Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Who wants to be powerful anyway?

In the Gospel this week, Jesus’ opponents change, but the question still is, “Who is this man and where did he get the idea that he is in charge?” (Matthew 21.23-32) His opponents are the Sadducees and the Elders – the ruling class who living in Jerusalem and have authority over the people because it was given to them by the Roman Empire. These are the folks that were offended when Jesus cleansed the Temple and disrupted the on-going commerce and rota that was going on. Why had Jesus don this and who told him to where questions on the rulers’ minds.

The rulers and elders fear the general population and how they would react to Jesus and his claim that his authority came from God and so feared to act against him. At the same time, they were not willing to admit to his authority coming from heaven for the implications that would have in terms of what is would mean for the Jewish nation (province) and what it would mean for them personally. Rome would throw them out of office for failing to control the population. It would be the end of their power, control.

So, they confronted Jesus in the Temple area, hoping that he would claim openly Jesus would flat out say his power and authority were from God. For doing so would allow them to charge Jesus with blasphemy. To deal with the situation, and to avoid the obvious trap that was being laid for him, Jesus asked a counter question: “What about John? Where did his authority to preach and baptise come from? If you tell me where John got his authority from, then I will tell where I get mine from.”

It does seem obvious in this passage that fear of people, fear of loss of control, power and position, denial of heaven all lead to compromise and paralysis. The people in power down want to admit that some else might be operating under divine power and certain don’t want to empower others to remove them from their own power. Therefore, they chose not to answer Jesus’ question though making it clear where Jesus got his authority from, without saying a word.

And at this point, do you notice the difference in how power and authority are used? The ruling class use it to fortify and to penalize people. Jesus uses his power to serve so that they outcomes are different. Jesus brought people together into community. There was restoration and healing, people being realised from demonic powers, the blind receiving their sight, the deaf hear, the lame walked up right and the dead rise to life. He worked and walked to find and build relationships with the least, the last and the lost and used his power to protect and build them up not for self preservation, adulation and advancement.

These are the people who are entering the kingdom first, not the religious and the powerful. They gave little or no need of God and his help. What they have not realized yet is that they are on the wrong side of their equation. They have fallen into their own trap and displayed their own folly.
So, who do you say that Jesus is, and where do you think is power and authority comes from? What will you do with the power and authority Jesus has put in your hands?


At work in the Lord's Vneyard

I have been working away with and struggling over what the Parable of Matthew’s Vineyard (20.1-16) is trying to teach us. I remember times when things had to be don in preparation for the coming season. Hay had to be put into the barn. Firewood had to be cut for the coming winter to keep the house warm in the cold of the winter. Gardens had to be finished up and turned over for the next planting season. Defrosters were placed in the horse’s water troughs and plugged. Grain was bought and stored. Even as I describe what it was like to get ready, the memories educe the smells of the animals, the fields and the rest of creation.

The first thing that we need to do is to consider with the Gospel this week is to ponder the nature of the kingdom of God. It should not be of surprise that the time of the harvest is a busy time. Extra workers are sought – day labours to help with the demands that the vineyard puts on the Owner and his normal staff. The owner goes out early in the morning and draws in those who are ready to work at 6 am. Again, and again over the day, until there is only an hour left and he is still sending people into the vineyard to work.

No comment is made about the quality of the workers and the work being done. And when the time comes, each worker is paid the same. This creates upset amongst those who started early – they bore the brunt of the heat and the work over the course of they day and they believe that they have been unfairly treated by the Household owner.

It is a reminder that every ministry in the Church is important and that they are of equal worth in the eyes of the Lord. One is not more important than another – all work together to draw in the harvest. All have their assigned tasks and all are treated equally when it comes time to be rewarded for a job that is finished. Being first is not a reward, just a reality. And those who came late receive mercy because their situation must need it for one reason or another, the giver determines the gift and the grace and mercy that goes with them. The receive cannot demand what they think they are owed when it is a gift. The kingdom continues to grow and so does the demand for those who will come in and labour with God to bring in the harvest.

This is where it occurred to me that the nature of the kingdom of God needs to be the nature and reality of the Church militant here in earth. The Church by design, should grow like the kingdom. If it is not growing then should we stop and ask why? Ought we not to want to know why the Church Is not expanding and drawing people in? If a young married couple are trying to have babies and don’t seem to manage to conceive, do they not go to the doctor to get things figured out? So why is it reasonable to expect the Church to make disciples when it hasn’t for a long time and see the kingdom grow without figuring out what the problem is?

Life in the Church these days makes me believe that the Vineyard could be in disarray. That’s the bad news. The Good News is that God is in the process of sorting things out and is drawing more labours into the harvest.  He wants everyone to be involved and for no one to be left out. Each worker, no matter how long each has worked, is offered the same pay and the same grace as those who have been around longer. By human standards, that must feel and seem unfair. Mercy is given to those who have not been there as long. Those who have done so much and been so much for the community over a long period of time, might feel that they have been cheated, but they have done what their faith has led them to do.

As I consider that thought, I cannot help but think of the sermon that was preach at my installation, where the preach pointed out clearly that the ministry that was done 30 years ago is now enabling the ministry that is going to go forward from here. That tells us that what we do and even don’t do in this moment, in the Lord’s Vineyard, will have impact and ramifications for decades to come, should the Lord tarry.

As the Lord of the Harvest to send out workers, into the fields, into the vineyard, to send out messengers into the highways and byways of the Land and call people in. The fields are white. The fruit is ready and there is a fest to prepare for.


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Make forgiveness a habit, not an event.

Many years ago now, I encountered a Roman Catholic priest who was covering the same area of Newfoundland as I was. When there was the occasion, I would go over to the Roman Catholic Church and, because of a love for music, I would sit with the choir. They thought it was “far out” that the Anglican Minister would do this, and the first time it caught the new priest Father Joseph off guard. After one such service – a funeral for a much love town employee who, amongst other things, collected the community’s garbage – we were stand out side waiting the for the funeral home to come out for the trip to the cemetery. Father Joseph grabbed me by the shoulders and loudly announced to those gathered around, that we, Him and I, were brothers.

Now you need to understand that Father Joseph could not look more different if it were possible to make it so. He was very tall, me not so much. He was very thin and me, not so much. He was from Ghana and black. I am from Canada and white. The people were confused as to how we might be brothers. So, I was quick to point out that we are brothers from different mothers. We were adopted by our heavenly Father and we are brothers and heirs with Christ in the kingdom and in the life that is to come. “We are brothers, because Christ made it so.” Then, there were smiles and the nodding of heads and clapping of mitted hands in approval.

We need to consider the Gospel this week in the same light. In Matthew 18.21-35, there is an important discussion about forgiveness and about how often one needs to extend forgiveness to another. Peter says to Jesus, Should I forgive my brother seven times? Conventional wisdom of the day was that you forgive a person three times. After that you can respond how you like. So, Peter, more than doubling the total, thought that he was being lavish and generous to think seven times. No doubt, Jesus’ response to his generosity was bone jarring.

There is lots of debate about whether it was 77 times or 490 times that you must forgive a person who has wronged you. How hard is it on the 78th or even the 491st time? The point of the lessons was not to keep track of sins so that at some point down the road you could hold it against the offender. That makes a person merciless and pitiable because they do not understand compassion at all. They cannot have experienced mercy and compassion when they were suffering and in need becoming merciless (anileos). Mercy, compassion and forgiveness are fundamental to being a follower of the Lord Jesus and in staying healthy as a human being.  If there is no capacity for forgiveness and compassion (which leads to the offering of grace) then there is no hope for there to be a reserve for grace to be lived into.

Think of the merciless servant that Jesus talks about in the parable. What did he do with his new found new lease on life that he had been given? He used the old system to brutalize someone else. He got forgiveness from the king but then he turned around and throttled the next person in the chain not allowing the forgiveness, mercy and grace that had been given to him to follow to some one else. One cannot claim to be a good Christian and to love God and then turned around and hate your brother. If you love God, you must also love your brother and sister. (1st John 4: 20) Otherwise, you make yourself out to be a lair, because you do not love the people you can see and know but claim to love Someone others cannot see.

In learning to forgive from the heart, is the crux of the matter. In choosing to forgive, from the very centre of one’s life, you do not allow for anger, bitterness and resentment to settle in. These things can lead you to sin, to be come separated from others and from God. Not allowing these things in prevents sin from having a toe hold in your life. Living this way in turn promotes healing, reconciliation and community which are God’s desire for us. Allowing anger, bitterness and resentment to remain means that we are making our feelings and desires paramount which leads to us making our feelings and demands are more important than what God expects of us. This is an idolatrous notion.

We need to remember that forgiving someone is not an event; it is a process. Old feelings of anger and the desire for retribution and revenge are going to surface. In that moment, we need to stop forgive and forget: not for the offender’s sake, but for your own. Forgetfulness is key to forgiveness and our own well being. It is a godly thing to do as well so that we are not consumed by our own issues, desires and demands, including the need for revenge.

This is especially important for the health and well being of the community of Christ in which we participate. Learning to forgive and forget where members of the Church, of our family are concerned is one of the ways that we can best witness to a world that is bent on revenge and one-up-men-ship.  Learn to forgive from deep within and do not allow your anger to cause you to sin. Learn to love as Christ loves.


Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Making Reconciliation the Goal, the mission

The Gospel this week (Matthew 18.15-20) is an important issue for the entire Anglican Church in Canada these days. It is about how to treat people when they have sinned against you. But it made me stop and consider if we really know these days, what a sin is. I have been watching reaction to an article that was written for the September Anglican Journal by the Most Rev. Fred Hiltz. I have been watching and listening to the reaction towards this article because the Primate talks about “good disagreement”.  Personally, I find that when someone uses such language, they consider themselves the victor in a dispute. Everyone got heard and many opinions were expressed and then the right decision was made, favouring the side that declares victory.  The problem I have with this method of handling conflict in the Church, is that despite the declarations of being inclusive and that everyone’s thoughts and opinions are going to be listened to and honoured, it is increasingly clear that this is not true.

As I consider the Gospel, I must ask, do we as a Church know what a sin is anymore? The only real sin I see castigated against is anything that is capable of curtailing choice of the individual. This is utterly against what the Gospel clearly teaches. Sin is not just a personal matter between you and God, because sin affects and infects the community and well as our connections with God.

What is sin? The Greek word most used in the New Testament is hamartano. It means that a person, in living one’s life, misses the mark and thus does not get to share in the victory and its prize. Living in a state of unexpiated (unredeemed) sin (which is hamartia), constantly and consistently leaves a person away from God. There is never a victory, there is never that which is enjoyed after a victory. And it might be important to know that there is no list or worse grading of sin that says that one must be address an is worse than another. We are to confront and help each other on an ongoing basis with living the life that God calls us to. It is not easy to do but we are not alone in it, the community that is the Church is responsible for making sure that we live out the Gospel – together. The unity of our message in the common life of the Church, which helps people to see the Lord Jesus Christ.

We need to learn to deal with our conflicts in a more fruitful way that builds up the unity of our community rather than seeking the winner and losers and creating division in the Body of Christ. In saying this, I think of St. Paul’s words to the Corinthians on conflict in their Church. He tells them point blank:

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? Now eagerly desire the greater gifts. – 1st Corinthians 12.12-31

The process is not about right and wrong and making winners and losers but about righteousness and holiness between God and us and between each other. It is about building up the Body of Christ and drawing people into the reign of God’s kingdom – that is the work that we are called to. We are to be that presence to help one another to be reconciled to God and in the process become family to one another. What welds the Church together is a common faith in the mission that God has given them and a trust in each other that is like family.

I rejoice that we are in the time we are in this Church and in this country because this is a time where we can, as a community, no longer a weak gospel. The “its no biggy” approach to preaching the reconciling message of God will no longer work in Canada. We need to preach and live so that people will feel the wind and experience the flame. This world is destined to be transformed and to experience holiness – life that is animated by the things of heaven. Our life and ministry need to help people to keep short accounts with God and with neighbours through loving them into the kingdom.

Be ready to preach, pray and die at a moment’s notice. Be prepared to seek out the least, the last and the lost for the sake of the One who would not live without us. Be ready to forgive and to make reconciliation work in your life and in the life of your faith community. Most of all, let us strive to love one another as Christ love us and gave himself up for us that we would be the victorious Church when we get to be the Church at rest.