Tuesday, 1 June 2021

Loved by God: A life in ministry

A sermon preached at the funeral of Rev Bill Lockhart by Rev Peter Lockhart.

Before I preach, I would like to share little story I tell about why I am a minister.  About 37 years ago give or take I was sitting in church and dad was preaching.  Now dad had a predilection in his preaching to tell personal stories about people.

During the sermon, he said this, “a young man came up to me the other day. I'm not going to tell you his name because it would embarrass him, and he said dad.” At which point the entire congregation turned to look at me. This is because at that point in our lives Ian was still at boarding school and I was the only son around.  

So, my motivation for being ministry stems from the idea that one day I'll be preaching and I'll say, “I saw an old man the other day but I won't tell you his name because it would embarrass him and he said to me ‘son.’”

Dad this one is for you.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight our Lord our strength and our redeemer. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

“Love one another as I have loved you.” 

As soon as we started talking about dad's funeral, I think it was Judy and Sue who suggested the reading about loving one another or loving our neighbour as ourselves.  And it was Judy who said, we should sing A new commandment.  The notion of loving one another was central to dad’s understanding of what it meant to be a minister.  I would concur that a core teaching of Christianity is loving one another as God has loved us.  Jesus’ teaching is a simple and as complex as that. I wany to look at its simplicity, then contemplate its complexity.

The concept of loving one another was expressed in many ways through Dad's ministry.  During the week I was in contact with one of dad's contemporaries from the New South Wales Synod the importance of dad's pastoral ministry.   Dad had a great sense of care and concern for the people in his congregation.  He sought to love them.  This was reflected in a piece of advice he once gave me about pastoral care.  Thinking about his time in the country he said, “if you can't talk to a farmer about his sheep, why would you think you can talk to him about God.”  Dad understood a basic principle of loving others was to be engaged with who they were and what mattered to them.

His love of his time in the country was also reflected in his commitment to the development of the Rural Ministry Unit in NSW.  I met Simon Hansford, the now Moderator of the NSW Synod, a few years back who expressed how inspirational dad had been within the rural ministry network and to him personally.  He saw dad as something of a legend.   

His pastoral ministry and serving of others were not something just for his congregations.  In his early years, dad worked in the mission in the Kings Cross area, and he was influenced by the social gospel.  He had a deep commitment to seeking the good of the community that he was part of.  The other night when we were going through some of dad's things there were references to his involvement in the Lions Club, in the Rotary Club an in school P and C's. 

At Kyogle, which he indicated was possibly his favourite place as a minister, he was involved with the brass band committee, although he was not a musician. He helped develop a school music programme and became a bandleader, although he was not a musician. And he worked with the local youth community support scheme which supported especially young people who were at risk.  To love others meant to bring transformation to their lives. 

As I look back there was almost a naïve hopefulness in dad's engagement with this idea that living out the gospel was about loving others and changing the community.  But there were moments where I believe the Holy Spirit worked through him and God’s love was encountered in deep and meaningful ways for people in his congregations and the communities he was a part of. 

‘Love one another as I have loved you’ it is a simple and as complex as that.

The complexity of what it means to love one another was also part of dad's ministry because loving others can be hard work and being loved by others can be even harder.  The difficulties dad encountered in ministry and the flaws in dad’s own character shaped my understanding of God and the church.  This was so much the case that when I shared with mum and dad that I was candidating for ministry mum exclaimed “You should know better. You know what its been like.”  Nevertheless, here I am and the stole I am wearing today was dad’s.   I feel somewhat like Elisha to dad’s Elijah, who handed on his mantle before he ascended into heaven.

Now I do not want to dwell too much in the negative experiences that dad had and that I observed of his time in the church.  However, by simply skating across the imperfections of life some we can contemplate the complexity of what it means to love one another.

As a person dad did have a bit of a temper. He was far from perfect but. But it is the encounters in ministry and the church that I would briefly highlight.  There are just a few stories that I want to share.  Firstly, my recollection of a group within the congregation at one of dad's placements that broke away from the congregation and prayed that dad would leave town.  In another situation, a group of ministers within a Presbytery excluded dad because he was a former Presbyterian, and they were predominantly Methodist in background.  More than that they had all been an Emmaus walk together and so dad was treated as if he were not in the know.  We were supposed to be a Uniting Church but his experience in this Presbytery was anything but uniting. 

The difficulties that he had around the time that he had a stress breakdown in Bundaberg also stand out in my memory.  This was after tensions in relationships with colleagues and a range of conflicts that had built up over time.

As much as he strived for changing the community sometimes the work did not necessarily bear the fruit he might have wished for.  It also, again, created tension with congregation members.  Even within the church, or maybe especially within the church, he did not always find that loving one another as Christ has loved us was present.            

This all brings me to say, I was with an older man the other day and I won't tell you his name because it would embarrass him, and I was explaining to him some of the challenges of my placement in the school. Within the course of the conversation, I said “Dad, I think I am finding where God is in the school.”  Without batting an eyelid, this old man, said to me “Son, it's not about you finding God, it's about God finding you.”

In the same way that dad gave me this piece of advice, it was our last significant conversation, my response to his ministry, seeking to love one another I would remind him, it's not about us loving God or even each other, it's about how much God loves us.  When we get our loving of one another wrong it does not mean God's love for us ceases rather it continues and deepens as we encounter grace and forgiveness.  This is the hope of the Christian faith that becomes flesh in Jesus – in him God is love.  And our lives are hidden in his.

To conclude, another short story about why I am a minister.  As a teenager I noticed that dad always seemed to manage a post lunch nap, a siesta.   I thought to myself who would not want a job where you can come home and have a nap after lunch.  Sadly, my placement at the school has interrupted this aspect of ministry, but the importance of the Sabbath rest has not been lost on me.  In Jesus resurrection we see the beginning of a new creation.  It is the eternal Sabbath rest in which we enjoy God's presence.  It is my view, my hope and my prayer, that dad now, with mum, has entered his post life, after lunch nap, the eternal Sabbath rest in God's presence, his final siesta.         

To echo dad’s final words at the end of many of his sermons “And now unto him be all the glory, honour, and power now and forever. Amen”

Saturday, 2 January 2021

The Beginning

John 1:1-18, Ephesians 1:3-14

A sermon Prepared for Cleveland Uniting Church.

I wonder if you might take a moment with me to ponder, to contemplate, to savour these words from John’s Gospel and listen for Jesus speaking to you, In the beginning.

 In the beginning…

What is it the beginning of? And when does the beginning even begin? What is God saying to you and me about beginnings today? And, what about the beginning that we find ourselves in right in this moment? In this moment now you and I are at the beginning of the rest of our lives.

This week we have begun a new year. In the beginning of 2021.  Living in the transition between 2020 and 2021 the beginning of Charles Dickens great novel A Tale of Two Cities feels somehow appropriate:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.”

The opening words of stories whether fictional or non-fictional entice us and draw us in to consider the point at which find ourselves in the midst of human history, to consider who we are, and to contemplate where we are going.  To think about our story.

The opening salvo of John’s gospel is no different.  The idea that there is a beginning, that there can even be a new a beginning, creates an atmosphere of hope for us amid the joys and sorrows of our human journey. 

John’s gospel speaks of a new beginning in the midpoint of creation as he echoes the words of Genesis Chapter one verses one and two.  “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” (Genesis 1:1-2)

John re-frames this beginning of creation in the light of Jesus coming and presence in the world.  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life…” your life and my life included!

Today as we listen for that eternal Word of God speaking to each of one us, I want to juxtapose this concept of beginnings in the Bible with the beginnings of a number of other stories as we explore together the open-endedness of time, the continuity of God’s creativity, the magnitude of grace and the hope of the destination or the end of all things in Christ.

So, to start with, this new beginning of Jesus’ presence in the world raises significant questions for us about time and the idea that we are always at the beginning.  Graham Greene opens his novel The End of the Affair with these insightful words, “A story has no beginning or end; arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead.”

Spiritually, scientifically, and theologically I would take this a step beyond Greene’s words because time itself is created and not linear.  So, the act of creation by God was not a moment locked in the past but is a continual dynamic unfolding of God’s creative and gracious relationship with the whole cosmos.  God is always creating the creation and the Word of God is present in it all.

In the first words of his book To Change the World James Davison Hunter reminds us of the dynamic nature of the creative act when he says, “Out of nothing, ‘God created the heavens and the earth’ (Gen 1:1).  This was the beginning, the primordial act, the culmination of which was the creation of human life itself, not only in manifest beauty and delight but also in its potentialities. The goodness of creation, then, was anything but inert. It was dynamic, vibrant, and full of latent promise.” (p.1)

The vibrancy of and dynamism of God’s creative act is captured in the timeless words of Lamentations in which the poet declares, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (3:22-23)

The newness of God’s mercies is a reminder that each moment in which we live is being created.  The creation story is always unfolding.  And the eternal Word, who is Jesus, is always present in the new beginning of each moment.  Paul reminds us that Jesus presence in the world opens up the possibility of each of us becoming a new creation.  In 2 Corinthians 5:17 Paul says, “The old has passed away. Behold, the new has come! Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he [or she] is a new creation.”

If we are each at the beginning of a new creative act, if God’s mercies are new every morning, then this very moment in which we exist is pregnant with the possibilities of what God might do in and through our lives and in the world around us. 

As Christians we do not worship on the sabbath but on the day of resurrection, which is the first day of the week. It is the eighth day!  Each time we come to worship on a Sunday we are reminded that we are living from, in and towards the new creation in which Christ is present and coming to us in the constancy of the new beginnings of our lives.

I think George Orwell in the opening words of his dystopian novel 1984 challenges us to think outside the box to be people who might consider viewing all that has gone before differently.  He writes, “It was a cold bright day in April, and all the clocks were striking thirteen.”  The symbolism of the clocks striking thirteen creates a tension between the truth of what has gone before and what the possibilities of what lies ahead of us. 

More than that how we think about the past is as much of a mystery as is the future. L.P. Hartley opens the novel The Go-Between with these words, “The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there.” The past can feel distant and strange as we think about what has gone before. 

In his book Homo Deus the historian Noah Yuval Harari suggests that the past is almost like a bad dream. The opening of his book reads, “At the dawn of the third millennium, humanity wakes up, stretching its limbs and rubbing its eyes. Remnants of some awful nightmare are still drifting across its mind. ‘There was something with barbed wire, and huge mushroom clouds.  Oh, well, it was just a bad dream.’ Going to the bathroom, humanity washes its face, examines its wrinkles in the mirror, makes a cup of coffee and opens the diary. ‘Let’s see what’s on the agenda today.’” 

Whatever we might think of our own past or the history of our community the coming of Jesus into the world transforms those events and creates new possibilities grounded in forgiveness and renewal.  “The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth.” 

The incarnation, and the hailing of the incarnate Son of which we sing, are a stark reminder that our created lives are important.  Salvation is more than pie in the sky when you die, it is also about encountering the eternal Word creating each moment of eternity in our lives now.  God cares about us, no matter how small and insignificant we think our lives might be.

In his wonderful science fiction novel Douglas Adams explores the infinite smallness of human beings in the first words of his book The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy:

“Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-two million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.” 

Despite however small we might think we are and whether we primitively still think digital watches, or the latest technology, is a pretty neat idea God in Christ invites us to share in his very life, in the divine existence.  John wrote that “all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.”  This is the gift and grace of God beyond our control as we are born from above and drawn into the constancy of the new beginning of Christ’s life with us, or as Paul writes it later to the Colossians “Our lives are hidden in Christ.” (3:3) 

Like the people long ago it is easy for us to get distracted and miss the miracle of God’s loving presence in our life.  As John says, “He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.”  Sometimes, we do not know Christ’s presence even when it is closer to us than breathing.  We miss it and we distract ourselves so easily with our own idols and preoccupations.  Norman Maclean notes our predilection for substituting other things for God in the first words of his novel A River runs through it. He writes, “In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly-fishing.” 

Regardless of our own preoccupations whether it be fly-fishing, playing the stock market, gardening, golf, or googling Jesus comes to us constantly offering a new beginning, a new creative act so that we might live well in this life with God and with each other.  Of course, life is not perfect in fact far from it.  And, we must constantly look at the world around us through a critical eye. 

One of the books that has deeply influenced my life is Humanism: The Wreck of Western Culture written by the sociologist John Carrol.  He begins with these confronting words:


We live amidst the ruins of the great, five-hundred-year epoch of Humanism. Around us is that ‘colossal wreck.’ Our culture is a flat expanse of rubble. It hardly offers shelter from mild a cosmic breeze, never mind one of those icy gales that regularly return to rip us out of the cosy intimacy of our daily lives and confront us with oblivion. Is it surprising that we are run down? We are desperate, yet we don’t care much anymore. We are timid, yet we cannot be shocked. We are inert underneath our busyness. We are destitute in our plenty. We are homeless in our homes (p. 1).

Living in the new beginning of Christ’s presence makes us aware of the disruption of what is and what could be.  It is little wonder then that the opening words of U2’s song Heaven on Earth are replete with longing: 

    Heaven on earth

    We need it now

    I'm sick of all of this

    Hanging around

Every time we pray the Lord’s prayer, every time we say “on earth as it is in heaven”, we are expressing our longing for the collapsing of the beginning and ending of all things into the present moment in which we live.  The eternal Word, Jesus, is according Revelations 22:13 alpha and the omega, the first and the last.  He is our origin, and he is our destination. He is the destination of the whole creation expressed by Paul in our reading from Ephesians today.

Yet this longing has a fulfilment and hope in mind.  With all wisdom and insight, he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

Way back in the fourth century the Bishop of the Nile Delta Sarapion of Thmuis prayed "Lord! We entreat you, make us truly alive."  I wonder whether to be truly alive means to live in the beginning of the moment we are being created in which Christ is truly present and more than that to live in the moment of the gathering up of all things in Christ, encountering earth as it is in heaven.

So, here we are at the ending of the sermon but I wonder if you might take a moment again with me to ponder, to contemplate, to savour these words from John’s Gospel and listen for Jesus speaking to you, In the beginning.

In the silence, I invite you to think about the one thing that God has laid on your heart amid these frail human words this day.  What are the words God is placing on your heart at the beginning of the next part of your story?

Wednesday, 18 March 2020

"2020: The Year that God forgot"

On ABC news on Monday night, the 16th of March, the reporter finished his report with the phrase “2020: The Year that God Forgot!”  It is always unusual to find God making the press these days and it seems often only to be when we believe God might be somehow to blame for something.  The inference in the reporter’s comment is underpinned by an idea that God is generally in control and micromanaging everything that is occurring.  This reminds me of the conundrum that Nick Cave sung about in his song, “I don't believe in an interventionist God, but I know, darling, that you do.” 

Within the Christians faith there have been long standing questions about the concept of divine and human agency.  How much control does God have over the world and how much freedom do we have?  These questions of freedom and determinism have not disappeared with the growth of preferences for many in our community to reject faith in God.  Determinism is still an issue for us as we consider issues of cause and effect in areas such as neuroscience, economic modelling, physics, climate change, and health.  Whether we reject God completely, or blame God, we are still confronted by questions around how much control any of us have over our own lives.

Yet, believing in God is not necessarily wondering about how much control we do or don’t have in our predicament.  Rather it involves leaning in on God for courage and hope as we face the mysteries of life and the of the unknown.  The promise of the Christian story is that God remembers.  In fact, the majority of the Old Testament follows a pattern of humans forgetting God and God’s ways, and thus turning away, whilst God constantly remembers.  God shows mercy, forgiveness, and healing, and draws people close again. 

The rhythm and pattern of Christian worship is grounded in remembering God as God has remembered us, especially in sharing the bread and wine of communion.  The technical jargon often used to describe the act of remembering is anamnesis which is kind of the opposite of amnesia.  Tapping into our communal memory, that God is with us and that God is for us not against us, especially when the chips are down can serve to strengthen us and give us hope.  In the presence and power of the Holy Spirit remembering God, anamnesis, can transform us as we face the unknown.

For so many people it may feel as if God has forgotten us, but our faith draws us beyond our individual and momentary existence, and into the mystery of the eternal story and promise God’s love.  It is a promise of love that is unending and as each new day dawns we can be reminded that God’s mercies are new every morning.  Regardless of how bleak the world may seem God is with us the light of Christ "shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it." (John 1:1-3)

“God remembers the covenant forever, the promises God had made, for a thousand generations.”
(Psalm 105:8)

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

4 Witness to the Healing at Bethsaida

Based on Mark 8:22-26
The Villager
I don’t know about you but where we live it’s boring, nothing much happens here ever… boring!
Welcome to no where’s ville, here in the middle of nothing – Bethsaida.  There’s the desert dust and then just over that way to the West of us is the Jordan River.  That’s about it.
What happens here you ask.  You look at the desert and you go fishing and then for something different you go fishing and then you look at the desert. You think it’s boring here in this school with all your smart phones and laptops and entertainment and information on tap. You don’t know anything about boring, try fishing and the desert and the dust and the nothing ever happening.
Of course, like everyone else, we are under the Romans but even that is boring.  Everyone is too afraid to do anything about them – I mean they rule everywhere, everyone… everything!  So we keep our heads low and we fish and watch the dusty desert as the days pass by.
It’s so boring, nothing ever happens in Bethsaida… well not until today… today… today we had a visitor.
We had heard about this man, a man travelling the countryside with his ragtag bunch of followers. This man was telling people that God is good and that God is close.  This man named Jesus.  But it wasn’t just that he was teaching – he was doing miracles. 
We had heard he had fed a crowd – a crowd of 5000 people they said.  With just 5 loaves and 2 fish, they said.  I don’t know what sort of charlatan chef this Jesus is, but people said it was a miracle.  And people say it’s fantastic and that only someone connected to God could do anything like this.
So here we are in boring Bethsaida, where nothing ever happens, and Jesus, Jesus turns up.  Anyway old Fred who lives just down the way, old Fred who’s blind as a bat, his friends go and get him.  They get him and they take him to Jesus.
Nothing ever happens here, I’m telling you it’s so boring. 
But this day they take old Fred out to the edge of the town.  They take him out because they’ve heard that Jesus is coming.  And we followed them.  This is the most exciting thing to happen here since the Romans showed up a few decades back.  We wanted to see what was going on.
And we get out to where Jesus was just in time to see the most disgusting thing.  Jesus spat on his eyes, how gross is that.  Then he put his hands on old Fred’s eyes and he seemed to rub his eyes a bit before taking them away. The Jesus asked, ‘can ya see?’
Old Fred’s eyes still seemed a bit misty as he look around and he said ‘nuh, nope, not really… I mean I think I can people but they like a bunch of walking trees.’
A bunch of walking trees?  That’s what he said, that’s what called us.
And so Jesus put his hands on Fred’s eyes again and took them away.  Nothing ever happens here, I’m telling you that this place is so boring, but this day, this day Fred could see.
I saw it with my own eyes… it was a miracle.
I mean I did wonder for a moment whether old Fred had been tricking all these years.  I mean think about it one moment blind, the next not.  I mean that’s the stuff of the old prophets.
I don’t know who this Jesus bloke really is.  But I can tell you no one could do what he did without a direct line to upstairs… to the one who made us and everything… you know to the Lord… to Adonai
The Friend
Ok, I admit it. I was the one.  I took old Fred to see Jesus.  Well we did.  But, it was my idea.
I want you to think about this for a moment.  Have you ever known any of your friends to be in trouble or to have a problem?  Maybe they were feeling stressed about an assignment.  Maybe they had fallen out with another friend.  Maybe they were sick.  Maybe it was something serious… maybe like Old Fred, they were blind.
Being blind is pretty serious you know, well I think it is.  I had been helping Fred out for years. We all had.  And Fred seemed happy enough… but, well, you know… it was hard for us as well.
Anyway, we had heard that this Jesus guy was coming our way.  We had heard he could do anything.  So what do you do?  What would you do? You’ve got a mate who’s in trouble, you see an opportunity to help him out – what do you?
Do you sit back and do nothin’? Do you not care? Do you not engage? Do you not show any character?
Well that’s not me.  So I got my friends and we formed a team went to get Fred and we helped him to head out and see Jesus.  It was great teamwork.
And we got out to Jesus and we said to Jesus, ‘This is our mate Fred, his blind… What can you do?’
Now as soon as his saw Fred Jesus just went about his business.  He spat on his eyes and rubbed them with his hands, you know I’m talking about.  You’ve heard the rumours.
And old Fred was healed.  Now I don’t know but I think Fred was happy, he was really happy.  He seemed to really appreciate what had happened.
That was all that we had wanted for Fred to be able to see – and he could.  A miracle for sure.
But then again since then I’ve been wondering what does this all mean for me? I mean Jesus healed a blind bloke. 
So who is Jesus for me? What difference will it make to who I am?  I went there expecting to happen, hoping for it to happen, but when it actually happened… what does that mean for me?  What will it mean for you?
I don’t know about but if you’ve got a friend whose got some sort of problem.  Well you can sit back and do nothing… Or you can show a bit of character and engage with them, show them you care.  If you can’t do it alone get some friends to help out, show a bit of teamwork, and see what you can do, ask yourself who can help us.
That’s all we did.  We trusted that Jesus could help out, and he did.  It leaves you wondering doesn’t it, who is this Jesus, and what is God really like?  It has change my view of the world for sure.
The Disciple Peter
You should know who I am.
I am Peter, Simon Peter, the fisherman. And I follow Jesus.
I don’t just follow him I am one of the twelve, one of the disciples, one of the inner circle.
One of the in crowd… we’re like this (crossed fingers) with Jesus…
But I got to admit we might be like this but sometimes we just don’t get it…
Been with him a few years now.  It was back then I was there on the beach minding my own business when Jesus comes along and says the weirdest thing, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”
I had no idea what he was talking about.  I thought the man was bonkers – kangaroo loose in the top paddock.
But… at the same time… there was something about the way that he asked it that was irresistible.  There was something in the way he looked at me, so I just up and left my nets, right there and then.
And I said “Ok, let’s do this” and he said “I’ll make you fish for people.”
And ever since then I’ve been seeing things and hearing things that you simply would not believe.
He keeps saying to us things about who he is.  Just today, I saw him heal a blind man.  That’s real Torah stuff, that’s Moses and Aaron stuff, and Ezekiel and Isaiah stuff.  The stuff of the miracles and the old ways and the old legends! It’s that stuff becoming real again.
And it’s got me thinking. It’s got me thinking. Maybe, Jesus is more than I think he is.  More than just a teacher, more than a friend, more even than a healer and a miracle maker! Maybe more than all those things put together…
Maybe, just maybe… this guy, this guy who can heal blind men is the Messiah!

The Healed Blind Man
No one really asked me whether I wanted to see again.  My friends just took me to Jesus, they took me to Jesus just outside Bethsaida.  They took me to Jesus because they had heard that he could do amazing things… miracles.
And so Jesus spat on my eyes and put his hands on my eyes and asked, ‘Can ya see?’
But I couldn’t, not properly.  I can remember what it was like to see. Sure I could see shapes and people all blurry and all out of focus walking around like lumbering trees.
So I told Jesus, “I can see people but they like funny, like trees walking.”  I didn’t understand what was happening.
But I felt his hands reach out and cover my eyes again and then he took them away and everything was clear again. I can see clearly now…
You don’t really appreciate what you have until it’s gone but, crikey, when you get something back you sit up and take notice.
I could see my friends, they seemed to look so much older… different… but they were there and they looked so fine and beautiful…
I could see the pristine snow white clouds hanging against the bright blue sky and the town, my town, Bethsaida set off to the distance in the desert and dust, with the Jordan snaking its way off to the south in the background.  It was stunning, the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.
It was truly a miracle, I knew it was going to change my life.  So there I was just starring at everything, letting my eyes drink it all in when Jesus caught my attention.
He looked at me intently, with dark piercing eyes.  Full of wisdom, dripping with love and he said to me the strangest thing. 
“Go to your home.  Don’t even go to the village.  Just go to your home.”
It was as though he wanted to hide me away, hide the evidence of his miracle. 
I just wanted to go and share my news, to tell everyone, “Hey world, Jesus has made me well.  I once was blind but now I see!”
But he said go home. I think my friends were just as surprised, I think they expected more too.
So here I am.  Here in my dim home… not much to see inside here.  And I’m left wondering ‘what comes next?’
Encountering Jesus has changed my life.  I don’t know how it has changed my life yet, but it has changed my life.  I’m not sure what it means.  I don’t know who he was.  I just know that he did this thing for me that I don’t quite understand.
How will I live my life now that I can see again?  How can I say thank you? What does it all mean?

Saturday, 5 May 2018

Love one another

It seems simple enough, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you, abide in my love... love one another as I have loved you.”   

Seems simple enough to love one another, but what do we think love is.  When I shared about singing a new song one of the things that can become evident very quickly is how we have different tastes and preferences in our music choices.  Churches have split apart on what kind of music they should play.

Just as there is a great diversity of ideas on music so too when it comes to loving one another we have different ideas on what it means to love each other and how we define love seems to change through time.

So to love one another appears simple enough but love is complex in its simplicity.

If you will indulge me I would like to share a short video entitled “What is love?” from one of my favourite websites Soulpancake.


So what does love mean to you.  What does it mean for us to love one another?

Right at the beginning of the video a young boy says that “Love is a complicated thing” and I would agree with that.  And maybe you picked up on some of its complexity in listening to all the different answers.

So when it comes to Jesus commandment to love one another as I have loved you we already have our own ideas and biases about what love is.  I want to pick up on what one of the women in the video said in her answer.

“It is something you do on a day to day basis. Love is active.”

Now many of you would have heard that the word we translate into love from Greek has 4 different forms.  The ancient Greek language had 4 different ways of categorising love.

The word being used in this passage is the word agape.  This is generally understood to mean unconditional love – love that does not expect anything in return.  But I want us to push a little deeper into that idea.

How does God love us?  By sending Jesus into the world.  By Jesus proclaiming the good news of God’s love to us.  By Jesus dying for us.  By Jesus rising for us. By Jesus ascending for us to pray for us forever.  God loves us by doing something.

Love is not a feeling or an emotion love is what God does.  Or as John put in his letter “God is love.”  Love is what God does – so if we are to love one another it cannot stop at an emotion, an interior feeling or thought that I keep to myself.  No, love involves us acting, doing something.

Now in loving like God loves us we cannot make the same sacrifice that Jesus makes on the cross for us – that was a once and for all moment.  But we can act in love towards one another as a sign of this love.

Quite a few years ago a friend recommended a book to me that some of you may have also read.  It was written by a guy called Gary Chapman and was called The Five Languages of Love.  Have any of you read this book?

In the book Chapman outlines these 5 ways we express our love in action and as we think about loving one another in all its simple complexity these 5 ideas can be helpful.  Words of affirmation. Gifts. Physical touch.  Quality time. Acts of service.  I want to go through each of these and give some examples, or maybe more accurately some homework to you because as you listen to them I want you to be thinking about how you might express love to someone this week.

Words of Affirmation

  • Write a letter or card to someone to express your thanks or congratulations.
  • Ring an old friend and reminisce together
  • Be grateful to someone who serves you in a shop 

  • Take your gift of flowers from the church today to someone special
  • Give an extra gift of money to a charity
  • Make a gift or card for a member of your family

 Physical touch

  • Remember to hug a member of your family every day!
  • Embrace a friend when you meet them this week
  • Hold the hand of someone you love more often

 Quality time

  • Put a person you love in your diary this week, listen to them and enjoy their company
  • Take some extra time with God: express gratitude and pray for others
  • Have a technology ‘fast’ and spend more face to face time with friends

 Acts of service

  • Take on an extra chore around the house
  • Commit yourself to do something for the church or a charity
  • Ask a family member, friend or even a stranger what you can do to help them out
Now what is very interesting is that what Chapman emphasises is that each one of respond more strongly to a different expression of the giving and receiving of love.  A good example of this is that for some people a hug is important and for us well it is more like an invasion of their personal space.  We are all unique in what our preferred expression of love is and how we interpret loving actions towards us.  This is why I think we miss the mark so often in trying to love one another – because we are complex and unique individuals.

To jump back then into the passage and think about how Jesus loves his disciples.  His actions towards them which include his choice to call them friends, his choice to teacher them, his choice to entrust them to bear fruit on his behalf is all done in the context of knowing that these men are far from perfect people.  Jesus actions of love towards his disciples is not reliant on them getting everything right or understanding it but on the choice Jesus makes to go on loving them.

For me this is the hardest aspect of love.  To love another person whom we may find difficult to get along with.  To love another person who is not loving us back or not acknowledging our acts of love towards them.  To love others when are not feeling loved ourselves.
For me this is where God steps into the gap between our call to love one another and our ability to love another.  There are days I do not feel loved and also days I do not feel very loving – more often than not these days coincide!

It is in these moments that God’s ultimate action of love in Jesus’ death and resurrection transcends who we are not able to be for ourselves and joins us through God’s grace to Jesus’ very life through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Today we will celebrate that in remembering the great act of God’ love as we take bread and wine and receive again through word and action the presence of God into our life.  We share in communion in the faith and hope that as we act so to God will act within us.

So, we return to where we began: It seems simple enough, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you, abide in my love... love one another as I have loved you.” 

Today, we will share in that love of God in bread and wine.  God’s grace.  The fruit that we are given to share from our encounter God this day is to go from this table to act as loving people: through Words of affirmation. Gifts. Physical touch.  Quality time. Or, acts of service. 

Take a few moments of silence.  Consider what is God saying to you this day?  Who are you being called to love and what will you do about it?