Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Planting seed and giving God glory

There has been a music festival going on here at the Church for the past week now. And the room beside my office has a piano and this is where the young people have been coming to warm up before the go on stage. It has been an interesting week in that there are lots of young people in the building and more than one or two amazing voices. There has also been upset, anger, and people rushing for a bathroom to be sick.  The building has been alive with the energy of so many people.

So, as we approach Sunday and the Gospel (John 12.20-33) it has put a different slant how I see and understand this moment in Jesus’ life and in the lives of the people around him. Jerusalem was abuzz with everything that was going on. The whole world was coming to see this Jesus and the things that he was doing, especially after he raised Lazarus from the dead. They wanted at least some small part of what was going on for themselves. Jesus’ opponents, who had hoped to make a quick and easy end of him and his ways, had seemingly been thwarted. They would not acknowledge who Jesus was and what God the Father was doing through him because he was changing what people were doing and believing. The whole world was seeking him.

Case and point, a group of God-fearing Greeks who were living a Jewish life style without fully committing to the Law, came and found Phillip (a Greek named disciple of Jesus) and asked if he would take them to Jesus so that they could interview him and figure out if they would follow him or not. Phillip takes them to Andrew and together they take this unnumbered group to Jesus. The discussion leads to conversation about following him – and letting go of their agendas. They were going need to live the whole life in the light. This means that they were going to have to follow and not just on their terms but on God’s.

Life on a farm is no different from being a disciple. There are simple rules and they need to be obeyed. I know because I grew up on a small farm where we had and raised horses, dogs, cats, chickens, goats, and the occasional goose. Most, if not all my family when they came from Europe (England, Ireland. Scotland and Sweden) they came to the Canadian prairies to farm and homestead. You may not know this because much of my life has been spent on or near the ocean in BC and in Newfoundland and Labrador. Being in farm country has its rules as does living on the ocean.

Number one rule on the farm. Don’t get attached to anything you are going to eat. Don’t name it and don’t make a deep commitment because for there to be life, there is going to be death. There was not to be at the supper table, a discussion of ‘who’ we were eating. With seed it is different. Seed is not cute or fuzzy. Seed is not fuzzy or cuddly. We cannot get attached to seed like we can to a horse, a dog or even a chicken named “Fonzie”.  But we can pin out hope on the outcomes of the seed. If it does not do well, there will be consequences. No bread, no feed, no life.

Jesus wants us to consider our lives like seed for the next generation of the Church. Our lives need to be offered and given so that there can be another generation in this place. Our lives are the seed of the next generation. Those who are to follow us are the fruit of our ministry. This means we need to live in such away that people can see Jesus and come and see him. We are called upon to reject this life and the way that the world wants us to live it as if it is the only way that life can be lived. Living life the way that the world demands us to, leaves us trapped and desperate for something else, something better. Such life causes anxiety and causes us to live in the dark without hope.  

People in this community, this province and this country need to see more of Jesus. We must lift Jesus up. We must glorify the Father. We need to see Jesus again and again so that we can capture afresh both a reminder of who he is and what we are called to in him. We can reject this life as being without God and therefore without hope in favour of a life that has death and resurrection. Fruit bearing may be painful and destructive but we are not in this alone – God will glorify himself in us as we honour him – even if it means that we walk through the Valley of the Shadow of death.

Those who choose to live in the dark will lose their way. We can walk in the light, with Jesus and hear the music of the saints and live. 


Tuesday, March 6, 2018

He loves us, like it or not.

This week in the Gospel of John (Jn. 3.14-21) we get a small potion of a larger discussion between Nicodemus and Jesus that happened one evening after the business of that day was finished and the evening could be given to contemplation.

In this conversation, a simple concept confronts Nicodemus. God, because of his love for his people and his creation is relentless. Love is the foundation of his kingdom. Therefore, Jesus in his preaching and teaching keeps calling on us to respond in repentance and faith to the coming of the kingdom amongst us. God in Christ pursues us seeks us out because he loves us and he desires us to be with him, both now and into eternity. We tend to forget that words like ‘holiness’ and ‘righteousness’ the very things that we need to be and to become are not verbs, things we do. Rather these things are things we become because of the relationship that we have and hold on to. These are characteristics that we gain as we spend time with the Lord and with other people who follow Jesus.

But this goes deeper than that. The love that God offers to this God hating empire is make stronger with mercy. And at the same time, his love needs to be accepted and responded to by surrendering to its demands. In fact, God goes so far as to say to each and to all of us, “I love you… like it or not.” We cannot twist or control God’s love for us to shape it to our benefit, to suit our needs or qualify our demands. We are not in control of God’s love or of God’s person. He loves all of us; like it or not.

It reminds of going to a First Nations village last Easter to do Baptisms. One boy of about three years of age was brought up to the font for Baptism. When I went to put water on him to baptize him, he smacked my hands away because he did not want to get wet or for me to touch him. His father scolded him for his actions. I then said to them, “It’s okay. Bring him down to the water so that he can touch it.” The boy played in the water for a moment, swishing his hand back and forth. Then I baptized him and anointed him with oil. I share that to say to you, God pursues you and is waiting patiently for you to turn and respond to him.

Negotiating with people to give them what they demand gives them control not only over the situation, it makes them ‘players’ and gives them a measure of control over us. This will never be where God is concerned. God’s love is free and unconditional. He loves us. Period. Whether we like him or not; whether we believe or not in him. He loves us with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31.3)

And it does not end there. In loving us God in Christ becomes vulnerable. Christ becomes sacrificial and gives his life for us, all the way to death and the grave. Christ makes this gift, this sacrifice knowing the costs and does it anyway knowing that the price is dear. Humans do not want to be weak, vulnerable and make sacrifices. We prefer to live and our ongoing Game of Thrones where we win or die trying to win. We live believe that the real security is in power and strength, being bold and using power and might to affect change in the world.

Whose strength do you operate in? Yours or God’s? Are you able to be vulnerable and open to sacrifice for the benefit of another? I ask this because I know that in the presence of unconditional love, we discover ourselves powerless. In such living we need to yield to God, giving up or plans, letting go of our goals, and manipulating agendas. Know that God’s love is going to tenaciously pursue us, to transform us into the people that God created for himself, like it or not. God created this world and he is in control. He causes it to be maintained and he will bring it to an end when time is fulfilled in favour of the new creation and the new life it will contain. He has done this through being vulnerable, tenaciously loving and giving sacrificially.

Is this not a love, a God you could surrender to? In Christ God has snatched victory from the jaws of defeat and offers life to those who will accept and love him. All we need do is come into his light, liking it or not.


Thursday, March 1, 2018

Becoming living altars

I have been thinking this week about how we serve God and what it means to be missional. The Gospel this week (John 2.13-22) is an interesting lesson in that will consider it again at least in a cursory way, during Holy Week. This will be in the lead up to Good Friday and what happens on that low hill outside the city and on the cross. It also goes to the question, “Will you surrender to God?” It is what Jesus did, starting in the Garden when he asked for the cup of suffering to be taken from him and then says, “Not my will, but yours.” He surrendered himself to the will of the Father that he would become the way home for those who would participate in him and his life after the cross.

In this lesson, I noticed something that is important. Altars. How we approach them and how we deal with them is not something that we Anglicans spend a lot of tine talking about. It is more something which we honour and something we keep as sacred and tend to leave it there, unspoken. But maybe it is something that we need to become as people. Confused? Then let me explain.

The Temple was the place of the altar and where people could approach the presence of the God of Israel here on earth. It was the place where sacrifices and offerings where made. Synagogues, where most Jews worshipped was a place for prayer and for teaching, not for sacrifice. Jesus had made the journey more than once. He went into the Temple – a place he had been before, at least twice that we know of in the Gospels. Both times were with his parents. First with his parents to obey the Law and offer sacrifice to reclaim him from the Lord because he was a first-born son. This is when the little family encountered the quiet in the Land (Simeon the priest and Anna the prophet) and many important things were said and done. The second time in the Temple was just before the year in which Jesus would have celebrated his bar mitzvah and became a man within the spiritual community. He was left behind when they family headed home, and his frantic parents went back and found him “in his Father’s house” talking with learned men.

So, for Jesus to suggest its destruction was a bit of a wild thing. Why would you destroy a big, beautiful building that is meant to house the presence of the living God? Where would people go to meet with God? How would they get forgiveness for their sins? What would become of the priests and their religion if there was no temple? Reality? God is moving his location from a place into the lives of his people to be with them – with you and with me. All day, every day.

This means that as followers of the Lord Jesus, our lives play host to the presence and the life of the living God. Our lives must out of necessity become places and spaces where giving, sacrifice and blessing need to meet – for the sake of others, not just for ourselves. Our lives and our bodies are where the divine and humanity meet. Therefore, the lives we live, including our bodies must be come altars. How do we know this is so? Consider Jesus! He had eyes to see what it was like in the Temple, ears to hear the noises and a nose to smell the different odors. Jesus knelt on a knee to wash his disciples’ feet at the table. He had hands that reached out to pick up and bless children and at the same time to make a whip of cords to drive out flocks and herds while tipping tables and scattering coins.

In learning to surrender, we also discover that our faith and participation in Christ makes us uncomfortable – faith and obedience causes struggles. It makes us sweat. Upon occasion believing and participating will involve pain and tears. And in all of it, where you go, Christ lives. So maybe we need to consider carefully where is God in our lives and in our ministries. Where does Christ need to be let in? What rooms in our lives need light? Where do we need to some spring cleaning?  We need to be people who can be identified as Christian people (and please note I say Christians not Anglicans) because of how we live, what we say and what we do. We must live incarnationally so that people can encounter ‘God with the flesh on’. In this way through what we do and what we say we are also becoming missional. In so doing, we become living altars.