Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Grace Message style

One of the things I enjoy about Eugene Peterson's  'The Message' translation of the Bible is that it provides a fresh take on passages that revitalises them for us. I often use them in public worship to give fresh insights into things that we simply repeat and repeat like for example the benediction from 2 Corinthians 13:12... While we are comfortable and can say from memory 'May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you.' Its good to have to rethink that blessing. Using Peterson translation...

May the amazing grace of the Master, Jesus Christ,

 The extravagant love of God,

And the intimate friendship of the Holy Spirit,

Be with us all.

Amen (sung three fold )

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A Prayer Of Thanks For God's Presence in Life's Journey

At the moment I am preaching my way through a selection of the psalms of ascent. I'm calling the series Songs from the Road, as we look at the upward journey following Jesus. This is a prayer for the service on Sunday. It's trinitarian in nature and picks up God's presence with us on life's Journey. To tell you the truth I do wonder if I haven't laboured the journey motif a bit too much. The first stanza (if one may claim a poetic term for such humble writing) is influenced by Psalm 107, not a psalm of ascent but one from Israel's return from exile with such vivid images of landscape both physical and of the soul.

Eternal and gracious God

You reign over our stays on quite river banks

You are the Lord of the storm tossed seas we venture upon

You sustain us as we wonder through dry desert times

You lead us to green pasture and restore our souls

You have bought us this far by your grace

And You will lead us on to our home with you

Merciful and gracious saviour

We were weighed down by our sin and shame

WE plodded on, under its crippling weight

You stepped into our world showed us the way

Then you bore our sin upon the cross and it is no more

The price has been paid and we are free

WE share your new life in all its fullness

Holy Spirit our guide and comforter

We were alone and in the darkness,

But as we turned to Jesus, you filled us with his light

You dwell with us, with us and work to make us whole

You empower us by your presence to live for Jesus

To witness to the great hope we have in him

Enabled and equipped by you to love and serve

Great and good God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit

We come today to praise and worship you for who you are

To give thanks for all you have done

You created the world and work you purposes out in history

In Christ You saved us and are making us whole

You are calling us to see your kingdom established

in the depths and the heights of life’s journey you are with us.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Pentecost Sunday Call to Worship and Blessing

It was Pentecost on Sunday so I had a go at doing a call tow roship and a beendiction based on Jesus teaching on the Holy Spirit in John 14

Call to Worship

Jesus promised

 I will ask the father

                He will give you another advocate

To help you and be with you forever

The spirit of truth

The world cannot accept as they do not see or know him,

But you know him

He lives with and within you

I will not leave you as orphans

I will come to you


May the advocate; God’s Holy Spirit

Sent in Christ’s name

Teach you and remind you of Christ’s words

Do  not let your hearts be troubled

Do not be afraid

Christ’s peace, Go with you

Christ peace, that the world cannot take away, be with you

Christ’s peace, and the Spirits presence,  remain with you always

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Psalm 127 Human work and the will of God (songs from the Road: The Psalms of ascent: part 3)

A man once asked workers on a building site what they were doing. One said that he was engaged in the monotonous task, putting one brick on top of another, another man said he was trying to earn a living, the third man said that he was helping Sir Christopher Wren to build a great cathedral that future generations would use to worship God in.  The third man had the right perspective, says Malcolm McLean because while he was also doing a monotonous task to earn a living, he also realised that his small role was a contribution to a great purpose. Psalm 127 reminds us similarly that our small roles, our work is all part of God’s great purpose. 

Psalm 127 takes the dog eared song book of the Jews journey back from exile and the songs from people’s pilgrimage each year to the great festivals in Jerusalem, and grounds it in the reality of everyday life. Not a romanticised desert journey or looking back to dangers and history to see God’s protection and provision, it brings that into the everyday ordinary experience of people then and now. It deals with work and family. We may have a holy discontent with the way things are and look off into the distance and have a vision of God’s preferred future but change and growth need to be worked out in the midst of everyday life, the unavoidable life of work.

The Psalm is ascribed to Solomon either as the writer or the recipient; it is what is called a wisdom psalm, a series of proverbs. Structurally it’s in two parts. The first, verse 1 and 2 are sayings that are cautionary. The main motif is the word in vein, it reflects the book of Ecclesiastes where the preacher again seen as King Solomon, wrestles with the futility of life. In these two verses  its used three times,  unless God is at the centre of what we do:  the builder labours in vein, the cities searches for security in vein, we can work our fingers to the bone and exhaust ourselves with long hours it’s in vein … unless… unless God is at the centre.

The second part of the psalm is a series of sayings that encourage; they focus on the family as the positive example of what happens when humans and God work together. Children it says are a gift from God. Yes we do our part, in having them, in our modern times, we have a better understanding of human biology than the psalmist, and bringing them up and nurture them, but ultimately they are a blessing from God, and not only when they are asleep. In the mainly agrarian society of the Ancient Middle East Work and family were tied together; it’s a modern thing that they are separated. Having a lot of children, and particularly sons, was a good thing.  Sons were a source of labour, like a soldier with his arrows they were able to defend you, both against physical attack and also able to defend you at the city gates in legal disputes.  They worked in the family business, they inherited the family land, looked after you in your old age. I’m obviously moving into a new life stage, as I used to have my kids with me when I was looking after them, now they accompany me to look after me. 

It’s a psalm that has been used in many different ways, applied to many different situations and I want to pick up a few of those today to help us on our upward journey following Jesus.

It invites us to review how we see work. Be it paid work or the unpaid but equally valuable work in the family and volunteer settings.  There is a tendency to have this departmentalised view of life, work life, family life, social life and church life. Our suburban lifestyle accentuates that, its based on easy mobility, most of us live away from where we work,  church attendance is based on choice not just location, friendship clusters are not always focused on our neighbourhoods, I would hazard a guess that a lot of us are part of globalized families. This Psalm breaks that down and says all of life is lived with the sovereignty of God. All of life is the providence of God. It reminds us that we forget the will of God at our peril, that there is no such thing as self-sufficiency, we are dependent on God. The pilgrim comes to worship God with that realisation, on a macro level, with the rise and fall of nations round the world, and a mico level, in the provision of family and work we are dependent on God and should give him praise.

 It’s good for us to stop and acknowledge God’s sovereignty and provision in all these areas of our lives.  Scripture values work. Proverbs 5:10 says ‘in all labour there is profit’.  We are reminded that God works, which means that work, is valuable its part of God’s purpose for us as human beings, it because a trial mainly as part of the fall. Work has its value in God. God worked first, God created the world and all that is in it. God is still at work; God is working his plans and purposes out in human history. Christ worked out God’s salvation plans, it is Pentecost and this psalm reminds us that God is at work in us by his spirit, to witness to Christ.  We don’t build God’s house God works through us. “Our work goes wrong’ says Eugene Peterson, ‘when we lose contact with the God who works.”

There are two extremes when it comes to seeing this balance between our work and God’s. One is that we can be over anxious and become a workaholic thinking it all depends on our efforts. It can take over our lives.  We can see it as the end goal in itself or our focus for life can be what we can obtain. We live in a society where it can feel like you simply work to live and you have to live to work. We call it the rat race, like going round and round on a wheel in a cage. “Relentless, compulsive work habits, which our society rewards and admires” says Eugene Peterson, are seen by the psalmist as a sign of weak faith and assertive pride, as if God could not be trusted to accomplish his will.”

 Let’s face it we live in a society where to simply keep this standard of living we have become accompanied to, both partners in a marriage often have to work, and work long hours. I am, by the way right behind this call for a living wage, as some work is undervalued in our society. AS Christians we should be hard workers what we do should be done to the glory of God, but we should also have different priorities in what we do and seek to achieve; the fact that it is in the psalms of ascent points to time for God, time for growing spiritually, Sabbath, a day of rest, set aside for worship is God’s idea. It comes from creation where God rested, it comes from Israel’s captivity in Egypt where they received no rest. Keeping the Sabbath is a good way we can resist our captivity to the almighty dollar.  The focus on family in the second half of the passage is a good example that we should see family as important work as well, possibly our most important work. In fact I often hear this passage quoted in terms of family values, and psalm 128 that follow straight on from this one and is linked to it, celebrates family life.

The second extreme is that it’s all God’s work that we sit back and God provides. This is not a biblical understanding of work. In the church of Thessalonica Paul had to address this. A group within the church had though that as Christ was coming soon that they didn’t need to work that God would provide for them, they hadn’t seen work as part of God’s provision. They really became dependant on their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul has to remind them of his own example amongst them that he worked day and night not to be a burden on them.  In  Ephesians 4 Paul reminded people that we work not only for our own gain but for the common good, so we have things to share with those in need. In our society there are people who cannot find work because of circumstances beyond their control, they are to be cared for and helped, but scripture says that we are not to simply to be lazy.

The psalm also points to how we work as well and what work we should be about. In all we do we are to be about God’s work, God’s will. “As Christians do the jobs and tasks assigned to them in what the world calls work” Peterson says, “ We learn to pay attention to and practise what God is doing in love and justice, in helping and healing, in liberating and cheering.” We bring the presence of Christ and the kingdom of God to bear on all we do. I mentioned that the psalm points to the example of the work we can do with God is to have a family; this shapes our priorities in our work. People are the centre of our vocation as followers of Jesus. In the example of Jesus who was never married, his work had its ultimate fulfilment in producing sons and daughter of the most high God. The character of our work is not to be measured in accomplishment or possession but in the birth of relationships.  In how Christ in us is able to reach out to the situations we work in and the people we work with. I value seeing the care and support that goes on in our mainly music group and the play group and sporty 4 kidz here at the church, it’s an example of that being nurtured by mothers with small kids. When I left school I went and worked in a bank, when I left they gave me a small gift, it was a night light and the person that gave it to me said, and we know you’ll be a light wherever you go. I didn’t think that they were a Christian, and I’m not sure I had always been a light at work, but it epitomises that being about God’s will. We need Christians in all areas of life and work, who see what they do and how they do it as being about God’s will. By the way when I use the word God’s some people would see this as some sort of hidden specific will for their lives, part of that is true, God calls us and gives us gifts to use, but we also know his will through the scripture. We know what it is because God has revealed it too us.

Today is Pentecost, when we remember that God poured his Holy Spirit out upon those first believers gathered in Jerusalem and on all who come to believe in Christ. Psalm 127 helps us to focus on that.  The psalm being of Solomon and a psalm of ascent, can also be seen to focus on the temple and the city of Jerusalem. Solomon was known as a great builder and for building the temple; the house of God. It was important for him and the exiles returning and rebuilding and the pilgrims coming to worship, that the work of establishing and re-establishing the temple and Jerusalem, Israel as nation was not seen as their own it was God’s works.  Likewise with the church it’s important for us to remember that unless the Lord builds the church the labourers labour in vein. By his life and death and resurrection Jesus established it. It’s Pentecost and it’s good for us to remember again that it is God’s spirit at work in us that enables us to witness to the good news of Jesus Christ. AS we read in Acts it was only as the Holy Spirit came on the apostles that they were able to stand up and proclaim Christ and people responded. It is God who gives us gifts by the Holy Spirit that enables the church to function and grow. It’s as we walk by the Holy Spirit and are filled and refilled by the Holy Spirit that we mature in Christ, that Christ like fruit mature in our lives.  As in the rest of life that does not mean we sit back and don’t do anything, we are called to use our gifts and talents. In the first letter to the Corinthians Paul says some plant and some water but it is God who makes things grow. We read the little summary of what things were like in that first church after Pentecost and you see the people about the work of God with God. They committed themselves to prayer, to worship to the teaching of the apostles, the gospel. They developed community, they were generous with each other and shared fellowship, not only in public worship but in each other’s homes, and as they did that God did miracles in their midst in all those ways they witnessed to Christ and God added to their number daily those who were being saved. Again this example of the work of humans and the work of God together is best described as it is in Psalm 127 as family.

Our hope as we go on our journey as a pilgrim following Christ, as we go about the work of life, the work of journeying closer to God, of building family and church,  is that it is not in our own abilities and strength, rather as pilgrims we trust in God’s provision for us , that God cares, that in and through Christ, God forgives and restores us to himself and puts his Holy Spirit upon us that we maybe enabled to witness and live to the glory of God.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Psalm 121:God's protection, Vision and The Spiritual Journey

Psalm 121 has been significant in my life. We lived on the Titirangi road ridge in west Auckland when I was growing up and we had a panoramic view of the bush clad Waitakere rangers out our French doors. We often looked to the mountains and at least the first part of this psalm came to mind. My mum got me to read it at my Father’s funeral, and she asked for it to be read at her funeral.  After the initial question, from where does my help come from, it is a wonderful assurance of God’s continued presence and protection on a pilgrims journey to Jerusalem and in a wider sense for the whole of life’s journey Godward.

 It’s the second of the psalms of ascent, a song from that dog eared songbook of Israel’s journey from exile back to the Promised Land and the pilgrimages to one of the annual festivals at the temple. We are looking at these songs from the road to help us with our own onward and upward journey in life, our own pilgrim’s progress following Jesus. Last week we looked at the first of the psalms of ascent, Psalm 120, and saw that it is necessary for an individual or a group to be discontent with the way things are for significant change to occur: To be willing to move on and journey.  For the spiritual journey to grow and develop there needs to be a holy discontent stirred up within us: ‘ we seek peace and are no longer simply willing to accept any falsehood and live amongst the tents of those who are for war.

Psalm 121 addresses another key ingredient for change and growth, that of a vision and goals. Not only do we need to have a sense of where we are at and that things need to change we have to know where we are going trusting God to be with us on the way, to be our help, as we journey and overcome the obstacles we will face on that journey.

Psalm 121 is a short Psalm as all the psalms of ascent are. It’s setting is best seen as a pilgrims camp on the journey to Jerusalem.In verse 1 and 2  it starts with the psalmist gazing off into the distance, probably at the end of the day’s journey as the heat haze and glare die down and the horizon stretches back. There off in the distance he spots his destination the hills of Judea and the highest amongst them Mt Zion.  ‘ I look to the Hills’. It’s an ambiguous statement we don’t know if it’s with a sigh of relief that this sojourner can see his destination, and it inspires him, or with a heavy sigh as he is aware of how far he has to go with all its hardship and obstacles. If we are real about things it’s probably a bit of both rather than an either or situation. When we set ourselves goals and have a vision of where we want to be, we also become aware of the obstacles for getting there.  In response to this he asks the question where does my help come? Help for the journey to get to my goal, help for the journey to face the obstacles.

Then maybe the sunsets and the psalmist becomes aware, in the clear night air, of the stars higher above the mountain and as his eyes look up beyond the mountains and see the stars his mind is drawn beyond his destination and trials to think of the eternal, to find the answer to his question his help comes from the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth.

Then the psalm changes, from the first person to the second person. The psalmist receives his answer, maybe it is in remembering a blessing he received at the beginning of his journey as he walked out the door or it is as he listens to a fellow pilgrim at the desert camp say his evening prayers. But he is aware that God is able to help make the journey. God is able to help face the obstacles. God is able to help reach the goal off their in the distance.

  In the psalm now in this blessing or prayer God’s protection and help is couched in terms of all the possible dangers of the pilgrim’s journey. He will be s sure guide and lead them along shore paths, he is there to brace the staggered tired misstep, and will not let us fall. He is able to provide shade from the blazing mid-day sun. Unlike human guards of the caravan at night he does not slumber or sleep, he’s able to stand guard and protect against the unknown things that lurk in the night. He is trusted to be there in conflict and battle. Like a good caravan leader he will keep you safe from the start of the journey till its end. Not only that one journey but for the whole of life. This gives the pilgrim strength to face the challenges ahead and assurance that he will reach his goal.

For us to grow spiritually there is a need for us to be discontent with the way things are now. But also there needs to be a vision and a goal of where we are heading, or as Andrew Stanley puts it in his book ‘Visioneering’ we need to catch a glimpse of God’s preferred future and to work towards seeing that come to fruition.  I did a course with a business mentor a few years ago. One of the key things we did was set goals for ourselves; for our working life, for our family, economically in terms of personal development, even what kind of person we wanted to be. Being A Christian of course I set myself some goals in terms of my devotional life. The rest of the course looked at the steps that we needed to take to achieve those goals. It was a good process to go through and I need to go back very often and revisit those goals. They lead to me working on areas of my life I needed to improve. But I found it would be easy in a lot of those areas to crouch my goals and vision not in terms of the kingdom of God, but like when we talked about last week with discontent, to simply talk about the western dream of prosperity and security. Don’t get me wrong there is nothing wrong with wanting those things but it’s important that our vision and goal for all those areas of life be formed and shaped by a god given vision.

In the exile the people of Israel came back from Babylon to Jerusalem and as a rag tag group of returnees they set about re-establishing themselves amongst the ruins of the city. They began developing there economy, agriculture and trade. They rebuilt the infrastructure. They prospered and started to build wooden panelled houses for themselves. In the midst of that the prophet Haggai came and called them to rebuild the temple of God in their midst. It was symbolic of the centrality of the worship of God and living in a way that reflected God’s reign. God’s vision for their redemption and return to Jerusalem hadn’t changed it was that they would be a people who would reflect God’s justice to the world and draw all natiopns to come and worship and live likewise.

 In the passage we had read from Luke’s gospel we see that Jesus is very clear about what his ministry and life is all about.  He comes to Nazareth his home town and is invited to read from the scroll of Isaiah, in that we see him setting the scope of his mission, articulating from the scriptures what his ministry will be, what the kingdom of God will look like. Of course we stopped the reading before we got to the reaction of the people of the town. Right from the start there was a violent reaction. Who is this person Jesus, isn’t he just the carpenters’ boy, and if I remember correctly wasn’t there some scandal about his birth… That’s the revised soap opera version. Who is this person Jesus, coming not just for us good religious folk but with Good news for the poor, recovery of sight for the blind, release to the captive and declaring a year of jubilee, when there will be economic and social justice.’ Right away Jesus faces obstacles and opposition on his journey towards seeing God’s Kingdom inaugurated and he has to trust God to protect him and guide him through.

Later at the end of Luke’s story of Jesus and Zacchaeus, the last ministry event recorded before he enters Jerusalem Jesus has refined his vision and goal as ‘the son of man came to seek and save the lost’. In the reading from the book of Hebrews we see that for the joy that was set before him, Jesus endured the shame and suffering of the Cross. He saw God’s plan for our salvation in his death and was willing to trust God even to the point of death, to see it achieved, trusting God for the whole of the journey to that goal.

Likewise in Hebrews you and I, surrounded by a great cloud of witness, men and women of faith who have gone before us, journeyed through life, facing all sorts of trials and trusting in God’s promises we are called to fix our eyes on Christ the author and perfecter of our faith, and using a metaphor so applicable in this Olympic year, run the race set before us, throwing off all the things that would slow us down and the sins that would try and hold us back. We are called to have a Christ shaped goal and vision of our destination: A kingdom of God destination.

For us as a church I believe it is that we grow in Christ, in our love for God, we grow in our love for one another, and we grow in our love for this community and city and world that God has called us to be witness to his great love to.

Individually and corporately it calls us to look at where we work, our finances, our family life and have a Kingdom of God vision for what we do. It’s interesting you might say Howard that’s easy for you to say you’re a minister, but can I say it is easy to simply fall into the trap of thinking about where you want to go and do in terms of ABC… Attendance, Buildings and Cashflow, there is ego involved, if you’ll excuse the expression a sort of ecclesiastical penis envy. Rather than seeing it terms of being faithful to what God is calling us to do. What would that look like at the place you work, in going on such a pilgrimage, what desert land would it lead you through? What would that look like

Having that god given  vision also stops us from settling for less. If you read through pilgrim’s progress, you see that Christian is often tempted to stay put and to stop his journeying to settle for being away from the city of destruction he has to be reminded again and again of his destination the celestial city and carry on. Yes ts important to know that there are times of rest and recharging, the pilgrim stops to rest for the night on his journey.

St Brendan and his monk’s on their amazing voyage across the vastness of the wild Atlantic found rest on Island’ one where the sheep were as big as houses, another where a giant monk all dressed in white fur, knew them by name and had set a table for them, again they celebrated Easter on the back of a whale, and the sea birds joined in their singing of the psalms. But we need to be aware of the destination of the goal of the vision of Christ and to be prepared to continue following.

 The encouragement for the psalmist and from psalm 121 is that God will protect us on that journey. That the vision and goals, the destination we have may seem far off in the distance. The mountains may seem step and high, the path may seem fraught with danger and the steps unsure, but people God is with us on the journey. Christ has gone before us and he leaves his spirit with us to lead and to guide. You’ll notice that the things that the dangers and obstacles in that psalm may seem a bit romantic to us, we are not a desert people. But they were the very real every day troubles that people faced in that time and place and God can be trusted to protect and be with us as we face the same real life issues we face.  So what is the vision God is forming in your heart? What are the obstacles on the journey you are facing in your life? Hear the assurance the psalmist give us of God’s ability to see us through.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Prayer of thanks to God the Creater, Provider and Saviour


What a great and wonderful God we have

Lord God Full of mercy and grace

We do praise you

You have revealed yourself to us as our creator

In a mystery too great for humans to fathom

You were from before the beginning

You spoke and it came into being

The grandeur of swirling galaxies

This good earth of ours is yours

We were made in your image

To know you and to love

You have shown us that you are our provider

Every good gift comes from your hand

You make the sun to shine and the rain to fall

The seasons turn at your design

You have been working your purposes out in history

You speak your word into the chaos and darkness

Calling us back to your light

You lead us and guide us

You have stepped into our world to be our saviour

In Jesus you pitched your tent in our neighbourhood

You dwelt with us and showed us your great love

In Jesus life you showed us how to live

In his death we can have our sins forgiven

We can have a fresh start and a clean slate

In his resurrection we can have hope of new and abundant life

By your spirit Jesus lives with in our everydayness making us whole

We praise you and are aware of your goodness and greatness

That you are light and there is no shadow of darkness in you

We confess our sins to you, we want to get the things that have broken our relationship with you out in the open and dealt with.

Lord God forgive us

We have thought we knew best and gone our own way

We have not followed your word and commandments

On a personal scale and globally we do not love as you love

We think more of our own needs and comfort than other people

We are quick to judge and slow to forgive

We have not cherished the world you have given us

We have allowed poverty and oppression to flourish

We have done what we should not and left undone what we should do

Gracious God have mercy on us

Thank you Lord that you are true to your word that as we have confessed our sins you have been faithful and just and forgiven our sins and cleansed us from all unrighteousness

Fill us afresh with you spirit

That we may walk more closely following Jesus

renew our vision of the cross that we know your way

lead and protect us as in our journey of witness to you 

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

Saturday, May 12, 2012

psalm 120: Holy discontent and the journey Godwards (songs from the road part 1)

Seeing the Christian faith as a journey and the life following Jesus as being a pilgrim’s life has been part of Christianity since its conception. Jesus call to his first disciples is one of journeying ‘Come and Follow me’. In Luke’s account even before Jesus says these words he tells Peter and John and Andrew and James to go out into the deep and let down their nets. In Acts before we were known as Christians we were known as people of the way.

One of the oldest pieces of European literature is the Navigato of St Brendan, the story of an Irish monk who just may have discovered America 1000 years before Christopher Columbus, It’s an epic tale of adventure on the high sea as Brendan an Abbott and his monks sail in a Bullock hide coracle, to find paradise. AS well as being a ripping yarn it was used as a teaching story in monasteries all over Europe on spiritual disciplines that would sustain us for the faith journey.

John Bunyan’s ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ one of the most read pieces of fiction of all time, presents the Christian life allegorically as a journey, from the city of destruction, through the narrow gate, to the hill of Calvary and on onwards through trials and tribulations towards the celestial city. 

Likewise in our times CS Lewis used the wonderful fantastic journeys of the Pevencie children in Narnia to explore the Christian faith and life. Over the next five weeks we are going to explore that journey from the soundtrack that accompanied early pilgrims, like a playlist on their iPods or CD’s in the car stereo: Songs that come from an earlier understanding of the spiritual life as one of pilgrimage, from the book of Psalms.

The Jews before us were a pilgrim people. Abraham left Ur in Mesopotamia to follow God, with a promise of relationship, descendants with a land of their own.  He and his children and grandchildren never lived in that land. They saw themselves as wandering Arameans. There wandering lead them to Egypt, they were there for 400 years as guests then  salves.

With Moses God led them out of that captivity, through the wilderness to the promised land. The Old Testament always look back to this journey as a time of them becoming God’s people.

Later they would be sent off into exile and then after 70 years be bought back, and restored. Jews have since the time of round 70 AD lived as dispersed people all round the world, sojourners, looking for a return to their homeland. Even in their settled times in the land pilgrimages were part of their Spiritual life. All Jews were expected to go to one of the three big festivals in Jerusalem.

The Psalms of ascent, psalm 120-136 were seen as the dog eared song book from that journey. They reflected the journey to the temple, the journey to higher ground the journey back to relationship with God. They all come from different life settings but have been gathered together in this grouping. They are also known as the psalms of the steps and in the Talmud it is recorded that they were sung by pilgrims and priests one on each of the fifteen steps going up into the inner court of the temple.

For us today they are useful as ‘Songs for the Road’ as they speak to our own spiritual life as a pilgrimage in the midst of real life. In our world of instant answers, communication at the speed of light over fibre optics and the shrinking world of jet travel, where we can be somewhere far away in a matter of hours, it’s good to be reminded by these Songs from the Road that this journey of life following Jesus is not lived at hyper speed, a matter of giant leaps but at a pilgrims pace, small steps, walking with the spirit, day by day, step by step.

Psalm 120 is the first of the Psalms of ascent, it deals with the first step,  and it seems a strange place to start. It’s a psalm that Erik Routley calls  full of primitive crudity, it is a reflection of humanity, “ungarnished and even unedified humanity.” It starts in Verse 1and 2 with acknowledging that the psalmist has cried to the Lord in his distress and that God has answered. It goes on to talk of that distress, that he is surrounded by lying lips and the assurance that God will bring justice into that situation, the burning pain of their sharp tongues will lead to sharp arrows and burning coals . Finally we have a lament, a woe is me song, of being a person who desires and seek peace while living amongst the tents of people who only want war. The two tribes that are mentioned in this Psalm represent the northern and southern extent of the Baylonian empire, they represent both the extent of the exile of the jews in Babylon but also the Meshek to the north, on the shores of the black sea, were known for their military prowess and the Kedar were a nomadic tribe who lived in black tens to the south and were known for their ability as traders.  The Psalmist would have been used to the tents of the warriors journeying off to battle and the tents of the traders Journeying in the name of commerce, these were the pillars of the Babylonian empire. But the psalmist comes to see that the way they lived is a lie. He saw that their vision of life was different than his own.   If you’ll excuse the pun there is a dis-con-tent being stirred up in the psalmist’s heart, and as 20th century Industrialist David RothChild says “while necessity maybe the mother of all invention, discontent is the father of progress.”

For change to occur one of the key ingredients needed is discontent with the way things are now, without being stirred up, nothing much changes. You can want something like peace, but if you are happy with the way things are now then why put the effort and energy into change. Discontent provides that energy, things cannot go on this way they must change. Over the past three months I’ve lost 15kgs in weight I have a long way to go to lose the close to 30 kgs I put on over the past 3 years.. No its not because of  the stress of being here with you,  that is part of the positive changes in my life. What happened?  well I had simply believed the lie that I was alright, that despite being a diabetic that I was not doing myself any damage by eating all I wanted and not exercising, I was living in Egypt, I was living in denile. But as the Psalmist does I came to see that as a lie, my doctor had to give me a wakeup call. I became discontent with the way things were and it has motivated me to change.

 It is the same for the Christian life as well. The journey to higher ground, Godward starts with discontent for the way things are. The Christian word for this on-going change process is the word repentance, a turning round from going one way to going God’s way. It starts with discontent. Eugene Patterson puts it like this “A person has got to get fed up with the ways of this world before he, before she, acquires an appetite for the world of grace”. We need to wake up to the lies we are being told and seek truth. In the film the matrix the main charter Neo meet a man called Morpheus who is able to articulate the disease he finds, he says that all his life he has felt that there is something wrong with the world, and Morpehus tells him that is the case, all he knows is a lie, the matrix has been set up to hold him captive, it is a prison for his mind. In what has become a much loved cinematic moment, Morpheus offers to show him reality, in light of this discontent he is offered two options, in the form of two pills, he can take the blue pill and wake up tomorrow and believe anything he wants. He can go back to sleep, or he can take the red pill, choose to change and with reference to Alice in wonderland… see how deep the rabbit hole goes.

Like with all things in life discontent does not always lead to positive change. We live in a society that is very much like the tribes of Meshah and Kedar, we are constantly told that we need things, a certain level of prosperity and security, the tents of commerce and war, to be satisfied and to have the good life. We are encouraged to consumer to have more, to seek to better ourselves financially as an end goal for life. we are told that we must defend this standard of living. The security industry and the military are the growth industries. People who can afford to live in gated and walled enclosures and gated communities do. Simply wanting more isn’t a positive discontent its part of what Brian Mclaren calls the ‘suicide machine’ western society has constructed. We actually need a holy discontent to look to make positive changes , to start us on the journey Godwards.

While Psalm 120 finishes as a lament of discontent it starts by acknowledging that God answers prayers. It is as the psalmist experiences the goodness of God that he is able to start seeing the lies of the world order round him. In the pilgrims progress, Christian, becomes discontent with life in the city of destruction, he sees very much Mclaren’s suicide machine that the way of life there will led to judgment and destruction.  . But the discontent that leads him to want to flee that city does not come from himself. Rather the story starts with a dream. It is a holy discontent being stirred up.  Likewise for Brendan in his navigato, his journey starts as an old trusted college tells him of a journey he had made to the kingdom of God, that lay far over the horizon of the Atlantic, that stirred up a longing in Brendan for that far shore. 

Peace is at the heart of what the psalmist wants, the longing being stirred up in his heart, it is at the core of his Holy discontent again the word used is shalom, the wholeness that comes from right relationships: Right relationship with God, with each other, with those who are ‘the other, loving our enemies, with creation our environment, with man made things, our possessions.  This is a holy discontent.

That discontent not only causes us to leave the world and its evils behind, it also causes us to be prepared to leave behind the safety and familiarity of our comfort zones for the sake of following Jesus.  The wild goose was the symbol that the Celtic Christians has for the Holy Spirit. It’s not a biblical one, but it picked up Jesus metaphor for the Holy Spirit in John Chapter 3, where Jesus says ‘The wind blows where ever it pleases, you hear its sound but you cannot tell where it has been or where it is going, so it is with people born of the spirit’ The bird would migrate on the winds.’ In fact the first time we meet the holy Spirit in scripture it is as a wind disturbing the waters, in Genesis 1, as a prelude to God’s creative activity. For the Celts the Christian life was being willing to be stirred up and to journey following the wild Goose. It gives a whole new and wonderful meaning to the phrase a wild goose chase. The Celts had more than one form of martyrdom. There were the red martyrs who died for their faith. Again the word martyr means witness. There were also green and white martyrs, people who were willing to leave the comfort of home for the sake of the gospel. White martyrs would move to another place in Ireland seeking a place where they could encounter God and commit themselves to growing in that knowledge, and green martyrs would go from their homeland to do the same. They were seeking that closeness with God, that relationship, of course because of who they were they shared the good news of Jesus as they went and where they settled they founded places that were hubs and centres of hospitality, learning, healing and peace. The restlessness, the holy discontent called them to journey. It was a restlessness that resulted in them Christianising much of Europe.  

Brendan’s prayer as he sets sail from Ireland picks this up as he wrestles with leaving his beloved home. He talks of leaving only his knee prints on treh shore of his native land as he kneels to pray and confess his sins, and then to trusting himself into God’s hands on the high seas.

I said at the start that of this message that Psalm 120 is very human, very real very gritty, and while it’s easy to talk about holy discontent in the realms of literature and the almost romanticised Celtic spirituality,  the context we face is real life. Our real lives here and now.  It’s very tempting to simply take the blue pill, to live our Christian faith as Jesus sprinkles on top of western civilizations dreams. But I believe that God’s spirit is at work. God does not want us to simply settle for the way things are… rather that we should live as pilgrims, sojourners in this world following Jesus. So I want to finish not with words of comfort but some uncomfortable questions. Where is the wind of the spirit blowing in your life? Where is that holy discontent being stirred up in you?

And I want to finish with a prayer… A prayer of a voyager very much in the ilk of st Brendan but from a different age, it’s a prayer from Sir Francis Drake, a dangerous prayer. That starts disturb us O Lord.

Let’s prayer 

Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves,

When our dreams have come true because we dreamed too little,

When we arrive safely because we sail too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when in the abundance of thing we possess

we have lost our thirst for the water of life...

Having fallen in love with life we have ceased to dream,

We have allowed our vision of a new heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,

To venture on wilder seas where storms will show your mastery,

Where losing sight of land we find the stars,

we ask you to push back the horizon of our hopes

And to push us into the future of strength courage, hope, and love.

This we ask in the name of our captain, who is Jesus Christ.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Prayer of thanksgiving on Mother's day

It's mother's day here in New Zealand on Sunday so have written a mother's day prayer of thanksgiving for the service. Utilising Female biblical images for God and giving thanks for Mother's love.

God in whom we move and have our being

You know us, love us and sustain us

We praise you for your goodness
And thank you for your care

You created the world and all that is in it
You knitted us together in our mother’s womb
You made us male and female in your image
You made each one unique and individual
Unique for relationship with you
Unique in the talents and gifts we have to serve you

We had gone astray, lost in our sin
Like a women who had lost her gold coin
You came looking for us
You sent your son Jesus to be one of us
He spoke of your love
Healed the sick, cared for the poor
Welcomed the outcast
He longed to gather us under his wings like a mother hen her chicks.
He gave up his life so that we might be found in you

Gracious God
Today we especially thank you for mothers
For their care and nurture
For love and support
Wisdom and sacrificial giving
For  tears and smiles,
Encouragement and correction
Thank you that in such love we see a reflection of you own love for us.

Fill us a fresh with your Holy Spirit
That we may know your great love and truth
Anoint us with your spirit’s power that we may witness to you, serve you and love your people and world
To the glory of God; Father ,Son and Holy Spirit.