Posts Tagged ‘purpose’

Mission & Fishin’: a sermon for mission awareness Sunday, 2017

May 7, 2017

A meeting with Jesus on the beach; “this now being the third time that Jesus had appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead” (John 21:14). The third time…maybe the old wisdom holds some truth, about things always happening in threes.  But setting that aside, this is an unusual encounter.

The disciples are back in circulation.  No more locked doors, no more hiding in grief.  There’s life to be lived, and livings to be earned, and Peter announces, without much fanfare, “I’m going fishing!”.  Back to the sea; back to the familiar family business that, only a few short years ago they had (many of them) left behind at Jesus invitation.  “Come and fish for people”, Jesus had said, and they did – gladly – though it had not ended well…

So back to the boats, dreams of a heavenly revolution spectacularly crushed by Rome’s earthly might and the intention (or indifference) of the keepers of religious purity.  The mission now was as it always had been; survive and adjust; safety in silent determination to be just who they were.  Fishermen.]

Except that everything is NOT as it was.  Jesus is there.  He’s been showing up in the strangest places – locked rooms, country roads, on the grounds of a disrupted graveyard – they think, they hope that it’s Jesus; it MUST BE Jesus!  The narrator goes back and forth about their certainty – their fear (which never really goes away) – and Jesus offers them sympathy, understanding, and some angling advice.  “Cast your net to the right side of the boat…”

After a night – a season – of frustration, abundance!  There are many fish; TOO many.  There is careful recognition; TOO careful, after a week (or more) of uncertainty and stories and visions and hope.  And there is Jesus; pointing them, once again, to abundance, to forgiveness, and to a new and extremely challenging purpose.  Feed my sheep, he says.  A seemingly harmless request, except that John’s telling of Peter’s redemption ends in sinister terms for Peter:

“Some one will fasten your hands and take you

where you do not wish to go…”

Too often we reduce this encounter to a reminder of how Peter’s life comes to a close (the narrator says so, but remember this account is written at least 100 years after the resurrection…) – We prefer to see this as Jesus putting Peter back on the road to discipleship after his emphatic denials on the night of Jesus’ arrest, but there is also contained here an interesting (and risky) metaphor for the church and her mission.

Feeding sheep – tending lambs – spreading the gospel are all excellent things…necessary things, to be sure.  The work requires energy and enthusiasm, creativity and imagination – and when the work seems finished, or the energy and enthusiasm wanes (as must happen from time to time), what then?  When churches are established and rules have been framed and the world (as we know it) has been nicely ordered according to Christian principles (such was the dream) – when all this is accomplished, what then?

Emil Brunner, a renowned theologian of the early twentieth century, was famous for having said “The church exists by mission just as a flame exists by burning”.   His suggestion was that ‘mission’ and ‘church’ are inseparable terms; you can’t have one or the other – you must (by definition) have both or nothing at all.  So it is not enough to have the rules sorted and the buildings maintained in perpetuity.  It’s not enough to have generations of people claiming membership, or believing that they have founded a country on ‘Christian principles’.  The country (or institution, or family) that is christian ‘in name only’ is not Christian.  The church that ‘supports mission” elsewhere, but is not engaged in the needs, joys and endeavours of its neighbours, is missing something life-giving.

Such questions have been much on my mind these last couple of years.  As the situations in our local churches tends more and more toward ‘survival’, we lose sight of what it is we ought to be doing.  “What is our purpose?”  “Why is our survival important?”  “What is it that makes the church, THE CHURCH?”  We have heard (and asked) these questions often enough, and the shortage of easy answers frightens us.  It is easier to take the path that Peter took, in the hours leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion…”I swear I don’t know!”  Such an answer makes it easy to turn the responsibility over to someone else – anyone else – so long as it isn’t ‘my” problem.

And it is to us that Jesus returns; for this reason was Jesus raised.  There on the beach, when we imagine that the danger has passed, and we can go back to doing the familiar things – the things that play to our strengths (whether or not they represent a response to God’s call to us) – here in this time, when we would rather enjoy the fruits of our labours (or the results of our resolute ‘stay-the-course’ tactics, Jesus comes and gently reminds us that the mission of the church is the purpose of the church.  That the faithful (and the fallen) must still – always – be fed; that our failure to do so is always forgiven; and that in our maturity of faith – in the full exercise of that mission given by God, we might well be led in directions that don’t seem natural (or even safe) for us.

This is the season we celebrate our risen Saviour; surprising us by his presence, in rooms we considered safe – on roads travelled in fear – on beaches we’d rather were empty.  When Jesus meets us we are forced to consider that we might have failed, saving his presence.  For when Jesus meets us, our courage returns, our hearts are strangely warmed, our supposed failures find new interpretation – success simply by casting a net off ‘the other side of the boat’…

It seems too easy – that our acknowledging Jesus’ presence; our naming the Risen Saviour; our acceptance, both of God’s forgiveness, and God’s invitation, might lead to something wonderful and unexpected – a discovery that the mission of the church is found (and accomplished) in our engagement with our neighbour, our opposition to injustice, our admission that grace and goodness, righteousness and faith might look different that we have long imagined.

What does the Lord require…?

January 29, 2017

There is no escape from our expectations.  Every public figure; every significant relationship; every organization and individual has goals to achieve – all of us have some hope that certain things will happen.  And each one of us has a unique understanding of how things should happen.  Our expectations keep us motivated and engaged; it’s how we hold one another accountable.  They are also serve to disappoint and discourage.

We expect politicians to work for the collective good and interest of the municipalities, regions and nations whom they represent.  Authority figures are expected to uphold the law – and citizens are expected to obey.  We expect teachers to serve the needs of their students – and students to be respectful of their teachers.  Schools expect loyalty (and money) from their graduates; We are asked to cheer harder for “the home team” – stand for the anthem, honour the flag, and defend the truth as it is told by our fellow citizens, our co-religionists, our neighbours, allies and friends.

Based on recent experience and the series of unfortunate events that have made the news recently, it would be easy to argue that we should lower our expectations where public figures are concerned – to save ourselves from constant disappointment…there is not much optimism in us lately, either politically, economically, or in matters of faith, and that is the fault of our expectations.

It is easy to believe that things will “always get better” – a little optimism is good for the soul – but to demand improvement; to expect limitless expansion; to imagine and endless cycle of wonderful is ours by divine right – that’s not optimism, that’s foolishness.  History tells a different tale – a cycle of success and failure of nations, markets and even the importance of religion in society is easy to discern – yet we have our expectations, don’t we.

The history of God’s people that is revealed by Scripture reveals a similar sort of cycle.  The nation prospers; faith falls away.  The nation suffers, and faith is renewed.  Always, more is hoped for – and always, the future holds the promise of perfection.

Early in Matthew’s gospel, as Jesus gathers his disciples on the beach, there is a feeling of expectation in the air once again.  Israel has been consumed by Roman expansion and occupation.  The stirrings of religious revival are there – in the wilderness, with characters like John Baptizing and preaching and stirring up the slumbering expectations of the people.  Jesus makes his entrance  under John’s leadership, but soon takes a spot in the front lines of this movement.  And his first act is to gather his disciples together, apart from the crowds (though the crowds seemed to find them eventually) and reset their expectations.

The secular and the sacred are never far removed in peoples minds.  Even in a culture as secular as ours, we hold ideas and habits that speak to our deep yearning for something holy – something “Spiritual” – and to begin their apprenticeship in this renewal movement with Jesus, those early disciples needed to ‘relearn’ some things.  Their expectations of how God works and who it is that God calls blessed, for example, must be reconsidered.

Thus the opening statements in what we know as the sermon on the mount help to realign those expectations in a world where “blessed” had come to mean “powerful” or “wealthy” or “successful”.  Jesus might have been offering them a pattern of behaviour, but I think he was also trying to remind them that the religious expectations that they had grown up with had been twisted by human habits.  Jesus, by his words and actions, will not just realign, but defy the expectations of  people – religious or secular – before his arrest and after his resurrection.  That’s what Jesus does.

So it is not really a surprise that, two thousand years on, we find our expectations bent out of shape again.  The church has endured corrective measures – division, reformation, renewal movements and the like – but still we are surprised by a lack of enthusiasm or a fall from public favour that is tied directly to the churches understanding of itself.

“What does the church require of you?” is the question that keeps curious people from further involvement – and the churches requirements, while simple enough (in our minds) are usually things that serve the churches interest; we require your devotion – your commitment – your energy – your money.  And, of course, this commitment should cross generations – bring your children and your children’s children.  Our future is only assured if people meet these expectations of membership, faithfulness, and exclusive devotion to the cause.

Churches / denomination have been struggling to repackage these expectations – to make them palatable for those who have no history with the institution – it’s not working, in case you hadn’t noticed.  Our expectations hinder us, because they can’t help but pull us away from the vision that Jesus offered as the baseline for those who would follow him in seeking God’s rule in their lives and in the wider world; the lost – the lonely – the curious – the kind; these are the people who are on ‘the right track’…they shall see God, receive mercy, be called Blessed.

Our expectations are not evil – but they are not pushing us forward.  They leave aside notions of justice and mercy – they abandon love in favour of security, and in time we forget that not only has God asked us to seek mercy and justice, but  God has promised us the security that we so eagerly seek.  It won’t be found in our particular success, whether as a nation, or a culture, nor even as a branch of the Christian Church – the security offered by God is found in the humble submission to the expectation of God.  To do justice, and love kindness and walk humbly with God.  This was the path that Jesus chose – these are the expectations Jesus outlines for those who would follow him – in these simple instructions, we might find all our expectations fully met, and all for God’s glory.

Not the way it ought to be…

January 15, 2017

Not the way it ought to be…we have said that often enough.  In the last 12 months, I have certainly said that often enough.  When things are sliding south – when troubles mount and anxiety and grief are overwhelming – it is natural to consider that life isn’t as it should be.  All of us believe (at some level) that there is a ‘master plan’, except that it has been abandoned in favour of chaos.

This may be what is behind John’s reluctance to baptize Jesus.

John has been acting as a herald – the one who proclaims that God’s ultimate messenger is just over the horizon.  John is the prophet of “big changes are coming”.  He sings his songs in the key of Isaiah, for the kingdom John proclaims is God’s kingdom of justice and peace and righteousness.  John describes “one who is coming” to set things right – a king unlike any king the world has ever known – and on very little evidence (at least it is so in Matthew’s gospel) John has decided that Jesus is THE ONE.

Everything we think we know about the relationship between Jesus and John comes from other sources.  Matthew’s gospel brings us first John, then Jesus praised (and baptized) by John.  Whatever their relationship, John has decided that the kingdom is upon them and that Jesus is the embodiment of that kingdom – God’s justice; God’s peace; God’s righteousness have come together (for John) in Jesus…and yet Jesus asks to be baptized by John…it defies logic!

Whatever John expected, this wasn’t it.  Why would God’s chosen one need repentance?  Why would the one who represented God’s righteous judgement – God’s merciful justice – why would such a one as Jesus submit to such a humbling act as Baptism?  For Baptism was (and remains) an act of great humility…

But here he is, and surely Jesus has been among the crowds long enough to know that Baptism demands repentance – signifies a turning from self and a turning (again) towards the things of God…and that is when we discover that Jesus Ito is familiar with Isaiah’s songbook.  “Let it be so now…for it is proper in this way to fulfill all righteousness…”

Jesus – even Jesus – will humble himself in the sight of the Lord; for justice is not the concern of the proud; righteousness is not the territory of the powerful; real righteousness is the privilege and property of God.  God calls servants in righteousness – indeed, God’s call defines righteousness – and it is God’s righteousness that is satisfied by Jesus insistence on being baptized.  Jesus follows this path of humility and service for God’s sake, not for Jesus’ own agenda.

Jesus is not ‘proving’ his omnipotence – Jesus is not suggesting that he knows how the story will end so that John will provide the necessary plot line.  Jesus is acknowledging that no matter how he (or we) might interpret Scripture, or the events of our lives, there is always a power at work that outranks, out thinks and out lasts us all.

+++++

This is our hope – when we declare with a sigh that “this is not the way it should be…”  Our hope is that “master plan” that lies hidden at the edge of our awareness actually has a Master; our hope is that the plans we make – plans that always seem to be frustrated by circumstances beyond our control – might somehow be rescued by divine intervention.  Even those who claim no; faith carry that hope within them – that is why there are lotteries in developed countries.  (no, I’m not suggesting that God is somehow at work in lottery wins…)

The point is we hope for help from beyond ourselves because we recognize that our plans are not always successful, and our abilities are not always sufficient to navigate the changeable circumstances of life on this planet.  And we find that hope in Jesus, because Jesus points to God in hope when he asks to be Baptized.  Jesus is seeking God’s will – not because he knows what it is, but because he trusts God to meet the needs of God’s faithful people.  Putting yourself in God’s hands, as Jesus does, is to admit that there is a power in creation that wants (ultimately) only good for us (and for all creation)

So things aren’t supposed to be like this.  Churches aren’t supposed to struggle – the Good News shouldn’t be so hard to share (or so hard to hear…) – those who follow Christ, who answer, in faith, the call of God, ought to find peace and comfort and joy in abundance…but reality is uncomfortably intrusive.  Churches are closing.  The faithful are struggling to find interest and enthusiasm for the message of the Gospel.

The ‘timeless promises of God’ seem to taunt our efforts to live into the peaceable kingdom declared by prophets and poets in Scripture.  And Jesus comes – at a time when chaos reigned and the Romans had their way with the world and says quietly to John “Let it be so now…”

Let the powerful make their noise; let it seem as though chaos will reign.  The peace that passes understanding is a whispered word in the furious storms that surround us, and whispers are often lost in the wind, but this Word made flesh will one day still the storm and hush the wind.  Jesus, who comes in humility and points to the rock-solid constancy of God, will demonstrate for us how to navigate the stormy waters of uncertainty.  Aware of the chaos, but never losing sight of the presence and purposes of God, Jesus  leads us through baptism – through death – and into the heart of God’s “master plan”.

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So Jesus is both prophet and the answer to prophecy.  He walks into his earthly ministry full of a desire for the things of God – never sure what they may look like – and invites us to follow his path; to walk with him on our own journey, that he might lead us to a life full of promise – full of hope – full of God; for that is how it ‘ought’ to be.  Thanks be to God.  Amen

Justice

October 16, 2016

What does justice look like?  Some would answer “fairness” – others “equality”; still others will tell you that justice is blind, and by that they mean, not always fair, or equal.  If you listen to some conversations about justice, you might come to the conclusion that justice means (for certain individuals, organizations or nations) “getting what I want”…real justice is all of those things AND none of those thing.

A parable: A judge who fears neither God nor had any respect for people meets a widow demanding justice, and the stage is set for a mammoth battle of wills.  The widow is persistent, perhaps she is entitled, but the evidence is scarce; the judge is stubborn – haughty, even – yet his word has the effect of law.

As the story goes, the widow prevails because of her persistence.  She wears down this fearless, egotistical manipulator of the justice.  The problem is, his ruling in the widow’s favour is a miscarriage of justice, even as justice was understood in the day.

Listen to what the unjust judge says:

“Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, because this woman is bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by coming continually to me.”

And we make the mistake of equating God’s justice with the pattern revealed in this parable.

We know a little bit about injustice – we share stories / anecdotes about “the way the system works” – and so we approach justice of all kinds with a siege mentality.  Persistence pays.  The plaintiff is warned that time and patience will be rewarded, but the problem with patient persistence is that justice is not always served by such an approach – the playing field becomes tilted towards the loud, the powerful, and the persistent, and occasionally we are directed to this ‘biblical example’ – but Jesus parable is, according to Luke, about the need to pray and NOT LOSE HEART…something is missing between our hearing and our application of this lesson.

This lesson in persistence comes at a critical point in Luke’s Gospel.  Jesus is answering questions about the coming Kingdom – people are frightened and eager for the oppression of the present to be replaced by God’s kingdom of justice and peace.  And without revealing anything about a timeline, Jesus counsels patience, warns of suffering still to be endured, and then suggests that the kingdom will come swiftly, without fanfare.  Those who point to the signs of its coming are trying to deceive you (Luke 17: 23).  When justice comes – when the kingdom comes – the speed of God’s acting will be instant; that’s how God is…

So this suggestion that we must be persistent in prayer, and ever hopeful in our anticipation of the promised reign of God is an indictment of our attitudes; our calculating approach to justice, and all things of value, is called into question by this parable.

In our culture, persistence is usually valued.  We are often encouraged to solve our problems and satisfy our needs by simply “sticking with it” – when given the choice between “good things come to those who wait”, and “the squeaky wheel gets the grease”, it turns out we prefer grease to delayed gratification.

This appears to be the case in so many popular protest movements – all operating in a manner designed to overwhelm the target group, and bring about the desired change…as quickly as possible.  This may be an effective management/marketing strategy, but it rarely results in justice.  In many cases – as in our example from the gospel – the rights (so called) of the persistent are exchanged for the rights of the passive; the result is still out of balance.

We are guilty of imagining this imbalance in God’s justice, and so we rail at God for our case to be heard, and conclude that we are not nearly persistent enough when our prayers are not granted.  We make bargains with God, and are surprised when that strategy fails to bring us what we want.  We imagine that God can be ‘worn down’ by our efforts – that a marathon of petitioning prayer will somehow, suddenly undo centuries of our persistent inhumanity, and when it doesn’t, we accuse God of indifference or (worse), injustice.  When we use this particular parable as an excuse for our approach, we fall short of the mark – we do injustice to the Gospel.

Jesus parable is a parable of “negative comparison”.  The “unjust judge” does one thing, but God will surely grant justice to those who seek it – and, indeed justice is always part of God’s operational plan.  Divine justice is not in the satisfying humiliation of a particular enemy, but found in the love and compassion that is inherent in the way Jesus calls us to treat one another.  God’s justice is not satisfied by our grudging assent to a list of “thou shalt not” conditions but it blossoms when the commandments are observed out of love for God, neighbour and ourselves.

We need be persistent, not because God will grow weary of listening, and grant justice for God’s own convenience…rather, our persistence should come from our desire to seek God in all things.  God’s preference is to grant justice, and justice will quickly come – our persistence is easily outdistanced by the speed of God’s acting.

Our persistence should be a function of faith – we desire God’s mercy/justice because we believe in it!  The widow wants only to overwhelm the wicked judge, not for the sake of justice, but because it could be ‘negotiated’.  God’s attitudes toward justice are more gracious; more generous by far, and Jesus – in every circumstance – points us to those gracious features in the character of God.  Unlike that wicked judge, God requires neither manipulation, nor persuasion.   God is revealed by Jesus to be ready to serve – ready to usher in justice and do mercy – where ever faith may be found.

I love a parade. (part two)

November 2, 2014

Is this really a good time for Jesus to start a parade into town? He has been putting the powerful in their place at every opportunity; reframing their questions and suggesting that the answers only point to a strange kind of revolution – one where the least shall be great, and the weak are the most powerful. Jesus is the one that eeryone is talking about – the headline news in certain circles: “have you head about how he treated the Pharisees?” – “ a different teaching – with authority!” – “I was blind, but now I see…” – in a time before instant messages or constant news, the rumour mill was the height of technology, and you cna be sure that Jesus’ exploits have been shared (and possibly ‘liked’) by a large percentage of the population.

So is this good marketing, or a singularly bad idea:

Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, “The Lord needs them.”

Because we are used to reading this text in Holy Week, we know that there will be a price to pay for this sort of cheek; Mocking the powerful and accepting the people’s praise is going to get you the wrong kind of attention. There is more than one ancient prophecy about to be brought to life, and it is an important feature in the drama leading up to Jesus crucifixion, but what is the point of this kind of behaviour? It is more than just the opening act of Jesus passion – a ‘king’ on a donkey; a passionate preacher trashing the furniture at the entrance to the temple – what’s the real story here?

Jesus has asked his followers for something different; he has challenged their understanding of the law of Moses; he urges them to reconsider their ideas about who God is and how God can be approached. He is trying to redifine righteousness, touching the untouchable, eating with the unclean, ignoring the habits of faith that separated the “chosen” from the forgotten. In a region ruled by Roman might – among a people with long memories (for the liberating promises of God) but little experience (beyond opression and captivity of their own generation) – the ideas of Jesus (who is only too happy to practice what he preaches) are not just religious nonsense – they are political propaganda.

So when you act out of your convictions, you draw attention (and potentially harm) to yourself and your ideas. When you question the religious practice of long standing (selling ‘perfect/acceptable’ offerings [at a profit] is a method of controlling both the style and substance of worship) the frozen chosen are not likely going to rush to your defence when the authorities come calling. Jesus is working under the shadow of destruction long before the cross is laid on his sholders – and that, I think, is the REAL story.

As the passion story meets us in the long season before Advent, Matthew’s gospel reminds us that everyone who chooses to follow this (comical) king who longs to see holiness represented in the temple – everyone who is attracted by a kingdom founded on love where even the poor and the outcast have a place – all of us who take Jesus as our model are working under the shadow of the cross. Destruction is assured; the establishment will not be mocked; power does not easily lose its attraction for those who hold it. We are pledged to what seems like a losing cause.

Consider the discussions we have – the dreams we have for the church as a voice of reason, and a place of influence. We are told that this is how it used to be, but a church in “power” is not what Jesus called into being. Jesus started a movement that spoke truth to power, and suffered for it. The “main-stream” is not where we were meant to swim, and we need to accept that.

Jesus is not given a heroes welcome on that day in Jerusalem – this is a parody of a parade. His real business is revealed in his actions at the temple; rearranging, not just the furniture, but the focal point of God’s worshipping people. “a house of prayer, not a den of robbers”. This is not a blow to the Sunday shopping crowd, but a wake up call for those whose defence is “we’ve always done it that way”

So we are not the hottest ticket in town. Crowds don’t rush to our services (just our dinners). Our strength – indeed, our only purpose as the gathered people of God is prayer – worship – praise. And we must find a way to continue to do those things – in spite of the burden of our buildings, and the burden of our expectations of ‘success’. Our buildings are too big, and too costly to maintain – let’s find smaller buildings. There are too many churches for such a small population (some say) – Let’s unite with our neighbours in faith. Let’s put aside the notion that worship can only happen on certain days, at certain times – ideas that mean we are routinely excluding folks who work weekends, or rotating shifts. Jesus saw that the faithful had fallen into a trap – the safety and security of something familiar, which had strayed from its original purpose – and he challenged them to return to that purpose. We are drawn into that same challenge.

The church still has work to do – the gospel of Christ still has the ability to change lives and offer hope. Our community needs what we can offer, hospitality; compassion; celebration; and of course, an opportunity to seek the Holy One in all those activities. We must keep Jesus’ challenge before us – we must approach questions of sustainability and existence from positions of prayer and praise. Our work in worship must inform our work in the world. When it does – when faith is revealed in all its power and majesty – that will be reason enough for a parade.

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow. Amen

An isolated incident…?

September 9, 2012

An isolated incident…?

So it would seem, as Mark’s gospel describes Jesus comings and goings

between Tyre and the region around the sea of Galilee.

He has healed the sick – walked on water – argued with the elders,

and generally made known his feelings concerning the wisdom /folly of his family of faith.

He is constantly asking those whose lives he has changed to tell no one –

his secret (it seems) must be kept for a while…

But there is no hiding the grace of God when it walks abroad in the light of day.

Jesus fame races ahead of him to Tyre –

even the gentiles have decided to take a chance

on this strange and wonderful man of God from Nazareth.

So we come to this seemingly “isolated incident” –

a foreign woman (that is, NOT one of the chosen people of God)

comes and throws herself at Jesus feet,

and begs healing for her daughter  (who has an unclean spirit).

So far so good – a familiar story

–          except that she is not a Jew…

…and we think we know what to expect.

As usual, we are mistaken.

Jesus – kind and gentle –

full of mercy and the love and wisdom of the One God –

tells this woman that she and her daughter are not worth his time –

nothing more than dogs!

The Jesus WE know would not act like that!

The Saviour we trust is not so harsh…right?

We are presented with a pretty puzzle in the Gospel of Mark –

first with Jesus continual admonition to silence –

and then, of course, with this encounter, that is unusual in every possible way.

A woman dares to approach – to speak – to make a request!

Uncalled for (in Jesus culture)

A gentile presumes to ask a favour of God!

Preposterous!

Everyone knows that God has made a choice,

and that choice is limited.

And most remarkable of all –

having been once denied, this woman persists,

and Jesus grants her request.

It seems Jesus’ mind can be changed – Jesus convictions are still being shaped.

Jesus sees the injustice in his original position and repents!

And the child is healed, and the woman is satisfied…

And we are left to consider what it means for us.

For our minds have been made up long ago, where Jesus is concerned.

God is God –  the same yesterday, today and forever.

And if God is unchangeable, so too must God’s people remain firm in their convictions –

Christ’s Church must maintain her traditions and standards and principles,

Ferociously; to the end – AMEN.

And yet – is God not swayed (throughout Scripture) by calls for mercy –

both from the chosen and the forsaken?

Don’t our perceptions of perfection in Jesus take a hit

when we examine his encounter in Tyre with this nameless, “godless” woman?

The story of redemption is fixed in print, thanks to Herr Gutenberg,

but does that mean the ways of God are static and staid,

unable to adapt to the changing state of humanity?

Jesus choice in this particular incident suggests that God can and will err on the side of Grace, every time.

Even when the prejudice is deeply seated, and the convictions – Jesus convictions, in this case – are ancient and immovable – Grace is the way God leans – help is offered, even to those who are “beyond help”

And what does that mean for us?

It means that even our most sacred traditions, our deepest fears, and our most stubborn habits,

are subject to change when exposed to the graceful light of the gospel.

There is no idea so firmly fixed that cannot be changed by the love of God.

No habit so deeply engrained that we cannot – at Christ’s urging – do a different thing.

The last shall be first, the weak – strong; and the story of salvation will be told, in spite of our reluctance.

The mission of the church is not simply to baptise and preach – to tell the story until all have heard it

No, the mission of the people of God is to be changed by the story we tell

To put ourselves in the path of grace;

and allow our path to be changed as a result.

So Jesus changes his mind – an unprecedented act in Scripture;

But the plan of God was not in any way changed by this encounter with a foreign woman.

The love of God – so large that it can embrace the world – has come in this story to the unloved,

And we are called to pay attention.

To turn our eyes to our own situation – to examine the ways that we have frustrated the grace of God

And to err, every time, on the side of the love

that moved Jesus to take back his harsh words

and offer this woman the peace that she longed for.

For we too shall find our peace –

Though not in our own achievements, nor in the success of our endeavours as a congregation.

Our peace is to be found in the love of God, revealed in Jesus Christ;,

who see us as we are,  and invites us (often in unlikely ways)

to grow into our place in the family of God.

The complications of having Jesus as a guest preacher – as revealed in John 2: 13-22

March 11, 2012

On a day when Scripture draws our attention to habits of faith,

as it certainly does in our reading from Exodus,

it is troubling that John invites us to see Jesus at his most  controversial.

 

This is one of those stories about Jesus that appear in all four gospels (a rarity).

It comes at different points in the story for Matthew, Mark and Luke than for John.

This is the first of Jesus’ three (recorded) visits to Jerusalem, at the Passover,

and look at the impression he makes!

 

Off to the temple – presumably to celebrate the holy festival –

only to begin by rearranging the furniture, and upsetting the order of things.

And imagine the distress Jesus causes

for  the traditionalists and the ordinary faithful who “just want to worship”…

 

Let’s put this in context:   a man of faith,

following a personal experience of the presence of God

(at his baptism and subsequent temptation,

arrives to engage in worship, according to the habit of the day,

and tears the place apart!

He scatters the props used in worship

He accuses the faithful – the ordinary and the ordained –

of corrupting the idea of worship, and ignoring the call of God.

He kicks over the table in the entryway – smashes a vase full of flowers –

Starts a stampede of animals and insists that we change our ways…

How would we react?

Would we be as sympathetic if someone we did not know

mounted the pulpit and proceeded to demand (with a not so subtle hint of violence)

that we alter our procedures (and our understanding of what is necessary in service of/to God…)?

 

What is needed for worship?  Where can it happen?

What should it look like?  Who is in charge?

To whom is worship due?

Without asking these questions, Jesus raises the ideas behind them.

This exchange doesn’t lead directly to his arrest (not in John’s version, at least)

but it does spark some conversation (after the fact)

about who is in control, and about the place of the temple,

and the order of things as God seems to understand them (according to Jesus…)

 

John gives us Jesus who is prophetic (and problematic), right from the start;

proclaiming a bold new order of things.

When asked for a sign of his authority to speak so boldly,

Jesus talks of destruction and rebuilding –

Of death and resurrection, says John from the editors desk –

And it isn’t until Jesus had risen that any of his disciples (or anyone else, for that matter)

really understood what  Jesus was talking about.

 

 

 

So -to review:

A stranger, posing as a person of faith, enters a worshipping community,

condemns their practices, upsets the day-to-day routine,

and then suggests that a complete rebuild is in order.

How do we respond?

 

In John’s account, the response is silent disbelief.

In fact, they seem to push the incident aside – forget about it.

But what do we make of this display of Jesus indignation

in a time when worship habits are changing (or disappearing),

and people of faith are struggling to understand  their place in a changing world?

Have we been fooled into thinking that worship is just another activity in an already busy calendar?

Have we collectively committed the sin of turning faith into a commodity;

one more thing to be offered at a price?

We say that the gift of God that we call salvation is free – (Christ picked up the tab) –

But our strongest impulse these days

is to convince (recruit) people willing to join us in our struggle to meet the budget.

 

Let’s be honest –although we would love for more people to join us on Sunday;

Though we are eager for our neighbours and friends to feel as good about God as we (say that we) do,

our rational minds have made the quick calculation: more bodies = more money.

It’s not wrong to say that this is part of what concerns us –

it is wrong when this is all that concerns us.

 

A marketplace, Jesus said –  the temple courts was still a place where God could be found,

but only by those who could pay the price.

The system of sacrifice had become tied to the economic necessities of those in charge –

and don’t think that I am not very nervous about the implications here… –

Because isn’t that just  what we have?

A place where the poor are mentioned in prayer, or as a mission field,

but are rarely present as part of the worshipping community.

A place where young people are dreamt of –

but it is so hard to know what to do with them when they come…

(in both instances, it is because they can’t pull their financial weight –

bottom line – we don’t know how to include people who can’t “help us foot the bill”)

 

What became of the faith community –

remember, those whom Jesus accused were not pagans – they  considered themselves called by God; and were being faithful to their understanding of God’s call on their lives –

People who sought God’s intervention in the world;

People who longed for God’s mercy and justice and peace –

What happened to them when Jesus, by his presence and his persistence

(and his unyielding  belief in the nearness of God),

confronted them with their failings, and pushed them to change?

They were transformed into a movement of compassion, curiosity, and community outreach.

The followers of Jesus took their  message of the coming kingdom,

and the promise (and hope) offered in Christ’s resurrection, to the streets –

to the poor – to the powerful –

and when they gathered for themselves,

it was to give thanks for the way this new understanding allowed them to see the world.

That is the opportunity that Jesus challenge offers us

For, rest assured, we too are convicted by Jesus’ accusations.

We have lost our way – the whispered call of God has been overwhelmed by the noise of”necessity”

But it is not too late – never too late

To reach out in faith; to offer help and hope to the poor

To proclaim by our witness that the peace and promise of God

Revealed in Jesus Christ, can help this broken world make sense of itself.

Now that Jesus has cleared away the clutter (with his outburst in the temple…)

We can return to God’s purpose for us.

Let us – together – rediscover the joy of serving our neighbour;

May we offer, with God’s help, a message of hope to everyone we meet.

Let the church take up the challenge – live for the promise – demonstrate hope –

that the world might be changed for God.