Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Remembering, emptying, living blessings.

Deuteronomy 26:1-15.  Remembering our heritage.

You may be wondering why I chose this passage this morning to help us understand the place of the church in the world.  How does Moses words spoken thousands of years ago “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor” help us?

The answer is that Moses words are all about remembering, remembering whose we are and who we have been.

These words, which essentially set up a liturgical practice, were spoken by Moses towards the end of the time of wandering in the desert.  The people of God were about to enter the Promised Land and this liturgy was to help them remember their history.

“A wandering Aramean was my ancestor.”

Creative commons Flickr: Denbola
The people had been nomads with no land of their own, they had settled as residents in Egypt, aliens, and there had become slaves.  Lead by Moses they had fled Egypt and had become refugees.  In entering the Promised Land they would displace other people and it could be argued would become the oppressors.

So the people had been nomads, resident aliens, slaves, refugees & even oppressors.

It is in this context and with anticipation of prosperity in the Promised Land that God’s people were to offer the first fruits of their harvest to God.

Now these offerings were not to sit idly and rot.  No they served a very specific purpose.  “Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house.” 

The prosperity of the people was to be celebrated by giving to God for the sake of others – to the Levites, the aliens, the poor and the widow.

I often match this reading with the reading from Leviticus 23 which instructs God’s people to leave the edge of their harvest for the poor and the strangers and the widow and the orphan.  God’s people were not to think of their prosperity in selfish ways but in ways which looked outwards.

In remembering that they had been aliens and refugees, marginalised and lost, they would remember people of other cultures, religions, ethnicity and those who were marginalised such as the orphan and the widow and they would be generous to them.

I personally find these words inspiring and confronting in the context of which you and I live.  As God’s people who are prosperous now we are to remember that our history includes a time of displacement, of dislocation, of being resident aliens and even slaves or convicts.  And in remembering these things we are called to welcome the stranger and alien in our midst and we are to be people of generosity, for our giving to God flows into the support of both those who are strangers in our midst and those who are marginalised.

For those of us who are Australian citizens the reality of 46 million refugees in the world is disturbing.  The policies of our government and those proposed by the opposition raise serious question for us to our collective amnesia that our ancestor was a wandering Aramean.

When we remember rightly we are confronted by who we have been even if it was three thousand years ago and we are called to consider carefully how we use our first fruits and whether we are leaving the edge of our harvest for those who are in need around us.

Philippians 2:1-11. Emptying ourselves for others.

At the heart of the Christian faith is the notion that Jesus came to reconcile us in our relationship to God and renew us in our relationships with one another.  It is a reconciliation and renewal which is given to us as gift because the reality we do not always remember that our ancestor was a wandering Aramean.

Yet through the power of the Holy Spirit we are also taught that as followers of Christ we are drawn into Jesus own life.  Just as he brought light into the world so we too are to bring light.

The passage from Philippians like the one from Deuteronomy causes us through remembering to look beyond ourselves:

Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.

The words which follow this are sometimes referred to us the kenosis hymn, kenosis being the word for emptying in the Greek.

Jesus pours out his life for others.  He empties of being God to become human and even empties his life out for our sake.  In my mind I can find no reason for God to do this other than love.  If we believe God is completely free there is no necessity in what God does in Jesus and it is done unconditionally.

If we as people are drawn into the self giving life, this life which is poured out then as God’s people we are to pour our lives out for the sake of others.

I do not suggest we do so to save ourselves, this work has already been done, we do so because we have known God’s love.

We empty ourselves out for the world for which Christ died – not a world which necessarily loves God, or is nice, or will reciprocate that love appropriately but because we are taught by the one who loves us beyond our rejection of God and beyond our human fallibility.

I read an article last week that suggested if I was protesting against what Kevin Rudd had done with the PNG solution to the refugees I should do so knowing it would cost me and that I should be prepared to help resettle and help refugees and to be prepared to bear any additional tax burden.

I have read similar articles in relation to addressing the issues in our aged facilities, in our education system, in terms of climate change and the list goes on.

If you and I are drawn into God’s life, into Jesus self-emptying the question hangs heavy on my heart how will I empty myself out for others.  I cannot help but think of the rich young man who went to Jesus and when Jesus instructed him to empty himself by selling everything he had and giving it to the poor he went away disheartened.

Matthew 5:1-11. Living Blessings.

These well known teachings called as the beatitudes appear to have three aspects.

The first is that there is recognition that Jesus recognises as blessed people who had traditionally been thought as suffering or as outsiders by the Jewish community:

The poor in spirit
Those who mourn
The meek

God blesses people we don’t necessarily think of as blessed.

Secondly, Jesus recognises as blessed people who act out God’s loving way in the world:

Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness
The merciful
The pure in heart
The peacemakers

God blesses those who act to bring fullness in life to others.

And lastly, that those who live out God’s ways often attract disdain:

Those who are persecuted for righteousness sake
Those who are reviled on Jesus account

God blesses those who make sacrifices in God’s name.

As we consider how we are to be the church in the world when we listen to the beatitudes it seems to me we are called to acknowledge and live as blessings, even maybe to be living blessings as we discover that those whom we don’t always think of as blessed may actually be blessed and as we live out being merciful, peacemakers, pure in heart and seekers of righteousness.

This morning as we collect our offerings I have provided each of you with a card with 3 questions for you to contemplate as people who have received God’s grace and being drawn into Jesus life and ministry:

1.      What is the most challenging thing have I remembered about being part of God’s people?
2.     Who I am I being asked to empty myself out for?

3.     Where will I be a living blessing in the week ahead?

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Give us this day our daily bread

By Peter Lockhart

Week by week, around the world, congregations follow Jesus instruction to pray the Lord’s Prayer. I believe that there are times that we say and do things in our faith and over the years of doing and saying them one of two things can happen. Firstly, through repetition and deeper understanding the words become our own and so we as we say them they deepen our faith and commitment. Or, alternately, familiarity breeds contempt. Repetition of the words creates an immunity or boredom sometimes exacerbated by ignorance and often resulting in rejection.

In considering the words of the Lord’s Prayer which are not simply Jesus instruction but are also filled with rich meaning I want this morning to simply focus on one line of the prayer.

Give us this day our daily bread.
Jill Matsuyama Creative Commons

In reflecting on these words I want to bring three things to your attention.

Firstly, the literal sense of the words as they have been translated into English.

Secondly, a sense of meaning that is grounded in Jesus statements in John’s gospel “I am the bread of life” and “I am the bread that came down from heaven.”

And thirdly, a context of meaning found in the Eucharistic practices of the church.

Give us this day our daily bread are words which when understood simply at face value appeal to God for the basis sustenance of life: food. My earliest recollections of praying this line of the prayer are to do exactly with that. I understood that we prayed to God to provide for us our basic human needs.

This in itself is an act of faith. In praying give us this day our daily bread we look to God as the one who ultimately can provide and does provide all things. This line of the prayer reminds us that all things come from God and regardless of our human efforts and systems of society not one thing exists or is available for us but by God’s will. As words standing alone in their basic meaning they are words which should humble as we share in praying words that Jesus prayed and as we realise that the world and all that is in it belongs to God. We look to God for what we need.

I have little doubt that this basic meaning is meant to be a part of our understanding of Jesus words but when we look deeper than the English translation and consider the wider context of not only the prayer but the whole of Jesus life there is more to be said.

When tempted by the devil to turn stones to bread Jesus declares “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matt 4:4, see also Luke 4:4) Jesus understanding was that whilst bread may be important for our physical sustenance we have greater need than this.

On this point it is interesting to note that in the Egyptian Coptic Church’s translation of this passage and of the Lord’s Prayer the phrase is translated something more like, “Give us this day the bread of eternal life.”

What might we think of as the bread of eternal life? The answer is given to us by Jesus in John’s gospel, chapter 6.

“The bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

And when asked, what is this bread? Jesus answer is.

“I am the bread of life”

“I am the bread that came down from heaven.”

Combine these statements with the words of the Lord’s Prayer, ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ might also be said ‘Give us this day and every day Jesus’. The statement in the prayer operates on more than one level. In appealing for our daily bread we appeal to God to give us Jesus, every day.

This raises the importance of saying these words immensely and as we say them week by week in church with this understanding they ground us in the reality of our faith. Not simply that God provides for our physical need in bread but that God has given the bread of heaven Jesus Christ and this is what we need more than all else. In the gathering of the worshipping community we receive this bread as we hear the good news of Jesus Christ proclaimed as we eat the bread together in communion. We receive the bread in word and sacrament.

This leads me into my final point. This prayer has Eucharistic significance. The Lord’s Prayer is placed within the setting of the communion service I believe because it points us to God’s coming kingdom and also to the bread with which we are fed upon the way: Jesus Christ himself.

One of the great sadness that I have for the Protestant Church in general is the loss of understanding concerning Jesus presence feeding us in the celebration of the Eucharist. We have been guilty of reducing our understanding of what we are doing as mere remembrance of what Jesus did and often this is further exacerbated by the individualism of our faith whereby we see taking the elements as something merely occurring between me and God.

Yet in celebrating together, being fed with the bread of eternity, we are not disparate people coming as lonely individuals before our God. By no means! We are made to be what we are companions in Christ. The word companion comes from two words ‘with’ ‘bread’ and literally companions are those who break bread together. As we are fed at this table we are bound not by respect or love of one another nor even are we stifled by our incapacity to respect and love one another. At this table we feed on the bread of eternal life and in breaking this bread with us the Lord makes us one. Companions in Christ!

As a final aside on this particular point the prayer is “Give us this day our daily bread.” For me there is an argument here for more regular celebrations of the Eucharist. The great reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin live in a time when the Lord’s Supper was celebrated 4 times per year it was they from whom we draw our heritage who argued first for weekly communion. A few hundred years later, John Wesley in his revival is said to have celebrated communion up to 3 and 4 times a week. The appeal for daily bread in the Lord’s Prayer I believe points us to celebrating the Lord’s Supper each time we worship together and in fact the assumption in the Leaders Book Uniting in Worship is that communion is celebrated each week. There is something to dwell on fir us all here.

Give us this day our daily bread.
Provide our physical needs for us day by day.
Give us your Son day by day.
Feed us with the bread and wine offered at your table day by day.

As we think again on these words this day as we feed on him by Word and sacrament I pray that we all this day may come to a deeper understanding that we are truly companions in Christ and this will inform your congregation here in the days and the weeks and the years ahead until Christ comes again in all his glory. Amen.

A Shared Life

By Marilyn Healy

The sermon this morning continues as part of the ‘Living the Faith’ series that Peter has been preaching on for the last few weeks and indeed will continue next week as well. The topic for today is ‘a shared life – how do we live in a Christian community?’ Being a well-trained academic I always start with definitions. So, a shared life – what do we mean by that? Well that was an interesting exercise because if you Google it you find all sorts of government agencies who define shared living. But that was not what I was looking for – I was looking for a shared life not shared living. So giving it some thought I came up with some facts. We share worship and the celebration of the communion. We share fellowship hour and lunches and dinners. We also share in other ways at bible meetings, coffee nights etc – but are we really sharing or just participating? I’ll leave you to think about that point.

The next aspect to be defined was ‘a Christian community.’ Well there could be many ways that we can think about that. A Christian community is a group of people who pool their resources, financial or otherwise, to further the work of God; or what is a simple and more obvious definition is that a Christian community is a group of people who come together to worship God. That point seems to be pretty obvious but the key here is to worship God.

Then if we go to the Gospel reading for today from John 13 vs 34 “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.’ So worshipping God is to love one another as Jesus has loved us.

The new commandment that Jesus gives is not one of the 10 commandments that each of us knows so well but In John in chapter 13 - God give us this new commandment – to love one another. It’s a new commandment also because in the Old Testament in Leviticus 19:14 God had commanded love. What makes Jesus’ commandment NEW is the new standard he set in the example ‘as I have loved you’ and Jesus was saying this in the context of someone who was about to lay down his life for others.

That brings me to another question – what do we mean by love. Now we bandy around the word ‘love’ as if we all know what we are talking about. So what is love? Again, being a well-trained academic I started looking at the meaning or definition of love. In the secular world, the online dictionary, defines love as different things –

It says, “Love is a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person. Love is a feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection, as for a parent, child, or friend. Love is sexual passion or desire”.

On YouTube, children were asked; what is love? Some of the children replied in the ‘boy meets girl’ sort of love – sparks, feeling goofy, and when someone takes you to Hawaii and you fall in love. Each of those statements by the children and the way that loves Is defined in the online dictionary are legitimate but is that the same love that Jesus was referring to in this passage? NO, although one child was closer to the concept of God’s love then they said that ‘love came from the beginning of the word when the world started.’

But coming back to the personal relationship type of love - each of those statements about sexual love are reflected throughout the bible in some way – for example, desire or sexual love such as the physical, sensual love between a husband and wife. The Greek term for this is EROS. Eros as a word does not appear in the Bible, but Eros, or erotic love, is portrayed in the Old Testament book, The Song of Solomon and the Apostle Paul noted that it is wise for people to marry to fulfill their godly desire for this type of love.

Part of the definition from referred to a feeling of deep affection. You could equate this phrase with the Greek word Philia. Philia - means close friendship or brotherly love in Greek: it’s a positive feeling of liking. Philia and other forms of this Greek noun are found throughout the New Testament. Christians are frequently exhorted to love their fellow Christians but in John, as I said previously, Jesus has set the standard ‘as I have loved you.’

In the NT reading of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, the bible tells us that love is patient, love is kind, love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrong doing but rejoices in truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. This is God’s description of love. God is love - this is what he is like. And although these are the common verses quoted at a wedding, Peter will quickly remind us that that these verses were not written with a wedding in mind.

Corinthians tells us that love is patient. Do we show patience if things are not done the way we would like them to be done?  Sometiems we do if the service starts a little late because we ahve to wait for the bus to arrive.  Soemtiems we do when communion is not done in the form that we prefer?  And how about kindness?  Is it showing kindness when think we are too busy to help another in need?  We all have busy lives but often our own agendas take place over our need for kindness or love to others. And I could go through each of the nouns that St Paul used - envious or boastful, arrogant or rude, irritable or resentful etc. What Paul was demonstrating in his letter is that love has greater virtue than any other gifts; in this case it is because love is eternal where gifts are temporary

In John, Jesus gave us the new commandment to love one another just I have loved you. God made us in love. God‘s love and what Jesus was talking about is the highest form of love. Love which is selfless, sacrificial, unconditional love. It refers to the covenant love of God for humans, as well as the human reciprocal love for God. So God’s love is holy. God is love. Had we continued reading the gospel of John we would have heard the passage in verse 16 – God is love and those who abide in love abide in God and God abides in them. Jesus ‘love was divine. God’s love is divine. Emil Brunner is his book ‘The Christian Doctrine of God” comments that ‘love is the self-giving God: love is the free and generous grace of the One who is the Holy Lord.

So ‘God is LOVE’. Implicit in this statement is that love is not just an attribute or quality as I have been outlining earlier. It does not mean that God is loving – rather is means that it is the very nature of God. It is the highest form of love. As I said God is love. God loves all. Not just the Christian people or the good people but all people, the sinners as well and that includes us. This kind of divine love we do not know as humans, but we are commanded by God to love our neighbour. So love is a commandment to us, not purely an example of divine love. The unity or oneness between Christ and Christians must be the same as the unity, the oneness between Jesus and God.

Thus far I have not directly addressed the last part of verse John 12: verse 35 – ‘by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another’

My simple interpretation of that passage is that loving God is not only coming to church and praising the Lord as in our definition of a Christian community which I gave earlier. Rather, it is living out the love of God that we have been talking about, by example; by how we treat each other as a Christian community. In Mathew 25:31-45 there is the story of the sheep and the goats and the disciples ask Jesus when had they not come to the aid of the hungry or thirsty stranger or to the aid of the naked stranger in prison. Jesus said “I tell you solemnly, in so far as you neglected to do this to one of the least of these, you neglected to do it to me. As Palmer comments ‘this is a wonderfully affirmative story about our potential to be channels of god’s love. We in this congregation are not strangers, but if we neglect any one of us we are neglecting Jesus.

So as Jesus commanded - love one another just as I have loved you. You will be my disciples if you love one another.

So is this how can we live in love in a Christian congregation? Such a concept may be hard to understand for us. We all affirm that we love God but we need to live out that love of God in our daily lives? It’s easiest and it’s natural to organise our lives around our own selfish desires: to be intolerant or judgemental of others. Love is forgiving people for their transgressions.

Jesus was an example of a life that lived and breathed love. He gave himself and calls us to do the same. True love is more than a feeling. It is a consistent attitude to give ourselves for others.

That God is love is the embodiment of the whole bible. When the spirit of Christ comes into our lives, he fills us with love, so that we in turn can express that love to those around us. “Paul’s letter to the Corinthians reminds us that love is generous and outgoing. It is not hateful or divisive or has need for self-promotion. Love does not try to win power and form factions for self—importance. It does not disregard the people in need.... It does not pride itself in being superior. “

As one little girl on YouTube said” ‘sometimes you can’t choose who you love.’ And a verse I found said ‘every experience God gives us, every person He puts into our lives, is the perfect preparation for the future that only He can see.’

We can’t see the future implied here in this verse, the future of eternal life. But in our world, the future is now. So To Live in a Shared Life in a Christian Community means that we follow the covenant of Jesus - love one another just as I have loved you. You will be my disciples if you love one another.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

The Sun goes down at noon!

by Peter Lockhart
A sermon on Amos 8

This is what the Lord God showed me—a basket of summer fruit. He said, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A basket of summer fruit.” Then the Lord said to me, The end has come upon my people Israel; I will never again pass them by.

When I first read the readings for this week I automatically shied away from Amos with his harsh words of

prophecy as they made little sense to me and I have not really given time for myself to enter into the Old Testament deeply enough.

What the heck does the image of this basket of summer fruit signify? It was a complete mystery.

The other readings set down from Luke with the story of Mary and Martha and the wonderful images of Jesus in Colossians as the eternal Word of God in who the whole world finds its meaning were rich troves from which to preach.

Then by chance I decided to return and read Amos, I read the whole book of the prophet and then a commentary about Amos and suddenly a new light dawned.

I learnt that in the Hebrew language the word for summer fruit is a word play with the word end. They sound the same, to use the technical term they are homonyms.

So the imagery of the basket of fruit is somewhat meaningless because the Hebrew writer is using a poetic device to emphasise the word end.

Confronted by this new learning I was drawn to consider the rest of the passage more closely and found myself feeling somewhat judged by the words towards the end of the passage in verse 11:

The time is surely coming, says the Lord God, when I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.

As a preacher I am deeply troubled with my struggle to hear God. I long for a direct revelation and clear and concise words to speak of the hope that I have found in Jesus Christ, whom I count as my Lord and Saviour.

Yet whilst I have had my moments of insight and comfort much of the time the deep silence of God’s vastness and mystery confronts me.

So as the prophet suggests I wander:

They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it.

I delve deep into books on theology and church history and spirituality. I go to my supervisor and spiritual director and seek out mentors – I run to and fro seeking the word of the Lord for in the din of this secular age of the West there are so many distractions and idolatries.

Yet in the midst of all of this struggle with the silence on reflection it was the moment in which I first walked up the three steps of the pulpit in St Andrews Church of Bundaberg to preach that I discovered what it meant to be home – for I had arrived to be at home with God, where our true home lies. Up until this point in my life I had always felt a sense of homelessness as if I had nowhere to belong. But at this moment Jesus embrace enfolded my life in purpose.

It is this experience alongside the knowledge that that first sermon would have been consider a basic heresy of the early church that has kept me going in ministry. Despite my error I continue to believe and be reassured that God was in that moment not simply for me but for the congregation as well and that somehow in the power of the Holy Spirit God’s eternal Word Jesus Christ was present as he was proclaimed.

Faith is a mix of doubt and unknowing as much as it is about assurance and certainty.

And so week by week we gather to listen again for the most important message and hope in this culture of despair in which we live.

A culture in which for most of us our wealth blinds us to the abject need of the world and of the immense problems associated with our economic structures, with our use of energy and resources and our irreparable impact on the environment.

Amos declared to his people the threat of the darkness to come, a time of great angst:

On that day, says the Lord God, I will make the sun go down at noon, and darken the earth in broad daylight. I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation; I will bring sackcloth on all loins, and baldness on every head; I will make it like the mourning for an only son, and the end of it like a bitter day.

I heard a story which involved fear of such descending darkness recently.

In conversation with a minister from the Solomon Islands I was describing the Australian context in which less than 10% of Australians attend church regularly and whilst many still claim belief in God it is an ambiguous belief at best. Atheism is on the rise and they are seeking converts!

The response of the minister from the Solomon Islands was a plea not to tell his people about the unbelief of Australians. White people bought us the gospel, don’t tell us that they have stopped believing! It struck me then and there the irony that the enlightenment has brought such darkness of unbelief in the West. This minister feared the impact of such a darkness descending on his people – the sun going down at noon!

What confidence can we offer to him and his people? What faith can they offer us?

Surely the message of the crucified risen son of God present now in our midst, which can stand against the very gates of hell, can prevail against the onslaught of the bright fluorescent and neon lights of our progressive enlightened era.

The sun goes down at noon... this event has occurred. I read from Luke 23:

It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." When he had said this, he breathed his last.

But this as we know is not the last word on the matter of descending darkness. For the Jesus who died on the cross, the wisdom teacher before whom Mary sat listening, the man who walked the roads of Galilee is at one and the same time God who walks amongst us, the light sent into the world. As Paul wrote to the Colossians:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

In the face of darkness new life springs forth, hope transcending our attempts in the West to domesticate God or even worse to pronounce his eulogy and lay him to rest as if God never was.

Jesus has come into the world and like Mary we can sit at his feet and learn about who God is from God himself, in God’s own words. The riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ is in you, the hope of glory sustains us because we know that God loves us in this transitory existence as we await the fullness of Jesus return to make all things new.

As Paul wrote to the Romans for now we see through a glass darkly but then we shall see face to face yet what wondrous images of hope do we glimpse though that glass and witness to by God’s actions in and through our lives – justice flowing like a river, the blind seeing, prisoners set free, the poor blessed, people reconciled with God and with one another... peace!

So like Mary let us sit in silence now before our Master teacher and listen for his word to each of us on this day.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

More than a Meal

by Peter Lockhart
A Sermon on 1 Cor 11:17-34

It seems somewhat ironic to have entitled today’s sermon theme ‘more than a meal’ when a tiny scrap of bread and a sip of wine could hardly be described as a meal. 

Yet this tiny scrap of bread and sip of wine have been understood for centuries to be connected to a moment within a meal shared between Jesus and his disciples. It was a moment in which Jesus encouraged his disciples to remember him; his body and blood; his presence in the world; by breaking bread and sharing wine together.

Creative commons: Ian Britton

Nearly 2000 years have passed and here we are still sharing these elements and wondering what lies behind and beyond our eating and drinking. Where did it come from? How will it change us? What is its purpose?

Based on the theme question for the day ‘How does God grow us in the faith?’ it is clear that I connect the act of sharing in communion with God’s action of nurturing us in the relationship with have with God in and through Jesus.
Looking back to its origins we know Matthew, Mark and Luke all tell a story of Jesus sharing bread and wine and encouraging his disciples to continue to do so after he has gone to remember him.
In the earliest communities of followers of Jesus there is evidence that they did precisely as Jesus had instructed them.

In the book of Acts we hear that the first Christians in Jerusalem gathered on the first day of the week, Sunday, for the breaking of the bread. Although the wine is not mentioned the inference is understood by scholars to be that gathering and sharing in the breaking of bread which Jesus had instructed his followers to do.
Today we read from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians a section relating to how the people were gathering and what the focus of the gathering should reflect when the bread and wine was shared.
It is in Paul’s letter that we see how the early Christian community struggled to understand the nature ofis event of sharing bread and wine and how it was connected to their following of Jesus. It is from this section of this letter that the church, for much of its history, has borrowed Paul’s words as the setting of the feast:

“For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you...”
To help us understand a little more deeply the meaning of communion for us I want to look a little more closely at what was happening in Corinth and what Paul’s concern was because it is from this situation that I believe we have ended up where we are today.
If we were to travel back in time to Corinth we would find no church building and that the people who gathered on the first day of the week did so in someone’s home. It was probably the home of one of the wealthier members of the Christian community.
Here they shared in a meal, a dinner party as it were. Now in the ancient world the dining area was usually a separate room in the house which would have seated a relatively small group of people, maybe a dozen or so. The process for meal taking was based on social status. Those more important members of the community ate first and so on down to the least. This was the regular practice in the ancient world.
It appears that this practice had been adopted by the Christians who were gathering in Corinth to the extent that some were eating much, whilst others were going hungry. Additionally, some were consuming large amounts of wine to the point of being drunk.
Based on Paul’s description it is clear that when the community was coming together they were coming together for a full meal. And based on his words about the ‘taking of the cup after supper’ it has been understood by scholars to suggest that the bread may have broken early in the meal whilst the drinking of wine occurred at the end of the meal.

The way we celebrate communion today looks nothing like this, there is no meal sharing and we are not gathered in someone’s home. Yet, it may in fact be what was occurring at Corinth that has led us into the situation.
Paul’s chief concern about what was occurring was a social one which had religious connotations. He was not concerned about the liturgical practice or worried about what was happening to the bread and wine. Is it really Jesus body and blood? No. Paul was worried about how the celebration was marred by division and exclusion.
This division and exclusion was completely contradictory to what Paul understood remembering Christ was all about. by challenging the practice and setting the words of institution into the gathering Paul was reaffirming that this was not the simple sharing of a meal, it was a liturgical act. More than that in the remembering it was not to be simply like a weekly funerary remembrance of Jesus but a tangible act of remembering his life and expression of hope that Jesus would return.
It is these corrections to the community Corinth which I suspect have led the Church away from the full sharing of a meal into a formalised process of celebrating and remembering with the bread and the wine. Whether we actually have a more faithful expression is questionable but that the social division and exclusion based on how much people eat and drink has certainly been removed.
If we bring ourselves forward in time to our own celebration in which we share the bread and wine over nearly 2000 years there has been a great deal of reflection and development of the process of our Eucharistic celebration.
For me one of the strongest aspects of our celebration is summed up in the word anamnesis. Anamnesis is the act of remembering and I like that it sounds like amnesia because I think of it as reversing our collective forgetfulness.

Here at the table we remember that whilst we might forget God, God does not forget us and this is indeed good news.
We remember the saving acts of God through history when we pray especially in what is known as the great prayer of thanksgiving.
Of course we remember Jesus: his life, his death, his resurrection and the promise that he will come again.
Yet here we also remember that we are bound not simply to God but to one another as well.
Remembered rightly, communion is not just about remembering the past event of Jesus death but also the future to which we and the whole creation are being drawn: life with God and one another.

What is vital here is that our remembering, an act which is transformative, points us beyond ourselves.
Jesus life, his descent into the world through the incarnation, is about God entering into the creation and reaching out to others. Jesus healing; his casting of demons; his acts of forgiveness are ultimately about the restoration of community and reconciliation of people with God. This was at the heart of Jesus presence in the world. The promise of the resurrection is not simply a promise that I get to go to heaven when I die but that God has a future for we who are his people and that future is one we share in together.

In this sense eating a little bit of bread and drinking a sip of wine each Sunday is not simply about saving you personally it is about reminding us that we are God’s people together as we share in a meal with one another.

We do not come as individuals to the table but as a gathered people and through the history of the church we have come to the understanding that because there is no separation between those who are alive and dead in Christ when we gather to share the communion of saints gathers with us.

Not only are we reminded that our life in Christ is a shared life we are reminded that Jesus coming into the world was for the sake of others.

Jesus did not come to set up a holy club where individuals could come and eat some bread and wine each week to stay saved. Jesus came to serve the world and when we eat and drink at this table we do so remembering that this is a foretaste of the coming kingdom promised for all people and that we who have encountered this are called to serve the world for which Christ died.

Communion cuts at the very core of the divisions of the church in which we do not all welcome one another to the table but just as in Corinth have learnt ways to exclude one another. Communion cuts at the very core of the individualistic society in which we live and at the pietistic traditions of personal salvation that many of us have developed. In these things communion challenges our individualism, our exclusivity, our religiosity, our lack of compassion because here we remember Jesus.

In sharing the bread and wine we share together and we do so to be renewed as we led from this table to serve the world for which Christ lived and died and continues to pray.

Paul was right to challenge the problems of the Christian gatherings in Corinth and maybe because of what Paul said the element of sharing a meal was removed to help Christians understand that what was occurring was more than a meal. Yet I cannot help but think that just because the meal sharing was removed that we have come to a better understanding of what it really means to be God’s people together and love one another as Christ loved us.

As we continue to sit with that tension I believe as we share we can only do so in grateful thanksgiving for the God remembers us despite our ability to remember all that God has done for us. This is indeed grace and the taste of bread and sip of wine taken in the context of our gathered worship reminds us of this.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Jesus: The Good Samaritan!

The story of the Good Samaritan is not first and foremost a story that teaches us as Christians how to behave. I’ll just say that again. The story of the Good Samaritan is not first and foremost a story about we as Christians should behave. But growing up this is what I thought it was about. I was taught that I was to be like the Samaritan and show mercy. However, by being taught this understanding I believe I have been somewhat betrayed. I know that this is a big call but I say this because I believe that without listening to the interaction between Jesus and the lawyer we totally lose the plot and reason for the story and we lose the message of grace.

The story from Luke of Jesus’ interaction with the lawyer is about that interaction and the story of the Good Samaritan is a lesson for the lawyer himself. Whilst the Samaritan remains the focal character it is the lawyer and the man who is robbed that we need to pay a little more attention to in order that we might understand who we are, who God is and what God has done for us.

So, let’s start by thinking about the lawyer. The lawyer is probably a Pharisee, one who studied the law of Israel. He is a Biblical scholar and when he comes to Jesus he comes as an adversary. The lawyer came to ask questions because he wanted to test Jesus. This man was there to try to show Jesus up. The heart of his question is not about how he will inherit eternal life but whether or not he can trap Jesus. Notice though that there is an assumption made in the question which is that he has to do something to inherit eternal life.

But Jesus isn’t keen to play the game that the lawyer is setting him up for. Jesus’ responds to the question with his own question, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” Jesus asks the question probably knowing full well that the lawyer will have a good answer and he does. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your niehbour as yourself.”

No problems here the lawyer is right, this is what the law teaches. The lawyer answered Jesus using the scriptures Deuteronomy 6:5 “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” Combined with Leviticus 19:18: “Love your neighbour as yourself.”

Now we need to be careful here because some interpretations of the interaction automatically go ‘Aha!’ the laws that the lawyer point to are relational. So then it is more about the relationship than the law. There is some truth in this but we need to understand that the lawyer is answering Jesus’ from his perspective. He sees these things as laws, and they are, and he is right, to inherit eternal life one must obey these laws and perfectly!

This of course is a hitch because no one obeys the law perfectly but the lawyer must think that he does because he then seeks to justify himself by asking another question. His first question was a tester for Jesus, could he trap Jesus? That hadn’t really worked. So the lawyer’s second question is about confirming his own goodness. One might wonder if he thought, ‘I can’t trap Jesus but at least I can make myself look good’.

From his perspective the lawyer knew whom his neighbours were - Israelites. In Leviticus 19:18 the term used for neighbour is a synonym for brother. And who is my brother - none other than those who share my blood - other Jews. The development of the Jewish laws that arose around the Torah reflected this ideal. The neighbour is my fellow Jew, and to a lesser extent those ‘aliens’ who live among us and with us.

This is the context of Jesus’ telling the parable. The lawyer isn’t really asking about how to inherit eternal life. Rather he is asking Jesus’ to confirm his goodness. As we have already seen he has already failed to trap Jesus. And now the lawyer is trying to save face.

Jesus responds with a parable. Now a parable in the Jewish tradition, from which Jesus’ spoke, is a mystery story that reveals something of God. In the context of Jesus’ life, Jesus parables are a part of the revelation of who he is and how he comes among us bringing God’s grace. The concept that a parable is simply a story that has a moral at the end of it is a more naïve interpretation of Jesus’ parables. Jesus parables are more often about revealing something about his presence.

So what happens in the story? Remembering the key question is ‘who is the neighbour of the lawyer’?

A man, undoubtedly a Jew, is travelling the road from Jericho to Jerusalem and is attacked. He is left broken and bleeding beside the road. A man comes travelling past, he is a priest, and seeing a fellow Jew on the ground he skirts by on the other side. We can make all sorts of assumptions and judgements as to why we think that he passed by but in the end we do not really know. Jesus is probably playing with his audience a little bit here for they would have assumed all sorts of reasons. For example touching the man would have made the priest unclean. Even though the priest is a neighbour by the lawyer’s standards the priest walks by.

Likewise a Levite, also a holy man, travels by and when he came to the place the man was he passed by on the other side too. Remember this man will die if he doesn’t get help. The very laws that Jesus affirmed at the beginning may in fact also be the laws that are holding back these fellow Jews, these brothers, these so-called neighbours from helping the man.

The story could have got predictable then. What we need to come over the hill is an ordinary Jew, and this would make Jesus’ story an attack on the Pharisees and the legalism of Judaism. But who comes over the hill - a Samaritan, technically a dire enemy to the Jewish people.

Just stop for a moment and consider who you may have been taught to hate as a child. Where were told not to go and who were told not to hang around? Maybe it was based on religion? Catholics? Muslims? Maybe it was ethnic or racial? Maybe Poms or New Zealanders? Greeks? Vietnamese? Chinese? Aboriginals? Negros? Maybe it was based on behaviour or life choices. Prostitutes? Drug Users? This is a little confronting but many of us are taught prejudices and racism early on in life. Whoever you have a secret hatred or dislike for, people whom your deepest fears and loathing are about, that is who is coming over the hill.

And, as we know, the Samaritan helped the man. He was moved with pity. He bandaged the man. He put oil on his wounds. He placed him on a donkey. He took him to an inn. He placed him there and paid for him. And not only that! He also promised to pay whatever it cost so that the man would be fully healed. He promised to pay whatever it cost so that the man could be fully healed.

“Who is the neighbour?” Jesus asks the lawyer. The answer is obvious, the answer is the Samaritan. It is the one who is the adversary of the man who was robbed. But the story is not just about who the neighbour is; it is about who needed the neighbour. The man who was robbed, the one who was helpless, the one who needed mercy and could not save himself is the lawyer. Jesus is pointing out that the lawyer is not justified by his actions but is in need of mercy. And moreover, the one whom the lawyer saw as his adversary is the one who brings him that mercy.

Jesus is the Good Samaritan. Jesus is the one who is able to come and bring help to this broken and battered and bruised man who cannot help himself. What can the lawyer do to inherit eternal life? Jesus parable reveals that the lawyer can do nothing to save himself but that he can rely on God’s mercy. Jesus reveals that the lawyer despite his knowledge of the law, of loving God and loving the neighbour, still stands in need of mercy. This is the heart of the story that we cannot earn our way into eternal life it is a gift of God’s grace. As Christians the only person that we can fully identify with in the story is the lawyer, the one who sees Jesus as his adversary.

We behave like the Pharisee. We ask the same questions for our own ends. How will I get into heaven? Am I doing the right things? Do I help the right people? Can I do it myself? Who is my neighbour? We walk past people in great need everyday. All of us do. As much as we think we are friends of Jesus’ and that we love God our love is marred by our inability to see this and we cannot alter that situation through what we do.

And like the lawyer because we can’t do it ourselves we too see Jesus as our adversary, although I would suggest that most of the time we are ignorant of this. Jesus prayer from the cross reflects this as he says, “Father forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” Even though we are unaware of our own sinfulness God’s will for us revealed in Jesus Christ is forgiveness. The promise of God is that the Samaritan has come down to us and helped us, that Jesus brings healing and that God was prepared to help us whatever the cost.

This is God’s mercy and it is because of this mercy that we can come into God’s presence giving thanks and praise. Today when we gather around the table we do that. You can never be good enough by what you do to share at the table. We come not because we love God so much as that God has loved us from all eternity. Today we will pray a prayer that reminds us of this, “We do not presume to come to your table merciful Lord trusting in our own righteousness but in your great and manifold mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under your table. But you Lord are the same Lord whose nature is always to have mercy.”

The story of the lawyer and his question shows to us that despite our perceived goodness we are in desperate need of God’s love and mercy. When Jesus says go and do likewise, I believe that he is saying to the lawyer “Go realising your own need of mercy and use that as the yardstick for whom you recognise as your neighbour. Not because that will save you but because I have brought you salvation.” We love because God first loved us! Only when we see our own need of mercy and God’s grace for us can we stretch out in fellowship to others, accepting them as fellow pilgrims on the road in need of God’s mercy.

We cannot ‘do’ something to inherit the kingdom but we have been invited to enter into God’s eternity and live by what has been done for us. As the Church in the world our role is to reflect God’s mercy shown to us by sharing that with others so that they too may know the joy of salvation, the wonder of grace, and that God loves us even though we treat God so often as our enemy.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Whom do we follow?

It is said that when children are asked a question at church or in Sunday School if nothing else comes to mind the answer is Jesus.

The answer is always Jesus.

This morning we have come to explore the question “whom do we follow?” And, the answer is Jesus: not because the answer is always Jesus but because this is who has called us to follow him.

But, might I add, we who are adults and are no longer children need to put aside our childish ways. The apostle Paul in his teaching recognised the need to move from feeding infants milk to providing solids.

This morning we plunge into the depth of the mystery of who Jesus Christ is as adults.

Over the years I have mentored and supervised many people exploring whether or not they should become a minister or preacher and those who have already entered into the process of formation for ministry in the church.

One of the fundamental questions I often ask is this, “What is it that makes Christianity unique?” How is it a different philosophy, a distinct religion?

Often the answers that are given include things like ‘compassion’, or ‘love’, or ‘kindness’ or ‘belief in God’. Whilst each of these may be aspects of what it means to be Christian I am always pushing and searching for the answer to come which is expressed so poetically at the beginning of John’s gospel.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.... And the Word became flesh and lived among us.”

This is the doctrine of the incarnation, the idea that God in Jesus became fully human, the Word became flesh and lived among us.

The question of who Jesus Christ is has ever and always been a contentious one in the history of the church and remains less so today.

It is my conviction that within each of the four accounts of Jesus’ life found in Mark, Luke, Matthew and John (which is the chronological order of the writing of these gospels) is this message: Jesus is God.

In Mark 1:1 “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

In Luke 9:35 “From the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’”

In Matthew 27:54 “Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’”

And again in John 10:30 “The Father and I are one.”

Each of the gospel writers sets out to expose the question of Jesus identity as God and to explore what God was doing in our midst.

Despite the witness of the scriptures to the incarnation the church has been in constant state of crisis around whether or not to believe this revelation.

From the moment Jesus called his first disciples to the time when Paul was writing his letters, through to the great Christological debates of the 4th century, when Athanasius faced off against Arius and we were given the Nicene Creed as a defence of God and Jesus identity, right through to the present day when so called Progressive Christians regurgitate ancient views, as if they are new. In each era and each age we have struggled with the idea that God walked among us.

Yet for me this is the distinctive note of our faith, the determinative point for my knowlng and knowledge of God – Jesus is both fully God and fully man and it is he that calls us to follow him.

This morning I want to share with you 3 reasons the incarnation is so determinative for my faith.

It is the way I have come to know who God is.
It is the way I have come to know hope in the face of darkness.
It is the way I have come to understand my place in the world.

The incarnation is the way I have come to know who God is. Jesus said to Philip, “If you have seen me you have seen the Father.” The implication is that to know God and God’s way we should look at Jesus who is God in our midst.

The great Reformation theologian John Calvin in his seminal work the Institutes of Christian Religion speaks of how manifestly clear God represents himself and his everlasting kingdom in the mirror of his works but goes on to lament that such is our stupidity that despite such manifest testimonies they flow away without profiting us.

I can marvel at the wonders of the creation, from the unfurling of the stars and planets through the evolution of the world to the present wonders which surround us. I may even claim to see God’s fingerprints on the handiworks before me but this knowledge does not lead me into knowing God personally not living as faithfully as I should.

It is knowing that in Jesus that the Word became flesh that the game changes. To know Jesus for me has become knowing God. To see his willingness to share our life and pain opens to my eyes the possibilities of God. It is to know of God’s compassion, of God’s concern for the poor, of God’s desire for justice and mercy. Knowing that Jesus is the Word made flesh opens my heart to the immense love of God who does not remain separated and distant from what God made but is willing to share in the very life that God created; to share in the life that I live in the world that God created.

This God who walks among us in Jesus is a God who cares deeply for all that God has made; who cares for you and I.

Who is Jesus Christ? He is the one who shows me God because he is God.

The incarnation is the way I have come to know hope in the face of darkness. In my life I have seen the capacity for harm and hate that exists within humanity. I have felt anger and disdain and hate in my own life. I have turned away from those in need. I have lost friends and family members to the mystery of death. I am acutely aware of the challenges of poverty, of slavery, of pollution, of exploitation, of greed, of climate change and the list goes on.

I am a knowing participant in the darkness of the world.

In the face of the darkness and suffering which I see and experience and participate in I know that God in Jesus submitted himself to the violence of the world. Betrayed, denied and rejected by his followers, disowned by his own people, tortured and killed by the authorities of his day Jesus took the reality of the deepest darkness of suffering and death into the divine realm. The impossibility of God’s death is the commitment of God to share in the fullness of our created existence.

When I read the hopefully words of Psalm 23 that though I may walk through the valley of the shadow of death you are with me I know and believe this to be true because the Word was made flesh.

In response to this death comes resurrection, new life, new creation. In the midst of all of the moments of suffering and pain and confusion God declares hope. The tomb is empty, the worst that created life can offer, death, is not the final word.

Who is Jesus Christ? He is the one who shows me God is not prepared to let the darkness in my life or any of yours to be final word.

The incarnation is the way I have come to understand my place in the world. In John 17 Jesus prayed, “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.” Jesus prayer is that our lives might be united to God’s life.

For many years I felt homeless. Growing up the longest I lived in any house was 4 years. At University studying anthropology I read a paper called “White man got no dreaming” It spoke of the connection of indigenous Australians to the land. It emphasised my feeling of disconnection from this land in which I live which, a land was taken from others.

Despite this feeling I discovered the true meaning of home the first time I entered the pulpit. In that moment of sharing my first sermon I had an intense feeling of homecoming. My life, my home, my purpose was as Paul wrote hidden in the life of God.

This union with God’s life was achieved and could only be achieved in the sharing God in human life, in the decision of God in Jesus to be one of us. In his life is the meeting point of Creator and the created and through the power of the Holy Spirit you and I get to participate at the intersection of the divine life with the created life.

This realisation of homecoming for me into God’s life is I believe the very same good news discovered and proclaimed and witnessed to by the gospel writers.

The good news is that none of us, no one has to be homeless anymore for we are drawn into the household of God, a household which transcends time and space, race and nationality, young and old, male and female and may I say all religions.

Who is Jesus Christ? He is the meeting point of God and creation in whom all things exist and find their true home, in which I have found my homecoming.

The word became flesh and lived among us. Whom do we follow? A man? A teacher? A prophet? A priest? A king? Yes all these things but most of all in Jesus we follow the God who walked among us.

It is mind bendingly amazing to think of those first disciples standing on a beach being invited by Jesus “Come and follow me”. In Jesus God spoke to them in their own language, became their friend, walked beside them and loved them.

It is humbling to think 2000 years on that Jesus is still calling people to become his followers, to be his disciples. The grace of God in Jesus voices tumbles and echoes down through the ages to invite you and I into the mystery of God’s life lived among us: to celebrate it and to proclaim it. This is indeed good news.

Celebrating New Life!

On any given Sunday we can have a variety of motivations for dragging ourselves out of bed to come to church. This Sunday I suspect one of the emotions may have been because you were anticipating a celebration. Today we celebrate a faithful life: Nev will receive the Moderator’s Community Service Medal. There may be other reasons you have shown up here today but celebration is certainly an aspect of why we here today.

Somewhat coincidentally I had already chosen the theme for today’s service which is “Celebrating New Life”. One of the particular ways the church has celebrated new life is to baptise people. This morning we heard from Paul’s letter to the Romans about how we are baptised in Jesus life, his death and his resurrection and because of this we are to walk in newness of life. Now that may all sound a bit complex, and I thought so too, so I rang Nev to ask him about what had motivated him live the way he has serving others.

Nev told me a wonderful story of when he was sent to Mt Isa to work as a young man in his early twenties. Mt Isa was full men, lots of young men, and many of them spent much of their spare time drinking. Nev had a choice to make about how he was going to live his life. It was at this time he got involved with a minister who had a vision of building a church. He was making bricks out of sand every Saturday and Nev along with 5 or 6 other joined him in this crazy project.

Somewhere in participating in this crazy vision Nev through his work and service became more committed to God. To use Paul’s language I would suggest Nev was walking in newness of life.

Now this newness of life according to Paul is grounded in our connection to Jesus which signified in baptism. This knowledge led me to ask Nev about his baptism.

Nev was baptised as an infant and he said something along the lines that he doesn’t think very much about it or its implications. He was confirmed later in the Anglican Church but really it was in catching the crazy vision of this minister and building a church that Nev really found his faith.

Now whilst Nev would not necessarily use this language I would suggest to you that in making those bricks Nev was living out his baptism.

To help you understand this I want you to just for a moment concentrate on your breathing. You Can you feel it going in and out? Can you hear it? Can you hear some else close by you breathing?

With each breath your lungs are doing an amazing job, extracting the oxygen, putting into your heart chamber from where your heart will hurtle the oxygen through your body keeping you alive and upright where you are sitting.

Try stopping for too long and you will know just how important it is. But until I told you to think about it you probably were not even aware that you were doing it. It is an incredible and complex process which is so natural and so necessary that in general it just keeps happening.

I want to suggest to you that living out our baptism is as natural breathing. Our lives which are connected to Jesus life produce the fruits of that connection in all its simplicity and complexity.

We are baptised into Jesus life, his death and his resurrection and today as we remember that living out our baptism is as natural breathing I want us to pause, like we did before to concentrate on our breathing, and consider what it means to live in newness of life, celebrate new life, to live our baptisms.

I want to do this by looking briefly at the overarching implication but then considering each of three aspects of the connection: life, death and resurrection.

First and foremost then living out our baptism is as natural breathing because it comes to us as a gift. We are joined to Jesus life, death and resurrection by the power of the Holy Spirit and it is this gift that gives us the gift of new life. It is God’s love enacted in us and we cannot make it happen, it is God who has done these things for us. We can receive and celebrate with grateful thanks this gift of grace. Yet as recipients of this grace we are invited to participate in celebrating that new life so let us consider what being baptised into Jesus life, death and resurrection means.

What does it mean to be baptised into Christ’s life if living out our baptism is as natural breathing?

During the week I asked another of our congregation members how it was she made the decision to leave her family, especially her husband and young children, to come to Australia for 18 months or so to study. Her answer was clear she had keep God in her mind in her decision making and sought God’s guidance.

As people who are baptised into Jesus life we look at Jesus who constantly did God’s will and sought God in what he was doing. We read the stories of Jesus of Nazareth who in his life was a teacher, a critique, a healer, a friend, a wise and holy man. In considering his way of life and seeing his constant connection to the one whom he called father we learn to keep God in our hearts and minds as well because we know God cares what happens in this life.

What does it mean to be baptised into Christ’s death if living out our baptism is as natural breathing?

In Paul’s letter to the Romans he asks, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death?”

It may sound strange to think about being baptised into someone’s death as something to celebrate but I want to explore just a couple of things that this might mean.

Firstly, in knowing Jesus was God in our midst it means that God understands our suffering because God has experienced suffering. When I see people suffering, when I feel suffering in my own life I know that God is not a stranger to what we go through. God is not the cause of suffering but rather walks with us in it. God is no stranger to death and in Jesus takes within the divine life those moments of suffering and pain we experience.

Secondly, the implication new life is that there was and is an old life. As people we know we are not perfect, we are human and we are fallible. The first day I met Nev he introduced himself to me as ‘Neville the Devil”, he knows he is not perfect.

In Jesus death he also takes into himself those moments we turn away from God and turn away from each other. Living our baptism may be as natural as breathing but is only so because God in Jesus has made it possible for we who would rather reject God’s ways to do so.

And lastly, what does it mean to be baptised into Christ’s resurrection if living out our baptism is as natural breathing?

I would share two thoughts on this particular idea. The first is that we live our connection to Jesus resurrection in those moments when we consciously or unconsciously walk in newness of life witnessing to God’s love for the world in our words and actions. This might be something as simple as making bricks to help build a church or teaching children or helping people with disabilities or speaking out for the marginalised. When Jesus sent out the seventy he encouraged to let others know that the kingdom of God had come near. Any time this is happening the hope of Jesus resurrection is being realised. It is said the church are a resurrection people and so we proclaim these things as we seek to live them.

On the other hand, there are times in our lives when our deep desires and concerns for ourselves, our loved one and this world around us seem overwhelming. I am aware that for many a parent the deepest concern in their heart is for the good of their children and the relationship that they would desire their children might have with God. I am aware that for many people concerns about the magnitude of the issues we face as a society, issue like poverty and conflict and ecological disaster, are too overwhelming.

When things are beyond us and beyond our powers we throw our hopes and dreams on God who has the power to bring life from death in the hope that those things which we find are beyond us are not beyond God.

Today many of us came to celebrate Nev’s award, but lying underneath this recognition is the Celebration of New Life; we are baptised people, connected to Jesus in his life, death and resurrection. I don’t think many of us are that conscious of this much of the time but that is because living out our baptism is as natural breathing? It just happens as a gift of grace around us and we celebrate our new life: we are baptised into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Apostles all!

See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.

Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals;
and greet no one on the road.

Sent into the world

The word apostle literally means ‘one who is sent’. Unfortunately, far too often we fall into the trap of thinking that there were only 12 apostles. This is because we are so immersed in Christian jargon and imagery that we have enshrined the 12 disciples as the only ones whom Jesus sent, as the apostles.

In the story that Luke includes of Jesus sending out seventy others we are reminded that the apostles are not simply those 12 disciples chosen by Jesus but any who are sent into the world to witness to the good news of Jesus and share in his ministry.

This includes you and me. Every week at the end of the service we are all commissioned and sent into the world to be agents and ambassadors of the good news of Jesus Christ: to prepare the way for Jesus.

Looking back at the story in Luke the world in which the seventy were sent out was distinctly different to our world. Transport was for most people what they had on the end of their legs – their feet. There was no technology as we know it – phones, cars, fridges, washing machines, air con, computers, TVs and the list goes on. Social media involved actually walking into a room and talking with them. Things were basic and the people to whom the 70 were sent had within their basic lives some religious belief already established.

It was into this ancient world that those 70 people took the message of Jesus and of God’s love. They were sharing in Jesus ministry and preparing his way to come and fulfil what he himself had proclaimed about his purposes in this world.

At the beginning of Jesus ministry in the gospel of Luke Jesus declares his purpose as this:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour.

Of course alongside this is the broader message of Jesus’ life which is the reconciliation with God established through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection and the promise of the new creation. A promise and hope which surpass what we see and experience in this life.

Alongside this overarching message of grace, that we are called to share as apostles, we are tasked with sharing in Jesus ministry as well – a ministry or healing, of restoration, of reconciliation, of release... a ministry of love.

When we are sent out at the end of the service we go to share in this daunting and rewarding ministry.

When Jesus sends out the 70 he is under no illusion as to the task that is set before those men and women: “The harvest is plentiful and the labourers few.” There is much work to be done and only a few to do it and realistically the situation has not changed that much in 2000 years.

In considering our own sending I want to highlight 5 brief points for your consideration:

The first is that we do not need expert qualifications. We do not know much about the 70 people that Jesus sent other than they went out in faith but I suspect that they were average folk not unlike yourselves, people who believed and were willing to respond.

Too often we can list 100 reasons or more as to why we are not ready to engage in the task of ministry in our daily lives. Often I think this means we over complicate the task.

Yet you have been equipped by your baptism to this work, you are strengthened to serve as you share in worship and the bread and wine, the Spirit has been poured out upon you and you go not in your own power but in the power of God. Just because my title is Minister that does not mean that my presence can be used to excuse any of you from participating in Christ’s ministry to which all of us have been called.

This brings me to my second point that we cannot assume the message that we share will be accepted by others. Jesus says to the seventy, “See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.”

There is vulnerability and risk that comes with being apostles. If we share our faith in word or action we expose ourselves and there are those in our world that will savage you because of your association with the church.

On an intellectual level many people in our society reject God and Christianity and anything of religion and do so vehemently arguing that religion is the root of all evil.

On social and political level if we share in Jesus’ ministry then when address issue of justice in our world and point out the inequities that exist we cannot expect ourselves to be popular with those in power.

Jesus work of peace-making often created conflict with people who did not want the kind of peace and the kind of changes that Jesus sought – when we go into our Australian context we need not to be naive and think people will greet us with open arms.

The third point I would make is that our possession can weigh us down. Our wealth creates opportunities for leisure and the things we own can distract us from what truly matters.

I am not necessarily saying we should sell all we have as Jesus suggested to the rich young ruler. However, when what we own gets in the way of our helping of others and distracts us from sharing the good news then maybe we have a problem, one that may involve personal sacrifice and change in the way that we live.

Number four is that when we go sharing in Jesus ministry I believe we will experience the kingdom of God coming near. This is not because we have a monopoly on God’s kingdom and take it to others but that in our encounter with others we find that Jesus is already at work where we go – our task is that as we discover this that we name it to those to whom we are ministering, or sometimes even more surprisingly might be ministering to us.

The last thing that I want to pick up from the idea that we are apostles sent out each week is that it works.

When the 70 returned to Jesus there is an excitement in the air – carrying his message and love into the world had amazing results. All of us can doubt the outcomes but the witness of the scriptures and the fact that the church has grown so immensely over the centuries reminds us that this stuff works!

As the Uniting Church we claim to be a part of the one, holy catholic and apostolic church. There are many ways that the word apostolic is understood in this phrase but I would like to suggest that an apostolic church is one that continues to send people, to send apostles, into the world to share the good news of Jesus Christ with others.

At the end of today’s service you will once again be sent out into the world, like lambs among wolves, taking maybe only your faith with you, to share a message of grace and hope more important than the millions of advertising images that will bombard your senses this week. You are to be a light among the nations

God’s love has broken into the world bring healing and hope to all people everywhere, water washing us clean, bread and wine at this open table reminding us all of a future in store for the whole creation and all peoples when God will dwell among God’s people and we will be his people.

Take a moment of silence to contemplate that you are an apostle. Whom you are being sent to this day, this week?

by Peter Lockhart