Tag Archives: Jesus

Hitting the Road With Jesus


the-long-road-home          Today we leave behind the devil and his temptations and take to the road. For Jesus, the road is his ministry and the road to Jerusalem which will end with the cross and the resurrection. And for the Israelites, it was the road to the Promised Land. When Terry Fox began his Marathon of Hope, he dipped his artificial leg in the Atlantic Ocean in St Johns, Newfoundland with the plan to run across the country. Terry began his run with a ritual, just like we mark the seasons of our lives with baptism to represent the beginning of life in the family of God, graduation as the end of a journey for education, and the beginning of a whole new journey.

            In Joshua, we read about the second celebration of the Passover. The night before they began the exodus from Egypt, the Israelites followed God’s directions to mark their lintels and door frames with the blood of a lamb and to follow certain procedures in their meal. This ritual, called the Passover, marked their houses, allowed their children to live, and marked the beginning of their journey to the Promised Land. They were free, no longer slaves, but transitions in life aren’t instantaneous! They include space (the road) and time (for us 40 days, for Israel 40 years). When Moses led the people out of Egypt they surely expected to travel directly to the Promised Land, but they were barely through the sea when they began to complain. Rather than 250 miles in one month they were destined to lead an unsettled existence in the wilderness for 40 years. The miles multiplied as the time went by, they needed the time to make them ready, “to grapple with the promise of God to see the Promised Land” (“A Plain Account: A Free Online Wesleyan Lectionary Commentary” 2016)

          After all their time in the wilderness, they finally crossed the Jordan. We meet them there this morning. Keep in mind that these men, women and children were not the same ones who had left Egypt. Not a single one had ever been to Egypt, they were never slaves, and they were born and raised in the wilderness. They had never known a settled life, had never grown crops, and they had not carried out the ritual of Passover. The first thing they did in the Promised Land was not to set up defences, not to charge the nearest city, but they repeated the ritual that had begun their journey. Though Passover has been celebrated ever since this ritual marked the beginning and the end of their transition to a new land and a whole new way of life.

          Congregations with pulpit vacancies are on the road to renewal. From the final services and farewell parties, they head into the wilderness stage of the vacancy. There is no way for to know how long the search will take. There are so many steps to go through: dealing with various supplies in the pulpit, committee meetings, review the membership rolls, reflection on priorities and vision, writing of the congregational profile, and then considering candidates. During vacancies in the churches to which I have belonged, I was always torn between feeling frustrated at how long it took and concern over finding the correct person. In a paper on Joshua 5:9-12 Hannah Beers said, “our desire to know the final outcome limits our ability to see how God is working in the present…Throughout the wandering Manna was miraculously provided for by God and the Israelites did not want for food.” (“A Plain Account: A Free Online Wesleyan Lectionary Commentary” 2016), and “On the day after the Passover, on that very day, they ate the produce of the land,” (Josh 5:11).

A Broken Stradivarius

One of the greatest ambitions of any violinist is to play a Stradivarius. Meticulously handcrafted by Antonio Stradivari these very rare violins produce an unrivalled sound. So you can imagine the excitement of acclaimed British violinist Peter Cropper when in 1981 London’s Royal Academy of Music offered him a 258-year-old Stradivarius for a series of concerts.

But then the unimaginable. As Peter entered the stage he tripped, landed on top of the violin and snapped the neck off. I can’t even begin to imagine how Peter Cropper felt at that moment. A priceless masterpiece destroyed!

Cropper was inconsolable.  He took the violin to a master craftsman in the vain hope he might be able to repair it. And repair it he did. So perfect was the repair that the break was undetectable, and, more importantly, the sound was exquisite.

The Academy was most gracious and allowed him to continue using the Stradivarius. And so night after night, as Peter drew his bow across those string, Peter was reminded of the fact that what he once thought irreparably damaged had been fully restored by the hand of a Master craftsman. (“A Broken Stradivarius | Stories For Preaching” 2016)

 

While Terry Fox never got to dip his leg in the Pacific Ocean, God was at work. Through Terry’s days on the road and his struggles he inspired the nation and a generation. For 3,339 miles, from St John’s, Newfoundland, Canada’s easternmost city on the shore of the Atlantic, he’d run through six provinces and now was two-thirds of the way home. He’d run close to a marathon a day, for 143 days. No mean achievement for an able-bodied runner, an extraordinary feat for an amputee. He raised $24.17 million on his own run. The first memorial Terry Fox Run was held in September of the year he died. More than 300,000 people walked or ran or cycled in his memory and raised $3.5 million.  The master craftsman was definitely at work on this road with Terry (Schrivener 2016).

Remember that the master craftsman is also working on our own roads of life: through relationships, jobs, education: from endings to new beginnings; on our journey to forgiveness, and to Easter; God reminds us of our identities as his forgiven children through the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Lent prepares us for and Easter prepares us for the transition through death to the new lives waiting for us, but we can’t get there without the pain of Good Friday.

 

 

“A Broken Stradivarius | Stories For Preaching”. 2016. Storiesforpreaching.Com. http://storiesforpreaching.com/?s=A+Broken+Stradivarius&submit=Search.

“A Plain Account: A Free Online Wesleyan Lectionary Commentary”. 2016. A Plain Account: A Free Online Wesleyan Lectionary Commentary. http://www.aplainaccount.org/#!Joshua-5912/bhul0/56d3c27c0cf2154b8027d5fc.

Schrivener, Lesley. 2016. “Terry Fox & The Foundation – The Marathon Of Hope”. Terryfox.Org. http://www.terryfox.org/TerryFox/The_Marathon_of_Hope.html.

Food, Power, and Minions #3


Show Me The Power!

wilderness_temple

In the first of this series I mentioned that Luke’s is the only Gospel in which the temptation at the temple is placed last. As Fred Craddock points out in his commentary, Luke modeled his Gospel after the life and ministry of Christ and so it made sense that his temptations should lead from home, to the world, and then to the temple in Jerusalem just as Jesus began at home, travelled throughout the countryside including some Gentile areas and ended up in Jerusalem (Craddock 1990). That is just where we find Jesus and the devil this morning, standing 150 feet up, at the pinnacle of the temple.

Why did the devil take Christ to Jerusalem? Jerusalem was the capital of the United Kingdom of Israel (at other times just Judah) and later of the Roman Province of Judea under Herod the Great. It is into Jerusalem that Jesus would ride to the cheers of the crowds on Palm Sunday; in an upper room in Jerusalem that he and his apostles would celebrate the Passover feast; from Jerusalem that he would be led up to be crucified on Good Friday; and to that same upper room that he would return after his resurrection.

Why did they go to the temple? The temple was his father’s house. It was the symbol and center of the Jewish religion; the house of God, the only proper place to make sacrifices to God. It is where the chief priests and many Pharisees, who would later take the role of Christ’s enemies, were to be found. It was the site of teaching, prayer, worship, sacrifice, cleansing, and absolution. They were on the pinnacle of the temple which, in Jesus’ time, would have been the top of the Holy Place, the most important part of Herod’s temple.  This structure was open only for the priests to light the lamps and give incense offerings, and it housed the Holy of Holies which could only be entered once each year by the high priest on the Day of Atonement.

Why the pinnacle of the temple? In almost all religious traditions in ancient times, mountains and the tops of human-made mountains such as ziggurats and temples were considered to represent the seat of the gods and the place where people could find themselves closest to them. Moses met God on the mountaintop, Jesus frequently went up a mountain to pray, Jesus’ transfiguration was at a mountaintop, and Jesus was crucified on a hilltop. In colloquial speech we refer to moments of great revelation or closeness to God as ‘mountaintop experiences.’

            So, what did this temptation mean? The temptation was a chance to show proof of God’s power, to avoid a 98% chance of death with a show of supernatural power and beings, God’s minions/angels. Would this produce real faith in those who were witnesses or would this sort of coerced faith be short lived and situational? As we have seen throughout the Old Testament God’s shows of his power through the plagues in Egypt, the holding back of the Red Sea, the manna and water from the rock in the desert, and his presence in the cloud on the tabernacle, led to great declarations of faith which were followed all too soon with challenges. ‘You are the one God, full of power, but what have you done for us lately?’

Having been shot down twice by Jesus quoting scripture, this time, the devil takes his temptation directly from scripture, 

“‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you”, and “On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone (Ps 91:11-12).”

If you go to the Psalm you will see that he conveniently stopped his quote just before the part about defeating the serpent and crushing its head under his feet.

            We have all sorts of assurances of God’s power and faithfulness in the Bible. In this morning’s Psalm we read of powers such as; forming light, creating darkness, bringing prosperity, creating disaster, making the earth, creating mankind, stretching out the heavens, marshaling their starry hosts, and making  ways straight. We have assurances because we believe, but if we have to test it do we really believe, and then why should the promises still apply?

In his letter to the Corinthians Paul reminds people of Israel’s history of testing God who said, “you…have tested me these ten times and have not obeyed my voice (Numbers 14:21),” Paul wrote,

“We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents. And do not complain as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come (1 Cor 10:8-11).”

 

Living Faith’s statement on unbelief states that, “For some today “God is an empty word indicating no reality they have ever consciously known. They do not believe there is a God (Living Faith 9.3.1).” These people, if seeking at all, are looking for proof that God is real in the worldly meaning of real. Something you can touch, see, feel. It next states that, “Many find it hard to believe in a loving God in a world where so many suffer. Unbelief threatens many with despair, the feeling that nothing really matters and that beyond this world is emptiness (Living Faith 9.3.2).”

Jesus answered the devil, ‘It is said, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test (Luke 4:12).”‘ Paul told the Corinthians, “We must not put Christ to the test (I Cor 10:9).”  Like Jesus, we need to be resisting overfilling ourselves but allow the Holy Spirit to fill us, we need to resist grabbing for power over others and instead seek to serve, and we need to allow the assurances of God to be enough for us. We need not wait for pigs to fly.

“We have looked upon God in the sanctuary, beholding his power and glory. Because his steadfast love is better than life, our lips will praise him (Ps 63:2-3).”

 

Craddock, Fred B. 1990. Luke. Louisville, Ky.: John Knox Press.

Living Faith A Statement Of Christian Belief. 1984. Kelowna: Wood Lake Books Inc.

Food, Power, and Minions/ Today Woodstock, Tomorrow the World!


http://www.lesechos.fr/medias/2014/07/03/1002787_multinationales-du-conseil-les-maitres-de-linfluence-85676-1.jpg

 Jesus was in the wilderness 40 days, filled by the Holy Spirit and being tempted by the devil. As I write today we have been in the wilderness of Lent for 10 days. The first of our series focused on the devil’s first test, the personal temptation to turn stones into bread to satisfy Jesus most basic physical need, hunger. The hungry crave fullness. Let’s turn to the second temptation, the political temptation to seize authority and glory.  “Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, ‘To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will be yours.’ (Luke 4:5-7)
Power is the ability to influence and control others while, at the same time, withstanding outside influences which would control you. Just as the hungry crave food, the oppressed crave power, control over their own lives and those of others. This applies equally to people suffering from actual oppression such as the Israelites who were being enslaved in Egypt or civilians in Sudan today, and perceived oppression like an employee who is angry because the employer has blocked social media sites from their computer network.
Israel became a nation in the conventional sense when they convinced Samuel to anoint a king over them like the other nations had. Prior to this, Samuel was preparing to pass his authority as a judge of Israel to his sons but his sons did not follow in his ways. Samuel was upset that the people asked for a king but God pointed out that it was their rejection, not of Samuel, but of God as their king. Once they had a king, the Israelites soon discovered that human rulers were perhaps subject to even more temptation than the judges had been, as the judges looked to God for direction. As predicted, human kings took away much of their autonomy.
“He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. Your male and female servants and the best of your cattlec and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves.” (1 Samuel 8:11-17)
The Messiah was supposed to come to preach, to heal, to prophesy, and to defeat the devil. In short, he would free the oppressed. Many expected this to take the form of political uprising, use of conventional power to throw off the yoke of Roman rule which, at the time, covered the world from modern day Great Britain, most of Europe, Northern Africa, Egypt, and most of the Middle East. Even if he had liberated Jerusalem from Roman authority, they would have remained surrounded by the Roman Empire.   
We may tend to think of this whole story as a quick succession of temptations and answers in this story, because that is the way that they read. But this is the story of the temptation of Jesus, not the testing. We are told right up front that Jesus was tempted, really tempted. Jesus was, as we often are, there with his finger on the trigger or the button to accept. Focused on his mission of bringing peace and healing to the world, Jesus must have thought of all he could have do with rule over all the kingdoms. There could be peace, he could make taxation fair, put in social programs to feed the poor and provide health care for the sick. He could do it all and with no need for him to suffer humiliation or pain.
God’s power is expressed in creation, healing, and judgement.  The devil offered Jesus worldly, human power. All Jesus needed to do was bow down and worship the devil. But what he was offering wasn’t really power, but submission. “Would Jesus submit to the ruler of this world in order to achieve good for the people of this world?” (Craddock 1990, p 56) No he would not. Once again Jesus answered the devil with scripture saying, ‘It is written, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” (Luke 4:8) Real authority rests with God. God can give and take human authority as he did throughout the history of his people from Moses to the Judges and the Kings. God even granted provisional authority to Satan in some instances; that is how he was able to make this offer to Jesus in the first place. The devil offered Jesus kingship, God granted Jesus authority to teach, to heal, to cast out demons, to forgive, and to grant eternal life.
One interesting thing that Fred B Craddock points out in his commentary is that temptation is hardest to resist for the most able. “We aren’t tempted to do what we can’t do, but what we are able to do.” (Craddock 1990, 56) Who are those super villains in comics, out to rule the world? They are not limited, know nothings, they tend to be brilliant individuals who have had some success gaining control who then find themselves driven mad with hunger for more! Today Woodstock, tomorrow the world!
I am just guessing here but most of us don’t feel very powerful. Over what, or whom in your life do you have power? For me there would be very little problem with temptation to storm the world of sport, since I am really not athletic. As a teacher, I have power over my students in terms of when and where they can be and what they are to be doing in class, but as I point out to them it I more a perceived power than real power. If they all decided to do something else, there is no way I could stop them. I could inflict consequences after the fact as a show of power. I could give in to the temptation to be stricter, to take away freedoms they normally have in order to keep control, or I could continue to balance demands and freedoms to our mutual satisfaction.
What power do we have? We have the power of free will, of choice, which was given to us by God. We have the power of the Holy Spirit helping us to remain focused. We have the power of Scripture which, we know from Luke’s focus on it, includes the idea that scripture is adequate to generate and sustain faith and that without it even miracles would be of no use. (Craddock 1990,56) And we have the power of assurance that the devil, the tempter, has already been defeated through Christ. As Paul reminded the Philippians,
20…our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. 21He will transform the body of our humiliation so that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.” (Phil 3:20-21)
Lindsell, Harold, and Verlyn D Verbrugge. 1991. NRSV Harper Study Bible. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Pub. House.
Craddock, Fred B. 1990. Luke. Louisville, Ky.: John Knox Press.

Food, Power, and Minions #1


On The Menu                    spiritual-emptiness

 

This is the first Sunday of Lent. Lent has traditionally been a time used to prepare people for Baptism, and confirmation of faith, and for those already confirmed in faith to reflect upon their Baptisms. Good Friday and Easter are the most important observances of the Christian year. Preparing for these events is not, at least for those not leading in worship, about outward trappings but inner awareness and grounding. It should not be like wedding planning; deciding on venues, making guest lists, what food to serve, and decorations. The readings for the first Sunday in Lent always include the story of Christ’s temptation.

Christ’s temptation reflects the experiences of Moses’ 40 days on the mountain with no food, Israel’s 40 years wandering in the wilderness, and Elijah’s 40 days in flight to the mountains. In Luke’s Gospel, the story of the temptation of Christ particularly draws Israel’s wilderness experience first into the life of Jesus and beyond that into the life of the church. Just as Luke focused his gospel on the path of Jesus’ ministry from Galilee to Jerusalem he changed the order of the temptations so that they culminated with the Temple in Jerusalem. The three temptations in the Gospel lesson, and which I used for my sermon series title, are Food, Power, and Minions and address three themes; personal or social temptation, political temptation, and religious temptation. Today, as we begin our preparations, we will focus on the personal temptation.

Jesus was in the wilderness and was tempted for 40 days. Luke tells us that in that time he ate no food. When the Devil began his testing it was on a personal level. How many of you could go 7 days with no food at all? I know I couldn’t! Jesus was famished. As a human being, his deepest drive must have been to meeting this most basic physical need, but though he had no food he was full. He was full of the Holy Spirit. So, when the Devil suggested he turn the stone into bread, he quoted from Deuteronomy 8 saying, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone.”

Was this test really about food? If we have eaten enough we are full. If we have not eaten we are hungry. When our consumption runs amok we are guilty of gluttony. But do we only hunger for food? There are, of course, too many in our society today who are physically hungry. From our side their need is clear and the solution is food. Though this is a much more complex issue, we are not going to focus on that today.  It seems that we are all hungry; hungry for more, hungry for new, hungry for the best, just that one more thing will make us fulfilled!

Let’s look at the context of Jesus’ quote. Deuteronomy is the final sermon of Moses. He and the Israelites are now on the border of the Promised Land and he is preparing them for their future, reinforcing all that God had commanded them through him. In Chapter 8, Moses is said to them,

2 Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. 3He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deut 8:2-3)

Theologian Fred E Craddock says of today’s passage that the Devil chose the perfect time for this testing of Jesus. The narrative in Luke chapter 3 ends with Jesus’ baptism and the words, “Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry.” (Luke 3:23)  Before his ministry had time to take shape; before sermons; before casting out demons; before healing the sick; the Devil wanted to see if he could influence or sabotage it.

In a brilliant work of satirical writing called The Screwtape Letters, C S Lewis has letters written by one of the Devil’s main demons, Screwtape, to an apprentice or sorts named Wormwood. If you haven’t read this book I would highly recommend it! The letters are one side of a supposed correspondence between the two on the issue of how best to ensure that Wormwood’s patient (victim from our point of view) goes to hell. He gives instructions on how best to distract a patient from any attention to the word of the Enemy (God) and leanings in the way of becoming and living a Christian life. In one letter Screwtape notes that gluttony, one of the deadly sins, is perhaps the easiest to encourage given that it is not actually restricted to quantities of consumption but also on luxury. So we are lulled easily into thinking that just because we have a relatively moderate consumption of food, fashion, and leisure activity etc. is not enough. When we stare at the open fridge full of food and see, “nothing to eat,” we should not be too quick to congratulate ourselves on choosing not to snack.

Note that he was full of the Holy Spirit throughout the story, that this did not protect him from being tempted. Temptation is a basic human condition. Luckily we have, as did Jesus in the wilderness, the Holy Spirit with us and the word of God to work against the Devil’s temptations. As we leave here today and go through our weekly routines remember the words from one prayer I found for the first Sunday of Lent.

“You declare, “It is written,” and Satan flees. Teach us the power of your Word. Remind us that Satan cannot stand before the blinding glare of your Father’s revelation…We are not weak and helpless before him after all. We have your strong Word to defeat the Tempter.” (Kuntz, 1993)

 

 

Baptism of Christ: First ask why


3631902258_3fab33242d_mThoughts for Baptism of Christ Sunday

Read Luke 3:15-22

Think back to your own baptism if they were old enough at the time to remember it, or the last baptism you witnessed to. If you have not been baptized, fear not and read on.

The other day I attended the Presbytery workshop based on the book Your Church Can Thrive by Harold Percy. I was glad to be attending but it didn’t occur to me that I would be finding anything in that time which would find its way into my message for the next day, but there it was. One of the first major points Percy made was that it is important, before getting to how to make change, to ask why we do what we do. So that is what came to church with me this morning.

First, we ask, why?

Why was Jesus baptized? Really, think about it? Had he sinned? We baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. He is the Son so it doesn’t really seem like he should need to be baptized. On one hand, the answer to this one is simple, he didn’t need to be baptized but he chose to be baptized! Christian writers over the years have been uncomfortable with the idea of the divine being baptized. In the 2nd century Ignatius stated that he was already pure and so the purpose was to purify the water. Justin Martyr explained that he was baptized “for the sake of humanity.” One might also say that it was a symbol or affirmation of his true humanity.

Why do we baptize? According to Living Faith we baptize as a sign and seal of our union with Christ and with his church. Through it we share in the death and resurrection of Christ and are commissioned to his service.

Secondly, we ask, what?

What was baptism in Jesus’ time? In the Old Testament immersion had been a form of returning to ritual cleanliness. In the New Testament, John announced “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” or purification of the body after the soul was cleansed by righteousness. Before immersion in a river John required prior repentance and performance of good deeds.  In Jesus’ day baptism was a radical, counter-cultural act. Luke highlights this with his mention of the fact that Herod was made so nervous by John baptizing people in the Jordan, and people questioning whether John may be the Messiah, that after John called him out on his marriage to Herodius he had him arrested, imprisoned and eventually killed.

Jesus was already an adult when he went to the river where John was baptizing. Since it was just a couple weeks ago that we celebrated the birth of a baby in Bethlehem, it is sometimes hard to remember that there was no cute little white dress, or white suit, candles and Godparents.

Jesus’ baptism was public but with no big hoopla or special notice. In Luke’s account it is just slipped in. John explains to the people there that he is neither worthy to unlace the Messiah’s sandals, nor able to baptize with anything but water; while the one who was coming would baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire. The actual “story” of the baptism is no more than one line stating that the people and Jesus had been baptized and then it jumps to an undetermined time later when Jesus was praying. It is at this point that heaven opened up and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” We are given no indication that anyone other than Jesus himself is witness to these signs and statements.

What is baptism in the Presbyterian Church in Canada? Baptism is one of the two sacraments of the Presbyterian Church. Living Faith 7.6.3 “By the power of the Holy Spirit God acts through Baptism. It is the sacrament not of what we do but of what God has done for us in Christ. God’s grace and our response to it are not tied to the moment of Baptism, but continue and deepen throughout life. It is a sacrament meant for those who profess their faith and for their children. Together we are the family of God. 7.6.5 Baptism assures us that we belong to God. In life and in death our greatest comfort is that we belong to our faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.”

Lastly, we ask, how?

How do we decide to be baptized? As Christian parents people make the decision to raise their children in the church and the first step in that is to have them baptized. One PCC document says that, “When people seek baptism later in life, it means that the Holy Spirit, as a guide and friend, has moved them to claim the grace and love of God in Christ, and faith in a new way. It is a courageous action.”

How are we baptized? Living Faith 7.6.2 “In Baptism, water is administered in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. The water signifies the washing away of sin, the start of new life in Christ, and the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

How are we meant to live out our baptisms? 7.6.4 “Baptism is also an act of discipleship that requires commitment and looks towards growth in Christ. Those baptized in infancy are called in later years to make personal profession of Christ. What is born may die. What is grafted may wither. Congregations and those baptized must strive to nurture life in Christ.”

We begin when the Holy Spirit ignites a passion in us. We seek to discern our vocations, we seek to grow in our knowledge and understanding of the ways of Jesus, and we attempt to live in such a way that people see Christ in our lives.

The thing with seeking to answer the big questions is that more often than not we are left with a whole list of new questions. This can be very frustrating, especially if we want to leap right into the action phase of a project. Remember that we are not alone. We have our church family and most importantly we have God. Jesus said he would always be with us through the Holy Spirit. We can continue to have conversations with others and it is vital that we continue the conversation with God in prayer. When we face the next question in living out our baptisms go back to the beginning, start with why and listen for God’s answer.

 

Your Church Can Thrive: Making the Connections that build healthy congregations by Harold Percy, Abingdon Press 2003

Living Faith -https://www.google.com/url?q=http://presbyterian.ca/resources-od/&sa=U&ved=0ahUKEwjuiavu-Z_KAhUkUKYKHX1TCjQQFggEMAA&client=internal-uds-cse&usg=AFQjCNFxxynHAbwDAa92okqQqlWM4Kj4SQ

 

Word of Mouth


Word of mouth

3631902258_3fab33242d_m

My family and I have a bathroom renovation project underway and when I was looking for someone to do the work I did as I usually do and asked Dad.  After that I asked my friends on Face Book for their opinions of and experiences with different contractors.  Similarly, when our washer died I put out a request for comments on top load washers versus front load models.  In fact on any given day you can find requests for advice on road conditions, where to go to get things, and whether or not a movie is worth seeing.  None of these things are likely to change our lives but are examples which show that we place greater value on the experience and opinion of our friends than on the advertisements which would have us believe that every product is better than all the other products which in-turn are also better… So what about spiritual questions, things that will change our lives?  What would you seek and whom would you follow?

 

In our Gospel reading today John must have been ‘wired for sound’! He had just experienced what he knew was the highest point of his ministry, he had fulfilled his destiny. It was not his own accomplishment, it wasn’t that he would be thinking what a great job he had done, but it was still a great day.  If it had happened today he might immediately get out his cell phone and tweet something like, “Best day of my life, baptized Son of God, heard God’s voice and saw the spirit, time to retire, can die happy!”

In the other Gospels this is where the baptism story ended and they moved away from the Baptist and the area around the Jordan, one immediately, to the temptation of Christ and the beginning of his ministry.  John chose instead to continue the narrative of Baptist’s activities.  In a sense the author gave him time to tweet and for people to respond to his news.  While the other Gospels gradually reveal Jesus’ identity, John front loads the story with details of Jesus’ true identity.  In very short order he identifies Christ by several of the titles which had been ascribed to him by the church over the years; Lamb of God, Son of God, Rabbi, and Messiah.

 

Last week we read of the baptism itself and today, the actual baptism itself is not narrated in John, we take up the story on the next day. John the Baptist saw Jesus and told all who are in the area just what had happened and how important this man was!  In a tradition in which sacrifices were made for thanksgiving, for atonement of sin, etc. it would have caught people’s attention when the Baptist referred to Christ as, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”  It may have brought out memories of the Passover lamb whose death and the painting of its blood protected the people in Egypt.  For us, and indeed for the early readers of John’s gospel, this speaks to his crucifixion and resurrection, his atonement for the sins of the whole world.  At the time of the Baptist, however, it may have brought to mind Abraham who said God would provide the lamb for the sacrifice.  At the least it would have indicated his purity but oddly would also carry a picture of weakness; important because of the role of the unblemished lamb in sacrifice, but weak because a lamb is helpless to defend itself from death on the altar.

 

The Baptist had been out in the wilderness preaching and calling people to repentance, but never taking credit or making himself out to be important.  In John’s gospel this event followed a scene in which the Baptist was questioned by religious authorities.  He had denied being Elijah, being The Prophet (Moses), and being the Messiah. He had in fact always been saying, “After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.”  He had never made much of himself but pointed ahead to that man. He explained that he had been baptizing with water in order to reveal the man to Israel.  He related the sight of the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remaining on Jesus, and that God had told them this would be the sign of the man who was coming. He made a statement worthy of a court trial, “I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”

 

It is likely that most people who heard him talking about Jesus considered it to be at least a bit far-fetched and perhaps attributed it to John’s strange ways.  “After all, he lives way out here away from people and doesn’t eat properly, he was probably delirious with hunger, or maybe he is going mad.  A spirit came and settled on a man and this is the big news? Hardly!”

 

The next day, then two days after Christ’s baptism, two of the Baptist’s followers were there when again he saw Jesus.  Again he identified Jesus and he testified that he was the Lamb of God.  These two men then left John, up until now their spiritual leader, and followed Jesus. Jesus asked them what they were seeking and told them to come and see.  Before he had taught them anything they called him Rabbi which means teacher. They went to where he was staying and spent the day with him.  Only one of the two is named in this account, Andrew the brother of the man known to us as Simon Peter.  Andrew ran off to find his brother and passed on the exciting news, “We have found the Messiah.”  When they got back Jesus identified him by name and says he will be called Cephas’ or Peter.

 

So following the line of information

  1. God tells John of his mission

  2. God tells John how to recognize the one to come after

  3. John witnesses the sign Lamb of God

  4. John tells all who are around Lamb of God

  5. John repeats this to two of his followers Son of God

  6. One of the followers, Andrew, goes to tell his brother Messiah

If we were to continue this line it would lead us all the way to this place and thousands like it where the Word is being proclaimed today.

 

The three readings I chose to use this morning are very different in form, the Psalm being a poem or song, 1 Corinthians being a letter, and John being a story.  They are all about saving help, God’s faithfulness, Christ’s salvation, steadfast love, mercy, and evangelism.

 

 

In the Psalm we read a song of thanksgiving for deliverance from dire personal circumstances as well as the pattern of God’s works of salvation for the people of Israel over the ages.  The author does what most of us would do after being rescued; he gives thanks and praises his deliverer.  He doesn’t do this in private, but in the congregation, he tells everyone! In the 11 verses we read we go back and forth between the personal story and praise to God for his faithfulness, and the communal stories of the past and expectations of the future.  The other feature of the Psalm is that it expresses God’s desire for a relationship with us rather than sacrifices. God doesn’t want the rites of religion, he wants our seeking and having his laws written on our heart.

 

Much of the writing of Paul that is included in the Christian cannon is in the form of letters.  There was a very ordered format for letters in his time and he certainly followed it.  First you introduce yourself, then identify the recipient, give thanks, and then you move on to the content.  Our reading this morning was the introduction to a much longer letter which would address some pretty major issues with the church in Corinth.  Without reading further, however, one would be unlikely to realize there was any problem or concern. The focus here was on their unity in that they were all called by Christ, that they were all empowered by the Spirit, that they all shared the same testimony to the grace of Christ and the faithfulness and steadfastness of God. Paul gives thanks for the congregation which was equipped with the tools they needed to continue this testimony, to pass on the word.

 

So, we have established that word-of-mouth is the most effective way of getting information out to people. Given this it is hard to imagine why do we rely so heavily on the Bible itself to get the Christian message out?  How can we offer Christ and invite people to come and see what a life of following Jesus might be like. (Daniel Ogel…GBod)?

 

People are only willing to inquire about faith and follow if they are themselves open to it. It is spiritual hunger which compels people to search for new possibilities. It is their dissatisfaction with where they are in their lives and in their spiritual life which forces them to go in search of something new.(Daniel Ogel, GBod.com0 John the Baptist pointed the way to Jesus, “don’t focus on me or the trappings of the church or liturgy, look to Jesus himself and be open to a relationship with him.  Jesus invited the first two disciples to, “come and see” where he was staying, to actually walk in his ways.  Both of these approaches to seekers are models of evangelism.  “Instead of beating people over the head or intimidating them to confess their faith, John and Jesus point to what God is doing and invite people to check it out. It’s a pretty compelling strategy for faith-sharing and evangelism.”(Daniel Ogel, GBod.com) and far less awkward than starting a conversation with a person by asking them if they know Jesus, or if they are a Christian and then launching into a “sales campaign.”

 

So, what did you post on Face Book this morning before leaving for church?  Did you post that you were going to church? Great! When we share our lives as Christians with people, just as that, our lives, we open a door. If we get out the bat, quote scripture and tell people how they should live and what they should believe, we are more likely to scare them away. What will you post later in the day?  Whether we have good days or bad what people will notice is our patience and hopefulness in God and maybe that will be enough to make them ask where we get that patience and hopefulness and then we can invite them to come and see.

 

 The readings for this sermon were; 1 Cor 1:1-9, Psalm 40:1-11, John 1:19-42

As The Trip Begins


As I begin to write this morning I am awaiting the arrival of my travel buddy, my sister.  We are off for our summer adventure, this year a road trip.

We don’t have any very specific plans other than our usual plan to seek out cozy spots to read.  i realize that many wouldn’t find that very exciting!  For us, though, guilt-free pleasure reading time is more the definition of relaxation.

So, other than loading our Kobos up with books, it was a little tricky to figure out what to pack.  Would we need to dress up for anything?  Will we be hiking? Maybe both things, so one dress type outfit and the sport sneakers rather than the cute ones…

I never cease to be amazed at the directions Jesus gave the twelve before they let on their first solo ministry trips.  He didn’t provide maps, didn’t divide up the territory and assign a portion to each team.  All he said was to stay together with their travel buddies, to pack nothing and to leave a place where their message was unwelcome.  Don’t pack anything.  No food, no money, not even a change of clothes or sandals.  Imagine if someone suggested we should do that today!

Almost as surprising as Jesus’ directions, given his proven concern for their well-being, is the fact that twelve grown and self-suficient men followed the directions!  They went out and later were able to report that people did listen to them and that they had been able to heal people.  Would that have been different if they had surreptitiously tucked a little bag of spending money under their cloaks?

Clearly, I am not meaning to suggest that we shouldn’t pack a bag for our vacations.  i am, however, aware of times in my life when I have felt called to do something but left it undone because I didn’t feel equipped to do it.  I missed chances to do as I had been directed because I didn’t have my bag packed.  

“He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff, no bread, no bag, no money in their belts.” (Mark 6:8)

In A Deserted Place, All By Ourselves?


A Deserted Place, All By Ourselves

Stress is defined as the body’s reaction to events or circumstances which may; excite, frighten, endanger, thrill, be tragic or joyful etc.  The body literally prepares itself to fight for, or run for, your life!  “Tell us something we don’t know!” you are probably thinking.  We are all too familiar with the negative effects of stress in our lives.  Everyone is affected differently; different triggers, different types of reactions, different defense mechanisms.

 

When the apostles got back together with Jesus after their mission of healing and teaching they were wired for sound!  They were so excited that they were able to actually heal some people, drive out some demons, and that people actually wanted to hear them speak!  It was thrilling to suddenly be in demand, to be popular.  They probably felt like they could continue on this track forever, after all, the adrenaline kick to their system was continually being fired by the people crowding around them.  They had more energy, could sense the world more keenly, were stronger.  What a high!

 

The other thing that the body does when faced with stressors, whether positive or negative, is to shut down some of the less vital body functions.  With limited resources, it can hardly add the extra without taking something away.  It shuts down the digestive system until you are safe again; it turns off the immune system.  If you might die (what the body assumes when stressed) what difference will it make if you digested your lunch or catch a cold?  When we deal with one stressor after another over a period of time our body will suffer, the heightened alert state can only go on for so long before a crash!

 

Jesus knew that the apostles were headed for a crash if they didn’t get a rest, some mental and physical down time, a chance to eat and digest a meal, to sleep a bit.  When they were alone together he often took the chance to teach them and explain some of his parables to them more clearly.  All of this would enrich their ministry and enable them to continue.  He was concerned for their wellbeing even when they weren’t aware of any risk.

 

There is so much in this one set of bookend stories today about which I could speak.  I say bookends because, as I’m sure you noticed, they are the stories immediately before and after the great stories of the feeding of the 5,000 and Jesus walking on water.  In fact several sources I looked at suggested ignoring the fact that the lectionary skipped that section of the story and preach about it anyway.  The two things I’m going to look at this time are Jesus’ compassion (for his apostles and the crowds) and their faith in his healing power.

 

Busyness followed them despite their attempt to get some time to themselves.  They headed off in boats to find a quiet place away from the crowd and it didn’t work because the crowd found them.  The fact that Mark tells us that the crowd got to the isolated location first is used to indicate their great need and the fact that they were now with Jesus in a deserted place rather than out in the public eye where there was risk to his life.  It is also important to note that it really shows that they didn’t even have a moment to get settled before being back on-the-job.  

 

 I would say that few, if any, of us have crowds of fans following us around and trying to guess where we will be in order to line up for a chance to see us.  This is reserved for the Queen, teen heartthrobs and the like.  What crowds do we have following us?  What busyness presses in on our time apart?  We have work, and family, and church, and kid’s activities etc.  Our cell phones, our laptops, smart technology all allow us to be available to the world 24/7.  We can have real-time online chats with people around the globe, which may well mean in the middle of the night for one of us.  We may be in the middle of handling a situation and be interrupted at any moment by someone else’s crisis; one of the kids forgot gym clothes, a telemarketer wanting us to add services on our phones, a friend in trouble.  Neither the original situation, nor the new one gets the focused attention we may want to give.  So long as we have these items with us and turned on, they will beat us to our quiet time.  We may be in a deserted place, but not alone.   The world is there with us, just like the crowds who managed to found Jesus and his apostles in the deserted place.

 

I expect you may remember, from other posts, me mentioning my friend The Rev. Charles Deogratias, a Presbyterian chaplain with the Canadian Forces.  Charles and his wife Hyasinter grew up in a refugee camp after their families had fled the genocide in Rwanda. They live in Canada now but have never lost touch with their own country, their own people.  As Charles gets nearer to retirement they have started a project called The Heartprints Community Center.  They have purchased a piece of land in Rwanda and are raising funds to build and operate a community center on the property.  The concept is really interesting.  Aware of the great potential and desire to learn and improve in Rwanda, and the wealth of knowledge and experience here in Canada which, especially after retirement, often goes untapped; the plan is to have the Rwandese government to identify the expertise they need for their projects and for the center to assist with finding the people.  Volunteers would be cared for there at the center, with meals and accommodations etc. and each day they would be picked up and taken to where their help is needed.  This is different from a typical mission trip where people from here try to identify a specific project or need and go into an area to carry out the short or long term work.   Just as Jesus showed the apostles, one thing that Charles agrees will be very important is that at the end of the work term (3 weeks, 6 months or whatever a person is able to give) volunteers will have a break and a chance to enjoy the country, to go on a safari, to rest from the needs of others and care for their own needs.

 

After their unsuccessful attempt to get away on their own Jesus sent the apostles to go ahead of him to Bethsaida, a community on the North Eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee.  The next thing today’s story tells us is that they were barely out of the boat at Ganeseret before people recognized them and were begging to touch Jesus’ cloak fringe for healing.  Did you catch that?  What were they doing in Ganeseret, North Western shore, when they were headed to Bethsaida?  Whether due to confusion during the storm(see the story of Jesus walking on water), a lack of confidence on the part of the disciples, or coincidence they did not arrive where they had headed. They were, as it turns out, in the wrong place – at the right time! 

 

People were begging to touch even a fringe, bringing sick from all the surrounding area for healing.  In contrast to the issue of lack of miracles in his home town, due to lack of faith, here there was great faith that Jesus would heal them.  One commentary I read stated that this faith in a touch of Jesus’ coat was nothing more than superstition, after-all these people had never met Jesus, never heard his message of repentance.  This is an interesting point, but the people who did know him the best, at home, didn’t believe at all and the apostles, who were now even partners in the teaching and healing, still had doubts.  The people in Ganeseret had needs, and they had faith that they would be met through Jesus Christ.

 

Do you remember the rock musical Jesus Christ Superstar?  One line in the song Everything’s Alright is sung by Jesus in response to Judas’ outrage at wasting expensive oil which could have been sold and the money given to the poor,

“Surely you’re not saying
We have the resources
To save the poor from their lot?
There will be poor always
Pathetically struggling
Look at the good things you’ve got!”

“There will be poor always,” is a paraphrase of the words of Jesus as recorded in the books of Matthew, Mark, and John; three of the four Gospels.  Some might take this as a rather callous statement; it might seem that he is suggesting we just forget about them because we cannot solve the problem of poverty and suffering.  We know, however, that it wasn’t meant that way.  As the song continues Jesus indicates that they should be taking advantage of the time they have with him, to hear him teach.  We are able to see, in stories like today’s, that Jesus had compassion on crowds wherever he went.  Up until this set of stories his compassion had been for specific people who were sick but here this compassion is extended to include the whole crowd, a whole flock of lost sheep.  He healed them and he taught them even when he had been trying to get a break.  But we are not Jesus.  Time apart, by ourselves, to be healed and to hear Jesus’ teaching is an important part of our ministry as Christians. There will always be people to help whether we take time to look after ourselves or not, but we will not always be able to help unless we do take that time.  Amen.

 

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

 Jesus Christ Superstar is a rock opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber, with lyrics by Tim Rice.

 

Amazed and Rejected/ Rejected and Amazed


 

Amazed and Rejected

 

You go to see a magician.  Friends and colleagues have told you how good a show it is.  At the performance you are amazed or astounded by what you see, or what you don’t see.  Impossible things happen before your very eyes and you leave the theatre shaking your head.  But in the light of reason and your understanding of reality, you reject the magic and wonder, instead you try to figure out what kind of trick was involved?  You refuse to believe that magic was involved. You were amazed, but ultimately you reject. 

 

Jesus returned to his home town after performing a whole series of miraculous healings etc. around the region of Galilee.  We can imagine his meeting his mother at the door and receiving a big hug.  She probably cooked him his favourite meal and welcomed his disciples who had followed him to town.  Neighbors would notice all the extra activity at Mary’s home and would be asking around to find out what was going on.  “Mary’s son and his friends are home for a visit.  The whole family is excited to be spending time with him.”  News about him had been spreading around the region.  He was becoming famous, and now here he was returning to his hometown, someone to be proud of!

 

On the Sabbath Jesus went to the synagogue and taught, just as he had been teaching crowds on hillsides and lake shores throughout the region.  But this day was different; this was the “church” in which he had grown up.  The people in attendance were well known to him; his neighbours, classmates, childhood friends, and his family. His brothers and sisters, fellow children of Mary were there.  These were the people who knew him the best, whom he knew and loved.  As he spoke, the congregation were first amazed at his wisdom, his insight and the authority with which he spoke.  This was not your everyday teaching and they could feel that. They were astounded, maybe their mouths were agape! They looked around them and saw his proud mother, his brothers and sisters, and remembered him working in the carpentry shop.  They looked at him again.  He was not clothed in fancy robes, had no special aura around him, he had no special credentials, did not make reference to any revered teachers.  Amazement changed to rejection.

 

The town rejected him and Jesus was amazed at their unbelief!  Even though he did know in the back of his mind that, “Prophets are not without honour, except in their home town, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” What had he been expecting?  Since his ministry began he had been followed without question by total strangers whom, upon first meeting, he asked to follow him.  Gradually his following had been growing to the extent that, a man named Jairus and a sick woman were certain that he could heal a dying daughter and an 18 year illness.

 

I expect we are all familiar with the feeling of being rejected.  You try out for a team or a role and are not chosen.  Most of the time in these cases there is no second chance, no appeal process.  We make proposals, provide information to support them.  At some point we stop and give time for people to process and they make up their minds.  It doesn’t matter how much we believe in our idea, if the other people don’t believe then they don’t.  We can try giving more evidence to prove our case but in the end, it is their decision and if that is to reject the story is over.

 

Rejection stings and often leads to resentment and ends with us giving up.  “There is no point in making suggestions, these people will just ignore them anyway, they never listen to me!”   Jesus knew this sting just as we do but, if tempted at all, he did not speak further to try to convince people.  There was no cajoling, no show of power, nothing.  Similarly, he did not give up.  Undeterred, he simply continued his ministry in other towns. 

 

At home the unbelief of the people meant that no great deeds were done, he healed a few sick people.  This doesn’t mean that his power was reduced, nothing could reduce his power, but because they didn’t believe that it was God’s power they were unaffected.  Hard as it may be to separate the two, it was not Jesus the person whom the people rejected.  In the Old Testament story today, after Saul’s death all of Israel made covenant with David as their king.  He had been great at leading the army and was well known, but he was not accepted as king because he was personally great, rather he was accepted because the people recognized that God had chosen him and led him to this office.  The Jewish people were familiar with prophets like Isaiah speaking to the people in the words of God. The people of Nazareth were impressed by Jesus’ wisdom, amazed by what they had heard or seen of his miracles, but did not see that God had named him His son.  Even the Gentiles recognized that God was the source of Jesus’ power, the unclean spirits had all named him as the Son of God.  The Nazarenes were not rejecting the man in Jesus, they were rejecting the God in Jesus.

 

The people of Nazareth missed a chance that day.  Jesus left and, as he instructed his disciples for their ministries, shook the dust of the town off his feet.  Jesus left, but at no point did he say anything that indicates that they would not be able to change their minds later.  In fact, we know that at least one of his brothers went from trying to drag him home a couple weeks ago, to this week’s rejection, to being one of his followers later on.  Jesus was amazed but he did not reject!

 

I have a friend from my high school days with whom I have renewed contact through FaceBook.  Another friend of mine has commented about how much she likes having the two of us as friends because we are both totally committed but completely opposite; me to God and the church and she to her atheistic views.  I have frequently considered dropping her as a friend as it is most unpleasant reading the anti-religion and anti-God quotes etc.  I haven’t done so though, and 95% of the time we don’t make comments on each other’s posts.  Would I like her to come to faith?  Most definitely!  Do I think that arguing with her and presenting information will change her mind?  No!

 

On its own, no amount of knowledge is enough to bring one to faith…Jesus’ friends and neighbours knew more about him than any of the people he had already helped, more than his disciples, and certainly more than we do.  Don’t get discouraged in your ministry or vocation.  We will all meet with challenges and rejections but we can follow Jesus’ instructions to his disciples.  We go out into our lives with only what we are and what God has given us, we don’t need to pack and prepare, when we are rejected we should shake it off and keep going.

 

As one of Helen Keller’s doctors told her, “permanent blindness.  Deaf. Invalid.  There’s a lot of living to be found within those limitations if you don’t wear yourself out fighting them!”

Amen.

 

2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10

Psalm 48

Mark 6:1-13