Sunday, June 26, 2016

Woefilled Potholes and pitfalls on the crossroad (Luke 11:33-53)...On the Cross Road: Jesus journey to Jerusaelm in Luke's Gospel (ch 11-19) and what it means for us as we follow Jesus (Part 7)

When Kris and I got married I owned a 1973 Renault 4L. It’s a rearity in New Zealand but it was the first ever mass produced hatch back. Renault made it with little changes from 1954 right through to 1992. It was there equivalent to the volkswagon, the people’s car.  Mine had a real rust problem, it had been in England and r driven on roads that were salted during winter. AS a wedding present my best man actually welded in a floor pan into the car so it would get a warrant.   

We took it on our honeymoon up north.  Just before Whangarei we hit a pothole in the road. Bang and It just about ruined our honeymoon. It hit so hard that the top hinge on the driver’s door broke. The only thing that stopped the door from falling off was the bottom hinge was less rusty than the top one and the mechanism that stopped the door from opening beyond about 90 degrees didn’t break. Now when I say mechanism I mean a leather strap that was riveted to the door and the chassis of the car.  Renault 4’s were designed to be very basic. Anyway we found a panel beater welder out in some small back country place who welded it up for us at a price we could afford, and the car survived the honeymoon and the few first year of our marriage as we got enough money together to replace it. 

In the passage we had read out to us today Jesus continues his conflict with the Pharisees and the scribes of the law. At a dinner party he confronts them about some of their religious practises and thinking that were counter to Jesus revolution of grace. There is a series of very formal woe sayings… pronouncements of judgement. It’s important for us as we follow Jesus on the Cross road to hear those woes because they challenge us about possible potholes and pitfalls that the church has managed to fall into down through history that can stop us experiencing the gracious love of God and set us off course ending  up in empty religious observance and slavish legalism: a whole list of do’s and don’t s not a loving relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

We are working our way through Jesus journey to Jerusalem, a journey that ultimately lead to the cross, and our forgiveness,  a journey that takes up the central third of the gospel narrative in Luke, and contains large amounts of teaching on what it means to follow Jesus. AS we saw last week a journey that lead more and more into conflict with the religious and political leaders of the day. A conflict that acts as a warning for us about those pitfalls and potholes we need to avoid. In fact straight after the passage we had read today, Jesus turns to his disciples and says they/we are to be on guard against the yeast of the Pharisees…the same pitfalls of the Pharisees.’

The passage we had read today started with Jesus concluding comments in his conflict with the people who were writing him off as doing miracles in the power of evil, not God. It’s a parable about light being on a stand filling the whole room. He uses that to talk about our inner life, that we need to let the light of Christ illuminate and fill our whole lives. If that happens it will shine in us and dispel the darkness and shine out of us to the world around. If our eyes are healthy we will clearly see the light of Christ and it will fill us up. But if our eyes are not healthy then we cannot see the light clearly and we have darkness inside. It dovetails in with Jesus other teaching about the spiritual blindness of the religious leaders who do not see God at work in Jesus. Then to illustrate what Jesus means we have an encounter with Pharisees at a dinner party, where Jesus eats without taking part in their hand washing rituals. Jesus uses that to point out the unhealthy eyes that the Pharisees and scribes of the law have that stops them and those around them from seeing the truth of who Jesus is and God’s love and grace.

Hand washing for the Pharisees wasn’t about hygiene. On Wednesday morning down here at the church we have a wonderful regular handwashing ceremony, at mainly music in between the programme and the morning tea the kids all head down to the bath rooms and wash their hands, it is a hygiene thing. We had the plumber in on Wednesday and I think he was a bit surprised to be suddenly surrounded by all these excited pre-schoolers happily washing their hands. That’s good handwashing, the Pharisees however were a group within Jewish society that focused on rigorously keeping the law, hoping that as they did this God would respond and send his messiah and liberate them from roman rule.  They had devised this hand washing ritual, it wasn’t an Old Testament law, as a way of showing that they were ritually clean; it was sort of a thing that set them apart from other less strict people. It makes them suspicious about Jesus when he does not join in this ritual.

Jesus challenges them. He says they are concerned with the outside, outward appearances not with what is on the inside. Didn’t God make both? NT Wright says it’s like a journalist who sets themselves up as societies moral watch dog and points out the moral failings in others but whose own life is full of the same moral issues and failings. The Pharisees had a thing for ritual cleanliness but as Jesus points out what about a heart that loved God and showed that love in care for the poor and justice. one of the most challenging emphases in Luke’s gospel is that the condition of our heart will be reflected in the use of our resources and our care and concern for the poor. That is the gauge of how our heart has been changed by encountering Christ.

Jesus then gives a series of ‘woe’ statements, they are the opposite to beatitudes, the blessed are statements, they act as warnings about behaviour that leads to Gods judgement. He says they are so caught up in the trivial like making sure that every single piece of food is tithed and a tenth given over to God, that they neglect justice and the love of God. They’ve majored on the minors and missed the main thing. They should look to both. I couldn’t help but think of the way in which some churches will focus on tithing as a big issue, they will call their people to make sure they tithe so God will bless them, and not curse them and  in the worst cases it goes with lavish lifestyles for those in leadership. They forget that yes the tithes were given in part to care for the Levites, the priests who didn’t own land and were devoted to working in the temple and the Lord’s work, but also where given for  community storehouses to care for the poor, the fatherless, the stranger, the widows… it was the Jewish social welfare system. It wasn’t to be seen as a religious duty but as giving thanks for God’s provision, God’s goodness, his faithful love for Israel.

He goes onto say that they seemed more concerned about social acceptance than God’s. In verse 42 he had said they neglected the love of God and in the very next verse we see they love the important seats in the synagogue, and the acknowledgement of the people in the market place. Later Jesus will encapsulates the religious pride of the Pharisees in the parable of the two men who went up to the temple to pray in Luke 18, where the Pharisees prayer revolves around how righteous he is, and the tax collector is sharply and simply aware of his need for God’s grace, and the punch line is the question who went home that day justified and put right with God?

Jesus finishes with a woe that they are like an unmarked grave. In Jewish culture graves were always marked because people were aware of the ritual uncleanliness associated with dead bodies, it’s part of why in the parable of the good Samaritan the priest and Levi pass by on the other side of the road, just in case the man set upon by robbers is dead. But just like an unmarked grave there dead religion takes people away from God.

Then a scribe of the law, a person whose role it was to interpret the law says that Jesus insulting them as well and Jesus agrees and gives another series of three woes. Instead of making it easier for people to understand and keep the law which is what the scribes were supposed to do, by applying it to everyday life they made it harder for people, more complex, more and more clauses and does and don’t without giving them relief and help. The focus was on the many ways you could fail not on the grace and forgiveness of God and guidance of the Holy Spirit. He says they had built tombs for the prophets, that their ancestors had killed in their laws and religious structures they had built a monument to the prophets of old, but hadn’t listened to their message and were going to be like those ancestors and kill the prophet in their own day, one who encapsulated and fulfilled all that teaching and truth.  He finishes by saying that they think they have the key to knowledge but in actual fact they do not they are outside and hinder those who want to go inside. The key to knowledge is that it is in personally knowing God, knowledge and wisdom come from personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

That is a very hard series of woes to look at and I would have liked to just skip this passage, but I believe it’s important systematically work through the scriptures and let them all speak to us so how does it apply to us?

They act as a warning about the tendency in Christianity to fall into legalism. Darryl Bock says that the legalistic person feels he or she has the right to be everybody’s spiritual keeper, using a list of requirements that are not scriptural. Legalism block knowledge of God , so that people are damaged not edified. He gives four surprising symptoms that we might have hit the pot hole or pitfall of legalism.

Frequently legalists refuse to speak directly to those whose behaviour offends them. The Pharisees  didn’t like Jesus non hand washing and spoke about it only in private. Jesus spoke about things openly in the hope for truth and grace to have it way.

Legalists major in the minor and ignores the major relational requirements God asks of his followers. In doing that we can lose sight of the condition of our heart and fail to notice the needs of those who are really hurting… My mum always tells the story of a woman who sat down next to her at Church one day and started to complain about that group of scruffy young men who came to church with their longhair and bare feet, dressed in t-shirts and dungarees. My Mum, God bless her, replied well that one is my son and I’m so pleased he knows Jesus and wants to come to church. And that the dungarees were the uniform of our church drama team.

The third is that the close association of pride to this condition is no accident; pride tends to make us into non-listeners. If we lose that ability to be teachable, and open to change we cut ourselves off from the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit. We become like unmarked graves.  

Lastly, a legalist is quick to criticise but slow to help. I wonder if our social media age hasn’t exacerbated that as well, people are quick to troll or flame someone feeling safe  because of distance of anonymity to cut each other down. I think in New Zealand this tendency we simply call tall poppy syndrome.

As I said it’s hard to speak about this stuff, because it can sound like its judgemental or without grace. Maybe we don’t see Jesus redemptive and gracious side in this because the Pharisees and scribes, opposed Jesus fiercely and tried to catch him out… But Jesus hope is always redemptive to invite people back to knowing God, God’s love, God’s grace and God’s forgiveness and finding their lives overflowing with the presence and joy of Knowing Jesus Christ: That we will allow the light of Jesus to shine into our lives and bring repentance and change. Don’t get stuck in these potholes and pitfalls…

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Coping with Conflict on the Cross Road (luke 11:14-32)- On The Cross Road: Jesus Journey to Jerusalem in Luke's Gospel (CH 10-19) and what it means for us as his followers (Part 5)

I have to admit that I don’t like dealing with conflict. I don’t really know anyone who does …

My default conflict management style: The one I instinctively use is avoidance. If I can avoid having to deal with an issue or conflict  I will. You know I’ll try and sweep it under the carpet and act like its gone away. With some small things it can work. The problem with that of course is that, you can then find yourself tripping up and falling over the big lump that’s builds up of all the things you’ve put under the carpet. Right! Things tend to become a big problem.

My other default conflict management style is if I can’t avoid something I’m competing. If I can’t avoid it then I’m going to win. right! ’If I can’t dodge it on lifes highway then It’s my way or the Highway’. When you get your own way, you might be able to have that Rocky moment.  You know standing on the top of the steps with your hands in the air ruler over all you survey. But maybe the underlying conflict isn’t totally resolved. Like the rocky movies, it will keep coming back sequel after sequel… after tired sequel.

I don’t think our political leaders are a good example of conflict resolution for us. I’ll  often watch the parliamentary question time on TV. And yes I get wound up more than wind down. Often there you’ll see that nothing really gets resolved, because important issues will be avoided by politicians making snide remarks against each other, or blaming the other party when they were in office, or using semantics to side step the question…  In the US presidential race at the moment we are seeing the way in which even what is supposed to be the showcase of democracy is descending into personal taunts and insults rather than dealing with issues and truth and looking for a way forward.

It might not be very profound but it’s true that conflict is part of our everyday lives, and it’s something that we actually need help in knowing how to handle.  It can destroy relationships, families, churches,  communities and on a world stage we need peace makers, people who can help resolve conflicts between people groups and nations and prevent conflicts becoming wars.

We are working our way through Jesus Journey to Jerusalem in Luke’s gospel.  A journey that will lead Jesus to the Cross, a journey narrative that takes up the central third of the gospel (ch 10-19) and a journey narrative that is full of Jesus teaching on what it means to be a follower of his. But it’s also a journey that takes Jesus into deeper and deeper into conflict with the religious and political powers of his day. The passage that we had read to us today is one of those passages.  While it may seem easy to follow Jesus during times of plain sailing and ease, it is a real challenge to keep on following Jesus when we find ourselves challenged and in conflict situations. Maybe that is also when People need to see the difference that being a follower of Jesus makes in our lives.

Jesus conflict here starts with him preforming a miracle. He heals a man who had been mute, an affliction that we are told had a demonic cause. The focus of the passage is on how People are reacting to Jesus. We have two reaction recorded, the first is that there is a group of people who think they know what is really going on behind the scenes and they accuse Jesus of being able to deal with such situations by the power of the prince of demons. They are calling Jesus acts of kindness evil in origin. He is being misrepresented and misunderstood, a common cause of conflict. The other reaction is that people haven’t made their mind up about Jesus and they are looking for another sign, something spectacular. Jesus we want some good special effects. They want Jesus to conform to their expectations of what the Messiah is going to be like. And trying to live up to others people expectations is another common cause of conflict in life.

How does Jesus deal with this situation? The first thing that Jesus does is that he addresses the Issue not the people involved. It does not become personal. He deals with the untruth, he deals with it on a logical level. He tells the people that any kingdom divided against itself will fall. It just does not make sense for people to be set free and healed by the same power that wants to hold them captive and destroy them . In Jewish religion exorcism was not unique to Jesus. The Jews had people who would deal with spiritual issues, and Jesus asks if he is doing it by evil powers what about these guys? He goes on to say that if he is doing these things by God’s power then they need to be careful  and think about what they are saying. 

He then gets to the important issue.  He puts his ministry and life in the context of the very spiritual battle they are talking about, and says he comes with a power stronger than Satan,  the power of God, able to overpower him and set what he has made captive free.  We often think that Jesus teaching here about a demon being evicted from its home and then coming back and seeing it all put in order and bringing seven worse demons back is about an individual’s life but it’s not in Matthews account of this passage Jesus finishes his words by saying ‘it will be like this for this wicked generation’. Jesus is talking about the nation of Israel, that in their history they have had times of great reform and times when they have been bought back to know God, and yet unless that relationship with God was made strong and took central place, worse things would happen. If you read through the history books of the Old Testament you’ll see that cycle, revival, moving away from God, slipping into worse and worse evil until the exile happens.  This is a warning from Jesus that the people don’t want to miss this opportunity to know God’s grace and salvation.  He gets to the heart of the situation; in Jesus God has come near and they have a chance to be reconciled with God…If they will respond.  

 It’s interesting in the passage that Jesus deals with praise in the same way he deals with conflict. A woman in the crowd cries out ‘blessed is the mother who gave birth to you!’ and while Luke’s gospel starts out with Elizabeth telling Mary she is most blessed amongst women, and Mary says that all generations will call her blessed, here Jesus seems aware that this praise and compliment is also off target and draws people back to the central issue once again ‘rather blessed are those who hear the Word of God and obey it’.

That leads Jesus to respond to those who want Jesus to fulfil their expectations of what the messiah will be like, who want signs in the heavens. He is sure of his own call and mission so he tells those people that the only sign he will give them is the sign of Jonah. You remember Jonah in the Old Testament was the prophet who was in the stomach of a fish for three days and then was spewed up on dry land. But Jonah was also one who preached for people to repent and turn to God and if you read the story about him that is what people did. So Jesus is saying the only sign he will offer them is that offering of reconciliation with God. He also challenges them about their attitude, by saying pointing to the queen of Sheba who had come to listen to Solomon’s wisdom and the people of Niniva who had heard Jonah’s message, but one greater was in their midst. In this case their expectations were stopping them from seeing the truth about Jesus Christ. Jesus focus is on th important issue peoples relationship with God. Instead of other people’s expectations it is on the common good.

So what does all this have to say to us about dealing with conflict?

I think the first thing is that truth matters. It’s interesting in this passage the people who accused Jesus of doing things in the name of Beealzebub, kind of a Knick name for the devil, didn’t know what was going on, they hadn’t looked deeply enough into it. Maybe their own preconceived ideas were blinding them. But the passage says that “Jesus knew their thoughts” it’s easy to jump to conclusions and we need to be willing to seek and find the truth of a situation, as that is the way through conflict.

Secondly as I said before we need to able to differentiate between the person and the issue. We are called to love one another even to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us and bless those who curse us. But it does not mean we always agree with each other and we get it wrong and hurt each other and we need to deal with that. Jesus here was able to deal with some real slights on his ministry and personhood, and in his replies we see the offer of grace and the opening of reconciliation, without compromise of the truth. It involves being willing to listen and to understand the other persons position.  Jesus is the ultimate example, as t says in the romans 8:5 while we were still rebelling against God Jesus died for us.”:  For our salvation and healing.

How do we deal with all the emotions that are caught up in that conflict in people misunderstanding or misrepresenting us?  I think that is a good question. I wonder if part of the solution to that isn’t why the Psalms ae not full of People being angry about such things in their prayers to God. Is that that is a good place to bring those emotions and hurts and pain, bring them to the one who can heal and restore who understands us and knows the real truth about us. lets not use them as an excuse to hurl hurt on others.  It does not help when those things are a barrier to dealing with the problem or cause of the conflict either. In the marriage course Nicky and Sila Lee talk about in a marriage that the way to deal with problems and conflicts is to sit on the couch together with the problem on the table in front of you, rather than between you on the couch. Forgiveness and healing may come as the truth and the way forward is looked for.

One of the things I’ve found most helpful in learning to deal with conflict  was knowing my instinctive default setting when facing conflict, what people call your conflict management style.  I mentioned mine before and part of wanting to act in conflict situations in a way that glorifies Jesus and shows his love to other people, I’ve had to realise that I do that… I’ll try and duck it avoidance… or I’ll try and win the fight… and I have had to stop and ask myself if that is the right style, the right way forward in this situation.. The Mennonite church has a useful resource to help look at conflict management styles and your default style. I use as part of my premarraige counselling and there are copies of it in the foyer for you to take home and do.

The final thing is in all this the hope is the same as Jesus hope in his response in this conflict situation that we might allow God’s truth and grace and freedom to come into the conflict situations we are in.  It’s in knowing Christ and allowing him to minister his peace and wholeness into our lives that we are able to grow into maturity and deal with conflict in a Christ-like manner.

Monday, June 13, 2016

The Prayerful Path (Luke 11:1-13)... Walking the Cross Road: Jesus journey to Jerusalem in Luke's Gospel (ch 10-19) and what it has to say for us (Part 4)

I don’t make a habit of playing offensive material in Church. But the following 60 second advert was banned from Cinema’s in the UK last Christmas before the ‘StarWars: The Force Awakens’ movie as it was deemed that it would offend some people. So I apologise in advance if you are offended.

After some criticism the cinema company defended their decision to ban that ad by saying that as a commercial consideration they didn’t play religious or political adverts. But that is different than deeming it offensive they had to back down somewhat. This year the Arch Bishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who appears at the beginning of the advert, picked up this incident when he describes the Lord’s Prayer as (click for words to appear on screen)

reassuring enough to be on the lips of the dying, but dangerous enough to be banned in cinemas, famous enough to be spoken daily by billions in thousands of languages and yet intimate enough to draw us every closer in our friendship with Jesus Christ, simple enough to be remembered by small children and profound enough to sustain a whole life of prayer.”

Maybe on one level the cinema company was right in banning the advert because this prayer is revolutionary and is dangerous… praying it and praying like it, not just saying or parroting it, will change your life and will change the world.

We are working our way through Jesus journey to Jerusalem in Luke’s gospel. The journey that will ultimately lead to the cross, a journey that takes up the central third of the gospel narrative (ch 10-19), a journey narrative that focuses on Jesus teaching on what it means for us to follow him ‘walking the Cross road’. Today we are looking at Jesus teaching on Prayer… that to walk the Cross road with Jesus is to walk the prayerful path.

..And it’s highly appropriate that in a section that has to do with right relationship with God…which we’ve seen in the go and do likewise of the good Samaritan and the sit and listen to what Jesus has to say of the Martha and Mary encounter that we should turn to look at prayer. Prayer is such an important part of the Christian faith. In fact we took a whole month to work through this passage in our season of prayer last October and in September this year we’ll come back to it as we look at the nuts and bolts of prayer… simple everyday help for our prayer life.  One commentator said that the Christian life without prayer is like a marriage where after the vows are exchanged at the altar the couple go about their lives together and no more words are spoken, no real communication takes place. It’s not really a marriage. Prayer is the way in which we communicate with God. We deepen our knowing of God and our being known by God.

I just want to make three quick observations about the revolutionary nature of Jesus teaching on prayer that help us on the prayerful path following Jesus.

The first is that the most radical and revolutionary and dangerous thing about Jesus prayer and his teaching on prayer; what it tells us about the nature of God. The passage is split into three parts: The first is Jesus prayer, the second is a short parable about a neighbour in need in the middle of the night and finally a two part exhortation to pray. In these Jesus presents us with the idea of fatherhood and friendship together to tell us about God.

 It starts by Jesus saying we should Prayer to ‘Our Father’ and finishes with Jesus saying if we who are evil know how to give good gifts to our children how much more will our heavenly father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask”. We are presented with God as a loving Parent, God who hears and cares for their children. In the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ you and I and all who would come to Christ are welcomed back as John puts it to be sons and daughters of the most high God’. God is not a distant, disinterested deity way out there who just does not care, he is not cruel or capricious; you know a diabetic deity, who has mood swings and acts out of character  depending on how much sugar is in the system. I know today many people will say they can’t relate to God as father because of their own earthly experience of an abusive or absent father, but here Jesus says that when we think of what a father we should look to God’s care and provision, forgiveness and protection as the mark of real fatherhood. Coming to know God as Our Father is a healing process.

In the middle parable, God is presented as a friend and good neighbour who even if we disturb him in the middle of night with our needs, won’t just roll over and go back to sleep, but despite the ruckus it will cause, in an ancient near eastern house this could have involved waking children and animals and all that that entails, will answer and help.  The person in need isn’t just using his neighbour as an alternative to the local dairy or service station by the way, in the ancient near east being able to provide hospitality to a traveller was a serious matter, if you couldn’t it was a matter of great shame. But the man’s neighbour is a friend and while not a life saviour definitely a face saver.

We see In Jesus teaching on Prayer a God who loves us. Darryl Bock summarises it by saying “ Jesus stress on God’s proximity and the access believers have with him for his provision and care make his view of God deeply personal in emphasis.” Mind you this does not mean we should fall into the trap of simply having a buddy Jesus mentality Bock continues “Closeness does not destroy respect we start our prayer “hallowed be thy Name” acknowledging the unique holiness of God. When we have this understanding of God in Christ it is revolutionary.

Secondly, there can be a sense that we see prayer as a way out of the situations we are in. To pray ‘thy kingdom come’ is not akin to standing at the train station waiting for the train to come and take us out of the cold dark night and darker pain and evil round us, off to some better place, for the curtains to close on history and us to be whisked off to be with Christ, rather it is to invite God into the situations and world we live in: to have Christ be with us here and now.   Our hope, our salvation our healing and wholeness our seeing our way through, justice and righteousness are dependent on the fact that when we pray we invite God into our lives and into our space and place to bring his transformation.

We see the whole of the trinity involved in our Praying: We pray to the father, through Jesus who teaches us to pray, we receive the Holy Spirit, God’s very presence within us. It is this presence that makes the difference. We see this in Jesus coming into the world, the word made flesh, living out what he calls us as his disciples to pray: Living to glorify God, ushering in the kingdom of God in his life and death and resurrection, providing for our physical and spiritual needs, making a way for us to be forgiven and reconciled with God and one another, making a way for us through trial and temptation, defeating evil. When we pray forgive us our sins we are asking for God to come and bring reconciliation to our relationships, we partner with God in doing it by forgiving others. We pray give us our daily bread and we are asking for God to be in our daily existence and part of the care and concern for the world around us, by which he provides. Thy Kingdom come is asking God to come and reign and rule in our lives and in all that goes on around us… as the Holy Spirit comes and dwells in us it enables us to be agents of that Kingdom coming.  It’s interesting songs about that ‘train to glory’ in blues music and gospel was not that God would take us home to be with him it has its roots in the underground railway where people would risk their lives to bring slaves in the south out of bondage and suffering to new life, justice and hope. WE are looking to God to do the same.

astly, Jesus teaching is very practical about how we are to pray.  He gives us a template for our prayer life. We start with worship.. Adoration: not because we can butter God up with our words, but because as we worship God we see who he is, it puts everything else into perspective. We see what God desires and it gives us a way forwards. Confession: when we see God’s glory and goodness we are aware that we need to put ourselves right. In many situations that is part of the solution we see our sins and wrongdoings and we put them right, we mend our broken relationships and it is the start of peace and reconciliation in the world. WE give thanks for what God has done… It helps us to see that God is indeed active and present. We bring our supplications and needs before God, we can trust him to provide for all the basics of life and can then look to see God move amidst greater things.

It calls us to be both confident in coming to God, knowing that God hears and God cares, trusting that God can and God does answer. Jesus calls us to be persistent and regular in our prayer, there is the wonderful phrase in the NIV version of the parable of the needy neighbour “shameless audacity”. That we just keep on bring it to God. Keeping on knocking… we can make a nuisance of ourselves, and you know God is never annoyed by it. He calls us to bring all things all ways and all times to God. 
But also we can pray knowing that God is not hard of hearing or off on holiday or like me on a Sunday afternoon, at home with his feet up fallen asleep in front of the Rugby highlights that I really wanted to see. But if we seek and knock and ask he will respond.

I have a gift for people today… Just a little business sized card with the Lord’s prayer in it… as a reminder for us to stop and to pray in the business of our day… put it in your wallet right next to your lightbulb give it to a friend or family member or a stranger… But be careful because it’s dangerous. It seems appropriate to finish today with a quote from NT Wright on the importance of prayer.  He says of Jesus prayer,

 “This isn’t a routine or formal praying, going through the motions as a daily or weekly task. There is a battle going on, a fight with the powers of darkness and those who glimpse the light are called to struggle in prayer for peace, for reconciliation, for wisdom, for a thousand things for a world and a church, perhaps a hundred or two hundred for their own family, friends and neighbours, and perhaps a dozen of two for themselves.” It’s so important and essential that we shouldn’t leave it to the whim of the moment but be disciple and regular… we should pray… we should pray we should pray.” Lets pray.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Prayer of thanksgiving and confession based on Luke 11:5-13

This is a prayer for Sunday worship. AS I have been looking at Jesus teaching on Prayer in Luke 11:1-13 apart for the awesome lord's prayer I was really moved by the way in which in that Teaching Jesus talks of the openness of God. He is like a friend and neighbour who despite all the ruckus it would cause opens his door and provides for those in need. A god who opens when we knock and is found when we seek. Who knows how to give good things and is generous with his aid, his grace and in particular his presence with us. Presence in sending Jesus Christ, presence in welcoming us back to be family and the ongoing presence of God in the Holy Spirit.

Gracious and loving God

Full of mercy and kindness

We thank you that when we knock you open

When we seek we are found in you

We come this morning to give you praise

For your open nature and your open arms to us

You are not a closed off distant God

Way out there off the scope and beyond

Rather you are open to us coming to know you

In fact you opened the way and sought us

You are light and shine your goodness

In Christ you revealed  yourself to us

You opened it all in the beginning

You spoke and it all came into being

The vastness of space each star named and known

The intricate balance of life each animal its habitat

You made us for open communication with you

You walked in the garden with us

We sinned and ruined it all and turned away

Yet You opened up the way of reconciliation

You openly came and dwelt in our midst

In Jesus you showed us your love and grace

Good news, We have been put right with you

Good news, Openly welcomed back as your family

You are open all hours

You hear us when we cry to you

We confess there are times when it feels you have gone away

That the gates of heaven are all shut up and locked down

But your word says you are like a friend when we are in need

You hear and you respond even in the darkest hour of night

We confess we have done wrong

We have left undone the good your love calls us to do

We have closed the doors of mercy and kindness

Allowed evil and injustice to flourish in the open

AS we pray we know the door of forgiveness is open

Because you are just and righteous, in Christ we are forgiven

We know you keep your promises

We know that you are generous and good in your dealing with us

We pray that you might fill us a fresh with your Spirit today

That you might dwell within us and lead and guide us

That we may be filled again with the open love of Jesus

Love that would overflow into the world in which we live

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Listening our way forwards on the Cross Road (luke 10:38-42)...Walking the Cross Road: Jesus journey to Jerusalem (Luke ch 10-19) and what it has to say to us as his followers (Part 3)

Viv Coleman came and spoke at the beginning of the year here at St Peter’s, she talked about one word. One word for the year, …one word instead of making new year resolutions… one word instead of writing and setting lofty and worthy goals… one God given word that would be the focus for the year. When I came back from holiday I was sure that that word for us as a church was ‘evangelism’, or  maybe ‘outreach’ or ‘ mission’… But I was wrong… as I prepared my first message for the year the word listen kept coming up. Jesus says ‘listen’, listen to my words… listen and put them into action. Listen very carefully. Listen. More than ever in the midst of the churn and blur of our everyday twenty first century urban suburban lifestyle with its multitasking demanding congested schedules, and multi-lane depressingly congested motorways we need to make time to stop… be still and sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to what he has to say.

The passage we are looking at today starts with the phrase ‘as Jesus and his disciples were on their way’ and we are looking at the journey they were on. In Luke 9:51 it says that Jesus knew his time was short so he resolutely set out for Jerusalem, the central third of Luke’s gospel covers that Journey (ch 10-19) and the focus of that journey narrative is Jesus teaching on what it means to be a disciple, to follow Jesus walking the Cross road. It would be easy to think of that in terms of doing, because we’ve started out that way by looking at it as a missional road, paved with acts of kindness and loving your neighbour, but now in the story of Jesus, Martha and Mary we find ‘go and do likewise in juxtaposition with ‘sit and listen’. In fact on the Cross road to stop and listen to Jesus is the way forwards. 

I want to acknowledge that the passage we are reading today is not primarily about the clash between our business and a more contemplative approach to life.  NT Wright says the passage we are looking at is about the boundary breaking call of Jesus. Martha and Mary invite Jesus to their home for a meal. In ancient near eastern homes as in many homes today around the world, the space was divided between men’s space, public space and women’s space. Mary crosses into that public space that male dominated space to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen. This would have been scandalous in the day. She should have been made to go back to the women’s quarters where she belonged. Sitting at the feet was the place of honour for a disciple, a men’s only position. But in affirming Mary’s choosing the better way, Jesus shows that in his Kingdom no such divide should exist… men and women are equally called to be disciples. Equally called to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to what he has to say. Now feminist theologians have found this passage a real challenge because they are concerned that what Martha is doing is the work of a deacon, she is waiting tables, a technical term for someone in church leadership. They are concerned that the story has been used to remove women from leadership and simply place them in the position of being subservient and silent at the feet of Jesus. Historically, against Jesus teaching and example, you can understand that because a woman finding their place in leadership in the church has been a struggle and is an ongoing struggle. NT Wright however rightly points out that ‘to sit at the feet’ is also a technical term in itself, Saul of Tarsus was said to have ‘sat at the feet of the great rabbi Gamaliel’ (Acts 22:3) and one sat at the feet of a rabbi and listened because it was the way in Jewish society that one became a rabbi a teacher and earned the right to speak  and teach… You listened your way forward.  That was what Mary was doing… That is the boundary breaking call of Jesus. The call we only hear when we sit as Jesus feet and listen to what he has to say.

Others have seen this passage about hospitality. And in seeing it that way it’s helpful for us. When Jesus sent out the seventy two he had talked about going and leaving their peace in the places they received welcome and hospitality. Here Jesus is welcomed in to the home of Martha and Mary. In fact from john’s gospel you get the idea that Martha and Mary and Lazarus’ place was the sort of place Jesus was welcome to just go and hang out on a night off. Jesus wants to leave them a great gift of his peace, the words he has to share… But Martha is concerned with providing the very best for her guests. She wants to be the hostess with the most-est. To bless Jesus with the best, I wonder if the house got one of those impromptu spring cleans like happens at our house when someone is coming to dinner, and we try and put on good food a well-dressed table. We can be all about doing things to please Jesus and lose sight of the fact that Jesus has so much more for us if we will but sit and listen. We welcome Jesus into our lives and our Christian faith can become about doing stuff for Jesus and not spending time with Jesus. It can be about putting on a show for Jesus not simply enjoying his presence and his peace. Martha did a good thing in welcoming Jesus and providing for him, but Mary shows us that the centre of welcoming Jesus into our homes and lives is sitting and listening to what he has to say.

When it comes to food Jesus seems quite content to settle for simple fare. Because of the way things are at home in the mornings we all have our own routine and I have the luxury to sit alone at the kitchen table and have my breakfast and devotional time. On Thursday I was up to the end of John’s gospel in my Bible In One year reading guide, where Jesus meets his disciples on the shore of Galilee and invites them for breakfast with him. Nicky Gumble’s comment started ‘Jesus appears in the ordinariness of simple daily life. You do not necessarily need to do extraordinary things. Jesus meets you wherever you are.” And I thought yes even as I’m sitting here having peanut butter on toast and coffee with the hum of the washing machine in the background. It was like I was having breakfast with Jesus not on the shores of Lake Galilee but definitely in that little patch of sun that makes it past the house out the back and through the ranch sliders into our dining room.  That sets me up for the day…

Yet equally I find myself rushing and miss out on the blessing of sitting at Jesus feet and listening to
what he has to say. On Tuesday I wanted an image for the service today. So I grabbed my tablet jumped in the van and headed up MT wellington, sprinted, well walked, up to the seat on the track to the summit and took some images. And as I turned to sprint, ok walk, down the hill again that voice at the back of head I equate with God said “"Hey! If you are talking about taking time in the hustle and bustle of life to sit and listen why not stop and sit for a while... why not take some time to spend with me..." I did stop for a few minutes and just was still… but I didn’t spend too much time up there which was good because I just got back to the office and this happened…

So what I want to finish with is just some thoughts on how we can build that stopping to listen to Jesus into our lives. We can be like Martha and find ourselves focused on so many things that we forget the only thing that brings life. I actually think we need to embrace a simpler lifestyle to realise that all this activity all it’s cracked up to be. I’ve said it before but Paul Borthwich says something very relevant for our society today “if the devil can’t make you evil he’ll make you busy”. The two greatest barriers to spiritual growth are tiredness; a lack of sleep and being worn out and business, a filling our time up with stuff, which means we simply end up feeling stuffed.

The first thing I want to say is that we need to programme in stops and chances to listen. Routine and ritual help us to make time in the hustle and bustle of life to stop and to listen. Be it a daily devotional time.  Time for personal bible reading, a quiet time at the end of the day to review what has gone on and where you have encountered Christ’s presence in your life. I recently listened to a public lecture by the Bishop of wellington Justin Duckworth who talked about a young Pentecostal church who have become affiliated with the Anglicans because they were looking for the discipline in their lives that the Anglicans had in the form of the Divine offices: short readings prayer and worship at various times in the day. He said being young adults they added a wired component and sent out the devotions over the Internet and ended up with 10 000 hits. Also we need to make our weeks and years full of sacred time as well. Holidays are not just the chance to relax or fill up off time by going off and doing other stuff it means holy days where we take time to put God first. Have you ever considered programming in a retreat as part of your holiday plans?

It’s hard however just simply to go from being full on to coming to a deep stop and a place where we can be still and open to what God has to say. The illustration that comes to mind for me is trying to get somewhere in the traffic. There are plenty of opportunities to stop. The light turns red and you have to right… A stop sign and you stop most of the time!... then it just get congested and you stop when you should be going...but I’m not sure my mind comes to a place of rest… I’m aware that time is ticking past… I’m going to be late… it’s taking longer than I want it to. When I stop to have devotion I am aware that my mind just keeps on going with all the things of the day and week.  In our reformed tradition what happens in a service before the bible reading and sermon is supposed to allow us to get ready to listen to the word of God read and preached. We do it by gathering, using scripture to focus on God, through worship and prayer of thanks and confession. For me sung worship is important because I use my whole body to focus on God… I seek to encounter God’s presence so I can be open to what God has to say through his word by his spirit. We need to do that in our own devotional life as well… maybe by singing or praising God…maybe to start by encountering God’s breath and voice print in the beauty of creation before we look at the written word. Just being still… and saying a centering prayer, or a mantra …  It may be as simple as ‘thank you Lord’ ‘Hallelujah’, ‘bless you Lord’  not to empty ourselves like in eastern religions or new age spirituality,  but to focus us on God’s very presence with us. I often will simply pray in tongues under my breath. 

also think we have trained ourselves to hear things but have lost the art of listening. We hear so many messages every day… adverts, phone messages, social media, our news has been reduced to click bait and sound bites, to capture our attention, our lives can imitate art and we are used to doing things with an incessant sound track  or the TV on in the background just to avoid the incursion of silence. Phones and tablet and laptops have given new meaning to being left to our own devises. Right? We hear things but to listen is the process of processing what we hear. In the news sheets today I’ve put a little flier with a process for listening to Jesus in God’s word. It’s a three step process for doing inductive bible study. Inductive means drawing truth from what we observe. It’s a process of praying: we start by praying and ask God to speak to you by the word you are reading; as it says on the flier to help you to see the passage, understand the passage and live the passage out. Then we Read the passage… sometimes it’s best to read it out loud so it doubles the number of ways that you are taking the passage in… And it slows us down to hear it. I’m an audio learner I hear words when I read or write them, so I can’t speed read, but I find myself falling into the dangerous habit of skim reading the bible like it is just another novel or book … So reading aloud or whispering it helps. Then we work through our observation, understanding the passage. Then interpreting the passage coming to terms with what it means and finally applying the passage, how does it impact on my life… often that will mean we need help because the scriptures were written in genres, and situations we are not used to.. so a bible dictionary in a book or online is good value to help us understand what we read. I recommend the book ‘reading the bible for all its worth by Gordon fee and Douglas Stuart as a helpful guide to understanding different types of literature in the scripture… it’s a good investment. We come to see what the original writer was saying to his readers and we then apply it to our lives. Historically also it has been seen as a group or community process that is why as a church we want to encourage people to be in small groups its why we gather for the reading and preaching of the word.  Finally we pray and ask God to help us to live out what we have encountered in the word of God.

Judging by the response I’ve had online to this image there is a great desire from people to have time and space to sit and be still and listen to Jesus… Stopping and listening to God’s word to Jesus Christ is at the heart of giving Jesus hospitality in our lives. It is the way we make steps down the Cross road following Jesus. We sit at his feet we listen to what he has to say and then we go and do likewise.

Lets Pray... We Stop and we listen