Who Do You Say I Am?

questionsWho Do You Say I Am?
by Rev Charmaine Braatvedt
24th August, 2014

Matthew 16: 13 – 20; Romans 12: 1 – 8

Imagine if Jesus were to come into this church in person this morning. If he were to say:Hey guys I am taking questions.

I wonder what question you might think of to ask him?

For that matter, if he were to come into the church in person, I wonder what question he might ask of you?

In the Gospel reading this morning, Jesus asked his  disciples a challenging question:

Who do you say I am?

What was Peter’s reply?

You are the Christ, the son of the living God.

And what was Jesus’ reply?

Your answer is divinely inspired Peter.

It is on this insightful answer and on this kind of faith that I, the Christ/the Messiah, intend to build the new messianic community i.e. My Church.

The words Christ and Messiah both mean “anointed” or “anointed one.”

The term Christ is an English derivative of the New Testament Greek word christos, and the equivalent Hebrew word in the Old Testament is mashiach.

This term is transliterated in the New Testament as messias

and has come down into modern English as “messiah.”

Now most of us would know that there was a longstanding biblical expectation, proclaimed repeatedly by the prophets, that one day God would raise up a messiah, a Christ, from his chosen people, to execute God’s justice and righteousness in the world.

At the outset of his ministry, when Jesus read from the scroll of Isaiah in the synagogue, he deliberately evoked this messianic expectation, by defining his own ministry and mission in terms of:

  • bringing justice to the oppressed
  • and relief to the poor.

Remember the story in Luke 4:16 – 20:

And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written, “THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS UPON ME, BECAUSE HE ANOINTED ME TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR. HE HAS SENT ME TO PROCLAIM RELEASE TO THE CAPTIVES, AND RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND, TO SET FREE THOSE WHO ARE OPPRESSED TO PROCLAIM THE FAVORABLE YEAR OF THE LORD.” And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him.

During his ministry, Jesus enacted this mission statement of bringing justice to the oppressed and relief to the poor, wherever he went:

The Gospels tell us that He proclaimed, the kingdom of God was at hand. By this he meant the long awaited reign of divine justice on earth was getting underway here and now. He unpacked this further by explaining that the dawning of the kingdom of God, was good news for the socially disadvantaged in that it brought to them, both the comfort of learning of God’s acceptance of them, and the reassurance that God was at work in Jesus to end their suffering and to restore them to community.

Jesus maintained the position that because ultimate sovereignty belongs to God alone, God’s justice must be the measuring rod against which the exercise of all other institutional and human power is to be evaluated.

He summoned his hearers to put the claims of God’s royal justice ahead of all lesser concerns.

“Seek first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you.”

It is impossible to read the Gospels without sensing Jesus’ profound hostility to materialism. He strongly believed that as an alternative source of security, surplus wealth creates a barrier to radical submission to God’s authority.

We can be in no doubt that Jesus was oriented towards the poor and the marginalised which includes the destitute, the weak, the social outcasts, the demon possessed, children, women, the sick and the disabled.

For three years he went about healing the sick, feeding the hungry, delivering the demonized and welcoming the marginalised until his ministry was cut short by his untimely death on the cross.

And in that time he challenged the dominant religious and political systems that excluded or oppressed them.

In particular, Jesus criticized the wealthy elite for accumulating unneeded surpluses, for ignoring the needs of the poor and for exploiting the weak.

You see contrary to what is often taught about Jesus, he was a messiah in every sense of the word.

He incarnated our world in its entirety and so He was not only a messiah in the sense of being  a spiritual teacher, he was also a messiah who challenged the inequitable social structures of his time and who reached out to people who were marginalised and victimised by the social and political systems of this world.

He was in this sense an agent of radical political and social kingdom change. He challenged the religious authorities, the Sanhedrin and the Pharisees as well as the gentile Roman rulers with the demands of God’s righteousness and justice for all people and that was why they hated him.

So what does all this mean for us as the Church,

the messianic community of faith, today?

As the messiah, God’s anointed One, Jesus called together an alternative society which would live out the reality of God’s reign here on earth, continue his work, be his hands and feet in the world. On this rock I will build my church. He says.

When in the beatitudes he blessed the poor, the hungry and the mourning, he was reassuring them that God intended to reverse their situation. God would do this through the influence and work of the Church.

So Jesus assembled a new, inclusive community of followers in which the poor were to be given preference.

Through Jesus, a new messianic community would be created which would work against poverty, hunger and misery.

This community would include you and me.

Furthermore, in this community a whole new attitude towards material possessions would prevail.

It would be a community that was committed to a lifestyle of sharing and sacrifice for the needy.

It would be a community that would be vigilant against the deceitfulness of excessive wealth and corruption.

His discipleship community would  turn prevailing patterns of power and greatness upside down.

In this community there would be servant leadership,

the first shall be last. As we read in Matthew 20:

“But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. “It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant…”

His radical change to society would be built not on a foundation of power, but of sacrificial love.

Jesus refuted violence as a means of bringing about the kingdom of God. Instead he chose the way of non- violent sacrificial love and required the same of his followers.

See Matthew 5: 38-44.

You have heard that it was said, ‘AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.’ “But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. “If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. “Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. “Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous

Jesus chose the option of radical unconditional love for himself and for his messianic community, the church.

Hence the church must embody in its own life the characteristics of justice and generosity made known in the life and activity of Jesus.

In Romans 12 we read today

Therefore I urge you in view of God’s mercy to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God- this is your spiritual act of worship.

Today as we his church, consider our stewardship of the Great Commission, we realise that discipleship is more than worshiping Jesus as the Messiah on a Sunday.

It is living a radically different life from the prevailing world view from Monday to Saturday as well.

Again in Romans 12 we read:

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

Were Jesus to enter our church this morning in person he might well ask of us:

Who do you say I am?

We would  reply?

You are the Christ, the son of the living God.

And then Jesus might well say to us as he did to Peter?

Your answer is divinely inspired.

It is on this insightful answer and on this kind of faith that I, the Christ/the Messiah, am building a messianic community in Devonport i.e. My Church.

But then I think he might well go on to say:

So what are you doing with the resources that I have given you to carry out my messianic ministry of bringing justice to the oppressed and relief to the poor in the world today?

I wonder how we would answer him.

How Big Is Your Bump?

How Big Is Your Bump?
by David Allis
17th August, 2014

Intro

Pregnant Bump

I have 6 children – which as you will appreciate has its good bits, and its challenges.

One of my sons got married a couple of years ago – seem to be living happily ever after – but a strange thing is happening – his wife is putting on weight – fortunately is because she is pregnant – she has a bump that is getting larger

I want to talk this am about bumps we all have – or I hope we have

I don’t mean our pregnant tummies

And I don’t mean our fat tummies

– although one of my sons, when he was much younger, saw me in my togs and asked if I was having a baby … he was obviously very young, very rude, and had terrible eyesight

Big Circle & Bump

Draw a big circle in your mind – and picture a small bump on the edge of it

The big circle is everything we do for ourselves, our family, our friends and people like us

  • It includes our time, energy, money, resources
  • It is for people we are responsible for (eg our children, our parents, our spouse, other relatives)
  • It is for people where we have reasonably reciprocal relationships – our friends, work colleagues etc – we do something for them, and later they will probably do something for us

The bump is the things we do for others – where there is no hope of payback

  • Things that are relatively altruistic – almost completely for the benefit of others, and with little benefit or payback for ourselves (apart from maybe making us feel good)
  • Things like sponsoring a WV child, or giving to a charity or feeding a hungry person

So – Big Circle & Smaller Bump normally – although some people might have a monstrous bump … someone like Ma T presumably had a very small circle, and a Big Bump

But most people in NZ have a big circle and small bump

Big Circle

  • Looking after ourselves, our family, relatives and our friends
  • I think most giving to church is part of this Big Circle – arguably most church giving is used to pay for the roof over your head and the pew to sit on etc – if we’re part of a church, we need to pay for our seats
  • While we’re thinking about the church – it also effectively has a Big Circle – and a bump – the Big Circle of activities, money, energy expended on providing the building, ministers, staff, programs for church people etc

o   And the bump is the altruistic things – missions, food bank etc

Big Circle – helping people we are responsible for or have relationship with – good things (not bad) – lovely, nice, good etc

Bump – also good things … but for the benefit of others – people who we aren’t responsible for, and are outside our normal circle of influence

The Problem / Challenge / Question

The problem / challenge / question we face is this

– we live in a beautiful & rich & safe country – and probably one of the best suburbs – we’re in the top 10% or 5% of people in the world (in terms of wealth, safety, health etc)

Our Big Circle is BIG

Yet, unfortunately, we live in a world where people are still starving.

Or dying of preventable diseases.

Or being persecuted.

Or being evicted from their villages, only able to take what they can carry.

Or living in refugee camps for years with nowhere to go.

 

We have BIG BIG circles – these people have very small ‘big circles’.

And our bump can make a huge difference in their lives.

The problem, or challenge, or question for us, is the relative size of our big circle, and our bump …. While others are in such need in the world.

Would we swap positions with the needy person in Ethipia? Or Iraq? Sudan? NO

But if the positions were reversed – if we were the starving person – what would we be saying to the person in Devonport with the BIG BIG Circle?

“Hey – look over here – help ….  Make your bump bigger … help me …”

Matt 22 – Love God & love neighbour

Matt 22:34-40   Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.


613 laws of Moses
– condensed into 2 – love God (completely) & love your neighbour (as yourself)

In the Luke version of this, the lawyer asking the Q goes on to ask who is my neighbour

– Jewish teachers had often interpreted “neighbor” to include only people of their own nationality and religion

– and the ;lawyer was possibly hoping for this answer, and justification.

But Jesus replies & tells the story we know as the parable of the good Samaritan.

At the time of Jesus, the Jews and Samaritans had been enemies for hundreds of years.

The Jews considered the Samaritans to be religious heretics of a foreignnationality and inferior race,

Jews would have no contact with Samaritans.

There was no one less like a neighbour than a Samaritan. (despised enemy would be a better term)

So – if a Samaritan man could be a “neighbor” to the Jewish man who was robbed and beaten, then Jesus is extending the definition of “neighbor” to include all people, regardless of race, religion, nationality or any other artificial distinction

In this, the person we are neighbour to expands to “whoever we see in need and can help”

Unfortunately these days, with TV, internet etc … we can see a lot further …. And we are able to help at long distances – our neighbours are everywhere in the world – we can reach out to help worldwide

TODAY we have more knowledge, and more reach, and more ability to help people in need than ever before in human history

Our neighbour is anyone we see in need and can help – TODAY  people in Syria are our neighbours – people in Iraq, in Sudan, in Ethiopia – OUCH – this is not easy. It is a huge responsibility.

Challengefor me – how big is my bump – and can I make it bigger

Son & d-in-law – their bump is creating a new life – its really exciting for them & us.

This is what we are biologically created for – to live a good life, and to give life to others

We don’t have to be pregnant to give life – we can have a different type of bump – one that can also create life – give life – save life – as we love our ‘neighbours’

Matthew reading – the lawyer was wanting to TEST JC – JC passed the test. But in some ways, his answer is also a test or challenge or inspiration for us  …. To love God fully, AND love our neighbour as ourself.

How big is my bump? Your bump? Our corporate bump (as a church)?

And can I make my bump bigger? Shuffle some of my time, energy, love, finance, possessions from my Big Circle into my Bump – and hence help others.

Can You? Can We? Can this church?

Our big circle might need to become a little smaller – but a relatively small change to it can make a big difference to our bump – and to the lives affected by our bump.

But What Can We Do?

In a world where 2bn people in world living on $2/day – there is no shortage of effective ways to help people

Sponsoring Children (WV / TEAR FUND) – many people in NZ are already doing this – great, changing lives

Something I came across the other day – a way to help children in Africa resulting in them, on average, earning 20% more each year for their adult life – imagine that – if I could do something to help my children earn 20% more – I’d jump at the chance (even for my rude son who asked if I was pregnant).

We can do this for some children in parts of Africa – Deworming – cost $1 per year – improves their health, and hence their education & hence their earning capacity for life

And there are things you can do in NZ – there are poor people in NZ, lonely people, those without families, people with psych problems …. Many people that we can LOVE

Local Friend – Saved from What?

Friend locally – not a Christian, no faith – but has a life that seems good – lovely wife, kids are doing well, successful in business. So – I ask myself – what would faith or salvation look like for him?  What effect could JC have in his life?

– my best answer is that one thing he could be ‘saved’ from living a lovely but relatively selfish & self-centred life (with only a very small bump) & become someone who is less self-centred & selfish, and has a much bigger bump – and makes a significant difference in the lives of others in this world

And this is what we also need to be ‘saved’ from.

We live in a society that is incredibly materialistic, hedonistic and self-centred.

We need to say NO to some of that, and YES to loving our neighbours in a life-changing way … our neighbours in Devonport, in Beachhaven, in West AK, South Ak, Chch, Sudan, Ethiopia, Iraq etc

We are called to be counter-cultural – we are called to serve God’s kingdom – we are called to love God (completely) and love our neighbour (as ourself)

Inhabit the Tension

I came across a phrase recently that I have found helpful to ponder – the suggestion that we need to learn to “inhabit the tension” rather than always trying to resolve it.

I explained this to my son the other day (the one who asked if I was pregnant) – he’s now in his 20s – I have a tension between being relatively rich, and living a blessed life in a wonderful suburb in a beautiful and rich country – with my awareness that billions of people in the world live in poverty, hunger, war, violence, and that we who are blessed have a responsibility to help those in need.

We are blessed – and so we need to be a blessing to others.

Our cups runneth over … sloshing down around our feet – while so many others in the world have empty cups.  That is a tension for me. My wealth – and others need.

I told my son that I didn’t want to resolve this tension – the 2 ways the tension could be resolved are both unappealing to me – I could stay rich and ignore the needy – or I could give everything away to the poor, and become poor in the process.

Neither of these is appealing – rather I want to “inhabit this tension” – so it shapes who I am and what I do for the rest of my life. I want to be uncomfortable about the gap between the rich (us) and the poor. I want to use that discomfort to motivate me to do something active – to try to be more effective in loving my neighbour

Conclusion

Jesus said the greatest commandments were love God (completely) & love neighbour (anyone we see in need and can help).

The challenge for us is to work how best to be obedient to this, in our modern, materialistic, self-centred society.

I want my bump to grow. I want to love God and love my neighbour. I want to make a difference in the world. I want to help change peoples lives. And I’m sure you all do to.

Heb 10:25 “Let us not give up meeting together, as is the habit of some, but encourage one another even more …”  It’s hard to follow God by ourselves. We need each other – for encouragement and challenge – spurring one another on to good works – to loving God, and loving our neighbours.

Finish with a thought about Christmas … for the past few years, Margaret & I have tried to do something different, and have tried to encourage a few others to do the same thing – we have asked ourselves

“Can we give more to the poor than to the rich this Christmas”….

The ‘rich’ are our kids and family.

How do we give more to the poor than the rich … possibly by giving less to the rich … possibly by giving more to the poor … one thing it has done is help us adjust our priorities / values a bit.

Bible Reading

1 Jn 3:16-24  16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.19 This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: 20 If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22 and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. 24 The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us

Give And Get Free

richygmanGIVE AND GET FREE
By Rev. Jonathan Gale
Sunday, 10th August, 2014

2 Corinthians 9: 6 – 13

6 The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. 9As it is written,

‘He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor;

his righteousness endures for ever.’

10He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 11You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; 12for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God. 13Through the testing of this ministry you glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your sharing with them and with all others,


Mark 10: 17 – 27

The Rich Man

17 As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ 18Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19You know the commandments: “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honour your father and mother.” ’ 20He said to him, ‘Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.’ 21Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ 22When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’ 24And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, ‘Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’ 26They were greatly astounded and said to one another, ‘Then who can be saved?’ 27Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.’

♦♦♦

[N.B. Some information, part of the delivered sermon, and personal to Holy Trinity Devonport and to my family has not been included for public consumption]

I’m here to tell you that I am a Protestant through and through; and so we should be if we are Anglicans. We believe that salvation is first of all necessary and that we gain it by faith in the saving death and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ. It is by grace – a free gift of God – and it cannot be earned.

And we are each of us going to give an account for our lives; for how we have responded to the grace of God and how we have each of us lived out the saving grace of God here on earth.

These are the good things that have emerged from the Protestant Reformation, whose beginnings are associated with Martin Luther and whose effects were so thoroughly felt in Britain.

However, there was much in Catholicism that was good and our separation from Rome has had its disadvantages because we have forgotten some of them. One of these good things was a sense that the institution, the organisation of the Church was no different from the actual church as it exists in the mind of God.

In other words there was little sense that the true church consisted of genuine believers from all sorts of denominational expressions and that only God knew who these people were.

I am not recommending a reversion to Catholicism. In fact it is a pipe dream to suggest that there was a time when all the church was one big happy family. However it is true that in the mind of the average Medieval Christian there was (at least in Western Europe) the idea that there was only one church, that one belonged to it, and that involvement in its day to day life assured one of a heavenly future. There is something positive in that. It speaks of cultural and social, let alone religious, consensus.

That has changed, and at the root of that change lay not only a growing sense of individualism, but also a growing sense that our fallen natures placed us at odds with God. An overemphasis on the individual made it possible for us to declare unilateral independence not only from God, but from our fellows too.

And our overemphasis on the fallen nature of humankind made it possible for us to understand ourselves, even when saved, as conflicted creatures pulled in one direction by a desire to please God and in the other by a desire to please our fallen nature.

Prior to the Reformation, trust in the Church’s teaching and communal life was such that, by and large, adherence to its requirements was understood to bring life and wholeness. Both the individual and society was, one could say, less internally riven – less divided. If the church said it, it was true and – at the very least in the long run – beneficial.

And so, at least in the West, people were expected to carry out the biblical injunction to tithe for example, to give 10% of their income to the church. In the main they did so. In fact in most countries this was enshrined in legislation. It was relatively recently that the legislation was repealed. France officially abolished tithing in 1789, England in 1836, Ireland in 1871 and Italy in 1887.

Tithing remained a voluntary exercise encouraged by the Church of England but nominal membership meant income dropped markedly, especially under the influence of liberal scholarship which coincided with a drop in church attendance. A growing sense of individualism didn’t help, as individuals gradually began to identify themselves, in opposition to, rather than as part of, the church.

It became clear that an adherence to tithing was associated with a commitment to God.

Today those who tithe do so in denominations where it is expected. But in the traditional churches it is either carried out by a decreasing number of traditionalists from a sense of duty, or by those who understand it as a biblical imperative. It remains a measure of spiritual maturity and obedience to God.

There is a saying that the last thing to be converted is one’s pocket and this is not surprising in our consumer-driven society where the acquisition of things is given such priority. The mind-set of the Kingdom of God is diametrically opposed to that of society in this regard.

The understanding that a significant part of our makeup is at odds with God doesn’t help, and our independent individualism makes it easier for us to live our lives in discrete (that is separate) boxes where we have one set of values in one situation and another in a different situation. It makes it easier to ignore the things that please God.

The church has taken a pragmatic view on this and instead of insisting on an adherence to biblical principles, tends to appeal to the pragmatic and rational – pie charts of income and expenditure etc. – in an attempt to persuade us to part with our money in what is termed proportional and planned giving. For proportional read “we’re not asking you to be unreasonable” and for planned read “regular”.

I have a problem with this. It doesn’t work. And it doesn’t work firstly because only a very small proportion of people buy into anything for rational reasons. Secondly it seldom appeals to biblical principles and thirdly it seldom asks us to give in faith as a form of worship.

But enough of all that. We’re not legalistic in the New Testament. We should give as though we really did understand the extent to which Jesus, in giving his literal body up to crucifixion, now needs our support for his metaphysical body (the Church) here on earth.

I have already alluded to the fact that modernity’s values are at odds with God’s values. August is traditionally stewardship month, and while stewardship involves a great more than our giving money, it is a major part of it. So let’s have look at Jesus’ attitude towards money in the story of the rich young ruler. Let’s find Gospel – good news – in that story.

He’s a privileged man this. He’s not concerned with where his next meal is coming from, or where he’ll sleep for the night. His concerns are metaphysical.

He’s also an insightful man. Well, as Jesus people we’re a bit biased on that one! We reckon he recognises spiritual authority when he sees it. He comes to Jesus. In fact he kneels down before Jesus.

We read, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’

Jesus tells him to obey the commandments and mentions six of them. He replies, I’ve done that since I was a little fellow.

A bit annoyingly good this bloke. A bit like the kid in maths class who finishes his problems way before anybody else and then rushes up to the teacher for more to do. But then perhaps not, because Jesus looks into his eyes and the Scripture says, he loved him.

It sounds as though he really was keen to please God. Jesus took more than an instant liking to him. He felt love for him.

And then comes the bombshell. Vs. 21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’

Jesus sees within this fine man, a man whom he instinctively loves, the one and only area that prevents him from inheriting eternal life: his attachment to money.

It’s not that he has money that’s the problem. Jesus doesn’t dislike money any more than he dislikes electricity. Money is a prison for the rich young ruler because it is more important to him than God is. He’s not free of the need to have it.

I have no doubt the rich young ruler was a very generous man. He may have even heard Jesus teach (Luke 6: 26) Give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.He may even have done just that. In fact perhaps he half expected Jesus to give him a big giving assignment. He’d have been prepared for that. He’d kept the Law of Moses and it certainly encouraged generosity to the poor. He’d certainly have tithed and more.

But everything?!! Clearly he wasn’t expecting that for we read in the next verse 22When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

The rich young ruler preferred bondage to things, to freedom with Jesus. Bottom line.

According to the National Catholic Register Pope Francis recently said: “Jesus teaches us to put the needs of the poor ahead of our own. Our needs, even if legitimate, will never be so urgent as those of the poor, who lack the necessities of life.”  That’s why a fair whack of this church’s money goes to a good cause each month. It’s important.

Vs 23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’ This is a hard saying! I mean are any of us going to make it? In world terms if you own a car you’re wealthy.

But don’t despair. When the disciples ask Jesus who then can be saved, we read in Vs. 27Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.’

Next week I’ll be altering my automatic payment with Kiwibank to close my payment to Holy Trinity and redirect it to St Peter’s where I begin my new ministry in September. Wouldn’t it be nice if a number of you here today went home and made the firm decision that you are going to set up an automatic payment with a meaningful amount and direct it to the Holy Trinity bank account.

I challenge you to tithe.

  • I can say this because it’s a biblical principle.
  • I can say this because Jesus espoused radical giving.
  • I can say this because it’s freeing and it’s an act of worship.
  • I can say this because I know that statistically Anglican giving is not the best. Not all of us, mind you.
  • I can say this because I’m not asking you to do anything I don’t do.
  • I can say this because neither I nor my ministry would benefit in any way from your doing so.
  • I can say this, not because I want to shame you into doing what you should be doing, but because giving generously brings blessing.

We all face these choices. Do I keep one part of my life in one box and the other parts in other boxes so that they have nothing to do with one another? Or do I practice internal transparently so that my life is integrated, so that I have integrity?

No amount of talking on my part will change anyone on this. We only change when open to the Holy Spirit. I urge you to be open to God’s Spirit in regard to giving.

Give and get free. Give to the glory of God.

God bless you

AMEN

Dealing With Laban

mustardtreeDEALING WITH LABAN
By Rev Jonathan Gale
27th July 2014

Genesis 29: 15 – 28
Jacob Marries Laban’s Daughters

15 Then Laban said to Jacob, ‘Because you are my kinsman, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?’ 16Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. 17Leah’s eyes were lovely, and Rachel was graceful and beautiful. 18Jacob loved Rachel; so he said, ‘I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.’ 19Laban said, ‘It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to any other man; stay with me.’ 20So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.

21 Then Jacob said to Laban, ‘Give me my wife that I may go in to her, for my time is completed.’ 22So Laban gathered together all the people of the place, and made a feast. 23But in the evening he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob; and he went in to her. 24(Laban gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah to be her maid.) 25When morning came, it was Leah! And Jacob said to Laban, ‘What is this you have done to me? Did I not serve with you for Rachel? Why then have you deceived me?’ 26Laban said, ‘This is not done in our country—giving the younger before the firstborn. 27Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also in return for serving me for another seven years.’ 28Jacob did so, and completed her week; then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel as a wife.

Matthew 13: 31 – 33, 44 – 52
The Parable of the Mustard Seed

31 He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’

The Parable of the Yeast

33 He told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.’

Three Parables

44 ‘The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

45 ‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; 46on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

47 ‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; 48when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. 49So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Treasures New and Old

51 ‘Have you understood all this?’ They answered, ‘Yes.’ 52And he said to them, ‘Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.’ 53When Jesus had finished these parables, he left that place.

♦♦♦

One of the things I enjoy about getting out into the secular world is chatting to people who have no idea I’m a priest. Why’s that? They don’t filter their conversation and you get the unmitigated version of what’s going on in their lives.

Perhaps it’s because it’s the end of the financial year for some businesses right now but there are a lot of people under pressure out there. You might be one of them.

Frequently I listen to people describing the pressure they are under in terms of technicalities: looming deadlines, inefficient systems, poor supply chain issues, unexpected cost overruns, unforeseen changes in the state of the market etc.

However, one also picks up (and I well remember this from my years in development banking) that good management practices go a very long way to sorting these problems out.

That’s because at the heart of nearly every apparently technical problem, is a people problem. When people are under pressure they tend to lash out at other people without realising the damage they are causing.

But there is another kind of people problem in human relationships that is illustrated all too well in the person of Jacob’s uncle Laban from the account in Genesis 29 and that still bedevils humankind.

Just before our reading which began at verse 15, we read in verse 13: When Laban heard the news about his sister’s son Jacob, he ran to meet him; he embraced him and kissed him, and brought him to his house. Jacob told Laban all these things, 14and Laban said to him, ‘Surely you are my bone and my flesh!’

What a welcome! And how flattering! Jacob’s uncle has claimed identity with him. It wouldn’t surprise me if at this point Jacob was beginning to think, ‘This man treats me as an equal. My parents never did that. In fact my father prefers my brother Esau to me. What a great guy my uncle is!’

Then in verse 15: Then Laban said to Jacob, ‘Because you are my kinsman, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?’

‘You’re my kinsman, no ordinary refugee. You shouldn’t work for nothing. Name your wages!’

‘My goodness me! I can decide what he’ll pay me?’

Poor naïve Jacob. He has no idea he is being groomed. He’s manipulated his brother Esau his whole life but he’s more than met his match here. He’s met the stage manager, the control freak, the arch deceiver and he’s being drawn within range of the spider little by little.

‘Name my wages?’ and Jacob goes all the way. He’s not shy. ‘May I have your daughter, Rachel?’ You see, the moment he says this he feels beholden, he feels like he owes Laban big time and he blurts out, ‘I’ll serve you for seven years for her!’ 

He’s playing right into the taker’s hands. Laban knows exactly what he’s doing and suddenly his tone changes. ‘Yeah. Okay. Rather you than some other man. Stay with me.’ End of conversation.

‘Boy. I have you right where I want you, and wait until the seven years is over. Have I got a surprise for you then!’ He’s got what he wants and it’s like taking candy from a kid, as they say.

Well, we know what happens. When the seven years is up Laban under cover of darkness, marries Jacob to Leah, not Rachel. When Jacob complains, the stage manager emerges and interprets reality for him. ‘This is how it’s done in this country. The younger can’t marry before the older. Work for me for another seven years and you can have Rachel.’

Have you met people like this? The circumstances of the relationship are introduced in glowing terms. There are hints of great promise. This buys your co-operation. But all the time you pay dearly for any benefits. You are made to feel as though you owe the person something and this is used, often in tandem with a withdrawal of approval, to keep you giving and giving.

When the promises are not forthcoming, the terms around which you engage are changed and gradually it dawns on you that you are doing all the giving and none of the getting. Eventually you find that in encounters with the person you come away drained and lacking peace.

As Rob Bell says, “Some people are toxic. They are energy-draining.” And he was speaking of Christians.

I hear modern versions of stories like this all the time.

This is sometimes known as the succubus stereotype. An encounter which should be positive and pleasurable is in fact negative and demeaning, ultimately draining.

Who knows what hurts Laban had experienced in his earlier life that he felt the need so thoroughly to control his environment, so completely to focus on his own narrow needs to the exclusion of others’ needs, so craftily to manipulate the people around him to get what he wanted.

One thing is for sure. If Jacob had had any dreamy optimism about the family into which he married, it was now gone. He was thoroughly used, and it was only God’s intervention that enabled him to escape with more than the clothes on his back and with his wives and children.

Perhaps you have had your hopes disappointed like this? Perhaps you have had your career aspirations violated like this. Perhaps you have had your dreams tainted like this.

It could be an unfaithful spouse, a subtly abusive employer or business partner, an exploitative relative, someone in authority you trusted. The Labans of this world do not advertise their machinations. Far from it. Like the trapdoor spider camouflage is important and people are taken in before they realise it.

Jacob eventually managed to run away. Fortunately he had God’s help and Esau’s forgiveness, and he was restored to his home, his country and God’s purposes for him.

Jacob took his chance when he could, but sometimes you can’t flee. What then?   Proverbs 26: 11 says As a dog returns to its vomit, so fools repeat their folly. Manipulators are seldom cured. They are like a dog returning to its vomit. They keep repeating their behaviour. That means you need some strategies for dealing with people like this.

The very first response of a Christian is forgiveness. Yes, even if there is no repentance, no acknowledgement of culpability. You forgive. And you know why? Forgiveness is for your benefit, not theirs. They couldn’t give a monkey’s. Their consciences are seared. A lack of forgiveness will destroy you. Jesus in fact implies in the Lord’s Prayer that unless we forgive, we will not be forgiven. It’s a big deal.

Forgiveness needs to be specific and it needs to be thorough. It is a kind of death, but it leads to resurrection. It leads to freedom.

The second response is to realise that we have a right to put boundaries in place. God does not expect you to be abused by anybody for their own benefit, no matter who they are. It may be difficult, but we need to make clear that certain forms of behaviour are not acceptable.

Proverbs 4: 23 says Guard your heart for out of it are the issues of life. If you are to love your neighbour as you love yourself, you need at the very least to look after yourself.

Jacob and Laban erected a cairn and agreed: I stay this side of it and you so that side of it. Boundaries are important.

The third thing is you need to adjust your perspective. What do I mean by that? Well, when your dreams have been tainted, your career quashed, your aspirations frustrated, the natural thing is to push back – to fight.

How many people do you know who have had a set-back and have later said, ‘You know, it actually turned out for the best that that happened.’  We don’t fight as Christians. We take things to Jesus. We take them to the cross. They get crucified right there with us as we are busy forgiving and as we acknowledge that the way we wanted things to be, is no longer.

We may have wanted something instant and big, but God says ‘No. Start with a mustard seed. It will grow eventually into one of the largest of plants.’

We might want to implement great change, and we have a clear vision of what we want to achieve and how we want to achieve it. But God says ‘Try starting with some yeast. Eventually the whole loaf will be leavened.’

We might know exactly how much we’re prepared to invest in order to realise our goal, but God says, ‘If you want that treasure it will cost you everything you have. How important is the Kingdom of God to you?’

You might want to expose the person who has made your life miserable, but God says, ‘That’s not your job. Every fish is in the net. The angels will do the sorting at the end of time.’

You see the Law of Moses gives us a clear indication that there is right and there is wrong, and it is wrong to manipulate people. The old law still holds in this regard.

But the new law says ’Love. Love your neighbours, love your enemies, love your friends and family.’

This is what the Kingdom of God is like, and with God’s help we will examine ourselves to make sure we do not manipulate other people, especially those we claim to love. We need to realise that our Western system is as faulty as any other system and built upon self-interest.

And with God’s help we will forgive those who have manipulated us for their own selfish ends. We will look after ourselves by maintaining appropriate boundaries with manipulative people and we will adjust our own driven ambitions, submit to God as we realise there is nothing more important than the Kingdom. It is worth giving everything to achieve it.

A final word. The thing that kept Jacob going was the call of God on his life. God had promised him the blessings of Abraham and they were substantial.

If you are a Christian, you are called by God. God has something for you to do.

Circumstances may have battered you around a bit. They certainly did Jacob, but when God grabbed hold of him in that famous wrestling match you’ve no doubt heard of before, he would not let go until God had blessed him.

Persevere in your calling, whatever it may be. God has an uncanny ability to turn suffering into blessing. Investing everything we are in the Kingdom of God is the most worthwhile thing we can do.

God bless you

AMEN

God Is Simply Not Domesticated

domesticatedGod Is Simply Not Domesticated
by Rev. Jonathan Gale
Friday Night Gospel, 2nd May, 2014

Exodus 24: 12-18

12 The Lord said to Moses, ‘Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there; and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.’ 13So Moses set out with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up into the mountain of God. 14To the elders he had said, ‘Wait here for us, until we come to you again; for Aaron and Hur are with you; whoever has a dispute may go to them.’

15 Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. 16The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud. 17Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. 18Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.                                                              

Psalm 99

Praise to God for His Holiness

1 The Lord is king; let the peoples tremble!

He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake!

2 The Lord is great in Zion;

he is exalted over all the peoples.

3 Let them praise your great and awesome name.

Holy is he!

4 Mighty King, lover of justice,

you have established equity;

you have executed justice

and righteousness in Jacob.

5 Extol the Lord our God;

worship at his footstool.

Holy is he!

6 Moses and Aaron were among his priests,

Samuel also was among those who called on his name.

They cried to the Lord, and he answered them.

7 He spoke to them in the pillar of cloud;

they kept his decrees,

and the statutes that he gave them.

8 O Lord our God, you answered them;

you were a forgiving God to them,

but an avenger of their wrongdoings.

9 Extol the Lord our God,

and worship at his holy mountain;

for the Lord our God is holy.


2 Peter 1:16-21

Eyewitnesses of Christ’s Glory

16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17For he received honour and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’ 18We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.

19 So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.


Matthew 17:1-9

The Transfiguration

17Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ 5While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!’ 6When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Get up and do not be afraid.’ 8And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.

9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, ‘Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.’

***

Well, how many times haven’t we heard that story! It never ceases to amaze.

  • The mystery of the cloud. The associated shekinah glory of Yahweh that lights up Jesus (as happens also in The Revelation to John) – to the point where he is described as beingtransfigured – of altered appearance.
  • The sudden appearance of Moses and Elijah (representing of course the Law and the Prophets).
  • Peter’s strange (or is it so strange?) suggestion that they build three dwellings on the mountain.
  • God’s voice coming from heaven and the disciples falling down, trembling with fear.
  • Jesus saying, ‘Get up and do not be afraid.’

And then suddenly it’s all over. They are alone with Jesus on the mountain.

Pretty overwhelming!

That reminds me of the story of the hen who saw a handsome rooster coming towards her (so she thought) from the other side of the road. She ran towards him just as a huge Mac truck thundered right over the top of her, the wheels passing just behind and just in front of her. The rooster of course ran for his life, but the hen shook the dust from her feathers and squawked, “Wow! Some rooster!”

Something happened but she wasn’t too sure what it was. It was a bit like that for Peter, James and John.

In both Luke and Matthew we see the Transfiguration occurring after Jesus foretells his death and resurrection and that Peter doesn’t like the idea. In fact Jesus rebukes him (Matthew 16: 23) 23But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’

These things are too much for Peter. He feels events are getting out of control – his control. No sooner has he experienced something divine and beyond his understanding when he wants to tame it, to institutionalise it. 4Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ Three new denominations – right there!

God of course ignores him – in fact speaks right over him. ’ 5While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!’

How natural it is to try and control God, to capture God and domesticate him into manageable terms. Peter wants to box the experience into three dwellings or tents. His is a religious response, not a spiritual one. If we institutionalise this perhaps I’ll have a better handle on it. Pretty soon we’ll wrap it around with some systematic theology and hey presto, we have a course we can sell to the nearest student with a spiritual hunger or the nearest priest with career aspirations.

But God can’t be boxed. He’s not that small. And yet so strong is our desire to be in control, to be God (as Eugene Peterson would put it), that we too, if we’re not careful, do the same thing. We do so by minimising God into an adjunct to our agendas. Is it any wonder we find it difficult to believe that the small God we have created can be of real assistance to us when we do call upon him?

Peter, in fact, is in the process of committing idolatry. An idol is anything apparently spiritual we attempt to manipulate to promote our own agendas. The essence of idolatry is that I am here, God is over there, and he exists to assist me when I need it.

The essence of the gospel is that God has incarnated himself, pitched headlong, into humankind. God the Son has invaded not just our geographical space but our very lives. The Kingdom of God is upon us. The only appropriate response is to repent and believe the Good News.

Limiting God (after tying him up in religiosity) is the most respectable way of domesticating him. We reduce God to the one who saves us from our sin or the one who gives meaning to our life. God – the enhancer of us.

God won’t be domesticated. While Peter is speaking, God speaks over Peter. He affirms Jesus as his Son and addresses the disciples with these words, “’Listen to him”. It’s that simple, really. Jesus is Lord.

God’s appearance is that of a devouring fire says Exodus.

And in Psalm 99:

1 The Lord is king; let the peoples tremble!

   He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake!

2 The Lord is great in Zion;

   he is exalted over all the peoples.

3 Let them praise your great and awesome name.

   Holy is he!

Now that’s the kind of God I want to worship; I don’t know about you.

Who is God to you? Is he a Church of England service on a Sunday? Is he that burning justice issue you feel so strongly about? Is he someone who is there to save and heal you when you need it? Is he the one who loves you – makes you feel wanted? Is it he that gives you significance and meaning in life – that makes you feel you are not simply a tiny and temporary collection of cells destined first to compost and then to break up as dust into the greater cosmos?

God is concerned to save and heal us. God loves us passionately, but it’s not God who is the problem. The problem creeps in when our relationship with God very subtly tips into one where we see God as a crutch, someone to use for our benefit, rather than understanding that complete surrender to him is the only sane response to who he is.

You see, when we focus on any of these elements to the exclusion of God as essentially beyond our complete understanding, as mysterious, the Lord of the universe who can’t be in-spanned to prop up our social and psychological needs, then we are not focussing on God; but on an idea of God.

We are like the little boy in kindy who sits in the corner, playing little games and talking to himself: avoiding his fellows, preferring his own little world because reality is too uncomfortable to deal with.

God is more than our needs writ large. God is God.

And one of the most profound mysteries of God is that in Jesus he has purposed to die, to do what logically is the impossible. God, by definition, cannot die. As the liturgy says he is the source of all life and goodness and yet death is what he is heading towards. The King James version puts it beautifully: He set his face like a flint towards Jerusalem (Luke 9: 51)

In Luke we read that Moses and Elijah “spoke of his departure which he was to accomplish in Jerusalem.” That is what they appeared on the mount of Transfiguration to speak to Jesus about. The Law and the Prophets point forward to the Messiah and his sufferings. This foreshadows Jesus’ own explanation, on the road to Emmaus, of the Scriptures pointing to himself. (Luke 24: 27, 32).

Who knows what the purpose of the Transfiguration was. Possibly Jesus needed reassurance that he was on the right pathway in heading for the cross. It would be a bit sad being wrong about something like that! The disciples certainly needed the encouragement to believe this.

And they would need this encouragement, for the pathway Jesus had chosen was not an easy one. It’s difficult for us to understand what Jesus went through on the cross on our behalf. We know he didn’t want to go there from his prayer in Gethsemane. We know he suffered terribly. We know from his loud cry from the cross that he felt forsaken by God.

We can understand in a theological sense what the effects of his death and resurrection were. Both Paul and Peter use an imagery that makes this plain.

  • Paul in 2 Corinthians 5: 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
  • Peter in 1 Peter 3: 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.

There are any numbers of theories that make sense as to why Jesus was crucified but they are there for us, not God. God can do as he pleases. He is God. Why God could not have done it differently remains a mystery.

Perhaps there is a clue for us as to why the crucifixion was so important in the concept of our being crucified with Christ. This is a phrase that appears in Galatians 2: 20. Paul says I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Our being crucified with Christ is best understood in terms of living out our baptism – i.e. the putting to death the old nature and living in Christ’s resurrection power. The old nature is symbolically buried with Christ as we go into the water of baptism, and we rise in Christ’s resurrection power as we come out of the water.

But how does this explain the mystery of crucifixion?

Well, here’s a thought: perhaps it was not so much Christ who needed to die, as it is we who have to die – die that is to our inveterate post fall desire to control our own lives to our detriment – and that Christ died as an example for us. Just as he didn’t need to be baptised but did so as an example for us to follow, so he died, for he knows we need to follow that example and die to our independent ways.

Perhaps, this is why God speaks over Peter and strongly suggests he listen to Jesus. The message to Peter is clear. You can’t domesticate God, but you need to domesticate your desire to be God.

Now that, as we know is a process, and it is a process that becomes a joy as we submit ourselves to Christ minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, day-by-day.

Peter says in 2 Peter 1: 19b You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.

Ordinary People – Extraordinary God

Ordinary People – Extraordinary Godordinaryppl
by Rev. Jonathan Gale
Easter Sunday, 20 April, 2014

Acts 10: 34 – 43

Gentiles Hear the Good News

34 Then Peter began to speak to them: ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. 37That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.’

Matthew 28: 1 – 10

The Resurrection of Jesus

28After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7Then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.” This is my message for you.’ 8So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. 10Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’

***

Christ is risen!

He is risen indeed!

By responding in this age-old Easter greeting you are witnessing to the resurrection of Christ.

39We are witnesses to all that he did, says Peter to the assembled Gentiles, just before the Holy Spirit fell upon them and he and his companions realise, with amazement, that God has included the Gentiles in the new people of God, the Church – God’s storm-troopers in establishing a beach-head for the Kingdom of God upon earth.

Witnesses, says Peter, to all that Jesus did.

Witnesses are important people. It is they who testify, who confirm the truth about something that has happened. You don’t call any old Tom, Dick or Harry as a witness. Witnesses have to have been there and they have to be reliable.

And you only call witnesses if what they saw is important. In our readings today we are confronted with two of the most important events in the narrative of scripture: the resurrection of Jesus, and the inclusion of the Gentiles in God’s plan of salvation.

Now Cornelius, the Roman Centurion in our reading from the Acts of the Apostles, was no fool. He knew the significance of what he had heard an angel tell him in a vision: his prayers and his life of righteousness had been witnessed by God, and as a result he was to send for Peter. Peter, a Jew, and the leader of the growing religious sect who claimed their leader had risen from the dead.

And Cornelius entrusts the job, says Verse 7, to two slaves and a devout soldier from the ranks. We are not told the name of this lowly soldier but he was devout and clearly trustworthy. Cornelius entrusts a mission from God to a humble man whose name we will never know. He was an ordinary man who witnessed an extraordinary event.

Jesus entrusted his entire mission to ordinary Galilean men and women. Has it ever struck you that a huge appeal of the Lord of the Rings trilogy is that the most important mission imaginable is entrusted to a simple Hobbit?

It is simple people to whom the greatest tasks are entrusted. Is there a more important responsibility than parenthood? It is entrusted to ordinary men and women.

The most important tasks still are. Paul says to the Church at Corinth in 1 Corinthians 1: 26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.

Ordinary men and women: you and me.

No single event in the history of humankind has greater significance than the resurrection of Jesus. It signalled the restoration of all of creation. It was no mere shot across the bow, but the first fell blow God struck for the triumph of good over evil. Our gospel reading tells us that the two persons called by God to witness this event and to carry the news to the apostles were Mary of Magdala and what Verse 1 calls “the other Mary”.

The other Mary! A no-name brand person! Simply, “the other Mary.” She and Mary Magdalene (not a paragon of virtue) are the first two persons to see Jesus alive, to speak to him, to touch him, to worship him and to carry out important instructions given by him.

Resurrection people are ordinary people. Not superstars.

Peter tells Cornelius  They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.

The privilege of witness is given to those who ate and drank with him, not to anyone who qualified because of rank or reputation. God still works like that, with ordinary men and woman. Are you an ordinary man or woman?

A few weeks ago Patrick Kelly, Gustav Scholtz and I gave a presentation to the Saturday morning Men’s Breakfast group. I spoke on the Theology of Recreation and at one point said this: The consumer-driven society will seek entertainment, brief glimpses of celebrity, rather than engage in meaningful community, where we celebrate the wonder of God’s image imprinted in fascinating ways in the everyday people who are our brothers and sisters in Christ – the community of the faithful with whom we form God’s Kingdom in our parochial patch.

Ordinary men and women. It is they, who when they are prepared to “eat and drink” (to use Peter’s words) – who when they are prepared to co-operate with God, see and do extraordinary things. Are you prepared to hang out with God?

Michael Hewat, in a Tuesday Herald article entitled:  Unbelievers ignoring evidence of Jesus, wrote this:

If Christ were not raised then he was no more than a good man and a great teacher; he can make no claim on anyone’s life, nor promise anything beyond this life. Reason will respond that resurrection is simply not possible: dead people do not rise, therefore, if Jesus truly died then he cannot truly have been raised. But reason must also allow that, if Jesus is in fact God’s only son, all things are possible for him.

He then goes on to describe the many encounters people had with the resurrected Jesus and the importance of witnesses.

But what interests me about what Michael Hewat says is that when we become aware of something wonderfully beneficial to us we inherit with that blessing a responsibility – and I mean responsibility in its purest sense: the obligation for a response. Hewat says, If Christ were not raised then he was no more than a good man and a great teacher; he can make no claim on anyone’s life, nor promise anything beyond this life.

There is both a promise and a claim. The promise is what Jesus called abundant life – both here and in the life to come, but the obligation is the response of discipleship – following. The two are almost one and the same thing in the end because it is in following that we experience the abundant life.

Abundant life is life infused with resurrection life; lived in the trenches of this world amongst the people of this world: wealthy and poor, healthy and ill, attractive and unattractive. Abundant life is the joyful response to an infusion of the very life of the resurrected Christ within us. There is nothing more invigorating.

It is as far removed from the temporary dalliance that is the shallow life independent of God, as the East is from the West. It is deep, permanent and meaningful. It comes with tough times and good times but it is always tangibly brimming with God’s presence, with God’s companionship.

And it remains a response: not to a set of ideas, not to a philosophy, not to the demands of a religion, not to the requirements of an organisation – but to a Person: the person of Jesus Christ whose sacrificial death and resurrection we celebrate in this service this morning.

As you come to make your Communion, as you ingest the bread and wine, you are taking into your ordinary person an extraordinary God, and your God is expectant – expecting your response. Your response is an obligation to feast, to have fun, to open up to the life-giving and healing Son of God who brings joy, peace and life-changing love. It is an obligation to hand yourself over to him in trust.

I don’t know whether you feel like “the other Mary”, a simple person getting on with their life as best they can and who finds themselves in church this morning. I don’t know how significant you are in relation to the people you measure yourself against. It really isn’t important. As Peter says in Vs 34 ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality,

Whoever you may be this morning, the resurrected Christ holds out his arms to you. Your greatest act of witness, as an ordinary person, is to reach out in turn to this extraordinary God.

God bless you and a very happy Easter to you all.

Looking For Freedom

Looking For Freedomfreedom1
by Rev. Jonathan Gale
13th July, 2014

Romans 8: 1 – 11

Life in the Spirit

8There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, 8and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

9 But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

 

Matthew 13; 1 – 9, 18 – 23

The Parable of the Sower

13That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the lake. 2Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3And he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9Let anyone with ears listen!’

The Parable of the Sower Explained

18 ‘Hear then the parable of the sower. 19When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. 22As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.’


When Jesus entered his hometown synagogue and began his ministry by claiming to be the one who was going to bring release to the captives, the good people of Nazareth tried to throw him off a cliff.

Freedom is a scary thing.

The reluctance of the people of Israel to accept the responsibility of freedom as Moses led them out of captivity towards the Promised Land was marked again and again by rebellion and a hankering after Egypt, where they had been slaves for over 400 years.

Freedom brings change.

And yet freedom is a powerful urge. We all have a very strong desire to escape from dehumanising control – from any form of slavery.

Anyone hearing Freddy Mercury singing I want to Break Free for the first time is transfixed by the power of the song. We all identify with the desire to be rid of oppression of any kind – because we know instinctively that experiencing freedom is allied to experiencing the grace of God.

When we feel unfree we reason that we are not in receipt of what Jesus came to bring. That only increases our desire to be free.

And yet, the irony is that like the citizens of Nazareth we often don’t recognise true freedom when we see it. When Jesus, the epitome of truth stood before Pontius Pilate, Pilate asked him, “What is truth?”

We can have Jesus standing in front of us and we still hanker after freedom. Why is that? Why do so few Christians have genuine peace? Why are we so often at odds with ourselves, singing with Bono …

You broke the bonds and you loosed the chains

Carried the cross of my shame

You know I believe it

But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for

Well Paul (as always) makes it plain. In his letter to the church in Rome he says that the problem is that we set our minds on the flesh.

6To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.

At least, that’s how the NRSV translates Vs.6. It is worth noting: a more literal translation of Paul’s Greek is not so much having one’s mind set on something as it ishaving a mind-set.

It’s vital you get the difference. Our translation reads 6To set the mind on the flesh is death. It implies a responsibility to do something: to set the mind on the Spirit not on the flesh, to focus it, to prevent it from shifting back. We’re speaking of an anxious and constant monitoring of oneself that is related conceptually to the internal struggle Paul discusses in Romans 7 of his seeming inability to stick to doing good. “I must keep my mind set on the Spirit!”

 But a literal translation would read For the mind of the flesh [is] death. In other words we are simply stating a fact. Death is the result of being on the wrong team. This is supported by Douglas Moo in his commentary on Romans who says, “To walk according to the flesh,” then, is to have one’s life determined and directed by the values of “this world,” of the world in rebellion against God. There is no anxious internal struggle here.

This is a greatly freeing distinction because it does away with the idea of an internal dualism and focusses on the Kingdom of God and its values with which we associate. It’s a question of the mast to which you nail your colours.

In other words; what is your mind-set? Is it one that associates with the values of this world – me first, the consumer society, and extreme individualism that plays into the hands of licentiousness?

Or is your mind-set one that embraces the values of the Kingdom of God – consider others first, people are more important than things, and belonging that implies accountability to the community of God?

It’s not about anxious psychological navel-gazing but about our orientation: God’s values or the world’s values.

It’s far more liberating to accept that the work of Christ on the cross deals with the internal stuff as it were. As Vs 3 says, he’s sent his son to deal with sin. We can get into knots trying to sort ourselves out. God is a lot better at that than we are! We are required to sort out our turangawaewae and make sure we stand in the place we claim tobe our standing place.

It is when we align ourselves with God’s Spirit that we develop a Spirit mind-set. We don’t have to be perfect. It’s not so much how successful we are at the internal battle to be good, but rather the direction towards which we are orientated. It’s not so much about assessing our performance as it is about which team we’re on.

It’s also worth remembering that we are human and not perfect. At times (using the imagery of our Gospel reading);

  • We are the pathway from which the birds steal the seed – hardly aware of God’s word to us.

 

  • At other times we are rocky ground with shallow soil – we find ourselves inspired by God’s word for only brief periods of time.

 

  • At another time we might find ourselves amongst weeds where the word settles into us but our focus changes back to the world’s values and the effectiveness of God’s word to us is neutralised.

 

  • At yet another time we represent good ground and bring forth a harvest – the word of God multiplied in us 100, 60 or 30-fold.

 

The point is we don’t worsen our struggle by labelling ourselves according to any one particular category of receptivity to God’s word.

We are realistic and humble enough to know that at times we will fail, but that we can just as easily remind ourselves whose we are; which Kingdom we associate with, and be fruitful again.

We are not locked in to any one level of saintliness or otherwise. We have been freed by Christ. All we have to do is associate with the right Kingdom and its values.

This of course involves an entire lifestyle of association. It’s not some mental trick. It’s not simply setting your mind by an individual effort of the will. It is an embracing of the community of God, its values and its practices. It’s practical. We’re in it with others and we make progress with the help of others. We are committed to others – to fellowship with them in the Church – the Body of Christ.

That is real freedom. It does involve change. It inevitably involves responsibility too. But it does so in an environment of the love of Christ.

If you are frustrated in your Christian walk, if you find yourself hankering for freedom, you need to give yourself entirely to the Kingdom of God. It will cost you everything you are. God requires all of you: lock, stock and barrel. And the rewards are freedom, peace and love – in fact all the fruit of the Spirit.

We’re right to want freedom. It’s what Jesus came to give us. But let’s look for freedom

  • in the right way – in the cross of Christ, not in self-effort;

and

  • in the right place – by aligning ourselves with the Kingdom of God and giving ourselves over to it entirely.

This is what Jesus meant when he said in Matthew 16: 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.

And so I have unearthed 3 perspectives on gaining the grace of God and I hope they are freeing to you:

  • Living according to the Spirit (and not the flesh) is not so much an anxious internal struggle – it is associating with the values of the Kingdom of God.
  • We are not locked into any one level of spirituality. Because we’re human we’re sometimes not receptive to God’s life-giving Word to us. But we can just as easily bereceptive and (like good soil) produce a good harvest.
  • True freedom in Christ means giving ourselves over entirely to Him and identifying completely with the Kingdom of God.

Let’s conclude by listening to a song called Looking for Freedom sung by Elayna Boynton and Anthony Hamilton from the film Django Unchained.

God bless you as you count the cost and understand the value of your freedom in Christ.

AMEN

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_bdOTUocn5w

Felt like the weight of the world was on my shoulders

 Pressure to break or retreat at every turn

 Facing the fear that the truth, I discovered

 No telling how, all this will work out

 But I’ve come too far to go back now


I am looking for freedom, looking for freedom

 And to find it cost me everything I have

 Well I am looking for freedom, looking for freedom

 And to find it, may take everything I have


I know all too well it don’t come easy

 The chains of the world they seem to move in tight

I try to walk around it,

 But stumbling’s so familiar;

 Trying to get up but the doubt is so strong

 There’s gotta be a weight in my bones


I am looking for freedom, looking for freedom

 And to find it cost me everything I have

 Well I am looking for freedom, I’m looking for freedom

 And to find it, may take everything I have


Oh not giving up has always been hard, so hard

 But if I do the things the easy way I won’t get far


Mmm, life hasn’t been very kind to me lately, (Well)

 But I suppose it’s a push for moving on (Oh yeah)

 In time the sun’s gonna shine on me nicely (One day yeah)

 Something tells me good things are coming and I ain’t gonna not believe


I am looking for freedom, looking for freedom

 And to find it cost me everything I have

 Well I am looking for freedom, looking for freedom

 And to find it, may take everything I have

[Anthony Hamilton]

God’s Revelation And Our Faith

abrahamGod’s Revelation And Our Faith
by Rev. Jonathan Gale
29th June, 2014

Genesis 22: 1 – 14

The Command to Sacrifice Isaac

22After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ 2He said, ‘Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt-offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.’ 3So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt-offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. 4On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. 5Then Abraham said to his young men, ‘Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.’ 6Abraham took the wood of the burnt-offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. 7Isaac said to his father Abraham, ‘Father!’ And he said, ‘Here I am, my son.’ He said, ‘The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt-offering?’ 8Abraham said, ‘God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt-offering, my son.’ So the two of them walked on together.

9 When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. 11But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ 12He said, ‘Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.’ 13And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt-offering instead of his son. 14So Abraham called that place ‘The Lord will provide’; as it is said to this day, ‘On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.’

 

Matthew 16: 13 – 19

Peter’s Declaration about Jesus

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ 14And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ 15He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ 16Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ 17And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’

@@@

‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ 17And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.

The very lifeblood of our lives is God revealing Himself to us. We need regular and consistent revelation otherwise our spirits shrivel – we dry up –  for God is, as the Prayer Book says, the source of all life and goodness.  We need revelation. Proverbs 29: 18 Where there is no vision/revelation, the people perish /cast off restraint

Faith is a response to revelation. It is our hearts coming alive to an awareness of God, whether it is a sense that God is speaking to us, or whether it is a sense of God showing us something about Himself.

You see God longs to fellowship with us and he will always begin the conversation, even if it appears to us as a thought generated by ourselves.

And God’s overtures (God’s approaches to us) are seldom crystal clear. That is why our response is not one of hum-drum fact, but of faith. Paul says in the 1 Corinthians “love passage”: 1 Corinthians 13: 12  For now we see through a glass, darkly, but then we shall see face to face …

Revelation – God’s whisperings to us – seldom comes in Technicolor. How do we respond to that of which we cannot be 100% certain? Now if we can’t be 100% certain there is always an element of risk attached to a response. That is the nature of faith. We exercise trust that what is revealed to us is in fact true. We find ourselves leaning on God and not on our own rationality.

Perhaps this is why God’s revelation is often blurred. It requires a humble and trusting placing of our hands in God’s hand as we respond.

One might say that faith is exercising with certainty that of which we are not certain but of which we can be sure in principle. What do I mean by that?

Well, in the long years of revelation through the Scriptures and experiences of God’s people, the Church, certain principles about God have become clear. Of these we can be certain. But that is all head knowledge. When it comes to you and me responding to the specifics of God as we sense Him speaking to us, we are less certain, and we have to respond in faith. At that point it becomes a matter of the heart.

When we do so we are committing ourselves to the prompting as though we are sure of it. As we do so, it becomes clearer – not because we think “I’m in for a penny so I might as well be in for a pound” – no. It’s because that’s the way God works. As we respond in faith so things become clearer.

“I believe so that I may understand,” was the maxim of Anselm of Canterbury. When we believe we understand because when we do so, when we trust God, he shows us a little more of the puzzle. He reveals more. We receive more revelation: knowledge of God and what He might want in a particular situation.

But we can’t hesitate.  A step of faith is by nature something definite. We take a certain step even though we can’t be absolutely certain we are right. If we could be sure:

  • It would no longer be faith
  • We’d not have to depend upon God

What we can be certain of is that God is trustworthy. When God told Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac whom he loved, do you think he was 100% sure that this is what God wanted? Remember he’d waited 100 years for this miracle baby who needed to be alive for all the wonderful promises God had made to Abraham about his descendants to come true. This God, who hated child sacrifice, was telling him to sacrifice his son. Abraham took a massive step of faith. Hebrews 11: 9 says Abraham reasoned that if Isaac died, God was able to bring him back to life again. That is some faith!

Abraham had had to exercise faith throughout his journey with God and he had seen the rewards of faith.  Earlier in the story God had told him not to rely on Ishmael. Rather, we read in Genesis 15: 5 – 6. He brought him outside and said, ‘Look towards heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ 6And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.

Paul quotes this incident to both the Romans and the Galatians. There is reward attached to faith. It is what God looks for. Hebrews 10: 35 So do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord. Remember the great reward it brings you!

And now Abraham was acting in faith again – and apparently about to slaughter the precious gift of his son! Where was the reward in that?!

And yet he proceeds because he hasn’t got his eye on the gift, but on the giver. And that is what God was testing. Only the important stuff gets tested and here it’s that God comes first and can be trusted.

This is the first point about faith: it expresses certainty in God. Not in an outcome. The outcome is in God’s hands. God simply requires trust in Him. And this gets tested.

When Isaac asks his father where the lamb for the sacrifice is 8Abraham said, ‘God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt-offering, my son.’ So the two of them walked on together.

Abraham kept walking! He didn’t hesitate. He knew he could trust God. He was certain of God, though uncertain of the exact outcome. He knew that if he kept going in faith and obedience the solution would be revealed to him. At the moment, however, he was acting on the limited revelation he had.

And this is the second thing about faith: it leads to action.

Without hesitation he builds an altar, lays wood on it, ties up Isaac, places him on the pile of wood and draws his knife to kill him. Rough stuff, but raw unadulterated faith in action.

When Jesus asks his disciples who people say he is all sorts of suggestions come out:14And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’

But Jesus is not particularly interested in the opinion of others. In the next verse 15He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’   Jesus illustrates here the third thing about faith: it is personal.

You’ll notice that Abraham had some pretty tough decisions to make after his revelation from God. And he had to make them on his own. There would have been little use in his asking others what they thought. The Rescue Isaac Brigade would have formed very quickly – only a little quicker than the Let’s Have Abraham Psychiatrically Assessed Brigade.

The response to faith is inevitably personal. Even if you can happily consult others, in the end you live with your decisions. The buck stops here. It is so with a response to God too. While we are social creatures, He’s interested in each of us individually. We’ll all give an individual account for our lives at some point.

This is why God relates to us individually. He loves us individually because each of us is individually important to Him.

So when Jesus asks the disciples who they think he is, we see one of the great statements of faith in Scripture. Peter, never one to fear stepping up to the plate, exclaims in faith‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’

And notice what happens. 17And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’

Faith elicits a response from God. It always does, and it will always involve greater revelation – a greater knowledge of God and perhaps of His intentions too. That’s the fourth thing about faith: it elicits a response from God.

To these particular words of faith Jesus responds with joy and generosity towards Peter.

When Abraham is prepared to go all the way in faith to the extent of sacrificing Isaac, we read in the verses immediately following the set reading: The angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, ‘By myself I have sworn, says the Lord: Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies, and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.’ (Genesis 22: 15 – 18)

Faith elicits a response from God and it involves the reward of revelation.

And I’m sure that the two powerful readings this morning are not lost upon you. Isaac is saved by the substitution of a ram which is supplied by God. He is offered on Mount Moriah, the same spot God chose for the siting of the temple in Jerusalem – the place where the system of sacrifice was carried out for hundreds of years – a system which foreshadowed the great sacrifice of Jesus in his crucifixion. Jesus was the Lamb of God supplied by God and, who in allowing himself to be sacrificed outside the walls of Jerusalem, took upon himself all our sin, creating for us a way back to God.

Jesus was the free gift of God to us for our salvation.

In Ephesians 2: 8 Paul says to the church in Ephesus, For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.

But like any gift you have to receive it.

In Romans 10 Paul informs his readers, 9because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.

The significance of Peter’s response to us is earth-shaking. Peter’s leap of faith – his belief with the heart as Paul calls it – is given expression in his words, “‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’”

Let us remember these things then:

Faith is exercising with certainty that of which we are not certain but of which we can be sure in principle.

Faith …

  • expresses certainty in God
  • it leads to action
  • it is rewarded by God
  • It is personal
  • it elicits a response from God
  • it is supported by our words

And the greatest response of faith we can make is a response to the Gospel – the Good News for God has revealed Himself to us in His Son. Here we believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths that Jesus is the Christ. This is the route to salvation. It is also the road to discipleship.

God bless you in your walk of faith this morning.

AMEN

The Raising of Lazarus

220px-RaisingofLazarusBlochThe Raising of Lazarus
Sunday 6th April 2014
by Rev Charmaine Braatvedt

38So Jesus, again being deeply moved within, came to the tomb. Now it was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39Jesus said, “Remove the stone.” Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.” 40Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” 41So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. 42“I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me.” 43When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth.” 44The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with acloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Don’t you wonder what all those friends and neighbors of Mary and Martha must have been thinking when Jesus approached that burial tomb and commanded them to “take away the stone”? Can’t you just see them covering their noses in dreadful anticipation and casting perplexing glances at one another? We can imagine them starting to take steps backward away from the cave. And how do you suppose they reacted when Jesus cried to a dead man, “Lazarus, come out!”? And did those who witnessed the miracle really see the spiritual truth at the base of it all? And what is the spiritual truth at the base of this story? Jesus said: I am the Resurrection and the Life The story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead is the climactic miracle in the Gospel of John. It is told by the writer of John’s Gospel, to visually illustrate Jesus’ claim that he is able to resurrect the dead and return what is dead to life again. I am the resurrection and the life is the 5th of Jesus’ great I am revelations. These statements in John’s Gospel point to the divinity of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, the Messiah.

  1. “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger.” John 6:35
  2. “I am the light of the world; he who fallows Me shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life.” John 8:12 
  3. I am the gate; if anyone enters through Me, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.” John 10:9
  4. “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for His sheep.” John 10:11
  5. “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies.”John 11:25
  6. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.” John 14:6
  7. “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.” John 15:1 

The significance of these statements lie in the phrase “I AM.” When Moses asked of God as he stood in front of the burning bush “who shall I say sent me?” In other words “what is your name God?” He was told “I am who I am. Say I am sent you.” God is theGreat I am. When Jesus says I am he is affirming that he is the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity. The divinity of Jesus Christ is further illustrated in John 8:58. Jesus said,  “Truly, Truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am”. John’s Gospel is carefully constructed to confirm the divinity of Jesus, the word of God made flesh. From this Gospel and specifically from the I am statements in it, we understand that Jesus is God and as such

  • reveals the nature of God to us,
  • exercises the creative and saving work of God in the world,
  • knows the mind of God and
  • has access to the power of God.

The story of Lazarus has a number of significant applications for us today and can be understood on several levels.

Firstly, the event of Jesus’ raising Lazarus from the dead confirms that he is God. Only God can raise the dead to life.

Secondly, the physical death of Lazarus can be understood as a metaphor for spiritual death. Just as physical death ends life and separates people, so spiritual death is the separation of people from God and the loss of life which is in God. Jesus came to break the deathly hold that sin has on our spiritual lives and to offer us a life of resurrection to new possibilities and spiritual freedom. See John 10: 10 I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. In the raising of Lazarus, Jesus shows he can resurrect the spiritual life that is dead in sin. Just as Jesus is said to have called to Lazarus to “come forth” from the tomb of death, we are encouraged to believe that the same thing is said on our behalf—“Charmaine,  come forth from the tomb of your sin to live again!” Yet Jesus was also thinking of the life to come. The story illustrates that Jesus is able to fulfil his promise to conquer the power of death and to offer us eternal life.

Thirdly, we know that in Jesus we see the nature and character of God revealed and so we can learn some important things about the compassionate nature of God from this story. We learn in the words: Jesus wept, that God cares deeply about us and our grief. Jesus wept because of his compassion for his friends. He knew Lazarus would be raised and all would be well yet he wept because he felt the grief of Mary and Martha and Lazarus’ friends and family. We understand from this, that we worship a God who cares deeply for his children. This is a wonderful insight which blesses us.

Finally, the story of Lazarus also foretells Jesus’ own death and in some sense it is a catalyst that sets in motion the events leading to his death and resurrection. One might ask why Jesus raises Lazarus? He answers this question himself:

  • To bring glory to God
  • To encourage people to believe in him
  • To prove that death spiritual and physical will not have the final word when we put our trust and faith in Christ.

The Gospel writer uses Jesus’ miracles to convince people that Jesus is who he says he is. 20: 30 – 31  30Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.

The story of the raising of Lazarus illustrates what Jesus can do in our lives. We each of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Many are the tombs that hold us captive in life and there are many different kinds of grave cloths that can bind us. Just as Lazarus’ grave cloths made it difficult for him to walk out of darkness of the tomb into the light of freedom, we too can be paralyzed by those things that keep us from experiencing life in all its fullness.

Think of the fears and addictions; the  feelings of hopelessness and aimlessness; the  anxiety and despair; the lack of faith or the lack of self-confidence to do what we feel we should do that holds people back and immobilizes them.

I wonder what are the spiritual, emotional, or psychological strips of cloth that might be binding you and me today? In what ways are we, like Lazarus, longing for release, longing for the light of day, and for a breath of fresh air?

Today as we read this Gospel story perhaps we too can hear  Jesus crying out to us, “Unbind her, and let her go!”  Or as the old King James Version puts it, “Loose him, and let him go!”

The good news of Jesus Christ comes to us today, calling us out from our tombs of sin and despair to new life, right here, right now.    And that is really what the season of Lent, as we look toward Easter, is all about—leaving the deadness of our lives, to take hold of new life. The story of Lazarus teaches us that in Jesus we have one who can call us forth just as he called Lazarus forth. Sometimes it is hard for us to walk away from those tombs that enslave us.  And sometimes it is difficult for us to walk in new life while still bound by those grave cloths that bind us.

Thankfully, we have a community of faith, the Church to support us.  “Unbind him (loose him), and let him go,” was spoken to the community of faith of which Mary, Martha and Lazarus were a part. A question that we are led to ask ourselves is, Once we have been unbound, found release, are we willing to return the favor? Are we one who is ready to jump in to help unbind others who need release? Or, are we like the ones who drew back critically, not wanting to get too close?  As members of the community of faith, the call to each of us is to jump in and do our part in helping others find freedom in the liberating grace of Jesus. This we can by sharing our testimony with others who need Jesus to help them sort out their lives.

Joy Cowley has written a beautiful poem entitled “Lazarus” about this whole experience of how we are called forth from death to new life by Jesus.

She  writes,

I don’t intend it to happen.

It just sneaks up on me

and before I know it

there’s been a kind of death,

part of me wrapped in a shroud

and buried in a tomb

while the rest of me stands by wondering why the light has gone out.

Then you, my Friend, all knowing,

seek me out and knock

at the edge of my heart,

calling me to come forth.

I argue that I can’t.

Death is death and I’m too far gone

for story book miracles.

But you keep on calling,

“Come forth! Come forth!”

and the darkness is pierced

by a shaft of light

as the stone begins to move.

My Friend, I don’t know how you do it

but the tomb has become as bright as day,

as bright as love,

and life has returned.

Look at me!

I’m running out,

dropping bandages all over the place.

Yes, that is exactly what John the gospel writer is trying to get us to see.  There is something more powerful than death.  The grave clothes that bind us need not have the final say.

And today and every day there is the voice of Jesus that stands outside the tombs that hold us and calls out,

“Come forth!  Come forth!”  Come forth from a state of deadness to the joy of being alive.

And then his call  to us collectively, the community of faith to which we belong, is, “Unbind them and let them go free!”

Amen.

Bibliography
William Barclay: The Gospel of John Vol 2
Joy Cowley: Psalms from Downunder Randy K Hammer:  The Call to come forth

I Love Gardens

gardenx1

I Love Gardens
Easter Sunday
20th April 2014
by Rev Charmaine Braatvedt

John 20: 1 – 18
I love Gardens. I am not a very good gardener, but I do appreciate having a nice garden and one of my favourite people is Jim Hoole, who is the man who tends my garden at home for me.

In today’s reading Mary mistakes Jesus for the gardener as she tries to process the the fact that his body is missing from the tomb in the garden.

There is a lovely poem by Dorothy Frances Gurney called God’s Garden and the last verse of this poem is on a plaque hanging in the Garden of Remembrance next to the Church.

The verse reads as follows:
The kiss of the sun for pardon,
The song of the birds for mirth,
One is nearer God’s Heart in a garden
Than anywhere else on earth.

Why are gardens so special?

Perhaps they enable us to be creative as we have been born in the creative image of God.

Perhaps because they are places where we are at one with nature

Perhaps because they are places where we are able to be nurturers and to be nurtured

Perhaps because they are places where we see the full cycle of life played out for us before our very eyes.

Life, death and new life.

Easter is a time when we reflect on life, death and new life and the role that Love with a capital L plays in that cycle.

The biblical narrative is neatly supported by three gardens and I would like to look at the meaning of Easter in terms of these three gardens:

· The Garden of Eden

· The Garden of Gethsemane

· The Garden of the empty Tomb.

1. The Garden of Eden is the biblical garden of God described in the book of Genesis chapters 2 and 3. The word Eden means fruitful and well watered in Aramaic. So in love, God created a beautiful garden which he intended to share with the human beings he had created and whom he loved. Here we discover the creative and constructive nature of love. This garden was watered by the rivers of life and love. In this Garden people were free from sin and it was a place of innocence. Here God ordained that people would be loved by him and would live a free life, untainted by any knowledge of evil.

However we all know how the story goes. Humans having been created with the ability to love were also given free will. Love by its nature cannot be forced and so along with love must come free will.

Perversely humans chose to use their free will to explore evil and so Adam and Eve ate of the tree of the forbidden fruit. This left the world with the corrupting problem of sin and evil.

With the demise of their innocence Adam and Eve were forced to exit the lovely garden God had created for them.

Outside of this idyllic state of innocence, humans found themselves struggling to remain in right relationship with God, the author of Love. The choice they had made meant that they were no longer in right relationship with God. It meant that they had forfeited their place in the royal Garden and they had lost their inheritance of eternal life.

2. This brings us to the second Garden. The Garden of Gethsemane. Here in this Garden we find Jesus the Christ, the one sent by God to save humans from the corruption of sin, love made flesh and dwelling amongst us, God incarnate.

Sin is present in this garden also, for it is here, on the Mount of Olives, that Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss. A kiss is normally a sign of love. Judas not only betrays Jesus but also betrays love with that kiss. Yet unlike the Garden of Eden, in this garden sin is defeated by love. In this garden we see the sacrificial nature of love. Jesus, faced with the pain and suffering of his immanent passion and death, is literally sweating blood from anxiety until he finally chooses to use his free will to sacrifice his own life in the interests of restoring a right relationship between God and humans. “Father let this cup pass from me, but not my will rather thy will be done.” This decision leads to the crucifixion and death of Love at the hand of the destructive forces of evil.

3. The third garden is the Garden of the Empty Tomb. Here after three days, love is resurrected for all those who choose to believe and to follow Jesus. Here in this garden we see love conquering death and the legacy of the Garden of Eden has been overcome. So we see the power of love in this garden.

Herein lies the significance of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, because here in this garden, Jesus offers new life to those who choose to follow him.

This is the story of redemption. Herein also lies the meaning of Jesus’ death and passion.

These three gardens hold the key to God’s plan to restore right relationship with humanity.

In these three gardens we see the struggle between love and death, good and evil and in the resurrection of Jesus, we see love triumph over death.

So in each Garden we discover a vital characteristic of love and we see God’s love for humankind to unfold.

In the first garden, the Garden of Eden, we see the creativity of love and God’s plan for a perfect environment for humans and his creation to flourish. This plan is railroaded by evil.

In the second garden, the Garden of Eden we see the solution to the problem of evil and the sacrificial nature of love as Jesus offers himself to be a living sacrifice in the interests of love.

In the third garden, the Garden of the Tomb we see the power of love to overcome death and evil and God’s promise of eternal life is manifest.

So, God the author of love, outworks his loving plan to save humanity on the stage of these three gardens.

The kiss of the sun for pardon,
The song of the birds for mirth,
One is nearer God’s Heart in a garden
Than anywhere else on Earth.

How will you choose today?

It is a time-honoured tradition for Christians, the followers of Christ to renew their Baptismal vows on Easter Day.

In doing so we once again choose the path of Love, we choose to be in right relationship with God and we choose as followers of Christ to be inheritors of the eternal life he promises us in his death and resurrection.

How will you choose today?

At our Baptism we responded to God’s love and were through the sacrament of Baptism, made to be children of God, followers of Christ as the way the truth and the life. It is fitting on the day when we remember the resurrection of Jesus to renew that commitment to following him. So I ask you who feel the call of Christ on your life to stand with the rest of your church family and together let us renew our Baptismal vows.

AMEN.