Posts Tagged ‘witnesses’

Pentecost 4 C 2010 – 1 Kings 19: 1-14

June 19, 2010

I am just returned from my first General Assembly experience –

where I was once again reminded of the wide diversity of thought and practice

in this Presbyterian Church of ours.

Our similarities seem few and far between when we’re all in the same room;

we employ different terminology –

we have different desires for the church – different styles of worship –

different ways of reading and interpreting and studying and praying.

Everyone thinks they have the answer –

but assembly taught me that the answer is not where you think it might be –

the answer comes in the quiet after the debate

in the calm after the storm.

There were no storms at this assembly –

at least none that threatened the stability

of what our moderator has christened “the good ship Generosity”

but there were vivid differences –

many of which helped me read this morning’s Scriptures with fresh appreciation.

Elijah is scared.

He has honoured God in the way he thought was best –

he has come up champion in a competition of prophets –

he has put the false prophets to death by the sword.

And the sponsor of those prophets – Jezebel -has put a price on Elijah’s head.

Elijah is confused.

He has done the work of God – done it faithfully and well – and still he suffers.

Hiding in the dessert –

determined to lay down and die on his own terms,

rather than be humiliated by Jezebel –

he encounters an angel of the Lord,

who prepares him for a journey-

prepares him to meet God.

Elijah had high hopes –

big expectations – they are all pushed aside.

God is not in the big noise – the brilliant fire – the rushing wind.

Silence signals God’s arrival, and God’s question is damning; “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Elijah’s hope is, in this encounter, reborn.

He develops a renewed appreciation for the God whom he serves –

he finds new courage, and a new mission

His former fears, forgotten.

The church needs these kinds of reminders.

The ideas that come to us from our brothers and sisters in the PCC are occasionally startling.

We might well feel as though we are in a competition among prophets –

a competition that it does not pay to win.

For the winners must constantly prove (and improve) themselves

the contestants in the battle for truth, justice, and the renewal of a fallen world

are supposed to be after the same thing.

This is Kingdom work… but whose kingdom is it.

Some of us are content to hide in the dessert -waiting for the dust to settle.

Some of us are never going to leave the dessert, so comfortable has it become.

Others propose that they have found the secret, and hold the keys to the Kingdom, but they will share them only on their terms.

There is a confusing jumble of information and worship styles and programs for the future vision of this and that – and we can be forgiven if it seems best to remain ignorant of all this, bide our time, and do whatever we need to do to survive.

But we are called to do more.

We are called to worship – to share our joy in the knowledge of our Saviour

We are called to live as though God was in our midst – Risen and Redeeming

but we don’t know what to look for.

Some in the church would have us believe – as Elijah once believed –

that God is found in the noise and fanfare;

fiery preaching and sentimental music –

but I have visited the dessert that is “contemporary worship”,

and the Lord was not in the praise band.

Some would have us think that our future is in the earthshaking conviction that we

(the few, the faithful, the redeemed) are the only people who possess the truth –

that our only hope is in a return to what is nebulously described as “family values” –

but I have been assaulted by their certainty,

and discovered that, for me, at least,

the Lord was not in the fight against the ordination of women,

or the campaign to stop the gay pride parade.

It’s not that praise and preaching and principles aren’t important –

but we will discover, as Elijah did, that they are never as important as we want them to be.

And when the noise dies down – when the fires are quenched –

when there is nothing left except the dessert and the questions and the person seeking God –

it is there that God is always to be found.

Amen

Easter 2 C – Incarnational

April 10, 2010

This week, my status as a technological dinosaur was confirmed.

While replacing my cell phone, whose contract had expired, I made the mistake of asking for “just a phone” – not a camera – not a mini computer with a full ‘texting’ keyboard not a combination GPS – web-browsing – book-reading smart phone – just a phone.   The sales rep gave me a look of combined shock and sympathy.

I don’t mind being a dinosaur – it doesn’t mean I’m anti-technology; (I have a cell phone, don’t I?)

I can run a computer, and I appreciate the internet for what it is – a big distraction with occasional bits of useful information, through which I can do my banking, order books and book flights and hotel rooms and rental cars.

No, my resistance to a technological takeover is theological.  I don’t believe God is anti-technology either – any more than God is anti-industrial, or anti-recreation – my theological argument boils down to one word – Incarnation.

Incarnation is a big deal as far the Christian Church is concerned- you might say it sets us apart from the crowd – for God chose to appear – in the flesh, as we understand it – in the person of Jesus, whom we call The Christ.

Having tried several other applications – burning bush, pillar of fire, thunderous heavenly voice, badly dressed desert prophets – God ultimately chose to ‘take a meeting’, and that has made all the difference for us.  Incarnation is what makes the church different from the culture – especially this culture, that has come to believe that technology can make everything (including relationship) simpler and better.

Now, I have encountered people in on-line forums with whom I have had meaningful dialogue.  I have reconnected with classmates, caught up on the news, discussed and debated the state of the church.  But none of these things, in the end, are as satisfying as a meeting over lunch, or a conversation shared in the course of an otherwise tedious road trip.

Nothing beats seeing the look of discovery on a friend’s face when you tell them your good news; there’s no gift like an encouraging smile when you share your dreams, or confront your fears with someone you’ve come to trust.

That is the gift that the disciples receive on this day, in that locked room.  The technology of their world, rough as it might seem to our advanced eyes, has been turned against them.  They are no longer welcomed in the usual social circles.  In the eyes of the world they are accomplices, not apostles.  They are isolated and afraid, and rightly so, when Jesus comes into their midst.

Yet He would banish their fears by being with them.  He will set their minds at ease by showing them his reality – letting them touch and wonder.  He will do this as long as it is necessary – one week later, for Thomas, he offers the same solution.

That personal contact and gathering together – to share the good news that all is not lost – to remember the world has not conquered – becomes the hallmark of the followers of Christ – the backbone of the Christian church.  The church remains different because we share this passion for personal contact.  Because we insist on gathering together, sometimes in fear (though rarely with the doors locked these days) so that we might see and believe that Jesus is raised – that hope is not lost – that God is with us.

In an article in the Christian Century (discovered on-line) on the importance of Incarnation throughout the story of Jesus, Margaret Geunther writes:

“Jesus’ appearance in the midst of his frightened friends is a story of incarnation, and reminds us that God came and comes among us, experiencing and loving our humanity. We are aware of this at Christmas, when we hear that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.” Then the churches fill, and even nonbelievers are drawn instinctively by the powerful image of God coming among us in the perfection, loveliness and vulnerability of a baby. Yet Good Friday is about the incarnation too. Jesus on the cross is an icon of suffering, a powerful statement about the flesh and particularly about its terrible vulnerability. His Passion reminds us of our almost infinite capacity to inflict and suffer hurt. Easter comes as a real relief from the uncomfortable physicality of Good Friday…He still comes in everydayness. He still says: see my hands and my feet. Don’t avert your eyes from my wounds out of politeness or disgust. Look at them. Put your finger here. Don’t be afraid. Remember the incarnation. I came among you first in human flesh–flesh that can be hungry and fed, flesh that can be hurt, even killed. Flesh that can embody God’s love.” i

We can’t have this experience on-line.  There is no application – no phone smart enough – to convey that sense of peace and assurance that we get when we gather together, to remind one another of God’s activity among us.

Gathered as a body of believers, the wounded, risen body of our Saviour is made real to us.  Only then can we find the courage we need to face the world for whom he died and was raised.

Amen

iMargaret Guenther “Mediated through the flesh – John 20:19-31 – Living by the Word – Column“. Christian Century. FindArticles.com. 10 Apr, 2010. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1058/is_n12_v112/ai_16847106/

– Epiphany 5C

February 6, 2010

I have had a week of confrontations – not all of them negative….

I’ve heard from friends who are worn out by struggles in their work

I’ve met with people who are resisting the reality of their ill health.

I’ve been confronted by loneliness in others –

by bitterness and anger in people

who know how futile it is to hold grudges.

I had a running ‘comment fight’ on an online journal over the doctrine of the Trinity

and on Friday, our Presbytery gathered for a very difficult task –

that of dissolving a pastoral tie between a congregation and their minister.

While all this was happening, I was also confronted with this morning’s Scripture lessons

and was once again overwhelmed by the way we can be touched by the things of God (through an experience of God in Scripture) in the most unlikely ways/at most appropriate times.

Confrontation is hardly ever a comfortable activity.

It can be startling and loud – it finds our weaknesses easily – it unhinges our emotions

and so we do what we can to avoid confrontation.

Which is why the Scriptures are such difficult texts to read –

and why God is a fearful topic of conversation

and why religion is such a bothersome and awkward part of most societies.

For in our religious movements – in our expressions of faith –

in our search for God we are confronted with something so enormous –

so mysterious – and (let’s face it) so troubling

that we are only really interested in a passing inspection of Scripture.

This fear of confrontation, I think,

is why we’re never really comfortable talking about God

and why religious activity

and interest in institutional religion is on the decline everywhere.

Our fear of confrontation – our fear of the truly fantastic –

a fear of the liberating, life-changing power of God

is actually getting in the way of our call to be followers of Christ / children of God

When I read Isaiah 6 –

when I hear again the story of Jesus convincing these tired fishermen

to try “just one more time – in really deep water” –

when I imagine their distress when the fish come up and the boat goes down –

when I am met with the wonders of God in the midst of my ordinary reality

I am not surprised that church is the first thing to go in a busy schedule –

that people would rather do anything else

than talk about how God might change their lives

because the reality is absolutely terrifying! The thought of it is too much.

“Woe is me, a man of unclean lips – among a people of unclean lips…”

“Depart from me Lord – a sinful man…”

even Paul is quick to admit that his flaws and failures

should keep him from the tasks of the gospel.

They should keep him apart – but in that terrifying meeting Paul (and Peter – and Isaiah)

found grace too; for each of them, the confrontation revealed a new possibility –

a vision of something truly remarkable –

and that fantastic vision was preferable to living life ignorant of (afraid of?)

the glory of God – the abundance of God – the companionship of God’s grace.

When we talk about what matters to us in the church,

we always talk about the folks who don’t come

but I think we should consider that they stay away –

not because we can’t hold their attention –

but because no one feels comfortable in the face of God’s goodness revealed…

People don’t stay away from church because “they’re busy”

they get busy with stuff that asks nothing of them

so they can stay away from church

which asks far too much of them –

as it always has, and always will

not because we have too many worthy projects, or committees,

or jobs that need filling – that’s nothing –

it is the unsettling reality of God-with-us

that places demands on us that none of us can really handle.

Those of us who come, must be ready to be unsettled by this demanding God;

God who points out poverty and asks “what are you going to do about it?”

God who hates injustice and demands that we treat one another with equity

God who knows all but tells nothing, (except if you are patient)

The demands of God’s call are high;

the boat is nearly sunk – the nets are ruined – the glory is blinding – our flaws are revealed –

it’s no surprise that only a few are willing to venture near – but our curiosity, and our determination to experience a sense of awe in the things or God manages to keep us coming.

You see, it’s not really about the music;

the length of the sermon;

whether we worship in the hall, or in a field or in the sanctuary,

or whether or not we have communion once, twice or an hundred times a year;

it’s about our willingness to admit that there is something in life that matters more than us.

We will see those who stand aside because of their fear drawn in,

not by our efforts to convince them of their error

or by persistent programming that plays to their preferences,

but by our commitment to the principles of the gospel

by God’s work in and through us

and by our visible delight in the awesome mystery of “God-who-IS”.

Amen

Ancient awe made new – Epiphany 3 C 2010

January 23, 2010

When Nehemiah rebuilt the walls of the ancient capital – there was, in the ruins, a treasure trove.

The scrolls of the law – long thought lost – were recovered intact.

It had been years – perhaps an entire generation –

since the people had heard the words directly from the page.

They had heard about the law – they had been encouraged by the memory of the law –

but no one could read them the words;

they couldn’t experience the law.

Their experience of the law becomes a festival of celebration – it became worship.

Ezra reads from a platform in the midst of the people.

Everyone who is old enough to understand is present – and they are stunned by what they hear.

Many are moved to tears.

Can you remember the last time Scripture moved you to tears?

Has there ever been a time when worship overwhelmed you –

that a full day of worship wasn’t enough?

It’s just the Bible, isn’t it.

It’s only worship (and please, can we be done by (10:30/noon)

we enjoy one another’s company – we like the music – the chance to pause and pray

(or at least listen to prayer) – but we always keep one eye on the clock.

Every one of us has somewhere else we need to be –

by Tuesday this is all a fairly distant (and mostly pleasant) memory.

For the people under Nehemiah’s care, the chance to re-connect with God’s promises to them was one that they couldn’t take for granted –

what precisely has happened to our experience of God…?

For starters, we have declared our experience of God to be intensely personal;

I can worship in my own way, after my own fashion – we say.

We are reluctant to admit how much worship means to us – how deeply Scripture affects us –

we’re too practical for that…

And the Bible is such a difficult text – so ancient – so awkward – so full of the unknown

and no two people (clergy or otherwise)

seem to be able to agree on what it means, or how it’s principles might apply to our lives.

So we talk about the Bible – we debate its history and hope against hope that some day we might unravel its “true meaning”…

And as far as worship is concerned, well it’s all right

but the old music is falling out of favour with the clergy

and the new music is difficult for the congregation to learn

and the choir just wants to sing…

Prayer is necessary, of course, but does it have to take so long?

And those rituals that we have, we don’t really understand.

Is this what God needs to reveal God’s self to us?

We are not far from the thinking of those faithful few gathered on that Sabbath in Nazareth, really.

Sure that God was somewhere in the muddled mess of what worship had become,

they had gathered yet again as a vaguely familiar figure stood and took the scroll to read…(Luke 4: 16)

Jesus had been making the rounds – teaching to high praise in the surrounding countryside –

but here at home (Nazareth) we witness a change.

He stopped explaining the lesson and became the lesson. (Luke 4: 21)

He claimed more than the promises of God – he claimed to be the promise.

This was an altogether different experience of God –

an experience that filled the people with fear and dread.

Next week we will read how they treated Jesus

as he confronted them with this God experience

but know that it was traumatic.

And that, dear friends, is where we are.

No one who visited us could question our faith – our long years of constant witness do not go unnoticed.

And I pray that no one would doubt that we are hopeful in our gathering, in our worship,

that God might be revealed – might break in to our lives and confirm our faith

in spectacular and tangible ways…

but it’s not happening, is it.

Here we wait – for God to work – for the earth to move –

for the kingdom to be made plain to our eager eyes –

but it’s only words – It’s only worship.

It just doesn’t make sense to us.

But our world is changing – the church is changing –

and that moment of wonder may be closer than we think.

We will not be able to have that “Jesus” experience –

the one where he literally brings the text to life as he did that day in Nazareth

but we are invited to take the Word into us –

to give life to the text by our changed lives.

Every week comes the chance to be moved to tears by the majesty of God’s being –

to stand in awe of God’s lasting promises, revealed in Scripture –

to linger over the worship that it is our privilege to offer.

We have that opportunity, because we follow the one who stood and said

today, this word has come true in your hearing – this is the year of the Lord’s favour.

Today, the Word stands among us – risen and perfected –

today, we have heard again the promise of God’s kingdom –

relief from oppression, freedom from bondage.

Today we have another chance to experience the God of our salvation –

stand in awe of the revelation of God and Rejoice

for that ancient treasure is ours today

by grace, through Christ, who still demands our attention and claims our hearts.

Amen.

The truth, and nothing but the truth. (Christ the King, 2009)

November 21, 2009

The truth is an elusive object in any age –

and almost entirely dependent

on the point of view of the one who seeks truth,

as Pilate and Jesus both knew only too well.

Pilate and Jesus go back and forth like this every Easter season –

this is a necessary dialogue as Jesus approaches the cross –

so why are we dwelling on it today?

Shouldn’t we be getting our hearts and minds ready for Christmas (like everyone else…?)

wouldn’t it be better to hear a harmless story about the goodness of God

a wonderful miracle – a parable, perhaps…

anything to take our mind from the elusive, troublesome, terrifying truth.

You see, Pilate already had the facts of the case before him.

The stories had been shared – the rumours circulated – accusations made

and Pilate was having none of it.

The facts – the truth of the case of Jesus of Nazareth,

dragged to the governors residence by an angry mob

simply did not support the request for a death sentence.

Pilate knew a lynching when he saw one.

Whether or not Jesus is “a king”, he is no real threat to Pilate’s power.

That was the truth.

But there is another truth in the room –

a gut-level, centre of the soul, reality that begs to be explained –

the truth; capital T.

“my kingdom is not of this world”

my followers are not going to fight for my release (or for my throne) –

You can worry about kings if you want,

but I am a witness to the the truth…

This is not the way to the early release program as a prisoner of Imperial Rome,

but Jesus has finally caught Pilate’s attention

and he should have ours too.

A witness to the truth –

Jesus presents himself as one who has seen/experienced

a reality that will grab hold of us –

this is truth to which we can belong – truth to which we can be held responsible;

not just a collection of facts about the world as it is (or might someday be).

I have heard people argue that Pilate’s parting shot was uttered in disdain –

with a dismissive wave of his hand –

remember when this story is read at Easter, we need Pilate to be the bad guy.

But I believe that Pilate was searching to this truth too –

that he was trapped in a system that was destroying him, and he longed for a way out.

What is truth? Tell me – show me – teach me, Jesus!

So that I can experience that same calm confidence in the face of difficulties as you posses.

The truth is, Pilate’s power was a lie, and he knew it.

Power that depends on the accusation and conviction of the innocent is not power at all.

The truth is, there was a king in the room that day,

of a kind that the world had never seen.

The truth, and nothing but the truth –

is though we celebrate with rousing hymns and triumphant language,

Jesus is not that sort of king –

we still don’t understand the nature of his kingdom.

We come to this text at the end of our year because

we can’t get ready for Christmas until we face the truth – terrible and troublesome –

that God’s reality is beyond our imagination – that our king is ‘not from around here.”

We cannot sing our favourite hymns without admitting

that the truth of Christ’s Kingdom baffles us,

and recognizing that our understanding of God’s promised kingdom is woefully incomplete.

We talk and sing of justice, mercy, peace and love

for we have heard the kingdom will be build on these foundations

but we will not see these things in their true form

until we tune our ears to Jesus testimony of truth.

This Truth is for us both a Christmas truth – unto us a king is born – unto us a son is given.

and an Easter truth – He is not here, he is Risen.

Jesus testifies to life as we know it;

confronted by difficulty, jealousy, arrogance and hatred

and he testifies to life as God meant it to be:

confident, compassionate, and enduring, even in the face of evil

in the coming weeks, we will hear prophets who remind us

of God’s promised deliverance and peace

we will hear the witness of Jesus in story and song

as the calendar counts down towards Christmas

and if we are patient with ourselves and with God,

we will begin to discover the truth.

Then we might truly sing the praises of he who is our king.

The end of the world as we know it

November 14, 2009

Hannah knows hardship.

The barren wife of a prominent man, she is shamed by her failure to bear Elkanah a son.

She is well treated, but it doesn’t matter – she cannot do what her society says she must do.

Her life is a disaster – provoked by her rival (Elkanah’s ‘other’ wife),

Hannah has lost her appetite, she is unable to worship, she is in a constant state of grief.

And just when she thought that life could get no worse,

the keeper of the Temple of the Lord accuses her of public drunkenness.

It must have felt like the end of the world for her.

Hannah’s story is the opening chapter in a brighter period of the history of Israel

but it opens in darkness. No joy. No glory. No whispered words of God.

Grief, shame, and provocation are the beginnings of Hannah’s birth-pangs –

birth-pangs that will produce, against all odds, and in God’s own time

a son who will become a powerful prophet – Samuel.

It is easy for us to equate hardship will defeat – disaster with God’s judgement

for Hannah, an inability to conceive equals the end of the world.

And following Hannah’s example, we are more willing to admit defeat

than we are to accept that our difficulties often signal the birth of some new opportunity.

That is a habit we share with many of our spiritual ancestors.

We are drawn to stories that point to our failures as signs of God’s immanence

we seem eager for an easy way out of our present difficulties

and long for “that promised day of God” that will see all things set right.

Because of this, we will never be without our end-time prophets.

The turn of the century provided the fearful voices plenty of opportunities to predict disaster.

The Cuban missile crisis – the rise of powerful military governments in the oil-rich middle east,

the attack on the world trade centre – the economic disaster – the swine flu

If you listen carefully, you can hear people asking- about all of these things (and more)

“is this it? The end of the world as we know it?”

many turn to religion for answers to those kinds of questions,

but no matter what the question, the answers are elusive.

and it was no different for Jesus closest friends.

we can hardly blame them for asking Jesus for some help in reading the signs…

they have been engaged in the same sort of debates as they journey – with Jesus – towards their own doomsday in Jerusalem

who wouldn’t want a head start on the end of time?

Who doesn’t want to be “absolutely prepared” when God brings down the final curtain?

But there is a problem – beyond the fact that only God knows the details.

Did you hear it?

In the midst of Jesus’ stark description of the way things are (and must be…):

“This is but the beginning of the birth-pangs” Jesus says.

Birth pangs…something is being created, not destroyed.

Sorry for all you thriller movie buffs,

but end-of-time scenarios that involve devastation and destruction –

these are human inventions.

God is in the creation business.

I am unusually privileged, in my vocation.

I am invited into the most vulnerable and chaotic times in the lives of God’s people.

I am asked to hold hands while the very foundations of the world seem to come apart.

I have mourned for unborn children, and broken relationships.

I have seen future hopes dashed, and watched addictions destroy families.

I have noticed that no one is immune from tragedy –

the faithful and the faithless alike are subject to terrible tragedy –

but I have also noticed that, once the dust clears,

there is always something new waiting to be discovered.

Our birth-pangs are bitter and tumultuous – soul-shaking and faith challenging

when they will end, God only knows,

but something new is always the result.

The good news that is ours to share –

news that was revealed to Jesus early followers in a very vivid fashion –

is no less than this: even death is not death.

What once was defeat – truly the end of the world for humankind – is not the end.

It’s the end of the world as we know it…

God’s people come to many brutal conclusions as they journey from birth to death.

There are times of plenty and times of want.

There are days of favour and days of destitution.

And at every turn, God’s people ask the same questions:

Is this it? Will God ever smile on us again?

Are we standing on the verge of momentous change? The end of time?

There is no consensus among us – each of us understands the evidence differently

generation after generation comes convinced that the end is at hand

groundless fears are raised –

And our answer must continue to be the answer Jesus offered –

these things, and more, will happen – they are birth pangs –

and from the wreckage will emerge some new thing.

because, you see – God is in the creation business.

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.

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.

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

“Teach me, God, to wonder…”

April 18, 2009

Every so often, someone will ask me; “how do you do it?”
“How do you come up with something different to say week after week?”
There is no short answer to that kind of question,
but the simple answer is that all I really do
is find different ways to say the same thing week after week.

The message is that God loves us –
the how, the why and the what next
is what gives me something to say – that is what makes the preachers task both interesting and rewarding.
“it must be hard” people say “putting a sermon together every week”
but that isn’t the hard part…
the hard part is getting folks to believe the wonderful news I’m privileged to deliver.
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“We have seen the Lord!” – good news indeed to those who had only too recently
seen their Lord arrested, beaten, tried, convicted, killed and buried.
That Jesus had visited them in a locked room;
that he had comforted them in their terror and offered them the truly good news
of blessing from “The Father” – of empowerment in the spirit and forgiveness from sin
was something too good to be believed –
and that is the sentiment behind the response offered by Thomas…
Unless I see…unless I touch…
following that age old dictum:
If it seems  too good to be true, it probably is (too good to be true).
Thomas isn’t special in this regard, just cautious.
Who among us would have responded any differently
given the difficult circumstances of the previous week,
and the sudden turn of events marked by stories of an empty tomb
and visions of the dead restored to life…?

How often are we ready to accept the fantastic reality of Easter:
of Jesus risen, of our own lives renewed, of our relationship with God restored…
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Too often do we recite the creed, announce the details of our historic faith
without being shaken to the core by the wonder of it…
because it is a wonder.
Thomas problem is not that he doubts –
there was plenty of doubt in that group of terrified souls –
Thomas’ problem is that the wonder of what has happened had not yet come to him.
To see, touch and really experience the resurrection – that was all he asked.
It was no more than had already happened to  the rest of them.
Jesus voice – Jesus presence – Jesus comfort
had embraced them behind the locked door,
and in that moment, their joy was greater than their doubt.

The challenge for us as we seek to share the good news of Christ
is not that we need to find words that will perfectly persuade,
for in truth,  there are no such words.
The challenge is not in emotional excitement, or intellectual certainty;
the challenge is in sharing the sense of wonder that will allow joy to overcome our doubt –
the challenge is to open minds and lives to the story
so the wonder of it might sweep away the suspicion
that “it sounds too good to be true…”
———————————————————————————— +
So here we sit,
with the glow of our Easter discovery beginning to fade into forgetfulness,
and with Thomas, we are bold to wonder if it really happened.
Not doubting, we tell ourselves, merely curious.
Some evidence would be nice – something more than an eyewitness account;
newsreel footage, perhaps,  or some other memento of the time.

To doubt seems sometimes reasonable –
our curiosity often gets the better of us.
We are driven to question, to examine and gather what evidence we can,
yet the proof we find is rarely complete.
But where God is concerned, the proof is not ours to find
it is for God to reveal –
one small miracle at a time;
one silent surprise, one stunning revelation.

It is within our  small, sacred, and sometimes frightened community;
our gathering in casual curiosity, and our well-rehearsed worship
that the promise of presence –
wherever two or three are gathered in my name, I am there also –
offers us the only evidence we need.

For here, behind the locked doors of our silent doubting,
Jesus yet stands.
Here amid the hymns and the prayers and the ancient words of hope
Jesus speaks “Peace” to us.

Here in our worship and work and play,
overwhelmed by the lack of evidence, and driven to distraction by our uncertainty,
here we are met by the wonderful truth of the Gospel:
God’s own grace fills the empty spaces in our lives,
lifts the bars from the doors we have locked
and, wonder of wonders,
though it seems death is all around us,
we find life waiting for us.
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