Sunday, March 31, 2013

Hands: A Good Friday Reflection

I've recycled a reflection for a few years ago for Good Friday (it may not help with the environment but in the midst of a heavy schedule it made sense. It still speaks to me and I've made some changes). I spoke in our  Good Friday service seated inviting people not to focus on me but on the cross at the front of the church or maybe even their hands. if you've read my blog you'll note I use images as a parallel in my preaching... but I didn't really want that to distract people... the image that was on the screen behind me was this amazing image of hands expectantly cupped in an attitude of prayer, humility and expectation.



The Old Testament speaks of God’s hands as a way in which God achieves all his purposes. It’s a metaphor for the Spirit of God.

The Psalms speak of God’s creation by saying his hands cast stars in to space

They think of the infinite nature of God by saying that he can hold the whole of the ocean in the cup of his hand, and measure the vastness of the universe in the span of his arms.

It speaks of the immanence and closeness of God to his people by saying he holds them by the right hand. Holding our hand like a good friend, a parent or a lover

The rise and fall of Israel was achieved not by their own hands but the strong arm of the Lord

“not by might but by spirit says the Lord.  

In Jesus coming the word became flesh

That hand of God took on skin and bone

He pitched his tent in our neighbourhood

As a baby it would have curled round its mother’s finger

As a young man learned the skill of a carpenter

Jesus adult hands reached out to bless Children

Touched a leper and bought healing and acceptance

Touched the blind and the lame and they were made whole

Gave to the poor

Beckoned for people to follow him

Pointed to a shepherd on a hill or a gate as an illustration for a parable

Pointed out corruption and oppression

Gestured for the outcast to come down and dine with him

Comforted his friends Mary and Martha and raised their brother Lazarus from the dead

Embraced a close friend at one final supper

Finally those hands inspired by love were nailed to the rough wood of the cross

 

Maybe as we gaze today at the cross it is hard to see the hand of God in what happened there

Maybe it is easier to see the hand of man

Jesus prophesied that the son of man would be betrayed into the hands of men and they would kill him, but that he would rise again on the third day”

Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane is betrayed into the hands of the religious leaders by the kiss of a close and trusted friend

The hands of men drag him before unjust courts

The hands of men point with false allegations at him

They take him before the civil ruler.

By the hands of soldiers He flogged and beaten

Hands trust a cruel crown of thorns on his head

They are raised in mock salute 

The hands of the civil ruler are washed of Jesus blood

and justice bows to political expediency

The hands of man nail Jesus hands and feet to a cross and haul him upright on this instrument of torture and death

The hands of man point and mockingly gesture “ come on down Jesus, save yourself, he said he could save others but he can’t even save himself”

 

There is the expectation that Jesus will now raise his hands against us to save himself

But Jesus response is not a clenched fist cursing or writing off of humanity

Rather he responds with love

His hands remain nailed to the cross so we listen to his words

A prayer for our forgiveness “Father forgive them they know not what they do”

A word of salvation to a repentant thief dying besides him

“Truly today you will be with me in paradise”

A word of comfort for a woman whose hands had held him when he was a baby and a beloved disciple “Dear woman here is your son, here is your mother”

 “My God My God why have you forsaken me” The pain of separation but also the first line of a psalm of hope and trust

 “I thirst”. A parched throat and a parched soul yet all has been done and he said this to fulfil scripture.

There is kindness a human hand passes up some wine to wet his lips.

Then Jesus lets out a great cry of triumph the last line of that same psalm “it is finished” Jesus has achieved all the Father had sent him to do.

Our salvation has been won.

The great reconciliation between God and humanity has been achieved.

The hands of man have done their worst but the hand of God has done a great good for us.

The hands of grace and love have taken the punishment of all our hands have done.

Not to plicate some angry deity but that their cost on us is paid

It is finished and now Jesus commits himself to the fathers care

“Father into your hands do I commend my spirit” 

 

 Isaiah said “ as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return to it without watering the earth, and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater. So my word does not return to me empty but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I have sent it.”

 

In the end the hands of man did not take Jesus life from him he yielded it up into the hands of the Father, Jesus is obedient unto death.

“The reason the father loves the son’ Jesus the good shepherd had said in John 10 is that I lay down my life… no one takes it from me I lay it down.

 

The soldiers pierce his side

The centurion sees Jesus death and hears his last words and comments “surely this was a righteous man”

The crowd that had started by mocking sees hears Jesus final words of trust in God and they turn to go. Beating their breasts, a sign of grief and contrition.

The hands of the soldiers take his body down from the cross.

The hands of the women and Joseph of Aramathia wrap him in a grave cloth and take him to a carved out tomb.

They cannot complete the task before the Sabbath comes with the dusk.

Their hands stained with tears and wrung with sorrow they are forced to leave.

 

It is finished but that is not the end

 “It’s Friday” the old black preacher says “it is Friday but Sunday is coming”

“It’s Friday but Sunday is coming”

Philippians tells us about Jesus that the story does not end here. It tells us what God’s hand have done with Jesus Christ his beloved son.

 

“… and he became obedient even to death, even death on the cross.

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place

And gave him the name that is above every name

That at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow

In heaven and on earth and under the earth

Every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord

To the glory of God the father.”

 

You and I we read the scripture and we reflect on the cross.

We look at our hands!

They are empty, hat have we got to give in light of such great love

In fact if there is anything in our hands it is all our brokenness

The hurt that we have done

The healing we have left undone

The hurt that has been inflicted on us

even our best intents seem tarnished and so little

The cross however is the right place for these things

Hear those words again “it is Finished”

See the nail scared hands take those things

See them reach out to you with love

With forgiveness

Acceptance

To bring healing and wholeness

To invite us to follow and remain with him.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

On the First Day... In the Garden: Ressurection as New Creation In John's Gsoepl (john 20:1-18)


I
 can help but think of a friend of mine Tim keel when I read John’s account of the resurrection. Tim is the founding pastor of Jacob’s well in Kansas city, and he was also a lecturer in congregational leadership and life at Laidlaw out in West Auckland. I went and audited his classes on “Missional Leadership”. Tim talked of the fact that as a church we have found our imaginations held captive to one way of understanding the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, one motif that flows through the whole of scripture. That is the priestly narrative, of sacrifice and forgiveness of sins, paying the price and ritual purity. There is nothing wrong with that, its biblical, it’s beautiful and meaningful, it is where we get our judicial understanding of what Christ has done for us … that catch cry of the reformation, that wonderful release from guilt and shame… we are justified by faith, made right with God through the gracious acts of Jesus Christ.  But if we don’t see or hear the other narratives running through the whole of scripture and through the gospel and finding their fulfilment in the crucifixion and resurrection we can miss something of the wonder and the glory and the reality of that event.


Tim keel talks of four narratives, four threads that are woven together in scripture…

The priestly narrative: ritual cleanliness. 

The Liberation Narrative: God as liberator; the slavery to freedom story that Israel tells of her journey to nationhood.

The restoration narrative: God as restorer… the story of exile and return,  of reconciliation, renewal and restoration. We started the year by looking at the book of Haggai which fits in this both historically and theologically.

Finally

The creation, recreation narrative: God as creator, God has made the heavens and the earth and is making a new heaven and a new earth.

 

You can see these threads running through the different gospels, they are lenses which help us to grasp the wonder and depth of what the LORD has done for us.

 

So how does this apply to today, to the resurrection, to John’s gospel, why start with this bit of academic theological… musing.

 

Because I can’t help but look at John’s story of the resurrection without seeing the wonderful narrative of God’s new creation, that in Christ’s death and resurrection this new creation has started , the new heavens and the new earth are breaking into the realms of the old, into history, into peoples lives, into your life and mine and the world which we live. ‘Therefore’ says Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:17 in Christ, you are a new creation, the old has gone the new has come’. 

 

John’s gospel starts not by looking at back at Jesus birth, showing how his coming was in fulfilment of scripture; or even his genealogy, his whakapapa, linking him back with the story of God’s liberation, sanctification and restoration but with Jesus origins in eternity… In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God. He was with God in the beginning Through him all thing were made that have been made, without him nothing was made that has been made.’  Then John goes on to say in his prologue ‘the word became flesh and dwelt amongst us, the creator entered into his creation. We can see in the gospels a taste of this new creation, the recovery of sight for the blind, Lazarus raised from the dead, but with the resurrection there is a fresh start the reality of new creation enters our world. The image behind me is a part of the eagle nebula called the pillars of creation… dust left over from some cosmic event.

 

John’s resurrection account starts with on the first day… in the garden. It may seem that John is simply placing the events when and where they happened, but these are words that resonate with creation, full of the origins of genesis, on the first day… in the garden. Here is the origin the genesis of the new creation long hoped for in passages like Isaiah 65 we had read to us today.

 

The new creation like the old that comes into reality in the spoken word of God… the word became flesh… Jesus triumphant cry from the cross ”it is finished”

 

It’s a new creation that starts by overcoming decay and death, sin and wrongdoing that marred the old. Death has been swallowed up by victory.

 

But it’s a new creation that does not come like the old creation, with a big bang… if I may borrow the words of physics, it comes slowly into the world, like a new dawn slowly sheds its light on the waning darkness of night.  It comes as Jesus said as a seed falls to the ground and dies so it will bear much fruit. It starts like the seedling breaking out of the soil… on the first day in the garden. The tomb is empty Jesus has risen.

 

It comes into the life of a women mourning and weeping in the garden, full of grief because her hope had been brutally killed and now the worst of indignities, she thinks, his body has been stolen. It comes with the reassuring speaking of her name, of being known, “Mary”, and in a way that is totally the opposite of a grief induced hallucination, from realising the one she had thought the gardener is in actual fact her Rabboni, her teacher, Jesus.  New creation breaks into her life, just as it had when she had first encountered Jesus, this time it brings hope when there seemed to be an end of hope, joy where there was only sorrow, love in the place of loss and purpose and meaning as she is told to go and tell the others.

 

New creation that goes on past where we stopped reading in John’s gospel today, to Jesus disciples gathered in a locked room , full of fear, and Jesus appears in their midst, right away he offers them peace, instead of fear. He breathes on them and they receive the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God that hovered over the waters, the agent of God’s creation, now fills them. Jesus invites them to go beyond the walls to be agents of reconciliation and renewal. That they can bring that new creation into the lives of others  If you forgive the sins of anyone they are forgiven, there is the hope of new creation, restored relationship, new birth… but also Jesus says if they do not forgive then there is no forgiveness. This new creation does not force its way in to the old, Jesus may not be hindered by walls and locked rooms but for it to grow we must unbolt doors and walk out from behind our walls, physical and spiritual.

 

It is new creation that breaks into the life of a man who is so hurt and cut off, that he  is not willing to even entertain the idea that Jesus is alive unless he can have hands on proof. He encounters Jesus and is true to his word and believes. Thomas is the first to confess “My Lord and my God” to recognise the divinity of Jesus. It is new life and new creation that can reach into our lives as Jesus says ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe”. While we have the book of Acts and it tells the story of the spread of the gospel from Jerusalem to Rome, Thomas takes the gospel east to Syria and even to India where some churches claims him as their founder.

 

It is new creation that breaks into the life of Peter, who denied Christ three times, who simply wants to go back to his old life and the familiar “let’s go fishing”.   It is a new creation over a breakfast meal that restores Relationship and gives purpose and meaning… “Do you love me peter, do you love me  Do you love me… yes then feed my sheep.

 

It is a new creation that we can read on in the scriptures that is manifested in the creation of a new people, a new way to be human. People from across the barriers of society coming together as one in Christ, to live in a new way , to live out and live in new creation.

 

It is new creation that goes beyond those gospel pages…  John says the reason he wrote his gospel is so that you and I may believe. This new creation breaks into our lives and into our world. It happens when broken lives are made whole, when people turn to Christ for new life, beyond that it breaks in where poverty and suffering are meet with care and justice, like a young nun on a train hearing the call to care for the poorest of the poor in Calcutta, sparking a world-wide movement. A mercy ship, a floating hospital takes medical care and christen concern to  the poorest of the poor, In simply acts of kindness round our neighbourhood and sacrificial love, in caring for the old creation and wanting to see the new bloom within it.

 

There are set backs and as we know the old resists the new, Paul talks of the battle that rages between the new nature and the old. It’s liberating to read the letters written to those first expressions and a new people, of new humanity to see that they like us wrestled with how this new life was to be lived out together, but even in the midst of that the new creation seems to reach out and break into the old.

 

There are struggles on a grander scale.
Sometimes facing a decline in the church in the west it is hard to this new creation happening, it can feel like death and decay. But even here there is the hope of new creation, new life and new birth, new creation cannot be contained and domesticated in a certain way of doing things, in an understanding of being God’s people, in buildings and rituals and structures. The Spirit of God that hovered over the chaos at creation also hovers over the world and is about the work of new creation of liberation of restoration of making clean and pure, and just and waits for us to go and find where those growth tips of new creation are and join ourselves to the mission of God. In the end no grave or other structure will hold the risen saviour Jesus from being the font of new creation.


The way we order the different writing in the bible mean that the gospel story finishes with a book attributed to John, revelations, a book which was written to those who found themselves suffering in the struggle between the powers of the old and the reality of the new in Christ. It is written in a type of literature called apocalyptic language, a sort of code from the first century that we are not totally familiar with today, its full of pictures of what is happening in the world as part of a cosmic framework, and in the end it tells the story that the new creation that breaks into our world with the coming of Christ and his death and resurrection will find its ultimate fulfilment in the return of its risen king. The old has passed away and the new that has come will be consummated. But for now as we encounter and believe in the risen Jesus Christ that new creation comes into our lives, into our world, it breaks the chains of the old and gives new life, it bring healing and wholeness, hope of change at an individual level, at a communal level at a systemic level.

 
So today we celebrate that first day… in the garden… Jesus is alive… he is risen… new life, new hope, new starts, new creation, the old has passed behold I make all things new.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Tenebrae and Good Friday blessings/benediction


On Thursday night I organised a Tenebrae service at St Peter's. Here is the benediction I wrote for it.


We go into the dark

But there is a light that shines that not even death can put out

We go into the dark

but even now new life is dawning

We go into the dark

In the sure and certain hope that Christ is with us
 
It appeared with the above image which is reminiscent of the closing scene of the movie Terminator 2... It symbolises not a journey into darkness and despair but into hope.  
 
 
 
 
I then wanted to continue the symbolism of candles being blown out and the whole Tenebrae motif on Good Friday  so behind the  benediction which echoes the famous words of an afro American preacher 'It's Friday but Sunday is Coming'   I placed the image of a candle blown out.

 
 
 
 
Go into the day not with grief and sorrow but with hope and even Joy 

It’s Friday but Sunday is coming

Go into the day not in defeat and loss

 But in awe at what God has done for us

It’s Friday but Sunday is coming

Go in peace, God has made a way for us

 Go with the assurance of new life and light

It’s Friday but Sunday is coming
 
The service then ended with one of the children in the congregation coming and lighting a candle up the front a symbolic gesture of hope and the assurance of the resurrection and saying the words we start all our services with "WE light the Christ candle" to which the congregation responds "Christ is the Light of the world".

Sunday, March 24, 2013

I am the True Vine (John 15:1-17)... Refracted Glory: JEsus revealed in he 'IAm' sayings of John's Gospel (part 6)


There is a character in George Orwell’s great analogy of the Soviet Union “Animal Farm” that I really love and whom I find displays some worrying character traits that I see in myself…Boxer… Boxer is a cart horse, he has great strength and faith, he believes strongly in what is happening at the farm, in animalism, and his response to everything that goes on and definitely if it goes wrong, even the ridiculous fanciful plans of the pigs is I must work harder, he puts all his strength and energy and heart into helping the farm achieve its purpose, working longer and longer and harder and harder, heroically even, and then finally his heart gives out. He lies there exhausted and broken still in harness. Wow does it feel like that sometimes. I have to watch myself in that the Christian life and Christian leadership can feel a lot like that. I must work harder; it’s all up to me. We even live in a society where there is an expectation at our work places that we will all be like boxer, there is the demand for greater and greater productivity, less people doing more and producing more and more and more.

In that environment you can find yourself just surviving holding on by a thread, but Jesus invites us to be thriving, bearing lasting fruit, through a life giving relationship holding on to him.  Leon Morris sums it up like this ‘The analogy of the vine brings before us the importance of fruitfulness in the Christian life and the truth that this is not the result of human achievement, but of abiding in Christ.’

We are working our way through Jesus “I Am” Sayings in John’s gospel, Sayings that show us something of the mystery and the meaning of Jesus divine origin and nature, as John says of Jesus in the prologue to his gospel “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.”  Our working definition of Glory is the weighty reality of all that someone is and just like light is refracted when it passes through a prism in the “I Am” saying we get to see some of the wondrous hues and deep rich dimensions of the weighty reality of all God is revealed in Jesus.

Jesus used an analogy from everyday use to bring a spiritual truth. All around them would have been vineyards, and they would be aware of all the work and effort that went into getting the best crop and the best vintage. I worked for a year in the Kiwifruit industry and there are a lot of similarities. The canes had been grafted onto a strong sturdy root stock, each winter old wood had to be cut away and the canes with the best possibility of being fruit chosen and the others cut away, they had to be tied down to a frame and wires so it would get the space it needed and the sunlight it required to bear fruit in summer more had to be cut away so that all the energy surging through the vine could go to producing the right fruit. Vines were sprayed to protect them from insects and fungi, they were protected against the worst adverse weather at the wrong time. All to produce good fruit, when you pruned you had to be careful not to nick a fruit bearing cane if a cane was somehow detached from the vine there was no way it would bear fruit. I even remember the hard and unrewarding week we spent picking fruit on an orchard that had not been pruned for a few years. Struggling to find good fruit under frames that were sagging and breaking under the weight of too much wood. Jesus uses all this to say I am the true vine and my father is the gardener’ and tell his disciples that it is only in their relationship with him that the life that he has will bring forth fruit to the glory of God. Just as Jesus is the means by which we find life he is the means by which that life continues to flow into and through us. He is the vine we are the branches, to abide in him means to stay connected, to dwell and live in him.

But it is also an analogy full of meaning and significance from the Hebrew Scriptures. In the Old Testament Israel is portrayed as the vine, or God’s vineyard. Coins from the Maccabean era, which was the last time Israel was a nation before 1947, bear the image of the vine on them. Like in our reading from Isaiah today Israel is seen as a vineyard that God expects to get fruit from, but because of mismanagement or disobedience does not bear the fruit it is supposed to. Jesus here presents himself as the ultimate fulfilment of this image, it is in him not ones national or religious identity that life and fruitfulness will be found. In both images it is the Father that tends the vineyard. That prepares the soil, prunes and plants and engrafts and makes the fruit to grow. 

It’s not often that you get asked whether you’re a heretic but at a funeral last year someone asked me if I believed in replacement theology. Well I’d never heard of it so I asked what they meant. She told me it’s a heresy of believing that the church has replaced Israel in God’s purposes, and is the heir to the promises of God. But in this analogy Jesus points to a greater fulfilment and a greater reality that it is in Christ and our abiding in him, that both Jew and Gentile have life and are formed as God’s people. It’s not one replacing the other. The focus is Jesus as the vine, as the source, as the one in whom we all find our purpose and meaning and identity as God’s people.

The context of this passage of course is the last supper, Jesus had told his disciples he was going to leave them for a while, he was predicting his imminent death, he comforts them with the words we looked at last week I am the way the truth and the life, no one come to the father but through me, it was an invitation into a relationship with God that would result in our eternal destination being with Jesus at his father’s house. Then Jesus had gone on to prepare his disciples to follow him even after he had gone away. He tells them that he will send them a comforter and here he tells them that the way to continue to bear fruit is through relationship with him. That dwelling with Christ is not just a future hope but a present reality. While John does not have Jesus initiating what we call the Lord’s supper these word of Jesus at this time are beautifully illustrated by communion hwere we remember what Christ has done for us and his strengthen presence with us,

We are called to bear fruit, and that comes from knowing and being known by Jesus, and while Jesus doesn’t unpack that metaphor here, we know that if he is the vine then we are called to produce Jesus flavoured fruit. In fact Jesus goes on to tell his disciples if they continue to abide in him that  it will result in a fruitful prayer life and in us loving one another as Christ has loved us, love that is sacrificial costly, self-giving service.later Paul will define the fruit the Holy Spirit produces in our lives and as many scholars point out the list of this fruit starts with love and the other eight expand what we mean by love.  

I don’t know about you but Jesus saying ‘Ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you’ sort of sounds like a cosmic credit card, Jesus what about that red Ferrari,  and people often treat it like that, the whole prosperity ‘name it and claim it’ false theology. We forget that the basis of this is abiding in Christ, is finding our life in relationship with Jesus. A relationship that Jesus quantifies by calling friendship not servant and slave, so part of what makes our prayer life fruitful is that as we are friends and Jesus has revealed all that God is to us that we have common aims and a common vision, which means our prayer life flows out of that relationship with Jesus. Our heart desires reflect those of Christ, we desire like Christ does to bring glory to the Father by what we ask for. Jesus repeats so that whatever you ask in my name the father will give you at the at the end of the reading we had today and the context is Jesus giving his disciples a commandment to love each other as I have loved you, and again it turns Jesus saying on prayer from being self-centred and want centred to an expression of both our relationship with Jesus and an outworking of receiving that and showing it others.

That’s the context of lasting fruit as well, the fruit that will last is to be found in our love for other people. The Christian faith at its core is a very simple faith. In Christ God has shown us what God is like, he has shown us the love God has for us, by giving his life for us, greater love has no one than they lay down their lives for their friends; as we respond and live in Christ we are called to share that love with other people.

The obvious question of course is how we abide in Christ. How do we keep abiding in him? And It would be easy to try and fit this in to us doing things, more things to abide in Christ. But that does not really fit in with what Jesus is saying here. If we use the analogy that Jesus does of the vine it is in clinging to the one who is the source of life. Paul Metzger talks of a type of burn out that he experienced in his life where he tries to do everything in his own strength, and he is a very gifted and capable person, but he finds that he simply ends up empty and dry if at the core of what he does is not a focus on knowing and being known by Christ, Investing in spending time in prayer and scripture reading and silence and stillness to be with Christ. As well as a willingness to do what Jesus commands us and invest ourselves in loving other people.

I’m very blessed to be married to my best friend and to keep that relationship growing and strong I need to spend time with Kris, we need to talk, I need to know what is on Kris’s heart and she needs to know what is own mine. We use certain techniques to do that, we try and have a regular date night for one. It’s the same with our relationship with Jesus there are techniques and disciplines that help us to abide in Christ, daily quite times, spiritual disciplines etc they are not the answer it’s not about doing rather they help us to be, to be with Christ.

The passage also talks of the gardener pruning and cutting off what is not fruitful, and this is part of the process of abiding in Christ. Allowing God to focus on what will bear fruit, opening ourselves up to the discipline of God. I’m an ideas guy, I’m at home in a brainstorming environment, give me a situation or a problem and I’ll thrive coming up with creative solutions, but I’ll also find myself just doing stuff rather than doing stuff that is fruitful and we need to be willing to have the fathers prune us and call us back to what Jesus is wanting to do through and with us.

 Towards the end of last year the church leadership went through a visioning process and we came up with a vision for our church here that we are called to be an authentic, vibrant, sustainable community growing as followers of Jesus, and inspiring other to join us on that journey’ it’s a good way to look at all we do and ask the question in light of that what will bear fruit and what needs to be pruned. But also at the heart of that is us as a congregation abiding in Christ. Authenticity, being real comes from knowing the reality of Christ with us. Vibrancy life itself comes from us vibrating in unison with Jesus who feeds us through his presence and by his word.  Sustainability at its core comes from dwelling in Christ and finding ourselves centred in him, our energy and our resources overflowing from that core relationship… Community, coming from communing with Christ, growth coming from being disciplined and pruned by the Father.  Inspiring other to join us on the journey, coming from being inspired by the one who is our friend on the journey.

Let’s be still this morning and hear Jesus invitation to abide in him. Jesus said I am the true vine.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

I Am The Way, The Truth And The Life (John 14:1-14) Refracted Glory: Jesus revelaed in the I AM saying s of John's Gospel (Part 4)


When I’m looking for a destination these days, I usually consult a map.  Not a paper one. It’s usually Google maps on my laptop. Once I’ve found the route I want, I’ll click on the screen and move to street view so I can see an image of the place before I set out. IF I’m in doubt I’ll print off the map or the directions that Google map provides.   Of course some of you will tell me that I’m so out of date so last decade so naughties as you type where you want to go into your GPS’s and your smart phones.  While we can  get so much help in terms of geography it’s not so easy in terms of biography. To head through life… is it? But in the reading we had today Jesus gives his followers a sense of our final destination, our ultimate home.

 

Jesus comes from before a time of reliable maps and even reliable roads, if you wanted to make a trip you usually had to trust a guide, a human guide. The best way to cross deserts and wildernesses was to have a guide who could be trusted,  who had gone before… This is the background to Jesus saying “I am the way, the truth and the Life. More than Just the guide Jesus actually says he is the route home. “No one comes to the father but through me.” 

 

In the prologue to his gospel John says of Jesus… “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, he pitched his tent. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” I am hoping that as we explore the “I Am” sayings in John’s gospel that just like the different colours when light is refracted through a prism that we might catch something of the deep and wondrous dimensions of the Glory of God revealed in Jesus Christ. The definition of Glory we are working with is the weighty reality of all someone is… and in Jesus the weighty reality of all that God is, is revealed to us. In his “I AM’ statements we capture some of the meaning and mystery of Jesus divine nature. My prayer is that we may capture a fresh vision of the Glory of God revealed in Jesus, and that would fill us and inspire us, and overflow to the world around us.

 

I’ve skipped one of Jesus “I am” sayings not because I don’t want to deal with it but, like a film might use a flashback to make a point in the narrative, we’re going to look at Jesus saying I am the resurrection and the life the week after Easter. It seems to fit.  And keeping with the idea of movies I’m going to give you a quick montage, in this case a word montage, to put Jesus ‘I am the way the truth and the life’ into its gospel context. Jesus had raised his friend Lazarus from the dead, and after that had come to Jerusalem for the Passover festival, the crowds John tells us had heard of the sign Jesus had performed and so they came out to greet him, singing, praising God.There is an expectation that now Jesus will be made king, he will be recognised as the messiah that the Jews were waiting for. But Jesus talks about his death and betrayal. The religious leaders argue about what to do with Jesus. Before the festival Jesus sits down to a meal with his disciples. He surprises them by doing the most menial of tasks, washing their feet. He uses it to tell them to love one another. Again he talks of his death and betrayal. But also says that now he will be glorified, now the weighty reality of who he is will be revealed, but he must go away. Pater questions that and says he will stick with him even if it means his own death, and Jesus responds by telling Peter he will deny knowing him three times before the night is over.

 

That brings us up to the reading we had for today.  In the midst of all that is going on and before the trauma and grief of what is to come Jesus comforts his Disciples. It’s a very human Jesus but the comfort comes in Jesus pointing to his divine nature and mission. His disciples are good Jewish men they believe and trust God and now Jesus asks them to have that same trust in him. They have been following him on a very rocky journey that is about to get real dark and Jesus tells them about the final destination.  In his Father’s house there is plenty of room and he is inviting them to come and dwell with him there. He is preparing a place for them there, and will come to bring them home to be with him and the Father.  Paul Metzger talks of the comfort he felt during his college years knowing that  he was always welcome to come back home. That in holidays and breaks, no matter what the time there would be a light on and a warm welcome. His parents would be up to greet him with an embrace, a meal would be on the table and his room would be ready and waiting.  Maybe we are used to hearing this passage read at funerals because it is an expression of hope in eternal life with Jesus, for those who put their trust in him. While he has pitched his tent with us on our journey through life and human history the invitation is to have our permanent dwelling our destination with Jesus at his dad’s place.

 

It is in his death and resurrection that he has prepared a way for us. Jesus is very forthright, this is not just some hollow pie in the sky when you die promise he is using to get them through a rough patch, a sugar coated placebo to dull the pain of what is to come, he tells his disciples ‘if this wasn’t the case I would have told you’. There is a sense that Jesus would have said hey guys you know that stuff you are talking about and believe in heaven and eternal life well, can I just say don’t get your hopes up. Rather in the shadow of the cross he points them to the end of the story, he says the porch light is on and you are welcome at my Father’s house.

 

Now as a New Zealand male I find it hard to identify with what Thomas says in response. He asks for directions, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, how can know the way? “It’s helpful for us to see Jesus dealing with the questions and struggles of his disciples. I find myself in the same place myself, and it’s good to know that questions and doubts do not drive a wedge between us and our God, rather they can be the starting point of a quest for truth, with the one who himself is the truth. Jesus does not give Thomas a map but rather points to himself “I am the way, the truth and the life no one comes to the father but through me.’

 

The way home the way to the Father is not by following a set of instructions and rules, it is in knowing and trusting Jesus Christ. The final destination is not following a carefully laid out route of rituals and rites, right behaviour and right choices, it is putting our trust in Jesus. It is in Knowing and being known by Jesus.

 

Jesus is the way echoes the I am statements we have already explored, the good shepherd, the gate, but now in the very shadow of the cross when it may seem that the way comes to a sudden dead en, that Jesus is saying that the cross is the way because it is Jesus giving his life for his sheep, forging his way through all that we have done as humanity, that separates us God. He is the way, it leads through the grave and into new life in a resurrected Christ.

 

Jesus is the truth, Philip’s response to Jesus saying is to ask for Jesus to show us the father. We seem to have a movie kind of focus this morning, it’s kind of like Philip wants to have an encounter with God like Moses and the elders, like Isaiah in the temple, that the heavens would roll back like a curtain and with all the special effects and splendour they would see the glory of God. But Jesus is the truth, the truth about who God is, what God is like. Jesus is quick to point out that if you have seen him you have seen the father. The truth about God is that he had just washed the feet of his disciples. Again in the shadow of the cross, amidst the lies that people would tell about Jesus the truth of God is revealed in his willingness to lay down his life for his sheep.

 

Jesus is the life, in the very face of death Jesus is saying that real life, abundant life, life that goes beyond the grave and into eternity, that overcomes sin and its effects is to be found in him.

 

As I mentioned before Philip asks Jesus to show us the father and it’s interesting to see that even at this juncture in their journey with Jesus the disciples don’t fully get who Jesus is. It has led some scholars to talk of the difference between the historical Jesus and the Christ of faith, that after the resurrection the disciples had read back into Jesus words a sense of his divinity that wasn’t there. But our reading this morning leads onto Jesus teaching on the Holy Spirit where Jesus tells his disciples that the Spirit will lead them into all truth and bring to mind what Jesus has said. It is as the spirit led them to reflect on Jesus words and signs in light of the crucifixion and resurrection that understand who Jesus is.

 

But Jesus pointing to believing in who he is, is not only about the future, it’s not just like an insurance policy for when you die, rather it impacts on life here and now. Jesus says that we will do the same things he has done, in fact even greater things. We will perform signs that point people to Jesus, we will do things that show the way, truth and life we have found in Jesus. The word greater often causes people difficulty but the reality is that as Jesus will no longer be restricted to a physical and temporal location, a specific time and place, that his presence in us brings life and wholeness and new creation wherever we are. In Christ God is with us and because it is God’s very character to bring healing and wholeness salvation and new life, reconciliation and justice, God will do it through us. The fact that this is not our ultimate home does not mean we don’t get involved in this world, but rather it invites us to see the whole of our life here as mission, as  journey following Jesus and doing the things that Jesus does.

 

Jesus said I am the way the truth and the life.

It’s part of his words of comfort to his disciples. Today do you need to hear those words of comfort. Are you facing grief and sorrow confusion and difficulty, hear Jesus words ‘do not be troubled, trust God and trust also in me’. The porch light is on at our father’s home and Jesus is our trusted guide to lead you through and lead you home.

 

Jesus said I am the way the truth and the life.

Are you wrestling with questions and doubt, find comfort in what we have heard today, they are not the opposite of faith, apathy is, just as with the disciples, they are opportunities for a deeper self-revelation of who Jesus is… of the weighty reality of God. I love the idea of a question being the quest-I-on, quests are not safe journeys they are fraught with danger, but Jesus, the way the truth and the life can be trusted as guide.

 

Jesus said I am the way the truth and the life.

It’s not fashionable these days to ask if people are sure of their eternal destination, if you were to die tonight where would you spend eternity, but we cannot look at this passage without talking eternal destinations, Jesus is straight up about the reality for those who believe in him that they are welcome for eternity at his father’s house, and that the only way to get there is through Jesus, is by believing in him, as God’s son, is through the cross and the resurrection. Please if you have not come to put your trust in Jesus Christ today do not leave without talking with someone you trust.

 

Jesus said I am the way the truth and the life.

Maybe this morning we find our lives consumed by worries about this world, our home here, maintaining our standard of living, getting a head. This passage today invites us to look beyond that, yes we need shelter and food for the table and… the list goes on, but believing in God and believing in Jesus invites us to see them as a temporary stop on a pilgrim path. It gives us the assurance that we can look at an alternative vision for life, outside the advertising soaked, profit driven western materialistic dream that is so pervasive in our society. It invites us to rather focus on the things that Jesus did that he says we will do also, Care for the poor, pray for the sick see healing and wholeness come, welcome the outcast, see the oppressed set free. It is the way that goes through the cross, because it is costly, but it is one that will bring truth and life to the people and world around us that God loved so much that he came and dwelt and died for.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Sherlock Holmes Remediations... US and English and Movie

Hmm don't know what it is with the recent raft of remediation's of the Character Sherlock Holmes but I sat down and watched the new US TV rendition, Elementary for the third time last night and decided that despite the fact that the character of Holmes  is complex and captivating and Dr Watson played by Lucy Liu puts a different and refreshing spin on that character that already the series has slipped into a predictable pattern. It maybe the problem with fitting Holmes investigations in to a 45 minute package, it maybe the writers or simply that the Us is trying to copy the recent BBC runaway success but I fear that that in trying to make Holmes solve things so quickly that it has lost something of the mystery and magic of the original serials.

The BBC series Sherlock of feature length episodes written by Dr Who writer Stephen Moffat are able to capture more the mystique of Sherlock Holmes and the deeper darker side of the things he investigates. Maybe it is the English and Scottish familiarity with the Holmes character and Moffat's long association with the equally enigmatic Doctor that makes it the better product. Perhaps it is the way in which in keeping with the Holmes character itself they have adopted an unconventional format of feature length instalments and not slavishly keep to the requirements of a TV season. It could equally be the actors and the willingness to leave one in suspense.  We have had many family dinner table discussions about how Holmes and possibly Moriarty were able to escape death on a London roof top in the last instalment. But this modern retelling of Sherlock is far superior.

As for Guy Ritchie's two movies Sherlock Holmes (2009) and Sherlock Holmes Game of shadows   (2011). I really enjoyed the special effects the brilliant way in which turn of late 18thcentury London came alive and the chemistry between Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law as Holmes and Watson is the best of this recent bunch. The film also managed to capture something fo the darkness of the Holmes figure.

So I await the return of he BBC Sherlock and with my kids and many round the world ponder how Sherlock made it off the roof alive. What did we miss? I think it has something to do with the truck. And I will pay to go and see  a third of the movie instalments, if it ever eventuates, and hey Downey Jr just made Iron Man 3.  and can happily live without American TV trying to bring Holmes across time and space to 21st century New York.  

Sunday, March 10, 2013

I Am The Good Shepherd (John 10:11-23) refracted Glory: Jesus revealed in the I Am Sayings in John's Gospel (Part 4)


It’s hard to look at Jesus saying “I am the good Shepherd” without dealing with the traditional pictures or images that it has inspired. Images that have stuck in our minds from Kids picture books and posters pinned to Sunday school room walls. Iconic representations of Jesus with the lamb draped round his neck.  There is nothing wrong with them, but I wonder if they don’t hold our imagination captive. Anyway here is an advert that started life being for an IT company at the Superbowl a few years ago and has taken on a life of its own; I hope it will give us a fresh perspective on “I am the Good Shepherd”…

Roll film ‘Herding cats’
 


We are working our way through Jesus “I am” sayings in Johns gospel; Sayings which Jesus uses to point us to the mystery and meaning of his divine origins and nature, his “Iam-ness”. I’ve called the series ‘Refracted Glory’ because in the prologue to his gospel John says of Jesus “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.” The word glory means the weighty reality of who someone is. And just like Light passing through a prism is refracted into its different constituent wavelengths and colours, my hope is that as we look at each of these ‘I am’ Saying we will catch the deep and wondrous dimensions of the glory of God revealed in Jesus Christ. That we might have a renewed vision of the Glory of God in our midst; the weighty reality of presence of God in Jesus with us, that would fill us and overflow to the world round us.

Jesus saying I am the Good Shepherd comes right after his affirmation that he is the gate for the sheep, both are used in the light of the Pharisees mistreatment of a man born blind that Jesus had healed. As we saw last week behind this is the richness of a biblical motif used in poetry and song, like the psalm with which we opened our service and harsh words of judgement and souring words of hope, as in our reading from Ezekiel 34. At the centre of it all is the amazing reality of a compassionate God who cares for his people, who feeds them, guides them, seeks for them when they are lost, does not desert them in the face of danger and darkness, who binds up their wounds and restores them. Who cares enough to lay down his life for his sheep, the glory of God ultimately revealed in the cross.

Both metaphors are used to contrast Jesus with other would be shepherds. While with the gate Jesus had contrast himself with those who came over the wall being robbers and thieves who did not want the sheep to enjoy the abundant life that Jesus has to give. Now he contrasts himself with hired workers, who when the going gets rough abandon the sheep to the danger of wolves. The sheep are not theirs, it’s only a job, so they bail.

In the Mishnah, which is the collection of the oral traditions round the Mosaic Law there are strict rules about what is expected of hired shepherds. Nowhere does it say a shepherd even the one who owns the sheep, even ‘a’ good shepherd should die in defence of his sheep.  But Jesus is “the” Good Shepherd and willingly gives up his life for his sheep. The Pharisees are willing to abandon people who do not keep their strict interpretation of the law, they write them off, and ostracise them, saying they are beyond the sphere of God’s care, but Jesus does not, he lays down his life, to free them from sin and its consequences. He lays down his life so they may have life, in all its abundance.

In verse fourteen Jesus again says “I am the Good Shepherd” and it leads on to a discussion about relationship with his sheep.  That he knows his sheep and they know him. When I was studying for the ministry I did a couple of summer’s ministry in Clinton. While I was there one of the farmers showed me that even in our New Zealand farming environment that his sheep knew his name and he could call them and they would come to him. He said I could try it but well they would just keep on munching away.  Jesus being the shepherd is not just an image of a distant corporate farmer but rather with his sheep.  That Jesus invites us into the most intimate relationship with him, a relationship that he can only describe as being like the one he shares with the father.

This is a picture of Andrei Rublov’s  Icon, it is a depiction of the three visitors to Abraham in Genesis 18. In iconography you only paint real life events that like the icons on a computer desktop lead to a greater reality behind them.  If you read through the narrative the conversation slowly morphs from Abraham talking with the visitors to talking with the Lord, so the icon is called the trinity. There is a real sense that you and I are being invited to sit down at the table with the trinity, welcomed into that most intimate of friendships. In David’s most well-known of Psalms ‘the Lord is my shepherd’, one of the outworking’s of that is that God prepares a table for him, even in the sight of his enemies and he will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. The Good shepherd leads us into that relationship.

In verse 16 Jesus says “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also”, Which reflects on a different dimension of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. In a rather cryptic way, Jesus points to the fact that his role as shepherd is larger than Just being the shepherd to Israel. It picks up the idea of Jesus mission being to the whole of humanity, that after the crucifixion and resurrection Jew and gentile would be called to be God’s flock. All the way through the Hebrew Scriptures there is this missional element to God’s calling and guiding of Israel, that through their relationship with God, he would be revealed to all people. Right from genesis twelve where Abraham is called and told a big part of his call is to be a blessing to the nations. Right through the call of the Psalms that all nations would come and worship. God has purposed to bring us back into relationship with him. In Jesus coming, his life, death and resurrection there is the fulfilment of God’s mission and purposes.

Jesus finishes this part of this discourse by once again pointing to the fact that as the Good Shepherd he will lay down his life for his sheep. It’s interesting as we move into Easter, as we move further into John’s gospel there is a subtext of the political and religious authorities plotting against Jesus, but here Jesus affirms that behind the swirl and turmoil of that intrigue and the schemes of man that God’s plans are at work. The crucifixion is not an accident, an ignominious defeat, rather it is God’s plan for our salvation, it is an expression of God’s great love for humanity.

The Christian Ska band OC Supertones  sing one of my favourite worship songs, I can’t find the sheet music for it so we haven’t used it in church. But it talks about  the forgotten poor in the slums and sweat shops oppressed and exploited , drug addiction in the streets of southern California, abortion, people suffering and it looks for hope and the haunting chorus with the redemptive reggae beat behind it is “the shepherd is the lamb, do you understand God became a man.” The shepherd is the lamb.
 

Jesus as the Good Shepherd is also a motif in the other gospels. There is the parable of the lost sheep, which again shows Jesus as going beyond the expected behaviour and conventional agrarian wisdom of his day, in the care of his sheep. He leaves the ninety nine to go and search for the lost sheep. The amazing picture of God caring enough for those who are lost… In  case you are wondering that is New Zealand’s most famous lost sheep Shrek.

In Matthew chapter 9 we have an insight into Jesus very human response to the people he sees in the villages and towns around him. The crowds he sees flocking to him and simply swirling past in that everyday hustle and shuffle. It says that Jesus is moved to compassion. He says they are like sheep without a shepherd. He continues to heal and teach and preach but it also moves him to turn to his disciples and ask them to pray. In a way that reflects the mixed farming model of his time and place, he says the harvest is ripe, but the labourers are few. The Good Shepherd invites us to share his concern and compassion.  It leads to him sending out those whom he asks to pray to go to the lost sheep of Israel. You and I are not only recipients of the compassion of God, in following Christ we are called to be expressions of it as well.

The flip side of Jesus “I am the Good Shepherd” saying of course is that we may not actually like the fact that we end up being seen as rather sheepish.  And while some are young and cute and  can get away with it…most of us can't. We live in a society where we value our independence and our right to make our own choices and decisions…  its perhaps best illustrated by a mug I bought my brother in law  for his birthday once that said ‘I’m too busy making my own mistakes to learn from yours.’ But in the midst of that Jesus is able to lead us guide us through life, to life… If we will listen to him… Despite the current draught we are used to lush pasture and plenty, but the metaphor of the good shepherd comes from a desert land, perhaps more like the spiritual landscape we live in. We can trust Jesus to guide us through that.

As I was preparing this message a tweet from Leonard sweet appeared on my face book page it said that sums this reality..’ The Good Shepherd leads His sheep into pastures that are green and good, not desolate and bad. But wolves will stalk, sheep will wander, and the wilderness ambushes.’  Jesus can be trusted because he has given up his life for his sheep.

So let’s finish by being still… and encounter the Good shepherd

Are you here today and you need to hear the Good Shepherd’s voice. Calling you in the midst of all that is going on to lead you to good pasture. To guide you through. Jesus says to you “I am the good shepherd I can be trusted.

Are you here this morning and it feels like the words of psalm 23 and you find yourselves in the valley shadow of of death. Do you need to know the comfort of the Good shepherd’s staff and rod, do you need to know God is close. Jesus says I am the Good shepherd I am with you I do not abandon my sheep.

Maybe there is a real sense of lostness in your life. You know you’ve wandered away from God… or you know that He is calling you. Jesus says to you “I am the Good shepherd”  I have sort you out. I am the door, to abundant life, I am the one who ill enfold you to be with me and mine. The invitation is to come and know him and be known. The Good shepherd gave up his life for you.

As we are still where are those who are like sheep without a shepherd around you, situations,  people on your heart, placed there by the God that cares . Where is the Good shepherd calling you to take his compassion. It may seem as impossible as herding cats but Jesus says “I am the Good Shepherd” I have laid down my life for my sheep, will you do the same.