Sunday, February 24, 2013

I Am The Light of The World... John 8:12-29: Refracted Glory: Jesus revealed in the 'I Am" sayings of John's Gospel (Part 2)

Seamus McGarvey, Robert Richardson, Claudio Miranda, Janusz Kaminski and Roger Deakins… they are not household names are they… does anyone know who they are? 

 Would it surprise you to learn that they are all nominated for Oscars this year. Their contribution to the movies they make is so important and so significant but we don’t know them like we do the actors or directors. Yet they are people who have such a major influence on what we see on the screen…in fact they allow us to see the things on the screen. They build on camera worlds with light and then frame it for us…they are the cinematographers. They use light so we can see what is happening, they light up night and turn day into night, they set the mood and tell story. They make average actors look brilliant and help make beautiful actors dark and threatening. They are light artists who create cinematic worlds.

While they light  the on screen worlds that can transport us to another time and place, today we are looking at Jesus words “I am the Light of the World’. John tells us Jesus is the word and light that created our reality, Jesus is the one that illuminates the very reality in which we live, that drives away the darkness around us and within us, Jesus is the one that allows us to see the reality of who we are through the lens of the reality of who he is.

 Over the period leading up to Easter and a bit beyond we are looking at the ‘IAm’ Statements is John’s Gospel. The series is called Refracted Glory. In the prologue to John’s Gospel he tells us The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. In Jesus the glory of God, and glory means the weighty reality of who someone is, came and dwelt with us. John goes onto say no one has seen God, but the son who is himself is God, and has the closest relationship with the father has made him known. My prayer is that as we look at “I am’ statements in John’s gospel we might see the weighty reality of God revealed to us in Jesus. Just like light refracted through a prism gives us colours that we may capture the amazing hues and wavelengths of the weighty reality of who Jesus. That we might have a renewed vision of and passion for the glory of God in our midst, the weighty reality of God with us and that would fill us and overflow into the world around us.

The first thing Jesus saying sheds light on is Jesus himself, his identity is illuminated.

 Jesus had come to Jerusalem for the festival of tabernacles, which celebrates God’s leading the people of Israel through the wilderness, and he uses various aspects of the festival to reveal who he is to the crowds gathered there. In their book “Jesus: a Theography” Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola show how the whole of the Hebrew scriptures point to Jesus and nowhere is that more true that in John’s Gospel. As we saw last week leading up to the festival, Jesus had used the feeding of the five thousand and its connection with the provision of manna in the wilderness to show that he was the bread of life, come down from heaven that could meet our deepest spiritual hunger. In John 7 Jesus at the festival takes the retelling of the provision of water from the rock, in the aptly named desert of sin, recorded in exodus 17,  to tell the people that he was the one who could give life giving water. During the festival a great candelabra would have been lit at the temple to signify the way God had lead his people by a cloud in the day and a pillar of fire at night John tells us that that was the place Jesus stood up and taught. When it was ablaze or on the last night of the festival when it was not, as people were going home, and this may have been when  Jesus stood up and Said ‘I am the Light of the World’. This other light may not be here but I am.   Either way Jesus takes that sign to point to him as the one who can lead us from darkness to light and life.

 More than that Jesus claim goes beyond simply leading the Israelites through the wilderness it points to a greater light a greater salvation.  A light for the gentiles, for the whole world, a salvation from slavery to sin and death.

 “I am” of course is a not so veiled reference to the name YHWH, I am who I am’ that God revealed to Moses at the burning bush. In Jesus “I am-ness’ Jesus is referring to his mysterious part in the triune life of the God head.  At the end of this chapter after our reading from this morning we see later Jesus says before Abraham I Am, which caused many to want to stone him.  Saying that he is the Light of the world particularly at this festival points to his divine nature. Yet while John may have the highest understand of the divinity of the son of Man in any of the gospels it is also paradoxically where we encounter the most vivid expressions of Jesus humanity, like in that shortest of verses when confronted with a dead friend it says ‘Jesus wept’.

Light of course is a common motif in the scriptures full of messianic expectations , as we had read out in Isaiah a prophecy we equate so closely to Christmas, we see the promise that those who dwell in darkness shall see a great light. That a new age the kingdom of God would dawn on them. In the first epistle of John we also have the assertion that God is light, and in him is no shadow, no darkness. It is God’s nature to shine and reveal Gods self to us and he has done this in the sending of his Son Jesus.

Once again this claim of Jesus to be the light of world, like the bread of life leads to Jesus speaking of his death on the cross in verse 21. The light of world does not come demanding our belief demanding that we put our trust in him; rather the light of the world comes to show us what God is like through sacrificial love.  The weighty of reality of who God is, the glory of God is shown in the crucifixion and the ultimate witness from the father to who Jesus is comes in that central tenant of our faith the resurrection.


Jesus assertion that he was the light of the world leads him into conflict with the Pharisees a group within the religious landscape of Jesus day who thought that if they just kept the law, God would deliver his people from roman oppression. All the way through John’s gospel, Jesus assertion that he has come from the father brings him into conflict with someone. For the Pharisees they questioned his authority to stand and make that claim, they know the law and they know that there must be more than one witness to prove that something is true. They question Jesus assurance of his own identity. Jesus enters into debate with them.

In our own world today Jesus saying ‘I am the Light of the World’ also calls us into conflict with the world views around us. John says in his prologue people love the darkness. But also in our multi-cultural post-modern world, people find that it is offensive almost hate speak to suggest that Jesus is the Light of the world. They may see him as a good teacher, as a leading light, as an enlightened one, but Jesus claims more than that, he claims a unique relationship with God. Christians have been rather dismissive of acknowledging truth and light in other religions or worldviews, it’s there. But as Jesus points out to the Pharisees if they do not come to know him and the father they will remain in darkness. In fact he is rather abrupt they will die in their sin.

This light also illuminates us …

Jesus says that whoever follows him will never live in darkness that they would have the light of life. Just as God had lead the people of Israel out of slavery to the promised land so he is the one who leads us out of the darkness of sin and slavery to sin into abundant and eternal life with him. Just as God as able to lead his people through the wilderness so Jesus is able to lead and guide us through this life.

I love the journey motif that goes with this saying, we often see the Jesus as being the light of the world as Jesus being an end point an answer rather here the image of the light of the world is one of following of journeying rather than simply resting where we are. One of my favourite ways of thing so of Jesus is not as the answer, but the burning question, the chief quest-er, who invites us to follow him.

It is the light that reveals the truth and shows us a way forward…that make our story come to life.

We stopped our reading this morning at verse 30, with a great many people coming to believe in Jesus. Jesus continues on from there by equating light with truth. In verse 31-32 He tells those who would follow him if they hold to his teachings they are his disciples. Then they will know the truth and the truth will set them free’. Once again the reality is that to come and believe in Jesus is not just a decision that we make, it is a willingness to put what Jesus says into action in our lives. One of the ways we use light as a metaphor is to talk about truth and here Jesus brings these two things together. He gives us a very practical way in which we will not walk in darkness but in light.

It also is a light that shines on our false hopes and challenges how we see our identity in the world.

Of course there is also a continuing conflict through this chapter with the Pharisees, and it shows up their false hopes, they put their trust very much in their identity as children of Abraham, but Jesus says that that is not enough, that it is only by putting our faith and hope in him and following him that we find life. He is not righting off their faith but rather as this and Jesus other statements are pointing to he is the fulfilment of the hope they have and He is to take primacy… he says to them before Abraham ‘I am’. We can all have hopes and build our identity on things in this world. Nationality, race, our religious heritage, our wealth our social status, social circle, being a good person but in the end Jesus says before all those thing ‘I Am’. Our true identity is found in the light of who Christ is. In relationship to Jesus at its deepest core it is forgiven, redeemed, made new in Christ. 

Two quick things to finish.

Firstly the challenge for us like with those who listened to Jesus in his day is to respond to the light, Jesus says he is from above and we are from below, he only does what the father tells him and what pleases the father. Jesus says even to those very righteous and religious people the Pharisees they were in darkness. We all need to open our lives up to the light of Christ and allow it to show up the darkness within us, bring it out and deal with it. That we might be filled with the light of Christ.  It may be you know You’ve never given your life to Jesus and you need to do that or like me that as you see more of Jesus you are aware of the darkness within and the need to have it forgiven and dealt with.

Secondly, in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus says we are ‘the light of the world’ because Christ is in us. We are called to be like cinematographers to be light bearers and light artists and take the light of Christ and bring it to bear on our reality to allow it to bring life into the darkness round us. We are called to step in to the shadow and darkness round us and shine the light of Christ’s love and bring his truth. We can do it with the assurance that we will walk in his light in those places.        

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The bread of Life (John 6:24-59) Refracted Glory: jesus revelaed in the "I am" sayings of John's Gospel (Part 1)

I ran a young adults conference for the Presbyterian Church  when I lived in Rotorua, and one of the speakers we invited was Timo Tanagloa. Timo was an international rugby player and is now an evangelist with athletes in action. As he shared his testimony with us he pulled out various jerseys out of the bag he had with him to illustrate his life story… An Auckland NPC jersey… a new Zealand sevens jersey… a new Zealand xv jersey… a Samoan national jersey… and of course the international xv jersey, you know the ugly one with the different colours on it that was used by the team that played the all blacks to mark their centenary. The audience was suitably impressed… but the whole atmosphere changed when he pulled out a black jersey… it was an all-black jersey that a friend had given him. It wasn’t any jersey it wasn’t a replica it was a genuine All Black test jersey… it wasn’t just any friend it was a special friend and this was a special gift…an almost  religious hush fell over the auditorium as Timo turned the shirt around and there was the number seven on the back… This was Micheal Jones first test jersey… that he had given to his best school friend. Now if you’re too young to remember who Micheal Jones is just think Richie Macaw but even better. But I’ve never been part of such an awestruck crowd… it was strange… there was a weighty reality associated with it…there was a sense of glory associated with the object…

The word glory has that sort of meaning of… the weighty reality of who someone or something is …Maybe you’ve meet someone important like the Queen or Nelson Mandella and you are aware of the weighty reality of who they are.  In the prelude to John’s gospel John says that in Jesus, the word of God came and dwelt in our world, pitched his tent in our neighbourhood and we beheld the glory of the one and only son, sent from the father. No one has seen God but Jesus has made him known. In Jesus we see the glory of God, the weighty reality of all that God is, is revealed to us in Jesus. 

For the next eight weeks we are going to be looking at the “I am statements in John’s gospel, statements that Jesus makes about himself. I’ve called the series Refracted Glory because it is my hope that just like light is refracted through a prism and shows us the different hues and wavelengths that make up white light, a metaphor that John also uses of Jesus in his prologue, that  in these seven saying we might capture a fresh vision of the glory of the one and only son sent from the Father.  That we might capture a renewed vision of the glory of God in our midst; The glory of God who is with us and that our passion and love for Jesus might grow and deepen and over flow from us to the world around us.

Today we are going to look at the first of these sayings from John chapter 6… ‘I am the bread of life’ Jesus says that he is the one who is able to meet our deepest need, our deepest hunger and thirst , in such a way as it can only be described as eternal life. Not our physical hunger but our deepest spiritual need at the core of our very being. Remember from the beatitudes that amazing revolution of grace at the beginning of the sermon on the mount… blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled’… they will be filled because the one who makes that invitation is the bread of life able to meet such a hunger and quench such a thirst.

The passage we had read out to us this morning follows on from Jesus feeding of the five thousand. He had taken a small amount of bread and fish and gave thanks for it and feed the gathered crowd with enough for the disciples to gather a basket of left overs each. The crowd see this miracle and it fills them with messianic expectations and they want to make Jesus their king. They want someone who like Moses will lead them from oppression to liberty and political freedom.  Jesus does not want this so he goes over the lake to the other side. The next day some of the crowd come looking for him and in the dialogue that ensues Jesus explains the significance of what he had done and makes the statement I am the bread of life.

Jesus is aware that the people who have come to find him are after the bread. They and seen what Jesus and done and were hoping for a repeat. They saw something special in Jesus but only on a material level. Jesus says that they have missed the sign of what the feeding miracle meant. In John’s gospel Jesus miracles are called signs they point to a deeper reality of who Jesus is.  Jesus echoes Isaiah 55 to say that they should work not for physical bread but for the food that bring eternal life; The sustenance for the soul that only the son of man could bring because of his unique relationship with God.

That want to know how they can do this work that will put them right with God, that will give them eternal life and Jesus reply is that for this they need to believe in the one who God has sent., That faith in him that gives us abundant and eternal life. The word believe speaks not of just a one of response to Jesus but an on-going way of living trusting whole heatedly in Jesus as the one God has sent.

Those that had followed him still don’t get it… they are still looking for the manna from heaven, and ask for a further sign… their ancestors lived for forty years on manna in the wilderness. Jesus response is to again point them to the father. It was God the father not Moses  who provided the manna in the wilderness and the people who ate that still died, but know God was providing the true bread from heaven that gives life. When they ask for that bread Jesus says I am the bread of life. It is Jesus himself who is able to provide the food to meet our deepest spiritual need for reconciliation with God and new life. He is the bread that has come down from heaven. People will not stumble on their own says Jesus only those who the father draws will come to that realisation.   

Then the Jews that were there  begin to grumble… because the setting for this narrative is Jesus neighbourhood the people here know him, they would have seen him grow up they knew who his family was, how can he say he has come down from heaven… and Jesus responds to them by saying once again that it is only by the fathers drawing and teaching people that they will come to the realisation who Jesus is. But that to receive life they need to eat of his flesh.

The Jews again begin to argue about what he is saying… and I don’t know about you but I would be wondering what Jesus was on about as well. Is Jesus talking about cannibalism. Jesus response is to point to his death as a means by which his body would be available to us. It was only when the bread had been broken and the blood poured out that people would be able to receive this food.

 It’s language we are used to because we associate it with the Lord’s supper with the sacrament, but in John’s gospel there is no account of the last supper, it points back to Jesus sign of feeding the five thousand. It is only as Christ died on the cross for us that this living bread is available to all of us. In a symbolic way it is as we believe in who Jesus is and put our trust in his death that we receive this bread of life.

How does this help us to see Jesus and see the glory of God in Jesus.Firstly, in this passage there is a focus on the sovereignty of God. That God is for us, That God’s love is strong, that God wants his people to have life in Christ. God has sent his son into the world to provide for us. At its heart God chooses us, God opens our eyes and draws us towards Jesus and enables us to see who Jesus is, God enables us to persevere in the faith. The glory of God is shown in God saving grace shown to us. Salvation from beginning to end is the work of God, we are called to respond by believing and trusting in Jesus and we will receive life giving food. in the one who is sent from heaven.

Secondly, ultimately the glory of God is shown in the cross, the weighty of reality of who God is and what God is like is shown in the sending of his son, of the son being broken for you and for me. That we may have life. That the deepest thirst and hunger within us; the need for forgiveness and reconnection with our creator with one another and with creation may happen in Christ. In Christ we are welcomed into fellowship with God, we are welcomed into a new  fellowship with each other, we are welcomed into a renewing of the brokenness of the world around us. It is in Christ and Christ crucified.

Thirdly, in Jesus we have sustenance which will nourish us and keep us going through this life and on into eternity. It does not mean it will all be plain sailing, the picture of manna from the Old Testament is manna in the wilderness is travelling through a desert land, Christians and people of faith talk of long dark nights of the soul and desert times when they feel hunger and thirst, but Jesus promise is that there is only one source in which we will find that filled and it is in knowing and being known by Jesus.  We use the words of Jesus from this chapter when we celebrate communion and the sacrament of bread and wine is symbolic of that deeper spiritual food of trusting in Christ crucified. It is an outside sign of an inward reality.

Fourthly, having this bread gives us the strength to both share what we have with the world around us trusting that we have the bread of life and also gives us something that we have to offer to the hungry and thirsty world around us.  Again looking at the sign of feeding the five thousand the disciples gave Jesus the little they had and he gave it to the people and there was enough left over for them to collect a basket of left overs each. God provides.

Not only that but we have something of value to offer the world, and we can share about Jesus the bread of Life with the assurance that  God is the one who takes that and enables people to receive and believe in the one sent from heaven, the bread of life.

The chapter finishes after our reading this morning with two responses. John tells us that because Jesus teaching was hard, many turned away. They wanted the bread, the political and material messiah not Christ crucified. Many stopped believing. The other response was from the disciples where Jesus said I suppose you will leave me as well and they respond where can we Go Lord you are the one who has the words of eternal life. We have come to believe that you are the Holy one of God. The response to this discovery of who Jesus is and that he is the bread of life for the disciples was choosing to, choosing to believe and choosing to follow. God had called them and chosen them and they had responded. And this is the choice before us…

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Out of the Ruins Renewal... The Book of Haggai for the Church Today (Part 3 Haggai 2:10-23) At The Core It's About The Renewal of Relationship.

This is the last of our short look at the short almost obscure book of Haggai. It may have seemed rather a strange place to kick off the year, but I believe that Haggai has got a lot to say to the church today. The church in the west, which I said last week has been struggling with decline, falling numbers, understanding our purpose and mission, waning vitality for almost as long as I have been alive. And this church as we have had to ask questions about viability and where to from here… We’ve called the series “out of the Ruins Renewal” because Haggai deals with rebuilding and re-establishing the temple in Jerusalem and behind that restoring the rag tag remnant that had come back from the exile as God’s people. It has to do with renewal… with God doing something new, and I believe that is what God is starting to do here in our midst… God is wanting to bring renewal to us… as I finished last week by saying… It’s not that the future’s so bright you just gotta wear shades… rather there is hope for the future because God is with us… God is working his plans and purposes out in us… renewing our sense of Mission and vision for who we are and what we are called to do.

Just like with Haggai at the core it wasn’t about a building, it wasn’t just about the temple it was about a restoration and renewal of relationship between God and his people. At the core of what God is wanting to do is renew and refresh our relationship with Christ. That is what makes us a people, a family. That is what gives us our purpose and passion,  that is what enables and empowers us to make a difference in the community, city country and world around us.

Haggai had started by calling the people of God to think carefully about the way they lived. They had come back from exile and had focused on rebuilding the economy… on material prosperity and Haggai had told them that they should change that priority that fullness of life came rather from putting the spiritual first, putting God first in their lives individually and communally, symbolised by rebuilding the temple. The challenge for us in a society with its focus on material well being and standard of living is the same, we need to hear the words of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount… put first the kingdom of God and his righteousness… and all these things will be added to you. Its easy to simply have the same values and priorities as the world around us but God calls us to live a different way. As they decided to change God sent a message of encouragement “I am with you says the Lord”

Then Haggai had spoken to the people as they started to build the temple. He challenged the way people were being discouraged as they looked back and thought that the glory days were in the past. How could what this rag tag group was doing now be anything like the old temple, built at the height of Israel’s power as an empire.  Where were the resources going to come from. Haggai says they can work and look forward to the future, even when it seems hard now because God was with them… Take courage he said to the leaders and the people and build, do the work you are called to do… because God is with you. They are also reminded that the gold and the silver are God’s that God is able to provide the resources for what he calls people to do. Yes they had to do the work they had to have a sense of vision for the future but at the core of that was trusting God. We can trust God for the future here because God is with us… Jesus said as he gave his disciples and us the great commission… the thing that makes it possible is the lo I am with you till the end of the age.

The reading we had today is a series of three oracles that Haggai has for the people in Jerusalem… that reflect on that restoration of relationship. Like all Haggai’s prophecy they are very time and place specific. In this case all three come on the twenty fourth day of the ninth month, in the second year of Darius, the Persian emperor, just a couple of months after the last one. We know it is three oracles because the date is mentioned three times.

 Unlike last week we do not know the occasion. Scholars have suggested that it is the celebration of a milestone in the restoration of the temple. In v 18 it talks about the laying of a foundation stone. Maybe they had cleared away the rubble off the existing foundation and now they stopped to celebrate the first stone being placed on that foundation.

We know what would have been happening in terms of the agricultural calendar, it was late autumn and the crops had been planted and the fruit trees would not yet have borne their fruit, maybe the people had chosen this day to gather to celebrate the  end of the planting and to pray for God’s blessing on the harvest  to come.

Haggai’s first oracle is a warning. It comes in the form of two questions about ritual purity. Does the meat of a sacrifice when its carried in the garment of a priest sanctify another thing that it touches? The priests reply is no… That holiness is not contagious, it does not rub off. The second question is the opposite if someone touches a dead body do they become ritually unclean. The answer is yes. You may remember from Jesus parable of the good Samaritan, that the priest on their way to Jerusalem crossed the road to the other side not wanting to risk becoming unclean. Haggai’s conclusion is to remind the people that they are in need of being put right with God.

The passage has been interpreted by some scholar to refer to the episode in the book of Ezra about an offer of help from the Samaritans to rebuild the temple… which is turned down because they are of mixed heritage. There is much in the Nehemiah narrative about purifying the people from outside influences. But it also speaks at a deeper level.  It is easy to think that we are made right by God through our work. That by building the temple the people had somehow been made righteous. Haggai reminds them that is not the case. That that right relationship from God does not come from what we do. It does not come because we do religious stuff, the right stuff. It would have been easy for them and for us to think like that, rather Haggai points to the fact that we need to have our whole lives made right with God, it comes from a changed heart… and that comes rather from what the Lord has done for us… God’s grace and forgiveness. The people had shown their repentance by changing their priorities and starting to build the temple, but that was in response to God’s saving acts to them. God had called to be his people way back as he led them out of Egypt, he had done it again when he bought them back out of exile.

We are put right with God not because of what we do but because of what the Lord has done for us. God’s grace and love shown to in Jesus Christ. It is as we turn to him, that we are restored, what we do flows out of knowing God’s grace, his forgiveness, his spirit at work in our lives.

The second oracle is a promise of blessing. Haggai reminds them of what it was like before they turned to God and began rebuilding the temple, that they were suffering drought and famine, that they things were not going well for them, they expected prosperity but rather because their relationship with God was not right they were enduring difficult situations. Haggai now promises that God will bless them. Now they have started the work of rebuilding the temple that God would prosper their ways. The crop they had just planted would be plentiful the tree that lay bare would bear good fruit.

Now it may seem that God was being treated like an Ancient near eastern fertility God here. We do these things to please God and god will bless us with Good things.  We make the right sacrifices and we can manipulate God into being good to us. But after the warning Haggai had just given that false understanding was dashed. Rather we see that God makes the promise to bless his people, as they have turned back to him. It has to do with God’s faithfulness to his covenant rather than the people deserving it or earning it. God loves to bless his people.

 We spent about ten weeks last year going through the beatitudes at the beginning of the sermon on the mount and we saw that God blessings and God’s Kingdom as for those who knew their need for God, the spiritually poor, those who hungered and thirst for Righteousness,  those who mourned, the humble and the meek. At the core it is God who blesses those who know their need for him and turn to him. It is God’s grace, his mercy, his goodness.

The setting of a foundation stone in Zion is picked up in the new testament to talk of Jesus as the foundation for us as living stones being built into the dwelling place of God as we turn to him.

The final oracle from Haggai is different than the other two, its on the same day but a personal one for Zerubbabel , But again it has to do with the restoration of relationship and God’s covenant faithfulness. Zerubabbel as well as being the Persian governor is a member of the Judean royal family a descendant of David. God had promised that a descendant of David would rule in Zion forever in Jeremiah 22:24 as God is allowing the Babylonian empire to conquer Jerusalem, there is a word to Jehoiakem the king saying even if you were my signet ring I would take you off my hand. There seems to be a breaking of that relationship, but here God is restoring that. Zerubabbel may only be a governor appointed by Persia but he is being told that he is the heir of God’s promise to David this relationship is now renewed this promise is renewed for Zerubabbel, he is god’s choice to rule. Not only that but this passage looks to a time when God will establish his kingdom it has messianic expectations. Zerubbabel is mentioned in Jesus genealogy in both Matthew and Luke’s gospel. He takes his place in God’s saving act in history, this restoration of relationship looks forward to a greater king. For Zerubabbel  God’s promises and God’s covenant faithfulness becomes real. It isn’t something in the past but steps into a very concrete time and place in his life. It’s not just part of family folk law and tradition, but part of his life right here and now. He encounters and experiences for himself the grace and favour of God.

People at the core of renewal,  of restoration is relationship with God. Is turning to God again, showing that by making it a priority in our lives and doing the things God has called us to do. It’s based on the covenant faithfulness of God, shown to us by the sending of Jesus Christ to live die and be raised to life again.  It maybe that you are here with us and part of church because of family tradition, or maybe you feel like your relationship with God is based on doing stuff to try and please him. Or you know that that relationship with God has slipped from being a priority, its as if its become a ruin or you feel that you’ve some how been in exile away from God’s love and grace. Today I want to give you the opportunity to think carefully and to return . I want to invite you to rededicate yourself  to Christ today. If you feel you don’t need to great. But as I said before the  core of renewal of what God is wanting to do here is rekindle that knowing and being known by God in our lives.

So I’m going to pray and then I’m going to invite us to stand and sing in response the song when I survey the wondrous cross which invites us to commit our lives afresh to Jesus in response to what he has done for us. Then I’ll simply ask if there are people who wish to make a commitment or recommitment to Christ today to put their hand up. And I will lead us through a prayer.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Out of the Ruins REnewal: The Book of Haggai for the Church today (part 2 Haggai 2:1-9) Those were the days... but the best is yet to come: renewed courage for the future

The Book of Haggai has a lot to say to the church today. The Church in the west, which for most of my lifetime has been a church in decline: shrinking numbers, closing doors, finding itself moving from close to the centre of society to its edge. I don’t want to be all negative but that is the reality we live with.

  Haggai has a lot to say to us here at St Peter’s as we look at turning around that trend and decline. And it is happening.  As the parish council we felt that God was giving us a vision for the future ‘that (click for this to come up as quote) we are called to be an authentic, vibrant, sustainable community, growing as followers of Jesus and inspiring others to join us on that Journey’ and Haggai has some very significant things to say to us to help us see that vision become a reality.

I’ve called this series ‘Out of the ruins renewal’. Haggai speaks to the people of God at one of the low points in their history.  Jerusalem had been destroyed, the temple torn down and left in ruins, the people taken away into captivity in Babylon, then the world had started to change again, a small rag tag remnant had come back to Jerusalem and started to rebuild amongst the ruins, and Haggai inspires them to rebuild the temple, symbolic of re-establishing themselves as the people of God, as a people that would witness to the goodness and greatness of God.

Last week we saw that as the people had come back to Jerusalem they had focused on getting the economy kick started. Some seemed to be doing quite well, they built wood panelled houses. But despite that the reality of life didn’t live up to the hope they had. There was famine and drought, and in a metaphor that sounds a lot like the economic reality that you and I live with, Haggai says, You earn wages only to put them in a purse with a hole in it’. Haggai challenges them to change priorities, to stop focusing simply on their standard of living, of just making a living, of material things and to focus on being God’s people, symbolised by focusing on rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem.  We saw that echoed in Jesus words to put First the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added unto you’. The passage left us asking questions about the priorities in our life. How Does the Kingdom of God and his Righteousness manifest itself as a priority in our lives?

Well the people resolve to rebuild the temple, and Haggai brings a word of encouragement to them “I am with you says the Lord almighty. They clear off the rubble and they re-establish the altar. On the twenty first day of the seventh month Haggai brings them another word of the LORD, the passage we had read out to us today. Now all of Haggai’s prophecies are very time and place specific, and it’s great because we know the exact situation that Haggai is addressing. It’s recorded in Ezra chapter 3.

The people had re-established the altar and it was time to celebrate the festival of tabernacles. It’s a harvest festival that follows the day of atonement, where Israel confesses its sins and seeks forgiveness, a festival  in which the people live in small huts and tents to remember God being with them as they travelled out of slavery in Egypt through the desert. At the end of the festival they were to give a festive shout, “he is Good, His love towards Israel endures for ever’. In Ezra it says that there was as much crying as shouts of joy. Those who had seen the temple in the old days, or had grown up with the stories of how grand it was as they had lived in exile wept…There was no way that what they had started could live up to that… let’s face it those were the days.

Maybe they were right to think that way. Solomon’s temple had been built when Israel was at its height as an empire, here they were a rag tag remnant, a province of a far off empire. When Solomon had built the temple they had peace and security, now their neighbours were wary about a resurgence of Jewish nationalism, they had built it with money from conquered lands, where was the money going to come from now? Solomon has used forced labour; they were all part time volunteers. The burden of ‘those were the days” was discouraging the leaders and the people.

Many of us who are older, and I’m rapidly moving into that category, and when all our families are here it’s great to be in the older half of the congregation. It’s a sign of life and of hope and renewal, but many of us can look back and remember times when the church was full to over flow, we look back and we sigh and we say ‘those were the days’. Youth group days, times of spiritual high, pioneering days when all we did seemed to prosper, building projects you name it. Those were the days… Those were the days and we can find ourselves grieving over them, that they have gone, and it’s hard to think that what we do now can compare, it is just a faded echo of some idealised past, and maybe it’s hard to think positively  about the future.

Haggai speaks into that situation, he sums up what the people are thinking and saying, Who of you have seen the former house? Does this seem like nothing to you?’ It’s reassuring that God sees and God hears and God knows the memories we hold as precious, but also the sorrows and grief and misgivings we have,  but it was easy for that group to hold back those who had fresh vision for the new thing God was wanting to do. It was easy to find themselves held captive to an idealised past…  Haggai does not stay there he goes on.   

Haggai speaks to the leaders, the civil leader, Zerubbabel… who is going to have to make the decisions and do the envisioning and planning and the guiding of the work. He speaks to Joshua the high priest who will provided the spiritual sustenance the people need, and the people and says ‘Take courage and work’, don’t be discouraged. The source of the confidence of the hope that the best is yet to come is the presence of God in their midst. These amazing words “I am with You” says the Lord Almighty… The thing that makes the future possible is the presence of God with us today. Haggai uses the very time that the people had just been celebrating, that journey through the wilderness to remind them of what God’s presence means. Israel remembers her past not with a wishful longing, those were e the days, but to inspire them to press on with the assurance of God’s presence. Then God lead them, God provided for them, God protected them. That same God is with them, so they should not be afraid, or be discoursed rather they should take courage and work for the future that God had for them. And so should we, Jesus last words to his disciples as part of the great commission are and Lo I am with You to the end of the age. In John, Jesus says I’m not going to leave you as orphans, I will send one like me the Holy Spirit.

Haggai addresses one of the chief issues they have, a very Jerry McGuire moment “show me the Money?”, it was a very real issue, where were the resources going to come from to make the temple a place that would be a fitting for the worship of God. Where was the silver and Gold going to come from? This isn’t just a pep talk and hype… it deals with realities. We’ll says Haggai, the Gold and Silver belong to God and God will soon shake the earth again and the picture we get is God shaking all the nations so that the money falls out of their pockets. In fact says Haggai, the glory of the latter temple will be greater than the former… Or in our language “those were the days… but the best is yet to come.”  Now I love the way the story works out… if you read through Ezra chapter 4 to 6 you’ll see that God actually used the emperor Darius to provide the funds, and in a case of divine irony, it is the very people who oppose the temples construction who end up paying for it.

Now while this is a story about building a building at its core is renewal of relationship and the glory of the later temple comes not only from its appearance, as you’ll remember from our look at the Olivet discourse in Matthew’s gospel at the end of last year, Jesus wasn’t impressed by it physical grandeur, and that’s after Herod had refurbished it. The glory of the latter house came from the fact that it is the temple Jesus came to be dedicated to God in, that Jesus came to before his passion that in his death and resurrection he would destroy and rebuild in three days.

 At the core of this story is renewal of relationship. At the core of this is God’s saving relationship with his people, god’s abiding presence. Haggai says that in that place  he will grant peace, the Jewish term has the idea of wholeness of right relationships… Leonard Sweet talks of that in terms of a matrix of relationships… a right relationship with God, with each other… our fellow believers… those outside the faith, with the created world, to the spiritual realm and with our possessions. 

What God has done in the past can give us strength and direction for today and tomorrow. It does not mean that it will be like it was then, culture changes things change. Let me give you an illustration of how the past can inspire us here, as I have heard your stories of how you came to be part of this congregation.  I hear stories of people being invited along by neighbours and people down the street, of people who shared their faith. One of you even told me of being invited to come and be part of a new church plant. Yes those people ran programmes that people came to, that met needs in the community, they reached out beyond the walls of the church to care for people, but at the core was the simple gospel work of sharing your love of Christ with others. That is a way forwards for us today. It’s at the core of the new growth we’ve seen, it’s at the core of the future, being an authentic, (that’s real) vibrant (pulsing with the reality of God) sustainable community, that are growing as followers of Jesus and inspiring others to join us on that journey’.

People, those very well may have been the days… we can be inspired and encouraged by the past… but ‘God is with us’, Christ is with us, the spirit of God is within us… so take courage and do the work of the people of God. Be encouraged you who are in leadership, be encouraged of us, but also know it’s not all up to us, we are called to lead,  we are all called to work. So people be encouraged, Christ is with you. And because of that The best is yet to come. Now I’m not saying the future is so bright that we gotta wear shades. It will take work. But remember Christ is with us now and waits for us in the future.