Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Prayer of thanksgiving and confession.

Well Lord Psalm 96 calls us to sing a new song to the Lord

To lift our voice to praise you for what you’ve done way back when

But also to sing of what you are doing here and now,

Your steadfast love constant and true

Your steadfast love always fresh and new

We lift our songs then in thanks to you

Not just our voices but our hearts as well

Not just our lips

But with lives changed and renewed

With all we are we will worship you

Thank you for the wonder of your creation

This good earth

The amazing array of life it supports

It’s riches that provides for us

The vast displayed in the night sky

Thank you for your grace shown to us

In sending your son

His life, teaching and example

Giving His life, for the world, on the cross

Forgiving our sins and ushering in new life

Thank you for your spirit’s presence

Dwelling in us

Convicting us of our need for you

Leading us into all truth

Enabling us to live for you

Thank you for all you provide

Family and home

Brothers and sisters to share the load

Restoration and wholeness

Meaning and purpose

Thank you for our very life

You knit us together in our mother womb

Woed us and won us

You hold our times in your hands

You can be trusted to our dying breath

We see what you have done for us

And we are aware that we are not worthy

We confess before you our short comings

We acknowledge that we are sinners

That we are a sinful people

Lord God forgive us

We have not shared what you have provided to all

We have not loved as you love

We do things we should not

We leave undone the good you call us to do

We again sing your praises  

Because you are faithful and just

As We confess our sins

You forgive us our sins

And You cleanse us from all unrighteousness

Fill us afresh with your spirit

Yes it dwells in us but we need renewing

Change our hearts to reflect your love and grace

May we indeed worship you in word and deed

May we live to the glory of God: Father son and Holy Spirit

Monday, June 25, 2012

Good Worship Music by a New Zealand songwriter Malcolm Gordon

Malcolm Gordon is a friend of mine and a fellow Presbyterian minister here in New Zealand. I have known him and his family for many years and value their faith and ministry... and his. One of the gifts that Malcolm has is the ability to write (and sing) great worship songs... I don't know about you but recently I have found myself wondering if the praise and worship genre of music dominated by large Pentecostal churches hasn't really reached the point where it was in need of new direction and people who are willing to explore scripture and our faith at a deeper level... Don't get me wrong I like to whoop it up and chandelier swing with the best of them... but I also want songs with integrity and depth... Malcolm is one musician how I feel delivers this.

Malcolm's music shows a theological maturity and also as a Minister whose understanding of leading worship is wider than simply leading singing they reflect a wide range of settings and subjects... The music ain't that bad either. Of course those of you used to New Zealand understatement will know that means it's good music.

Check out a new song he wrote based on Mark 4:35-41 (see below) . I've also printed the lyrics. If you want some back story (I know sounds like some cheesy amercian TV show) then you can got to Malcolm's OneVoice website.

Malcolm also tells me that (and no I'm not being paid to do this promo I genuinly like this guy and his music). You can go here on noise trade =" and download his Ministry of Interior CD.

Draw us from the shallows
Out into the deep
Our faith was weak and hollow
But its strengthened in our need
Though the waters overwhelm us
Though the shore be lost from sight
From the storm you call forth stillness
From the darkness you call light

Even the wind and the waves will listen to your voice
O speak your love and your grace and calm the storm within

Lead us from the certain into your mystery;
With fearless love abounding
You ride the raging sea
Though the waters overwhelm us
Though the shore be far away
You walk on waves to find us
Your hands reach out to save

Even the wind and the waves will listen to your voice
O speak your love and your grace and calm the storm within

Out far beyond the headland where fear and freedom meet
The drowning and the dying, you haul us to our feet
Though the water overwhelm us
Though the shore is far behind
Drifting daughters you will rescue
Shipwrecked son you will find

Even the wind and the waves will listen to your voice
O speak your love and your grace and calm the storm within

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Jesus, the Law and us .... Matthew 5:17-20 (It's life Jim by not as we know it Part 2... a series looking at the Sermon on the Mount)

It’s not the most encouraging thing when you are preaching on a passage in scripture to have the first commentator you read start by saying “these are some of the hardest verses in scripture to understand”. So I was pleased the next person I read started with a story, a sports story at that. He told the story of his baseball coach arguing with an umpire over the interpretation of one of the rules of the game. It got rather heated and finally the umpire reached into his back pocket, never a good sign in this country if you’re on a sports field right, and pulled out the rule book and turned to the appropriate rule.  He read it out. The coach still wanted to argue and suggested that the umpire’s interpretation of the rule was wrong in this case. However what the umpire said next changed everything. “No my interpretation is correct… I’m the guy who wrote the rule  book”. The coach shut up walked back to the dugout saying “ Get a hold of that Guy, he wrote the rules.” That’s the sort of situation we have in the passage we had read today from Jesus Sermon on the Mount. We find Jesus stating his relationship with the law and the prophets and starting to deal with and how they apply to his disciples.

That might seem a trivial way of staring to talk about a passage that deals with such big questions as how Christianity connects with its Jewish roots? How are we as followers of Jesus to understand the scriptures of the Old Testament? How do the mosaic laws apply to us? Is it salvation by grace or by obeying the law? Does being a follower of Jesus imply some sort of legalism? These are questions that have been part of the Christian faith right from its start. If you read through Acts and some of Paul’s letters you see a group called the Judizers who wanting gentile followers of Jesus to live by a strict interpretation of the Mosaic Law. The first ever general assembly of the Church, in Acts 15, dealt with that very issue. What eventually caused the church to get together and decide what they would consider as their sacred writings was in response to a man called Marcian, who saw Christianity as a total break from its Jewish past, so he ended up with only small parts of the gospels mainly Luke as the scripture he saw as God inspired. Even today, as we wrestle with some of our most pressing moral and ethical issues how we apply scripture from the Old and New Testament is often at the centre. Some people want us to be biblical literalists, they are modern day legalists, others simply say Jesus replaced the law with an ethic of love, they ignore Jesus own Jewish heritage.

Let’s look at Jesus and the Law. Jesus had started his sermon on the mount by using the third person, blessed are the, a great invitation to come into the Kingdom in the beatitudes,  then he moved to address his disciples in the second person, you are salt and light, now he moves to the first person and talks of who he is and his mission.

 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”

If we were to put Jesus first phrase into a modern vernacular we might say ‘Don’t think for one minute” there is a real sense that Jesus is aware of the impact his revolution of grace it had caused his listeners to wonder if this meant that all that had gone before no longer applied. The prevailing religious understanding of the day was that you needed to keep all the laws to please God. Jesus puts that understanding on its head. But Jesus is quick to point out that he hadn’t come to do away with the law and the prophets rather he had come to fulfil them.  When we think of the law and the prophets we often simply think of the law of Moses of the rules and regulations, we forget that this was a short hand way of referring to all the books of the Old Testament. The Torah or the law is the first five books, that tells of God’s calling Israel to be his people, the prophets refers to the written prophets and history books of the Old Testament, interpreting their history in the light of that covenant and applying into the various contexts they found themselves in. It was also used to cover the wisdom books and poetry as well.

How did Jesus fulfil This?

Firstly, as we saw in the video called the thread there is a story running through the whole of scripture, about God’s relationship with God’s creation. A relationship that was broken by sin and that God has been at work to repair. Through Abraham God calls a people to be his own, he saves them from slavery in Egypt. He gives them his law, so they will live in a way that reflects the just nature of God who has saved them. In this they were to be a light to the nations, calling them to come and know and worship God. Jesus is the fulfilment of this. This revelation of God’s nature and purpose is fulfilled in Christ. God’s new creation is made possible in Christ.

Secondly, his sacrifice on the cross can only be understood in the context of the Old Testament sacrificial laws, Jesus fulfilled their purpose of providing a sacrifice, once and for all, for the forgiveness of sin. Right from the start the Church did not carry on the practise of animal sacrifice, they knew that its purpose and reason had been fulfilled in Christ.

Thirdly, as Martin Luther says ‘the only thing Jesus added to the Mosaic Laws was that he kept them”.  We see that Jesus showed us what a human being who kept the law was like. To be a disciple, to be salt and light in the world is to be Christ like, which is what the word Christian means. If you want to know what it means to live a God centred life …   “get a hold of this guy… he wrote the rule book’…

The law will not pass away because its purpose is still being worked out in the world. We’ve been bought into a relationship with God, in Christ and we need to know how to live that out in our lives and to teach others to do the same. But as we go through the rest of the Sermon on the Mount we see Jesus as the one who wrote the book, exercise the authority to interpret it correctly. In a series of case studies Jesus corrects misunderstanding of various laws of the Old Testament and in doing so helps us to grasp their true meaning.

Now Jesus turns to look at our relationship with the Law and prophets.

19 So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. 20 “But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!”

Firstly, greatness in the kingdom of heaven say John Stott comes through living it out. There is an ethical element to our faith. Keeping Christ’s commandments however is not how we get in the kingdom that is by God’s grace it’s how we are to live out the kingdom.

Secondly, Jesus call to us is to live that out in a different way than the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees. To have a better righteousness,  let’s face it in Jesus day the Pharisees were the spiritual superstars they were about keeping the law, they were good, but Jesus says they were not good enough.  Perhaps to best understand this we should look at Jesus summery of the Pharisees in Matthew 23:23. Jesus says the Pharisees had got so caught up in the observing the law, in the most minuscule of ways, in trivial matters, like arguing over tithing herbs, that they had forgotten the weightier matters of the law, what was at its heart, Justice Mercy and Faithfulness. It was an external, legalistic keeping of the law and Jesus here is calling his disciples to have a deeper righteousness, that not only our actions but our attitudes would be changed.

It is a right way of living that comes from a changed heart. In Jeremiah 31:33 we see a looking forward to the coming of the messiah, that God would write his laws on our hearts, In Ezekiel 36:21 we see a looking forward to a time when God would place his spirit in people and cause them to walk in God’s ways. It’s a better righteousness because it comes from God’s changing our hearts, it’s about relationship not regulations.

In the rest of Matthew Chapter 5, in a teaching technique that has become very popular again, Jesus gives case studies to help us see what this different righteousness means. In a series of ‘You’ve heard it said” but I say sayings Jesus takes the way the law had been misunderstood and provides his right interpretation,  a deeper and more transformed way of living it out. It’s not simply thou shall not kill, says Jesus, but not harbouring anger towards others , not denigrating them not even, and boy is this challenging putting them down. Thou shall not kill is a law designed to limit evil, but Jesus says God’s way demands that we treat others with love and respect, we value life. He will do the same thing with thou shall not commit adultery, by challenging his disciples to see it’s not only the act of adultery as wrong  but  how we view other human beings, to use a modern phrase that we don’t objectify them. The Pharisees and teachers of the law were arguing about what constituted grounds for divorce, and Jesus puts the focus back on not looking for offence but on working on those relationships.  The Pharisees had wrestled over what is a binding oath, if you swear one by  this its binding, if you swear it by that we’ll it dosen’t  count. Sort of Like “ aha it doesn’t count I had my fingers crossed” or Pinky swear to make it binding, Jesus says hey guys its rather that we should be people whose word can be trusted. A simple yes or no is sufficient, just be straight and people of integrity. The most famous of these case studies is Jesus call not just to love your neighbours and friends, but people who do you wrong , and whom you find impossible to love, to love your enemies. Later in chapter six Jesus will look at more religious laws, giving prayer and fasting and again look towards actions reflecting a kingdom attitude.  Alms giving is not about giving the right amount , the tithing law was so in the ace of our greed and selfishness  the poor would be cared for, but kingdom of heaven righteousness is a call to generosity, of sharing what we have so that there will be no needs, trusting in God to take care of us. Over the next few weeks we are going to look at these case studies. Today has been rather theoretical but just as Jesus does it’s going to get real practical.

In saying our righteousness should be better than the Pharisees and teachers of the law  Jesus is calling his disciples to not just to adhere to a set of rules, but rather that our lives should reflect a changed heart.

I want to finish off today by making some what I hope are practical applications.

Firstly, It shows us that the Old Testament is important and worthy of our study. I read a portion of the Old Testament each day as well as the new and a psalm and proverbs. It’s useful both for its positive examples but also its negatives. The prophets help us understand how the word of God is applied to different contexts. It also important not to simply project it forward but to view it through the lens of Christ, we are not people of the you’ve heard it said… we are the people of but I say.

Secondly, following Jesus is not just following a set of regulations; it’s about working out this relationship with others and the world at large  in the light of that central relationship with God.  By using case studies and not simply giving a list of do’s and don’t Jesus is helping train us in working out how to be light and salt in all of the situations we find ourselves in, by living and acting from a changed heart. Can I say that that means down through the ages Christians have found themselves on different sides of the ethical debates of their age. Slavery is a great example of that. I guess it’s the same today with the debates over some of our ethical questions , homosexuality  is one of the most prominent.  We don’t always get it right, we are going to find ourselves wrestling between legalism and grace.  The hope is that God has placed his spirit within us, to bring to mind what Jesus has said, to lead us into all truth.  To enable us in how we live and what we say to witness to Jesus Christ and to produce Christ like fruit in our lives.  

Thursday, June 21, 2012

prayer of thanksgiving based on Pslam 138

In my devotions this week I read Psalm 138 and found myself drawn to some of its wonderful imagery.

The fact that we can depend on God to keep God's promises because of the honour of his name... the guarantee that God will do what God says God will do (clumsy but inclusive language there)  is God's own character.

I was also captivated by the line though I am surrounded by troubles, you will protect me... you reach out your hand to me'. It seemed to resonate with what I know is happening in the lives of people in the congregation here. Yet the Psalm says that even those troubles cannot stop God from working out his plans for our lives.

The prayer comes across a little like a lament but maybe we need to rediscover that in our devotional life and our liturgy.

I have to say that it has stretched my rather limited ability to capture what I was feeling in a prayer... The last line comes from Eugene Peterson's Message translation.

There is trouble in our Lives, O Lord

It’s not all plain sailing  

Yet in the midst of the angry turmoil we say thank you

From the depths of our heart we give you praise

In the ups and downs of our existence

We come to acknowledge your unfailing love and faithfulness

Because that is at the core of who you are

We know you keep your promises to us

We can depend on that

we can depend on you

When we call out to you,

 even in the depth,

 You hear us

As soon as we pray,

you answer

It’s not that it all gets solved and made better

It’s not some quick fix, get out of jail free card

Rather even though we cannot feel you all the time

We know You are with us

You encourage us

You give us the strength we need

Even though you are so great

You care for the humble

Even though you are all powerful

You are with the powerless

In fact you don’t hold with the haughty and proud

Rather You reach out your hand to us

You save us

Even more importantly have redeemed us

In Jesus you entered our world

A man of sorrow, Acquainted  with grief

You experienced the worst humanity had to offer

And in return gave grace and love

And in dying on the cross

You took our sin

You broke its power to corrupt

Your broke its power of death

There is new life and joy

You work out your plans for our life

Plans for good not for harm

Plans that not even the worst of life can thwart

This gives us hope

Your faithful love endures forever

Finish what you have started in us

Don’t quit on us now

Monday, June 18, 2012

Call to Worship (based on Deuteronomy 4:32 and A Blesssing (based on 2 Thessalonians 3:16

A call to worship for this week based on Deuteronomy 4:32

Let us take heart as we gather today
Let us take heart in this great truth
                The LORD is God, in heaven above
                The LORD is God, here on earth
                There is no other

and a blessing for the end of the service based on 2 Thessalonians 3:16

Now may the Lord of peace,

Christ himself, give you peace,

                The Peace of Christ at all times

The Peace of Christ in every way

The Lord be with you all


Sunday, June 17, 2012

Salt and Light (Matthew 5:13-16... It's life Jim but not as we Know it a srries on the sermon on the mount part 1)

I don’t know about you but I always found the opening music and voice over for the original star trek series quite stirring. I guess it captured the optimism and possibilities of the 1960’s and humanities first steps space ward. It expresses all the elements of the epic journey stories that have captivated us from time immoral.  It may seem a bit passé and cheesy now but I wanted to pick up the idea of this search for new life and use it as an invitation to explore a new civilization; the kingdom of heaven that Jesus inaugurated:  New life this new way of life and being human in relationship with God  you and I as followers of Jesus are called to live. A life that is articulated in what some call the kingdom manifesto, the most condensed piece of Jesus teaching we have in the gospels… the Sermon on the Mount.

It’s important in this new time and new context that we find ourselves in, to stop and again look back to our founder and his vision for his followers. To rediscover our call and purpose … Dietrich Bonheoffer, the German theologian   who had to work out what it meant to follow Christ under the Nazi regime 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.”

And Jesus had started to call disciples, ordinary people about their everyday work to come and follow him and as an introduction to the Sermon on the Mount it says his disciples came to him and he began to teach them.  The Sermon on the Mount is like the job description of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus… it’s discipleship 101 if you like.

Jesus starts off with the Beatitudes ( Which I preached on earlier this year in a series called The Jesus Guide to Happiness). In what Philip Yancy calls the revolution of Grace, Jesus turns the prevailing religious view of the day on its head. In the beatitudes we see that it is not those who are good enough the spiritual superstars who have it all together that are blessed and able to be part of God’s family and kingdom, but the poor in spirit, those who mourn, who hunger and thirst for righteousness, Those who are meek, the merciful and the peacemakers, the pure of heart, those who suffer persecution and alienation because of Jesus and his kingdom. These people are blessed because they find their poverty, hunger, thirst and desire for peace meet and filled in Jesus and his mercy. They, we, are the people God invites into his Kingdom in Christ.

Then Jesus says quite a profound thing in the passage we had read out to us this morning. He says of this ragtag group, his disciples… you are the salt of the earth… you are the light of the world. Right from the get go Jesus gives them and all who would follow him this identity. That who we are is to have an impact on the world in which we live. Our relationship with Jesus maybe personal but it is not private. Our relationship with Jesus may bring inward transformation but it is to be outlived out there in the world in a way that will have impact. In our Old Testament reading from Isaiah we see that God’s plans and purposes for his people have always been missional, have always been about living in a way that would reflect the very nature of God. That would reflect God’s grace, God’s goodness and God’s justice to the world, that the nations would come and know and worship God.

Jesus uses metaphors, word pictures to explain that. Salt and Light and people down through the ages have wrestled with what those thing mean.

Firstly, Salt. In Jesus day it was so valuable that roman soldiers were paid in salt… its where we get the saying “he is worth his salt”. It opens us up to look at different ways in which we can be salt. We are most used to it as a flavouring agent. I often get (my daughter) Bethany to taste test my cooking, and her number one suggestion is that it needs salt to bring out the flavours already there. Just like with Salt you and I are to bring a Jesus flavour to all we do, to bring that flavour to the world.

Up until the beginning of the twentieth century and the invention of refrigeration salt was used to preserve meat and food. In his re-enactment of the voyage of St Brendan in the 1970’s explorer Tim Severn set out across the Atlantic Ocean in a small bullock hide chorale. He took modern space age freeze dried food and also some more traditional salted meat and cheese. He said that as the salt water got into the freeze dried stuff it went bad, but with the traditional foods it simply added to the flavour. Another aspect of being salt then would be in a world of decay to be a preserving agent, to stop the rot as it were and be a force for the goodness of God.

Salt is also used in healing in purification, we often hear about rubbing salt into a wound as a way of making something painful hurt more, but it was a way of guarding against infection. We still use it today, saline solution is used to clean out wounds. Again it can talk of being part of  God’s healing into this world. Being where the hurt is so that the infection of sin won’t spread.

Light… of course is a more common biblical metaphor. It speaks of God’s truth and presence.  In houses in Jesus time there was a lamp placed on a lamps stand in the corner which would provide illumination to the whole of a house and it gave people the ability to look and see what was in the house. We used to live in Napier and at least once a month I would come back from Wairoa after attending a Church meeting there and get home about midnight.  The Wiaroa/Napier road is a long winding dangerous road with several gorges prone to slips, but you knew you were almost home and safe when you’d come out by the coast and there off in the distance was Napier hill with all its lights. It pointed the way home. The way we live is to point people to the one we have found life and light in. People, says Jesus, will see our good works, how we live and love other people and through that they will give glory to our Father in heaven.

Of course in John 8:16 Jesus says “I am the Light of the World” if we follow him we will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life in us”. We are able to be light because we have the light of Christ in us. I guess you could say it’s kind of like the sun and the moon. The moon provides light in the night, when we don’t get in the way,  but not its own light, it is reflected light from the sun. So it with us through our words and deeds we are to reflect the light of Christ to the world around us.

But Salt and light also tell us how we are to have that influence on the world. If we hide the light away says Jesus, what good is it. We are to shine that light.  Salt is used by being spread out and applied, not simply by sitting in the salt shaker or a sack somewhere. It adds flavour as it permeates through a soup or casserole or baking. It needs to infuse into meat to cure it and it is poured into a wound to clean it. You get this idea of the kingdom of heaven not being a kingdom that will come by conquest or by power or legislation, but by people who follow Christ and live in a Christ light manner permeating the world. Being there and being involved…. In schools, in community,  in government, in families, where you work to bring transformation… There were times in history when the Christianity was seen as the state religion and able to impose and legislate, but even in those times there has always been the need for people to be salt and light of the kingdom as well, drawing people back to Jesus vision and version of the Kingdom. One of the greatest reformation movements was St Francis of Assisi, in his day the church had become very much associated with the wealthy and powerful   and Francis and his monks were able again to show a Christian faith, based on the sermon on the mount that cared for the poor and marginalised, that didn’t seek power or maintain it by violence.

Salt and light also give of themselves to achieve their purpose. Oil is burned and consumed to give of light and salt dissolves and infuses to bring flavour, purify and preserve. Again this reflects Jesus own ministry of giving himself for us.

There are going to be times when being Slat and Light will draw us into conflict with the decay and darkness in the world. Martin Luther made the comment that salt was meant to bite when it did its work of purifying. Jesus had just finished talking about the fact that just as they had persecuted the prophets of old so they would persecute people who held up the light of God’s goodness. How we deal with those things also calls us to be salt and light.

There is also a warning in Jesus two metaphors here. Jesus says if salt loses its saltiness how can it be made salty again? It’s no good except to be thrown on the roads and trampled underfoot. Likewise we shouldn’t hide our light under a bushel or basket. Again we get the light metaphor but scholars have wrestled with what it means for salt to lose its saltiness. Salt is no good for cooking if it is contaminated by other things. People used to collect salt that had been evaporated from the water round the dead sea, and some of it was good salt and some of it was mixed with gypsum and other minerals. While you could use it to preserve things at first, it wouldn’t last that long as the salt would dissolve and eek away leaving only the gypsum which was no use except to pave the roads. Some have suggested that Jesus was referring to rabbinic saying of his day, which mean that salt can’t lose it saltiness and maybe it wasn’t salt in the first place.  But these two warnings point to two extremes that the church has been prone to down through history. Firstly we lose our distinctive and simply reflect the world and culture round us rather than Jesus. Then well we are just another social club in a crowded social network landscape. The other trap is that we hide off from the world and well it’s nice and light under the bucket or bowl but it is of little value. Dietrich Bonheoffer says “flight into the invisible is a denial of call. A community of Jesus which seeks to hide itself has ceased to follow him”.

These metaphors prepare us for what Jesus will say in his sermon, this ragtag group bought into the kingdom of heaven by Jesus revolution of grace are to live differently than those around them. To be a follower of Jesus is to accept responsibility for sharing that distinction both in word and in deed, in living a different way it’s a call to be where the decay is and to shine in the darkness. To  speak out against injustice and unrighteousness and to share the good news we have found in Christ. And back both those up with our actions, as John Stott says to penetrate the world with its structures and powers and preserve and bring flavour, Jesus flavour. Can I say we’ve often done that from a position of power as if Jesus aid we were the gold and silver of the world rather than humble but essential things for life light and salt.

Well how do we start… William Klein in his book on the sermon on the mount “ Become what you are” finishes his comments on this passage with some challenging questions… He asks ‘What injustice flourishes in the world around You? You are the salt of the earth… What about simply telling someone about Jesus? Can I say I’m heartened to recently hear stories of people encouraging other to come along to church because they find it a great place to belong…  I hope it’s because in what we do and who we are that it just bursting with that Jesus flavour. Think of the mundane parts of your everyday life… how can they become places to shine light? Corporately, are we known as a caring community…in our community?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

we are surrounded by your goodness ( a prayer of thanksgiving and confession based ever so loosely on Psalm 36v5-9)

This prayer is based loosely on Psalm 36 v 5-9. As i read it I though of the way in which the psalmist was able to show ho we are surrounded by the goodness of God. His love reaches to the sky his righteousness like the mountains so solid off on the horizon, his justice like the ocean depth. Being from an Island nation of course I am very aware of the way in which we are surrounded by the oceans.

Yet this can seem like poetic licence and simple hyperbole... unless we actually look at what God has done for us. Creation, providence, salvation, giving us his Spirit to lead and to guide us, giving us his truth and word and of course I could go on and often do. We are surrounded by God's goodness. In the end we are called to respond not just with words but in the way we live, so we confess our sins and pray that with the help of God's spirit we may in all we do bring praise to God. The passage I am preaching on this week in Matthew 5:13-16 which says that we are the light of the world and people should see our good deeds and give praise to our Father in Heaven.'

Eternal and almighty God

Loving and forgiving Lord,

 What words can we bring to praise you?

How can we describe who you are and what you have dome for us

We are surrounded by your goodness

Not even the sky is the limit when we think of your love

The vastness of the universe is not enough to contain it all

Your faithful covenant love stretches beyond our horizons of time and space

Your righteousness is as solid and dependable as the mountains

Your justice as immeasurable as the ocean depth

We are surrounded by your goodness

You provide for all your creation

Both the needs of animals in their habitats

And human beings

Your unfailing love shown to us is priceless

You give us refuge

You give abundantly, from your storehouse

Life giving water, for body and soul

You are the source of abundant life

By the light of your truth you open up our eyes

We are surrounded by your goodness

Maybe that’s over the top hyperbole

But how else can we express our thanks

You created all that there is

This wonderful world in which we live

Its beauty and grandeur speaks of your praise

 Through it you provide for our needs, physical and spiritual

When we had turned away from you

You didn’t write us off, and leave us in our own darkness

You took the costly step of sending your son Jesus into this world

To show us the way and lead us into truth

Who gave up his life on the cross

Paid the debt for all we had done wrong

Being raised from dead he broke the chains of sin and death

Enabling us to be forgiven and live a new life

You sent your spirit to equip and lead us in that life follow Jesus

You have been working in history and in our past

You hold our future in your hands

You watch our going outs and coming in and guide our steps

We are surrounded by your goodness

Being surrounded by that goodness

We come this morning and confess our sins

Forgive us when we limit our love

When we ration our forgiveness

And hold back from giving to others to protect our comfort

Forgive us for the wrong we do

And for the good we overlook

In Christ’s name we pray

We are surrounded by your goodness

As we confess our sins you are faithful and just

You forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness

We are surrounded by your goodness

Fill us afresh with your spirit

That we may share the good news of your love in Christ Jesus

That it just wouldn’t be struggling for the right things to say

But that our all our lives an all we do we may bring you praise

All praise to you O God, father son and Holy Spirit

Hope filled quote for the Church from Eugene Peterson

I listened/watched to an interview with Eugene Peterson from Catalyst West conference in 2012. As a final question he was asked if he was hopeful for the church. His reply is worth noting...

"I am hopeful. I know there is a lot of pessimism in the church these days... some of it hysterical... but you know we've been in this situation so many times in the past 2000 years and 2000 years before that as a Jewish community. We've never been successful... never! Can you find one good successful Church in the New Testament? And when was Israel ever faithful? For short periods of time once in a while, but mostly they were a mess... and yet all the way through this salvation is being worked out, with people just like us people just like in your congregations... I know its hard but its also glorious."

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Psalm 133 The Christian Journey is Not A Solitary Trek... (Songs from the road part 5)

 Psalm 133 is a psalm of ascent, from the dogeared songbook used by those returning to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon, sung by those coming together at the temple for one of the major festivals on the Jewish calendar. It’s a song from the road, a song that prepared the pilgrims to worship and encounter God and a song that can help us on our upward journey in life following Jesus. It is a song for our road.

(this first part of the message serves as a summary of where we have been on our journey through the songs from the road and have links to the other messages in the series for easy referencing)

The pilgrim starts their journey in a far off place. In Psalm 120 we saw a discontent with the way things were, living amongst the tents of those who were for war, when they were for peace. The pilgrim has this feeling of isolation and distance being a sojourner that started their Godward journey, their pilgrimage.

They may have started off alone or been part of a caravan travelling across the desert,   psalm 121 uses the imagery of the life of a caravan as the pilgrim sees their far off destination ’I look to the hills’ and looks for help to see the journey through, my help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.

In the psalms of ascent on that journey home, or climbing the stairs of the temple, the pilgrim remembers God’s goodness, God’s provision; Psalm 127… God’s provision in work and family,

God’s help in distress, Psalm130 crying out in the depth and having hope in the heights of God’s grace…God’s great works in creation and in history, saving and caring for Israel, they confess their sin… psalm 130 was a penitential psalm.

Psalm 133 is the last psalm of ascent, before they hear the benediction of Psalm 134. While they had felt alone and isolated now they are aware that they are part of a great family. There is a change of focus; they had been looking towards the temple as a place and symbol of God’s presence and blessing. Now they become aware that God’s presence and blessing are not found simply in a place but with the people. That God had always been about the covenant relationship with his people, togetherness is where God will pour out blessing.  

Psalm 133 is attributed to David and it has an older setting and context. It comes from the image of an extended family. In Israel’s culture sons would stay at home with their father and as they grew and got married and had children their family would come and join the Klan. If you read through genesis you can see this in the life of Abraham and more so with Israel and his sons. When you read the story of David’s anointing as King by Samuel the prophet, you also get the picture of all the sons living together. David’s experience of this must have been a good one unlike joseph’s in genesis when his brothers didn’t like his dreams and his father’s favouritism so they plotted to kill him and eventually sold him off to slavery in Egypt. But from what we know David had a good experience of it. In the end even Joseph felt this bound so tightly that he wanted to be reconciled with his brothers and bless them.  So when David is king and finally Israel is bought together as one people no longer  different factions and tribes he can apply this image of brothers living together in harmony to the whole of the nation. 

This family metaphor is applied to the whole of Israel down through the temple worship even into the Diaspora when Jews were spread all over the known world, it’s a metaphor that we the church, a truly global community use as well we are brothers and sister in Christ,

In our own nation’s sporting life we have great pictures of brothers and sisters…together in harmony… The Golden age of all black rugby when the Mead's and Clark's played together. The Wheaton’s when we first won the Webb Ellis cup and look at the Evers- Swindell’s , when they get in that skip together, see how they are blessed. What would happen if we were unified and together like that?

In fact it is such a wonderful ideal that the psalmist can’t put it into words he has to use two metaphors, two word pictures to help us grasp it.

It’s like precious oil being poured on the head and running down the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard and on to the collar of his robe.

Perhaps in our post industrial age we don’t quite see the image of having oil poured over us as being a pleasant one.  We may think of oil spills and their devastating effects.  For many of us we think whose going to get  those oil stains out of the clothes. With the price of petrol and oil based products we may again have a fuller understanding of precious oil.

Maybe we can catch a glimpse of what is envisaged here  in the growth of the boutique olive oil industry,  creating scented and herb flavoured oils. As this would have been an oil with fragrances like frankincense in it. 

Aaron of course was the first high priest of Israel and the picture is of him being anointed with oil not in a stingy way but lavishly having this expensive liquid poured out. It was a picture of a greater anointing as well, the anointing of the spirit. And the picture is one of that anointing coming down on all people as they gathered together to worship. They all encountered God’s blessing. One of the catch cries of the reformation was ‘a priesthood of all believers’ all of us in Christ are priests: set aside and anointed to minister and to serve God. All of us together have the blessing of standing before God. He pours out his life giving spirit, that fragrant oil, all over all of us.

“It’s as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion.

 Mt Hermon is the highest peak in Israel it stands over 9,000 feet high to the north of the Sea of Galilee. It is the place in that part of the Middle East that can be guaranteed to have snow on it all year round. The whole of the Jordan river that feeds into the Sea of Galilee and then flows on down the rift valley down past Jerusalem and on into the dead sea has its head water in  Mt Hermon.  That life giving water comes from the dew and the snow on Mt Hermon.  So for David he sees that our unity our togetherness causes God’s blessing to flow in a way that brings life to the whole of the nation of Israel. As people are together its like that life giving dew falls on a lower hill like Zion.  Just like that river has provided water for the land from the beginning so will unity bring God’s blessing even to eternal life. Jesus for us is that life giving water that enables eternal life that is best experienced in all its abundance as we live in unity.

What then for us from this ‘song for the road’.

The first is that following Jesus is a communal endeavour. It is not the lone sojourn. Relationship with God calls us into relationship with each other. Jesus summed that up by summing up the law in loving the lord your God with all your heart and strength and mind and loving your neighbour as yourself. The call to worship we used this morning from 1 Peter 2 sums that up tying together knowing God’s grace and being a people. In Christ we are family.

Secondly, families, brothers and sisters fight and don’t always get along. This may be hard to believe but as the father of four wonderful children, I know this to be true, sometimes. A road trip and long journey can be made to feel inexplicably longer when there is tension between siblings.  But as the father of four wonderful Kids, I know it is a real blessing when they all get along together. Being family calls us to be committed to one another even when there is friction and trouble, and to work it out. The two metaphors in psalm 133 give us some insights in how to do that. firstly the annointing...We are all priest’s.  We are connected not because of who each other is but rather because of what Christ has done for us. That each person has been made by God, to be the unique person they are, that they have been saved by Christ, and they have been anointed by the Holy Spirit to serve the Lord. The dew on the mountain is an image of Gods refreshing and renewing of the earth each new day and we look at the people round us and see that just like us God is at work in their lives bringing them on this upward journey, and we don’t think about what they were like yesterday, we look forward to what new thing Christ will do in them today. We are on the upward journey together and we are hopefully  by God’s grace further along the journey today than we were yesterday, and hallelujah we’ll be further along it tomorrow. We view people through those eyes of grace and hope.

Thirdly, our unity is a foretaste of what eternal life is like. People often put it jokingly by saying well you’d better get along now because guess what… we are going to be spending eternity together. When there is unity when diverse people from different cultures and different backgrounds get together and worship God and love one another, it is a glimpse of what eternal life will be like. It is the manifestation of the Kingdom of God in the realm of humanity. It is hope for our broken world.

Lastly, it is about us being there for each other. We need each other for the journey. I need you with your gifts and abilities, your insights, you love and you need me. In Pilgrim’s progress God provides Christian with companion’s that help him on his journey. That warns him of danger, give him hope and comfort in dark times, yes sometimes they are not a great help and at that times Christian has to help them. In St Brendan’s navigato, his epic journey across the sea, it is the companionship of the monks together, their keeping of spiritual disciplines that enable them to get to and from the land of paradise. Psalm 133 has been called the monastic psalm, Augustine of Hippo said it is about the monks being mono the latin word for one. .. not about members of such orders being mono-isolated by mono- one. It is interesting o see the rise of Christians in the west wanting to recapture that communal oneness in the rise of a new monasticism and in the growth of life groups and cell groups as the basic unit of doing church and life.

Rock-climbing is a good picture of the upward journey and our need for one another. It’s not that we drive each other up the wall but  In rock climbing a climber depends on another climber to  belay them. To hold the rope and take up the slack as they climb  and to keep them safe if they slip and to take the strain if they fall. Then they do the same for their companions traversing the same slope.  It’s not that the belayer climbs for them, hauling them up rock face or wall. Rather the belayer is there to support them. Dietrich Bonheoffer in his wonderful book living together  uses that image to talk of how we need each other for the journey.

" The Christian needs another Christian who speaks God's word to them. They need them again and again when they become uncertain and discouraged, for by themselves they cannot help themselves without belaying the truth. They need their brothers and sisters as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation... The Christ in their own heart is weaker that the Christ in their brother or sister; their own heart is uncertain their brother or sister is sure."

So together we may arrive and complete this upward journey following Christ  and hear the blessing at journeys end.