Wednesday, January 30, 2019

A sermon to be fired for!

This week we are the “back nine” of the lesson that we started last week. We get to hear how Jesus speaks to the hometown faithful, how the faithful respond to being challenged (Luke 4.21-30) by Jesus for their long held privilege.

We must get the mission into our lives – through hearing the word of God and understanding how we are to respond to what we have heard. And this is not just about listening to the Scriptures as they are read to us, it is also about hearing how Jesus is proclaimed in our midst through the Sermon, and how we recite our belief in the articles of the Creed and how we pray in the Prayers of the People, including the General Confession and believe it or not the Peace. The response that we make to the reading, exposition and hearing of the word is faith, prayer, and extending the right hand of fellowship to one another.

Then we need to get the mission straight within our lives. We do this by acknowledging the presence of the Spirit on our lives to teach us and lead us. Therefore, we need to learn to listen to the Spirit and what the Spirit is saying to us through the word and through prayer - this includes the Eucharistic Prayer which reminds us of how much God loves us and how far Jesus would go to express that love in visible and tangible ways, including the cross. We need to know the story of salvation and to understand that we are not alone in proclaiming the Good News of God in Christ. We have the Spirit and we have each other to celebrate and to commiserate with.

Then we need to go and live out the word in the strength of the Spirit and do what God is asking us to do so that the kingdom can be made real in the lives of people. We need to understand and be ready to deal with things that come our way. We need to be ready to give the reason for the hope that we have within us and the joy that we live in.

Most maybe aren’t aware, that there are two sides to a sermon: (1) there is the preparation and the preaching of a sermon and then (2) there is the hearing and demonstration of a sermon. Most people are present or aware of the hours that go into a sermon – even the poor ones. The reading and research that needs to happen so that the preacher can be enabled to show Jesus to his or her listeners is extensive. Plus, there is a lot of listening that goes on in meetings, visits to different places and time with different people.  Coupled to this is the where the hearer of the sermon is at, with all the things that they come with: family problems, money concerns, worries about the children; not personal thoughts and beliefs about God and themselves. All of these things come to bear on what they are hearing as the preacher is preaching.

Which leads me back to the reaction of the hometown folks, when Jesus confronts them and says to them, “Physician, heal yourself” …  you know, go on, impress us! In fact, Mark tells us that he could not do much in his own home town accept heal a few people. Why? Because those who knew him and his family weren’t able to believe the news that he was communicating – after all he was just the carpenter’s son. What does he know!?!

Some amazing and amazingly hard things happen when divine grace meets human privilege. Speaking the things of God from the heart of God to the people of God is a fearful thing. Keep in mind that prophets and preacher alike know the hearts of the people they are sent to – remember Jonah, the only prophet God had t speak to twice, to get him going in the right direction?
What is the core of our mission? To know Christ and to make Christ known in the world. What people do with Jesus once we have been faithful in giving people a clear message and a clear picture of who Jesus is and is for them – then there is a possibility. But our mission must be epiphanic: it must make Jesus real to the people around us. We need to be incarnational and embody Jesus to aid people in seeing and knowing him. Let us be that for him in his name.


Friday, January 25, 2019

Mission: Possible

Maybe you remember the old TV show Mission: Impossible? The lead mission agent. Gets the information and then disseminates that information to the team so that everyone can join in the task to bring it to completion. Major difference though, the lead agent, is the message as well. So there is for us a need to get the mission in, get the mission straight, and then get the message out – to proclaim it.

Essentially, this is what Jesus does in the Gospel this week (Luke 4.14-21). He comes back to the Galilee and begins to go into the various places of worship, read the scriptures and actively proclaim among the people, that God is at work, fulfilling his promises to his people. In time, he goes home to Nazareth and they are happy to see him. The people cannot wait to go to the Synagogue on shabbat, to hear what Jesus has to say. After all Jesus has done all these great and wonderful things in these other places, so it should be extra special since he is here among us! He is invited to read, and the attendant brings him the Isaiah Scroll. Jesus opens it up to discover that it opens to a piece of Isaiah that he can use to define his ministry through the experience of his baptism.  Here is what the Prophet Isaiah said,

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is on Me, because the LORD has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release from darkness to the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favour and the day of our God’s vengeance, to comfort all who mourn, to provide for those who grieve in Zion—to give them a crown of beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and a garment of praise in place of a spirit of despair. So, they will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified. (Isaiah 61.1-3 NIV)

What can we learn out of this quote from Isaiah? Firstly, that God is God and there is no other besides him. Secondly, we know that God is in charge. He is the one who brings the anointing (blessing and empowerment) for ministry. He is the one who chooses his anointed and is the one who sends his anointed one to his people with and for a purpose. What is that purpose? To proclaim, to give and provide for those who are in need. The Good news that we are to share? God is visiting his people in the person of his son, Jesus and Jesus is redeeming God’s people.

What else can we learn? We are reminding that God’s word is living and active. The question is, “Can you dig it?” What God was doing then he is doing now. Here. In this place with this people. We are called to live for Christ that we might bring the kingdom into this place so that people can experience Christ and his people and that means.

Too often, too much of the Church has been willing to adopt the secular culture and ways of doing things. And too often the Church has been sounding and looking like a poor imitation of secular society which as left it struggling to get people to listen and pay attention. So instead of being relevant the Church becomes extraneous noise that the wider culture chooses to block out. What the Church needs to be doing is to draw attention to God and to ask society whether they are for God or not. After all, as John Wesley once put it, “When you set yourself on fire, people like to come and watch you burn.”

Why should we come to worship? Is it just to watch the preacher burn? Because Church is far more than just a group of like minded individuals who come together at 10:30 am on a Sunday morning to do something that the rest of the world does not want to do – experience God. The Church is so much more than an association. It is, as I was recently reminded, more than an organization, it is an organism. We come to this place because we desire and hope for an experience of the holy. We come to the sacred place to be in the presence of him who would rather die than live without us. We also come to be with one another. God has determined that I need you and for some reason, you need me. Together, we are the Body of Christ.

And each and all of us have something that we can do, something that we can offer to God and to each other – a gift, a skill, or a talent. How that can be used needs to be worked out by the parish leadership so that it can be used to benefit the life of the entire community to the maximum.

Remember a few simple things:  
  • ·         Ministry is done in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit – like Elijah.
  • ·         Ministry is done for the reform of community not to act in opposition to it.
  • ·         with God, the impossible just takes a little longer.
  • ·         We bring the kingdom to people through living like Jesus.
  • ·         We live as servants to the will and to the word of God to enable restoration and reconciliation.

This will help us to get the mission in, get it straight and get it done, in Jesus’ name.


Thursday, January 17, 2019

The Divine Art of wine making

I was thinking about the divine art of wine making this week. At one point it was all the rage and it seemed like everyone, well almost everyone was doing it. In fact, my father and mother-in-law got good enough at it that they made all the wine for a family wedding when the youngest of my sisters-in-law was married. We know that wine, regular or sparkling including champagne are used to mark special occasions. As kids, it was a big deal to be able to get a sip of wine at a special meal. This of course included First Communion when one participated in the Eucharist for the first time.

The Gospel this week (John 2:1-12) is a reversal of sorts from Luke when at Christmas time, there was no room for the Holy Family in the local Inn and we were challenged to make room for Christ in our lives. The reversal? We experience the grace of God in watching what Jesus does to help a newly married couple in a place that is not home for him. By making wine available, Jesus did an awful lot – certainly more than just keep the party going. If you dig deeper in John’s Gospel, one of the things you discover is that wine, new wine is analogous to new life. Without wine there is no party. Without God’s grace there is no life! So, if you want to look at it this way, Jesus’ wedding gift was an abundance of wine, and therefore of life itself.

Bringing the food to help sustain the celebration was your gift to the newly wedded couple. It was expected that not just the couple, but the entire community would involve themselves in making sure their was enough to be eaten and drank over the course of the week of the wedding feast.  Therefore, running out of wine was not just an embarrassment to the couple and their families, it was a sign of failure of some kind on the part of the community to display hospitality to one another. There is a necessity of not just a shared hospitality (its nice to take something to the wedding to share) but also of a shared responsibility for one another.

It does in fact remind me of the times that I was at feasts amongst different First Nations and their traditions. This included supporting the family and the tribe at feasts, giving gifts and money to support the reason for the feast – weddings, funerals and so on. You have at least something to make sure that you could be seen giving so that when the time came, people would share with you, especially in times of need. In giving then, you would build up the honour of your name and the honour of your family and tribe.

Jesus, in giving the wine, lifted a burden and in doing so showed us who he was and why he was here among us. Many will make a big deal out of the 160 to 180 gallons of wine. Isn’t that great, isn’t that wonderful. But in doing so, something more powerful began to happen. Those who were following him, those who were his family and his disciples put their faith and trust in him to provide what is needed. That is an important idea. Too many of us live like what we have are the dregs and that we are at the bottom of our last barrel. This means that the party and life are over.

Bringing out the best later gives hope that the best is yet to come. Receiving grace in the moment brings joy and happiness. Plus it brings hope to the future because of who we want to spent the future with: Father, Son and Spirit and because of who they are to us. That is the divine art of wine making

And did you notice? All this happened on a Tuesday! Mary gave directions to the servants to obey her son and they did, right to the last drop. They filled each vessel to the brim in anticipation of what Jesus was going to do next. God revealed himself to the Israelites on a Tuesday on Mt. Sinai and revealed himself to the Church at a wedding in Cana of Galilee.  Will we make room for him and will we take in his life that we would live for him?


Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Don't forget, he was baptized too!

A number of years back I had the opportunity to visit the Church where I was baptized. My parents took me as a six month old to be baptised at the Church near my grandparents because we were leaving the area and they felt it was important to have this done for me (to me?). if there is one thing that is important, one thing I want everyone to remember about being a baptized person, it is this: it is not about how wet one gets as it is about how one works to live it out everyday afterwards.

Think of it this way. I remember my ordinations and things about the nights that the Bishop ordained me deacon and priest. But as important and happy as those occasions where, I have realized in the days since that this day, this day after those moments, is the most important day. It is important because this is the day that I get to serve the Lord. It is a day that I get to, through the Holy Spirit, have impact on the lives of those around me for the sake of him whose Gospel we proclaim.

And that’s when it hit me – pow! In Luke’s Gospel it is written, “Jesus was baptized too.” (Luke 3.15-17, 21-22) The Gospel reminds and recounts that fact for us. In particular, it was the “too” that caught me off guard and captured my imagination. You see, Jesus, along with a good many other people, responded to the call to come and be baptized. I know that there are people who will react to the fact that he is the Son of God and if so why did he need baptism and the forgiveness of sin? He didn’t. Jesus chose to identify himself with us and our situation and he fully entered into our life and situation. We needed the forgiveness and he showed us how to start the life that would lead to reconciliation with God and to eternal life with God and all those who love him. He laid down the pattern that we as a community were to follow. God in Christ participates so that we can repent and be reconciled to God and to one another.

And let’s not forget that baptism is not a personal affair – I know from research that I did on a project when I was studying to be ordained, that there was a “crowd of people” there on the feast of the Transfiguration in August 1969. My parents and grandparents, various and assorted aunts and uncles, including my Godparents. Baptism is the beginning of life in the community of Christ for every individual. Coming for Eucharist is the maintenance not only of your own spiritual life but also the life of the community to which all and each of us belong. The Church’s community and ability to do what is it called to do is diminished by people not coming to worship and experiencing the presence of the Almighty in sacrament and word as well as in one another. Worship is the fuel that moves the Christian in daily life. Its like driving a car without gas: if we are to live without taking time to pray and to worship, Life stalls, cannot move and if not remedied, causes community and mission to break down.

Therefore, baptism is by no means a private activity. It is deeply personal to the person being baptised and for the family, friends, and community that gather to be apart of the event. But it is not left there. There is a moment in the Service where I take the newly baptized to introduce them to others, so that the congregation can meet and greet them – not just at worship but in everyday life and living. Baptism lived out this way means that we are choosing to be led by and follow Christ, empowered by the Spirit. We have to learn to see Christ in each person we meet and know. We have to soak up and drawn in the presence of Christ so that people can see him in us because we radiate his light and his presence. We are to be his hands, his feet and his face to the world, so that they can see and know what Jesus looks like, even if they do not know him or his presence. As we spend time with Jesus we will begin to look like, sound like, and please Lord, act like him. 

Those who come to the call to repentance and who believe in Jesus are being empowered by the same Spirit that works in Christ, that was part of creation, is at work in each and all of us. Therefore, we are to live in such a way as that we sign the presence of the kingdom and to embody its reality in the life of the wider community. We do this so that people will ask, “what’s wrong with you? Why do you still have joy? Why can you still have hope?”

Baptism is a human response to the Spirit and the fact that God is at work in us and in the world. What will you do in response to him? Don't forget, Jesus was baptized too!


Friday, January 4, 2019

Let Christ be incarnate in you

Here is a simple thought: to fulfill the divine mission, God became incarnate. Incarnational ministry is God’s idea. We celebrate with cards and creches, with trees, lights and gifts of various kinds. But we move now from Advent (from the Laitn “ad venite”, to come) to Epiphany (Greek for “to uncover or reveal”). We will get to see through the next several weeks, how God is going to redeem his creation – because there is more than one group of people on the earth whoa re waiting for, praying for, hoping for. The magi had been watching all through the creation for some time to see the sign they were looking for. When they got it, they got ready and got on the move to go in search of the child that is proclaimed to be the King of creation.

It is interesting that they went to Herod’s court to find out more about the One they had come in search of. The Magi in doing so, must have heard of Herod the great, his infamous temper, and jealously towards rivals. Reputations, deserved or no, are hard to live down. None of that dissuaded them from the encounter with Herod and his court. The news of a new and true king being born for the people would no doubt have been more than a nine days’ wonder in Jerusalem because a new king meant fresh trouble for everyone. Those in power would be afraid of being displaced and would act in dreadful measure to ensure that the status quo is maintained.

It might be helpful for you to know that the Magi were no allies of the Roman Empire – politically or religiously. Proclaiming Jesus, the true king in the court of Herod, an appointed monarch of the people who was acceptable to Rome.  It would be important to also note that the Magi when to Jerusalem and on to Bethlehem to see the boy king they traveled hard, risked much and were rewarded at the end of the search with seeing the heavenly born Prince of Peace. They knelt down and worshiped him and offered gifts – gold for royalty, frankincense for prayer and the presence of God, and myrrh for health and long life.

Herod, for his part was lost in fear that there might be one who could take his throne. When he realized that the Magi were not going to lead him to his rival caused him to react and send soldiers to Bethlehem to kill every boy from new born to the age of 2. We know that Herod was not successful, for Joseph to Mary and Jesus to Egypt where they remained for a time, until Herod was dead. And then, under the command of dream they returned to Nazareth.

Where does this leave us at the end of this Christmas season? We are witnesses to the truth: that Jesus is God with the flesh on. Telling others about the truth is a life shaking thing to do for both the receiver and the speaker. Speaking the truth, even when it is done in love is not always going to receive a positive reaction. It can anger people just as easily as it can bless and set people free. It reminds them that they are not in control. Truth needs to be spoken in love and needs to sometimes defy authority when necessary.

So, we must consider that in proclaiming Jesus, that following the Morning Star is not a easy thing and therefore should not be a blind venture. Faithfulness will lead us into times of risk, places where we are going to need faith and courage and following directions out of dreams that will require trusting hearts and obedience in doing as we have been asked as we follow the Star. And I can witness to the fact that when we are faithful to what God asks of us, it is a joyful thing to be found faithful and worthy of your calling and service of Christ and the Gospel – even if there are fetters and chains. It is not about the circumstances we are in or possessions we do or do not have – it is about being found with and in Christ. It is about knowing that Christ is here and that our redemption is at hand. Let Christ be incarnate in you.