Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Breathing on us for renewal

I have to admit that the struggles to do ministry in the past few days have made me wish that we could go back to the days when we were younger. I wish we could go back to the days when we were not so dependant upon technology as we seem to be these days. In fact, I went 21 years in ministry without owning a cell phone. Sure there were times when I would use my wife’s cell for safety but often, we lived in places that were not well all that friendly to technology. The 40 minutes I spent in the car by myself between places was a change to get away from it all. I freely admit that I miss that.

This Sunday we will celebrate and participate (I hope) in the Feast of Pentecost – the 50th Day of Easter. Jesus came to that same place, to that Upper Room where he had spent his last night with his followers before his arrest, the trials and his crucifixion and death. It was the place of refuge from what might happen to them in the light of everything that happened to Jesus.

Jesus had promised to immerse them in the Holy Spirit for power to be witnesses of his life death and resurrection. We as the One, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, so that his people might draw men women and children into a relationship with him and thus, into his kingdom. Let us keep in mind that Pentecost is not just about the coming of the Spirit but the fulfilment of the promises of God around Easter and what he would do for his people. The Spirit comes to and resides in everyone who believes that Jesus is Lord. And in fact, Scripture is clear that when a person declares Jesus as Lord, they do so through the power of the Holy Spirit. We are called to declare that Jesus is Lord through the whole earth and to serve these whom we find to be our neighbours. As we live and serve the Lord, we make known the reality of his incarnation in us. We do these things with amazing love and incredible power so that people around us might see him in us. The immersion of believers into the life and work of the Spirit is foundational and of first import to the work of the Church here on earth.

As a first step, if we are going to take the message of God around the world, would it not be essential to take this message, this news home first? Many are called to the kingdom and there are a few who are called to lead in that work. God calls whom God calls. The Church like the people of Israel is his people, his royal priesthood, his holy nation and therefore his own possession. The Spirit rests upon all those whoa recalled and believe led by a chosen few. And the power that was available to the Church in those early days is still available today – for you and for me in the exercising of ministries.

We can set people free or we can leave them bound and in darkness by how we live and share the Good News with them. The Church’s failure to make known the Good News means that we fail to bear witness to Christ in the world, leaving people in darkness and unable to grasp just who Jesus is. The Church in those circumstances is unable to participate in the life it thinks it has in Christ leaving it both powerless and lifeless. Maybe that means that we need Jesus to come through our barricaded doors at least one more time so that we have to struggle anew with what it means to declare the Jesus has risen and that means he is Lord. We need to see Jesus in our midst, ready and willing to engage us, to breathe out his Spirit upon us so that we are willing to go and help set people free.

If in the going, there are going to be struggles, issues, and problems; if there are going to be disappointments and plagues, then we must remember that Jesus sent us and he is with us in the going and doing of ministry.


Thursday, May 21, 2020

My phone is dying!

Have you ever heard a person cry out, “My phone is dying, my phone is dying!” and then demand that you give up your table so they can sit down and plug they phone and charge while they continue to play Candy Crush? Have you ever done something like that to another person? In this digital age, we obsess with whether our electronic devices are going to continue operating for us and is there a source of power we can tap into to make sure that we can use our digital devices.  Have you ever considered that there are ways in which we need to live so as to care for our lithium batteries so that they give us the most? The very first time you put it on to charge, there are recommended lengths of time for the battery to be charged. How we treat the battery and how often it is charge have a lot to do with how long the battery will last and what kind of service it will give over its lifetime.

The Christian life is no different in that regard. We are now in a ten-day waiting period before we are completely charged and ready to do what God asks of us as individuals and as a Church community. Without waiting and preparation for what is ahead, there could be no blessing and no source of strength for worship or blessing, there is no boom for the work that needs to happen for the kingdom of God to be established in people’s lives. If we do not prepare then we are weak. How did the first disciples prepare for the Charge of Pentecost? They prayed, they worshipped, and they focused on Jesus and on the Father, giving thanks and blessing. Without these things, we are a weak battery and ill-prepared for the job ahead.

It is why in the Easter litany, we have been asking for the believers to be filled with the fire of the Holy Spirit, so that we can take the joy and the life that Jesus made possible to  the world, that they would see and know him and receive that life because they have seen and known Jesus in us. We are filled with the life of the Holy Spirit for that very purpose. Receiving the Spirit into our lives makes us supercharged to carry out the mission that Jesus has in mind for us. The Holy Spirit is at work in each and in all of us and has been since the very thought of our creation by the Father, creating, renewing and sustaining each and all of us as we work to seek, to see and to serve Jesus in others.

I know that when my time of ministry and life here on earth is done, I don’t want to stand before the Master, and for him to ask me, “So, how was it?” for the only response I am able to give him is, “Well… I survived”. It is not that I would fear wrath but rather that I would disappoint and make him cry because I chose not to completely offer myself to him and use everything available to me in the life of the Spirit to win people into the kingdom of God.

We follow the Lord Jesus, bodily risen from the dead and raised to the right hand of God the Father almighty that he would rule in power and with authority until such time as he is to come again. He lives in this moment, close to the Father, to make intercession for the saints (you and I) and his eyes are fixed on us and all we do and his ears hear all that we say and think. Let us ask our King of glory that we would be given the power and whatever else we need to complete the work, the mission, to draw people to him and that there would be a wonderous celebration of all the saints in light and to the pleasure of our heavenly Father.


Tuesday, May 5, 2020

It is a part of our nature

In consideration of the context of this week’s Gospel (John 14:1-14) it is important to know where Jesus said these things, to whom he said them and when he said them. The where is easy: in Jerusalem, in the Upper Room. The when of what he said it was the night he was betrayed and arrested by the authorities while at supper with his disciples. They were celebrating the Passover. Judas had made his plan with the authorities and had been paid the price of his betrayal – 30 pieces of silver. When he discovered at the table that he could bend Jesus to be a political Messiah, he tried to stop the trail and execution but failed. It cost Judas dearly. Peter had promised to be faithful even if it meant his own death. Jesus told him that he would deny his Master three times before the cock crowed in the morning.

That last night, this one last chance was meant to encourage his followers to live the life and walk the road ahead of them. Jesus called on them to live like him, to walk and talk like him. We need to look live and act like Jesus. Jesus to the time to tell them about the road ahead and about the promises of presence and other things.

He tells them not to allow their lives to be shaken to the core by what is about to happen. Jesus encourages the disciples (and his apostles) to go on believing in the Father, which is important but to also continue believing in him. Please understand that faith is far more than head knowledge and a choice to believe that God is here. It is a life that is given into the living of that belief, that you trust the Father and the Son to enable you to have that relationship, welling up into eternal life. Our relationships with God and with one another can grow up and out to become eternal life because God sustains them and eternity is a part of his nature.

So we are challenged in the midst of grief and loss to not allow our lives to be shaken to the core. We are asked to put our trust in God for the way ahead. We are called personally and corporately to love and to believe (that is, to trust in God and participate in what God is doing). We are called to serve and eat together. We are called to hold things in common. Christ calls us to these things and to unity in him so that we can know him and the Father better. Unity, in this case, is not about conformity. It is far more and far above one’s personal or a Church’s corporate theology. We are together for the sake of Christ and in doing so, for the needs of one another who are called into community with him and with us. Jesus prayed that The Father would bind us to him and to one another by and not by fine-sounding doctrine. The unity that Jesus prays for and seeks for the Church is about a deep and profound love rather than for fine sounding doctrine that puts up walls that divide.

Deacon Stephen (Acts 7) would have recognized this. He was called into the ministry of a deacon to enable the Apostles to preach and teach the Word. The awesome thing is that he was able to serve at the table, meet the needs of his community and it doing so was enable to preach and minister to those he was responsible for. Stephen was a man attested to for being a man of deep faith and full of the Holy Spirit. He was known for being full of grace and for his deeds of power through the working of the Spirit. The Book of Acts describes Stephen as the protomartyr because his life, arrest, trial, condemnation, and execution were carried out in a mirrored way to the way the Jesus did. Keep on thing in mind though, not all of us are called to be martyrs. If you are gifted as a martyr, you will only get to use your gift once and at the end of your life.

How we live and how we give to the point of giving and living sacrificially is important first for the life of the Church, then of the winning of the world. The Church is the medium through which God transmits his message of grace mercy and love. We know the way home. It is in Jesus and through Jesus that we live and move and have our beings. Living like Jesus at this moment is what we are called to do so that we can draw others into our fellowship and make our way home together.


Friday, May 1, 2020

There are two kingdoms. Which will you chose?

As I sit to write this week, I am aware that Sunday, May 3rd is a major anniversary for me. I was speaking with a long time friend and brother priest who reminded me that May 3rd was coming and that the day marks the start of our 30th year in full-time ministry. He asked me if I was aware of it and what I thought about it. Sheepishly I admitted that it had not really crossed my mind because of all that had been going on in the day to day stuff in recent weeks. As I have pondered these things and looked at a journal I keep of my ministry, I came to realize just how faithful God has been to my family and to me over and over again through the years. So I want to tie this together with some thoughts I have about the life and ministry over the past 30 years and what still needs to happen because, in the immortal phrase of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, “I’m not dead yet.”

This Sunday is known as “Good Shepherd Sunday” because the lessons reveal Jesus and the Father to be such. In fact, in the Old Testament, God is extolled as the Shepherd of Israel. So it is not a surprise for Jesus to reveal himself as the Good Shepherd. He connects his life and ministry both to his Father and to the life and faith of the People of Israel. The Gospel Lesson is a statement that Jesus makes to leaders of the faith in Jerusalem after the healing of a man who was born blind (John 10:1-10). The basic tenor of the speech is about choosing whether you want to live in the Empire or if you would rather seek a better kingdom. That is why the man born blind lives out his faith and is tossed by the religious leaders – he chose to follow Jesus rather than be led by pretenders. Which do you choose, the status quo of the Empire or the freedom of the kingdom?

Human beings because of who and what we are, like to have things that stay the same. The lack of change leaves us thinking that we are in control. Consider carefully who things went for the people of Israel before they were freed by the acts of God on their behalf and what happened between the people and God once, they were across the Red Sea and away from Egypt. Even in the aftermath of the plagues and the moment of being rescued through the Red Sea, the People of Israel started complaining about there being no water, no bread and no meat. They complained and complained and yet God comes through, providing water in the desert, manna in the evenings and birds for meat (Exodus 16 and 17). Yet they kept on complaining saying things like, “Were there no graves in Egypt that you brought us out into the wilderness to die?” we would rather live in chains and be slaves to taskmasters because that life is easier and more predictable than learning to trust that God is going to provide and that we have to depend on him for our daily bread.

That is the biggest lesson I have had to learn and in fact, am continuing to learn. That I need to seek Christ to find my daily bread, my life in him. He is the gate over which I come and go from the sheep pen. He knows my name and calls me to come and follow him each day. He knows my needs, my hopes and fears, and through them draws me, calls me and encourages me. Thus the call on my life is about being willing to give away to others and to serve other people, giving where I can, making sacrifices when necessary.

Let’s go into a better kingdom, you and I.