Tuesday, November 28, 2017

What time is it? Do you know what time it is in Heaven?

Maybe you remember when we were kids and we played a game called, “What time is it Mr. Wolf?” it was a straight forward game: one was chosen to be the Wolf while boundaries were set out for the sheep or the chickens had to run from one side of the area to the other; one safe line to the other. Each time there was to be movement, the sheep would call out, “what time is it, Mr. Wolf?” the wolf would give out different times on the clock until he or she was ready to pounce. Then suddenly, the wolf would call out, “Supper time!” and the sheep (or chickens) would scatter to get to safety – those who were caught, would become wolves themselves. The process would last until there was one sheep left who in turn would then become the wolf.

The Gospel this week (Mark 13.24-37, Year B) reminded me of playing this game because the Sheep, or in this case, the Church, does not know what time it is; not the angels and not even the Son knows. But if you inspect the lesson closer, there is much said about time. The lesson uses phrases like, “In those days,” and “now learn this lesson” or even, “Keep watch for he may come suddenly.”

This lesson is a passage about apocalyptic eschatology. That is, it is a revelation concerning the end of days. There is an appearance of a divine figure in great glory, there are signs in all the creation (not just on earth, but also the sin, the moon, the stars, the planets that he is coming and there is a time of judgment and punishment or reward, depending on how things shook out. But this is not how things play out in Mark. First, Jesus comes after there are signs that he is coming as King. There are happenings in the world that are signing the presence and the coming of the King with his kingdom. And just as important, when he comes, those who are found to be faithful will be gathered from the four corners of the earth, wherever they may be, into the kingdom. There is no mention in Mark of there being judgment, just of the elect being gathered up into the kingdom.

So it might be necessary to remember that this Gospel and this lesson are written for those who are under going persecution for their faith in Jesus Christ. It was written during systematic persecution of the empire, by the Emperor. It is written to people who need to hear that what they are going through is going to be worth it. People are looking for vindication and for salvation so that things will be made alright again. After all, most of the Christmas movies that are made these days are made about “saving” Christmas and it has to do with saving the Fat Man so that everything gets under the tree which in turn, makes everyone happy. Is that not a cheap parody of what Christmas is really all about? Is the Good News of Advent about the coming of the King to the manger and making his way to another tree that is truly important? Is Advent not about the King coming to his people and collecting them up so that they can join him in the life and the creation that is to come?

So what Advent good for then? Are we not like those servants while the Master is away on business? Every servant has his and her place in the household and they are keeping one eye on the work they are doing and one eye on what God is doing – are they not going about the of the Master? The thing is, we must in the meantime, use our talents and our time productively. We need to bear fruit for the sake of the kingdom and those around us. We don’t know when we are finished. We don’t know when Jesus will be back. We don’t even know what time it is in the kingdom of God! All we can do is what has been asked, keep on mind on our tasks and our eyes on the clouds, looking for him who will come on the four winds. Pray that he comes soon and scoops us up to go with him.



Tuesday, November 21, 2017

King Jesus comes soon!

There once was a man who constantly prayed to God, asking for a vision of both heaven and hell. He prayed for years for this vision until, finally, after much persistence God chose to grant him one. He was offered the decision as to which he would see first. He chose to go and see hell first. An angel of the Lord led him down several corridors to a door which was large and heavy.  The angel opened it with strain and a groaning creak. It the room the light was low but it was easy enough to discern the massive feast laid out for those who were gathered around the tables.

This is when the man notice that the people gathered around the tables with all kinds of food, but the people were in an emaciated state. They had spoons with very long handles to eat with, but no one was able to feed themselves because of the length of the handles. Several people that the old man could see were in a mess from trying unsuccessfully feed themselves. This was a painful sight to behold and after a few moments the man asked the Angel to take him away from there.

Next the old man was led up several passages to another wide door, that thought it was large, it swung easily on its hinges and the angel led the man into a brightly lit room like the one that he had just been in. There were many people around the tables, but unlike the first, the people were laughing and feasting and enjoying everything on the tables and each other’s company. The difference? Though they had the same long handled spoons, they were willing and able to fee each other.

The Gospel this week (Matthew 25.31-46) continues the apocalyptic eschatological considerations of the parables about the kingdom of heaven. “Apocalyptic” refers to a revelation and “eschatological” is the study of the end times. Moreover, this Sunday is the end of the Christian liturgical year which makes this Sunday, “Reign” Sunday – the reign of Christ the King. The Gospel talks about the Son of Man coming with angels and executing his judgment on the nations of the earth, separating people into one of two categories: sheep and goats. And it seems clear that those being judge are confused buy God’s justice. The Son of Man does not judge on the words that that been spoken or on the thoughts and beliefs that a person holds, but on how the person has lived out his or her life. Rewards is given to those who have sought to serve his/her neighbours without thought of reward. Such people are given mercy out of grace not because the Giver is in a position of indebtedness to the one who has offered Charity to another.

The parable of the sheep and the goats shows us how the Church can relate to the nations of the earth about how God treats them at the time of judgement. The Church can recognize that Jesus is Lord and because Jesus lives, he rules. Jesus is Lord over all: every ruler, power, principality and authority. Jesus’ name is higher than any other name that is given under heaven, not just in the present but also in the age that is to come. There is no one in heaven or on earth who is Christ’s equal. The Father is putting everything under Christ’s authority and he is the head of his Body, the Church. We as members of his Body are engaged to live in his power – the same power that raised Jesus from death – and under his authority. We are called to live in him and for him as we look to that Final Day. He is our hope and he keeps us with him because the last Days of this world, will be terrible days (2nd Timothy 3)

I know many people who still worry about hell and committing an unforgivable sin, putting them into hell. There are some things that I think I need to say as a pastor and priest about that: (1) if you are worried that you have done something that is totally unforgiveable, don’t worry, you haven’t yet. The fact that you are not dulled yet to God’s holiness and perfection is a good thing. But you do need to repent of whatever it is that is separating you from God and from us. Yes, it means that things are going to change in your life but that means things can get better for you and for us (2) Whatever else hell is or is not, it is this: it will be where people are, and the presence of God is not; and the people there in that place, will know that they are without God.”; (3) There will be few surprises about who will be in heaven, but there will be more surprises over who is not.

This week is a time to celebrate the hope that the return of Jesus, King Jesus comes soon. Not as the baby who came to the manger 2000 plus years ago, but as the King of kings and Lord of Lords. Hope that, we being found faithful and mature in him, we will live with him and for him in the life that is to come.


“I do not think that all who choose wrong roads perish; but their rescue consists in being put back on the right road. A sum can be put right: but only by going back til you find the error and working it afresh from that point, never by simply going on. Evil can be undone, but it cannot 'develop' into good. Time does not heal it. The spell must be unwound, bit by bit, 'with backward mutters of dissevering power' --or else not.” ― C.S. LewisThe Great Divorce

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Obedience is never an accident

As I have been sitting here considering this week’s Gospel (Matthew 25.14-30) and what it has to say to us for our every day living. I have to say it is an ‘ouchy’ lesson but not because it is hard but because we must choose to do it.  What is the lesson? It is about learning to obey and being obedient and diligent in your life which includes the things of the Spirit. Obedience isn’t all that hard, until it runs counter to what we what or believe. That’s when we get confronted about the path that we are walking and are called to make changes. Changing always meets resistance. Even when the need for change is acknowledge and deemed necessary, there is fear over loss and retribution for what is happening.

So how do we learn to obey, even when we are afraid and facing change? Well, firstly, we need to learn to receive from God. I have a friend who is fond of saying, “It is more blessed to receive than to give.” And you are reading this and thinking that he has it backwards! I think he is right. We need to acknowledge that all the things in our lives that we possess have been given to us by God. Our hands were empty, and God filled them. This means that we must move the Church then from a theology of scarcity to a theology of abundance. What does this look like? It looks like standing with a bishop from South Sudan in the middle of a local Wal-Mart Super store. The Bishop is lifting his hands in praise to God for how I am blessed because of all the things there are to buy in the store and for al the good things that there are in my life.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I will never look a store that same way again. I always felt intimidated by the fact that I cannot have all I want and so scurry around to buy what I can afford and get out before I spend too much. I had not realized that I was blessed to be in the presence of some much and that I can buy what I need so that my family is cared for.

The world thinks that whoever has the most toys when he dies, wins. But that is not what we think as Christians. It would b easy to think that if you have more, you are blessed. Thing is, the more you have, the better you had better be at using it for the benefit of others and for the kingdom. Obedience is faithfulness in action. One can claim to have the best theology in the world but if it never reaches out, never actually has a benefit and impact, of what worth is it to anyone else, including God?

And if there is fear in obeying because it is hard, one needs to keep in mind that there is also joy. There are too many who wish to serve God and the Gospel on their own terms. It is about what they can accumulate for themselves rather than focusing on what God has for them and doing as he asks. All that God asks as I understand it, is that we be faithful to him with what we have been given. The amount is not as important as the faithfulness is. Out of the faithfulness, comes fruitfulness (or offspring). Churches that are being obedient to the word are led into joy and joy causes growth and growth leads into new ministries and new kinds of service which lead into opportunities for new people to follow and be obedient and revive the circle all over again.

So how do we start this circle? Here are some of the basics that we need to move into:
1.    We must encourage and build up one another and maintain it as an ongoing work.
2.   We need to respect our leadership and pray for them regularly. They deserve respect because they are leading and are providing for the life and unity of the mission of the Church.
3.   Be patient with everyone and suffer with those who need compassion because we are the Body of Christ and we are all God’s people. Warn the idle, strengthen the fearful, assist the weak and the young in the faith.
4.     Allow no retaliations for wrong doing. Learn to forgive and then to forget. Choose to be kind to everyone.
5.   Choose always to be joyful. Choose to pray unceasingly – in just with words but also in the attitude you carry in life. In every circumstance, choose to give thanks to God. Some blessings have strange names.
6.    Strive to life a common life that focuses on Christ by serving the Father in the strength given by the Spirit.
7.     Christ will keep you blameless to the day of judgement through the call he has placed on your life. He will bring to completion the good work he has begun in you and he will be faithful to his promises to you; only it will be in his way and on his time. We must place our trust and confidence in God so that he can help us to work out our salvation, and fear and trembling maybe required.

Remember that it is more than just learning to trust God for what is to come, it is also realizing that he is trusting us to do what he has asked us to do so that the kingdom can come. Being faithful is not an accident but is continually a choice we must all make. Being faithful allows God to give us honour as we bring him glory and draw in his kingdom with him.


Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Don't miss the party!

The Gospel this week is about the coming Groom and waiting for him (Matthew 25.1-13). So, I have been thinking about being prepared and what it would mean to miss the wedding of all eternity – life with Christ in the kingdom forever. There is one thing that is evident. No one likes to miss out on a good party because such events create memories and joy within the family and community.  No one wants to be left out. But as I consider this, we have t be prepared, be ready and be watching and listening for the moment when we must put out our lights, trim the wicks, fill the lamps and relight them so that we can be on the move when the Groom is ready to go. We are here to serve him in his time of need, not because we are all dressed up to be seen by others.

It is important to consider the fact that there are ten maidens – the very basis for community within the Jewish faith. Five are foolish and unobservant while five more consider the task and prepare accordingly. Everyone is a part of the community, whether wise or foolish. Some are ready for what is being asked of them while others are not. Some think about what God wants while others judge the situation to be about them and what they think matters. It is not about the doctrine they hold. It is not about the programs and projects they run from their buildings.

As Anglicans, how often do we worry about when Jesus is coming back and when will he get here? Do you expect him soon? Do we live like it, both as individuals and as a community? Christmas is coming, and my boys can tell you how many more days (or sleeps) there are until Christmas Day – right down to the hour. How would we live if we knew when Jesus was coming back? Would we live any differently until the last minute? Would we wait until it is almost time and then try and change as much as we could on the last day?

Faith and hope are meant to be lived everyday both by the individual believer and by the Church so that others can see and believe it. After all, in our current culture, no one will care about what you believe and know until they know and believe that you care about them. In the years that I have been pastoring and replanting churches, this has been a basic truth. People, before they will try returning to faith need to know that there is hope for them and for the community to which they are endeavouring to enter and re-enter.  From our perspective, it might look like Christ is delaying his return. We might be getting tired of doing good and waiting. We might be like the Thessalonians who think that Jesus has come, and we have missed him and need reassurance.

As human beings, we all need hope which is why as Church, as a community we need each other. We await not just the Bridegroom. We are waiting for that moment when faithlessness, pain, suffering, sin and death will finally come to an end. The old order will pass away and the new will come. We wait for that moment when every tear will be wiped away for the last time. We look for the realization of our hope and faith because it will exist in the presence of divine mercy and justice.

As a Church community, we live to do more than state that we believe in God: even the devil can do that and he shudders – we are together to proclaim the hope that we have in Christ and that he is coming to us to usher in his kingdom, whether we are ready or not. We need to live as faithful witnesses to all that God is doing and be ready to light the lamps and move as God directs. Does this excite or scare you? It should because I know I have some of both.

Let us take the time to be ready, to be prepared and to watch for his coming. Don’t miss the party! Maranatha!


Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Blessed

The Gospel this week is familiar, Matthew 5.1-12, also know as the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes. Jesus saw the crowds of people coming to him. He called to them and they came to him and he taught them. It might be worth noting that he sat down to teach them. This was a defining moment for Jesus and those who followed him. This was to be core teaching and Jesus took a position that told the people around him that they need to get this down. Plus, he ascended the mountain – as Moses did to meet with God. Everyone understood that this was going to be a meeting with the holy because of where Jesus went and how he was teaching them.

Jesus calls them the makairos, the blessed; the fortunate ones. Being blessed by God is not dependant on how we feel or think – it is what God does for us, regardless of how we feel and what we think. It is not even dependant upon our circumstances. God knows and understands our lives and the circumstances in which we find ourselves and we are blessed by him right where we are. It is amazing that we are blessed often before we know why or what for.

And it is important to recognized that we are blessed for the precise reason that we are headed to the future. A future with God and others who have followed Christ where there will be no more weeping and tears. There will be no more death, only life. We are being fed, led and enabled to work to get to the kingdom of heaven. After all, where else can you go and get yourself a meal that is going to last you an entire week? Being blessed is more than getting what you hoped for – there is an action dimension. We are blessed for a purpose – to be a blessing to others that they might turn and walk into the kingdom. When we are blessed, we seek God. We follow his Word, we seek after righteousness and choose to be made holy.

This does not mean that the Christian life, is easy. It is not. It is the cruciform life. We are called to come to Christ, deny ourselves and take up our cross to follow him. We are called to live out Christ’s death and resurrection on a regular and sometimes daily basis. We need to recognize that we are called to help make the old new, new again. We are asked to participate in raising up the fallen and await that moment when all things will be brought to perfection in Jesus on the last Day.  Being a blessed people comes at a cost because we see and know what the world around us is like. We know all to well the brokenness and sin, the pain and death in this life. We are meant to be the peacemakers, the meek and those who are righteous that others can see a new way and a new life. Blessing necessitates action for the sake of others. Otherwise we are at risk of being complicit in how the world continues.

As a brother priest once pointed out to me, some of our blessings have the strangest names: cancer, meningitis, loneliness, conflict, separation. You could add to that list easily. The Good News is that God is at work in this world at this moment, to bring in his kingdom. He is at work in our lives and through our circumstances to bring about his will and his kingdom.  He is not dependant on your circumstances but rather can use them to draw others to you and to himself. The kingdom is alive in our midst and we are God’s demonstration model for the rest of the world as to how we live this life and into eternity. We are the living conduit through which God blesses.

This means that we are fortunate. We are blessed, in whatever circumstances we find ourselves.

Maybe I can sum up this way. I recently spent some time with Bishop Wilson Kamani of the Diocese of Ibba. He need to fix his watch because it has come apart in the wrist band. So my wife and I took him to Wal-Mart to see if we could find what was needed. In looking for the parts, two important things happened: (1) we discovered that we could fix the watch and (2) Bishop opened my eyes to see things as he did. He had never seen a store like things and he was constantly lifting up his hands and giving thanks to God for this marvelous store where you could find some many things under one roof. “You are so blessed!” he kept telling me. I had to reconsider my attitude towards the circumstances in which I was living and look at it from a fresh perspective. It requires a change in attitude- to start thinking and living with an attitude of altitude – to see things as Jesus does and to know that we are blessed, even when we don’t feel or think that we are.

As St. Paul points out to the Corinthian Church: To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours… (1 Corinthians 1.2 ESV)