Sunday, August 30, 2015

Blessed By Grace: Blessings and woes in Luke's Gospel (luke 6:20-26): Plain talking from jesus: exceptional love in light of God's gracious Blessings (part 1)

When you come to the reading we had today it’s easy to have what I call a ‘Topgear’ moment.  The presenters of topgear would usually finish the show by saying something controversial and then Jeremy Clarkson will turn and look down the camera lens and say “and on that bomb shell Good night.”

  It’s not that Jesus finishes with a bombshell, but rather he starts with one. John Blanchard says  “together Jesus list of blessings and woes form a collection of moral and spiritual bombshells which challenged so many of the accepted teaching of the time.” Both Jesus time and if we are honest our own times as well. We live in a world and society where people are considered blessed and happy if they are rich, or at least well off, we use that word comfortable,  they have enough to eat, where they can laugh, they are amused and free from sorrow and hardship in life, and where they are popular. You just have to look at the messages we tell ourselves in adverts, the way the life styles of the rich and famous fill TV screens, magazine pages and newspaper columns. The way in which we couch our dreams and aspirations, in terms of what we own and can have, the way we wonder and say ‘it’s not fair, why is this happening to me when we do face suffering, hardship and reverse…  and Jesus turns that all on its head.  When it comes to who is blessed with Jesus revolution of grace it’s not so much about how much we have the good life but rather our experience of the God life, God’s grace and mercy.

We are working our way through Luke’s gospel and we’ve come to what people call the sermon on the plain where Jesus does some plain talking with his disciples as to what it means to follow his footsteps… A call to exceptional love in light of God’s gracious blessing:  It starts with Luke’s list of Jesus beatitudes. It provides us again with an understanding of what his revolution of grace is all about, it gives hope as we face the realities and injustices of life that the Kingdom of God bringing’s justice and renewal, reverses and rights in justice through mercy and grace, it gives us the assurance we need to be willing to love exceptionally and outrageously and sacrificially knowing we can trust the outrageous over the top sovereign goodness of God.

We are more used to the beatitudes in Matthew’s gospel, you can tell that by the fact that the two musical expressions of the beatitudes we used in today’s service reflect the wording of Matthew not Luke. The two lists are very different; Matthew has eight different beatitudes, whereas Luke has four. Matthew doesn’t have a corresponding list of woes or warning, whereas we find Luke’s woes extremely challenging, hard-hitting and in you face. In Matthew the Sermon on the Mount is focused more on our spiritual condition and the difference between external law observance and heart attitudes whereas Luke is very much about the real physical conditions we find ourselves in.: Matthew says poor of spirit and    hunger and thirst for righteousness’ whereas Luke just says poor and hungry.

People have wondered about these differences, there is a whole raft of different theories: The gospel writers used different oral traditions about what Jesus said, we have two different sermons; I’ve preached on the same passages at different churches and often my sermon changes to fit the situation. I wonder if Matthew aware of a gentile audience who may not be aware of the short hand in Jewish though that poor means the pious poor, those who trust in God, has emphasised that by adding 'in spirit' and 'for righteousness'. In the end we don’t know but I think they reflect the different emphasis and of the gospels.

You may remember that when we looked at John that one of the motifs that flows through John gospel is the idea of new creation… it starts in the beginning and it resurrection narrative starts in the garden on the first day, with Jesus breathing his spirt on the disciples, giving them new life just as God had breathed life into humans in genesis narrative. Matthew has a focus on the priestly understanding of Jesus ministry and mission, the gospel we are probably more used to Jesus came to die for our sins, to put us right with God, and our receiving that calls us to know our spiritual poverty, to hunger and thirst for righteousness, to desire peace with God and with each other. It’s important for us to understand that for our salvation and relationship with God. Luke’s emphasis comes from the passage that Jesus read from the book of Isaiah the spirit of the Lord is upon me to proclaim good news to the poor, recovery of sight to the blind, release to the captives, freedom to the oppressed, to declare the acceptable year of the Lord… It’s about the restoration of God’s people from exile and the  focus is on liberation and restoration, God’s salvation shown in the establishment of justice in the world, the focus is shown in Lukes beatitudes that speak of God blessing and caring for the poor and hungry, sorrow filled and those who are oppressed and rejected by society because they are about Jesus revolution of grace. We need all these different understanding of the gospel to grasp the true dimensions of what the mission of Jesus and the Kingdom of God is like.

There are four parallel blessings and woes.

 The first is that the poor are blessed because there’s is the kingdom of God, and woe to the rich for they have already received their comfort. In Jesus ministry we have seen what he means that God makes happy the poor. Jesus had reached into the lives of the sick, the marginalised, lepers, demonised, stigmatised, tax collectors and sinners, widows and women all people who were considered to be poor, to have low or no status in their society and bought God’s help, God’s healing and  God’s mercy and restored them to wholeness.  He had invited them to follow him and they had left everything to do so. We saw also that the people who have so much invested in the world as it is rejected Jesus message. They are happy and satisfied with social status, seeing material blessing as a sign of God’s favour that they were missing God’s revolution of Grace.  We can focus on those same things in our lives and miss the goodness and the blessing of God gives when we are willing to give it all up for him, we can miss God’s compassion for the poor the hungry the sorrowful and the oppressed and focus on what we have and can get and we miss God’s grace and mercy.

Comedian Jim Carrey sums up the transiant atraction of weath, success and popularity  well by saying “I wish everyone could be rich and famous and have everything they ever dreamed of  then they would know that it’s not the answer”

Those who are hungry may not receive food now but looking forward with hope to the love of God’s new people and the consummation of God’s Kingdom they will be satisfied. Be it a physical hunger or a spiritual one, God will meet their needs. Whereas those who are satisfied now, who simply focus on their own needs for food now will find themselves going hungry when God’s kingdom is consummated.  They’ve already had their full.

The third one is those who weep will laugh later, once again it is a future fulfilment. Those facing difficulty and suffering know by looking to God’s grace and trusting in him will know joy in God’s presence and care.  Those who are prepared to be broken and weep for the pain and suffering in the world now and let it move them to action will see joy as God moves and when God brings all injustice to an end.  Those who laugh now who focus on their own empty amusement their own comfort avoiding life’s difficulties and the sorrow of others will find in the end that they will mourn and weep. They will realise they have missed God’s revolution of love and grace.

Finally there is the parallel between suffering and being rejected and slandered because of the son of man, and a woe that we should be careful when everyone thinks well of us. The example that is given is the prophets in the Old Testament. The prophets were persecuted and rejected and even killed because they were determined to stick with God’s truth and proclaim God’s truth and live it out in their lives. The false prophets simply said what people wanted to hear, they wanted status and acceptance. Jesus says we should rejoice if we are mistreated and ostracised because we hold to the gospel because our reward will be in heaven… Paul sums it up well in 1 Thessalonians when he talks about his ministry and mission being about pleasing God not simply pleasing human beings.  

How does this apply to us today…Three things.

 The first is once again Jesus shows us his revolution of Grace. The radical nature of his mission and the love of God. God’s heart is for the poor, the hungry, the sorrow filled and those who suffer for righteousness.  God is just and righteous and his kingdom is about the great reversal turning the order and realms of this world on their heads, calling for the poor and the low of status to be cared for, the broken to find healing and wholeness, the ostracised to be welcomed in,  to know God’s goodness and God’s grace. Like with the focus of Matthews gospel a central part of that is the restoration of relationship with God, our need to have our sins forgiven and know the new life and new creation that John speaks of, but also that it breaks into the realm of humanity in God’s love and mercy and compassion being shown by his disciples and people. The warning for us is that we do not find ourselves fulfilled and satisfied and amused by this world and its things but rather we look to God’s kingdom, god’s revolution coming into our place and space. As Jesus says in Matthew’s sermon on the mount…” we put first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,

The second thing is hear today amidst your own poverty and hunger and suffering and oppression that God cares, that God blesses and makes happy. We can face these things in life, the storms, the reversals the suffering, the hunger, and the back turning against us because God can be trusted , because God will act, God has acted in Jesus Christ, because God is sovereign and moving in history our personal history and world history to establish his kingdom. Two of the blessings have a now component in their fulfilment, the kingdom of God is theres, rejoice in that day and leap, because great is your reward in heaven, they speak to the fact we can know God’s mercy and ministry and mission in our lives now, and two of them look to the future, that there will be a time when God sets all things right. We can know God moving know and trust him that he will bless us in the future. I think if we long for the things we see in our society now as blessings we will be disappointed, now because that good life is beyond most of us and in the future when it will dissolve into insignificance with the surpassing greatness of knowing and being known by Jesus Christ.

Lastly, Jesus now turns to his disciples to talk about being a people who will love exceptionally, sacrificially, love as Jesus loves, to leave it all behind to follow Jesus. In the beatitudes we see that Jesus gives his disciples, then and now the, confidence and the hope that they are able to do that because of God’s great grace and love.  We can be generous without thought of receiving anything back because God blesses the poor and the hungry. We can enter into people’s sorrow and pain because it is God who brings joy and laughter. We can speak truth because while we may face rejection and persecution, we rejoice because of God’s acceptance and love.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Chosen to be sent: He looked to his disiples and said (Luke 6:12-20): Following His Footsteps: The Ministry of Jesus in Luke's Gospel (part 11)

Next Sunday there is going to be a very important team naming… The selectors have been contemplating it and working hard behind the scenes for the past four years … Senior players have been peaking for it, new talent has been scouted, discovered and cultivated,  they’ve tried out people to see how they fit into the team environment, sweated injury worries and form slumps, there may be last minute bolters and forced changes. Talk back speculates, paper columns are filled, everyone makes their picks there is only one thing everyone agrees on; this time good people are going to be left out.  The  players nervously wait and wonder… Will they take four locks or an extra loosie?  Three half backs or two? Will it be specialist backups or versatile all-rounders? Have I done enough? … and we await the announcement of the thirty one man All Black’s world cup squad…

It’s a different process, a different purpose, a different number, different names but the passage we had read out to us today revolves round a team naming.  Jesus picks his leadership team from amidst his growing number of disciples. It shows us how Prayer is a significant part of Jesus decision making process and it gives us some good insight into leadership in the church as we look to follow his footsteps.

It’s also a critical turning point in Luke’s gospel and Jesus ministry.   It serves as an introduction to Jesus teaching on what it means to follow him, Luke’s sermon on the plain. Jesus is still about proclaiming the revolution of grace in word and deed, we see that in his healing ministry, bringing release and wholeness, but he now moves to include  instructing his disciples in how to live in a way that expresses that revolution: As Darryl Bock summarises, “It’s a call to exceptional love in light of the offer of God’s gracious blessing.” Next week we’ll start a series looking at that teaching called “plain talking from Jesus.

Last week in two conflict stories revolving around Sabbath observance we’d seen how Jesus and his revolution of grace was coming  more and more into conflict with the Pharisees and scribes of the law, the religious leadership of the day. The passage had ended with those religious leaders responding with over the top irrational anger and deciding that they must do something about Jesus. How is Jesus going to respond to this? What is Jesus next step?

How Jesus deals with this opposition is helpful to us. Firstly Jesus allows himself some breathing room, we see that he doesn’t as much react and our emotional gut reaction to adverse situations is the hardest to really control, but he takes the time to think and reflect before responding. Luke uses a temporal connection with what had gone on previously to tell us that it was on one of those days that Jesus went up to the mountain to pray. I don't know about you but I'm actually pleased to know that Jesus had some 'one of those days" . but how he hadnles it shows that Jesus takes the time to settle, that he takes time to go and pray; To spend time bringing the situation to God.  He seeks God’s face for the way forward. As should we… Ministry and church life should be saturated and started in prayer.

In Israel’s past going to the mountain to pray speaks of firstly encountering the presence of God: Moses encounters the burning bush at Mt Horeb, the same mountain where he encounters God and is given the law. Elijah also goes to Horeb to pray and meets God after the earthquake and rushing wind in the still quite voice. The mountain is also where God’s people seek fresh revelation. Moses is sent to Egypt with the message ‘let my people go’, the law is given, Elijah is strengthened and given a way forward which includes a succession plan. Jesus comes down from the mountain with a definite plan of the way forward.

The second thing Luke says is that he spends the night praying to God, there is a sense here of relationship. It has the sense of a conversation with God. The name Israel means to wrestle with God, Jacob is given it after he wrestled with God or an angel, god’s messenger, in the ancient near east a messenger from a king was to be seen as having the same gravitas as the king himself.  So we have the picture here of prayer being a wrestling with God. When Jesus comes down again he has come to a place of peace and has come to know what God’s plans and purposes are. Often we can see prayer as basically giving God a shopping list rather than to and froing of wrestling to find the way forward.

The way forward is innovative and prophetic…  Jesus choses twelve from his disciples who he designates apostles, or sent ones. While with the All Black’s it’s a process of picking the best and greatest, here in response to prayer we see that the choosing is God’s will, the number is God’s will and the people chosen have been revealed in that time of prayer. We see in choosing twelve that this is Jesus response to the opposition and rejection of the religious leaders of his day. Twelve was an important number in Jewish history it was from the twelve sons of Israel that the nation itself was born. Here we see the beginning of a new people of God, a new leadership, A new group that would carry on Jesus ministry after he had gone. It’s interesting in our world we often choose the most qualified and best to be leaders or take on chief rolls, but here we see that it is the sovereign choosing of God. Jesus revolution of grace had shown that Jesus called fishermen and tax collectors to come and follow him, what he looked for in leaders was the willingness to be with him, to learn from him, to serve with him. When you look back at the scriptures of the Old Testament you see it’s the same, God chooses people and their response is to acknowledge they are not up to the task… Moses, had run away after killing a Egyptian guard and he had a speech impediment, Jeremiah was aware of his young age, Isaiah was aware that he as a man of unclean lips, of a people of unclean lips, David’s brothers who had more of the physical attributes and were trained warriors were amazed that God should anoint their younger brother king. God chose Israel not because it was the biggest or the best amongst the nations far from it, rather it was because they were the smallest and the least.  God chooses, God equips, god enables, and if we remain faithful teachable and available, god can make us fruitful.

I think I’ve told you one of the episodes that God used to call me to ministry. I’m not a morning person…I had been working as a youth pastor at St John’s in Rotorua. It had been a long weekend, an all-nighter, I think and a late Sunday service and I was dead tired. I’d slept in till about 9;30 although Kris will tell you it was closer to eleven. One of Kris’ friends had come round to visit, the kind of Christian that can smile early in the morning before their first cup of coffee. She said hello to me in that happy joyful way, and I always the pastoral sort retored with a grunt and said ‘It’s my day off I don’t have to be nice to you today’ to which she replied… You’re going to make a great minister Howard.’ My ego kicked in and I though why thank you… and then she hammered it home… “yes your so flawed there is hope for the rest of us.” But God used that to let me know he was calling me faults foibles and all to ordained ministry… It is his calling and while I’ve worked on those flaws it is still God’s calling and leading.

When you have a look of the names of the twelve it tells us about Christian leadership as well.  Apart from telling what were the popular names in Jewish families at the time, most of them were named after the heroes of the Maccabean revolt.   We are told it starts with Simon, now called Peter, ,  and that it is Jesus who gave him that name, which means rock. It reflects the basis on which Jesus would found his church, at the end of the sermon on the plain he talks of building ones house on rock being the one who hear God’s word and puts it into practise in their lives. This is what God is going to build his church on, and Peter as the key leader, reminds us of that.  It’s good for us here at St Peter’s to be reminded of that… God builds his church by his people hearing his word and putting it into practise.

Andrew is Peter’s brother and John and James are the other fishermen we have meet before. Matthew is another name for Levi, and when Jesus meets people it brings change and Levi is able to have a new start in life with a new name. It’s interesting that in Luke’s sequel Acts that apart from Peter, john, James and Phillip that the others do not feature in the expanse of the church. It’s hard to argue from silence but within leadership people have different roles and tasks some that propel them to prominence and other that are equally important but are often leaves them in the background. There is diversity in the group as well… the other Simon is called the zealot to differentiate him from Simon who Jesus called Peter. The Zealots were a political movement who believed in armed struggle and violence to  free Judea from roman rule, they were the freedom fighters/ terrorists of their day, this Simon would have found it uncomfortable being in a group with a tax collector, who he saw as a collaborator with the romans. Philip is a Greek name and would have been a Hellenistic Jew whereas the others were from galilee. It easy  for a leadership team to mistake group speak and conformity for unity and peace, but we need diversity in leadership and how we work that is an expression of the way we reflect Jesus love to one another. In a church that weird person who thinks differently just may be a gift from God to open us up to new possibilities. 

When we are working with people there is always risk as well…Luke is upfront in acknowledging Judas Iscariot as being the one who became a traitor, and the calling of God and being with Jesus is no automatic guarantee that people will keep the faith. In our reformed tradition one of the ways of looking and seeing a genuine faith in Christ is the idea of perseverance.  Keep on going and growing till the end, till going home to glory. I have some interesting discussions this week about family friends who had solid dynamic faiths who now don’t want anything to do with God and the shock and pain that causes, a pain that has been with Jesus followers from the beginning.

Jesus is choosing this twelve to act as those who will be able to carry on his ministry after he has gone… In modern business speak Jesus is all about succession planning. He is aware that his mission and revolution of grace will lead to the cross and while he continues proclaiming his revolution of God’s grace he looks to develop those who will be able to see and witness to the reality of who he is and what God wants to do.  In this passage we see he continues to proclaim that and to heal and set free those troubled by unclean spirits, but it also tells us that he looks to his disciples and begins to teach them. We see it with paul as well in the rest of the new testament he always had a team of people who he building up for ministry, chief amongst them is Timothy, just as Bartameus had done with him.  The success of a ministry is only usually seen in what happens when a minister goes, that there are people to step up and take that persons place. The test of leadership is not often seen until it is time for them to step aside and there are many people who are willing and able to step into their role, even go beyond what they have done.  At St John’s one of our key worship leaders moved away and he came to us and said “well I guess that’s the end of the youth worship team”, but we were able to choose two 15 year olds from the guys he had taught and encouraged to take over and they did a great job,  one of them is now employed as a worship and creative ministries pastor at C3 down the road the other is a worship leader in nelson about to release his first live worship album. If you are involved in ministry the key thing is that it is to be given away not held to yourself. One of the things I value was the way people were willing to give me opportunities to minister and lead, when I was young and I feel this week that challenge to do likewise.

Finally, the twelve were called to be Jesus special messengers his apostles they were called to be sent, in the Christian faith leadership is about role not status, service not finally making it. We are all called to discipleship, to know and to grow so that we can express exceptional love in response to God’s generous offer of grace. When Jesus begins his sermon on the plains it tells us he looked to his disciples, not just the twelve but the large number that were with him from all over the area, both Jewish areas and gentile areas like Tyre and Sidon.  We may not all hear our names read out in an all black’s line up, particularly if we actually want to win the world cup, but We are all called to grow in our faith to grow as followers of Jesus. We may not all get to go to  the world cup  but we are all called to be sent, it’s interesting in Luke’s gospel that the twelve are sent out on a short term mission trip and later Jesus send out the seventy two, it’s like Jesus wants more and more of us to witness and be his messengers. It’s the call that is at the heart of our mission statement as a church we are called to be a sustainable, vibrant and authentic community, growing as followers of Jesus, and inspiring others to join us on that journey of following his footsteps… It’s about discipleship, it’s about mission that comes from us being with him… we are called to be sent.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Be It Amidst the Rigid Religious Rules or Relentless Recent Rush, the Son Of Man Is Lord Of The Sabbath (Luke 6:1-11)... Following His Footsteps: The Ministry of Jesus In Luke's Gospel (part 10)

In my life time the attitude to Sunday as the Lord ’s Day of rest have changed greatly. AS a child I remember the great deserted wasteland that the centre of Auckland was on a Sunday.  You could almost imagine the tumbleweeds rolling down Queen Street like it was some western ghost town, now the city advertises itself as a place where the show never ends. Now Queen Street is alive with hustle and bustle on Sundays as much as any other day.

I was at Eden park last night with my sons for the Bledisloe decider and I remembered going to my first test match there… the 1987 rugby world cup final.. I gone with friends who’d spent most of the previous night making a banner saying ‘thank God it’s Saturday… Micheal Jones fan club’… Michael Jones was the all black no 7, the Richie McCaw of his day. As a Christian had made a stand not to play on Sunday… The semi-final had been the first test in New Zealand played on a Sunday and he hadn’t played… we wanted to honour and support him. I’d like to think he payed us back by scoring a try right in front of us and that sign. It was the amateur era then and I wonder how many players could make that kind of stand in the professional era and still have a job…?  

There are places in the world that still hold to  Sabbath observance A facebook friend commented recently on being home in Samoa and realising how Kiwi he had become when he went for have his daily exercise on Apia Park and was told by a security guard… no training today its’ Sunday.

I’m not bemoaning that those things have changed or looking back wistfully to an idealised and more Christianised past. But  I wonder if rediscovering the real idea of Sabbath, as a day of rest unto the lord, isn’t as important and relevant for us today amidst the pressure of the relentless rush to be a  24/7 world,  as it was in Jesus day amidst the pressure of the  rigid religious rules that were enacted to protect the Sabbath ? In both settings it’s important for us to know what it means to Sabbath and what it means that ‘the son of man is Lord of the Sabbath’. It is important for us as we look to follow his footsteps.

The passage we had read out to us today comes as a climax of Jesus early ministry. It shows us how Jesus revolution of grace leads him further and further into conflict with the religious leaders, ideas and forms of his day. It is two narratives that tell of Jesus conflict with the Pharisees over Sabbath observance. They are held together by Jesus statement that the Son of Man is the Lord of the Sabbath in verse 5.

As we saw in our Old Testament reading, part of the Ten Commandments is to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy: To set aside one day in the week for rest and to be able to focus on God and God’s saving acts. We are told that in Egypt Israel had been slaves, there had been no rest they were at the beck and call of their masters, but as God’s people they were to be different. The ability to rest and focus on more than simply toiling was something for all: Rich and poor, free and slave even for their animals. It was a justice issue; you could see that it was the beginning of labour laws like our forty hour week. It was a religious issue, as it called people to set aside labour and their endeavours and their focus on making ends meet or getting ahead to realise and reflect on the fact that there was something more important than that, mainly the God who called them into relationship with himself and his merciful salvation and the blessing he had given. For the Jews Sabbath was from sunset Friday (when they say the day end and begin) to sunset Saturday, It involved family meals and public worship, as well as rest. In the Christian world we have used Sunday, the first day of the week, when we remember Jesus rose from the dead.

During the second temple period, after return form exile, Sabbath observance became a very important marker of Jewish piety and identity. To protect people from breaking the Sabbath ban on working rules and regulations were put in place. What constituted work was tightly defined.

It was like that classic ad about whether a man wearing speedo’s is wearing togs or undies, and how it depends on how far he is from the beach… togs, togs, togs (ok) but after a few more steps Undies (not Ok). You could walk a certain distance on the Sabbath but after that it became work.  Somethings were Ok others not. I remember a set of camp rules at Hunua Falls that reflected some of that in Christian era as well, one of the rules was  no games on a Sunday. Keeping the rules of the day became more important than the focus on God’s goodness and salvation.

In the first conflict story, Jesus and his disciples pluck grain from the fields and eat it on the Sabbath.  It’s not the plucking of the grain that was wrong, parts of every field were set aside for travellers, rather it was the when. Part of the regulations revolved around harvesting, and by plucking the grain, rubbing their hands together to remove the husks and eating it they were in the Pharisees eyes guilty of harvesting, winnowing, and preparing food all banned as work.

Jesus defends his disciples, isn’t that good for us to be reminded as we face criticism, that Jesus is the one who will provide us the words we need.  He tells them the story of David and his men when they were hungry and perused by Saul eating the show bread on the altar that was reserved for the priests.  It was intended to show the Pharisees that the laws were not there to deprive people of their basic needs, as Jesus says in mark’s gospel, the Sabbath was for people, not people for the Sabbath. By referring them to King David Jesus is also pointing to himself as being in that Davidic line and place as well. He is the anointed king waiting for his coronation.

By saying that he is the Lord of the Sabbath, Jesus claims the authority, not the scribes and the Pharisees to rightly interpret and apply the scriptures. To understand properly God’s purpose for the Sabbath and how it fits into God’s liberating revolution of grace, rather than a religion of restraints. It is a sign post for as well that we need to interpret scripture through the lens of Jesus. We look at the whole of the Old Testament law through the lens of Jesus.

In the second story we see that Jesus actually does respect and keep the Sabbath, he comes to the synagogue for public worship and is invited to preach. Sabbath observance is important for Jesus, but his understanding of what that means is more about the compassion and love of God than external observation. We are told that the Pharisees and the scribes are present to spy on Jesus; they are looking for excuses to accuse him. Will Jesus break the Sabbath law by healing someone? In Jewish understanding it was Ok to heal and treat someone if it was a life threatening situation but if it was not life threatening then the person could wait till after the Sabbath.

Jesus sees a man with a withered hand and as he proclaims God’s revolution of grace he also wants to demonstrate it . While the withered hand wasn’t life threatening, Luke’s observation that it as his right hand shows that it would have stopped him from being able to pursue a livelihood. It was compassionate to heal the man and not make him wait any longer.  So he invites the man to stand and knowing what the Pharisees are thinking asks the question… “Is it right to do good or to do evil on the Sabbath?”. It’s a question they would be reluctant to answer. There is irony in it because they are there spying on Jesus planning on catching him out so they can accuse him. If they answer its Ok to do good and Jesus heals the man then they are saying that Jesus is doing good.

Jesus tells the man to stretch out his hand and it is restored to wholeness. Again Jesus is showing his understanding of genuine Sabbath observance that it is about the compassion and grace of God. The Pharisees we are told are furious at this. The word used means anger beyond rational thought and we see that they want to do something against Jesus; they use the Sabbath to do evil.

How does this all apply to us?

Firstly, the idea of Sabbath rest is as important for us as it was for the people of Israel and for the people in Jesus day. Remember it’s a justice issue; the ability to rest shouldn’t be a luxury item for the wealthy in our society. Yet there is increasing pressure put on people to work longer and longer hours to make ends meet. The poor have more than one job because of low wages or poor conditions. We celebrate the institution of the forty hour week with Labour Day, It was designed to be a sign of a just and caring society that did not exploit and wear its workers out for the sake of economic endeavour. That needs to be protected; it impacts on minimum wages, living wages and working conditions.

It is also important that we have Sabbath in our lives to set aside time to realise that there is more important things in life than work and making a living. It actually takes time to do that. As Christians public worship I believe is part of that process of reflection. It says as a community of faith this is important.  The Sabbath was set up prophetically in response to slavery   and it is easy for us to find ourselves enslaved to the grind of consumerism and capitalism and forget that there is things that are more significant: someone more significant. The way many view Sabbath is to simply relax and have a chance to recharge for the coming week, hopefully to catch up with family and self. Our Sabbath is competed with between the pull of so many different things. We actually need to learn the discipline of resting.


In his book ‘the good and beautiful God’ James Bryan Smith   says that the number one enemy of Christian Spiritual Formation is exhaustion. The number one spiritual disciple in his book is ‘get some more rest get more sleep’. With electricity we’ve pushed back the hours of darkness, with electronic media we’ve found ways to relax where are minds are actually stimulated rather than quietened and rested. Instead of going to bed we may veg in front of the TV or more commonly these days our own personal devises. There is more demand for productivity, efficiency demands to produce and Smith says we are over extended physically, emotionally and financially.  We need to make Sabbath rest more a part of our lives.  

In his wonderful book ‘SoulSalsa’ Leonard Sweet encourages some artistic ways to create rest spaces in our day. You see time has become the number one scares item in our world. We need make time to stop to and catch our breath. To catch ones breath by the way is the root of the word Sabbath. Sweet suggests we need to learn to breathe deeply and to de centralise our Sabbath to become every day practises; As the Psalm says ‘This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it”. It’s more than just having the discipline of bible reading and prayer in your day, the old quite time… but This is the day to simply stop to breathe deeply. To find sacred space in waste spaces and waste the time to go and sit and enjoy places… church, a beach, the bush places that the Celtic saints called thin places, where the veil between the spiritual and the physical world is thin. We need to slow the flow… even if it to allow ourselves those MEGO moments…”my eyes glaze over”; where we may not leave the room we are in but we leave the room we are in.

Take micro sabbaticals, look out the window focus on some part of God’s creation, even in our urban wonder and waste. I was in my office on my day off (which sounds bad right) it was a cold morning and I looked out at these two sparrows sheltering in the bush and just watched them for a while. God spoke to me of his provision and love. He cares even for the sparrow. Finally Sweet says we need time to stop the flow,  we live in a world where we are bombarded by messages, images, and the electronic chirpings of  notifications and reminders and we need to stop that and turn it off and give ourselves space to simply be.

Also we need to be reminded that the son of man is the Lord of the Sabbath that it is not primarily about external observances, rules and regulations but that it’s about an internal response to the grace and the love of God. That true religious observance focuses on God’s grace and is expressed in compassion for others. I hope that as we come to church and worship together that we might encounter that compassion and love of God in our lives. You come with a withered hand or a withered heart or withered spirit and encounter the healing and restoring power and love of Jesus Christ in this place in this rest: Through the service or through the service of your brothers and sisters in Christ.  And that Sabbath observance becomes part of our lives as we take that attitude with us.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

A prayer of thanks giving and confession.. for a sunday I'm preaching on 'The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath (Luke 6:1-11)

Loving and holy Heavenly Father,  

Full of mercy, overflowing with grace

We come this morning to stop and to rest from our toil,

To acknowledge your greatness and goodness

To know and experience your abiding presence with us

To give thanks for your saving acts

WE give you thanks for creation

The ocean around us and bush clad hills about us

Hill top panoramas, beach walk vistas, tree shaded valley trails

Shrubs and gardens that form oases in our urban sprawl,

Bird song filled dawns, crisp winter days, storm cloud, rain and hail

We acknowledge your creative hand in it all

We give you thanks for who you have made us,

Unique and individual, able to know and give love

Given gifts and skills, strength and intelligence to work and provide

Gifted with family and friends, called to care for others

You invite us to know you, to take the time to dwell with you

To know that you are with us by your spirit as we go through our days

We give you thanks for what you have done for us in Christ

You have graced us by stepping into the joy and sorrow of our world

You spoke and showed us your ways, your love in Jesus words

You showed grace and mercy in his welcoming and healing touch

You broke the chains of sin and death in Christ’s death on the cross

You have given us new life in Christ risen from the dead.

In response to this we come to give worship and also to ask forgiveness

We have done things that we should not have done

Greed has gone before generosity, Gratification before   gratitude

Personal Profit before people, Comfort before compassion

We have left undone the good you call us to do

Forgive us we pray O Lord.

Righteous and just God

In Jesus Christ we find hope and forgiveness

In your death and resurrection we know new life

As we have confessed our sins we know you forgive

The guilt is removed the slate whipped clean

Renew and restore us to wholeness we pray

Living God, who gives Sabbath rest

May we catch the breath of your spirit in our lives

Fill us afresh, refresh and restore us O God

Enable and empower us, lead and guide us

That in all we do and say we may bring praise to you

To live to your glory; Father, Son and Holy Spirit

Sunday, August 9, 2015

patching clothes, storing the new vintage and Jesus Revolution of grace (Luke 5:31-39)... Following His Footsteps: the Ministry of Jesus in Luke's Gospel (part 9)

"but we've always done it that way"... famous last words...

 “But we’ve always done it that way!’ I wonder how many countless groups, companies, institutions even churches if they were honest should have this engraved on their tombstones.

 “But we’ve always done it that way!” lies behind the questions and answers that Jesus gives in the passage we had read out this morning. As we follow his footsteps through Luke’s gospel we see how Jesus revolution of Grace comes more and more into conflict with the existing religious thoughts and practises of the day. His revolution of Grace, what God was doing now wasn’t going to fit in the old ways, just like you can’t patch old clothes with new cloth and you can’t put new wine in old wineskins. If you try and do that both are ruined and wasted. As we seek to follow Jesus footsteps today, Jesus answer and his quick parables continue to guide us as we can get caught in that same conflict between ‘we’ve always done it that way and Jesus revolution of grace.

There is no scene setting verse at the start of this section of Luke so it’s safe to assume that this discussion is at the banquet at Levi’s place. In response to Jesus calling Levi to ‘come follow me’ Levi had thrown a banquet inviting all his friends, fellow tax collectors and religious outsiders; considered sinners by the Pharisees. The Pharisees had grumbled about it and questioned Jesus disciples… why does Jesus eat with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus had replied with a parable that the well don’t need a doctor only the sick, and the son of man has come not for the righteous but to call sinner to repentance.

It seems quite natural that eating or not eating food as a sign of piety should come up in conversation. In the Old Testament fasting was associated with a discontent for the present, and a longing for a better world. For the Jews it was a way of looking forward to the coming of the messianic age, for God to act on their behalf and send God’s salvation. But fasting twice a week had become a ritual, it had become one of the ways they showed their commitment to God, that they were righteous people, hoping because of it that God would act. John the Baptist had bought with him a renewal movement within Judaism, one that the Pharisees could relate to, a call to repentance and separation from sin. In this verse we see that John’s disciples had fasted, it fits in very well with the preaching and teaching of John, looking forward to the coming of the messiah, preparing the way.

 But Jesus and his disciples didn’t fast, in fact they willing celebrated and banqueted with people. I wonder even if this banquet Levi threw was on one of the days that they the Pharisees had set aside for fasting. Jesus answered that by saying that friends couldn’t be made to fast when the bridegroom was with them. That it was right even in the Pharisees way of thinking to feast and celebrate with a bride groom for his wedding. It’s got some deeper connotations as well In using that analogy Jesus was able to capture a lot of Old Testament imagery that pointed to who he was. In the scriptures Israel was likened to the bride and YWHW her God to her groom. It is carried over into the New Testament epistles where the Church is seen as the bride of Christ. Why fast then when what the Pharisees and john’s disciples were looking forward to was in their midst.

Yes there would be a time to mourn and to fast when the bridegroom was taken away. It is interesting that the passion narrative in Luke occurs between two meals: The last supper and the meal on the road to Emmaus. Today Christians both look with dissatisfaction of the condition of the world and look forward to the return of Christ, and fasting is a discipline you can use to express that. But we also acknowledge that with celebration, Christian worship is a celebration, and with a meal: a remembering of what Jesus had done for us a celebration that the groom is still with us, a foretaste of what is to come. But fasting is never regulated as something followers of Jesus should do. People who practise it see it as a useful disciple helping them focus on prayer.

This is why Jesus moves on to his two parables about meaning cloth and storing new wine. This new thing that God is doing this new revolution of grace, won’t simply act like a patch on the old ways of doing things. Maybe in the age of synthetic materials and pre-shrunk clothing we miss something of what Jesus is saying. If you use new cloth to patch old clothes, it will work at first but as the new cloth shrinks through washing and use it will pull away from the old clothes and leave an even bigger hole. Not only will that but the new cloth be ruined as you cut bits out of it to patch the old. Jesus revolution of grace was something totally new and different; we have been seeing it as we’ve been working our way through Jesus early ministry. It has stretched out and reached out to those thought outside and away from God and welcomed them back as they had responded to it with repentance and faith. It didn’t deal with the external expressions of piousness and religiosity, but with change and release and wholeness at a heart level. That wasn’t simply going to fit as a patch on an old set of clothes, but was new cloth for something new that would develop.

In Jesus day, Wine was stored and left to ferment in animal skins. A sheep or a goat skin would be used. The legs tied up and used to hang the wineskin up and the neck was tied and used as a pourer. As the wine fermented and aged it would give off gases and the skin would be able to stretch to accommodate that process. After a while however it would be stretched and in the sun and open air becomes hard and brittle, less elastic. If you poured new wine in as the fermentation took place the pressure would build up and the skin would crack and burst and both skin and wine would be lost. This revolution of God’s grace this new move of the Spirit of God wasn’t going to fit into the old containers and old structures.

 Jesus finishes by acknowledging that people will want the old wine rather than the new wine. This can be taken in two ways… That there would be a reluctance to change, that people would want the old. Recently we’ve had the opportunity to drink a few bottles of ten year old Spanish wine. It was wonderful with a full rich taste, but that shipment ran out and so we tried a three year old wine from the same place and found it very average and ordinary… Jesus uses this to not only talk about people being reluctant to change but challenges the Pharisees that their focus on rituals and regulations and keeping laws that focused on the externals was the innovation, Jesus focus on faith and trust in the Goodness of God and his goodness and salvation was the true vintage that people longed for.

 These parables continue to be relevant for us today.

the Life Cycle of an organisation.
We can be like the Pharisees and focus on rituals and regulations and the structures we build on and around our faith. We can come to depend on them and value them and trust them and miss the wonderful revolution of grace that came in Jesus Christ. We can focus on the way thing have always been done and we can miss the new things that God is wanting to do in our midst and through us to the world around us.

When it comes to the church I wonder if it’s not the difference between seeing the church as a movement and the church as an institution, on its way to being a museum. In the book by Tim Keller I’m reading at the moment he talks about the difference between an institution and a movement. Both are groups and organisations that spring up round and because of a compelling vision. A movement is the way in which that compelling vision becomes a reality and an institution is usually established to protect and guard the gains made by a movement. Keller list four al mark differences between a movement and an institution.

 Firstly, a movement has a compelling vision. A clear picture of what its leaders are seeking to bring about. Jesus ministry starts with the reading from the scroll of Isaiah, this revolution of grace and forgiveness and release. The leaders invite people to come and follow that vision, if this is where you want to go come along with us. Institutions on the other hand will normally have a vision statement somewhere but what holds it together are rules and regulations and procedures. In a movement what guides the day to day choices are that vision, in an institution it is typically the rules and established patterns.

 Secondly, the unifying vision is so compelling that it leads to a culture of sacrificial commitment and intrinsic rewards. The vision is put ahead of personal comfort and rewards come from seeing the vision being made a reality, in doing good things in and of themselves. Jesus disciples it tells us left everything to follow him. In an institution every position and participant has a set of defined rights and privileges and rules with clear understanding of compensation and benefits. The Pharisees had a set understanding of what God should do in response to their prescribed display of piety. Movements focus on the benefits for others out there and the focus of an institution is within.

Thirdly, Movements and characterised by a generous flexibility to achieve the compelling vision, they are more likely to make sacrifices, make allies and cooperate with those outside to achieve their vision. Institutions are concerned with intentional practices, right procedures, areas of responsibility; they are all about ‘turf conscious silos”.

 Fourthly, movements tend to spontaneously produce new ideas and leaders grow from within, they will focus on leaders who get things done. Institutions don’t like taking risks and are in maintaining things for the long term.

 It’s not a matter of institutions are bad and movements are good, We actually need institutions to keep society functioning. Keller summarises, movements will die out if they do not become organised and able to sustain themselves for the long run. But institutions will simply become empty shells unless they gain some fresh momentum. They are willing to be on the move again inspired captured and open to compelling vision. That we are willing to find new wineskins and put on new clothes to house and be filled by the new wine of the Spirit, the always renewing revolution of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.

We have a new elder being ordained this morning and this is a challenge and an encouragement and a call to you as you step into leadership. To all of us who have been in leadership it is a call to renewal and a rediscovery of the compelling vision of Jesus revolution of grace, and for all of us as a church I hope it is inspiration to be on the move… to follow his footsteps.