Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The dust of the Rabbi

The news of health, healing and freedom was spreading all over the Galilee. Jesus was healing people and driving out the unclean spirits and this was drawing people to him, so that they could be healed and made clean.

During all this, there is a woman on her death bed in her house when Jesus and his disciples arrived. To be specific, it was Simon Peter’s house and it was his mother-in-law that was in bed with fever. The people who were in the house with her, greeted the new comers and told Jesus about the woman’s situation. He went to her, took her by the hand and lifted her up. The fever left her, and she began to serve those in the house. (Mark 1.29-31)

Now it might be important to point out that this action was the first for four acts that Jesus did for women (of a miraculous nature) in Mark’s Gospel. And this story is a precursor to Jairus and his little daughter later. People seek out Jesus when they’re in trouble; when they are sick and when they’re dying because they want to know that God cares about them as they are going through what it is that they are going through.  Whatever else such pursuit of Jesus may or may not be, it becomes prayer. Did you notice? Jesus comes in the door and the people in the house welcome Jesus in and tell him they are relieved he is there because there is a need for him to meet. Someone’s life is at stake. They want and need for Jesus to be more than impressive, they want him to have an impact on this woman’s life for the better so that they do not loose her.

So, what do you do with such high expectations? He went to see and to survey the situation. He went to the woman and he raised her up. The way that it is worded in the New Testament Greek, Mark tells us that Jesus raised her from the dead. It was not just that he got rid of the sickness but that He took her by the hand ad raised her up, not just from the bed but from imminent death. And then what happens? The unthinkable and the unlikely! She begins to serve the people that are in the house. Peter’s mother-in-law served (diakonie) and minister to the needs of others. In effect, Jesus saved this woman to serve, for the sake of the Gospel.

Why is that important? Because of what happened that evening when the Sabbath ended and the people could bring their people – friends, relatives and neighbours - that needed to be healed and cured and exorcised. By caring for the people around her, she was enabling ministry of different kinds to take place, right on her doorstep. No mission statements, no visioning weekends, just real ministry of a sudden and joyful kind. And it is a work that is undergirded by prayer.

Prayer can be as simple as reaching up to touch the heart of God, only to discover that he has reached down and touched yours already. Jesus shows us this in what happens next. He goes out to a solitary place in the wilderness to pray; to spend time with the Father. He went to a place where he knew he could meet the Father best. I like to think that Jesus did it because he wanted to laugh and enjoy what was happening – that the kingdom of God was being established in the lives of men and women; that health, wholeness and salvation were fully coming into this world.  

He also sought out the solitude because he knew what was coming in terms of the demands to keep the whole process going – for others. He sought the quiet so that he could remain humble before his Father and hear his Father’s voice as to what was next and what need to be done. Others, including the disciples were hostile to the fact that he left them behind, that they had to go in search of him because they wanted more. So Jesus needed some time to replenish and to rebuild himself for what was ahead.

Where does this leave us?

Well, were to do we meet God best? Answers to that question are going to vary. One place we need to meet him – public worship. We need to meet him, we need to see him amid the community of Christ when we come together to worship. We need to spend time reaching up for the heart of God and discovering that he has already touched our hearts, enabling us to do what needs to be done for the sake of the Gospel. We need to be a part of the acts of power that see another person healed, or freed from sin and evil.

We need to live in the courage of a boy named David who confronted a well trained solider by the name of Goliath, not because he was anything but because he was willing to do what he could, what it took to stand up for the name and glory of God. And anyone who thinks that God cannot use that, has rocks in their heads.

We cannot allow our fear of the future and what we cannot control to paralyze us. The future is not our to possess and the past is gone. All we can do is use the lessons of the past to be prepared for what we have in the present and do what we can, even is al we have is five smooth stones from a brook and a sling shot.

We need to have the dust of our Rabbi on us. We need to follow him where he leads and serve whomever he asks us to serve. We need to be close enough that we get the dust of his footfalls on us. He is the one who heals and he who drives out evil. Jesus is the one who brings the kingdom. We need to come together to celebrate with the rest of creation, not only what he is doing but what he is doing in us.


Wednesday, January 24, 2018

We have an important message live and share

Maybe you know the saying, “the only thing evil needs to succeed, is for good men to do nothing.” – Edmund Burke. Then it is also true that “When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.” Perhaps this is what is going on in this week’s Gospel Lesson (Mark 1.21-28). Jesus and his disciples (Simon, Andrew, James, John Philip and Nathaniel) went to Capernaum together. A few Good men who were proclaiming God’s good news and learning to correctly handle the word of truth.

They went to Jesus’ base of operations and his home there. Capernaum was located on near the headwaters of the Jordan River. It was rich farming land and was know for its good fishing in the Sea of Galilee.

He began to preach and to take advantage of the invitations to preach in the local synagogue. He would leave them astonished, in awe, in wonder and at least from time to time, in fear. The recognized him as a man who had a different kind of power and authority – not like the other religious leaders, and in particular the Scribes. Jesus spoke on his own authority, of the kingdom and of his Father. He backed up what he was saying with deeds of power – making the blind to see, the lame to walk up right and the deaf to hear; exorcisms, turning water into wine, raising people from the dead.

The mission seems clear: The Father wants to bring his own back to himself and we, in Christ, are going to work at making that happen. But we need to stop a recognize that if there is a path forward, there is going to be a collision of kingdoms first – and that means there is going to be heat and friction, some tearing up, breaking away and some falling apart. To us it might look like disaster and the end, but it has not been… not yet at least.
As Saint Paul would remind us, For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. (Ephesians 6.12-13)

This brings us back to the Gospel and to the encounter with personal evil. While teaching and preaching on sabbath in the Synagogue in Capernaum, is confronted with a man who had a demon. The encounter is often portrayed as a battle to silence the other. Only one problem with that – no devil or devil is the Strong one. God is above and beyond his creation. God has no equal. Think of it this way. It is a bit of a numbers game. You have probably heard that the sign of the enemy is “666” but have you considered why? “777” is the number that defines the perfect revelation of God and who God is. “666” is the revelation of a created being trying to reveal himself as God – the created being always falls short.

And did you notice that the demon, in addressing Jesus, taunted and insulted him, telling him that there was no business between them while at the same time admitted to Jesus’ identity – that he is the Christ. “Be quiet! Come out of him!” was the stern response. The people were amazed that the unclean, evil spirit had to obey Jesus.

What does all this mean for us? Well, first we want to clean up this world. If you don’t believe me, the next time you go to a store, say Wal Mart, or a grocery store, check out the cleaning products aisle and all the different cleaners for the different places and spaces we inhabit. Then ask yourself this question: “What will make me clean up my act where God is concerned?” Is it nothing but the blood of Jesus?

The kingdom of God comes in contact, and clashes with our kingdoms for a purpose – so that the holy can reclaim the unholy and reanimate it with new life, with eternal life. That means that God wants to come into your life and offer his for yours so that you can live like him and with him in the life, in the world that is to come. And if that is true then there is something important about the preaching we participate in. If what we have is real; if what we have is true, and if hat we have is lifegiving, then it is a big deal. This means we cannot afford to preach a no biggy Gospel. God’s message needs to be declared with power and in love.

If Jesus and a few disciples can lay claim to a single life in the middle of a sermon, what can this Church do this week? It will make a total difference, not just in the life of one person but in every life that is in this community. Isn’t that worth something, to God and to us?


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The journey of 1,000 miles

I find it interesting that many times when I have written my blog, and words like follow and discipleship come up, the readership goes down. I find it interesting because people seem to not want to hear it for whatever reason. Yet that is exactly what the Gospel and the Kingdom are about. The Gospel of Mark is about the collision of the Kingdom of God with the kingdoms and idols that we have set up. The Gospel shows how God in Christ deals with that.

The Gospel this week is about following Jesus. Nothing more than that, but then nothing less than that either. Many seem to think that what needs to happen is for everybody to find salvation or “get saved” and then everything will be fine. In fact, coming to know who Jesus is for you, and knowing that he has come to your rescue, is only the beginning, the foundation of a life that is to be lived with Jesus because it is going to be lived into eternity with him. We do not live on our own and we do not follow Jesus in a vacuum. We live and follow from within community. We need each other. I need you and God, in his wisdom has determined that you need me.

We cannot preach, cannot live or fulfill our vocations without one another. And it is increasingly truer every day. It is hard to follow Jesus these days, to be a person of integrity and to preach the truth when our society is suffused with technology which is constantly blaring information, news and opinion at us to the point our senses are bludgeoned and blotted out. It is hard to be faithful when a 15-year-old boy, who was out for supper with his family, is shot to death because someone was trying to kill someone else. Following Jesus is so much more than getting rescued – getting into heaven. That is only the start – the foundation. We are to work at building a life and a relationship with Jesus while learning to depend upon Jesus, broadening and deepening it.  This includes our relationships with one another and how we relate to the wider world. We are to be more than impressive people: we are as a community, mean to have impact one each other and on the world for good and for God. The Gospel is more that good news about God. The good news is coming from God to all of us.

This is the moment that has been chosen and we are the people chosen by Jesus himself to call others into the path that we are walking. As the Markan Gospel points out, “Many are called, and few are chosen.” We are to bring every person into the path we walk, those whom Christ is calling to follow him. And at the same time, we need to be considering who Christ is calling to leadership in his Church. From time to time, I remind myself that the Lord and the Church chose me. Yes, I answered the call. Yes, I went and did the academic exercise to make sure that I had the right training and preparation. When the time was right, I was publicly chosen, prayed for and had hands laid on me. That was many years ago now. But I remember the ordination as if it was last night. The resounding “Yes, it is” to the question asked by the Bishop, “Is it your will that he be ordained?” And the weight, not only of the Bishop’s hands but of the many priests who where there and consented to that ordination, laying their hands on me as well.

It has served as a reminder that I am not in this adventure alone with Christ. I march with the great company of disciples along the road, with and behind Christ.  I am a part of a community that lives and moves and has its being as a body of believers. We will not find our satisfaction, our rest until we are with Christ and at home with him in the care of our heavenly Father.

A journey of 1,000 miles begins with its first step. This is the moment that needs your decision. Will you come and follow with me?


Thursday, January 11, 2018

Knowing and following Jesus

If you were aware of this, we’re still in the place where Jesus was baptized last week (John 1.43-51). It has been a few days. Jesus now decides that it is time to shove off, move on and get on with things. The trek will be towards home in the North. The day before, Jesus had called the first of his followers, Andrew and his brother, Simon (Peter) along with John and his brother James. This morning he goes and calls Phillip, telling him, “Follow me”. Phillip then goes and finds his friend Nathanael and he is invited to come along.

The pericope reminds me of the time that I visited the Church where I was baptized when I was a baby. I wasn’t expecting anyone to know me or anyone to recognize me. I was baptized in the quiet, as my family got ready to leave the area for a new community where my father had found work. The move took me away from family and from my birthplace. When I enquired about the old building with its font, I was told they did not exist anymore. The congregation had been growing you see, so they leveled the first Church (the one where my baptism took place) turned the land into a parking lot and built a second. When that was out grown, they built there new and current building, adding onto the second one immensely. The font? No one was quite sure where it went.

Why do I share this with you? Because it is important to be reminded about the necessity of going to Jesus to get to know him and to be known by him. After all, did he not tell his disciples: “You did not choose me, I chose you and appointed you to go, to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.” We are called to follow. It won’t always be easy. It won’t always be nice. But will we never be overcome. As a disciple, we are much like a backseat driver – we like to think we are in control. We like to believe we know better. But it is about Jesus and he is the one in control. It is not about me. It is about him. We have enrolled in the School of Christ and we are going to be taught what we need to know and witness what is going to be said and done. Then we are going to go and do something about it ourselves. We as disciples, are going to learn and to understand: about God and about Jesus.

And some would not at first call what happened with Nathanael, “miraculous”. Phillip goes to him and interrupts Nathanael’s study of the Law under the shade of a fig tree to tell him about Jesus. “We have found the one that Moses wrote about in the Law, and about the One the prophets wrote about – it is the man, Jesus bar Joseph of Nazareth” (v.45) And Nathanael asks a simple question, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Many zealots and rabble-rousers and other such things had come down from the North.

What is different, what is special about this guy over the others? Want to know? Come and see him.

It is a basic principal of Evangelism – you cannot know someone you have never seen. In Nathanael, Jesus recognizes someone who is honest, frank, without lies, who has not prostituted himself to other gods. He is ready to see God fulfill his promises to the nation and to make Israel great again. Jesus heard the cry of this man’s heart. Jesus knew Nathanael but Nathaniel is just meeting Jesus. In this encounter, there is something that we do not expect: Jesus asks Nathanael to deepen and broaden his expectations beyond going back to a glorious past. In fact, Jesus points out to him that he is going to see things that are going to amaze and mystify him even more so.

The place where we will know God best is not at an earthly altar. The way we will get to God is not the ladder at Bethel. These things are now in the person of Jesus. He will see and experience angels ascending and descending from Jesus to God. Jesus is the One he has been looking for. What is necessary is for Nathanael to deepen his faith and his witness so that God can in him and through him, do deeper things. It is a true confession – that Jesus is the Son of God and that he is the King of Israel, but he has Jesus’ agenda misunderstood. Jesus has come to do things that will rescue the world, not to make Israel great again as it was in the days of David and Solomon. Jesus comes that we might know him and see the Father and the kingdom. Lives will be transformed teaching them who God is; through Jesus being the bridge, the way to the Father and will be the just King who brings his righteous rule to the earth.

Do you want to go with him? Do you want to see and to live? Then it is time to learn to trust Jesus and to participate in what he is doing because he is doing as his Father is doing. We can trust Jesus for the things we don’t know, and we need to go and participate in the things we do know and understand, because we are needed to, for the sake of others who are coming into the kingdom.


Saturday, January 6, 2018

It's not about how wet one gets, but how one proclaims it

When I sit down with a couple for the big moments in family life, I often ask a question like, “Is this an event we are having or is it part of something bigger?” Whether it is marriage, or baptism of a child, or confirmation of an adolescent is this just an event or is it a part of something bigger? So then, let me ask you, when it comes to your Baptism, was an event or a did it start a process?

Many will struggle to choose one or the other, when in fact, I perceive that it is both. Baptism is an event, through which people are responding to what I see and the prompting of the Holy Spirit in their lives to make this step in their lives and in the lives of their family members. Where things tend to fall a part, is following through on the promises that are made in the service, both on the part of the parents and Godparents/Sponsors and moreover, on the part of the Church to uphold these people in their lives in Christ. The Church, meaning here the Anglican Church of Canada has not done a good job of teaching new believers.

When we are baptized, we receive a whole new identity – we leave the old life behind and begin a new one. We are dead to the old life, it’s idolatries and attending sin, and to death itself. We are alive to God the Father through Christ by the workings of the Spirit in our lives. We are, as new creations, called to live a life that is directed towards Christ and his coming kingdom. As a professor mine used to remind us, we are directed to live out both Christ’s death and resurrection in our lives, even if that means we die and rise again daily.

Something else that is important to all of this is the need to persist in this life after the Baptism itself. Sure. There is a moment and it is sacramental, maybe even sacerdotal. There is entrance of the newly baptized into the priesthood of all believers and into the community of the Resurrection that is the Church. It is within the community that we need to continue to grow, to be fed and to know the presence of the Lord Jesus. I say this because there is something that the Church needs to realize: until they belong to Christ, they have no part in us. Like when Peter, after refusing to allow Jesus to serve him discovers that if he does not, he will not be to participate in what comes next, so we need to invite people to come in and be served, then learn how to serve in Christ’s name.

I find it striking that none of the apostles demanded that the Church make disciples or that the Church fulfill the Great Commission. St. Paul for example, encouraged people to pray and give thanks to God and to make the time to cultivate the interior of one’s life by contemplating the inexhaustible mystery of Christ. The Church today needs what Robert Cardinal Sarah would call a ‘heart to heart conversation’ with Christ, in terms of conversion.  Without such a conversation, there is no ability to remain under the discipline of the Master.

Renewal of the people in their faith leads to the revival of the community in the Spirit. If you want to see God move in your life and that of the Church community that you live in – then maybe you need to get out of the way. Jesus must increase, and we must decrease. As disciples, as followers of the Master, we are to be taught and to listen. We are to listen and to learn from him and one another. Then we are sent, and we are to go doing and teaching as we have been taught.  In the going we are to raise the sight level of people by sounding like, looking like and acting like Jesus. People need to see the family resemblance. And in coming together for worship, we should endeavour to re-enter into the presence of the Almighty God and the worship which is constantly ongoing, not just seek to reproduce experiences in which we feel good or great.

It is not about how wet you get – but how you live and proclaim your baptism that matters. What matters is declaring who Jesus is for you and making him known where you are to whomever you know. Let us live it well in Jesus’ name and for his sake.