Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Come, live your liturgy!

This week, I am off to join youth leaders and younger members of our diocese at Youth Daze. The theme for the weekend is “Be Transformed” based on Romans 12.1-2 which says this:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12.1-2 ESV)

As I have been reflecting on this, one of the things that pops out is that God wants more from you and me that just a head knowledge that allows us to believe in him – he wants that but for us to recognize that he wants more than that. He wants us to get into action. This becomes clear in the doxology that precedes this piece of scripture in that Paul relays all that God has done from the Fall in the Garden to the time of Jesus and how the Father has worked out salvation for his people. In light of all this we are called to live lives that are consecrated so that we can live as Christ does… not as the world demands you to.

Faith expresses itself in living obedience to the will of God in the living of everyday life. God is not asking for the impossible – because that is his job. What the Father is asking is for us to do what is possible for us to do. Why is this important? Because God has you right where he needs you to make his plan work. I can remember being at a youth conference and the speaker was challenging people to be ready to go to China and to go to Africa – which got loud roars each time. What no one was willing to do what was in front of them: to go home, clean up their rooms, make their beds, do their homework and obey their parents. No one wants to do what is right in front of them to make the Gospel heard. The impossible is out of reach and therefore easy to commit to because there is no real thinking that they will have to do it. And yet what is right here in front of us is the scariest thing we will ever do. It has impact in the here and now and on the people whom we are closest to.

For this to happen, we need to become people who put Jesus at the centre of our lives so that everything that we are and everything that we do is driven by Jesus himself. This needs to happen day by day, day after day – not just on Sundays in worship, at Bible Studies, or at Church meetings. Knowing Christ in this moment must and needs to impact on every relationship we have – even if it is only in action. And I am all too aware of the possibility of a living sacrifice crawling off the altar. It happens all too often. Becoming the person that God calls you to be takes time and sacrifice. It is not just about “getting religion” but about learning how to be holy in everyday life. It is about learning to give back a small portion to God of what he has already given to you.

Are you willing to put yourself and your life into the hands of a God who desires to give you mercy and grace, love and peace? Are you willing to come and live the life he offers and learn to live righteously? Come and learn to live your liturgy and see what God will do next in your life.


Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Are you strong enough - are you dead enough yet?

I am going to deviate a little from what I normally write on (the Gospel Lesson) to write more on the New Testament or Epistle Lesson this week, specifically on Ephesians 6.10-20. It says this,

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12For 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. 13Therefore 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. 14Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, 19and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. (Ephesians 6.10-20 ESV)

So, let me start here with a recollection from a few years back when my wife and I were recently married and going to a Church called Little Trinity in Downtown Toronto. I recall this little episode because of what happened one Sunday when the list of hymns for the 1997 Common Praise Hymnal was released and the beloved hymn “Onward Christian soldiers” was not on the list. In response that morning, the Rector said to us, “Here’s what I think about that,” and he had the organist blast a few notes and we broke into that hymn and sang it with gusto.

And before some thing that I am all about war and other things, let me point out to you that there is a way that Paul indicated in this letter that we must live in a particular way. We need to live as people who are surrounded with the Truth. We are people who are to move into places and spaces of our communities ready to communicate through both word and deed, the Gospel of God in Christ. We need to put on the breastplate of righteousness and take up the shield of faith. We need to hold closely the word of God which is the sword of the Spirit that can separate flesh from bone and spirit from spirit. In other words we need everything that God has supplied us with to be effective in the living out of the Gospel in day to day living.

The sword (the Word) and the shield (faith) are necessities for consecration, benediction and confrontation with Powers, Dominions, Princedoms, Authorities in heaven and on earth. Salvation matters to every nation, down to the last person.  

And I think this is where we can connect with the Gospel and consider that the only way to stand for Jesus, is to stand with Jesus. We have to abide or remain in Jesus in order to draw on the strength we need to be the effective believers that we are meant to be. We cannot hope to stand the tides of this world without Christ’s strength. We still struggle with evil, within and without. We have been enlisted and equipped to stand as a community in the ongoing conflicts over humanity in the spiritual realm. After all, what God is looking for is strong character and willing hearts are what wins spiritual battles not brute force.

The question you need to consider is simple: are you dead enough yet? Are you able to let go of control and put yourself into God’s hands and rely on the Father to protect and care for all of us? This is why it is important for us to keep coming to the Word and to the Table, so that we learn to listen and to live lives that are dependant upon God.  In remaining and learning to abide in Christ affords us the strength and power we need to live in and for Jesus in day to day life.


Friday, August 17, 2018

Come. Eat. Live.

It is late now in the week. As I sit at my desk and think about all the things that have been said and done in ministry, I cannot help but ponder a phase from the past… “It’s been a slice… no its been the whole oaf!” And it is at this moment that I have to admit that I like the heel off a loaf of home-baked bread. I like it with butter (yes, butter not margarine) spread evenly to the edges all the way around. There is nothing better on earth than that.
In a sense, this is the call that Jesus makes to each person, that would come to him and eat and live. The Gospel this week (John 6.51-58) continues the theme that Jesus is the living bread which has come down from heaven. Jesus offers himself to us so that we may partake of him and life the new life in him and with him. Many within the Church do not seem to recognize that the life Jesus offers does not begin when one dies, and we get to go off into a place of eternal bliss because we say we believe. The life that Jesus offers, begins in this moment. We live his incarnational life in this moment, moment by moment to make Jesus present and represent Jesus to the rest of the world.

The life that Jesus offers is an eternal life and therefore has a divine quality to it. Eternity and the things of eternity belong to God – this includes those who believe that Jesus is the Christ. And because they live this way, they take on the qualities of Jesus’ own life (of the Divine life in God) and these qualities become part of them. Such life brings those who trust and participate in Christ renewal and transformation so that they become the people that they were created to be by God…                                      
One of the ways in which we grow is by learning to be feed by God from the word and from the Table. Jesus is revealed to us in various ways – through water in Baptism, through hearing the word proclaimed, through bread and wine in the Eucharist or in oil applied for healing. Jesus is going to give to the life of his Church what is needed and necessary to be the Church in mission. The Church needs to be a fed and feeding people so that they and others with them can eat and live. Being fed enables us to continue in the journey, to be God’s people, his holy nation, and his priests in the world.

And if there is something that we all need to face, it is that without death, there is no food, no fruit, no life. The life of the Church must of necessity be like its Lord’s. It cannot be like the life of the world because we are meant to produce the fruit of the life of Christ through the Spirit. We are meant to live lives that are producing light in the darkness. The life of Christ makes a daily difference in us so that we can make a difference in the world day by day. How we live our lives in Christ directly affects how we live with each other and with the wider community. How we live in Christ and move in the Spirit has impact on how we witness and minister to those around us who are in need, in body, mind or estate.

Time is time to stop for a slice. I can smell the bread from the oven already. Come. Eat. Live.


Friday, August 10, 2018

The Matter of eating Bread

Got bread? Then you have life… that is we have life a least until the bread runs out. Right? What about have bread that will last for ever… wouldn’t you like that. Never have to buy or make bread again? The Gospel this week (John 6.35, 41-51), is the continuation of the 5 weeks of the “I am the Bread of Life” series this summer. It seems to me that there are a few things that we need to consider in the spiritual life that apply to the Gospel this week.

For example, there is the matter of collecting bread. In both the Old Testament and in the Gospels, there is an issue of learning to trust God for what is needed and that will supply his people. After all, isn’t that the purpose of praying, “Give us today, our daily bread…”? it is not about how many loaves or pans one has in the freezer downstairs, it is about learning to put our faith in God so that we can trust him and his word. This leads to building a relationship with God and friendship with God means that life takes on a new quality – eternity. Eating our daily bread equates us with being friends with God and to do that, our lives need to be like his. Therefore, we start taking on the qualities of God as we spend time with him.

Eating at table with God and with one another is a sign of trusting relationship. When we come to the table to receive, we show that we are in communion with God and with one another. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu once said, we stay together because we meet together. I would modify that to say this, we stay together to find out what is for lunch. But we are fed for more than the purpose of staying alive to eat again do we not? We must go from being people who are fed by Christ to being people who are feeding others for Christ. People might start coming to see the ‘hocus pocus’, the magic of bread and wine become body and blood. But they stay when the discover the Body of Christ. The Christian life is about trusting and participating in Christ, by receiving and eating his body and his blood. We need as Church to go from being fed, to be a feeding people.

Think of it this way: I remember hearing a number of years ago about a Roman Catholic congregation who was hearing a message from God in their Mass every Sunday, “Go feed the poor across the River.” So, they made ready for 600 people a full turkey dinner. They went across the River from El Paso, Texas to Ju├írez, Mexico and set up the Christmas supper on the garbage dump where many of the poor and desperate lived. The church people were afraid that they were not going to have enough to feed everyone who was coming. They took their concern to the priest, a tall lanky man who replied, “God called us to this, we have come. It’s his problem now. They fed about 900 people and still sent bags of food to orphanages and more places besides. They did it again at Easter time, coming prepared for 900 people and feed more than 1200 and send bags of food to homes and orphanages and other places. What can we learn from this? We know that God’s work, done God’s way will not lack God’s supply (E. Hudson Taylor). 

Keep in mind that there are some who, even having experienced the great things that Christ has done, are going to complain about how it was done or when. People want to be in control of their lives, including their spirituality but forget often that God too, has a free will. And just as importantly, where God is concerned, mercy triumphs over judgement. God executes judgement for us on Christ on the cross. He who knew no sin became sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God. Self righteous folks want to perfect their own lives and at the same time fail to recognize just who Jesus is – the bread sent down from heaven by the Father. Receiving and participating in Jesus draws us into the living presence of God almighty. One cannot attain it, only receive it as a gift.

If you cannot trust what you have seen and can hold onto, then how will you receive and hold onto what you cannot hold on to and see with your own eyes?


Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The miracle of bread

We encounter Jesus in John’s Gospel back on the Capernaum side of the Sea of Galilee (John 6.24-35). People are pursuing him from the day before when the miracle of the Feeding of the Thousands took place. Jesus had sent the Twelve away in the boat and he himself when back up the mountain to the place where he had taught the people while the crowd dispersed. He did it to avoid being taken and made king by force. After all, did he not tell Pilate at his trail, “My kingdom is not of this world”? (John 18.36)

The people who came from the miracle of the ordinary bread, looking for Jesus, were not interested in anything more than this life and what they could obtain in this life. It is why Jesus challenges them to earn bread that will last – manna. We need to answer for ourselves and for our life within this community, a simple question: “What do we want? To be full or to be satisfied?” There many churches across this country who want to be full but are constantly unsatisfied when they are not. They want the right clergy with the right plan and the right programs to make the building full so that the budget will be met and there will be no fear of failure and therefore of closure.

The challenge of the Gospel is clear – we need to be ready to thrive not just survive. Jesus points out that God is the source of our life and our community by identifying himself as “I am” – the ultimate name for God among the Jewish community. The challenge of living off of today’s bread instead of the manna of the past is simple: can you live on moldy bread? God is here in this moment to offer abundant, overflowing life. He offers it to you freely. Remember though, because it is free, it is not cheap. Cheap grace makes for weak people. This is why we are invited to come and know Jesus and to remain with him that we might have this life that flows all over the place.

This means that when you see Jesus, you find eternity. We are not just to seek self gratification for the moment but to be satisfied with nothing less that a life that is with Jesus. We come to the rail for more than just to receive at communion. We come to be satisfied so that we can in turn serve others. The people of Jesus’ day wanted him to give them manna – a sign that the new age was about to come. He challenged them to see what God had already given – and to accept him as the bread in their lives. Will you?