Posts Tagged ‘leadership’

Let’s get this party started: Party tricks from the Gospel of John.

January 19, 2013

John’s gospel offers nothing accidentally.

The famous prologue draws heavily on images from Genesis – tying Jesus beginnings to the opening notes of Creation.  The first chapter then moves rapidly through a series of encounters between Jesus and disciples of John the Baptizer, who, through these encounters, become the earliest disciples of Jesus.  John’s gospel rushes through these meetings: “the next day…the next day…the next day…,” one after the other the disciples are gathered.  And just like that we come to chapter two. “On the third day…” begins the narrator, and we are suddenly and significantly connected to the Easter story – this is no accident.

John wants his audience to know that everything that happens hinges on the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus.  The purpose and mission of Christ is not a secret, like in Mark – there is no mystery to unravel except the mystery of God’s faithfulness in the face of human indifference and sin.  The wine from water trick, if you will, is easily understood once you understand the glorious power of God being revealed in the Christ.  But there are those in the story who don’t notice this – the main characters are ignorant of the real significance of Jesus supposed party trick.

John’s gospel pretends Jesus is indifferent; “what business is it of ours?” he asks his mother.  But this is John’s point to make, and he’ll do it his way.  The guests (and the host, for that matter) are only aware of an impending shortage.  “They have no wine…” is a prelude to a scandalous breach of hospitality, one that would surely stain the reputation of any respectable person – who throws a party and then fails to provide the “basic necessities” for the celebration? – the absence  of a thing was likely to be the front page news ; the wine deficit their primary concern.  Until a mother insisted that her son might be of assistance.

Notice that the focus for most of the people – the wine steward, the bridegroom, and eventually the guests – is the fact that the party has been saved.  New wine.  Good wine.  The best wine, in fact, has been brought out in the moment of need.  The day has been saved, and no one seems to know (or care) how it happened.

The servants know.  The disciples know.  And that seems to be John’s point.   There is a very limited audience for the real miracle – the revelation of glory of God in the person of Jesus.  What John’s gospel calls “this first of his signs” is an event that has no real meaning in and of itself; it points to something else.  Jesus could have done anything – turned sawdust into sourdough, or sewage into sweet water.  It really doesn’t matter – because the stories John tells about transformation are  to only told to remind us of the power and glory of God.

So on a day when the lessons remind us of our giftedness, and our unity in those gifts, it is no accident that we are given John’s account of Jesus first ‘revelation’ to consider.  For what are we (on most days) but guests at a fantastic banquet, gathered together once a week to remind ourselves how privileged we are, except we are keenly aware that the wine is running out, and we don’t know what to do. We talk, when pressed, as though we want (and NEED), a miracle; a sign; a reminder of just how privileged and gifted we are, but would we recognize it?  Would we find that we are just like the majority of the guests at this Canaanite wedding – relieved that the party can continue for a while longer, and ignorant of the real reason?

The Scriptures offer other “banquet” metaphors, which cast us as the invited guests, but I am reminded by this morning’s gospel lesson that if we understand our call correctly, we take a different role first.  We stand with the servants and the early disciples, and watch as, with a word, Jesus calls wine from water jars, and offers us the chance to believe that God’s power and glory has come close to us.

If we are merely guests at this party, then the news that the celebration might end prematurely is of no consequence; we can always find another party.  But we are not guests – we are disciples of Christ.  We have witnessed the glory of God come close.  We have been touched by the miracle of resurrection; tasted the new wine of the covenant, and as a result, we can’t just wait for the “wine” to come round again – we are the stewards, offering the gifts we have been given so that others can experience what we have experienced; God with us.  Love made manifest.  The word made flesh.

The lesson for us in the water made wine is one of intentionality.  God’s gift to us transforms the ordinary and opens us to the extraordinary.  It is a sign for us, who have forgotten how eager God is to reach out to us.  It is a challenge to us, who have too long taken our places at the party for granted.

The celebration continues, and we know the reason;  the holy one – Jesus the Christ – was crucified, died and is risen that we might never be parted from God’s presence.  What we do with that knowledge will determine our path, as individuals, as congregations, denominations, as the whole body of Christ.  The gift has been given – the wine will not run out – what will your reaction be to this work of generous grace?  Amen.

No favourites here

October 17, 2009

It’s not enough to say – “everyone is equal before God”

not enough because we have gone to great lengths to prove that statement false.

Easier to say, perhaps, that “some are more equal than others” – this, we can verify.

We are not ready to see one another equally – in spite of some excellent progress –

because we always seem ready to play favourites – always ready to add a feather to our own cap.

Don’t get me wrong – most of the time, we get along just fine.

We appreciate one another’s strengths – support one another in weakness –

there is such a great need for skills and service within our communities and our organizations

that we can always find a task to suit someone’s particular gift – to make them feel included, needed – like they belong.

But we stop short at real equality.

We are caught up in priority – in “who should be first”

because we need people who can lead, and having found them, we ascribe to them

status that is beyond their station – power and influence that does not always reflect their gifts.

We see this in athletics – in business – in politics – and of course, in the church.

I say of course because the church is made up of people –

people who, while they should know better – should act differently –

often don’t.

How could we be any different that those first disciples?

James and John – they weren’t called the ‘sons of thunder” for nothing

bold – opinionated – eager for the kingdom – and eager, it seems,

to rise to the top of this new, exciting movement of God’s people.

Too eager, perhaps…

“Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”

that question does not bother Jesus, nor should it bother us.

These are Jesus’ friends, and friends should be willing to do anything for one another –

so ask you question, Jesus says.

“Put us on your left and right when you come in glory.”

there is the request that rankles…

James and John assume that God’s kingdom will look like any other kingdom – that there will be a need for someone to “take charge”…

To James and John, Jesus says simply – that’s not my decision.

But when hurt feelings start to show, and the other disciples start to grumble

Jesus goes back to his real message – the last shall be first; they have heard that before –

what Jesus has been trying to tell them – to show them – is that there are no favourites in God’s plan.

So what does a kingdom of equals look like?

How does a community choose leaders without making favourites?

If we’re must live among systems that routinely place one over another,

how can we make room in those systems for the things of God?

Jesus answer is service.

Each serves the other – and the greatest will be the slave of all.

Quite a proposal, but it is one that we are called to accept, as disciples of Christ.

In the Presbyterian Church in Canada,

following this model means our courts- except session –

are composed of equal numbers of teaching elders (ministers) and ruling elders.

The leaders of those courts are called moderators –

they cannot vote, they can only moderate the discussion.

People don’t seek these positions as signs of their success,

they are called to them, after a period of discernment,

by a process that considers their gifts and the needs of the court (or congregation).

in St Andrew’s church, Westville – following Christ’s model of service

has lead you to open your doors to various community groups;

This idea of service has challenged you to minister to families who grieve.

Christ’s call to serve has enabled you to come together for work parties –

to engage in a new and exciting Sunday School curriculum,

to show hospitality to one another at the meet & greet through the long winter months,

and to undertake the search for a new minister.

The goal in all this is service –

our collected wisdom serves the gathered people of God and seeks always God’s glory.

Our gathered gifts fund ministries here and across the globe that fill desperate needs.

The strong support the weak – the gifts of all are shared for the good of all –

and through these several, unselfish acts of service, the kingdom of God comes here among you.

That is the community we shall always seek to be –

equal in our sharing, equal in our curiosity, equal in our wonder before God

if we truly want to see that kingdom come,

we will keep finding way to honour others above ourselves.

We will keep searching for projects that invite –

for opportunities to practice hospitality –

for the joy that comes in sharing those strengths that make us who we are,

in ways that honour our neighbours needs .

To do this is to serve Christ – who came only seeking to serve us.

May our service bring us joy – and may our joy bring God glory, honour and praise – amen.

Caught up in God’s good work…

July 25, 2009

It is hard to imagine anyone more impressive that David.

Newly crowned as king. Successful in everything he puts his mind to

adored by the people – impressive in appearance – fully established as God’s chosen leader –

there seems no end to his potential – and it seems even Nathan has become a fan.

“Go and do all you have in mind;” says the prophet, “for the Lord is with you.”

That is powerful affirmation for a guy who really didn’t need any convincing –

who has decided that it is time for God to settle down.

No more tents – no more wandering – no more rough desert dwellings for the Lord of Hosts

David has decided that God needs a permanent residence.

It isn’t hard to understand why David would want this –

what better way to announce God’s victory and the triumph of God’s chosen people

than to put down roots and put up tributes.

Buildings spoke of permanence and (success) – {Why NOT honour God in this manner?}

this building project wouldn’t do David any harm either,

to become known as the one who established God in the land

the one who honoured God by (finally) housing God in splendour in the city of David, er, I mean, God.

And here we come to one of the perpetual problems of God’s faithful people.

God smiles on us – we honour God – and the tribute always seems to give us glory too;

an ‘accidental addition’, perhaps, but not one we are ready to run away from.

We forget, in our haste to ‘establish God” that God has no need of our help –

in fact, from the beginning is has been quite the opposite.

It is our need of God that drives us to use our abilities to their fullest – to achieve greatness…

Nathan’s night-time vision affirms this.

The prophet’s (understandable) enthusiasm for his new king

are abruptly over ruled by the King of Kings.

I brought the people up, says the Lord

I took you, David, out from among the sheep and made you great

I have been moving about in tents,

and I will decide when to settle and who will build.

I have given you much says God through the prophet

don’t take liberties with God’s favour…

it’s not difficult to do.

We accept that God has smiled on us – we rejoice in the goodness God shows us through Christ.

We embrace our new lives as free and forgiven people

and then we forget.

We forget that we are changed only by God’s grace.

We forget that we are only witnesses to God’s glory

and assume too much about what God’s favour really means.

Like David, we take too much for granted – and we take too much credit.

We go too far with our new-found freedom in Christ

believing that what is true for us should be true for all.

And God’s truth waits for us when our dreaming is done…

How easy it is to get caught up in the work of God.

The work becomes tightly connected to our self-worth, and our understanding of who we are – how we might be remembered.

We speak passionately about the history and the future of the church – OUR church – forgetting that the church’s mission is to help people honour God first with our worship – to always keep God in the centre of all we do – forgetting that it is not our church at all.

it’s good work – meaningful and mighty – and if we don’t do it, someone else will –

and while we busy ourselves with the things we believe to be important,

God continues to seek and to find – to comfort and to save –

without the benefit of our earnest efforts.

We, like David, seek to build a legacy for God.

A sound congregation – a community of people

who treasure the things we do and the place we share.

We desperately want to point to something and say

“look at who God is, and what God has done for us…”

But David’s story urges us to remember who we are and who God is.

We are encouraged to honour God in ways that make God the focus.

And so in every effort we make, as followers of Christ,

we must ask the question “what is our real motivation here?”

Do we gather and worship so that people will know how faithful we are,

or so that we can declare to any and all who listen, just how good God is?

Do we plan and spend and raise funds

so the things we treasure might continue into the next generation,

or is our work an offering of love, in response to the love God has shown us?

Do we simply maintain and renovate our buildings

because we can’t imagine our community without them,

or is there a deep desire in us to keep aside a sacred space

in which people can come and gather and experience the joy we have known

when met by the living God in these places?

Our motives are hardly ever pure – and so we have Christ’s pure example

who continues, in the Spirit, to meet us – to rescue us –

to redeem us from traps of our own making,

and with God’s help, by Christ’s example, in the strength of the Spirit

we will be able to offer our every moment

to God’s greater glory – now and always

Amen