Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Learning to love and to lve the command

Do you remember learning the 10 Commandments when you were in Sunday School? Do you remember them all? The Gospel this week (Matthew 22.34-46) reduces them down to two commandments: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind, and your neighbour as yourself. The love that Jesus speaks of, is more than a friendly affection you might have for a person you like, it is a commitment of devotion that is directed by the will and can be commanded as a duty towards neighbour.  John’s Gospel takes it one further. Jesus said “A new command I give to you: love one another as I has loved you” and “By this (sign) all will know you (the Church) by your love (agapaos), one for another.” According to John there is only one command to love as we have been loved by Christ.

That means we are invited to come to him and to surrender and die with him that others might rise. I had a professor in theological College who would repeatedly remind us, you need to participate in Christ every day – which means you must learn to die and to rise with him.

That is different from dealing with hot button debates and trying to grow congregations with one method or another. When I consider the life of the early Church and the ways in which they grew there were some simple common elements: preaching Christ and him crucified, willingness to love and serve, and the power of the Holy Spirit among them, in terms of sings and wonders. There maybe others, but these traits come through loud and clear. The ancient world wanted to hear what Christ had to say. It was not because they agreed with the message necessarily, but because it was important stuff and they needed to hear it. Some people responded while others rejected the message for various reasons.

Our society today will listen when the Gospel is preached, everyone will react in the same manner. The problem for the Church is that we often compromise the message in some way because we do not what to be offensive. Consequently, we come of sounding wimpy and like we are participating in the culture but are sounding worse than the culture. Therefore, the world is not paying attention to the Church most of the time – because we have little to nothing to say to them.

So maybe it is time that we started seeing people around us as Jesus sees them – with heavenly eyes. Are we willing to seek, see and serve Christ in their lives so that they can see Christ in us? So often we have been hung up on being popular in the community and having great clergy who run great programs so that we can be impressive to other Christians. It has never been about being popular. In fact, the Church grows best when it is unpopular and is persecuted - as the Book of Acts and others in the New Testament witness to. We are called to be faithful to the message of the Gospel (repent and believe because the kingdom of God is coming near to them) and to see and love people as God does.

How do we do that? We go and try to serve them first, and then come to God in prayer – so that we can be enabled to pray correctly for them and then go back and serve them so more. We can only be the people of God when we allow ourselves to be conformed to the word of God and allow for God the Holy Spirit to transform us by his love. We are only competent for ministry after we have been in Christ’s presence and had our feet washed by him. People will respond to the message when they have experience the love of Christ in us. But this means that we are going to have to get up close and personal. We are going to have to work to have an impact on people that will open the possibilities of drawing them into the fellowship that is the Church.

Take the chance this week to genuinely love someone as Jesus does and see what happens.


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

It's a trap!

There is a meme that is popular that came out of a line from one of my favourite movies: “Star Wars: Return of the Jedi” … The phrase? “It’s a trap!” it is the fateful words of Admiral Akbar when the Rebel Alliance discovers the evil Emperor and his mindless minions have set yet another trap to snuff out the uprising of those who are on the light side of the Force.

The Gospel this week (Matthew 22.15-22) works out the same way. The Pharisees and the Herodians get together to try to set a trap for Jesus so that they can make accusations to the Imperial Government, accusing Jesus if he says, “Don’t pay your taxes” and ready to cry foul is he says. “Pay your taxes” and discredit Jesus with the population because he supports the occupation. In a way, it is almost comical that these to groups, who are so diametrically opposed to each other would consider working together, except that they have a common need or desire to get rid of this rabbi from the north – he is rocking the boat and shifting the balance of the status quo. Politics and even more so the pursuit of power and the maintenance of position makes for strange bedfellows indeed.

It does beg a certain question though: what do we value most? What do we have in our lives that is truly ours? My possessions are all in the house and in the office and they are of this world which means that they are truly not mine. So, do you know what belongs to who? We are to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God. But do we know which is which? At the very least there needs to be in each of our lives, a reckoning that makes our priorities clear. We need to know what we have and to recognize, “All things come of thee O Lord, and of thing own have we given thee.” In other words, there is nothing in our lives that we have not been given. We need to acknowledge to God and to ourselves that our hands are empty, and God fills them. God knows what we need before we ask and our ignorance in asking. Yet, there is still the need for us to ask that we might be aware of what it is that needs to be done. Remember, where prayer is focused, power falls.

In our society these days, there is a crisis in faith. We have made up our minds that we must have faith in our ability to have faith rather than having faith in the God who is wondrous and who sent Jesus to be our rescue. It makes faith into a psychological condition and therefore, to be self idolatrous because it is based in what we think and can believe in rather in a miraculous God. The Good News is that the Gospel is not about us bout about Christ and who he is to us and for us. We need to become reenchanted with the Good News of the Gospel and then remissioned by the Spirit that we would give all that we can to mission in terms of time, talent and treasure as well all that we are to God. The Church needs to preach Christ and him crucified and risen from the dead because we are valued by him.

Jesus recognized their scheme and asks them why they bother – and then springs the trap, leaving the people amazed – and only able to walk away from the encounter empty handed.

Where does this leave us? Well let’s start with something simple: if you are in Christ, inform your face! Don’t be downtrodden or dower in your expressions – smile and let others see your joy. Remember that we are made to thrive in joy unspeakable, faith unsinkable, love unstoppable, and where anything is possible. Plus, work hard to make difficult to get to hell from where you are. Pray for the revival in the life of the Church. Remember that revival is not just about people being in Church but about people coming back to the Lord so that the Church can be remissioned. The mission is the responsibility of the Church and the clergy are responsible for the care and feeding of the flock. We need to be reenchanted by the Scriptures that we would faithfully proclaim him to the community around us and they see a faithful reflect of him in us. And lastly, we can figure out our teddy bears and where they are that we might serve others and see them come to Christ. This will allow us to put others first and to show that we are about our neighbour and God.


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Rediscovering our mission

Because this is Synod weekend, and because this Bishop is doing some things, he chose the Gospel lesson for the Eucharist this week: Matthew 28.16-20. It says, Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go.  When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

The focus of our weekend meeting (called Synod, which, aptly enough means meeting in Greek) is the renewal of the mission and life of our diocese for the next three years. There is a lot that is going to happen, but it all focuses on the mission of God across our diocese (Northern Alberta). I have written about power and authority on numerous occasions over the past server years. All I will say here is that it is clear from this Great Commission is that the power and authority that we have is not ours. It belongs to Jesus Christ because the Father has given it to him. Therefore, what he gives to us, is for a purpose. We are to go, and we are to go and do in his name, under his authority in his power and to do so for the sake of those whom he means to serve. This determines the shape of our mission. It is not about the liturgy, it is not about the colour of the nursery, it is not about the curtains in the rectory living room. It is about seeking out those whom Jesus wants us to serve and living with them come what may. We do this so that they can see something of Jesus in us and be drawn to him.

In the years that I have been in ministry (27 years almost), there have been a lot of good people, doing good things and leading good programs that support the life of the institutional Church. There has been a lot of good teaching in the face of opposition and work done to make Christ known. What has been missing by in large though is what I like to call “The Boom” – people getting their eyesight, their hearing, their walk and dance back; the dead rising again to life. This is what draws people to Jesus; they need to see and hear the Boom.

Therefore, it is important for us to tell our story: from Scripture and from our own personal experiences. We must be faithful in telling others what God has done in terms of his wonders of old and be a demonstration of how that is still true. Our living of our lives personally and corporately means the Incarnation continues from within the life of the Church through the Holy Spirit. In this way, God’s mission becomes our mission.

We need to go and in the going, in the living of life, to make disciples. There will be special moments for baptism, for confirmation and for a few of us, even ordination. What is common to all of us, is a necessity of living a life in the Spirit that is faithful and fruitful for a lifetime, wherever we are, whatever we are called to. We cannot become the people God calls us to be in 12 weeks worth of Confirmation lessons as foundational as such classes might be. Catechesis and discipleship are important all along the way. Until the people we have witnessed coming to faith are beside us, doing what we are doing and are mature in the faith, we cannot claim to have faithfully discipled anyone.

A life offered to another in service, to enable them to be the person in Christ that they were created to be, makes heaven and earth quiver! And remember, Christ is with us all in the going, the teaching and the living. And that is our mission.


Wednesday, October 4, 2017

its all garbage, I tell you!

The following lessons is for Sunday coming and is the New Testament Lesson - the words of St. Paul that wrote to the Church at Philippi:

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:4b-14)

What have you given up and what has been taken away from you, so that you can hold on to Christ? I find it exciting and discombobulating at the same time. I have lived all over the country and I have people that are not only friends but some as close as blood. I lament occasionally that I have not been closer to family because of the call in my life to be who and what I am. There are things in my life that I know that are my trophies. I use them to feel better about things only to realize that they can take me away from God and what God has for me. Trophies can become personal idols which make me think that its all about me. Paul points out that whatever it is that he hung onto, to make great and powerful in his own eyes and that of others, it gone down the toilet. It has been relegated to the sewers because of the hold the Christ Jesus had on him.

Paul also reminds us that there are things and people that will hang on to us, try to keep us from moving on, going forward. There is going to be pain and suffering in taking the time and energy to proclaim the Gospel Gaining momentum in living a faithful Christian life, is going to create and multiply the things in your life that are wanting to take you away from the one thing that we need to hold onto. Moreover, we are called to move into the pain and sufferings of Jesus and move through them with him. Knowing Jesus means that we need to understand what it is that he has done for us by showing us himself in the lives of other people and what he is doing in and for them.

Proclaiming a message that is unpopular is not a career move we might make currently. Telling the people something they do not want to hear is hazardous to the messenger’s health – always has been. It will get you mistreated, beaten, stoned, and even killed. Fortunately, where Jesus is concerned, our mistakes are not fatal and our deaths are not final. Death is not the final word in the Gospel.

We are God’s people, on the move into God’s mission. We move by God’s power into that mission. The question God asks each of us and all of us is, “Who will go for us? Whom shall I send?”

It cannot be “business as usual” anymore. Our society needs to see the Church at work under a divine commission and power, doing and saying the things that God wants done and said. Let us move forward into all that God calls us to do and do so in Jesus” name all the while letting go of our trophies and all that would slow us down and keep us back.

Let us consider the glorious Saint Paul: it seems that no other name fell from his lips than that of Jesus, because the name of Jesus was fixed and embedded in his heart. -   Saint Teresa of Avila