Thursday, January 28, 2016

Setting sail following Jesus into the uncertain weather of 2016 (Psalm 107:23-32, Luke 8:22-25)

January is often the time when people do their planning and thinking about the coming year. As we finish the holiday period here and start straight back into work, school... life. The passages this morning talk of being willing to journey into the unknown trusting God and following Jesus.

The passage from psalm 107 talks of people journey back to Jerusalem  from the exile. It paints a wonderful picture of crossing the wild and unpredictable seas, and in that being lead to safe haven and our destination by God's grace and providence, despite the storm and the sense on the journey that well its so stormy we just might not make it... It finishes with God's people giving thank for his presence guidance and help on that journey.

The passage in Luke talks of Jesus disciples following to the other side of the lake. Unfamiliar territory for them and for Jesus. More gentile people live there. It's a place where Jesus wasn't well known. It was a destination that they would have been unsure of and a journey that was fraught with danger. Their fishing boats were designed more for shallow water, and the lake was known for storms quickly rising up as the wind swept down the Golan heights. But they were prepared to follow where Jesus said for them to go.

The storm did come up, there was real danger that the boat would be swamped and they would drown. While as people fof faith it should have reassured them that Jesus was in the boat with them... He was asleep and didn't seem to realize what danger they were in.  When they wake him he lets them know that as he was with them and as they were following him they should have trusted in his ability to see them through 'where is your faith!' not really the answer we look for. But often as we set sail into the unknown journey of following Jesus through  a new year we can have that same concern as we face life's storms, but be assured that Jesus is with us, he will lead and guide us. In scripture God often speaks through the storm, in Jonah it was God's way of calling Jonah back from going the wrong way. In acts it lead to Paul being shipwrecked, but even as a prisoner of Rome he was able to minister to the people of Malta in an amazing and powerful way.

as we as a church and as individuals set sail into this year with its calm seas and lurking storms let do so with trust and confidence in Jesus.

I want to simply invite you to stop and to hear two amazing prayers from  Great sailors.

the first is St Brendan an Irish monk  who in the fifth century may just have discovered the new world  one thousand years before columbus  and whose adventures told in the navigatio of st brendan encourage people in all of life's journey to keep trusting in Jesus.

it was the prayer he supposedly prayer before he boarded his small ox hide coracle with a small band of monk to seek the kingdom of God...

 Shall I abandon, O King of mysteries, the soft comforts of home? Shall I turn my back on my native land, and turn my face towards the sea?

Shall I put myself wholly at your mercy, without silver, without a horse, without fame, without honour? Shall I throw myself wholly upon You, without sword and shield, without food and drink, without a bed to lie on? Shall I say farewell to my beautiful land, placing myself under Your yoke?

Shall I pour out my heart to You, confessing my manifold sins and begging forgiveness, tears streaming down my cheeks? Shall I leave the prints of my knees on the sandy beach, a record of my final prayer in my native land?

Shall I then suffer every kind of wound that the sea can inflict? Shall I take my tiny boat across the wide sparkling ocean? O King of the Glorious Heaven, shall I go of my own choice upon the sea?

O Christ, will You help me on the wild waves?

The second is attributed to another great sailor and explorer Sir Francis Drake 

Disturb us, Lord, when
We are too pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.
Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.
Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wilder seas
Where storms will show Your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.
We ask you to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push back the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.
This we ask in the name of our Captain,
Who is Jesus Christ.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Listen... A word from the parable of the sower in Luke's Gospel (Luke 8:4-21)

The image on the screen for this morning and the news sheet is the Brooklyn Garage Rooftop Farm. It is one of the most famous examples of urban farming in the word: Growing fresh local produce where there is a premium on land usage...  For me it envisions the reality that Jesus parable, which while it reflects the agricultural world of the hills of first century Galilee, is as meaningful and relevant for us today in our twenty first century urban setting.

Viv Coleman spoke last week about finding one word as a focus and way forward for the year. When I got back in the office this week I was excited to discover  the passage we were going to start or rather restart our journey through Luke’s gospel with was the one we had read out to us today... the parable of the Sower, or as its also known the parable of the soils. I thought yeah... that’s the one word we really need for this year as a church... Sow . Evangelism Going and scattering seeds, in the case of Jesus parable the word of God and seeing it become fruitful. It got even better when I saw that Luke connects it with another well known of Jesus  parables of the light on the lamp stand giving light to the whole house...  I thought shine might be just as good a word. The focus for the year needed to be getting out there with the word of God and SOW, SOW in our new urban environment, SOW in our little suburban patch ... and sow on...

But as I looked deeper into the passage I was surprised because another word came to mind. I guess we are more used to hearing Jesus parables from Matthew’s Gospel or reading them separately but as I read the whole passage another word really became prominent as the central point of this passage of what Jesus was saying. I believe it was the Holy Spirit speaking. You see the word that comes through from this passage is the word listen...

All the way through the focus for Jesus is listen. The context of the passage is Jesus time after time drawing a big crowd who come to hear him, but do they really listen.  When you see a large crowd in Luke’s Gospel Jesus begins to talk about what it really means to be a follower of his. He isn’t looking for the crowd numbers, the popularity and the fame rather he is looking for people who are changed by encountering the word of God made flesh. And in this passage the answer to what it means to e a follower of Jesus is that they are the ones who listen properly. He tells the parable of the sower and he finishes it by crying out in a loud voice ‘he who has ears to hear, let them hear’... listen.
 As he explains this parable we see that each of the soil types he has talked about have to do with how people hear the word of God. They hear it but it doesn’t sink in it falls onto hard ground, They hear it and receive it with joy but it does not take root. They hear it and it takes root but it is choked out as by competing concerns.  The good soil is those who hear it and retain it and nurture it and persevere till it produces a crop. Listen

 The punch line of Jesus parable of the lamp on the lamps stand... and you could put it in modern terms and say... no one puts a hundred what bulb in a closet and then closes the door and leaves the rest of the house in darkness is a warning about being careful how we listen..  Listen

Finally that strange encounter with Jesus mother and brothers, rounds off this section of Luke, with Jesus saying those who are really his kin rally his family are those who hear his word and put it into action... Listen.

I began to wonder how those soil types expressed themselves in our lives and in our times, in my life and my time.

Some falls on the road. In Jesus time and place and even in gardens today. Around the edge of fields prepared for growing crops there are well worn paths so people can get to where they need to go. They are compacted and seeds can’t easily fall into the soil to germinate.  Maybe you’ve seen it on road verges where on a street corner there is a well word dirt path across the lawn where people cut the corner and no grass will grow there.  It’s interesting that in gospel’s it is the Pharisees and the religious people who were most reluctant to hear Jesus teaching. I wonder if it isn’t the same today that for many of us who have been involved in church for so long we have well word paths that we trod and it is hard for the word of God to take root in those places if it just doesn’t fit with the path we trod.  Maybe we think we’ve heard it before, we’ve heard it all. Evangelists say the two hardest people groups to work with and share the gospel with are those who have never heard it before, as they have no frame work in which to understand it and the post Christian... or over-churched... because they have heard it so much that they are over it now... the thing about listening and following Jesus is that it takes us through the narrow gate and off the well beaten path...

In the hills of Galilee it is hard to tell what us good soil and what is not. The ground is rocky and while on top it might look like good it can just be a shallow cover over hard limestone rock, where seeds are unable to take root and when the sun comes out they cannot survive. It’s like a great looking wood veneer over chipboard...When we left Luke’s gospel before Christmas we finished with the story of Jesus at the house of Simon the Pharisee and the women who cleaned Jesus feet with her tears. It seemed Simon was willing to have Jesus to his house as an honored guest, to listen and to debate with him over a meal, but when Jesus words came to close to his prejudices we are left with the impression that despite Jesus offering him a chance to listen and change that that was where the seed stopped growing. It hit a barrier to bearing fruit. In 1994 one of the worst genocides occurred in Rwanda, racial tension exploded in an orgy of bloodletting and close to a million people died.  What really shocked those who say it was that Rwanda was possible he most Christianised country in all of Africa... 95% would have said they were Christians. But it hadn’t really sunk deep into the country. Some commentators talked of a veneer of Christianity a mile wide but only millimeters deep... I wonder if that isn’t challenging for us as well... Is our faith simply a veneer over the prevailing worldviews, a veneer over our various cultural identities, over our prejudices, over western consumerism, over western materialism and the we haven’t let the word sink deep and put out roots in that.

We’ve just had a concrete right of way put down the side of our house... On either side of it the plans were to have a strip of dirt left... Neither strip is designed to be a mowing strip. I guess we are waiting for our landlord to finish the landscaping off... But it is a constant battle because I’m amazed how quickly weeds have colonized those strips of good loose soil...and it’s constant battle to get rid of them... we pull them, we spray them, we  weed-wack them and they come back. In first century Galilee the seeds that feel on good soil often had to compete for nutrients and space with weeds that grow up and choke them before they can produce a crop. In Luke Jesus likens these weeds to life’s concerns, wealth and prosperity and pleasures which stop the word growing to maturity. And we live in a time and place where those equally challenge us, we live in a time when the word of god competes with so many other messages. Where it is harder and harder to make ends meet and we are encouraged to think in terms of a higher and higher and unrealistic standard of living. Where there are whole industries designed to distract us and amuse us. We have the challenge of not letting that choke out what God wants to say... we need to listen through the noise.

Then of course there was the good soil where the seed could take root and it was nurtured and retained and allowed to grow to maturity and produce the fruit it was designed to do. Often people of this parable in terms of salvation, to look at questions like can when is someone a Christian? when they respond at an altar call or make a profession of faith? Here the answer seems to be when the word of God produces the fruit of obedience. In our reformed tradition we would say that the sign of true repentance and salvation was perseverance. In the gospel of course we are constantly surprised by the people who show themselves to be good soil for the word of God: A roman centurion, people on the edge and ostracized, tax collectors and those considered beyond God’s reach... They are the ones who seem to listen appropriately.

I did wonder how this word listen applied to me. What is the soil in my life like? How can I allow the seed of God’s word to get in remain and mature and as I looked at this passage I found some answers.

The first was sow seed, yup we are back to the sow word... the need to let the sower scatter seed into our lives...We need to read and hear the word of God.

Secondly, We need to study and understand it.  We are let into the meaning of Jesus parable when the disciples ask Jesus what it means. In fact Jesus says that he speaks in parables so that people will hear and not understand, because for that seed to germinate and grow and bear fruit we need to comprehend it. When scripture talks of the mysteries of God it’s not that what God says is esoteric and hard o understand but that we need to look to God to clarify it for us. To read and to understand...Just like with Jesus and his disciples this is a group activity, we need others on this journey, which is what Paul says that the Holy Spirit has given gifts of apostles and prophets, evangelists and teachers and pastors to enable us to grow into maturity lacking nothing. We need brothers and sisters to explore and reflect on it with us... which is why small groups are the most effective way for Christians to grow and to listen together. And of course as Christians we have the greatest asset for that in the presence of the Holy Spirit within us to lead us into all truth.

Just like the light on the lamps stand we need to let the light of that word shine in all our lives, we can’t just put it in the religion basket or the Sunday basket. Daryll Bock says we need to respond to the word of God consistently to let it light up all our lives. To understand the message and see how it speaks to our whole life to bring fruit in us that may mean we let it breaking up some hard ground, do some weeding along the way, and some winning against conflicting concerns.

Finally, we need to respond to it in a concrete way. To listen understand and hen apply it how we live. To let it bear fruit. The mark of being in Jesus family is hearing what Jesus says and putting it into practise. To listen as Jesus calls us to listen is to hear and obey.

Now those sound very much like the three steps of what is called inductive bible study... a way f listening appropriately to God’s word... to exegete  or understand... to interpret... what is the whole for the word saying to the whole of me... and application... How do I know live in light of the word of God. That is how we should listen to God’s word’s listen ... I feel is the one word for us this year... listen... listen to what the word is saying to the church... listen to the word God has for you... 

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

every step along the way his love endures forever ( a new year reflection) Psalm 136

The New Year stands as a time to stop reflect and celebrate. It is a crossroads of time… we look back and review the year that has gone before and also turn and look forwards to the new year: to new possibilities and new challenges and fresh hope.

Harry Morgan, a man I really love and respect, is taking the service next week and I know that he is going to invite us to look to this coming Year with the question “what direction is your life taking- this year”

… So this morning I want to invite you to reflect on the year that has been… 2015. To acknowledge the joys and the highlights, reflect on the changes and the challenges and in this safe place maybe also to be willing to revisit again the hardships and the sorrows.

On Christmas Eve I invited people to view the year on a wider scale in images that have stuck in our minds in 2015.(humble apologies if this feels like a repeat).

On a positive note, Ritchie McCaw holding up the Webb Ellis trophy again at the Rugby World Cup. One of the highlights of the year for me was being at Eden Park for the Bledisloe cup test with my two sons and being part of the crowd that spontaneously gave a standing ovation for Ritchie as he was subbed off, in his last test match in New Zealand. We are not very good at honouring our greats and heroes but there was something about that moment.

But also starker and darker images that we wish were not stuck in our minds that capture the reality of suffering in the world today.

The body of a young boy dead and floating face down in the Mediterranean Sea. It encapsulated the human tragedy and suffering of refugees fleeing civil war, ISIS and violence in Syria and the constant flow of peoples seeking safety and prosperity in the face of conflict and poverty.

Fields of flowers and banks of candles come to mind. Not where you’d expect them. Not in idyllic country visas, and ancient cathedrals, but as expressions of shock and grief in city streets: Outpourings of sorrow in front of the scenes of terror attacks, massacres and mass shootings.

A flash of flame and a trail of smoke in the sky, as a Russian fighter jet is shot down by Turkish air defence. It’s an image that made the world hold its breath: An image that sums up world super powers trying to impose a military solution, their solution, on the Middle East.

On a personal level, the image that I used for the service this morning is one of stepping stones over a river… It summed up for me that journey we make of one step at a time through life. Sometimes having to make giant leaps and strides, other times standing still as the rock beneath us seems to about to unbalance and toss us into the river. Or we are simply making small steps unsure of footing unsure of the way ahead.

Maybe instead of a river it has been like stones in a glassy lake about us,… peaceful and tranquil

Maybe for others it has been like jumping from rock to rock, clambering for footing around the cliffs of our wild western beaches… as waves have crashed and tried to strip us off and carry us away or batter us against the sharp mussel and pacific oyster covered rocks about us. Perhaps it’s been a mixture of all of it.

Our reading this morning was psalm 136, one of my favourite psalms and so fitting for the New Year. It is a recounting of the history of God’s activity. It starts back in the dim distances of time and space with creation; it looks back to God moving to liberate his people from slavery and to bring them out of Egypt across the desert through conflict and strife into the land God has promised their ancestors, it speaks of God’s ongoing provision and care.

 For us today the psalm could have gone on and recounted so much more of God’s saving acts, we could remember as we did during the week, God sending his son into the world, his life his teaching, his death on the cross for our sins, new life through his being raised to life again, the sending of the Holy Spirit on all who would believe, the faithful witness in word and deed, life and sacrifice of his people down through two thousand years of the gospel.

 It is a psalm that fits the story and life experiences of the congregation reading or singing it into that story, it fits us into that story… when in verse 23 it says and he remembered us in our lowly estate, he freed us from our enemies. We step into this, our times and our lives come into view.

The amazing truth of this psalm is not just a retelling and remembering of history and connecting us with it, but the fact that in the repetition again, again of that phrase ‘His love endures forever’ that we are reminded of the presence and the leading and guiding and love of God. Every step along the way ‘his love endures for ever. Every step along Israel’s journey ‘his love endures forever’, in Christ and his love for us, ‘his love endures for ever’ every step we have taken in our lives amidst the times of joy and sorrow, calm lake and raging storm ‘his love endures forever’, every step this last year… ‘His love endures forever’ as we turn to face the coming year shrouded in mist we can do so because ‘his love endures forever’.  We finish this service with communion and we remember God’s love in Christ, we acknowledge his abiding presence with us, and we look forward to the fact that God will bring it all to completion in Christ. Every step along that way we can have faith and trust  ‘his love endures forever.’