Monday, January 27, 2014

Sitting under the fig tree: Looking at Encounters with Jesus in John's Gospel and Now... February to Easter at St Peter's

 Leading up to Easter this year I will be continuing preaching my way through John's Gospel. lASt year we looked at the I am Sayings in John's gospel, what Jesus had to say about the Holy Spirit in John's Gospel and Christmas through the lens of the prologue to John's Gospel.
I've called this series "Sitting Under The Fig Tree' picking up what Jesus said to Nathaniel in John 1:48, which prompted his response in v 49 "Rabbi you are the Son of God, you are the King of Israel' and to actively follow Jesus.
It is an evocative image for me to take a seat and allow Jesus to meet with us... That is my hope that will happen in a fresh and new way as we explore peoples encounters with Jesus in John's Gospel. 
I've used the subtitle "looking at Encounters with Jesus and my hope is that it wound just be looking at them, but that we may meet with Jesus in new ways in our lives today.
If your about Auckland or find this blog feel free to sit down and join us.  
February 2nd
John 1:35-50
Philip and Nathaniel Come and follow
February 9th
John 3:1-21
Nicodemus:- New Life
February 16th
John 4:1-37
The Samaritan women
February 23rd
John 4:43-54
The Officials Son
March 2nd
John 5:1-14
The man at the pool… Do you want to be well?
March 9th lent starts
John 6:1-15
The Five thousand
March 16th
John 6:60-71
Those who deserted Jesus. It is too tough.
March 23rd
John 9:1-12, 35-41
The man born Blind. Sight to the blind and spiritual blindness
March 30th
John 11:1-44
Mary Martha and Lazarus… comfort and life in the face of death.
April  6th
John 12:1-11
The Woman in Bethany
April 13th
John 12:12-36
The Passover crowd.
   April 18th Good Friday
 John 19
At the cross
 April 20th Easter Sunday
 John 20
On the First Day
after Easter I'll be preaching a series on the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts called Fire and Wind.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

My Grace is Sufficient For You (Obadiah 15-21, 2 Corinthians 12:1-10) Obadiah (part 2)

When you google search ‘church ruins’ it’s amazing how many images come up: Churches that have for some reason or another simply stopped being centres of vibrant worship and faith communities.
In the forward to Donald Posterski’s book “Friendship: A Window To Ministry with Youth” there is a disturbing but also encouraging summary of Church history. It says, “There are times when Christianity has become little more than a gerontological Curiosity” … by the way gerontological means the study of the aged.  Times when the flames of the faith have seemed to flicker and almost become extinguished… But these are often followed by vibrant times of renewal and revitalisation: Fresh direction, fresh vision fresh generations, as the Spirit once again fans the church into a bright light on a hill… the Spirit rekindles a passion for Jesus and a desire to live out the gospel.
There is a wonderful book, with a tile that sounds like an Irish joke called “The day the Irish saved civilization” which documents the way in which Irish monks and Celtic Christianity, preserved literacy and through their communities of faith, re Christianised the whole of Europe in the so called dark ages.  At a time when the church in western Europe was waning, becoming simply the state religion, Francis of Assisi started a movement that was based on a radical adherence to the sermon on the mount, which it was said he read twice daily…The reformation at the start of the enlightenment…The rise of Methodism and the Salvation Army in response to the new urban environments of the industrial revolution…The welsh revival… The growth of new denominations in our own age…new centres of Christian vibrancy in the developing world…The call on the church now not for a reformation but a reformission… to take up the challenge of being and bringing the gospel to our post Christian world.
Well how does this connect with our reading this morning from Obadiah? You will remember that  we mentioned last week that while it is an oracle against Edom, who had been involved in the suffering of Judah as Jerusalem had been destroyed and the people taken into exile by the Babylonians, which David Baker sums up by saying they “Acted like the cowardly bully who is antagonistic only when there is overwhelming power displayed against the weaker victim.” But at its heart the book of Obadiah is encouragement for the exiles that God will restore them; that they will return to Jerusalem. Despite the fact they seem defeated and scattered and their enemies gloat over them, this is not the way it will remain. God is with them and for them. It is encouragement for us as well that God’s love and God’s mercy is what we can depend on in times of trouble, suffering, change and seasons of decline and struggle both individually and as the Church. AS I read Obadiah I couldn’t help but have Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians ringing in my ear. “My Grace is sufficient for you”. Struggling with a thorn in his side, that tormented him, and hearing a no from God about healing, he is encouraged and given hope in the fact that God’s answer is “My Grace is Sufficient for you”. God’s people in exile, shocked and discouraged are to have the same hope, “My Grace is sufficient for you.” It is the same hope and trust that we can have as well in all the ebbs and flows and ups and downs that we face… “My Grace is sufficient for you.”
This encouragement for God’s people then and now is based on the very nature of God. 
n most of the English translations of the bible the name YHWH is written as LORD in capitals and we can easily miss the importance of the name being used. YHWH is the name for God used in Obabdiah, YHWH was the name God chose to reveal himself by to Moses at the burning bush… It is the “I am who I am”. It is the God who sees and hears the plight of his people, who cares and who acts for their redemption. It is the God of relationship, the God who promised land and blessings and descendants to Abraham, who chose Jacob to be the son of blessing, not the stronger Esau, very relevant to the book of Obadiah, who was with and kept Joseph and prospered him even in the face of jealousy and wrong imprisonment, and through that was able to provide for Jacob and his family. The name Joseph is used to signify in Obadiah that God will bring all his people back from exile.  It is YWHW who bought the people of Israel out of Egypt and made a covenant with them, that they would be his people and he would be their God.  Who kept his covenant even when Israel did not keep hers, so much of the books we call history in the Hebrew Scriptures are there to show that YWHW was justified to send his people out of the land he had promised them. In Obadiah they are encouragement that YHWH can be trusted to restore them again. Just as YWHW was their deliverer back then he will keep his promise again… “On Mt Zion will be deliverance, it will be Holy”.
It is encouragement based on the sovereignty of God. Not only is the one speaking to them YWHW but YWHW is the Sovereign Lord. In the opening verse of Obadiah we see that it is the sovereign Lord YWHW who calls the nations together to hear and carry out the judgment on Edom.    With Jerusalem in ruins and the Babylonian empire in ascendancy you would think it was Nebuchadnezzar who could call nations together, or at least the Babylonian god’s but here in this small oracle, hope comes from the fact that God is sovereign over the nations. God is in control; nations come and go at his command. God is able to work out his plans and purposes for the good of his people.
There is also the sense that God is the God of the ages. History and time are in his hands. Israel and all humans are very temporal beings, we are very much caught up in time and place, situations and circumstances.  Researchers wrestling with ecological issues have identified this as a factor in why there is resistance to change in the face of issues such as climate change and pollution. It is hard for us to think beyond our needs now to modify our behaviour for the sake of our children and grandchildren, and the children and grandchildren of other nations?
But God is the God of the ages, not limited to the here and now but looks from an eternal perspective. It’s interesting that when YWHW disciplined his people, the foreign policy of the Assyrians and Babylonians, was exile. You stopped national identity rising and revolts by removing people from their lands. But then when it was time for Israel to return the Medes and Persians came to power, whose foreign policy was to return people to their homelands and help them prosper as the empire needed tribute and peace and wealth came from prospering settled and happy people.
But also YHWH being the God of the ages means Obadiah looks forward to a greater fulfilment. That not only would Jerusalem and Israel be restored but that it would be a place where God’s deliverance and presence was manifest. It would be where God’s Kingdom would be established, and we look back from beyond the cross and the resurrection to see that deliverance ultimately comes in Christ. That promise of relationship and being a blessing to all nations that God made with Abraham coming true in Christ. it will have its ultimate consummation in the return of Christ.
So what does this mean for us today?
On a personal level, we need to hear like Paul did… “my grace is sufficient for you” that the sovereign God who through Christ’s life death and resurrection  is in relationship with us, who has called us to be his people, is able to keep us and work out his plans for our good not for our harm. Even in times when the evidence is all to the contrary, Even when the answer is no,  or the heavens feel closed against us.  Last year when we looked at some of the laments in the Old Testament we saw the process of faith growing through times of orientation, when it is all as it should be, of prosperity and answers to prayer and stability, and times of disorientation when it seems as if we’ve gone out to the beach and ended up being dumped again and again by waves, then times of re-orientation with a deepening trust in God and a deeper and more intimate awareness of his presence and sufficiency. Paul comes to that point of reorientation and realises that because of his limitations he is dependent on God’s grace and God grace is sufficient”.    In Paul’s weakness God’s strength is made manifest. In our weaknesses God’s strength is made manifest.  
On a Church level. The hope for Judah was the same, that God’s grace was sufficient for them. God could be trusted to keep his promises even when their nearest neighbours partied on their holy mountain celebrating their defeat and demise. In fact there is a play on words in this second half of Obadiah, where the idea of drinking the cup in celebration also coincides with drinking the cup of judgement as well for Edom, and the end it is Judah and Israel who celebrates on Mt Zion. For the people in exile it meant that they should listen to the words of Jeremiah 29:7 and while they were in exile seek the peace and prosperity of the city where God had placed them. Get on with being God’s people in the place where they now found themselves, in the sure knowledge that God’s grace was sufficient for them”: Trusting that God would bring renewal and restoration and return.
We find ourselves as a church in the same situation, in a new reality called to serve and love the city around us and in that trust God for new growth and new life. Trusting that God is with us and for us “That God’s grace is sufficient for us”,
I love the image behind me because it is a sign of hope of new life coming out of the old. “That God’s grace is sufficient for us.” I started today by saying that there are many church ruins, and I want to finish with a story that is very much like this image behind me. In Europe there has been a growth of new monastic movements, people rediscovering old ways of living together, sharing a common rhythm of prayer, community, service and evangelism. One such movement is the 24/7 prayer movement. They started to form urban communities called boiler rooms a group of people in a particular place that form a Christ-centred community that practices a daily rhythm of prayer, study and celebration whilst caring actively for the poor and the lost. You can read about them on line or in the book ‘punk monk’. The first boiler room they opened was in an old pub, but as they researched the background of the place they found it was in the grounds of the old cathedral and monastery in that city. When they opened one in London, they were given a basement of a building owned by an insurance company, and it was only after they had been running for a while that someone noticed a brass plaque that said that this was the site of John Wesley’s foundry his base in London where not only did he preach the gospel but set up a community to care for the poor, and do social justice. Now I now one of these boiler rooms has closed since I read about them, but I think this gives us encouragement that like in the oracle of Obadiah, God is able to bring new life and new growth and his kingdom even in the ruins.   

Sunday, January 19, 2014

What Foundation Will Stand The Test? Obadiah 1-15... Obadiah: what will Stand (Part 1).


Obadiah?  Why start the year off by looking at this small, obscure book in the Old Testament? A book which just seems to back up that idea of a vengeful wrath filled God.
Good question… First of all yes Obadiah is small, or at least short. In fact, and this is always worth remembering for those Bible trivia nights, it’s the shortest book in the Old Testament. Twenty one verses.
Yes it does seem to be obscure… It’s the most minor of what are known as the Minor Prophets. Often we can skip through these twelve books at the back of the Hebrew scriptures, with the hard to say names, maybe cherry pick some favourite pieces Jonah for the kids, notice that the words written on the martin Luther King Jr memorial come from Amos… Malachi’s verses on ‘tithing’ are always good to reinforce the idea of tithing and giving that some churches push. One of the reason’s we are looking at Obadiah, just like we did with Haggai last year is that in my ministry I have set myself the discipline of working through the minor prophets, to see what they have to say to us.
And OK Yes Obadiah is obscure…We don’t know who wrote it. There are twelve Obadiah’s mentioned in the Old Testament, it might not  even be a name as usually people are identified by parentage or the place they come from. It could be that Obadiah is simply a title; it means servant or worshipper of the Lord.  In the ancient near east it was the custom because of low levels of literacy for a message to be dictated to someone and then read to its recipient by a person. The weight of the message did not come from the messenger but the one who sent it. Obadiah the book says four times in those twenty one verses that these are the words of the LORD. The servant speaking them does not want to get in the way of us hearing them. Many commentators have pointed to the fact that this is a challenge for us today, in our media soaked celebrity fixated society, where the focus can often be on the messenger in an unhealthy way rather than the message. The person giving it, rather than the scriptures themselves.
While, yes, its message focuses on the destruction of Edom, at its heart this is a message of encouragement and hope for Israel after the destruction of Jerusalem and exile into Babylon.  In the famous ‘By the rivers of Babylon’ psalm 137 one of the things that is a sore point with the exiles is that Edom had got away with breaking their relationship with Israel and had been involved in the suffering of the people. Obadiah reminds the people that God is not blind to such things and is the sovereign God of all nations.  The things that Edom trusts in will not stand the test of time. That God is a God of justice, and will put all things right. That history is not all about nations and empires, politics and powers, military might, and geographic advantages but God’s sovereignty and grace. All nations will be judged on what they base themselves on and how they act, and God’s people can rest assured that their times are in God’s hands.  Edom may feel safe in their mountain fortresses but Israel is safe in God’s hands, even if at the moment they were dejected and in exile.
One commentator said that while Obadiah maybe a small book it has a very challenging message for us today. A message about what we as nations, organisations, individuals and churches build our security and identity round and how that is worked out in how we treat others and act. Verse 15 that  the day of the Lord being near for all peoples where what we have done will be turned back on our heads, is the pivotal verse in this whole book.  We are going to look at that this week, but also the fact that we can trust the mercy and grace of the sovereign God, which we will look at next week.
Ok… we need to put this passage in its historical context.  Edom was a small country geographically in the high mountain plateau to the south of the dead sea. To get to it you had to go through canyons or mountain passes which were easily defended. Israel while having a high mountain range was vulnerable because leading up to that was a coastal plain. Unlike Israel which sat across the main trade routes between Asia, Asia Minor and Egypt, Edom was off the beaten track.  They saw these things as making them safe in the ebb and flow of empires. They were known for their agriculture so they were quite self-sufficient.
AS you can see from the use of different titles in Obadiah for both Israel and Edom, there was a historical connection with the People of Israel. Edom, which means red and refer’s to the red soil of the plateau as a people were the descendants of Esau. The story in Genesis is that Esau and Jacob were twins and Esau gave up his birth right to Jacob, for a bowl of red lentil porridge. Jacob had to flee his brothers wrath, and later they were reconciled. However there had been a love hate relationship between the two peoples ever since. The king of Edom refused passage for Moses as the people of Israel came out of Egypt. At various times Edom was part of Israel’s empire, other times they were autonomous, often at loggerheads.
When the Babylonian empire came to power both Edom and Judah were told in the book of Jeremiah  not to resist;  to submit to their rule as a way of discipline. However Judah rebelled and Jerusalem was destroyed by king Nebuchadnezzar in 586bc. Obadiah asserts that Edom was involved in the suffering of the people caught up in that. They did not come to Jerusalem’s aid,  they stood off and were disinterested in the suffering of others, In fact they seem to gloat and rejoice about it, then they participated in the plunder of Judah, they profited from the suffering of their ‘brother’, finally says Obadiah they refused refuge to those fleeing the destruction. Turning them back at the border, all this because they thought themselves safe in the fortresses and alliances they had built.  Doesn’t that challenge nations in the world today as well: Profiting from the suffering of others, not dealing justly and mercifully with refugees, even a disinterest in the suffering of others because well we are alright.
But says Obadiah, the things that Edom prides themselves on will not save them from destruction, they will be treated the same way as they treated their brothers across the way.  Pride comes before a fall as proverbs 16 18 says. Edom by the way was destroyed as a nation by the Babylonian king Nabonidius in 553bc and while it is mentioned as a region after that it is never again a country and its cities and agriculture disappear from history, the Arabs come up from the desert and occupy it. One of reasons that Obadiah was included into the Jewish Cannon is the fact that what was prophesied came to pass.
Ok so you didn’t come here for a history lesson this morning. What does all this have to with us, today? Our world, our lives, our faith and our church?
There is a challenge isn’t there about what we pride ourselves in as nations or even churches and how solid a foundation that gives us to act justly in the world around us. Edom based its national identity and pride on its geographic advantage. On the fact that it could build mountain fortresses. In fact Obadiah uses their own words against them, you think you are like eagles that can sour above it all and nest well above all the turmoil. You can go to the region of Edom today and see the wonderful ruins amidst the rocks. They prided themselves on their agriculture, the while region was dotted by vineyards. They prided themselves on having wise men, who knew what to do. One of the friends who comes to share his wisdom with Job was Eliphaz the Temanite, Teman is the capital of Edom. They took pride in having a standing army of well-trained warriors. In all this one commentator suggests that from their lofty view they forgot to look upwards, they forgot to factor God into the equation. And in the world today we can build national identity and pride in the same sort of things and just maybe with the same effect that we can forget about justice and mercy, in favour of comfort and security. We can forget about proper actions in the clamour for prosperity. We can forget about God and God’s justice and God’s righteousness and God’s care for the less fortunate, the oppressed and the poor as we focus just on material goods and standard of living. 
There is a challenge to church as well. We are moving through a period of immense change, what Leonard Sweet calls a Cultural Tsunami, which has moved the church from the close to the centre of our western society to close to the edge.  People call it moving from a Christendom model, where everybody and their dog went to church to a post Christian or secular model or to use a more positive hope filled word a missional phase , where most people can’t remember which church their grandparents were staying away from and many people in our society have not heard or encountered the gospel.  A lot of what we do and what we invest our time and money into is based on that Christendom model … that being church is about the buildings, traditions and rituals and what we do in here, on Sunday. And I’ve grown up in that environment; I’m actually quite comfortable in it.  But I think it’s allowed us to act in certain ways as well. To be insular and loose something of our Christian distinctiveness. I’m not sure that what we have built on that foundation will survive.
But I am hopeful about the future of the church, because just like in the book of Obadiah, the hope for God’s people is in the mercy and justice and sovereignty of God. You see Judah was like Edom as well   they trusted in their alliances and in the strength of their walls and that God would keep what was historically there going. But that got stripped away and the people of God had to learn what it meant to worship God and be that people in a whole new way.
As I’ve been reading through Obadiah I can’t help but find that it’s been reading me and I find myself asking what have I built my life and security and faith on. Can I be honest and say that I haven’t actually liked a lot of the answers that I have. And’s interesting I keep coming back to the words of Jesus at the end of the sermon on the mount… “ that the foundation that will stand the test is that we listen to Jesus words and put them into practise.’ I can’t help but be reminded of the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer that I have shared with you quite often before and a worth hearing again at the beginning of this year… And I believe bring the same encouragement that Obadiah does, in letting us know that the sovereign God is with and for his people and will restore them to himself.
 “The restoration of the church will surely come from a new kind of community, which will have nothing in common with the old but a life of uncompromising adherence to the Sermon on the Mount in imitation of Christ. I believe the time has come to rally people together for this.”