Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Jesus Guide To Happiness (3).... Blessed are the Meek (matthew 5:5, Psalm 37:1-11)

The image above is of a lunch counter, like one you might see in any cafĂ© or diner the world over, yes it’s a bit dated, maybe you’d find it in a trendy place with retro 1960’s styling . It may seem strange but it is a prized exhibit in the Smithsonian Museum of American history in Washington DC. It holds a very important place in American and world history, and helps us to get our head around this unusual word Meek that Jesus says are blessed and will possess the land.

On February 1 1960 four students walked into the Woolworth’s in Greensboro North Carolina. Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil, Ezell Blair Jr and David Richmond. They bought stationary for their studies, they were scholarship students at North Carolina A&T state University. On the way out of the store they decided that as they had bought stuff from the store they should also be able to buy and eat food at the stores lunch bar. They sat down and ordered sodas, coffee and doughnuts. Because they were black they were refused service, the dinner was segregated. The four decided they would stay seated until they were served. They didn’t protest or complain or get angry they simply sat and waited. The store owner is recorded as saying “They can sit there all they want, it’s nothing to me”. Next day twenty black students came and sat at the lunch counter and asked to be served. Crowds came and they were harassed by pro-segregationists. The day after over 300 turned up, many were arrested for disturbing the peace and their place was taken by another student. The movement spread through the South and in the North picket lines appeared outside Woolworths and other chain stores segregated in the south. The students were always dressed in Sunday best in Nashville the rules for sit-ins were
“Do show yourself friendly on the counter at all times. Do sit straight and always face the counter. Don't strike back, or curse back if attacked. Don't laugh out. Don't hold conversations. Don't block entrances. They were to think of the non-violent teaching of Jesus Christ Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr

Well over 70,000 people participated in the non-violent  sit-ins and they generated over 3,000 arrests, the house of a prominent black lawyer defending students in court in Nashville was bombed. Woolworths had to change its policy because of the impact it had on their profits and the Civil Rights Bill in 1964 declared such segregation illegal.

Blessed are the Meek says Jesus for they will inherit the earth…

Meek is not a word we are familiar with these days… we tend to equate it with weak or timid. There is no way that we see people who are meek as those who would inherit the earth, AS those who would effect such sweeping change as those four black students. We see that as the province of the strong the forceful and the powerful. Those who promote themselves that climb to the top doing whatever it takes. But Jesus says Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth.

The origin of the word used in scripture for meek comes from the field of domestic animals, and it gives us insight into meekness that has nothing to do with weakness.

If you’ll excuse the product placement and no we are not getting any sponsorship,  behind me is a picture of  the magnificent Budwiser Clydesdales. They are animals that are specifically breed for their strength. They are capable of pulling huge weights. These days they only get to perform this task in ceremonies and shows and parades. Around them is the cheer of the crowd, fireworks and other loud noises, flash bulbs going off, people wanting to touch them, they are so meek, well disciplined, that they are able to calmly continue doing what they are trained to do in that chaotic environment, they don’t freeze they don’t react, and you could imagine the damage they could do if they go spooked and stampeded. They are blinkered and focused. Their strength is in check and used appropriately, harnessed for a common goal, a common good.

“Perhaps”, says columnist Carolyn Arends, “Meekness is strength that is submitted to an appropriate authority.”

AS we wrestle with what it is to be Meek we are fortunate that Jesus is quoting from the Psalm we had read out to us this morning, Psalm 37, a Psalm which Martin Luther calls “the real commentary  upon this passage”.

The Psalm deals with one aspect of the problem of evil wrestled with in much of the Jewish wisdom literature … that bad people prosper and the righteous are left to suffer and struggle. The psalmist starts by telling his readers not to fret about this, In fact he says it three times, Don’t fret, Don’t fret, don’t fret… Don’t react with anger or rancour or jealousy, rather that the meek, the humble are to put their trust in the LORD, to trust God’s justice and righteousness, that God is sovereign. To find their delight not in the things of this world but in God and God’s provision. They and we  are to rust our ways to the Lord and to wait on the LORD.

“When we believe that God is in charge of the World” says Mark Woodley, “it’s easy to be meek, to patiently trust God for his way and his timing to set the world right.”

Waiting of course is not a passive activity. It’s not just sitting round on a park bench steering off into space. In Jesus other memorable message form a mountain the Ollivette discourse, on the mount of olives outside Jerusalem, recorded in Matthew chapters 24 and 25, Jesus tells his followers in a series of parables that to wait for God’s kingdom was…   to  treat their fellow servants well, to love one another, to keep their lamps burning, to nurture their spiritual walks, to invest their talents and gifts in the kingdom of God,  and to sheepishly care for the least. Psalm 37 does the same it says in the face of the supposed prosperity of the wicked and their unjust ways to keep on doing good. You get a foretaste of what Paul will tells the Church in Rome in Romans 12 “do not return evil for evil but overcome evil with good.” And Jesus  “Love your Enemies”, from later in the Sermon on the Mount, both widows into what it means to be meek.

To also assist in understand what it means to be meek, it’s good to look at the two people in scripture who are described as being meek and humble, neither of which can be seen as weak people. The first is Moses, in Numbers 12:3 Moses is said to be the most Humble or meek person on the earth. His own siblings Aaron and Miriam had criticised him publicly and it says that Moses did not respond by lashing out at them or defend himself. He is silent before them. He is more interested in God’s glory than his own, God’s will for the people not his own ego. God calls Aaron and Miriam to account and instead of a fist pump from Moses, a yes God, we see him pleading with God on their behalf.

Jesus is the other person who is called meek, or humble and lowly of spirit.. In Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus says

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light

The Jewish religious leaders had seen the law as a burden for people to carry and a whip for people’s backs. But Jesus says that his burden is light because he is that perfectly domesticated animal who trusts God and despite all efforts to stop him from doing so, commits his ways to the LORD. Therefore we can accept his Yoke because it means Jesus walks with us and teaches us to walk in that way as well. He does not want to Lord it over us he is the lord alongside and with us, the servant king who calls us friends not servants.

Probably many of you tuned into to watch the royal wedding last year. Even you blokes out there, maybe because the rugby wasn’t that good or to plicate the lady in your life and well let’s be honest because deep down most of us are romantics. Right? It was amazing to see all the pomp and ceremony and adulation that went along with the wedding of the future heir to the throne. Glistening carriages, horses, thousands of dollars’ worth of trees carried into the  cathedral, world leaders politicians celebrity footballers and their pop star wives, months of palates so the brides maid would look great in her dress. The most relaxed and down to earth moment was Wills and Kate   driving back to their residence for a bit of rest and to change into new cloths for the not so formal reception, they drove in the Aston Martin they had borrowed from William’s brother Harry. It is an example of what we equate with monarchy.

Next week is Palm Sunday and we see another King, inaugurating his kingdom, parading into a city, this time humble and sitting on a donkey. Not a conqueror on a white charger coming to take over at the end of a violent campaign, not a king who comes to a palace to waited on hand and foot. This king came not to be served but to serve; he would wash the feet of his disciples, a task reserved for the most menial and lowly. A king who did not come to impose his will by force.  But in the garden, when faced with death and defeat, prayed not my will but yours be done. Whose coronation was not with a glittering crown but a crown of thorns? A king who did punish his people for their transgressions rather he took their sin on himself and made a way for them to come and know life in all its abundance. Who as the writer of Hebrew’s will say for the joy that was set before him, you and I fset free from sin and restored to life in Christ, suffered the shame of the cross. This is meekness.

Why do the meek inherit the earth or as Psalm 37 puts it the land, refereeing to the land promised to Abraham and entered by the Israelites coming out of captivity in Egypt?..  Because the land was always an inheritance that was to be given by God. It was a land of promise given by God. Likewise the kingdom of God is not for the proud and the haughty, it’s not to be grasped or won by human endeavour, it is a gift given by God and it is God that will see it given to those who trust and depend on him: The poor of spirit who know their need for God, those who mourn and look to God for comfort. They will possess it because of God’s grace and because they will not be put off trusting God and waiting on him, they won’t be put off by personal glory, they won’t be put off by personal slight or suffering, They won’t be put off by the glistening   lure  of fame and fortune. They will sit at the lunch bar in the face of injustice and will look straight ahead and not respond negatively… rather keep their eyes on the prize. They will trust in the Lord and wait on God.

How does that apply to our lives and our church? Two ways

Firstly, like the rest of our western culture, the church is not immune to being caught up in celebrity culture, in what is aptly called worshiping pop idols. There is a tendency to see the big strong mega churches as the epitome of success, to equate God’s presence and blessing with high Attendance and buildings and cash flow. As if it God’s blessing was as easy as ABC. We can put the successful pastors of such churches on pedestals, attend their seminars, buy their how to books and their motivational DVD’s. ..and forget that maybe in the kingdom of God there are others who we should value for their faith: They are not those who Jesus might say are blessed. Rather the minister and congregation of a small church who have for years kept faithful to the gospel and loved the people God has put across their path. The woman who is praying for her non-believing husband and children day after day, trusting the situation to God. The widow’s mite in Mark and Luke’s gospel, where it seemed a small amount given but was a massive gift and faith. The paraplegic man who is able to say with utmost conviction, my favourite hymn is “count your blessings, one by one”.

Secondly, often the church does not face change with meekness.  We can be very good at saying we want things our way,  the way we want them. We want the music and the traditions we like that are meaningful to us. We do it like this and it ain’t going to change. Equally it can be well we’re going to do it this way because it’s the new way, we can worship innovation, its new so it’s got to be right and better… and you’d better say right, right. Instead of people coming together with the attitude of meekness not my will  but yours be done… how are we best to reach out to the least and lost and welcome them home to Christ. How will a new person connect with what we do here? Sometimes I fear we do not possess the Promised Land and its harvest because we are all too possessive of what we’ve got and what we like. We're possessive our our way... not the way.

Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth, they will inherit the land. Knowing our spiritual poverty turns us toward Jesus, mourning for our sins and the suffering of the world causes us to look for the comfort of God’s presence and being meek causes us to trust God’s sovereignty, trusting that he will do what has said he will do. So we keep on waiting and doing the things that we know God calls us to do; deepen our love for God deepen our love for one another and deepen our care for justice and the least. It allows us to treat people with grace and forgiveness, gentleness and patience. We find meekness leads to peace because in the end it deals with trusting God to be God and with not trying to do his job.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

To You O God Belongs Eternal Praise Prayer of Thanksgiving MArch 25th 2012

To you, O God, belongs eternal praise,

All your creatures will praise you

All the earth will sing of your great love

So we join our voices this morning with your creation

We raise our voices with the dawn chorus of this land of birds

We Join our praises with your people down through the ages.

We will tell of your greatness

We will speak of your goodness


To You, O God, belongs eternal praise

The land we live in reflects the wonder of your creation,

The sea in raging storm speaks of your awesome power

The peace you bring is reflected in times of sun sparkled stillness

Your provision in the richness of the soil and life giving rain

Your providence in the riches of this land of ours

Your grandeur in the bush clad hills and snow-capped ranges

Your eternal nature in the vast star fields of the clear night sky

Your love reflected in a mother caring for her child


To You O God belongs eternal praise

The bounty you provide for us speaks of your goodness

We have enough to eat, more than enough

We have shelter from the cold and the rain

We are clothed for the seasons

We make ends meet and can share with the poor

We are loved by family and friends

We have family and friends and stranger to love in return

In your call to serve you we have meaning and purpose


To You O God belongs eternal praise

The grace we have received from you is so amazing

We had turned our back on you but you didn’t write us off

You sent your son Jesus to be one of us and show your love

He is the good shepherd who came looking for the lost

He healed the sick proclaimed good news to the poor

He welcomed home the outcast and called the sinner to repent

He is the good friend who laid his life down for us

In Christ’s life death and resurrection we have been set free


To you, O God,  belongs eternal praise

We come before you and confess our sin

We have not cared for creation, as we should,

It has been exploited and its bounty has not be shared out to all

We have been silent and inactive and let injustice bloom and grow

We have not loved as we should

We confess that we have not freely given as you freely give

We have done things that you told us not to

We have left undone the good you call us to do

Have mercy lord

Forgive our sins we pray 

We do not deserve your love but you give it to us

As we confess ours sin you have been faithful and just and forgiven us,

You have cleansed us from all wrong

Pour out your spirit afresh upon us this morning

Lead us into all truth that we may know you more

Empower us to bear witness to you O Lord

Enable us to love as you love

May our lives bring honour to your name


To you, O God, belongs eternal praise

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Jesus Guide To Happiness (2)... Blessed Are Those Who Mourn (Matt 5:4 Haggai 2:1-9)

When my mother died I became very aware of the truth of Jesus saying blessing are those who mourn for they will be comforted. She was 86 and had fallen and broken her hip and while recuperating from a hip replacement operation had suffered a massive stroke and  about twelve days after that she died.  I had gone to attend the general assembly. We’d just  had the opening worship service when I got the news that mum had died. I was standing between three very close friends. One who, from Titirangi days, who knew my mother very well. The other two I had come to value as friends and colleagues from my time at the School of Ministry in Dunedin.  A set of car keys were trust into my hand and I was lent a flash  4 WD Toyota land cruiser to head from St Kent’s to the Waitakarei hospital, to be with my Mum.

The next  Sunday, the day before her funeral,  we’d gone to church as a family at Massey Presbyterian Church and it is one of the only times I have ever walked into a Church and experienced God waiting there and speaking to me through the sermon.  The minister was away and so an elder who just happened to be an old friend of mine was preaching. He spoke of only two weeks before having had to speak at his father’s funeral and how he was working through the grief and sorrow of that and preached on a psalm, that showed David working through similar grief and coming to a stage of trust and comfort because of the presence of God.  I was a mess, tears pouring down my face, but God meet me in a special way. The pain was still there it didn’t miraculously go away, but I was comforted.

Christopher Serber says that “blessed are those who mourn” is probably Jesus most paradoxical saying. “Even if I will be comforted” he says, and lets be real we live in a world where not all who mourn are comforted, “how is my mourning, in anyway blessing?”  It does seem to be totally at odds it’s like saying happy are you when you are sad.

 Equally Seber says” it just may be one of the most weighty sayings of Jesus as well.”

“Life is filled with sorrow and joy, God’s love is not defined by how much He lavishes us with joy. God’s love is perfect because God is perfect, not because we are always perfectly happy. “

We’re on a journey this year looking at the Sermon on the Mount in  Matthew’s gospel… looking at Jesus first teaching to his first disciples, because this teaching and our putting it into practice in our lives is, I believe, of paramount importance to what it means to be the church and follow Jesus.  

As I mentioned last week  Dietrich Bonheoffer said…”The restoration of the church will surely come from a new kind of community, which will have nothing in common with the old but a life of uncompromising adherence to the Sermon on the Mount in imitation of Christ. I believe the time has come to rally people together for this.”

We are starting our look at the Sermon on the Mount , by looking at what are called the beatitudes.  A series of statements Jesus makes about who in the kingdom of heaven are Blessed.  The kingdom of Heaven has often been called God’s upside down kingdom, because it goes counter to the world we live in where we consider the rich and those who  have an easy life, those who have all they need, who receive public acclaim; the beautiful, rich and famous as blessed, they have it all made. But just maybe, Jesus simply tells of the world the right way up and we’ve been used to standing on our head so long we don’t see. In fact says Jesus it’s great news that it’s not if you try hard or work at it, but rather if you already like this, poor of spirit, mourning, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, because you’ve almost there, you’re in the right place to encounter God’s goodness.

I love cricket so this week while I was preparing for today I had the radio on in the back ground to listen to the test match from Hamilton. And let’s face it  Blessed are those who mourn’ is a great motto for black caps fans. Right! On Thursday afternoon it started raining on and off and the players went off the field. It was only light rain and Talk back host Darcy Watergraves, went off. He suggested that the cricketers should get out there and play, not because it was an important game between two nations, a fierce combat, but rather that the cricketers were professionals and they were paid to entertain and amuse us and they’d better get out there on the pitch and amuse us. It exemplified for me the way in which the western world seeks to entertain and amuse ourselves. To the point of distraction. to Avoid pain and sorrow. It’s a multibillion dollar industry. With the advent of reality TV, even the real life personal struggles and woes of others has become little more than fodder for our amusement and material to plug the gaps between adds offering us stuff that will make us happy and instantaneously solve all our problems. Even Christianity has been portrayed in some quarters as a fix all… come to Jesus and it will be all right.  Christopher Seber says

 “The social and religious Schizophrenia of our age astounds me. On the one hand we run at a near fevered pace in our constant pursuit of present entertainment and happiness, on the other hand we ignore the reality of the brokenness of life. Is it really surprising that so many people are filled with anxiety and depression when they are bombarded by the incessant lie that they are supposed to be always happy? There are things in this life which bring us to our knees. There are thing pains in this life that crush us to the core of our being. Outward happiness often masks broken hearts which have never been allowed to grieve.”

If we are prepared to mourn it means that we are willing to face sadness and sorrow and pain and wrong and be open to the possibility, in Christ, of comfort and a way through.

If we are prepared to mourn and grieve over the wrongs in our lives, our sins, and turn to God knowing our spiritual poverty, we open ourselves up to knowing the forgiveness of God. Of being reconciled with God through Christ’s death on the cross, we open ourselves to the possibility of reconciliation with one another as we face and seek to set right what we have done wrong in the past. I remember Andrew Dunn, a Presbyterian Minister who was central to the establishing of Spirit Growth Ministries in New Zealand saying ‘he was finding it hard to have his sin forgiven lately’, he was refereeing of course to the lack of prayers of confession in public worship, that there was a trend to forget this as part of our churches liturgy.  Maybe we were not taking the problem of sin seriously, we wanted to sweep it under the carpet. And as I often tell people, all that happens when you sweep things under the carpet is that there ends up being a big lump that you’ll trip over eventually. Or maybe we just didn’t want people to feel bad. But notice he said having your sins forgiven… because along with our confession and mourning over what we had done wrong is the great affirmation, that I always use in public prayers, the great comfort from John 1:9 “if we say we are without sin we call God a liar, but if we confess our sins God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us of all unrighteous”. Our comfort as we confront the falleness and brokenness of our lives comes from knowing the very character of God. God is faithful, God is just and will forgive us our sins.

It does not mean that we don’t have to deal with the consequences and damage those things have done to us and others, but we know God has forgiven us and is with us as we work through restoration and renewal. I mentioned the first steps in the twelve step programme for dealing with addictions was acknowledging powerlessness in the face of our addiction and our need for a higher power, for God to free us… The next steps deal with taking an honest and often painful look at where we are at. What we have done to harm others and ourselves, to grieve over them, seek forgiveness and make amends. It’s the same as we deal with our sin addiction, It’s the process of repentance, sorrow over the wrong direction we have gone and are still going and with God’s forgiveness and grace, turning round to live in a new and different way… following Jesus.
Being willing to mourn also means that we are willing to face the pain and suffering in this world and allow it to affect us, allow ourselves to face it and respond. Sadly we’ve have become afflicted by what writer Susan Moeller calls Compassion Fatigue, the way the news and media works we are confronted with a diet of disaster after disaster after human tragedy by the media… the pain and suffering of the world makes great TV pictures. We are bombarded with images of despair and death, devastation and depravation, all of which are designed to trigger an emotional reaction within us, but leave us with no real avenue to respond, or if we do we find ourselves worn out by the next one, the next night, the next news cycle and it wears down our ability to mourn and to seek comfort.

But to mourn for injustice and the suffering of others in the kingdom of Heaven says Jesus, is to find comfort. To know God’s presence with us… to enable us to be lead by our comforter the Holy Spirit to react and act.  The genocide in Rwanda in 1994 was and is an open saw on the soul of that nation and on the world. Many were locked down and captive to an unhealthy sorrow, a sorrow that could easily have lead to more hatred more violence more death. World Vision was involved in the after math of the killing fields and ran seminars to help people deal with the pain and suffering they were going through, to process their grief in a healthy way. Forgiveness and reconciliation was the only way forward. One women who attended there seminar had had 50 of her close family members killed, beaten to death by mobs of people who had been her neighbours. Her next door neighbour  who had participated in the killings was in prison for them. She wrote to him to say that she forgave him and then prepared a meal for the man’s father. The meal was full of good food and many tears. But for this woman, whose story I have only seen in a world vision video, she found comfort in putting into action the words of Jesus. It also shows I think that fact that we too as followers of Jesuc can become part of God’s comfort for those who mourn. It’s our calling as people of the kingdom, as Paul says in Romans 12 “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.”

I want to deal with a specific kind of mourning, that I think is relevant for the church today. Specifically many mainline, or as some have taken to calling us lameline churches. There is a lot of sorrow and mourning round as people look back and remember, the way it used to be. We all have an idealised past… be it when the church was full and everyone came in their Sunday best and sang those wonderful old hymns with great gusto, and ministers even dressed right… right. The kids would all sit still and be quite. By the way can I say I love to have kids at worship, and if they make some noise well it’s a sign of life. Maybe the charismatic movement in the 1980’s… there are people who sing one line of Majesty and it’s like an acid flashback. Maybe it was the way it was back home in the Islands, I’ve read a book that says if you want to know what church was like in Samoa in the 1950’s don’t go the islands go to Auckland. Now people see things changing and growing smaller and where have our children gone. They mourn. It’s not like it was back then, its not like it was in those faded photos on the Sunday school hall.
This is the situation that the Old Testament passage this morning was from. The Jews had come back from captivity in Babylon, Haggai the prophet had encouraged them to not just focus on their own economic prosperity but to rebuild the temple as a symbol of God and their faith being at the central to their lives. They’d cleared off the rubble and rebuilt the altar and now at the dedication as they re to give a festive shout, many were crying instead… how could it be like it used to be. How could this temple being built, by a rag tag group of returnees be anything like the temple built at the height of Israel’s power as an empire. Haggai’s words come as comfort for that mourning. Not to always look back but to take courage and to work to rebuild and restore. He says to the leaders and the people to take courage. Why because God is with them. God is for them. God is with us so we should take courage and build… I’m not proposing a new building program, but we work with Christ to bring living stones, using the metaphor the book of Peter uses for those called in Christ, together to build the dwelling place of God.

Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted. In Jesus Kingdom if we have surrendered ourselves to Jesus and know our need for God as we face the grief and sorrow of life we have Jesus word that there will be comfort. That comfort does not come like some sort of get out of jail free card. It comes from the promise that God is with, even in the midst of the pain and suffering of life. That God is for us, that comfort comes from his direct presence and in John’s gospel the Holy Spirit is called a word which has been translated into English as our comforter, and also present in the love and care of fellows Christians who are willing to laugh with those who  laugh  and weep with those who weep. Blessed are you when you mourn, for you will be comforted.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Faithful God... A Prayer of thanksgiving and confession... March 18th 2012

Faithful God

You always keep your promises

Your love for us is strong and constant

There is no other like you

This morning we come to worship you

We praise you for who you are

And we give you thanks for what you have done

You are eternal and almighty, all knowing and all loving

Before the mists of the beginnings you were

Long after it all winds up and finishes you will be

There is nothing that is too hard for you

There is nothing that is hidden away from your sight

You are always just and kind in your dealings with us

We deserve your enmity for sin but you have showed us mercy

You made us in your image

The best of who we are male and female, reflects your goodness

Our creativity and artistry reflects your amazing creation,

You spoke and it came in to being

Our understanding, reflects just a glimpse of your wisdom

Our ability to love and have compassion your grace and mercy

We praise you we are wondrously and fearfully made

We turned away from you and you sent your son to call us back

In Jesus you became one of us and dwelt in our midst

You proclaimed good news to the poor and Healed the sick

You called the outcast and sinner back to friendship with God

Our sins are forgiven because of Jesus death on the cross

We have new and eternal life because you raised him from the dead

By your spirit you dwell within us

Just and righteous God

We confess before you that we have sinned

We do not love as you love

We have broken our promises

We have broken relationships

We do not value your image in others

We leave undone the good you call us to do

We ask O God that you would forgive us

There is hope O Lord because of your great love

There is hope for us O Lord because of your Son Jesus

If we confess our sins you are faithful and just and forgive us our sins

You cleanse us from all unrighteousness and make us new

Today we hear that good news

We are forgiven and invited to make a clean start

Fill us afresh with you spirit O Lord

Help us to reflect you more clearly to all around us

Bind us together in love

Empower us to witness to you and your gospel goodness

That the world you love may know you more

That we may work with you to see your kingdom come

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

Monday, March 12, 2012

A Prayer of Thanksgiving and Confession: From these Shakey Isles (11th March 2012)

Holy, Holy, holy Lord God almighty.

We do raise our voices to praise you today o great and faithful God.

From the shore of our shaky island home we acknowledge that even when the world around us changes that you are constant in your character and your love.

More solid than the ground beneath us; such a sure foundation.

In our times where as soon as we’ve got our head around something it seems to be out of date

or get something off the shelf and its obsolete

we can rely on you  that you lead and guide us

that you hold our times in your hands

You are gracious and full of mercy

Not only in moments of rest and tranquillity

But in the midst of the storms of life

In the midst of struggles and conflict

We can be still and know that you are God

That you are the one who is sovereign and in control

That you are eternal and transcendent

But also with and for us and so close

In this we find strength and hope

We praise you 

That even though you were the one who spoke and it all came into being who has no beginning or end

That in Jesus Christ you’ve also walked in our shoes

Experienced our highs and lows, joys and sorrows, pleasure and pain

Jesus we praise you

That you became one of us and showed us God’s great love

Revealing God as our heavenly dad

Healing with a touch

Embracing the outcast

Calling people not servants but friend

That because of your death in the darkness and violence of Calvary

We can have forgiveness, a clean slate and a fresh start

In your being raised back to life we can have new and abundant life

Eternal life that steps through the veil of death into your light

That as you’ve sent your Holy Spirit

We have a guide and enabler who leads us into all truth and empowers us to witness to the hope we have in you.

Thank you our most wonderful God

We also ask today O God

That you would forgive us

We admit we have sinned and confess them before you this morning

We have acted as if there was no God or even if we were God

We are full of pride and have chosen to go our way not your way

We want to turn again and follow you

We have put our hands to things that have been wrong and unjust

We have not loved, as you would have us love

We have been so concerned with our stuff and our agenda that we have been impervious to your call to care in our world

Forgive us O God

Thank you that you are faithful and just and as we have confessed our sins you have forgiven us and cleansed us from all unrighteousness

The slate is clean and the stain is gone.

O gracious and caring God in the midst of our still moments and our chaotic days, When things are going swimmingly or we feel like were just treading water we pray you would fill us afresh with your spirit that we know you presence, your comfort and your guidance. That we may testify to the great light and life we have found in you.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Jesus Guide To Happiness...(the Beattitudes part 1)... Blessed are the Poor in Spirit.

On Sunday March 11 2012 I started a new phase of my ministry. I took my first service as the minister at St Peter's Peresbyterian Church, Ellerslie Mt Wellington. It's in my home city of Auckland New Zealand.  I will be posting my sermons and prayers from public worship on my blog as well as reflections and book and film reviews.

I have ti admit that for my first message on the beattitudes I found myself very dependant on Mark Woodley and his great commentary on Matthew's Gospel "God with us" in the Resonate Series.

When I came and preached for a call back in January I chose as my text Jesus call to his first disciples to “come and follow me and I will makeyou fishers of Men”.  I wanted to use that to articulate a vision of our ministry; that it is following Jesus into relationship with God, into Community, a special relationship with each other as God’s people, ministry, doing the things that Jesus did, and mission that Jesus would make us fishers of men. It seems appropriate to follow on from that, at the start of our new life together, by following on from that in Matthew’s Gospel, if I’m aloud to over use the term, to see what it means to follow on, following Jesus…

After Jesus calls his disciples we have a summary of his preaching tour of Galilee and then a record of Jesus teaching his new disciples in what we call the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew 5:1 tells us that Jesus saw the crowd and he sat down and called his disciples and began to teach them. He calls those who have chosen to follow him together to instruct them about what it means to be a follower, what it means to be in the kingdom of Heaven. The Sermon on the Mount has been called by some the manifesto of the Kingdom, out lining what the reign of God breaking into the realms of human beings will mean, and look like. Others have called it the job description of a follower of Jesus. Not only did Jesus teach his disciples but we note the crowd was present as well, almost as if they were eavesdropping and had the chance to see what it meant to follow Jesus and see if they wanted to apply to be a follower.

We’re not doing this simply to follow on through Matthew’s Gospel; it’s not just an academic exercise. As a congregation we have a great challenge before us. Like many congregations in the western world we are wrestling with decline and the shadow of closure and the response to that of rediscovering God’s call to mission to our community and world; to change and to reach out and grow. This is where I believe the Sermon on the Mount is specifically important for this time, this place, this context. Dietrich Bonheoffer, imprisoned and executed in Nazi Germany, says that

 “The restoration of the church will surely come from a new kind of community, which will have nothing in common with the old but a life of uncompromising adherence to the Sermon on the Mount in imitation of Christ. I believe the time has come to rally people together for this.”

Over the next eight weeks, with a break for Easter, we are going to start looking at the Sermon on the Mount by exploring the beatitudes that Jesus starts his sermon with: The Blessed ares, and you have to be careful how you say that. And if the Sermon on the Mount is a job description for a follower of Jesus, then the beatitudes are the character traits for a follower. And today we are going to explore the first beatitude… Blessed are those who are poor of spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

Mark Woodley sees the beatitudes, and the whole Sermon on the Mount like this. He says “In a practical sense, we must sit at Jesus feet and say, “lord, we’ve tried to be good and happy and loving but we need help-lot’s of help! We need to learn life from you. So we’re going to sit and listen. How would you have us live?” It would be easy to think that Jesus would simply give us a list of things we need to do, maybe a series of tips and “how toos” , that Jesus might simply be a new Moses and give a new set of laws but as Woolley says “Jesus description of life in the Kingdom isn’t about trying harder, gaining power and control and then mastering the spiritual life. It begins with an act of powerless and surrender.” It begins with acknowledging our need for God.

This goes counter intuitive in our world today. We do not equate poverty and weakness, physical or spiritual as a sign of being blessed, or as a reason for people being happy.  WE have a fascination with the lifestyles of people with wealth and a life of ease and trouble free, we see them as blessed. Even the Jews had this understanding they saw such things as evidence of God’s blessing.  In the book of Job his friends saw his wealth and health and family as a sign that he was pleasing God and was blessed and when it all went wrong that it was a sign of God’s displeasure.

 In our advertising saturated world we are all told that all our problems can be solved and we can be made happy again by buying and using a particular product or obtaining a certain standard of living.

 We see people who are happy and blessed as those who have found purpose and meaning, who have it all sorted. They’ve got a good marriage, nice kids, the right job. We use words life self-fulfilment and self-actualisation, to express what humans need to be happy. We don’t see it by acknowledging that we don’t have what it takes, that we are impoverished. 

 In the twelve steps programme, that is used in many addiction recovery programmes, like alcoholics anonymous, the first step to recovery, and wholeness,  to right living is the admission that a person is powerless in the face of their addiction and they need the help of a higher power to free them and make them whole.  Joan Chittister says that Jesus starting point is also what we may need in society today  "Dependence on God” she says “may be what is lacking in a society where consumerism and accumulation have become the root diseases”, and addiction,  “of a world in which everything is not enough and nothing satisfies."

Jesus staring point also goes counter intuitive to how we often view and practise our religion and faith. We can see even Christianity as doing things that will make God like us. That will put us right with God that will merit and earn God’s favour. Henri Nouwen, says to do this is spiritual death.
“without Jesus words of blessing you will go on running helter skelter, always anxious and restless, always lustful and angry, never fully satisfied. You know that this is the compulsiveness that keeps us going and busy, but at the same time makes us wonder whether we are getting anywhere in the long run. This is the way to spiritual exhaustion and burn-out.”
Jesus says those who are blessed are those who know they are spiritual poor that they are dependent on God’s goodness and grace for life, because theirs is the kingdom of heaven. They know their inadequacy and so trust God. It is about the grace of God.

The kingdom of heaven says Jesus is not earned or merited it is not a reward, rather it is a gift given. It is all about the grace of God. And when we are aware of our spiritual poverty and our need for God and surrender ourselves to Jesus it opens the door to all the others things of the Kingdom.

Once again Mark Woodly puts it like this.

When we see God’s offer of grace in the midst of our spiritual poverty, it’s easy to mourn for our sins. We are able to face what we have done wrong and how we have wronged God and others and to seek to change.

When we believe that God is sovereign and in charge of the world and our lives and times are in his hands , it is easy to be meek, to patiently trust God for his way and his timing to set the world right.

When we experience the goodness and grace of God, we find that we wanting to know more of God’s character and long for God’s justice and righteousness in our lives and our world

When we experience God’s grace and mercy that we in no way earn or deserve, it seems inconsistent to not treat fellow sinners in the merciful way we have been shown.

In this broken disjointed world of ours where people are separated and isolated by hatred and prejudice, we feel constrained to step into the conflict, becoming agents of reconciliation and peace.

When we realise that Jesus gave his life to save us out of love we’ll follow him even if it puts us at conflict in the world and means enduring being ostracised and even persecuted.

Like sunrise after a long night, When we know our own spiritual poverty and surrender ourselves into God’s hands do we can know the reality of the resources, encouragement and blessings that Jesus offers and promises at the end of each of the beatitudes.

For theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

For they will be comforted

For they will inherit the earth

For they will be filled (or satisfied)

For they will be shown mercy

For they will see God

For they will be called the Children of God

When I was contemplating the call to come here to St Peter’s I have to admit that I felt totally daunted by the task that you as a congregation were asking. If nothing changes there is funding for three years if all the reserves are used. I felt inadequate, and as I was praying and thinking about how to respond to you I got another offer. A church that I knew well was looking for me specifically because of the strengths I had. They wanted me to do a job for them as part of a ministry team, that suited me and played to strengths that I had and they had the resources and people to back that up and there were people who would cover for my perceived weaknesses. It was tempting and in our world and church that is so captivated by leadership culture, it is the prevailing wisdom that to succeed you move to work in your areas of strength. But after the Spirit lead us here I had confirmation that it was the right thing through a trusted source. I was reading Leonard Sweet’s book “ I am a Follower” and Sweet was contrasting this wisdom of leadership culture with the gospel. He said that the gospel says that it is in our weakness that God is able to be strong. In 2 Corinthians 12:9 Paul had been praying to God to heal him of what we only know as a thorn in the flesh and final God replies, “My grace is sufficient for you. My power is made perfect in weakness.” Even in our ministry and mission as we acknowledge our spiritual poverty and rely on God and surrender ourselves to Jesus Christ, we can trust that he will provide and lead and Guide us. “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.”

Friday, March 9, 2012

Message from 'Focus' March 9th 2012 on unity from 1 Corinthians 1:10-31

The passage that we chose for our gathering tonight from 1 Corinthians is a plea from Paul that the church in Corinth not be divided but rather that in Christ’s name that they might be perfectly united in mind and thought.  It’s good for us to hear this plea, to hear this call for unity. New Testament scholar Gordon Fee says we all readily relate to the situation in Corinth because none of us have known a united church, a united Christian faith, we live in a time where there is a great raft of different expressions of the Christian faith, History and geography, theological disputes and disagreement, differing understandings, different movements, and yes even different personalities and styles of doing things at different times and places have meant that we are part of a church that t best can be called diverse and at worst guilty of being divided. That reflects itself in landscape of Auckland University. We have different groups at university with differing goals and purposes and understanding of what it means to minister on campus… Even to the extent that  I have heard AUSA officials wonder at why are there so many different Christian groups… don’t they get along?
There may be a different raft of Christian groups and expressions, but Paul’s plea is that there shouldn’t be a rift between Christians and Christian groups.  He argues with the Church at Corinth and us that Christ should not be divided and for that to occur our focus needs to be on Christ…. Christ crucified.
The city of Corinth is very much like our own city and our university. In fact one commentator has noted that our twenty first century home has become more like the first century home of our Christian faith.  It, like our city was full of diverse people with different cultures and ideas.  It was a city along a major trade route in Greece recently built by the Romans, people from all over the Roman Empire had been bought together in this place, with their customs and culture. It like our city and university was a market place for new ideas and philosophies, and different religions and understandings of the world, multiple voices that represented both the heights and breadth of human wisdom. Paul and others had come into that environment and Paul tells us that he had preached the gospel of a crucified Christ and despite his lack of eloquence and ability as a speaker, people had responded and a church had been established.
Now Paul hears that there is a problem that there is division in the church, that people are aligning themselves and disagreeing with each other based on who it was that was chief in them coming to Christ. Be it Paul or Apollo, or Cephas (Peter) and a group who said they were simply of Christ. The problem was not they had come to faith by these different routes and been influenced by these different people, but rather that these differences were causing derision and division.  You and I today are like these first century followers. We all have come to Christ through different means and been nurtured and disciple, and serve through, and in, different expressions of the Christian faith, different movements and groupings with different historical roots. We could say that we are from Bill Bright (the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ), or Pope Benedict, or John Knox and Scottish Presbyterianism, or Wesley or other differing groups, we are reformed or Pentecostal, Baptist or brethren, pedo-Baptists and Ana-baptists, Scripture Union, navigators and YWAM, That we all come from various denomination, main line, what some have called lameline or non-denominational new expressions of church. And one of the understanding of the faction in Corinth that said they are of Christ was that they were a group who didn’t want to identify with any of these human teachers or traditions, but in the end it didn’t help because it meant they were their own group at odds with everyone and behaving in the same way as everyone else. . That’s fine that’s the way it is, the spirit of God has been moving through those, and will continue to move through those things.
Sadly, historically there have been tensions and disagreement, suspicion and competition and even downright enmity between such groups and people. Maybe not on this campus, but you can go to places round the world where here is historical evidence of this disunity and worse.

Diversity is a good thing it’s to be celebrated, but says Paul disunity is not. Can Christ be Divided he asks, it’s supposed to be a rhetorical question by the way, the answer is obvious.
Then Paul invites his readers and us to focus. To focus on what is at the core of our faith to what is the way in which God has shown his grace to us all. He says that it’s not by human wisdom or understanding or this particular method or way of doing thing that we have been saved, it is because of Jesus Christ and Christ crucified.
In fact he says that this is totally beyond the understanding of both Jew or Gentile. That none of the wisdom of human being could do it or even consume it… but it is God’s wisdom that Jesus coming and dying on the cross has enabled you and I to come and have our sins forgiven and live in a new relationship with God. For the Jews who seek signs, it was anathema, they were used to God moving in power to save them in their history, like he had in freeing them from Egypt, but here it was that God would bring his saving in to the world through powerlessness. For the Greek’s who sort wisdom and understanding it did not compute that a all wise God would act like this; become one of us and allow the creatures that God had made reject and kill his son. It is totally folly. But says Paul it may seem made but it is the wisdom and the power of God, to those of us who believe, it’s God power for our salvation. We can boast in our human methods and the people God had used to bring us to Christ, but in the end it is Christ and Christ crucified, it is the grace of God.
Paul goes on to say that it’s not even who we are that has caused our being made Gods people. We are not the wisest or the most powerful or the most righteous and holy, not the most noble born. But it is because of God’s grace shown in Jesus Christ that we have been welcomed back into that relationship with God. In fact Jesus said it was when we know our own spiritual poverty that we are blessed because he kingdom of God is ours. It is Christ not our credentials, it is Christ crucified.

Paul goes on at the beginning of chapter 2 to say, it wasn’t him and his methods and skill that was the reason they had come to Christ either. In fact he says, and I love this as a minister of the gospel and a preacher, that it was despite inadequacy as an orator, it was not his fancy multimedia presentation or his flash, slick gospel presentation that they had believed but it was the spirit of God and the content of his message, Christ crucified that had bought them to faith. So no one can boast except in Christ.

AS we are aware that we are saved by grace, that it is Jesus and his death on the cross that we can find that unity and that we find a common purpose and have a common mind: To glorify and worship Jesus. To love each other as Jesus commands us to do and as we are each objects of Jesus love. To witness to Jesus love in word and deed, in spoken word and through seeking justice and peace.

It’s interesting that word that Paul uses for perfect unity in 1 Corinthians 1:3 is one which has the idea of being woven together like a net.  You get the idea of us all as different strands and threads being woven and tied together. The idea of unity being woven together as a net of course echoes Jesus call to his first disciples of come and follow me and I will make you fishers of men it echoes Jesus commission to his followers after his resurrection, that they would be witnesses to him in Judea Samaria and to the ends of the earth..  We often think with our western world view that these things are spoken to individuals to be done as individuals and we don’t realise the corporate and communal nature of this purpose. That our unity across our diversity witnesses to what Christ has done for us. That from our varied backgrounds, cultures and historical contexts we are one people in Christ, that it makes a difference. If there isn’t that unity, then the net is ripped and broken and while it may catch a few it isn’t able to attract many and hold as many. Remember Jesus saying at the last supper they will know you are my disciples if you have love one for another.  

Let me use another net, a very 21stcentury net, as an illustration of this. The internet… I came across a great video of composer Eric Whitacre. I don’t particularly like the music but I love the way in which he has used the internet to form a choir of 2 5000 videos from 85 countries, all singing in harmony. All tied together as net and you'll note how this music then attracts others to it. So let me leave you with this video to illustrate our unity. Christ as our composer and conductor and us singing together drawn from all our different backgrounds and how that can attract people to Christ.