Posts Tagged ‘joy’

I’m not the Messiah…

December 14, 2014

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. This is the news that John the baptizer is presumed to bring. And John’s Gospel weaves the story of the Word – the Light – the Son of God, together with this messenger – this puzzling preacher – this ‘other’ John in a very deliberate way. Yet John the baptist is not the figure we want to hear from. Ten days remain; the desperation is starting to creep in to our preparations. There’s not enough time left for the baking and the decorating – some shopping remains undone, and some of us have yet to mail our Christmas cards…John the Baptist does not fill us with ‘tidings of comfort and joy’, but his is a voice we really must hear. The baptizer will ensure that we are fully prepared for Christmas, so when he appears in the midst of our annual rush I, for one, am relieved.
Jesus’ story cannot be separated from this strange, insistent figure in the wilderness. Luke’s gospel suggests that there is an actual kinship between the two men – their mother’s are related by blood – but whether or not they are related, where John is, Jesus soon follows; it’s only natural, then, that when he is questioned, John the Baptizer takes Isaiah’s words and apply them to himself:
‘I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,
“Make straight the way of the Lord” ’

John isn’t found wandering about shouting these words like one who has lost touch with reality. In John’s gospel, the Baptizer appears rational, sensible and fully aware of his surroundings. It is the questions posed by the religious authorities that draws this prophetic description from our hero.
The people have seen John at work, and it is their appeal to the religious experts – the priests and Levites – to discover if this is a man sent by God. These are not evil, authoritarians; they are interested in this new voice, and hopeful that it might represent the one they have been waiting for.

John’s gospel takes us right to the heart of their discussion. “Who are you?” they want to know; John’s response is, at first, baffling;

“I’m not the Messiah. I’m not Elijah. I’m not ‘the prophet’ ” This is not ordinarily how you answer authority. If a lawyer, or a police officer asks you your name, would you say “I’m not Stephen Harper.”? (perhaps you would if you were interested in a free ride and a night’s lodging…) – but John wants to be clear; he knows that there is more to their question than just a request for basic information. He shares their heritage, and he shares their desperate longing for the salvation of God – he is not going to manipulate their expectations, or feed them a story designed to elevate his own activities (quite the opposite, in fact). John (the baptizer) knows his role, and he wants to be sure everyone is clear about what he is doing, and (more importantly) what God is already doing.
I’m not the Messiah. I know that’s what you want, but we’re not there yet. In your haste to examine me, you betray your anxiety – your impatience – but God’s ways require infinite patience and the utmost endurance. All must first be prepared; your patience will be continually tested; your flaws will be examined and your excuses exhausted, until you are open and eager for the new way that the one coming after me will pursue.
This is the reminder that we need – here in the middle of December; with our patience exhausted, and our preparations in chaos – John speaks truth to our delusions, and we should listen.
John is more than just an echo of the ancient promise. He is that voice of preparation – the reminder that every generation needs, calling for an awareness of God’s presence in our chaotic reality. Our current preparations – the buzz that starts as early as mid-November for some – are geared toward what we call ‘the holiest of nights’; and we have turned it into something else. We don’t know what we’re waiting for, and we don’t know what to expect when this long-promised redeemer finally appears in our midst. John called those he baptized to repentance, and he calls us in our anxious waiting to remember what it is God promised.
God’s people are still caught in systems of oppression who, as a result, are exiled from the peaceful presence of God. God would have us back, but on God’s terms, not ours. Seek justice, do mercy, walk humbly, says the voice of ancient wisdom – yet this is not what we have been preparing for. Our preparations exalt ourselves – satisfy our cravings – justify our personal sense of power and authority. Yet the one who is to come – who has come – who is coming – is more powerful than any and all of us; Messiah has the power to reconcile us to God.
I’m not Messiah. I am a messenger – as are all who dare to call themselves God’s people – witnesses to the slowly unfolding promise of God that always finds us unprepared, yet nonetheless urges us to recognize the beauty, the gravity and the remarkable freedom that promise holds. The joy of this blessed season is in our hope of discovering the truth about the One John proclaimed, for in Christ we meet the promise of redemption – a word which here means we are welcomed as full partners into God’s continuing works of justice, mercy and peace. These surely are tidings of great joy, for all people.
Thanks be to God. Amen


“…Because of the hardness of your hearts…”

October 3, 2009

Thus far in my life, within my family of birth and the family that I married into

I have had no direct experience with the difficulties that divorce brings.

I have witnessed, at a distance, the pain, the shame

and the emotional distress that comes with divorce,

but it has never touched me.

That fact of my life – for which I am certainly thankful – has not blinded me to the reality

that the gospel reading chosen for this morning seems especially harsh and hurtful

to anyone who has had to make the difficult decision to end a marriage.

Life is about relationships –

good relationships; broken relationships; and those that are repaired and restored.

We have each seen enough of every kind to know the difficulties and the joys that come –

and our faith declares that God not only created us for relationship,

but intends for all those to be, in the words of the first chapter of Genesis – “very good”.

This is the context for Jesus showdown with the teachers of the Law in Mark’s gospel.

“Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”they ask,

driving right to the heart of societal relationships – family bedrock; husband and wife –

how do you understand the law, Jesus? What does God say about this foundational relationship?

The Law, of course, says yes – divorce is an acceptable legal option for the people of God.

The Pharisees know it. Jesus knows it too.

But the law was for your weakness, Jesus says – “because of your hardness of heart” –

he implies that God had something else in mind,

not just for marriage, but for all human relationships –

he quotes Genesis as his authority – “the two shall be one flesh” –

and that, as they say, should be that.

The Pharisees fade into the background.

The friends of Jesus, however, cannot let the subject die.

This is where the text gets testy – this is where people begin to squirm in their seats –

this is where some preachers might launch into a family values rampage

about the sanctity of marriage and the evils of divorce.

But I don’t believe the text supports a message like that.

I believe in the sanctity of marriage – but I also understand that some marriages aren’t at all sacred,

that there are hurts that cannot be mended – relationships that should not be maintained

for the good and safety of all concerned.

Jesus stand – seeming so fierce and unwavering – is painting a bigger picture –

for clearly our idea of what works is not at all as God intended –

and the text seeks to open our eyes as it moves along.

For there is a sudden change of tone here –

from the seemingly judgmental statement equating divorce and adultery –

to announce that there were people bringing children to be blessed.

They could be two separate days in the life of Jesus and his disciples

but Mark’s author places them side by side – the topic is still relationship.

The disciples hearts are hardened toward the needs of these children.

Those who bring them are chastised –

the disciples contend that Jesus has more important things to deal with.

Some relationships must be more important – others, not worth pursuing.

But Jesus is having none of their nonsense.

Let the children come – know that the Kingdom is theirs –

And he blessed them.

Our intention for most of our relationships are good – honourable.

We don’t intend for them to fail, but fail they do.

Jesus draws our attention to these children – to ideas of innocence, trust,

and a time when we are willing and able to believe the best about everyone (and everything).

Come to God’s kingdom like this, Jesus says, and you will find the doors open to you.

Come to one another in simplicity and honesty,

and your relationships will succeed more often than they fail.

Come to God – without agenda or condition –

come expecting to be amazed, to be welcomed,

to be comforted, to be fed, to experience wonder – and you will never be disappointed.

God has not made us for brokenness, but for wholeness

not for sadness, but for joy.

Not for solitude, but for community –

and so we are invited by the Spirit of God – by the words of Jesus –

to open ourselves to a relationship that is honest, pure, and filled with wonder –

a relationship with God – with one another – revealed to us by Jesus

who invites us today to approach his table with wonder and joy.

The Bread of Life… (John 6: 24-35)

July 31, 2009

I often wonder if Jesus ever offered anyone a straight answer…

When did you come here, they ask…

You are looking for me for the wrong reasons, Jesus says.

I fed you, and all you want is more food.

Isn’t that just like Jesus – people are making conversation –

maybe they just want to know how the trip across the lake was

(frightening for some – uneventful for Jesus, but that’s another story),

and Jesus wants to talk Theology…

well – it doesn’t start off sounding like theology – but Jesus always turns the talk to God in the end.

The people had been amazed by the abundance of bread and fish.

The people had been clamouring for a sign –

for some proof that Jesus’ God talk was leading to something earth-shaking.

Perhaps this excess of food was that sign, who knows,

but Jesus isn’t interested in signs.

The people want a sign God’s people are always looking for a sign;

for some evidence that giving their allegiance to God has not been a mistake.

God seems to have been more than obliging in the past – Abraham got a sign.

Joseph got a sign. Jeremiah, Isaiah, Amos – they got signs – not that anyone listened –

but the people remember that, once upon a time, there were signs.

Moses fed us in the desert, they tell Jesus. What’s your trick?

Jesus trick is simple – and it’s no trick. Believe in God – believe also in me.

Believe in the one whom God has sent.  Tthat is what God requires of you.

Do this work of God, folks, and God will work wonders in you, with you and for you.

The people want bread – the people are bound by their hunger.

They’re stuck in the past and the past will not feed them…

and Jesus calls them to the present.

Moses was then, Jesus says, but here I AM.

God calls you (us) to live in the present – to deal with this reality –

and God is ready, willing and able to work among you (us) –

What you say Moses did – manna  from heaven – was really God’s doing.

If you could appreciate that for what it was –

if you were really seeing God at work in that old Moses story,

then you wouldn’t be hungry any longer –

for the things of God – the mighty acts of God among, within and around the people of God,

are truly all around you, and they will completely satisfy.

Our hunger is like their hunger.

We will go nearly anywhere to find nourishment –

to be “filled” – some go to church; some go to school.

Some to business,others to pleasure

all seeking the same thing – Satisfaction.

And Jesus says to us the same thing he says to them:

work for food that endures – strive for that which gives life.

That sounds as good today as it did in Jesus day,

but we are still struggling with the words Jesus used to sum up this teaching:

I am the bread…”

We hear this talk, and our stomachs take over. We eat, (in this country), and are satisfied.

Very few of us go without food in abundance, and as a result, we think with our bellies.

But there’s more to life than physical hunger.

The act of eating lets us continue to live – and to hunger for other things…

we hunger emotionally, socially, spiritually.

We long to be connected to something that will do more than just occupy us

we want to be completely satisfied – we want our lives to have purpose and direction.

So we claim to live life to the fullest – which means we chase after things, causes, people, activities

so our lives (our calendars) might be full.

Some call this “living”.

But Jesus invites us to live – and when Jesus talks of living – of life –

it is a multi-dimensional experience that involves our physical, mental, intellectual and spiritual selves.

God created us as complete beings,

and Jesus invites us to live out our completeness

by following his example – by acknowledging his living presence.

So what does it mean to be complete?

Can we be completed by our worship – our work – our rest – our play?

Are we born complete, destined to spend our lives squandering that fullness?

Does completeness come only at the end of our lives, leaving us to mourn that it didn’t come sooner?

Or is completeness one of those rare and wonderful conditions

– like “love” – like “hope” – like “faith” – like God’s own nature –

that has no beginning and no end – that just is…

Believe in me and in the one who sent me, Jesus says

and we are promised that if we believe, we can (will!) be changed.

Our emptiness will finally be filled,

not by joy of our own making, but by the “living Bread from heaven”.

We can and we have filled our lives with all sorts of activities,

some good and meaningful and marvellous –

but each of them leaves us longing for more –

none of them can really make us complete.

Jesus insists that if the activities in (of) our lives are God directed and God focused,

we can (and will!) be complete,

not just for a moment, but for eternity.

Jesus’ invitation is to enjoy the fullness of God’s grace that is always there;

a fullness that we cannot create for ourselves,

but has been opened to us by Jesus living, dying and rising.