Friday, 29 April 2011

As the Father sent me so I send you!

When the Father sent the Son the Father remained with the Son. As the narrative in John’s gospel builds there is movement from the idea that Jesus is doing the Father’s work to the climax of their relationship described in John 10 “the Father is in me and I am in the Father”. The mystery of the inner relationship of God’s own life is that Son is accompanied by the Father and that the Son also remains with Father.

To quote Calvin, “Here is something marvellous: the Son of God descended from heaven in such a way that, without leaving heaven, he willed to be borne in the virgin’s womb, to go about the earth, and hang upon the cross; yet he continuously filled the world even as he had done from the beginning!”

In John 17 Jesus prays those amazing words. “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

This then is the final and most wondrous aspect of the sending of the disciples and of us. We are sent in unity with Jesus and so with Father, just as the Father remained with Jesus in his life, so Jesus remains with us. And even more amazingly, as Paul wrote to the Colossians, “for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (3:3). Not only is God with us but in Christ we are already with God in heaven!

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Believing is Seeing!

Thomas’ doubt that Jesus had risen is the classic case of ‘seeing is believing’.

‘The other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”’

Now I have long thought that Thomas has received bad press being labelled ‘the doubter’ because the rest of the disciples did not believe until Jesus appeared to them. However, that anomaly in Christian tradition aside I want to explore with you this morning the interplay between belief, doubt and revelation.

To begin with whilst we have a tendency to think that seeing is believing I heard a sermon in January in which the minister asserted it is actually the other way around. What we believe determines what we see, or at least shapes our seeing.

To give an example of this, consider what you believe about people who live in poverty. You might believe that there are enough opportunities in this life so that if people work hard enough they should not live in a state of poverty. In other words some people believe that we make our own beds and therefore logically must lie in them. So if a poor person turns up whilst you might have some compassion for them there would also be a level of blame going on, most likely subconsciously. This person has gotten themselves into this mess.

On the other hand you might believe that people who live in poverty are victims of circumstance, which might include things like socio-economic surroundings, education opportunities or health issues. So when a poor person turns up when you look at them you see the person as a victim of the difficulties that life can throw at us. Once again there would probably be some compassion and maybe a sub-conscious thought like there but the grace of God goes I.

Now of course there would be a whole range of beliefs that people could have towards those who are poverty stricken and we might even find a blend of beliefs in the same person based on the idea that different situations mean different things. So we might find a belief which can accept a poor person in a developing country but not a first world country which has greater welfare and employment opportunities.

The point is that what we believe shapes how we see things, how we see events and people. If you listen carefully to each other most of us can hear what other peoples belief systems include because most of us have a tendency to sprout our beliefs somewhat unknowingly. Most of us have little sayings which are like our life rules – they are our beliefs and they shape how we see people and things and how we respond to them.

In the locked room!

The image of Jesus earthly followers huddled in a locked room denying the witness that had already been given them concerning Jesus resurrection should challenge every congregation as to whether we are being like the disciples - gathering in locked rooms.

As we gather for worship wach week despite the fact the doors are open and we are free to come and go is it possible that for some of us our experience is exactly this: an experience that is closed off from the world around us and locked in?

In coming into this space do we cloister our religious experience?

Do we shut it inside an uncomfortable hour of piety, in which we struggle with the notion that Jesus rose from the dead, let alone that he is God!

Do we close of this hour because we are not sure how to make connections between what is spoken here and what occurs day by day? At school, in our family, in our work place, social settings, Earth hours, economic downturns and the list goes on.

Do we do this because we fear being open about our faith we run the risk of being labelled a bible basher; a do gooder; a moral prig?

Do we do this because we fear being told we are nutters that science outstrips religion in terms of truth and knowledge?

Or have we been so socially conditioned by our culture which wants our spirituality to remain a ‘private matter’ that we feel we cannot cross those socially accepted boundaries of 21st century Australia?

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Peter's Story: A Maundy Thursday Narrative

The charcoal fire glowed
as it threw its warmth
against the crisp cold
of the early dawn.
It glowed a deep gold-red
radiating out
yet drawing Peter’s eyes in,
sucking them in
consuming them
and filling them
with tumultuous memories.

Staring deeply
into the embers
Peter tried to trace
the events of the night.
It seemed only moments ago
that the other disciple
had brought him inside.
The woman
who had barred his way
asked as he passed by,
“You are not also
one of this man’s disciples,
are you?”
The red glow of the fire
hid Peter’s shame
as he recalled the question
and his answer.
How quickly was he ready
to deny his friend, his master?
“I am not.”
He had replied.

“I am not.”

How could I not?
Peter thought
As his mind drifted back
to the day
that Andrew had come to him
so excited,
“I have found the Messiah,
come and see?”
Of course Peter had followed.
Back then he was known as Simon
but in that first encounter
something strange occurred.
Jesus had looked at Simon
and said,
“You are Simon Son of John.
You are to be called
which means Peter.”
Simon had known
in this moment
that Jesus in some strange way
had chosen him.

No longer Simon but Peter
he had followed Jesus
and he had followed so closely.
Days of walking
through the countryside,
from village to village.
trying to make sense
of the Master’s words and actions.
The confrontations
with the Pharisees and Scribes always there,
a danger to everyone.
Peter had thought
he would have followed Jesus anywhere,
but the glowing embers spoke of his betrayal.

It was good
that he was alone now
with his shame.
After the other disciple
had convinced the woman to let him in
he had stood by the fire
with some of police and a few slaves,
waiting, waiting
not really knowing what for,
The others had been speaking among themselves
and then one noticed Peter’s presence
and stared long and hard.

“You are no also one of his disciples
are you?”
“I am not.”
The lie came so easily.
“I am not.”
Peter’s mind drifted back
into the charcoal dreaming.
It was only hours ago
that they had reclined around the table
sharing the meal together.

Jesus was teaching them as always. Then
in a moment of perversity
Jesus had shed his cloak
and taken a bowl and water
to wash the disciples’ feet.
Only the lowest slave would have been asked to do such a thing.
Peter had thought he had gone mad
and seeing his Master tried to refuse.
But Jesus had told him
that he did not understand.
How often had he not understood what Jesus was up to?
“You do not know what I am doing,
but later you will understand.”
Still, Peter tried to deny Jesus,
“You will never wash my feet.” He had asserted.

Then those words,
“Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.”
“Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.”
Peter recalled his response,
was he pushing the point,
“well what about my hands and my head.”
Peter had not understood
and his words had betrayed him again.
Jesus rebuked him, then
“You are clean but not all of you.”
Would Peter ever understand?
Peter had travelled with Jesus so far
and for so long and still he was confounded.

The night had been full of confusion.
voices in the dark.
Then burning torches
and soldiers
and priests
and Judas.
People milling and pushing
In the flickering light.

“Whom are you looking for?”
Jesus words had rung like a command.
“Jesus of Nazareth.”
They had said.
There was no denial
just those simple words
“I am he.”

Silence had descended on the crowd,
many fell to their knees.
“Whom are you looking for?”
Jesus asked again
and again the words, “Jesus of Nazareth.”
Peter had thought
surely that was Judas beside him,
he will do something.
But Jesus confirmed his identity a second time,
“I have told you that I am he.
So if you are looking for me let these others go.”

Peter’s mind had raced
and fear and dread overtook him.
Peter knew he had to do something
they were going to take him away.
They were going to take Jesus.

In Peter’s mind he replayed the scene again and again.
It was as if someone else had drawn the sword
As if someone else had lashed out.
Blood had splattered
and then poured freely from where the slave’s ear had been.
Malchus: he was only a slave,
why him, he was innocent.
The blood seeped into Peter’s vision
and mingled with the glow of coals in the fire.

Peter shut his eyes against the red condemning light.
But through the darkness
he could still see the face of Malchus’ cousin at the fire.
“You are no also one of his disciples are you?”
“I am not.”

“I am not.” “I am not.” “I am not.”
Thrice condemned the cock had crowed
and the words had coming flooding back.
“Lord, why can I not follow you now?
I will lay down my life for you.”

Jesus words were fulfilled
“Will you lay down your life for me?
Very truly, I tell you,
before the cock crows,
you will have denied me three times.”

“I am not.” “I am not.” “I am not.”

Thrice denied, thrice condemned.
The red glow of goals could not warm the cold in Peter’s heart
And still the memories came.

He had heard Jesus
that day when the Greeks had come seeking Jesus.
Andrew and Philip had come with a message
these Greeks want to see you
Jesus had started speaking of his death.
On that day he had said,
“Whoever serves me must follow me,
and where I am,
there will my servant be also.”

Peter’s mind raced.
They had all failed him,
each and everyone one.
He had failed him.
Jesus was alone now.
No friends to comfort,
no disciples to share the pain.
Jesus was being tortured
and all of those words that Jesus had spoken
were beginning to fall into place.
Jesus was to be put to death.
Betrayed and deserted
by even his closest followers.
There was nothing to be done now,
just mourn.
The red coals,
The deep blood red coals
screamed of Jesus fate.
More blood would be spilled on this day.
Peter wondered what it all meant.
There was little sense in anything any more.
Numb and confused,
condemned by his denial,
Peter rose and walked away
aimlessly, hopelessly
away from the dying coals.


In the days to come
Peter’s eyes would be opened again
as Jesus drew him back in.
Forgiven, restored, renewed
Thrice Peter had denied his Lord,
Thrice he had hidden
Yet thrice on a beach
Jesus would ask his friend
do you love me,
and Peter would once again
bask in the warmth of Jesus love and say,
“Master, you know that I do.”
“Master, you know that I do.”
“Master, you know that I do.”

By Peter Lockhart.
You are welcome to use this as a worship resource.

Friday, 15 April 2011

"Silence" and God's love

I have just finished reading "Silence" by Shusaku Endo. Put simply it is an excellent novel exploring the silence of God in the face of suffering and the nature of grace.

Whilst there are numerous themes to consider the one that seems most pertinent to me is the question of God's silence.

In the novel the Jesuit Priest conitnually comments on the silence of God in the face of suffering and I was struck by the candid honesty of his struggle.

In a church such as the Uniting Church in Australia which speaks of dsicerning God's will confessing that we hear silence from God can be difficult as it may indicate a lack of faith.

In a culture such as the Australian culture which touts atheism and in which my children are taught to beleive in Easter Bunny at school by their peers speaking of the silence of God may be seen as undermining an already shakey faith.

In a world where there continues to be great suffering through social, economic, political and natural movements admitting the silence of God may seem fatal.

Yet the silence from God can be almost palpable, a tangible reminder of our human frailty and need for answers.

For me the services in the week ahead are an opportunity once again to throw ourselves on the mercy of God and in our longing to hear his voice recall how Jesus prayed in the garden "not my will but yours". To recollect how on the cross Jesus experienced the agony of Godlessness "why have your forsaken me". To remember that in the face of the finality of death Jesus came and stood among his disciples and said "peace be with you".

It is remembering that God's silence is broken and we discover again God's loving concern for our world.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

The one coming into the World

In the story of the raising of Lazarus found in John 11 Martha recognises Jesus as the one coming into the world. This is a marvellous image of God's grace and love. Jesus is coming into the world and in him God is coming into the world. Whilst having a historical context there is a constancy of the movement of Jesus coming into the world through the power of the Holy Spirit, the helper that Jesus says the Father will send.

Jesus coming into the world shifts we human beings in our relationship with God. Firstly, it celebrates our created existence. Our lives are affirmed by the incarnation which reminds us that the creation is good and we are to live in the light not of what we expect may happen after we die but in the gift of life we have now. Second, it says we do not need to go to find God anywhere because Jesus is one who comes to us. Jesus coming into the world is God's coming into the presence of our daily living and we can discover that God is there with us not simply some God out there who is immune to what it means to live.