Monday, February 20, 2017

A Ready Steady Faith... in Light of Future... Hope (Luke 17:20-37)

With all the political changes in the world at the moment, some people are acting like it is the end of the world. Maybe we are in an epoch change, about to step off the edge into the unknown mist covered waters. At the very least we are seeing a major shift in the ebb and flow of the culture wars in westerns society, between the progressive and conservative.

So it is opportune that we’ve come to a point in working through Luke’s account of Jesus Journey to Jerusalem where he is asked about When will the Kingdom of God come? Because it is helpful for us as we face our uncertain times  to hear Jesus correct the thinking of both the Pharisees and his disciples on this matter.

What isn’t helpful however is that this passage and passages like it have been the subject of much speculation and interpretation. People speculating about what will happen in the future. People  taking the events of their time and squeezing them into the apocalyptic passages and images in the bible. I was a mature student at Otago University in 2001. On September 12th , for us in New Zealand, as everyone round the world watched two planes crash into the twin towers in New York, a friend of mine at university, an animal rights activist actually, came looking for me. He wasn’t a Christian but he wanted to Know if the Bible talked about such a sign happening? Was this unprecedented event the sign of a coming apocalypse? Id the Bible like that?

It’s also not helpful that a whole industry has grown up around various interpretations of these kinds of passages. Tim LeHaye’s very lucrative ‘left behind’ series of novels and films is the best known example. Evangelists have used these kinds of things to scare people into faith.

It’s not helpful that how these passages are to be interpreted, how we think about eschatology, the study of the last days, has split the church at various times in its history. You can’ t talk about these things without coming up against someones pet theory.

What is helpful is a comment from bible scholar Daryll Bock that the passages in scripture about the coming of the kingdom of God are designed not so we can prepare charts, about what is going to happen, but to prepare our hearts to face whatever is going to happen. It is not about knowing when the last day will be but faithfully following Jesus in these last days, no matter how long they last. The time between the Kingdoms inauguration in the coming of Jesus and its consummation with the Coming of Jesus again. 

The Pharisees ask Jesus when the Kingdom of God will come? The Pharisees had a very definite idea of what they meant when they talked of the Kingdom of God. They had studied the scriptures of the Old Testament and their desires and aspirations where shaped by what they read of God restoring Israel as an independent nation, a world power. It meant the overthrowing of the Roman empire that occupied Israel.  They were one of several political religious groups in Jesus day. The zealots were another group, they believed in direct action against the Romans, But the Pharisees believed if they differentiated themselves as God’s people by keeping the law, being pure, that God would send them a messiah to establish this kingdom.

Jesus reply was that the kingdom of God was not quantifiable like that. It wasn’t a place or a time that you could say here it is or there is it. It wasn’t going to be a definable political physical entity.

And the reason for that was that ‘the Kingdom of God was in their midst…’ The Pharisees were looking for God’s reign in this world and they were missing the very fact that God’s messiah, was right there in front of them. When you ask what is the kingdom of God like, the answer has to be, it is like Christ… it is where the poor, both spiritual and physical, receive good news, the broken hearted healing, the blind receive sight, the prisoners and the oppressed are set free.  It is where the acceptable year of the Lord is declared, that refers of course to the year of jubilee in Leviticus 25, which talks of a time when debts will be cancelled and land and wealth justly redistributed.

Jesus turns and speak to his own disciples as well, there was the same expectation amongst them, that Jesus journey to Jerusalem was going to end in him being recognised as the messiah and made king. You can see that sort of thinking in places like  Matthew’s gospel where John and James Mother asks Jesus if her boys can be in the cabinet when Jesus comes into his kingdom. Not only that but in the early church that Luke was writing to there was an expectation that with Jesus death and his resurrection that Christ would return very soon and people were becoming disheartened because it was not happening. Jesus corrects this thinking.

He talks of a longing to see the “the days of the Son of Man” but not seeing them. As the Pharisees had missed seeing Jesus as the messiah in their midst, the disciples also might miss the days of the son of man because they didn’t recognise what God was doing in Jesus Christ. Jesus would have to suffer and be rejected by this generation. The kingdom of God was not going to be established by political will or military might, but by the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ for the world. The Kingdom of God was not going to be this political military victory rather it would come into being through the sacrificial love of God’s chosen king, Jesus, and his disciples following his example. Because of that there is temptation to be lead astray to false messiahs. Maybe like the Pharisees it would be this political expression or hopes or that specific time and place, and we are very good at doing that aren’t we, “those were the days” or this religious figure or strong leader. The reality is that they would not miss the coming day of the son of man, because it would be like lightening in the sky, they will know it when they see it. It will be universal and unmissable.

Jesus goes on to talk of his coming being like in the day of Noah and Lot in the book of Genesis, both examples of God’s judgment. The flood and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Jesus is preparing his disciples to face difficulties in their future epoch changing events, many scholars point to Jesus talking about the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD by the Romans, the Pharisees thought they were going to defeat the Romans but the reality was the opposite and the followers of Jesus had to be ready for this.  They were unexpected events that happened suddenly…And like those times things will carry on as normal right up until the end. Eating and drinking, births and marriages, business as usual, and they needed to have a ready steady faith now and that would see them through.

Jesus is warning them that the day when the son of man is revealed will be like that. That when it comes there will be no time to go down and get your possessions it will be swift and sudden. He warns them about Lots wife who when fleeing from Sodom and Gomorrah stops and looks back longing for the things she has left behind and finds herself get caught up in God’s judgment. He tells them if they want to hold on to their lives they will lose it. This is the central warning and teaching for Jesus disciples, that they are not to be caught up in the things of this world, when the day of the son of man comes they will be caught looking backwards. They will be torn between the things of this world and the things of the Kingdom of God.   The time to make a choice about what you will do is

Jesus goes on to talk of a series of people going about everyday life and one will be taken and one left behind. Know this has often been a passage that is referenced by people when they talk about what is called the rapture. The idea that there will come a time when Jesus followers will be taken up to be with him. This is the left behind bit… right… Different understanding of eschatology argue over when this would be… some say it is before there is a time of tribulation others say after. But I actually think they’ve missed what is being said here when they do that.

irstly Jesus is speaking in a very Jewish way. The important bit is in the middle of Jesus paragraph here the warning about holding on to life and losing it and on either side of that are two passages which are saying the same thing in a different way. Before the warning it is that there will be not time to go back to get anything. This week in Christchurch and Australia this has been made very real for us with people being told to flee as wild fire had drawn close to their houses, and we’ve seen the distress of not being able to go and grab anything if they were to get to safety.  The second section says that it will come so suddenly that people will be going about their business and one will be taken and the other will be spread. I understand it because of the way a school acquaintance of mine was killed. He was in a motor vehicle which was hit by a bolder that came down the mountainside. He was in the passenger seat and was killed instantly while his mate right next to him survived without a scratch.

The warning from Jesus is to live ready, in the long haul in the midst of the mundaness of life to have a ready and steady faith, to live faithfully in light of our future hope.

How does that work out in our lives.

We are always tempted to see the kingdom of God associated with the victory of our way of thinking and living in the world, but the Kingdom of God is in our midst, in the form of Jesus, present physically like he was with his first disciples, or with us by his spirit, the Kingdom of God looks like Jesus, God’s son. Sadly we can think the kingdom of God is like the empire, or the Pharisees, we can equate it with a way of thinking or a political expression or political structure and get lead astray. Christian Europe is a good example of that, what we call Christendom, when people thought Christianity had conquered the known world, but there was need for reform and renewal and even revolution. Like with Francis of Assisi, whose renewed knowing of Jesus lead him away from the power structures of his day to live with and serve the poor. To look like Jesus…The reformation, Martin Luther’s reiteration of the grace of God in light of the churches excesses of selling indulgences to build a cathedral. To look like Jesus.  Today when Christians identify with the political agendas of either the conservative right and the progressive left, and equate hem with the Kingdom of God there is a need to be reminded that the Kingdom of God is neither but looks like Jesus and we need the renewal and reform that goes with that.

Secondly, Jesus teaching here points us to the fact that God’s purposes and plans are being worked out in human history. History is not just moving inevitably on ad infinitum, but God is working out his plans and that will come to fulfillment. We are called to live in these days in the light of that day. How we live our priorities, our vision are to be shaped by the Kingdom of God established in Jesus Christ and awaiting its consummation.

 The times when the church has lost the understanding of Eschatology in its true sense; not an idol curiosity about the future, but a trust that God is working out his purposes in the world, has been the time when the church has simply fallen asleep. When it has become an institution, simply holding on to past gains. It has lost its life because it has been afraid to lose that. When it has been aware of the presence of God with it and the call of God to be about its master’s purpose and plan for salvation, personal and on a societal level it has been a movement with the vitality and vision that allow it to face both suffering and tragedy, and the mind numbing sameness and challenges of everyday life.

The civil rights movement in America in the 1960’s is a great illustration. One of it’s catch cries was “keep your eyes on the prize”. Keep your eyes on the prize”. For them it was a very Kingdom of God vision of equality and justice and receiving the rights they were promised under the constitution of the United States, that kept them going, kept them persevering under opposition and oppression, that meant when they were met with violence they could take it and not be put off. But it was a saying that came from an old gospel spiritual, keep your eyes on the prize and keep your hand to the plough. It summarised the words of Hebrews 12 let us throw off everything that would hold us back, every sin that would bind and let us run the race set before us, with our eyes fixed firmly on Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.

Lastly, How do we face the uncertain times, the times when it feel likes it the end of the world … It is with a ready steady faith that seek to put the presence of the Kingdom of God with us  a priority in our life…I’m drawn back to the image on the screen, because when I see it I can’t help but thing of the Irish monks in the navigato of St Brendan, one of the most ancient European pieces of literature. Who knelt to pray on the shore of their beloved land and then were willing to venture out onto the wild waves and uncertainty of time and seemingly at the mercy of tides and currents, storms and lulls the in search of the Kingdom of God. The image behind me is not some far off Irish coastal scene by the way it was taken at Ambury farm Park, it’s the moody Manukau, its right in the middle of suburban Auckland, I had to frame the shot to not get all those houses up in Hillsborough in frame, if you turn round from here you can see One tree Hill and the High Rises of the City. That is where we are called to set sail, with a ready steady faith, on the adventure of seeking the kingdom of God,  trusting Jesus is in the boat with us.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Your faith has made you well (Luke 17:11-19)

Sometimes it hard to talk about healing.

Most of us have had to deal with situations where we have lost a loved one, having watched them battle disease, suffer and die. And when we’ve prayed we’ve felt as if heaven’s door were closed shut, God had gone home, taken the phone off the hook, put his feet up in front of the TV and dozed off. I know  some of you are facing those kinds of issues today… and Large chunks of the Wisdom literature in the Old Testament wrestles with this, wrestle with why do the innocent suffer? Wrestle with Where is God in the face of evil?

We’ve been put off by the over the top excesses of the shaman, the showman and the salesmen, the faith healers and the snake oil salesmen. It’s so tied up with the call to donate, and in the face of people not getting healed that abusive lie… ‘You just didn’t have enough faith”.

In God’s providence we live in the wonderful age of the wonders of science and medicine, able to help and cure so many, and to talk of praying for healing is relegated to the level of quackery and the lunatic fringe. Even in the growing ranks of alternative medicine, it’s kind of pushed to the back of the shelf.

In the Passage we are looking at today Jesus encounters and heals ten lepers, only one of whom come back and receives not only healing; is made clean, but receives Wellness and wholeness at the feet of Jesus. It’s a passage that talks of faith and healing, the compassion of God and healing, gratitude and worship in response to God’s over the top lavish grace. So while it’s hard to talk about healing that’s what we are going to talk about today.

We are working our way through Luke’s account of Jesus journey to Jerusalem, a journey that takes up the central third of the gospel narrative and a narrative that focuses on Jesus teaching his disciples about what it means to follow him.  The passage we are looking at today is the fourth of five miracles stories in that narrative. It acts as the start of a new section in Jesus journey. We’ve just been looking at a large section of teaching which seems to have taken place at the house of a Pharisee and now we see Jesus moving on. He is following the pilgrim trail from Galilee to Jerusalem, which means making a detour round Samaria. The encounters we have with Jesus now focus on people’ responses. These encounters and these Responses show how we too should respond to Jesus.

Let’s have a look at the passage today

Jesus comes into a village, and ten men who had leprosy meet him. For us this might seem a strange occurrence but in Jesus day this would be common place. People with skin diseases, probably not the modern disease we call leprosy,  were ostracized from the community, they had to live outside and away from people, there were stringent rules and regulations about keeping a distance from others, of warning people of their approach. These men keep the law concerning such diseases, by staying a distance from Jesus.

They call out across that distance to Jesus, ”Jesus, master, have mercy”. They humbly call out in the hope that Jesus might be able to help them.  It’s not a demand it is hoping that Jesus will be compassionate. They do it because they had heard of the things that Jesus had been doing. They had heard his teaching about kindness and compassion to the outcast, the little ones, the beggar at the gate. Maybe they were simply expecting a hand out, alms from a righteous and generous person. Maybe hope against hope that they may receive something more from Jesus. In Acts 3 Peter and John are going to the temple to pray and they are confronted by a lame beggar who asks for help, and Peter and John don’t have anything to give them but they pray for him and he is healed. It is a good example of how we come to Jesus in times of trouble and in need for healing. We come Humbly, no demanding. We come with faith because of what we know of Jesus; trusting in his compassion.

Jesus shows them compassion. He says “go and show yourselves to the priests”. In the Old testament law the priests acted as health professionals, if you had one of the skin diseases that made you unclean they would diagnose and proclaim that. If you got better, they were the ones who checked it out and provided the processes by which you could be acknowledged as clean again and reconciled to the community.  

Luke tells us it is only as the men go on their way that they find that they are healed. This is where faith had come into the picture. Faith in Luke’s gospel is hearing Jesus word and Obeying it. In the Old Testament Naaman is a Syrian general who has leprosy and who is told by a Jewish slave girl that there is a prophet, Elisha in Israel who can cure him. When he goes to Elisha he is told to go and wash himself seven times in the Jordan river, he gets upset about that, it’s not a mighty river like the ones back home, But he does it and it is in this obedience putting his faith into action that he is made well.

I’ve heard people say I believe God has healed me so I don’t need to go to the doctor, I don’t need to carry on with my treatment. But often faith in Jesus is being willing to go and do the things we need to do to be declared well again. Go to the doctor, if we are healed on the way, it is confirmed, if we must go through treatment, well we have faith that God is with us and moving through that process. Both are acts of faith.

We can think faith is this big thing, this supernatural strength to believe, if I just believe enough, but in this passage it is simply to trust Jesus words.

One of the ten when he sees he has been made clean again, responds by coming back praising God, and falling at Jesus feet thanking him.  All ten were made clean, healed of leprosy, but this one man during the spiritual experience recognizes who Jesus is and comes back to acknowledge that. This is a salvation moment for him. Not only is he made clean and able to reconciled with his community, but enters the Kingdom of God.

It’s interesting that in Jesus response to this we find out that the man was a Samaritan, so for the Jews not only was he unclean because of his skin disease he was an outsider because of his nationality. Jesus points this out, the implication is that this group of men would have been a diverse group, Jew and Samaritan. It affirms the kingdom of God is for all who will put their trust in God. It shows the compassion of God is for all people. Even those we might deem far away.

Remember the Samaritan were of mixed heritage and they believed you worshipped God at a different place than the Jews. But he is the one who recognizes, God present in Jesus. Jesus response signifies a different level of healing for this man. He can rise and Go because he has been made well or whole. Not only cleansed of leprosy, not only able to reconciled with his community again, but reconciled with God through his belief in Jesus Christ.  It is that faith in Jesus, that has meant he has wholeness wellness in his life.

We often think of healing as being a physical process. But in Christ there are different kinds of healing.

Yes there is physical healing. God can and does heal and make clean. It is based on the compassion and the love of God.  We humbly come to God and ask for mercy. God will and does respond.

It maybe, in that physical healing but he answers that prayer in other ways as well. The courage to face medical procedures, coming to the place of knowing God’s peace and presence in the midst of the upheaval, and the emotional and physical roller coaster of illness. I’ve mentioned it  several times before but Walter Breuggemann identifies a process in the book of Psalms. He says there are psalms of orientation, when everything is rosy and wonderful, the happy clappys which are great expressions of praise to God. Then he sees the psalms of disorientation, when it all goes pear shaped. Like you’ve gone out to the wild west coast and find yourself caught up by wave after crashing wave, spinning round now knowing which way is up, and trying to hold your breath… and where is God in the midst of the white water and the boom crash of Wave after wave? Then he detects another  type of psalm the psalms of reorientation, where people come to a place of peace and calm, where in the midst of all that is going on, even in the face of sorrow and suffering they become aware of god’s abiding presence and peace. Sometime they are healed and other times they can face everything knowing God’s immanence and sovereignty.

It may sound rather callous, or pie in the sky when you die, opiate for the masses, but death is also a form of healing. It is an end to suffering and pain, a going to be with Christ.  A couple of weeks ago we looked at   the parable of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16… Jesus paints the picture of Lazarus in heaven in Abraham’s bosom, all his suffering and sorrow behind him. Through deprivation, homelessness, illness and the shame of being a beggar he had kept his faith in God and now he finds himself, with God, consoled and cared for.  The passage I often preach on at funerals is John 14 where Jesus says In my father’s house there are many rooms and I go to prepare a place for you.. and I come back so you will be where I am. In the book Philippians, which we will be looking at later this year, Paul in chains and facing possible death says ‘to live is Christ, to die is gain.’ It still leaves us here to deal with the grief with unanswered questions with loneliness that someone is not with us anymore. But it is the gospel hope.

The passage in Luke also points to healing as reconciliation and welcoming back. Healing relationship and community. Jesus heals the lepers but also makes it possible for them to be reconciled with their community, by going through the legal and religious processes set out in the Old Testament. We see this time and time again Jesus reconciling people he has healed or forgiven, to the people of God. The women who touched the corner of Jesus garment is reconciled to her community by Jesus asking her to tell what she had done and his affirmation that her faith has made her well.

Forgiveness of sin brings the same healing. In our devotions at the Maungarei Ministers Association on Thursday, Russel Grainger from Mt wellington community Church, shared the story of Tarore and her gospel of Luke.  She and her father the chief Nagkuku had become followers of Jesus. Tarore  was killed while on a trip to the bay of plenty, by a raiding party from Te Awa tribe and her gospel of Luke which she carried in a Kiti around her neck as a treasured possession was taken by the leader of that raiding band Uita. He had hoped it was valuable but when he saw it was a book didn’t know what to do with it as he couldn’t read. At Tarore’s funeral Ngakuku because of his new-found faith had preached against taking Utu, revenge for the death and mana the tribe had lost. Utu was expected but he spoke against it. Meanwhile a slave called Ripahau offered to read the gospel of Luke Uita and his people. Uita became a follower of Jesus and was convicted of his sin of killing Tarore and knew he had to go and ask forgiveness, even if it meant death. When he came to Ngakuku he confessed his sin and asked for forgiveness and the two knelt together in prayer. It was timely reminded of the healing power of Jesus love just after Waitangi Day. How Jesus can bring healing and wholeness between people.

The last type of healing in this story is salvation. The Samaritan came back to Jesus and recognizes who he is and so is reconciled with God. This is not just being made clean but Jesus proclaims him well, whole healed. Free from his illness, able to be reconciled with his people and reconciled with God and welcomed into the kingdom of God. The Jewish word for peace means wholeness, right relationships, this starts with that relationship with God through Jesus Christ… the hope of healing and wholeness in our life and world.

He is the example for us of how to respond to God grace, with faith, he did what Jesus had told him to do, with gratitude and thanks. The nine who didn’t return show us how often we take God’s graciousness for granted, and how we can encounter Jesus compassion but it may not change our hearts. But the Samaritan calls us to with thanksgiving and worship  acknowledge Jesus as God’s son and our saviour.

So today I want to invite you to hear this passage in your life.

Hear Jesus desire to show compassion and love and speak healing into our lives. As we call out to him ‘have Jesus, Lord, have mercy.

Hear Jesus words ‘Rise and Go, your faith has made you well”, as an  affirmation of our salvation as we affirm our faith in him and give him thanks for what he has done for us.

Hear them as life affirming, that we can go through life trusting in Jesus presence peace and strength, as we hear Jesus words and obey them. 

A portion of this message comes from a shorter reflection a few week back called... four types of healing.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

It would be easy to ... but we chose the narrow upward way ( a prayer of thanksgivng and confession ( a lament really) based on Psalm 18)

I'm using the Bible in one year app for my daily devotions again this year. Systematically working my way through the bible with a reading from  Psalms (or Proverbs) the New Testament and Old Testament (other than the psalms) each day, with a reflection on each by Nicky and Pippa Gumble.

My plan is to use the Psalm I read on the day I write a prayer for Sunday as the inspiration for that prayer.

  This week we've been working our way through Psalm 18, a royal psalm where King David talks of God as his shield and rock, his strong tower, the reason that as king he has been able to subdue his enemies and extend his kingdom... while I found myself identifying with David's trust and hope in God and found his victory encouraging I couldn't help feel like I wasn't quite there... I was still in the fight, wrestling with the dark. But I still wanted to affirm with David 'the Lord lives! I still wanted to say in the face of the stuff that would try and bring me down 'Praise be to my Rock!' I still wanted to say Exalted be God my saviour!' these things are true in the battle as well as in 'victory won'.

I may not use it on Sunday I've got a few days to think about it... But I offer this lament and prayer of hope and faith.  The refrain in Bold comes from Psalm 18 v 46 I will invite the congregation to declare their faith in and praise of God by saying it.

feel free to use any or all of it, if you find it helpful...

It would be easy to focus on the night

To give in to the dark as it drapes over us;

Oppression like a blanket, sorrow like a shroud  

It would be easy to forget about the dawn

To lose hope in the once come and coming light

The Lord lives! Praise be to my Rock!
    Exalted be God my Saviour!

It would be easy to get lost in the fight

To give in to the struggles that assail our heart

All those things that have declared war on our faith and love

It would be easy to submit to this sense of powerlessness

To forget the presence of the one who is our shield and might.

The Lord lives! Praise be to my Rock!
    Exalted be God my Saviour!

It would be easy to be bound up in sin

To give in to the weight of brokenness and shame

All the things that we have done, that we know we ought not

All those good things we ought, that we have left undone

To forget the one who by his blood gave freedom and invited us in

The Lord lives! Praise be to my Rock!
    Exalted be God my Saviour!

But we will not give in; we take the narrow upward way

We will give praise to God for God’s great grace in Jesus Christ

We confess our sin and know God’s forgiveness flow

Filled afresh with Spirit’s help, we set our face to keep his ways
we pursue justice and peace and proclaim his name today

The Lord lives! Praise be to my Rock!
    Exalted be God my Saviour!

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Increase our faith: Give us a mustard seed faith and a servant heart (Luke 17:1-10)

Faith is one of those slippery words that we use a lot but we don’t often tie down and define.

Faith…if I just believe something enough it will happen. We identify it with fervour and emotional intensity.

Faith… If I go to the right place, this service or that church or this conference, it will increase… because I know they’ve got it and it will come pre-packaged and user friendly… it’s like it is a commodity and I can go shop for it.

Faith… I belong to this group of people, we believe the same things we do the same things we keep the same rituals and observances, keep the same rules. With those things we can tell whose got faith and who hasn’t. Who’s in and who’s out.

Faith… We are loyal to the end. It’s our team, our group, our God. Like that faithful band who always buy a Warriors season ticket, who each year say ‘It’s our year this year’., but even if it isn’t they be back next year.  They believe they keep the faith… loyal to the core. Hey I’m a blues fan I feel their pain.

I don’t want to come off sounding cynical or critical here… but it’s important that we understand what faith is…Right in the centre of the bible passage we had read today the apostles ask the lord, ‘increase our faith’… and I feel that is an important message for us this year, for St Peter’s. ‘Lord increase our faith’…At the heart of our vision ‘that we are called to be a vibrant authentic sustainable community, growing as followers of Jesus, and inspiring others to join us on that journey” is that we are growing as followers of Jesus. It is that our faith will increase. Lord increase our faith… It’s important that we know what that means and how it is worked out in our life together and individually.

We are working our way through Luke’s account of Jesus journey to Jerusalem.  An account that takes up the central third of the third gospel. It’s an account that focuses on Jesus teaching his disciples what it means to follow him. And it’s a journey that leads Jesus and us to the cross. We had a break in this series over Christmas and the holidays, and splash we came back right in the deep end, with Jesusteaching on finances.

Now as we get back into the swing of things for the year we come to Jesus teaching his disciples about faith, which forms the conclusion to a big body of teaching, that started way back with Jesus at the house of Simon the Pharisee at the beginning of chapter 14, or at least the start of chapter 15 where the sinners and tax collectors were gathered round to hear Jesus and the Pharisees and teachers of the law stood back and muttered in disapproval. It’s been about hospitality and welcoming people in and how we treat them. In some ways, it has been about the practical outworking of Jesus own mission statement in Luke 4…from the scroll of Isaiah… The spirit of the Lord is upon me to proclaim good news to the poor, recovery of sight to the blind, release to the captives, and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.

This section of teaching has been like a ping pong match. Jesus had been speaking to the Pharisees, then he is speaking to his disciples, the Pharisees interrupt so it’s back to them, and now it’s back to his disciples to summarize it all. In the west and in the modern era we are used to a more linear way of teaching, but what we have here is a more too and fro style of teaching. Question and answer, comment and comeback it’s a Jewish teaching style called midrash.

Jesus teaching here is in four sections, a warning, instruction, and then the apostle’s response and Jesus response with an exhortation and a parable about grace.

Jesus had been speaking to the Pharisees and religious leaders and now he turns to his disciples and basically tells them not to be like the Pharisees. He’s real and says there are things in this life that are going to trip people up. That’s the reality of life, as Jesus says in John 16:33 in this life there will be trouble, hardship, rejection, persecution, but we should not be afraid because Jesus has overcome the world. Here he is saying yes there will be temptation to sin and turn away from the faith, in the parable of the sower in Luke 8, Jesus had outlined some of those things: sin, persecution, concern for the things of this world money and wealth.

He then turns and warns his disciples that it would be better for them to die, have a millstone put round their neck and tossed in to the ocean, than make one of these little ones stumble. Down through history there has been conjecture about these little ones…  yes, it could be Christians who are weaker in their faith, it challenges us about our children. It does speak to and challenge people in church leadership and who teach, it warns against false teaching. But in the context of what Jesus has been teaching and the attitude of the Pharisees we’ve already seen who these little ones are.  This follows on from the parable of Lazarus and the Rich man, where Lazarus had been left in his poverty and powerlessness, ignored and neglected and written off at the gate of the rich man.  It carries on from the parable of the prodigal son where the older brother had stood off and refused to go in. We need to be on guard that we do not act in the same manner and way.

Jesus goes on to teach on forgiveness. He says if your brother and sister sin against you, rebuke them; we need to deal with wrongdoing, not just ignore it and write people off because of it. It is most loving to call them back to help them come to their senses. It’s interesting so much of Jesus teaching is like that, calling the Pharisees and religious to repent. Rather if they repent we forgive them. Seven times a day is not about keeping an account, just waiting that magical number comes along then we can refuse. It’s supposed to be a high and extraordinary number. It’s not a matter of maths however, as Joel Green says ‘it is the daily life of those orientated around the merciful God’.  Again in the context of the wider passage it finishes the parable of the lost son, it gives Jesus disciples the way to respond to those who would turn back to Jesus, not standing off with judgment, but to forgive them and welcome them in.  It calls us to be a community where our relationships to each other are not governed by grudges but by grace, where things are confronted and reconciliation is sort. Where forgiveness is offered because we are forgiven.

In light of that you can see why the apostles asked the Lord to increase their faith. To allow them to live like that. Because let’s be honest we need God’s help. This is where our definition of faith is important.

 Firstly faith is not about what we put in, but who we put our faith in. It is about having our faith in Jesus Christ. Secondly, it is about being faithful to that person. In Luke’s gospel to be a disciple of Christ is to hear Jesus teaching and put it into action, to obey it.  In the list of old testaent ehro's of faith in Hebews 12 we see that each of hese people lived heir lives faithful to knowing and trusting God.
On Friday as I started to write this message, in my daily bible reading was a passage from the book of Job. Job is a book that wrestles with what happens when trouble and suffering come into your life. In response to one of his friends who had come to comfort him, who represent the wisdom of the day, the pat answers about the innocent suffering, Job outlines his previous life. He had an intimate relationship with God, when he had felt his presence and grace surrounding him, and he goes on to talk about how this manifested itself in how he acted at the town gate. He was a respected elder involved in the judicial process, he talks about how that intimate knowing of God meant that he delighted to care for the fatherless, the widow, the stranger, the refugee, the sick and the poor and see they got justice. Faith here is knowing Jesus and allowing the love and grace and mercy to flow out into our lives, to the prodigals who need to hear a call to come to their senses and need to know forgiveness and welcome home when hey repent, to our gates and the Lazarus who lies there. Increase our faith is asking that we may be more faithful to the Jesus who has changed our lives.

In response to the apostle’s request Jesus tells them that even with a little bit of that faithfulness, as much as a mustard seed the smallest of all the seeds. I wonder did you notice the mustard seed in the image that we used on the cover of our service sheet and PowerPoint his morning.  With such a small amount of that faith they could uproot the mightiest of trees with the deepest roots and cast it into the ocean. Because it is a faith in Jesus Christ, God himself and it is a faith that will be manifest in reflecting Jesus love and concern for the least and the lost. I re watched the films ‘Selma’ about Martin Luther lead march for voting rights in Alabama, and Ghandi, about Ghandi’s movement for Indian independence. It was powerful to be reminded how their dedication to a just principle and the pursuit of non-violence could overcome institutional racism, and entrenched colonialism, and all the pressure, resources and violence that could bring to bear. On a large scale that mustard seed faith removed the proud well established sycamore tree and casting it into the ocean. On a personal level that mustard seed faith can do the same. Faithfulness to pray, to compassion and love, forgiveness and care in Christ.

Jesus second response was to tell a parable. Again taken from everyday life in first century Judea but quite foreign to us. A servant who went about his duty and then when he had come home, he shouldn’t expect the master to drop everything and make his dinner but rather continued to serve, to do his duty. The Pharisees thought that God would deliver Israel from roman occupation if they separated themselves out and kept the law, that they could put God in their debt. But Jesus tells his followers to follow his example and to serve God by doing all that God had told them.

People respond negatively to the idea of thinking of ourselves as ‘unworthy servants’, particularly in  an age where self-worth and self-esteem are important. Can I say It’s not putting ourselves down or grovelling or seeing ourselves as useless. In fact in the parable the servants have done the things their master expected they’ve served well. The reality is that in doing these things we do not earn God’s favour, it is not salvation by works. We are about our master’s work as we should be, because we love him and he loves us, and we know his grace and mercy and we live in a way that shares it with all around us.

I believe the call for us this morning from this passage is that God may increase our faith. Give us a mustard seed faith and a servant heart. That we may know God in Christ and God’s love more and more each day. That it would empower us to keep on showing compassion to those in need at our gate and forgiveness and reconciliation with the repentant. That our focus would be to be about our Lord’s business.

Increase our faith- that we may know you more, give us a mustard seed faith and a servant heart, that we may hear your word and obey it. That we may be a faithful people.

Increase our faith- that we may see those at our gate, in need both physically and spiritually  and with mustard seed faith and a servant heart show them love and compassion that the things that are entrenched and deep rooted holding them down may be up rooted and tossed in the ocean. Give us a mustard seed faith and a servant heart to care.

Increase our faith- to call people back to the truth, and meet them with forgiveness and welcome when they repent. Give us a mustard seed faith to speak of the grace we know and show it in how we care, love and forgive. To one another, and to all who you call to see as brothers and sisters.

Increase our faith- allow us to be faithful people. Give us a mustard seed faith and a servant heart, that we may people committed to your kingdom on a personal level, as we work in the community and as we face the city and nations gates in good times and when we are faced with things that would make us stumble.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

New growth, new year old truth (1 corinthians 3:6-7)

I am not good with plants... When I came to St Peter's close to five years ago I was a bit worried because one of my elders gave ma a Peace Lilly for my office. I could handle one pot plant and it seems to have been doing quite well over the years.

 Another parishioner gave me a maidenhair fern. It had been my predecessors she said and had had to look after it and nurse it back to health. Now I had a second pot plant one with ties to the history of  St Peter's... Can I say I felt real pressure.

I've managed to keep them alive and doing well for the past four years. With advise from parishioners like "I'd over watered it" or "not watered it enough". The Maidenhair seemed to thrive more at times than others. However over summer, while I was away on Holiday the maidenhair did a big die back... I though I'd managed to kill it... I'd come in once a week and watered it but it just didn't seem enough. When I came back to my office after three and a bit weeks it was totally brown.

I watered it that first day and the next and I noticed amidst the old brown dead bits that two then three little green tendrils appeared. then a few more followed as I continued to water it. I cut back the dead stuff round them. Then these tendril started to sprout leaves and become fern like. The plant is making a come back with strong new growth.

I couldn't help but think about ministry in a small suburban parish in post Christian New Zealand. Very often we can concentrate on the die back, the negatives and the hardships. The old does die back, we can be despondent and give up watering and feeding and pruning. But we can also miss the regrowth and the new growth. It may seem small and insignificant at first, but if we persist in being faithful it can grow back.

I sensed encouragement for 2017... there is growth and newness. It needs to be watered and nurtured and will grow and become healthy.

I'm told the Peace Lilly need to be re potted and then it will prosper and bloom... Hmm I wonder what that has to say?

I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.
- 1 Corinthians 3:6-7

Monday, January 30, 2017

A Prayer of thankgiving and confession for Waitangi Day Weekend... maybe

I'm very reluctant to put this out on my blog. In New Zealand Waitangi day is a day both of celebration of New Zealand and also of protest and reflection. It celebrates the founding of our nation with the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, which bring up the spectre that it has not been honoured in terms of partnership with, and the sovereignty of Maori. We see how far we've come as a nation and how many wrongs are being addressed through the Waitangi Tribunal but we also reflect on how far we have to go as well. Maori appear in imprisonment and poverty statistic too often. We need to learn to listen and consult and work together  in decision making processes.

I've written a prayer for waitangi day weekend. I've tried to capture the beauty and uniqueness of the landscape flora and fauna and our diverse peoples  in giving thanks for New Zealand. To capture something  of the gospels story here and how the church is now... to confess our sins and ask for God's help and guidance and not to be too long winded, over the top and full of flowery language about it.

Feel free to make comment suggest change, to use any or all or none.

To my many overseas readers there are many Maori words in this Prayer. I've put links in where I can to help with understanding

Creator God,

We come to you this morning to give thanks for this land

For Aotearoa, New Zealand, a land of contrast and rich beauty

The vast ocean that surrounds us, makes us unique, full of wonders

The roar of surf battered coast and shelter of harbour, bay and inlet

Bush and forest clad hills, and the green of rolling farmland fields

Volcanic cones and mountain peak, tussock lined and snow capped

Glaciers, fiords, bubbling mud and steam vents, distant Antarctic Isles.

For preserved wilderness right through to urban and suburban sprawl  

From warm sub-tropical north right down to the wind swept chill of south

Thank you for this land

God who made all things

We come to you this morning to give thanks for this land

Aotearoa New Zealand, a land of Unique flora and fauna

Towering kauri, silver fern unfurling, high mountain Daisey

sea life: seal, dolphin and whale, kawhai and snapper, kina and cray  

Wondrous and weird insects, Weta, centipede and carnivorous snail

Islands of birds, Gull squawk, Kiwi night walk, tree top chorus at first light

Cheeky mountain Kea, forest Kaka and the deep boom of Kakapo hope

Animals introduced, hunted and farmed, pets; loved and befriended

 Thank you for this teaming life

Father God

We come to you this morning to give thanks for this land

Aotearoa New Zealand, for its rich diversity of people

The Tangata Whenua, first people of this land   

There roots deep in this soil, their rich culture and wisdom

Iwi and Hapu, Marae: a place to belong, and whanau gathered around

For those who have come and been welcomed from afar

Settlers from Europe, Asia, Africa, the Americas and pacific atoll and Ilse

Each with something to bring, treasure to share, story to tell

Thank you for all your children here

Saving God

We come to you this morning to give thanks for this land

Aotearoa New Zealand, and your gospel and Spirits presence here

For the forgiveness, new and abundant life we have in your son Jesus

Through Christ’s life, his death, resurrection and his promised Holy Spirit

Thank you for the gospel preached in this land, for over two hundred years

Maori who heard it and bought it back with them and missionaries and church planters

For Your church in this land in its so many different forms and strands
worshipping with Hymn, Maori chant, pacific harmony, Asian passion, and electronic beat

And committed to mission, compassion, love, peace and justice here

We Thank you God

Righteous God

We come to you this morning to give thanks for this land

Aotearoa New Zealand, and ask for your forgiveness as we have sinned

forgive us for the things that we have done wrong

forgive us for the good we have left undone

We confess that the Treaty of Waitangi has not been honoured

Partnership with, and sovereignty of Maori, has not been kept

We confess this land of plenty is blighted by need and poverty’s cruel grip

As we have confessed our sin we thank you that you forgive us

We pray for your help to set things right, and to seek justice in this land

Thank you for your grace.

Holy Spirit

We come to you this morning to give thanks for this land

Aotearoa New Zealand, and to pray for your presence and guiding

Fill us afresh with you Holy Spirit, your Wairua Tapu

Enable us to walk with humility and love, to seek your justice and peace

Help us to be good Stewards of your creation and bounty

Bring us together in this land, give us a generous and compassionate hand

Help us to share provision and blessing, with everyone

 We pray that your Kingdom may come and your will be done in our land

To the glory of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit