Monday, February 28, 2011

A gift of a song "Our City Of Ruins"

Knox Presbyterian Church, Christchurch taken by a friend Skot Mcloud on Tuesday February 22nd on his way home to see if his family was OK.  
I have found it hard to pray after the earthquake in Christchurch last week. No my faith isn't shaken. No I don't have a sense of wanting to scream at God "well where were you?"

I guess as a New Zealander I have just felt myself be numbed by it, shocked by it. I have reached into my pocket and given, I have talked with people and we have shared a sense of devastation and care and concern for the people of Christchurch. I've been involved in a welcome for students here at a hall of residence  and  Nine students who were at that hostile from Christchurch. shaken and away from home, safe but deeply concerned for family back home, some who no longer have a place to live. All knowing someone who has died. It just seems hard to keep on doing the normal everyday stuff, the get the kids off to school, go to work stuff, the polite conversation stuff.

I have emailed and facebooked friends down in Christchurch and breathed a sigh of relief that they are OK. Selfish perhaps.

Rev Martin Stewart is a colleague in Christchurch and has been keeping people in touch with what is going on down in Christchurch by email. In one of those emails he simply shared the words and a YouTube link to the Bruce Springsteen song "Our City Of Ruins" and I found a voice for what was sitting in my heart.

Thanks Martin for being willing to bring that as a gift to others in such a time and place and also thanks to Bruce Springsteen for such a song.

Springsteen wrote it for his own home city watching it fall into the slow death of urban decay. It found a new lease of life after 9/11and after Cyclone Katrina hit New Orleans . And as Springsteen says "While he wrote the song for his home town once it gets released into the public it takes on a life of its own. he is pleased for the song to go where it is needed". I get the sense that this song is becoming a anthem for Christchurch at this time.

  There's a blood red circle
On the cold dark ground
And the rain is falling down
The church door's thrown open
I can hear the organ's song
But the congregation's gone

My city of ruins
My city of ruins

Now the sweet bells of mercy
Drift through the evening trees
Young men on the corner
Like scattered leaves,
The boarded up windows,
The empty streets
While my brother's down on his knees

My city of ruins
My city of ruins

Come on, rise up!
Come on, rise up!
Come on, rise up!
Come on, rise up!
Come on, rise up!
Come on, rise up!
Come on, rise up!
Come on, rise up!

Now there's tears on the pillow
Darlin' where we slept
And you took my heart when you left
Without your sweet kiss
My soul is lost, my friend
Tell me how do I begin again?

My city's in ruins
My city's in ruins

Now with these hands,
With these hands, With these hands,
With these hands, I pray Lord
With these hands, With these hands,
I pray for the strength Lord
With these hands, With these hands,
I pray for the faith, Lord
With these hands, With these hands,
I pray for your love, Lord
With these hands, With these hands,
I pray for the strength, Lord
With these hands, With these hands,
I pray for your love, Lord
With these hands, With these hands,
I pray for your faith, Lord
With these hands, With these hands,
I pray for the strength, Lord
With these hands, With these hands

Come on, rise up
Come on, rise up

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Why Are You So Down Cast O My Soul; A Reflection On Psalm 42 And 43

In its introduction Psalm 42 is attributed to the sons of Korah. This is a group who were involved in leading the liturgy of the temple worship in Jerusalem. Psalm 43, has no introduction and it is argued that the two psalms are part of the same prayer. They have the same structure. Four verses followed by the haunting and powerful refrain.

Why are you so down cast O my soul

Why are you disturbed within me ?

Put your hope in God

For I will yet praise him

My saviour and My God.

The psalm is an amazing mix of prayer to God and the author speaking to their own depressed soul Pointing it to the only source of hope, the living God.

Why is the psalmist’s soul so down? Well the context for the psalm is most likely exile, The writer has been taken away from Jerusalem and the temple that was the centre of his relationship with God and it seems as if he is exiled from God himself and in his wrestling with his despair he writes this poem. Scholars say that from the geographic references in verse 6 that it’s almost as if he is being taken over the Golan heights and he stops and looks back and sees Mt Hermon and Mizar and the land of the great rift valley and then he’s taken away to captivity. His enemies have triumphed over him and they mock him, where is your God now?

In the first stanza verse 1-5 he uses the metaphor of draught to express how he feels. AS the deer pants for the water so my soul pants after you. We often have these metal pictures of a deer in the woodlands of Europe or north America beside a still lake with pine trees all around, but this is a picture from a desert land, watering hole were few and far between. The panting is that of desperation, like a deer being perused by a hunter not able to stop and quench its thirst. Chihuahuas were originally hunting dogs, they would hunt in packs, harrying, yapping and snapping at deer not giving it a chance to rest and to refresh itself, till it would fall to them from exhaustion. This is what the psalmist says his soul is like it parched and harried and it cannot find that presence of the living God that it needs to be revived and refreshed. In fact the psalmist says that the only water, the only sustenance he has had are his own tears. His enemies are like those dogs they keep barking where is your God. Then maybe in a thirst induced hallucination or in a vision or simply a memory the psalmist remembers back to the times he worshipped God in the temple, when God seemed so close and so real. He remembers and savours and draws strength from the time when his heart could leap and dance before God and is able to tell his soul to have hope in God.

Why are you so down cast O my soul

Why so disturbed with in me

Put your hope in God

I will yet praise him

My saviour and God

Then in the second stanza verse 6-11

It’s as if the heavens have opened up and instead of there being no water there are floods and storms and raging torrents.

The psalmist is full of grief as he remembers the great loss of Jerusalem, the stench of dead bodies, the temple burning, being dragged off by his gloating enemies. He expresses this with metaphors of raging torrents, waterfalls, flood gorged rivers. The deep roar of these waters calling out to the deep roar of the storm tossed waves maybe on the lake of Galilee, if you remember the gospels the storms on that sea could even make trained fishermen fear for their lives, or even out to the waves of the storm tossed Mediterranean. It was like all the things that had happened to him were like the rivers and the seas ganging up on him: Pushing him down swirling and whirling him round and round. The words and taunts of his enemies were like being dashed against trees or rocks they went so deep they damaged his bones. Then again he remembers and has hope, he looks back and he sees that God is a Rock, a refuge in the midst of the waves and the rapids, a place of safety, God is with us day and night. But where was God in the midst of the torrents. God seemed far away but he reminds his soul that there is hope because God is his rock.

Why are you so down cast O my soul

Why so disturbed with in me

Put your hope in God

I will yet praise him

My saviour and God

Psalm 43 is the third stanza of the prayer and in it the author comes to the point and makes his request to God. That God would save him rescue him from the dark place he finds himself in and bring him back to that place where he can meet with and find God, back to the temple in Jerusalem to sing a song of praise to God and once again find joy. The metaphor in this stanza steps out from the weather and prophetically addresses the enemies that have obviously defeated the people of Judea. He addresses God as his stronghold. Even though the people who have taken him away in exile have broken down the walls of his physical stronghold. His real fortress his real bastion has not been broken down, it is God. In the first stanza his memory is of being under God’s protection, in the second stanza it is God the rock and now a fortress. While God might seem on mute to quote Pete Grieg’s book that wrestles with God’s silence and unanswered prayer, he again calls his down cast soul to have hope in God.

Why are you so down cast O my soul

Why so disturbed with in me

Put your hope in God

I will yet praise him

My saviour and God

What new life for us from this old song.

Is your soul parched because the hunting dog of life are yapping and nipping at your heels or are you caught up and tossed by the river torrents and the seas waves. Do you feel like you’re defeated and heading into exile? Well the psalmist would encourage you to cry out to God. The Psalmist would encourage you to Remember those times when God seemed so close and so real. Remind your soul that God is always close sometimes we just don’t realise how close and give yourself hope. One of New Zealand’s most well know classical and biblical scholars, who I’ve always known as Prof. Blaiklock, but you might know as the New Zealand Herald’s Gramaticus sums up the psalms lesson for us by saying “Perhaps the brave writer’s personal battle with despair is the lesson, the daunting lesson, in this passionate prayer. He has found his way home.”

Remember that in the midst of those waves and rapids that God is a rock and we can hold on to him. I went through a sea cave one day at a place called mercer bay just south of Piha. We ran through the cave till we got to the other end of it, which was open to the sea. Then of course we realised that well that big waves came and flooded the cave, we realised it because well a big wave came and flooded the cave. The current was so strong that it could have ripped us away and out to sea. But I grabbed hold of a rock and it ended up being under water and I couldn’t see it but it was there and it held me. One of friends got swept out to sea and then after the next wave came back through the cave we found that it had swept him back in and he was holding strong to a rock.In God we have that Rock

Why are you so down cast O my soul

Why so disturbed with in me

Put your hope in God

I will yet praise him

My saviour and God

To finish a prayer of St Ignatius of Loyola

Simply entitled a Pray of trust in Jesus

O Christ Jesus

When all is darkness and helplessness

Give us the sense of your presence

Your Love, your strength

Help us to have perfect trust

In your protecting power

So that nothing may frighten or worry us

For living close to you

We shall see Your hand

Your Purpose, Your will through all things

-St Ignatius of Loyola

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Reflection on the Christchurch Earthquake

Christchurch's icon cathedral damaged (twenty people are believed dead in the rubble). Update  5th March no bodies found in cathederal.
At round about 1pm on Tuesday February 23rd the city of Christchurch was hit by a devastating 6.3 magnitude earthquake. The second such major event in six months. The last quake at 7.1 had happened in the early hours of the morning and there was no loss of life. This quake was shallower and closer into the city and the death toll now stands at 103. With several hundred more still missing. It struck at lunch time in what is the second largest city in New Zealand. Buildings were already damaged or weakened by the previous quake.

Here at Auckland University we were in the middle of an orientation tour, new students being shown round the university. I had been joking with some students from Christchurch that they must be pleased to be in a place where the ground wasn't shaking. half an hour later such humour just seemed to be so inappropriate.

It has been amazing watching the response to this disaster, seeing the mayor of Christchurch,Bob Parker, at the helm coordinating things. Working almost round the clock, reportedly suffering from broken ribs. Our Prime Minister John Key has also shown good leadership and timely action, he has been willing to make some of the hard announcements about casualties etc.  Emergency services risking life and limb to enter buildings to search for survivors. The way the whole community and country has come together to help now and look at providing aid, care and resources to look at recovery in  the long haul.  Offers of help coming from all over the world and seeing Urban rescue teams arrive from across the Tasman in Australia, the US, Japan, UK and elsewhere.

It was heartening to see the response from Students, Canterbury and Lincoln Universities are in Christchurch and studies are disrupted for the second semester in a row, however there are over a thousand students who have formed the Student volunteer army to help out and do what they can. Here in Auckland the Students association have launched an appeal and are raining thousands of dollars simply asking Students to give them their loose change.

My thoughts and my prayers go our to the people of Christchurch. people who have lost loved ones and who have lost everything, people tasked with the gruesome roll of recovering bodies, those dealing with emergency aid and those tasked with the daunting and what must seem impossible task of rebuilding. Please pray for them and if you can act. there are various relief funds available. Online donations can be made to the Salvation Army or Red Cross etc.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

What Love is This? A Prayer Of Thanksgiving Based On A Reflection On The Cross

The following is a prayer I wrote for good Friday in 2005. Just recently I re read it and reflected on it (believe it or not on Valentine's day. It does ask a question about what love is and the answer comes not as a Hallmark moment or with chocolates and flowers and candlelight dinners but rather in the midst of a horrific torture scene. Not romantic love but... God's love for us. In a way that is beyond my ability to comprehend.  People will note that it's good Friday context is also why there is not a resurrection stanza... that came with Easter Sunday.

Originally the line "what love is this?" comes from a worship song by New Zealand Band 'Form'. Which starts out as a common garden variety mass produced worship song and then in the midst of a very short chorus seems to become aware of God's presence and love and changes to a simple one line response "Glory, Glory, Glory".

Those reading this prayer will note that the last stanza is in actual fact a verse from Stuart Townsend's beautiful song "How Deep The Fathers Love For Us" ( 1995, Thank You Music)  which on the Good Friday I used it in public worship was the song we sang after this prayer.

What Love is this?

Unlooked for


Freely Given

You O God reached down into our humanity

Even into the darkness of our inhumanity

With the light of your great Love

What Love is this?

A servant


Obedient even unto death

You sent your son Jesus, who befriended the outcast

Healed the blind, the lame and cared for the poor

Taught and showed what our heavenly father is like

What Love is This?


Innocent yet condemned

Beaten and tortured

The sovereign king receives a crown of thorns

The welcoming outstretched hands nailed to a cross

 Nails through the blessed feet that bring good news

What Love is this

Gasping for breath

Excruciating pain


We thought him stricken by God, cursed

Yet it was our iniquity, our wrong doing that he bore

Through his death we have freedom and life

What love is this?

Side pieced

Buried in a tomb

Stone sealed

Beyond our ability to understand you have done it

Paid the price for us and invited us to come to you

What love is this can any grave hold it down?

What love is this?

How deep the father love for us

So rich beyond all measure

That he should give his only son

To make a wretch like me his treasure

Thank you O God for a love like this

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Gun A Car A Blonde... A B grade movie, feeling rather Noir myself and... The Churches Idealised Past

I came across a DVD of the movie 'A Gun A Car A Blonde' in a bargain bin at The Warehouse (a chain store in New Zealand (like Wal-Mart)) it was even cheaper than the usual bargain DVD's which is a usual sign of a B grade movie. However as I am a fan of film noir I bought it.

The film tells the story of Richard Spraggins a terminally ill man who is advised by his friend, Duncan, to escape the pain and suffering he is going through by immersing himself in a 1950's Film Noir fantasy world. In his fantasy he is able to escape a sense of powerlessness by becoming private eye Richard Stone. In that fantasy world he is in charge and able to make sense of all the dysfunctional relationships in his real life world. He becomes the hero of his own story instead of the victim of circumstances, even if it is the battered almost anti-hero film noir way.

The film uses colour and black and white to move us in and out of Richard's real and fantasy life. In the end Richard dies and we are left with two images of this last reality. One is the slumped body in a wheel chair the other is Richard now in colour walking into his fantasy world this time in living vivid colour.

I couldn't help but think of the church when I watched this movie. Churches faced with the dynamic social changes over the past half century and the end of Christendom and many facing the spectre of closure, retreat to an idealised past to escape the pain and the challenges they face, or their image of the future is of a recapturing of that idealised past. be it (in New Zealand ) the days when numbers (at least in the PCANZ were the highest in the 1950's for some it is the Helicon days of the 1980's charismatic movement, where just one line of 'Majesty' and they are having an acid flash back, hand raised ecstatically and expectantly to the sky, "send a revival". Others find they return to the thrill of social protest and achieving break through, maybe even some new non denominational denominations look back to the thrill of the new when they were the flavour of the month and each week new people seemed to stream in the door. Or a historic inner city church wanting to recapture when they had social status and importance when what happened in their pulpits echoed round the city and society. Sadly of course they wait for the hope of a future glory beyond this world which usually resembles a glorified version of their idealised past.
In his Book 'Nudge" Leonard Sweet talks about people looking back to the golden apostolic age, looking back and saying 'those were the days' it seemed so easy for the early church or some other period in history, if only it could be like that again. Sweet is right each period of history in the church has had its positives and negatives and being a genuine disciple of Jesus in those times and sharing the good news has been hard as well as having its positives. But the challenge is to meet the realities we live in.

Almost as an aside it's interesting how the movie refelcts what happens in a lot of churches. Richard Spraggins does not leave his estate to his surviving relative but rather to the two ethnics who have cared for him in his illness. His african american nurse and latino house maid cook.

In the book of Haggai the prophet finds himself dealing with a similar situation (2:1-10) the people had come back from exile and at Haggai insistence had begun to rebuild the temple and as they stopped to celebrate re-establishing the foundations and rededicate the altar, they are to give a festive shout. But there is as much wailing and crying as there is shouts of joy. People remember the way it was before the exile the temple that was built when Israel was at its height as an empire. How can it ever be the same, how can this rag tag remnant be the same. Haggai has to bring them God's word. Not to be lost in the past but to have courage to face the future and work. He calls the leaders to have courage and the people to have courage and reminds them that 'the Lord of hosts' is with them and for them, he will provide the resources. That the glory of the latter temple will be greater than the one before. We too need to hear this message as we work at a time where in the west the Christian message seems to be in decline. The glory of the latter temple of course was that this was the one that Jesus would walk into and destroy and rebuild in three days. The bright future was because as Sweet maintains Jesus goes before us and waits for us not in an idealised black and white past.

I don't want to come across as critical of other church leaders because I have to admit I find myself looking back to the "those were the days in my own life, not for inspiration to move forward but often as a respite from the difficulties I face today. Not to renew my strength life David does in psalm 40 as he faces difficulties by remembering Gods salvation picking him up from the miry clay. Yes there are things in the past that can steady us to face the future but it’s a journey an adventure to something new. In a U2 moment it's "packing our suitcases for a place that we've never been, a place that has to be believed to be seen."

This blog entry is not criticism but encouragement for me to be willing to face the present context and future hope, and not to get drawn into the false hope of a better past.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler (2009) (not really a review but a recomendation)

I watched a DVD of the made for TV movie The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler a couple of nights ago. It was never screened on TV here in New Zealand and it there was only one copy of it at our local video store, hidden amidst the more popular blockbuster new releases. What originally attracted me to it was New Zealand born Actress Anna Panquin who has the star role of Irena Sendler. But when i read the blurb on the back I just had to take it home and watch it... despite the fact that the DVD was produced by Hallmark and I thought 'Oh no not just another hall mark moment.

The film beautifully crafted by director John Harrison tells the story of Irena Sendler who during the second world war was responsible for smuggling 2500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw ghetto and hiding them with Polish families. Irena's story is one of compassion and courage and the highest ideals of humanity in the face of the worst inhumanity. It was inspirational to see this long forgotten story of such heroism.

The Director and Anna Panquin managed to capture something of the ordinariness of Irena as a Catholic social worker in war time Warsaw who say injustice and saw that something needed to be done and in the film the extraordinary actions she takes are not played down, but they again come across with a sense that this is the sort of thing that ordinary human beings should do in the face of injustice and tyranny, there is no super human super hero ascetics here. In fact that is important as it is an act of mercy in the face of the horrendous shadow of the myth of the super human ayran race.

It was important also to have a voice for the stories of women and children and so see a story not told from the perspective of men. In an interview on the Movie Panquin says that this is the sort of role model that young women need to have placed before them. The film does not shy away from some of the issues and problems faced by Panquin, the concern that Jewish children would be forced to convert to Catholicism, the collusion of the polish people with the de-humanisation of the Jews. It also pays homage to the mothers of Jewish Children and polish women who were willing to go to such lengths to see these children saved from the holocaust. I have to admit to crying bucketfuls in the scenes so beautifully crafted where Jewish mothers had to make hard decisions about what to do with their children and the amazing scenes of courageous women opening their arms and their homes to those children. the symmetry of open arms having children wrenched from them and open arms welcoming them was very effective.

The film was an adaptation of a play 'life in a jar' produced by four high school students as part of a history project in 1999. Irena's story was  known in Poland and Israel where she has been greatly honoured but unknown to the rest of the world. These four young women who produced this play (which still travels round the US) are to be thanked for allowing us to hear this story and know of Irena Sendler's courageous heart.

It is a shame that such movies (even though they are made for TV) do not receive the recognition and promotion that they deserve... inspiration not just entertainment.

It was great that Irena Sendler received a noble peace prize nomination in 2007 and the movie finishes with a clip of Sendler deflecting any glory from herself to invite us to remember the mothers who were willing to suffer so much for their children both in willing to give them up and also to welcome them.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Fruit of the Holy Spirit: Part 2...Love Galatians 5:22-23, John 15:9-17

Larry Norman made a very profound observation in his song 1973, that summed up the hippie free love movement of the 1960’s he sang “The Beatles said all you need is love, then they broke up”. It could be the song of the church as well couldn’t it. We use the word Love and see it as a characteristic of God and the essence of our response to God displayed to each other yet...

And Love is a word in our culture that has so many different meanings and understanding attached.

In the book ‘The fruit of the Holy Spirit’ (Trask and Goodall, 2000) that I’m using as a basis for this series the chapter on Love starts with two illustrations of that.

One comes from a minister working with a couple on their wedding. They had written their own vows and while they had kept most of the traditional wording there was one major change.

They wanted to say ‘for richer and poorer; in sickness and in health; until we no longer love each other.’

The second illustration comes from the book letters to an unborn child by David Ireland. Dying from a crippling neurological disease he wrote a series of letters to the child in his wife’s womb that there was a good chance he would never meet.

In one of his letters he wrote

“ Your Mother is very special. Few men know what it’s like to receive appreciation for taking their wives out to dinner when it entails what it does for us. It means that she has to dress me, shave me, brush my teeth, comb my hair, wheel me out of the house, and down the steps open the garage and put me in the car, take the pedals off the chair, stand me up, sit me in the seat of the car, go around to the other side of the car, twist me around so that i’m comfortable, fold the wheelchair, put it in the car, go round to the other side of the car, start it up, back it out, get out of the car, pull the garage door down, get back in the car, and drive off to the restaurant.

And then, it starts all over again; she gets out of the car, unfolds the wheel chair, opens the door, spins me round, stands me up, seats me in the wheel chair, pushes the pedals out, closes and locks the car, wheels me into the restaurant, then takes the pedals off the wheel chair so I won’t be uncomfortable. We sit down to have dinner, and she feeds me throughout the entire meal. And when it’s all over she pays the bill, pushes the wheel chair out to the car again, and reverses the same routine.

And when it’s over-finished-with real warmth she’ll say “honey, thank you for taking me out to dinner.” I never quite know what to answer.”

We have many different understandings when we use the word Love. The Greeks had four different words for love to articulate these differences. Two that are not used in the New Testament.

Eros, which is sexual and romantic love, it’s the feeling you feel when you feel the feeling you’ve never felt before. I think this is the one that the couple getting married had in mind when they thought of people falling in and out of love, because it is that emotional love.

Then there is Storge, which is a word used to denote family loyalty. It’s the special bond that you have within your family.

The two uses in the New Testament are

Phileo, which we are used to hearing in the city of Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love. It is the idea of friendship and companionship. In the New Testament it is used of the love we should have for each other in the church and to life in general. We need this companionship. The Old Testament example is the relationship between King David and Jonathon.

Then there is Agape. It for the Greeks was the highest ideal for love. It is a love that is an act of the will. A love that put the good of another person before one’s own. It’s the word that is used in the list of the fruit of the spirit. It’s the word that Christians found readily described the love we have been shown in Jesus Christ, and to express the depth of the Love Christ calls us to share with each other.

We are looking at the list of the fruit of the Holy Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. There have been many ways of trying to categorise the list of the nine fruit: love, Joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. Breaking down and grouping them in different ways, but Gordon Fee says really with love being first on the list that the rest could simply be an explanation of what it means to love. As we had read out to us today Paul had already told the Galatians that the whole of the law and the outworking of the Christian life could be summed up in the commandment ‘to love your neighbour as yourself’. At the end of his list of gifts of the spirit in 1 Corinthians 12, Paul had told the fractured and divided church that in the end only three things would remain faith, hope and love and the greatest of these is love and then in the next chapter we have the wonderful ‘love is...’ passage where Paul articulates the virtues of this Christian love and in that list are seven of the fruit of the spirit. In the passage we had read out to us from John’s gospel, Jesus also points to love as being the expression of believers abiding in Christ. Jesus sums up his ethical teaching by saying because you abide in my love, love one another. We see Jesus choosing of us to be his followers was that we might bear much fruit.

In fact this emphasis on love as a virtue is unique to Christianity. There are many lists of virtues in the writing of the ancient world and other faiths and the nowhere is there the emphasis on love as in there in the New Testament. There are many other lists of Christian virtues in the New Testament and the only constant is the one Jesus gave us: That we should love one another.

Love is at the heart of our understanding of God. The passage in John 15  starts off by articulating the relationship between Jesus and his Father “just as the father has loved me...” the unique Christian understanding of the trinity is based on Love. That there are three persons within the Godhead; but in this community of Love, this three, love each other so much that they can only be described as one.

Love is at the heart of our understanding how God chooses to relate to us. We too are invited into a relationship with God because of God’s love for us... Just as the father has loved me so have I loved you now remain in my Love,’ says Jesus. The wonderful articulation of that in John 3:16 ‘for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son...’. In fact John will go on in his first epistle to the dispersed and suffering church to say ‘we know what love is not because that we love God but that he first Loved us and sent his son to be an atoning sacrifice.’

Love is at the centre of how we are to respond to God. Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment is ‘and he replied that it was to love the Lord your God with all your mind, all your heart and all your strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself.

God’s love is the example of that love we are to share. ’Greater Love has no man’ says Jesus ‘than he lay down his life for his friends’, this as he shared that last meal with his disciples before his crucifixion. This is the example that you and I as followers of Jesus have. This is the Love we have received. A persevering, making the first move, forgiving, restoring, self sacrificial love that we have freely received from Jesus, it is the Love that we abide in and it is the Love that Jesus calls us share for and with each other and that will bear much fruit. I mentioned it last week that the purpose of fruit is to reproduce the tree that it grows on. Jesus reproduces his love in us and we are to allow the spirit to use us to reproduce that in others.

The love that we are called to share is a communal love. Billy Graham says ‘ love for others is the first sign that we have been born again and that the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives.’ All the way through the new testament, the emphasis on church is not a building or even a service of public worship it’s being a community, that loves each other and that communally loves its enemies and those around it sacrificially. People say well I want to follow Jesus but I’m not sure about the church. I know they are talking of what we would call the institutional church. But Jesus and his family kind of come as a package deal. Being a follower of Jesus is a team sport.

Being communal means it goes beyond simply being in church together. We are simply a crowd when we gather for worship. Jesus ministered to the crowd but he invested most of his time and energy into relating and caring for and loving into a smaller community. The early church meet as a large group for worship and teaching but it also had a whole other raft of relational things happening behind that. People meet in each other’s homes, they shared meals together, they shared resources together with those who had needs. To allow this love for one another to grow we need to move from being a crowd to being a community.  

One of the dangers of such a community is that it can become inward looking and inward focused. But the love we have received and that we share is a including and welcoming love. AS we have been welcomed into God’s people so we are to be looking at sharing that love outside ourselves and welcoming people in: In to our church, our homes, our lives, our faith.

The love we have received and are called to share is a forgiving love. It commits itself to the other person despite the slights and hurt and wrongs that are done. We are a forgiven people a community of grace and we need to be forgiving and grace filled to one another.

The love we have received and are called to share is a resilient love. Remember love never gives in. That’s why patience and faithfulness are fruit of the spirit. It sticks with each other and seeks the others good no matter what. The Old Testament story of God’s dealing with Israel that is the story told over and over again, that God is continually faithful and patient with his people.

Former TV evangelist Jim Bakker, who was sent to prison for fraud, tells of these qualities of love that were shown to him in a very simple act. In his book I Was Wrong he remembers.

"Not long after my release from prison, I joined Franklin Graham and his family at his parents’ old log mountain home for dinner. Ruth Graham (Billy’s wife) had prepared a course dinner. We talked and and laughed and enjoyed a casual meal together like a family.

During our conversation, Ruth asked me a question that required an address. I reached into my back pocket and pulled out an envelope. My wallet had been taken when I went to prison. I had not owned a wallet for over four-and-a-half years.

As I fumbled through the envelope, Ruth asked tenderly, “Don’t you have a wallet, Jim?’

“This is my wallet, I replied.

Ruth left the room, returning with one of Billy’s wallets.

Here is a brand-new wallet Billy has never used. I want you to have it,” she said."

He concluded

"I still carry that wallet to this day. Over the years I have met thousands of wonderful Christian men and women, but never anyone more humble gracious and in a word,”real” than Ruth Graham and her family. ”

We can talk of this love in great cosmic terms but it is a love that works itself out in everyday small and real actions, in hand's on ways as the spirit leads us and we walk in the spirit.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A Child Of The Wind

Bruce Cockburn's song 'A Child Of The Wind' has become a prayer for my life.  A willingness to not be  tamed and domesticated but to be willing to be open to the moving of the Holy Spirit. Except for the first line, which in may case should read "I love the pounding of surf" I relate to the desire to be a follower and always to unfurl the sails of my life for the wind of the spirit to blow.  At 48 I also relate to the line "I'm to old for the ter' (ie child). I post this as an offering and to remind myself at the beginning of 2011 to keep this posture in my life.

I love the pounding of hooves

I love engines that roar

I love the wild music of waves on the shore

And the spiral perfection of a hawk when it soars

Love my sweet woman down to the core

There's roads and there's roads

And they call, can't you hear it?

Roads of the earth

And roads of the spirit

The best roads of all

Are the ones that aren't certain

One of those is where you'll find me

Till they drop the big curtain

Hear the wind moan

In the bright diamond sky

These mountains are waiting

Brown-green and dry

I'm too old for the term

But I'll use it anyway

I'll be a child of the wind

Till the end of my days

Little round planet

In a big universe

Sometimes it looks blessed

Sometimes it looks cursed

Depends on what you look at obviously

But even more it depends on the way that you see

Hear the wind moan

In the bright diamond sky

These mountains are waiting

Brown-green and dry

I'm too old for the term

But I'll use it anyway

I'll be a child of the wind

Till the end of my days

Mystery; A Prayer of Thanksgiving and Confession

I often find myself staring off into the distance wondering about the great mystery and paradox of the Christian faith... like the idea that God who created it all, who is vast beyond comprehension, with no beginning and end ...should also be the one who desires relationship and is imminent closer than any friend. I have tried to capture something of this in this humble prayer of thanks and confession designed for public worship.

It is a mystery

As vast and deep as the night sky

We can sit on a hill and stare off into space

Or look at the ever-changing ocean that neighbours this place

Yet O God it’s a mystery

Beyond the scope of reason and science

Telescopes, microscopes

Maps, charts, grand theories

Complex mathematics that strives to explain it all

Beyond our ability to comprehend

Beyond all there is the mystery

You O God are eternal, with no beginning and end

You spoke and it came into being

Beyond our wildest dreams

Beyond our hopes

Beyond what we deserve

Beyond what we could ever imagine

Beyond our ability to tie down and theologise

A great mystery of love and grace

You eternal God love us

You have chosen to reveal who you are to us

You sent your son to become one of us

You died to give us life

You chose to live with us, by your spirit

And call us your children

You draw us together to be one in you

You invite to witness to your goodness

To be your hands and feet

It is too wonderful to comprehend

It doesn’t make sense to us

Sometimes it offends our sense of justice

Yet it is liberating and hope filling

That as we admit what we’ve done wrong

You forgive and restore

Christ’s death has paid for it all

Our going our own way, breaking your law

Our not loving as you love

Our withholding of forgiveness

Our wanting it all for ourselves

Our refusal to share

Our writing others off

Lord God we confess that we have done this

We’ve blown our chances

We don’t deserve your kindness

Yet you are righteous and just

We hear the words “you are forgiven”

The stain is gone and we are clean again

It is a mystery beyond us

It is too marvellous for us to comprehend

But you O God are with us today

Your presence is a reality

You invite us into a relationship with you

So we ask that we might be filled afresh with your spirit today

That we might abide with you and you with us

Fill us that your love and grace might flow through us

Fill us to be channels of your love

To your glory.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Parable Of The Lost Sheep, Lost Coin, Prodigal Son Through The Lense of mMatthew 23:15

15 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.

I've been on a camp with young adults called 'Going Further' on Great Barrier Island for the past week. Each day started with a Bible study and it was interesting that on one day in my personal daily readings I READ THE PASSAGE IN Matthew's gospel called the seven woes for the Pharisees and then in the morning as a community we studied the parable of the prodigal son (and the older brother... as it is called in the NRSV).
I wondered if after reading Matthew 23:15 with its assertion that the Pharisees were willing to go to great lengths to get even one convert, that they might of been able to issue a amen to the parable of the lost sheep. They may have seen it as an affirmation of their efforts, the lost coin may have bought up some issues with God seen as a women, but I wonder and speculate and throw out there that maybe Jesus was inviting the  Pharisees in to sharpen the contrast and punch line of the final parable.  A bit like Amos with his judgements against Israels neighbours and enemies which had the listeners agreeing and amening with the prophet and opens them up to hear the judgement against Judah itself.
In Matthew Jesus says that the Pharisees do go seeking the lost one, maybe even gentile who wants to become a god fearer, but what is challenged is their attitude their own family. What does it say about our attitude to the lost around us? How we reflect God's grace shown to those who we find 'unclean'...
I'm just throwing it out there... In a disturbing way I find myself hearing Jesus parables for them the position of the Pharisees position, they were the ones who thought they had it sus'ed as God's people... they were the religious ones and just maybe we need to hear Jesus speak to that tendency in all of us.