring us out here? It is better to go back and serve the Egyptians and die there.” It is easier perhaps to live the thing one has always done. But if there is going to be real change in the life of the Church, if there is going to be real life, true faith and deepening trust in God and in each other, then we are going to need to take some risks to make things different and better for those who are going to follow behind us into the future, into eternity. We are not here to preserve the past to make us comfortable with ourselves, but rather to serve and make sacrifices for family, friends and neighbours in the present so that those who would walk into eternity and into God’s kingdom with us, can do so.

We need to move away from counting the number of heads that are in Church on a Sunday morning and start considering how many times between each hour of prayer we manage to impact another person for the kingdom of God because Jesus would. We need to start considering how we can impact the lives of people around us and then bring that to worship so that we can invigorate our worship. We need to go and do then come and pray so that we are learning how to do for God and then learn how to ask for what’s next.

Are we more committed to God and to each other than we were 5 years ago? Are we more involved? Where have we grown and what have we learned in the last 5 years? Are we a more compassionate people? Are we closer to becoming the worshipping community that we want to be? How are we fulfilling the mission we believe that God has called us to?

It is easy to look around and think that this kind of talk is pointless... there is only hope for the church building to be around for a little while longer and then everything is going to come crashing down. Only thing is that is the kind of idolatry that satan wants – self-idolatry. We can become our own worst idols through thinking only of ourselves. We have been experiencing all that God can give us – do we expect him to stop giving?

Is God done with us yet? Are you dead enough yet, that God can raise you up to new life? Will you live out your baptism and mission according to what God asked of you? This is the test. How did you study?


Thursday, February 23, 2017

Living into the transfigured life

I have been this week thinking about how we as faithful followers of the Lord Jesus, might work and walk to live the transfigured life. The Gospel this week is the account of the Transfiguration as told by Matthew (17.1-13). So what is the point of this story? What is it trying to teach and what can we learn from it?

First, we need to consider what happen just before this story of the Transfiguration. In Caesarea Philippi, Peter announced that the 12 believed that Jesus is the Christ. The place is important because Peter’s confession was done in the presence of most of the rest of the world’s religions and many idols. They continue on from there and Jesus teaches them about what is to come in terms of Jerusalem, his death and his resurrection. The 12 don’t get what he is saying and after listen for a bit, Peter challenges Jesus and demands that Jesus stops destroying their dream of the ultimate Jewish state and their prominent place in it as ministers of his government. The will swept out the Romans and the rest of the undesirables and untouchables and get back the glory of David and Solomon. Jesus responses with a deliberate and pointed rebuke and demands that Peter get back in line and follow along as he should.

This is the background to what happened next,

Jesus took the trio of Peter, James and John and led them off to a high mountain. The trio knew by geography at least, that something major was about to happen and they could help but murmur amongst themselves as to what was highly anticipated. As they climbed Jesus’ face and clothing began to glow and shimmer, like lightening. When they reached a plateau Jesus did what he always did in these lonely, out of the way places: he prayed. I have often wondered what it would have been like to listen to Jesus as he prayed to the Father. The sight of Jesus being transfigured while he prayed must have been something else. Jesus face and clothing, because they were in contact with the presence of the Father, radiated God’s shechinah (glory) for the trio to see and experience. In essence, Jesus let his insides, out through prayer and in the presence of the Father.

Why did he do this? I liken it to the coming attractions and previews that you get on TV and at the movies. For me, one of the things about going to see a movie is to see what else is coming to decide if I what to see another movie or not. Seeing what could be good was important. In a real way, this is what Jesus was trying to communicate to the trio of disciples. It is a coming attraction – something not only that you are going to want to see but even more so to participate in. He was showing them the future – for him and for them in the days ahead, after the resurrection. He was showing them where the transfigured life is leading. He was also telling them that the path into Jerusalem and to the cross and grave were necessary in order for this to happen. Even the conversation that he has with Moses and Elijah about the new exodus – that is Jesus’ departure (death) and the procession into the kingdom and the life beyond life after death.

What is important in the transfigured life, is to work at being and remaining in the presence of the Father. The trio was shown the reality of what is and is to come by being with Jesus in the presence of the Father. And I pray that we get to hear the voice of the Father remind us, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.”


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Don't just obey, fulfill the Law

Don’t just obey, fulfil. I have spent a lot of time this week considering what that phrase means and what it might look like in my life and that of the congregation. And in doing so I was reading and re-reading the Gospel for Sunday (Matthew 5.21-37).

One of the things that stood out for me was something simple: it is all about the attitudes we carry as we go along in life. Without trying to live and working to be holy and righteous people, without having the right attitude towards both God and neighbour, faith doesn’t mean a whole lot and amounts to nothing. We need to live with the righteous attitude. We need to live in the right kinds of relationships with everyone around us, not just God. This means that we need to be radical in the ways we live and how we live within the community. We are called as followers of Jesus to deal radically with the things that would separate us from God and from one another. We do this because we cannot be holy or righteous apart from being in community, in communion with one another.

Therefore there is a real need for love, power and self-control. We need to control our hearts, minds, tongues and lives. As St. Paul pointed out to Timothy, For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. (2nd Timothy 1.6-7 ESV) It is not enough for a follower of Jesus to simply obey the rules. It is not enough not to do murder. We as believers must work to curb our anger so that there is no possibility for murder. This means that the things we say and do, have consequences both in the here and now and in eternity. Thus a Christian must move beyond obedience into the fulfillment of the Law. And this we do not do alone. We have the help of the Holy Spirit and of the community that is the Church.

And because we are a part of a community, a communion, there is the need for accountability and responsibility for and to one another. We are accountable for how we treat and act towards each other, first to God and then to each other. Through our baptismal vows and the life of the follower, we are expected and encouraged by Scriptures and equipped by the Spirit to resist and confront the devil, principalities and powers, evil and personal sin. We are not to let such things have mastery over us because as sin escalates, life falters. It was in the doorways of our lives, waiting and watching for ways to overcome and overwhelm us.

This is why it is important to take care in what we say and do to and for each other. What we say and do matters, both now and in eternity. This is why it is important to reflect the light of God’s glory into the lives of our families, friends and neighbours. In the life of this Church, there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one tribe. And if that feels like it is heavy and hard to bear it should. I have a picture, a collage of pictures from the night of my ordination to the sacred priesthood. It hangs above my desk as a reminder of being chosen to be a leader in the Church and the weight of the laying on of hands as a remembrance of the responsibility I bear where the Church is concerned. What I say and do has an impact on the life of that wonderful community.

And at the same time, as scary as that might be, it is also an immense joy. Being part of the Church community means that in my walk with Christ, I am not alone in my following. I am a member of the brotherhood and a part of the community of those whom Christ has called to follow. I am not in a solitary struggle that could lead to frustration and futility in my vocation. Going out and calling people into the sacred community in this society, in this day and age, is a countercultural act. It is totally against everything that this society wants and says is necessary to be successful: autonomy, independence and individual choices. The call to community is a call to giving, to self-denial and to self-sacrifice. It will not be a popular message and people will not thank you for preaching it because of the threat that comes with it.

Nevertheless, it is what the Church and wider society need to hear: Without God and community within the Church, there is no life. “God with us” means that God is with all of us and is calling us into community and communion with him and with each other. God is not just with me, or with some of us. He is with all of us. God believes in community and calls you and me to it. Don’t just obey the rules to be a dutiful person. Live your life to fulfil the love that God has or each and for all of us that we would know his community in our midst.


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Living like a Church on a hill

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been laid low by bronchitis – it is something I get on a rare occasion when I have been working hard and then come in contact with someone who has it or has a bad cold. But it has been a period when I have had to stop and listen again to what it is that God might be saying to me on a number of levels. As I read and re-read the introduction to the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew (Matthew 5.1-20) there are a number of things that stand out to me, not the least of which is the call of Christ upon his followers to come and be more than we currently are.

The community and consequently every follower of the Lord Jesus is called to be salt of the earth and light of the world. Salt is meant to be pure. Salt is salt all the way through and does not change its nature. If it does it becomes useless and only good to be thrown away. Salt is a preservative, to keep things in good order and give it constancy. Salt is also to bring out the flavour of the life that is being lived so that it makes the life of the kingdom attractive to those who do not yet belong.

The Church is also meant to be a city on a hill – or in this case, a church on a hill in the city. Light is meant to be seen. It is used to guide people’s way in the darkness. Light is also meant to be a warning for those who can see it. People should be able to compare their life with the life they are seeing in those who are living into the kingdom and see that there is more and that this more is available to them if they would only take it on.

We need to remember why Jesus came: he came for us. He came to deliver God’s people. He did not come to make people nice but to sacrifice to make them holy. Jesus came not to teach us to be tolerant but to train us in how to genuinely love one another through giving and self-sacrifice. He preached a message of repentance and the recognition that God has come to his creation and desires to have a relationship with each and with all of us. He does not come to include us in God’s plan but to deliver us from sin, evil and death.

Jesus came that we would have more than knowledge and enlightenment. He came that we might be illumined by God the Holy Spirit that we would know and love God deeply and learn to seek him in others that we would serve him in them. There are many in the Church who want others to be “included” and to be so on their terms. There is a difficulty in this: to be included means that you are made less and need an upgrade. Inclusion does not make for equality. Only repentance and illumination can do that for those who are called to be within the Church. All of us were called to the community of the Church and some of us were chosen by God and the Church to lead with the community. But it all starts in the same place, the same way and grows from there. We start at the foot of the cross and walk on with Christ, following where he might lead.

Christ calls us to reflect the kingdom and its values of salt and light. We are expected draw the kingdom into this city and our society, not the other way around. The longer the Church waits to begin to live the life it is called to, the more the local Church drifts away from God to accommodate the culture in which it finds itself trying to exist. Drawing in the kingdom means that we live out the life that God calls us to, know that we cannot do it alone – that we are going to need the aid of the Spirit to make this happen. We are not called to build the old Christendom but rather to see the lives of the people in our community transformed and allow the structures to be reshaped and reformed by transformed people.

We are a church on a hill for the whole city to see and yet they do not know our name or what kind of church we are. What can people see in us that would attract people to us? What of the kingdom life do people see and want for themselves? Keep this in mind: I would rather be known for what I am and be alone, then be known for what I am not and be lonely. Follow where Christ may lead for he is calling you.