Monday, August 29, 2016

Small Numbers and Insurmountable Odds? What are You going to do? (luke 13:22-25). On The Cross Road: Jesus jounrey to Jerusalem and what it has to say to us today

Small numbers and insurmountable odds… On one hand that equation sits at the heart of many of the stories, real and mythical, that fascinate us…  King Leonidas and the 300 Spartan warriors hold back the Persian army in the battle of Thermopylae in 480BC. In the 2006 film about it that imbalance is picked up in the first battle scene when the ground shakes and rocks roll down the steep side of the ravine, to the feet of the soldiers, and one soldier says to Leonidas “earthquake?” to which he replies “No battle formations”.  How about remember the Alamo! Winston Churchill’s summation of the battle of Britain… ‘Never have so many owed so much to so few’…  I’m a Marvel and sci-fi tragic and film after film, story after story has the same base thought, a small group overcoming insurmountable odds and yup saving the world again, just in time. Crime stories are the same, criminal minds a TV series that is into its twelfth season has captured this by focusing on the relationships between a small team, who battle pure evil week after week.  Did you notice that we New Zealanders were very quick to point out that we were number up there on the medal table this Olympics, that is on the table for medals per capitia, a small nation doing so well against incredible odds. In real life we see it in social movements started by a small group committed to the cause. Anthropologist Margaret Mead said ‘Don’t think that small groups of people can’t change the world; they are the only ones who ever have.”

Small numbers and insurmountable odds… on the other hand are things that can intimidate and discourage us, that can crush and destroy us.  Let’s face it while the Greeks held out the Persians in the end the 300 died, the Alamo is remembered because it too was a massacre. I don’t know anyone who has the sort of powers that characters in TV shows and movies do… and none of us have that great team of writers working on how we will be victorious this week. Evil and social injustices still flourish despite the best efforts of small and not so small groups.

And yes I couldn’t help but think of St Peter’s as I read this passage… On another scale small numbers and insurmountable odds come together for me at 9:29am on a Sunday morning. Numbers at worship is a real issue for us as a church, there are challenges about sustainability, I question my call to ministry.  It seems as if the dwindling numbers in Christianity in the west becomes very real… and the challenge of how to share the gospel in that context really comes to the fore.

In the passage that we had read to us today from Luke’s gospel Jesus is confronted with questions of small numbers ‘will only a few be saved?’ and insurmountable odds, Herod is out to get you… and in his response to that I believe is hope and encouragement for us.

At the beginning of this passage in verse 22 we are reminded that Jesus is on that Journey to Jerusalem. In the latter half of this passage we see that Jesus is aware that to go to Jerusalem for him is to die, that is here they kill the prophets, so this is Jesus on the Crossroad.   It’s a journey that started in Chapter 9:51 and that we’ve been following through the gospel narrative. It’s a journey and narrative that takes up the central third of Luke’s gospel. It is a journey that focuses on Jesus teaching, as he moves through the towns and villages on his way to Jerusalem. 

The passage starts with the question that someone asks Jesus, ‘Lord are only a few people going to be saved?’ Jesus answer to the question is to tell a parable which shifts the emphasis from ‘is it only a few?’ to ‘what about you?’  Instead of idle speculation it becomes a personal charge to make every effort to enter in through the narrow door.  Where are you at with Jesus Christ, do you recognise him as the way to be reconciled with God, are you listening to him and putting his words into action.

It is hard for us to comprehend Jesus words about strive; make every effort to enter the Narrow gate, because quite rightly we see that door way to relationship with God being about grace. It is because of Jesus Christ, his life, death and resurrection that we can be restored to a relationship with God as our heavenly father. This passage seems to imply we have to work for it. In Philippians 2:12 Paul sheds some light on this when he encourages the people he is writing to keep the teachings he has given them,’ he says they are to continue to work out their salvation with fear and trembling’. Yes we are saved by grace, the striving and the working is how we live that out. The key in Luke’s gospel again is hearing the word of God and responding by putting it into action in our lives.

This becomes clearer as Jesus continues the parable by talking of a banquet being thrown. At some stage the house will be full and the door will be closed. People will be left outside. People who expected to be let in because they had had contact with Jesus, he had eaten with them and they had heard him teach in their towns, but the owner of the house; Jesus, says I do not know you, and goes as far to call them evil doers. It is not having heard the word of God that means we have gone through the narrow door, but rather that we have allowed it to transform our lives.

For the Jews there would have been a sense that they were welcome because of family affiliation they were sons and daughters of Abraham and Isaac, maybe for many who confess a Christian faith they may expect to be welcomed because of the same thing family affiliation or having simply met Jesus rather than having committed ourselves to following him. In our reformed faith, the only way to see the genuine nature of our faith in Christ is through perseverance, not what Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls cheap grace,  a relationship with Christ that we think gives us eternal benefits but does not cost us anything in terms of how we live.

Then Jesus finishes the parable by focusing on the fact that people will be invited in from the four corners of the earth. In fact people that Jesus Jewish listeners would consider being the last people to be welcomed into the banquet with Jesus are before those they would think would be first. It is the reference here to people coming to faith in Jesus Christ outside of those we would have expected; in this case it is the gentiles. It’s you and I from the ends of the earth who God has chosen to call to him in Jesus Christ. You get the feeling when Jesus says the feast of the kingdom of God, this is not some small family gathering but in actual fact a large gathering. The answer to the question about is it just a few is… well what about you and also a view that goes beyond our limited human ability to see to a more global view a more God’s eye view.

Then Jesus is interrupted, and have you noticed how much of Jesus teaching in this section seems to come from peoples interruptions. I wonder how much ministry in Jesus life and in ours we might consider interruption, but is in actual fact the Holy Spirit moving.  This time it is the Pharisees and this time they seem to be on Jesus side, while they still don’t understand who Jesus is and what is doing they are concerned for him. They have heard that Herod is out to kill him.  Herod is the king with limited authority under the Romans. This Herod is the son of the one who was King when Jesus was born. He had John the Baptist killed and is determined to stop any religious opposition to his rule.

Jesus responds. Firstly by putting Herod into perspective; He calls him a fox. Now in our European way of thinking Fox is a metaphor either for a very alluring women, or a very cunning adversary, it is used almost as a form of admiration, for example the way the British troops nicknamed Rommel the desert fox. However in Jewish thinking foxes were no more than vermin, bend on damage and destruction. While in earthly terms Herod may have had power and authority, Jesus is quick to point out that God will still achieve his purposes. Jesus would not die outside of Jerusalem. Jesus sees Herod’s opposition as he does all opposition in terms of God’s purposes and plans.

Secondly, Jesus says that his focus is still going to be on going about the mission that God has sent him to do. He will go on driving out demons and healing people, as we looked at a few weeks ago these are the inroads of the kingdom of God in to the realm of Satan, bringing liberty and release and restoration from the powers of sin and death. Jesus will continue to proclaim in word and deed the kingdom of God. He will continue to walk the road to the cross. In Jesus using the term today, tomorrow and then the third day we can look back at Jesus continuing to fulfil his mission by facing death on the cross and the resurrection.  Then lastly in a passage that we are more used to in Matthew’s gospel coming as Jesus draws near to Jerusalem, we see Jesus continues in his compassion for his people. He longs to gather Jerusalem like a mother hen gathers her chicks, but he knows that Jerusalem does not want that. Despite that resistance and rejection this opposition will not stop Jesus mission of compassion. Opening and leaving open the narrow door.

O let’s bring that back to us as we face small numbers and insurmountable odds.

The first is we to need to look not at how few, but be willing to search our own hearts and lives we need to ask the question what about you? What about me.  Edward Burke said “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for Good people to do nothing.’  In Dr Suess’s masterpiece on environmental concerns the Lorax… when the magical Lorax is lifted and taken away he leaves a stone platform behind with the word “unless’ on it and it is only when the onceler who had devastated the natural world to get bigger and bigger sees a young Boy with a seed to plant standing on that platform does he have hope, unless someone comes and cares and dares and makes a stand.  Here Jesus invites us to not look at the few, or the empty pew but to explore our own heart. In a Church spiritual growth actually comes from the Spiritual health of those in it. Their passion for Jesus, there compassion for those around them.  Just as Jesus called people from the west and the east the north and the south, it is the fact that God takes care of bringing people to his cause.

Dealing with insurmountable odds, well Jesus does it by firstly naming those powers opposed to him: Seeing them in the light of who God is. Herod may have been a powerful tyrant but in the end it is God who is the one who was in control and working his purpose out, and it is the same today.  I don’t know if you are aware of the debate of the name of the new ministry for vulnerable children, where the childrens’ commissioner Andrew Beecroft has said he won’t use that ame as it excentuates the problem he will only use the Maori name Oranga Tamariki because it is asperationsal and means “the weelbeing of children’. Very often in naming and describing those things that oppose us we can come to understand them more and begin to work our way through them. It allows us to work strategically to overcome them.

Jesus other response was to keep on doing the things that God had called him to do. Jesus knew what God had called him to do and what his real opposition was so he kept on doing the mission God had sent him to do. Proclaiming the gospel, seeing people Freed from the demonic and healed, Despite rejection keep on with the compassionate love of God. To give his life for the world.  When we are confronted with insurmountable odds it is easy for us to let them call the tune. To be about putting out the fires or fighting the agenda they set rather than to focus on what we should be about. We can get caught up in keeping an institution or form or tradition going as well but we need to focus on the mission Jesus has given us to witness to him and see people set free and restored.

It’s interesting as I look at church history those words Small numbers and insurmountable odds have often arisen, you look at the pattern of that in the book of acts, as the good news spreads, you see it time and time again as the church has found itself in decline or in threat of just becoming a gerontological curiosity and God has raised up people with passion and compassion to revive and renew.  AS I was sitting down to write this message I came across a great quote from my daily devotions which I think sums up what I’m saying here…

“it seems that where God opens a huge (be it a narrow) door of opportunity for good work we should expect that there will be mushrooming opposition Do not let such opposition deter you from making the most of the great opportunities when they arise.”

Thursday, August 18, 2016

A Prayer of Thanksgiving and confession written to thank God for the big things and the small

I wrote this prayer for a Sunday when we had a molecular  biologist coming to speak. And we used psalm 111:2 as a call to worship. It tries to capture the works of God in the big and vast and in the small and minute. In the simple and in trying to unravel the complexities of life... But also to give thanks to God for his grace and love which we experience in the big ways forgiveness of sin, new and eternal life being made into God's people and also in small simple ways like an answer to prayer peace in the midst of hardship and even the hint of the reassuring presence of God.

The second stanza (if you will allow me to use poetic  terms) is ull of clumsy rhymes but it is beyond my capability, and I would hazard  good taste, to try and rhyme the whole thing. It isn't a literary exercise it is I hope a heart felt prayer... as per usual please feel free to use any of it or even the whole thing of it is helpful.

Almighty God,
We come today to wonder at what you have made
To praise you for what we see with naked eye
What we only grasp in telescope lens
or begin to glimpse on microscope slide
To thank you for saving action and grace
Declared in scripture and history page
Experienced in our daily life
With fulfilment longed for in future hope

Creator God
We praise you for wondrous galaxy and star array
Shining from Mind-blowing light years away
For the glint of light off grain of sand
And wound complexity of DNA strand
For the simple beauty of a still sunny day in winter
And life on a level that only dense scientific thought can decipher
For our unique, bush clad, snow caped, bird song filled island home
And sea and ocean stretching far beyond surf crash and foam

Gracious saving God
When we broke relationship you sort to bring us back
Calling a people for yourself, giving them the law
Speaking through prophets voice and history’s flow
Then in Christ becoming flesh and bone
In Jesus you revealed your grace and truth
In his death the price was paid to set us free 
In his being raised to life, we are made new
That new life sealed by your promised Holy Spirit within us

Good and gracious God
we thank you that death and sin are defeated
That we have newlife abundant and so full
Life Eternal beyond the grave because it emanates from you
That we have been made one people with all who believe
We thank you for answers to prayer
When we cry out to you we know you hear and care
For reassuring peace in the face of pain and sorrow
For strength in our weakness because you are near

True God with us here today
we praise you for all that you are and your great works
we confess our sin before you; wrong done and good left undone
we ask you to forgive us; wipe the slate clean and restore us
we thank you that because you are just and faithful we are forgiven
send your holy spirit to fill us again today
Empower us to proclaim your good news in word and deed
Enable us to love one another and show your compassion
That we may bring you glory; Father Son and Holy Spirit  

Monday, August 15, 2016

Mustard seeds, the Kingdom of God and set free on a ...Sunday (luke 13:10-21): On the crossroad: Jesus Journey to Jeruslame in Lukes gospel and what it means to us today.

I wanted to give you all a mustard seed today. So you can see how small and insignificant they are. They are so small in our hands that I would suspect they are easy to drop and impossible to find again, you’d simply have to leave them to be vacuumed up later without even being noticed.  When we think of regime and government changes in the world we don’t think about small things like a mustard seed, we don’t think about everyday things like yeast being added to flour to make a whole batch of baking rise. It’s normally big dramatic things involving important people and significant events. Weeks of campaigning where policies are pitched, promises made, personas projected, votes garnered… in our democratic process. Or the crown and gown, the grandeur of ceremony and solemnity of occasion, and that long awaited balcony wave oat the conclusion of  the coronation of a new monarch. More recently we’ve seen people movements where the crowds spill out into the street, the public spaces fill with protest and a cry for change and governments bend and break before the overwhelming demands of the populous.  Sadly also we hear the ominous crank and squeak of tank tracks on city streets, the distant rumble of artillery thunder and the sharp crack of automatic weapons, as change comes via long protracted war, military coupe or bloody revolution. But Jesus explains his kingdom is different, it comes in seeming small things, the healing of a woman bent over and crippled for eighteen years.  It comes in the reality of the compassion of God breaking into religious rules and rituals. It comes here today and now in our midst with the presence of Christ and grows as we allow that experience of God’s grace to permeate through us to a world caught in darkness.

We are working our way through Luke’s account of Jesus journey to Jerusalem, his walking the road that will lead him directly to the cross. It’s a narrative that takes up the central third of the gospel and focuses mainly on Jesus teaching on what it means for us to follow him on the crossroad.

Like a lot of Luke’s gospel the passage we had read today is designed for us to see again how people will respond to Jesus. It is a departure from the rest of the narrative because it is a miracle story, Jesus heals a women who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. Some people have called it a mirror narrative. It’s here to point us back to Jesus in the synagogue in Luke chapter four where he stands and proclaims from the scroll of Isaiah ‘the spirit of the Lord is upon me he has sent me to preach good news to the poor, recovery of sight for the blind, release for the captives, freedom for the prisoner to declare the acceptable year of the Lord’. It’s here to show us the truth of Jesus conclusion… today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’ in this case its fulfilled in a woman who has been held captive by Satan for eighteen years being set free. The kingdom of God has come in that compassionate act. 

Now like many of the miracle stories in the gospels we find ourselves uneasy thinking of illness as a spiritual thing. Scholars have talked of the fact that it may have been that the people of Jesus day didn’t know what the disease was so they claimed it was a spirit of infirmity, others say it was partly psychosomatic,  symptomatic of being bent over and burdened by guilt of shame from within, or abuse and trauma imposed from outside. I found this image of a statue called bent over man which sums it up well.  And in the narrative we have it both acknowledged as a spirit and an infirmity. But more importantly Jesus sees it as part of the oppressive regime of sin and death, that he had come to overturn, it was the destructive work that could only be attributed to Satan. It kept the women in pain, in poverty, it marginalised here from her people robbed her of life and dignity so could only be seen as evil: Evil to be overcome by God’s compassion, grace, and power.

he focus is how will people respond, Jesus had just finished a long discourse calling for people to see who he is, the unique son of God, and to respond through repenting and here we see they have that chance and here again we see that not much has changed. The crowd are amazed at what he does and the religious leaders are indignant that Jesus would heal someone on the Sabbath… it’s against their understanding of God and his law. It’s against the rules.

The synagogue leader who was charged with ensuring things were done in order and that the law was faithful taught, challenges Jesus by saying that as it wasn’t a life threatening illness so the women could have waited for any of the other six days of the week. I wonder how many of those eighteen years the women had waited and hoped to be noticed and helped.

 Jesus responds in two ways he challenges the synagogue leader understanding that he has broken the Sabbath law against work. Jesus does it by pointing to the animal welfare clauses in the Mosaic Law. That it was lawful and just to untie an ox or a donkey on the Sabbath so they wouldn’t be left for hours suffering from thirst. How much more was this daughter of Abraham, here Jesus is restoring this women to a place of honour within the community, she is a daughter of Abraham not just a poor women with spiritual problems. She had suffered for eighteen years, not a matter of hours, she was not simply tied up in a barn but bound by Satan so wasn’t it right for her to be set free. The religious leaders indignant at Jesus were hypocrites they had a mask of religious knowledge but didn’t understand the spirit of the law, and the compassionate nature of God.

Then he goes on to talk of the kingdom of God being like a mustard seed and like a pinch of yeast that in these acts of kindness and compassion God was bringing his rule and his reign his justice and mercy into the world.  On a big scale you could see this refereeing to Jesus own life and death, later he will talk of his death like a seed falling to the ground and dying to produce a crop. We see the way in which Jesus comes and lives and dies as a criminal on one level being small and insignificant and yet on another being the most life changing event in world history. So much so that in the space of three centuries it would be the religion of the Roman Empire, two millennia later it still would be the largest religion in the world that despite a decline in the west is still growing today…Still providing shelter and rest for people, like a tree does for the birds of the air; Still breaking into the realm of humanity in God’s compassionate acts; Still able to change and transform the whole batch.

Ok how does this apply to us here today?

Firstly, People will often ask me ‘why bother coming to worship? It’s not that important, you don’t need to be a Christian right?’ Part of my answer is that it was Jesus practise to gather with God’s people to worship and hear the word read and preached.  Just like in Jesus day it is part of our public testimony, it is identifying with God’s people and it is taking the time in our week to set aside time for corporate worship.

Secondly, it is as easy for us today to think of that worship time as much in terms of rituals and regulations as the religious leaders in Jesus day. Worship can become a set of must do’s and must no do’s, the familiarity of patterns and treasured traditions or the being surprised and challenged by the new and creative. A battle simply between  likes and dislikes.  It is always in danger of becoming what Social theorist Jean Baudrillard calls simulacra: A social construct for which the reality behind it no longer exists. Jesus calls the religious leaders hypocrite… they have a surface understanding of the letter of law but do not know the compassionate nature of God. It is like a film set, you know those wonderful old western towns, where the facades are works of art but there is nothing behind them.

But as we acknowledge God and hear the word read and preached, by God’s spirit Christ is with us today. Jesus comes to teach us, Jesus comes to bring his kingdom into our midst. Jesus still sees and knows where we are bent over and unable to straighten up, Jesus knows where we have been crippled by a spirit, where we are infirmed, bound up and wants to bring freedom and release.   I know that in some circles it has been hard to see God moving and ministering outside the church building and worship services in everyday life. I know that. But I also think part of that is because we don’t expect the kingdom of God to break into our worship services either. But he is here and does want to bring his healing his freeing his release into our lives.

Thirdly, those encounters with Jesus grace are like the mustard seeds we have this morning. They are to grow; God’s kingdom grows out of those to impact the world around us. Because it as a woman bent over for eighteen years I couldn’t help but think of Delores Winder. Delores spent 19 1/2years in pain and agony fifteen years a back brace, she underwent four fusion surgeries and two where bone was transplanted from her thigh into her back to try and stem the decay of her vertebrae. At one point she thought she was going to die. Reluctantly she went to a Katheryn Kuhlman meeting against her better judgement, she’d always been told in church that God does not heal, and God healed her. Since then Delores has had a profound and amazing ministry telling people about Jesus and praying for them to be healed.  She is a normal Presbyterian Elder, and God has used her in amazing ways. She made several trips to New Zealand and our prayer and healing ministry in the Presbytery is a result of those trips. She prayed for Kris to be healed of Asthma when she was at Bible College and thinking of giving up because the cold and amp out at Henderson was too much, and Kris was healed. The mustard seed grows.

Last Friday night we had a fundraiser here for a mission trip to East Timor and Cambodia, raising funds for medical supplies that Doctors and Dentists from the Chinese community in New Zealand can take and go and help the poorest of people. Annie Chen-green is a GP in Christchurch who started this compassionate ministry, convicted by her Christian faith about the needs of others she has gone and been involved in medical mission and caring for orphans in an increasing number of countries, where God’s Kingdom brings hope and new life for people. She shared on Friday that one village she arrived at told her… we prayed to our Gods, we asked the government to pray to their God but it was your God that answered. She has governments coming to her now for help for their people: God’s kingdom coming in small ways in acts of grace and compassion.

The challenge for us is how we allow the seed of God grace and compassion shown to us dig in and sprout in our lives and grow to be a tree which is able to shelter others. How is that pinch of God’s grace impacting our whole life and the world we live in.

I don’t really have a conclusion this morning rather I want to invite you to be still for a moment…You see Jesus is here with us by the Holy Spirit, Jesus sees where we are bent over and bound up. Physically, spiritually. Jesus is here, he sees and he invites us to stand up again and be free. As we encounter God’s grace to see the kingdom of God grow form that.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Fig-uring out repentance on the Cross Road (Luke 13:1-9 Romans 3:23-24)... On the Cross Road: Jesus journey to Jerusalem in Luke's gospel and what t means for us today.

When I read the parable Jesus used of the unfruitful fig tree I couldn’t help but remember growing up in Titirangi. My Dad was a great gardener. We had a great vege patch in the back yard and the rest of the yard was resplendent with fruit trees: A feijoa hedge, apple trees, grapefruit, mandarins, lemons a plumb tree and a couple of peach trees.  But it was a constant struggle to get them to keep producing fruit… the top soil was thin over that good old Waitakere clay. It was a testament to my dad’s skills that most of the trees would produce fruit every year. But for a couple of years one of the peach trees didn’t produce anything. Dad tried lots of things to get it going again. But it was coming to the point that it just wasn’t worth keeping it in the garden. It should be cut down and replaced. My mum wasn’t prepared to give up on it… she came across an article that said if you hit a fruit tree with a broom handle around its trunk at the beginning of spring  that it would stimulate sap growth and fruit production. My Dad just laughed but my mum wasn’t put off, she said well she’d give it go and I remember her  going out into the back yard when dad was at work and whacking the peach tree. I can’t remember the outcome but I know we didn’t cut it down so it must have produced some fruit.  Jesus uses the giving of another chance to the unproductive fig tree to talk of God’s grace and patience in dealing with his people Israel and with us. Looking and working for what John the Baptist called fruit in keeping with repentance.

We are working our way through Luke’s account of Jesus journey to Jerusalem: A narrative that takes up the central third of the gospel, and which focuses on Jesus teaching about what it means to follow him. We’ve been working through a long section of Jesus calling Israel to be faithful and wholehearted in light of what was to come: his death and resurrection and equally for us to be faithful and wholehearted as we await the consummation of the kingdom of God with his return. AS we saw last week he finished that with a metaphor laden appeal for people to respond, to acknowledge who it was who stood in their midst and respond by settling accounts with God. And that comes to a climax in the passage we had read today in a call to repent or perish. In a passage that brings us to the heart of the gospel and our reformation faith… all have sinned and fallen sort of the glory of God and all are justified freely through the redemption that comes by Jesus Christ.’

Just as we saw a couple weeks ago when Jesus teaching was interrupted by  a man asking Jesus to judge in a family dispute over inheritance, here we see the crowd wanting to share some news with Jesus. That a group of Galilean pilgrims had been killed by Pilate in the temple in Jerusalem, and their blood had mingled with the blood of the sacrifices on the floor of the temple. It was a subtle test for Jesus to see in his response whether he was pro-roman or pro revolution. Would he condemn Pilate’s sacrilegious actions? We know from history that Pontius Pilate was good at antagonising the Jewish people. He had bought the roman standards with their pagan symbols into Jerusalem and here it seems he committed acts of violence in the temple grounds. Maybe even to the extent of having his gentile soldier enter the Jewish only court of the temple to do it.  Jesus is aware of the underlying thinking of his day as well that such a tragic event happening to these people meant they must have done something really bad to deserve it.  There is possibly a dig here at Jesus as well, a Galilean leading a band of Galileans on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Maybe they would face the same fate. But also there is a sense that people are pointing to these people as an example of those Jesus had been talking about, when he had called his hearers to settle accounts with God. You couldn’t have meant us Jesus we are nice people, good people, you must have meant people like those other Galileans? And there is a bit racism involved here, as Jews looked down their noses a bit at people from galilee remember ,  ‘nothing good can come from galilee’.

Jesus response is to say no! They were not worse sinners that all the others because they suffered that way. And he emphatically says all humanity is in the same boat “I tell you no! unless you repent, you will all perish.”  he goes on to talk about another disaster where eighteen people living in Jerusalem had died when a tower had fallen on them, were they any worse than anyone else… Jesus asks… and again Jesus uses the refrain “ I tell you no! But, unless you repent, you too will all perish.’ The bible does not teach that bad things happen to bad people, we know that God’s people had always wrestled with the fact that bad things happened to good people. Rather here Jesus turns it back on his listeners and us. To show that it is not the amount of sin in our lives but it’s its very presence that put us in a place of judgement.  Paul in his letter to the Romans sums it up by saying we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. It is a picture drawn from archery where people have fired an arrow at the target but have missed it, and constantly miss it and consistently miss it. 

Jesus then tells the parable of the fig tree in the vineyard. He says that despite it being left to grow to maturity it still did not produce the fruit that was expected. So the owner of the vineyard says to cut it down but the man who looks after the vineyard the gardener says ‘no let’s give it one more year and digs in fertiliser into the soil and cares for the tree.’ Jesus is saying that in fact it is not there goodness but only God’s grace and kindness that has stopped Israel, represented by the Fig tree from facing judgement. It is only God’s grace, in sending Jesus.

Now in this section of Luke who Jesus is speaking to is always an important issue in our understanding of Jesus words.  All through chapter twelve he has oscillated between addressing the crowd and his followers.  In this passage Jesus is addressing the wider crowd. He is addressing Israel. He is saying that if they continue to see the kingdom of God in terms of being a nation free from Rome not hearing Jesus words and putting them into action, they will perish. By the sword or as the walls of Jerusalem are pulled down around them. He is saying that God has allowed a little longer that they may have a chance to respond to Jesus before he brings judgement on them. IN 70Ad the romans put down a Jewish rebellion and laid siege to Jerusalem and destroyed it. The image behind me is from the Titus arch in Rome celebrating the roman victory and depicts romans taking the contents of the temple back to Rome. They scattered the people all over the empire. It was the last times there as a Jewish state there till 1948.

But it also speaks to all of humanity; it is a call for all of us. Remember last week Jesus had called people to look and see who he was, that he is God’s son and in light of that to respond. Here Jesus call is for all to respond , all to repent.  That we have all fallen short of the glory of God,  and all are justified freely through the redemption that comes by Jesus Christ.’ We have all been offered Grace so let us repent.

This begs the question what does it mean to repent? Some people think it is the same as remorse or regret for the things we’ve done wrong. That it is an emotional response. Of course these days we probably see it most often when prominent people break what cornel west calls the eleventh commandment “thou shall not get caught” We see people making heart felt apologises for their infractions once the media has dragged it out into the light. It’s been in our headlines this week as the Chiefs have been called out for homophobic slurs and sexual harassing of a stripper at their Mad Monday end of session gathering. A gathering that Steve Hansen rightly says should be kicked into touch.

Or we see it as people coming to respond to a call at an evangelistic rally to receive Jesus Christ as Lord and saviour.  To ask Jesus for forgiveness for all they have done wrong. Both I think can be part of what it means to repent. They are steps in the process.

To repent actual has the idea of turning from going one way and going the other way: To do a u turn and stop going our own way to going God’s way. To reorientation our lives to hearing the words of Jesus and putting them into practise in our lives. AS such it’s a process we work through, at its centre is the acknowledgement of who Jesus is and what he has done for us. Yes it is an acknowledgement that we have done wrong, but then changing and allowing God to transform our lives and seeing that bear fruit in how we live our lives and how we react and act towards other people.

James Bryan Smith talks of this ongoing process of repentance is spiritual formation. He says that at the heart of how we live our lives is the narratives we tell ourselves, about life and about God. Spiritual formation is the process of changing the wrong and harmful narrative we tell ourselves and the false narrative we tell ourselves about God changing them for Jesus understanding of God and of life.  Then we develop new practises that reflect the new narrative. In Luke twelve Jesus had countered the narrative of fear in the face of opposition and the narrative of worry in trying to find our security in what we own, with the narrative that God cares for us, that we are precious to him, that he will give us the words we need and he knows our needs even before we ask him, and calls us to live out new practises, of courage of our convictions and live generously towards others. The people of Israel saw freedom in political terms, there narrative was independence from outside forces, whereas Jesus narrative saw freedom  in dependence on God,   free of the internal forces of sin and death, a change in narrative that would stop a doomed bloody violent revolution but would overcome with a revelation of love for each other and enemy. A narrative that you can earn God’s favour by keeping all the laws, to knowing God’s favour and living in right relationship with each other because of that love. That is the ongoing process of repentance.  Through which we become people in who Christ dwells and delights.

In Luke’s writing the fruit of that process is always seen in how we treat others, how we allocate and use our resources. James Bryan Smith sums it up by saying we become Not a religion of laws or ceremonies or mystical knowledge, but of love and kindness. And Our world is badly in need of people who love and who demonstrate genuine kindness.

How does this process happen in our lives? I think here the parable of the fig tree has some insight for us. It talks of the gardener digging in manure to enrich the soil and feed the plant so it will produce fruit. It is being willing to open ourselves up to the scriptures to Jesus words and allow the Holy Spirit to let them do their work in our lives. To show us where our narratives our way of constructing the world and our way of living that out is wrong and needs to change, in reminding us again and again of the great love of God, the forgiveness we can know in Christ and the new life in the Holy Spirit, in showing us new ways to act and react. In that process repentance becomes a posture we take in relationship to God wanting to go his way.

And let me finish with a parable:  A tiny child runs away from its parent in the busy hustle and bustle of the city, getting separated and lost an imminent danger , the busy unrelenting traffic so close so deadly, I don’t like to say it but you never knowing who or what lurks in the crowd. Then the child hears its father’s voice, calling its name, and it stops it looks around evaluates where it is then turns round, it’s posture changes its face light up and it raises its arms and heads back to its fathers arms and after they embrace it walks through the city lead by its fathers hand. It repented and that is Jesus call to us.