Monday, April 30, 2012

The Jesus Guide To Happiness (Part 7)... Blessed are the peacemakers (Matthew 5:9)

Peace is something that everybody wants. We’ve just celebrated ANZAC day this week and acknowledged the sacrifice of men and women from our nation and across the Tasman who fought in the wars and conflicts of the last century that we could live in peace. A young friend of mine on facebook summed it up by saying “happy ANZAC day everyone to those who fought for us those many years ago I give deep respect. rest in peace. To those who fight now may your souls and lives be blessed with peace and happiness’ AS a nation we have a reputation for our peace keepers trying to end conflict and stabilise areas round the world from the Sinai to Bougainville. Sadly we live in a world where there always seem to be a conflict or war going on somewhere and there are people suffering in bullet riddled streets and war torn lands. We live in violent times. Peacemakers are much needed.

 Peace is something everybody wants. Peace in suburbia… Be it the still morning after the raging and ravages of a storm, the quite beer on the deck after the incessant drone of the motor mower…that relaxing sigh in the stillness of a busy household when the Children are finally in bed asleep… reading a quite book on a sunny beach with a whole week off head of us… or relief from the tension of mounting money worries or health issues… stepping out from the tyranny of abuse and incessant family conflicts… sending children to school without fear of gang violence and recruitment. We long for peace.

Peace is something everybody wants. In fact in our world today we might say that those who have peace are blessed. It’s a luxury commodity. We all want to cash in the peace dividend. But again Jesus doesn’t say you are blessed if you have peace, rather he says blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the children of God, it’s not going to necessarily be something that will lead us to a peaceful existence either because right after that in the longest of the beatitudes he will say blessed are you when you are persecuted and maligned.

For the people of Jesus day this would have been radical and revolutionary. The number one issue in first century Judea was what we are going to do about the Romans. Beautifully captured in this scene from the life of brian behind me with the zealot group having written Romans go home all over the building. Their vision of a messiah was primarily someone who would be a military leader who would over throw the romans and establish Israel again as a dominant force in the world.  But Jesus tells his disciples that they are to be peacemakers; he rules out that violent pathway. His own example is to overcome the powers of this world by submitting to their violence and dying on a cross. They would also have seen themselves automatically as the children of God, because of their  covenant relationship with God. It was a done deal they were God’s chosen ones, but Jesus is saying that to be considered the children of God was not just a position of privilege but to result in the way one lived, to be about the family business of peacemaking. 

For us today this is radical and revolutionary.   We want to have peace, we may be focused on various aspects of peace in our world but Jesus seems to be pointing here to a different way of living and being in the world. We in the church know that as we put our faith in God you and I are adopted into God’s family. But just maybe we’ve settled for what Dietrich Bonheoffer calls cheap grace, we don’t realise that to be part of God’s family is a call to reflect in all we do the personality of the one whose family we are in. We don’t realise that to enter into Kingdom of God is to be called to see that kingdom come in the world around us.

Blessed are the peacemakers is probably the most well-known and often quoted of Jesus beatitudes, but it’s the hardest to get our heads round as we wrestle with the scope of what it means to make peace and it just may be the one where the rubber hits the road.

We often view peace as a negative, not as a bad thing, but more the absence of conflict and violence. Likewise we often see the word Good as the absence of evil. But the word that Jesus would have used for peace and that is the greeting in Hebrew is the word shalom; it has the meaning of wellness and wholeness. To have peace is to be whole.  Shalom is found in having right relationships, a right relationship with God, with ourselves, with our family in our community, with people outside that community, Jesus will emphasis this one by saying that we are to love not only our neighbours but our enemies as well. It means having right relationship with the created order, something that in our twenty first century home we need to be more and more reminded of, and with our possessions as well. To have shalom on an individual basis is dependent on shalom on a societal basis as well. In Jeremiah chapter 6 the prophet says that the prophets and priests say peace peace, but there is no peace, as the land from greatest to least, even the prophets and priests are all greedy for gain, not focused on justice and righteousness, two pillars for peace, shalom. Later in Jeremiah, the prophet tells those in exile in Babylon to seek the peace, or as some translations have it wellbeing, and prosperity of the city that they find themselves in as in that they will prosper and have peace.

So to be peacemakers means first to have peace. To make peace at an individual level.  It’s not the absence of want or conflict that we find with an eastern ideal of inner peace, but rather that we have those right sets of relationships with God ourselves and with others. World peace starts with inner peace. Albert Einstein in a lecture commenting about the spectre of nuclear war made the connect ion like this

“ It is not a physical problem, but an ethical one.  What terrifies us is not the explosive force of the atomic bomb, but the power of the wickedness of the human heart-its explosive power for evil”.  Christian Psychologist Henry Link puts it like this

“The psychologist finds the seeds of war, poverty and discontent deep seated in the inferiority, selfishness and emotional instability of the individual.”

Nobel award winning Physicist Arthur Compton whose work lead to the development of the atomic bomb was even more succinct he said “man must go the way of Jesus or perish.”   We may equate peacemaking simply with issues of social justice, and we’ll get to that but one of the central aspects of being peacemakers is helping people to find peace wholeness in and with God. We are called to make disciples and to teach them all Jesus has commanded us, which is peace-making.

Secondly to be peacemakers is to live as a peacemaking community. To be people who model that wholeness in the way they treat each other and the world around them. At its best the church is able to be such a community… sadly it can also not be such a place. We just have to look at our history of splits and disagreements. It has been said that 10 am on a Sunday morning is the most segregated time in America. In our increasingly multi-cultural, multi ethnic  cities I hope the church is a place of unity and oneness that will speak volumes to the world, it part of my dream for what I call a new Auckland church, one that reflects the diversity round us but holds and values each other’s contributions and the gifts of each person and culture. More than that it calls us to be a community that identifies with the poor and the marginalised. The church in the past was in a privileged position in the centre of society, and has had to be reminded again and again that to be peacemakers is to be like its head Jesus and identify with those who have no peace.  One of the great reformation movements in church history is that of St Francis of Assisi, who took seriously Jesus sermon on the mount and radically identified with the poor and rejected the social structure of his day, not looking at bringing violence overthrowing of the social order but its transformation through inviting people to come and share and care with the least in society. One of the things that gives me hope about the church in the west is that there is a rediscovery of both being missional, that we are here to work for the peace and prosperity of our community, and also the growth of communities that model themselves after Frances and others, choosing to go live in  the poorest streets and neighbourhoods and live in community. Choosing simplicity as a life style not the simply must have it that we enshrined in the materialistic dream we are sold by the hundreds of sermons we hear and see each day, preached by slick advertisers.   They move there and make time to be there for those around them, Sharing their lives and the gospel. Being peacemakers calls us to acts of kindness and sacrificial living.

Being peacemakers means that we are also willing to wrestle with the big issues of life as well, it calls us to social justice. Our faith is personal but it’s not private. Yes it is about personal salvation but the Kingdom of God is so much more, its allowing God to use us to see God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven, as Jesus invites us to pray. We can forget the link between the two, it’s interesting that Jim Wallis says that altar calls , originally were not simply to call people to respond to the gospel for salvation, it was also the best way to get them to come up the front and sign up as abolitionists, to oppose slavery.  We can easily forget the impact that Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount have had on our world and major issues. Ghandi was said to have read the Sermon on the Mount at least two times each day for the last forty years of his life, it inspired him in his non violence. Martin Luther King jr had it as the basis for his nonviolent movement for equality and justice. In his book ‘the Irresistible Revolution’ Shane Claiborne talks of his desire to imitate Jesus and be a peace maker and that it lead him to be praying with Christians in Baghdad as his countrymen were dropping bombs on the city he was in. Jesus call to be peacemakers calls us to ask questions and live differently in the face of unfair trade practises, unjust policies, exploitation of workers and the environment. I have to tell you it challenges the heck out of me and it’s easy to find ourselves simply getting caught up in our western lifestyle with what Claiborne calls Jesus sprinkles on top.

Being peacemakers is also a call to prayer, maybe I should have put that first, but I didn’t want to people to see that as simply an alternative to action. But peace-making calls us to pray for our world and bring it to God. It is to pray that they will be done on earth as it is in heaven, we are to pray that and then as NT Wright says we ‘those who follow Jesus are to begin to live by this rule here and now’.

One a real practical level we can learn how to be peacemakers. One place you might find helpful to start from is on the Mennonite website. As a church they are so committed to peacemaking they have a very helpful quiz that will help you find your own conflict management style, this is helpful both in knowing how you automatically react to conflict situations and also in seeing alternatives. My by the way is avoidance, but I have to train myself not to simply avoid conflict because, well nothing really gets sorted. And if you sweep things under the carpet long enough then you simply leave a big bump in the carpet that you’ll trip over. I take couples through this test when they come and see me for pre marriage counselling and they find it very helpful I had one couple who the grooms conflict management style was forcing, he liked to win and the brides was concession, she would give in to keep the peace and they asked me if this was going to be a problem… It might have been if they were not aware of this issue. I’ve put the link to it on our website and in the newssheet today.

The beatitudes have taken us on a journey of seeing our hearts renewed and purified by the coming of Jesus Kingdom and now he invites us to live it out in Blessed are the peace makers for they will be called the children of God. If we do this people will see the family resemblance with us they will see in our ministry of reconciliation that Paul tells us we are to have in 2 Corinthians 5 they will see the likeness of the one who reconciled us to our heavenly father in his suffering and sacrifice. They will see the peace that Jesus sent with his spirit over flow into the world around us.  However living as peacemakers will put us into conflict with the world around us.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

"It is a Mystery" a prayer of thanksgiving and confession

It is a mystery

As vast and deep as the night sky

We can sit on a hill and stare off into space

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

Yet O God it’s a mystery

Beyond the scope of reason and science

Telescopes, microscopes

Maps, charts, grand theories

Complex mathematic that stretch to explain it all

Beyond our ability to comprehend

Beyond all there is the mystery

You O God are eternal, with no beginning and end

You spoke and it came into being 

Beyond our wildest dreams

Beyond our hopes

Beyond what we deserve

Beyond what we could ever imagine

Beyond our ability to tie down and theologise

A great mystery of love and grace

You eternal God love us

You have chosen to reveal who you are to us

You sent your son to become one of us

You died to give us life

You chose to live with us, by your spirit

And call us your children

You draw us together to be one in you

You invite to witness to your goodness

To be your hands and feet

It is too wonderful to comprehend

It doesn’t make sense to us

Sometimes it offends our sense of justice

Yet it is liberating and hope filling

That as we admit what we’ve done wrong

You forgive and restore

Christ’s death has paid for it all

Our going our own way, breaking your law

Our not loving as you love

Our withholding of forgiveness

Our wanting it all for ourselves

Our refusal to share

Our writing others off

Lord God we confess that we have done this

We’ve blown our chances

We don’t deserve your kindness

Yet you are righteous and just

We hear the words “you are forgiven”

The stain is gone and we are clean again

It is a mystery beyond us

It is too marvellous for us to comprehend

But you O god are with us today

Your presence is a reality

You invite us into a relationship with you

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

That we might abide with you and you with us

Fill us that your love and grace might flow through us

Fill us to be channels of your peace

To your glory.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Does the Bible say Amputation is the best way to deal with Temptation? (Mark 9:38-50)

When I lived in napier I took up bike riding for my major form of exercise. I would ride round Westshore and out to Bayview on an old Avanti racing bike that someone very generously gave me. I’m enjoying it. Well to tell you the truth there are parts of my anatomy that wished I had stuck to swimming because they find themselves stuck to something rather hard. As I headed off the first few times I thought you know this is easy, there is nothing much to this, I can sit back pedal away and enjoy the scenery and I’d get to the end of the road past the walk way and turn round and suddenly it hit me and I realised that this wasn’t as easy as I thought, after a few minutes I had to admit that it was a lot harder than I had imagined, no more looking at the scenery and sitting back, I was full out puffing looking down at the road just in front of the bike and trying to keep going. It hit me, I had turned round and was cycling into a head wind. The air itself was opposing me from getting to where I was going. I just think what can I get rid of to make it easier to go in this direction. Admittedly the first thing that comes to mind is getting rid if the bike. I don’t have this sort of trouble in the van. But doing that would be giving into temptation. Good cyclists will get down and diminish their silhouette and become sleek. I’m not the most aerodynamic person you’ve ever meet.

My biking came to mind as I wrestled with the passage we had read out to us this morning. Because it t0o looks at dealing with things that would hold us back from following Jesus Christ. From being a disciple and on the surface it seems to propose a similar solution to riding into a head wind: get a smaller profile. In fact Jesus is pretty upfront and outrageous by suggesting if something even a body part tempts you to sin you should cut it off. Because it’s better to enter the kingdom of God minus a few limbs and appendages than to end up on the rubbish heap where the fires never stop.

How can we encounter Jesus in these teachings? It feels like the old hellfire and brimstone-preaching stereotype that puts people off Church. It brings up the pictures of Islamic fundamentalist law where the punishment for stealing is loosing a hand. Is this the sort of stuff that Jesus was advocating? How can we encounter Jesus in this and how can it be useful to what we wrestle with in our own lives. How can it help us with dealing with things that tempt us to do what we know we should not and help us to live in a way that refects a relationship with Jesus?

I believe that there is a lot for us in what Jesus has to say here and to apply it to our lives does not mean that we will end up being some strange sect where people arrive at church each week with a different body part missing.

It starts with john coming to Jesus and saying he had seen a man who was not one of Jesus followers exorcising a demon in Jesus name. John tells Jesus that he stopped the man. You could imagine him asking to see the man’s discipleship membership card.  I’m sorry sir we don’t do non-union exorcisms round here brother. John is fiercely protecting Jesus.  I guess John was hoping for a pat on the back from Jesus. But Jesus tells him not to stop people doing good things, even miraculous things in his name. He says ‘Who is not against us for us’ which is a very wide embrace of people doing the things that Jesus does, acts that reflect the kingdom of God. AS I read this I thought you know its like riding with the wind behind you, every bit heading in the right direction helps. God’s spirit is at work in the world doing the things that God wants, showing his justice, his grace his mercy and his love and as New Zealand poet James K Baxter says it blows through ten thousand fields both inside and outside the fences. It’s not just in churches that God is calling people to care for his world and to love the least and the lost to stand against evil in peoples lives or on a systemic basis. We shouldn’t stop them in fact we should encourage them. If they are not against Jesus they are for him in what they do.

 In my generation we have another example a man who was known for being a Punk and a real Rat whose compassion and care for the poor and the hungry make him one of the closest things to a saint in the rock and roll industry. Bob Geldolf rose to fame as part of the punk band ‘the boom town rats’, their big hit round the world was “I Don’t like Mondays’ wrestling with the first high school massacres. Bob was moved by a visit to the famine areas of Somalia and Ethiopia and his response was to organise the Live Aid concert, asking his music industry friends to contribute their talents and raised hundreds of millions of dollars.. He’s not a Christian or doing this in the name of God, but I can’t help but wonder if the flavour of what is being done caring for the least advocacy for the powerless is not the salty flavour of the kingdom of God. The passage tells us that even a glass of water given is a kindness that puts a smile on God’s dial. We need to encourage it.

But Jesus then invites his disciples to look at their own lives, not to stop people from doing what is good because they don’t belong to the Church or a particular branch of Christianity but rather to look at what they are doing in their own lives and how they need to change. To be a disciple a follower of Jesus means that we choose to follow Jesus and do the things God wants us to do. It’s not salvation by works but because we know God’s love and care and grace that we share it with the world around us. In fact the metaphor of salt that Jesus finishes his teaching with talks of salt loosing its flavour and being good for nothing but being thrown onto the rubbish heap. Gehenna mentioned in this passage was the rubbish dum outside Jerusalem and a word used by the Jews to talk of eternal judgement.  I’ve always struggled with that saying because when you go into the cupboard and get the salt out it tastes like salt. Right. Even if it’s been there for ten years way at the back of the cupboard hidden behind all the pasta and rice you open the packet and yup it’s salt. In third world countries salt is such an important substance that unscrupulous people will mix the salt with other powdery substances so you go to taste the salt and well it’s not salty at all because it’s not all salt. It’s not good for anything except putting on the roads and throwing out. Jesus point is unless our lives show his love for one another and the world round us it’s kind of like we never had the salt flavour in the first place.

Anyway Jesus invites his disciples to look at the things that would hold them back from following him. Like the things that stop me from going fast into a head wind on my bike. Paul in Hebrews using the metaphor of a marathon runner will say ‘let us throw off everything that hinders and the sins that bind and run the race set before us fixing our eyes on Jesus’.  Jesus uses the metaphor of punishment to illustrate that and he uses metaphors that are shocking amputation, a brutal roman punishment for stealing or run away slaves, having a mill stone tied round your neck and being thrown into the lake to catch peoples attentions. If there are things that are drawing you away from following Jesus drawing you back into doing what you know and God knows are wrong then its better that you administer such things to your self than end up on the rubbish heap.

It would be better to have a mill stone tied round our neck and be thrown into the lake is a powerful warning for those would try and lead people astray. It really calls follower of Jesus and particularly people in places of leadership and responsibility to think how we act and treat people. One of the things that has gutted me like a fish recently has been the number of cases of sexual abuse by people in the clergy. Even hearing about the way Alaskan Indians were treated in catholic schools makes my blood boil and people often ask well how could God et these things happen and read this verse and you realise that God’s love for his little ones is very, very strong

Under these shocking metaphors however are good principles that can help us deal with things that tempt us to sin. If something is tempting you well cut it off. He’s talking about denial. If you are into gardening I guess the metaphor would be pruning cutting out dead wood even some productive branches so that the tree will bear good fruit. What things I hear you say.

We live in a consumer society where we are being pushed to improve upgrade and have a higher standard of living. The one with the most toys wins as a bumper sticker says. However if the pursuit of a higher and better standard of living and better and better things has become the focus of your life and is detrimental to your family life and your health both physical and spiritual wellbeing well you need to somehow cut it off before it consumes you and all your fit for is the tip. How do you cut it off, how do you not feed that, perhaps its as simple as sitting down and taking stock of where you are at and what is important in life that includes a relationship with the creator of it all by the way and say are these things worth the price in terms of relationships and my soul. Then we are going to think now in terms of other values and say we can live her and be happy with less. Temptations are called that because they are tempting they are pleasurable and wonderful but in the end they are bait that has a hook.

In our twenty first century wide wired world I have a friend who I keep in touch with over the Internet. In fact for him the Internet is a big part of his life. He works for an internet provider he hosts chat rooms and discusses theology on line with people round the world. he even meet his wife on line. They started chatting and she eventually came over to New Zealand to meet him and they got married. One day he asked me for advice. He had me this other women on line and they had discussed started discussing stuff and it had got more personal and deeper and deeper and eventually the women had started talking about romance and sex. Suggesting they should hook up and connect more than just on line. Now my mate was rather flattered by that and to be honest quite tempted by it. But you could imagine the impact that it would have on his marriage not to mention how it would reflect on his Christian faith. My advise to him was to cut things off. Not body parts he’d need those for his marriage right. But rather to cut off that relationship, To say look we can’t head down this path, I love my wife, we have to stop. He needed to cut that relationship and start investing the intimacy that was being shared online with his wife. It’s the same with stuff like internet porn or gambling, they tempt and then there is the hook.

The process of cutting things out of your life starts by admitting that things are tempting you to do wrong and they need to be dealt with. The Christian word is confession and then choosing to cut it off and turn and often things have got their hooks into us so much that we may need help in how to cut it off and rehabilitation in learning to live healthily with it amputated.

John himself who started this section by coming down like a tonne of bricks on the guy doing something in Jesus name is the example of the finished product of this process. He starts out being known along with his brothers as the sons of Thunder. Load obnoxious, pushy fishermen yet the end of his life knows him as the apostle of love. His gospel and his letter abound with the encouragement to love one another. 

Well how do we encounter Jesus in this passage this morning? Again I believe that comes down to allowing the Holy Spirit to speak into our lives I want to invite us to be still for a moment and invite us to be open to encountering Jesus in those questions.

What’s the tail wind we have around us? What good what glass of water because of Jesus is Jesus wanting to encourage in your life, be it encourage someone else or within you?

What’s the head wind?  What area of your life is Jesus asking you to cut away that is stopping you from having a spiritually healthy life from following him? 

The Jesus Guide To Happiness (Part 6)... Blessed are the Pure of Heart (Matthew 5:9 Ezekiel 11:14-21)

This is the drink bottle that’s been on my desk this week.  It’s called Pure NZ Spring water and on the back it tells you that it is water that has been sourced from selected natural springs from round New Zealand : “A bottle of New Zealand pure is a guarantee that the water you are drinking is of exceptional purity. It’s created by nature and bottled at source.”   The only problem of course is that it’s not full of spring water. Now this is not some sort of fair go expose, I do not doubt the company’s integrity. It’s just that I’ve been using it as my water bottle since the first day I started here at the church, that’s why it’s been on my desk this week,  I know you’re not supposed to refill these things, while I can guarantee that its present content was bottled at source, as I filled it up myself, it wasn’t from a spring it was from the tap in the church lounge

You see while the outside is all genuine. The badges on this water bottle and the blurb on the bottle and the Analysis of all the minerals contained in the water and even the certification from the NZJBA, the New Zealand Juice and Beverage Association are all genuine, they just don’t relate to what’s on the inside and when it comes down to it what’s on the inside is what counts. It can say it’s pure… it looks like the genuine thing… but… it’s tap water.

That I believe helps us to begin to unpack and understand what Luther calls the most obscure of the beatitudes… blessed are the pure of heart for they will see God.

When we are talking about the heart we are not talking about what Brian Doyle simply calls the wet engine. That amazing pump in our chests,  that pushes blood round the 96,560kms of blood vessels in your body, beating on average 55-65 times a minute, 3,500 times an hour, 34,150,000 a year. If we were maybe Jesus would have said those who didn’t have a clean heart would see God sooner: The number one killer in New Zealand is heart disease. When we say we love someone with all our heart, I hope we are not just saying that they make our heart beat faster, although that’s part of it, the “her heart raced faster in his warm embrace, it felt as if it would leap from her heaving breast as he kissed her tenderly” of romance novels. We mean more than just the physic logical effects of love.

In Biblical languages the heart is a metaphor, it relates to our personality, inner life and character, the centre of our emotions, in Hebrew thought, which is a bit different than our western use of the word, it was also the seat of our reason, a place of reflection and meditation. A R Johnston says that “heart” comes the nearest of the new testament terms to mean person, and that mind just maybe the closest to our modern understanding of where that personhood is centred.  

Jesus is saying it’s what’s at the heart of a person  that matters. In Matthew 23:26 Jesus slams the religious teachers of his day by saying

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.”

Jesus is pointing to the fact that it is not external religious observance that is important but rather the heart attitude. He goes on to point out how the Pharisees and teachers of the law are very good at arguing over small aspects of the law, of tithing there herbs for example rather than focusing on Justice and mercy. It does not mean that right living is not important, rather right living comes from a right heart attitude.  Psalm 24 asks the question who can ascend the hill of the Lord and who can stand in the Holy place… the answer is someone who has clean hands, an external purity yes… and a pure heart, coming from an internal heart attitude, who does not trust in idols and false Gods. The pure heart for the psalmist is one that puts their whole hearted trust in the LORD.

So what does pure of heart really mean? Pure in the Greek has several meanings or applications. It simply can mean clean… soiled clothes are made pure when they are washed clean, of course advertises would tell that they are not really clean unless they are washed in a particular new improved formulation, usually with a wonderful exotic fragrance. It was used of wheat, wheat was said to be pure when all the chaff had been winnowed out of it. An army unit was said to have been made pure when all the malcontents and malingerers, cowardly and ineffective soldiers had been removed and they were able to focus totally on the mission at hand. Soren Kierkegaard says its means “to will one thing” to have one meaning and purpose in life.  

Does that mean purity of heart is the same as being perfect… No. It’s interesting that the person who scripture says was a man after God’s own heart is King David and when you read scripture, as Rebecca Pippert says,  the first word that come to mind to describe him is not perfect rather its “human”: David is very human full of failings and foibles, doubts and dirt, cock ups and contriteness. In fact the passage we had read out to us from Ezekiel cuts to the heart of the matter, and says that the heart is the mater and that God will give his people a new heart, one of flesh not of stone. To have a pure heart is to have our hearts renewed, washed. It’s not the righteousness we can try and manufacture ourselves like with the religious teachers of Jesus day. Again blessed are the pure of heart is the sixth beatitude and what has gone before it is the process of realising that we are spiritual poor, mourning over our spiritual condition being humble before God, hungering and thirsting for righteousness and out of what we have received from Christ beginning to live mercifully to others. It’s the process of allowing Jesus to wash and clean our hearts and in response to that our hearts focusing on the God who loves us, on Christ who has saved us and allowing that to be the spring of living water at the very core of our being. David’s heart after God was right that purity of heart that allows us to see God and Know God starts with the broken and contrite heart of Psalm 51 that is renewed by the love of Christ.

That will result in an outwardly expression of that purity. Martin Luther applied this passage to the religious practises of his day. He said that those who sort to have a pure heart by cloistering themselves away from the world in monasteries, devoted only to prayer and contemplation had it wrong. To have a pure heart was to live engaged in relationship with family, friends and the all of society and creation, where what was at our heart was the well spring for how we acted and reacted. J Ellsworth Kalas of course wonders how we can maintain that purity of heart, or single-mindedness in a world filled with distractions when we are time poor, media and image saturated,  without room for contemplation and mediation.   And its interesting to see the rise of what is being called new monasticism where people are trying to recapture the rule and rhythm of the monastic life, but living it out in radical identification with people, often living in community in poorest of neighbourhoods, forgoing our western fixation with standard of living, and investing instead into loving others.  Along with that rediscovery of those more contemplative Christian practises is the danger that Christianity came simply become, as Leonard Sweet puts it, bad Buddhism or pseudo Islam. It’s not about mediation practises or rightly timed rituals it’s always an incarnational life, Lived in relationship with others. Purity of heart is reflected in the core of the Old Testament law and what is often referred to as the Jesus creed “love he Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength and love your neighbour as yourself.” It’s about relationship with Jesus and with others.

So what does it mean that the pure of heart will see God?

I did wonder if it was just Jesus way of saying if you focus on something long enough you’ll see it. John Lennox is a fellow at Oxford in Mathematics and the philosophy of science and a great Christian thinker. In a lecturer of his at Harvard University I saw recently, on Youtube talks of a defining moment in his life. It was when he first came to Oxford a student asked him did he believe in God and when Lennox replied “yes he did” with an Irish lilt, the student retorted “well of course you do your Irish, it’s in your genes” . Lennox said from that moment on he went on a search for truth, did he simply believe because of a genetic disposition or was it the reality of God. Do the pure of heart see God because they are fixated on it? Sort of Like if I believe in UFO’s I’m more likely to see them. In the book of Jeremiah, there is of course the passage “if you seek me you will find me if you seek me with all of your heart.” It’s not however simply a psychological thing.

To see God means several things. The first is those who have had their hearts washed and renewed and who are pure of heart will actually see the reality of what God is like and who God is. We can live with many wrong ideas about God, like JB Phillip’s cosmic policeman, who must be feared and obeyed or will turn us into an instant sinner burger. Or conversely a God who is too thin a cosmic credit card, just there for in case or to help us get what we want, I fear a lot of pop Christianity has devolved into that, do this tithe, obey, pray and God will bless you financially. There is such a thing as a redemptive lift, if you are renewed in Christ, and live in a different way life does get better. Another few false narratives are a distant God, way off there, unknowable, or a God who lives here at church not in the midst of everydayness of our lives. That purity of heart allows us to see God in sharp focus as God is.

I believe it opens us up to seeing God more at work in the world around us. I may have told you already about my encounters with Wood pigeons? Or Kereru to give them their Maori name. One of the great things about growing up in Titirangi was that there were always wood pigeons in the bush round us. When we moved to Dunedin to go to Knox it was good to see them again,. I started thanking God for his Holy Spirit’s presence every time I saw one, they are part of the dove family. Slowly they started turning up everywhere. I was talking with a girl in the quad at Otago Uni about becoming a follower of Jesus and I heard that woodpigeon sound, I looked up and there was a woodpigeon sitting in the only tree in the quad looking down at us.  I was having a real down day struggling on a cold winter day with a long assignment, and saying well God you’ve seemed to have abandoned me here and I looked out the window and there were three of them sitting on a power line looking in at me. Another time I was walking down the road worrying about finances, living on a student allowance with three kids and a fourth on the way. I looked up and saw a woodpigeon on a powerline with its head under its wing asleep, and sensed God say is that how you see me Howard asleep not on the job just dozing off in the sun. When they were making decisions about funding at the Auckland chapel before I came here I knew it was time to leave, when a wood pigeon crashed into the windows to get my attention and then flew off away from the chapel and when I come to think of it now, in this direction.

I become aware of God in people as well someone who will simply say a kind word at the right time, or someone who drops by and needs some advice from me, or those in need.   Mother Teresa called her order of nuns a contemplative order. She said they sat down and prayed and focused on the face of Jesus and then went out and saw the face of Jesus in the poor and dying and served him there. 

Mission or being missional has been defined as seeing where God is already at work in the world and Going and joining in.

Yes we will see Christ because as he promised Jesus is with us to the end of the age… And yes the pure of heart will see God because in the end those who have a pure heart who have had their hearts renewed by Christ, it’s not earned its by grace,  will be with him now and to all eternity. We see now as if in a mirror darkly, like some sort of reflection in a train window, but one day we will see him face to face.

Blessed are the pure of heart for they will see God. The alongside this is of the heart spring in Yellowstone park, it is a great way to finish not with bottled water but the real thing. AS we yield ourselves to God, know our spiritual poverty, mourn for our condition, humble ourselves there is that great invitation, that amazing race that our hearts will be renewed. That with  Christ living within us will well up a spring of living water, that will wash us clean and over flow to those around us… and we will see God.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Prayer of Thanksgiving and Confession. God's goodness and grace even in the light of our ups and downs

Lord God

God of the light and the dark

Day and the night

Creator of Immense galaxy swirl

And delicate fern furl

God of the peaceful calm and the raging storm

God in plentiful times and God when it’s all lean and gone

When we are empty and when life is full

We praise you for your goodness and your greatness.

Our circumstances dictate our emotions and sometimes Hallelujah is the word furthest from our lips

Praise you and thank you are the furthest from our minds

Yet when we stop and remember we know that you have showered us with your blessings and grace

The world You made, in all its beauty and complexity

Each of us with our uniqueness you put together in our mother’s womb

We were lost and dead in our sins

Yet to you were treasured and missing

So you sent us a shepherd to seek us out

Your son Jesus full of mercy and grace

Not to chastise and to brow beat

Not and idol of wood or metal

But a real human being real flesh, blood bone and skin

Who gave up his life for us

Paid the penalty for all our sin

Jesus invites us to journey following him

Eat with you abide with you 

To be filled with your spirits presence

To come live at your place when our wandering is through   

From first to last

We are truly blessed

Forgive us our sins lord

Our pride in the face of your humility

Our unlove in the light of your love

Our unforgiving when you have forgiven us

Our wanting more in the midst of your freely giving

People hear the wonderful good news

As we confess our sins God is faithful and just and forgives us our sins and cleanses us of all wrongdoing

God fill us a fresh with you spirit leas us into all truth

Enable us to love and to bless with a Christlike love

And live to the glory of God: Father, Son and Spirit


Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Jesus Guide To Happiness (Part 5)... Blessed are the Merciful

Missional is a word that has become quite popular in Church circles recently. It is a way of talking about being church in our twenty first century context. We’ve come through a long period of time when the church was, to varying degrees, at the centre of our western civilisation. What people call Christendom. Now we find ourselves more on the margins. I don’t have to tell many of you this, you may not have the words for it but you’ve been living through it, the world has changed in the west rapidly over the past fifty or so years and Christianity has become sidelined. In the face of growing materialism, secularism, migration with its ensuing cultural and religious diversity, and if we are honest troubles within our own faith, there has been a decline in church attendance. As Ian Grant says “most New Zealanders now can’t remember the churches their grandparents were staying away from.” In the Christendom mode churches were what are called settler churches, you put up a church where a new group of people settled to cater for the people of your denomination or flavour in that place. You opened your door and those people came. This church at its roots was part of that in the 1940’s and 50’s as Auckland expanded. (Al though there are parts of this parish whose history goes back over 135 years).

Being Missional or a Missional a church is being aware that things have changed, that we can’t just sit back and expect people to come; rather that again we have to go into the community. We need again to take seriously Jesus Commission that we heard at the end of our Easter Sunday bible reading to go into all nations, all people groups and make disciples, showing them and teaching them the good news of Jesus Christ. In Christendom that was overseas mission, in post christendom it’s right here and now. As we work at what that means it’s good for us to focus again on Jesus Sermon on the Mount, which has been called the manifesto of the Kingdom of God, or the job description for followers of Jesus, because as Dietrich Bonheoffer has 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.”

That’s probably quite a heavy introduction but it’s why this year we are taking the time to explore the Sermon on the Mount, starting with looking at the Beatitudes: ‘The Jesus Guide to Happiness’ or what NT Wright more aptly calls the ‘wonderful news’ of God’s activity in the world through Jesus of Nazareth. It’s good after having celebrating Christ’s death and resurrection to go back and look at that list with Jesus commission ringing in our ears and the promise that He is with us to the end of the age, even in turbulent times like we are going through.

This morning we are looking at the wonderful news for those who are merciful, they shall receive mercy’. Blessed are the merciful for they will receive mercy.

We all use the phrases like “you don’t get anything for nothing these days” or “there is no such thing as a free lunch” or “you’ve got to spend money to… make money” we are used to that sort of economic thinking. So when you read this beatitude it’s easy to do so with the idea reciprocity in mind. That in order to get mercy you must show mercy. That it’s a simple tit for tat transaction here: Mercy, in mercy out. And I have to admit taking it in isolation it does have that kind of feel to it, although that doesn’t really jell with the idea of showing mercy. Does it?

To understand it we need to see this beatitude in the context of what’s gone before. Here is the fifth beatitude,  what has gone before talks of people who are spiritually poor, who mourn, are humble and meek, and who hunger and thirst for righteousness, in each case those things are meet by God through Christ. The Kingdom of God is theirs, they shall be comforted, they shall inherit the land, and they shall be filled. In a real sense they are the process by which we come to know Jesus Christ and are restored to a relationship with God. It is that great invitation that revolution of grace, that we experience. We encounter God’s grace and mercy and it fills us up with new life. Now we see that from that wonderful news that revolution of grace mercy should swell up in our own lives towards others. We have encountered God’s great love and like a spring of living water it overflows from within us to the spiritually poor, mourning, humble, thirsty and hungry round us, reflecting the one who is with us and is transforming us. It’s a natural outworking of the working of God in our lives. Yes there is reciprocity involved but what little we are able to do pales in comparison to what God in Christ has done for us.

In Matthew 18:21-35 Jesus tells the parable which the TNIV calls “Parable of the unmerciful servant.” A servant owes Millions to his rich king, more than he can ever wish to pay back, even if he won the 26.5 million in lotto. You’d still have to keep your day job at the local supermarket. When he is called to account before the king he begs for mercy and his debt is forgiven, wiped clean, written off, no serious fraud squad investigation or anything. Then he goes out from there and sees his mate who owes him $10 from the other night and when he can’t pay it throws him into prison till he can pay. The king hears about this and has the servant who couldn’t show mercy thrown into prison. We tend to view this parable, with through the lens of reciprocity. We tend to think the punch line is if we don’t forgive other people our sins then God will not forgive our sins, God is the ultimate IRD inspector, making sure we pay every cent under the law. We don’t read it with a sense of humour, we miss the absurdity, the almost Monty Python-esque nature of this parable. That one who has been forgiven so much should even think of not showing mercy to someone whose debt was so small in compassion. We are to be merciful because we are so filled with the mercy of God, we are to forgive because we have been forgiven so much, we are to love because God first loved us and sent his son to die on the cross, paying the price for all we had done wrong. We don’t show mercy to receive mercy, we will and I’ll get on to that soon, but because we have been shown so much mercy, the steadfast love of the Lord which is new every morning. Amen…

Can I say sadly down through the ages the church hasn’t been known first and foremost for our mercy and love…We should be, but we are broken people spiritual poor on a journey back to God and back to wholeness. We need to be shown the on going mercy of God in our lives.

What does it mean to be merciful, to have mercy? This picture comes from Anne brink and her big city gallery and looking at the Sermon on the Mount from  her urban setting.

In the sacred journey Chris Surber picks up the idea of mercy being the character of the God who dwells with and within us he says

“We are not called to acts of mercy. We are called to be merciful. The merciful acts of our hands flow from the abundance of the mercy which dwells or does not dwell with in us.”

In his commentary on the Sermon on the Mount Martin Luther points to the fact that for Jesus contemporaries it may have been easy for them to agree with Jesus statement blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, as that was what the Pharisees were all about but it was a false righteousness as they simply poured scorn and were angry at those who did not live up to their standards.  Luther points out that true holiness is compassionate and loving. It is easy for us to fall into the same trap, in the first of the seven letters to the seven church in the book of revelation, the church at Ephesus is commended for keeping the truth, but reminded that they have lost their love, their first love for God and their willingness to show love and compassion.

J Ellsworth Kalas is a bit more practical he says being merciful is the costly process of showering kindness on other people.

He says it’s costly in three ways.

It’s emotionally costly, because to have mercy is not to sit back disinterestedly from the plight of other people but to be willing to enter in to their world and plight and empathise with them. if it is to forgive there is a very real emotional price tag we have to be willing to deal with all the anger and pain that goes along with slights and wrongs done to us individually and as groups.

It has a high practical price tag as we are often called to sacrificially give to care to those in need. In our time poor culture, where leisure time is a sign of real wealth, the investment is often in costly time given as well .

And it is intellectually costly because of the challenge to show mercy in a way that will lead to the best outcome: To work out the just and merciful solution. Will simply giving money to a family made poor by gambling addiction be the merciful thing or will it simply put off dealing with the underlying problems. What is the best way to show mercy in that setting?

That’s a challenge for us individually and as a church. Showing mercy is at the heart of being missional. Something I think we are all still learners at. AS my friend John Daniel who has been a missionary to New Zealand for the past forty years from the Indian sub-continent says it’s about the four ‘L’s of mission.  It calls us to live with our community, not separate from it, not some sort of Christian ghetto,  learn to speak their language; I don’t know about you but I’ve become so in-culturated in churchy-ness, in Rotorua one young person came up to me who remembered me from speaking at a school assembly and said hey your that church guy, and had to admit yes I am ‘that church guy”,  I find myself talking at cross purposes with people, when I want to be about the purpose of the cross. That's where the third "L" comes in Learn to Listen intently. And the fourth L is love them where they hurt. It was interesting to read in the Herald the other week about a survey of the needs of mothers of young children in New Zealand. One of the main issues they felt was a sense of isolation, made worse by the fact that this new thing we call suburbia enforces that isolation, and that with that came a growing sense of depression and then after reading that to walk out into wondrous chaos and community that is mainly music and sporty 4 kids.

For you they will receive mercy is the promise attached to this beatitude: It is the wonderful news of Jesus teaching and Jesus person. As we live mercifully towards others in response to the great mercy and grace we have received from God, we experience God’s continuing grace and mercy in our lives. The wonderful news is that Jesus is alive and is with us in the up and downs ebbs and flows of life, and does not treat us as we deserve but with mercy. He is a help in times of trouble. He knows what we are going through because he has identified with us, remember a man of sorrows acquainted with grief. He is able to help, often that mercy comes through the hands and feet of other people, or in ways I describe as being surprised by the goodness and love of God, unlooked for and undeserved. he is a god who is patient with us, and forgiving.  He is a  God who can be trusted to act in the right and righteous way, not always the way we want, let’s be real God is not a cosmic wonder drug to make it all right but there is ‘wonderful news’. AS it says in the book of Jeremiah, my plans for you are good not for harm. We also live in the world of instant gratification, of the seemingly miraculous solving of problems, we saw it with the Rena disaster, why in this world of amazing technology are they taking so long to get all those containers off the ship and to stop an oil leak,  how difficult can it be?” But part of the comfort we have is that God is not captive to the here and now yes we experience that mercy now but we will see his mercy fulfilled in eternity.

Let me just finish by quoting 1 John 4:10-12

10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”

Blessed are the merciful for they will receive mercy