Tuesday, May 30, 2017

future Hope for Present times In God's past and persistant faithfulness (Psalm 126, John 16:16-22)

maybe not the negev. But  Areminder that the tide does come in
and cover the manukau mud, that if you are not careful can drag you down.
“History does not pause” says EM Blaiklock, as an introduction to his commentary on Psalm 126, “Every ending is a new beginning.”  He’s talking of the larger stage of world history, as the psalm talks about the restoration of Jerusalem after the exile in Babylon. But it could as easily be on the personal level of the psalmists own story.

“Every ending is a new beginning’ can be a message of hope as we see a phase of life end and a new one bring new possibilities, new adventures. It can be a note of warning, as we face new challenges, problems and issues. You just need to look at the news each evening to see this played out on the grand scale, everyday a new miracle breakthrough to make life better, every day crisis after crisis. Maybe you’ve found yourself saying that well-worn lament, “if it’s not one thing it’s another”. Psalm 126 is a prayer for God’s help in the present, (in verse 4), amidst the concrete past ways God has come to the aid of his people… in "restoring Zion", and a future hope that he will do the same again..." those who sow in tears will reap in joy'.

Scholars are split to the timing of this psalm.

Some see it as a prayer for help in the exile itself. With hindsight the psalmist in their extended exile, looks back at all the times that God had saved his people: Looks back at God’s covenant faithfulness throughout a history of the people’s unfaithfulness. That God had always restored his people, turned their mourning into joy and shown his sovereignty and good works to the nations.  The book of judges and the books of kings, show both Israel’s unfaithfulness, generation after generation, time and time, proof that God was justified in allowing them to be taken into captivity, but also time and time again as they had repented, God had moved to save them. As they sit in exile and one generation passes onto the next they long and dream for God to do what he done in the past for them.

Others see it as coming from after the restoration of Zion, after the remnant of the exiles have come back. God’s amazing hand of grace and mercy at work, it is like it is a dream. But as they have come back, they have found that the reality is far from the expectation. As you read the books of Ezra and Nehemiah you see the challenges before them. A city in ruins an economy in ashes, the place of worship at the centre of who they are desolate and destroyed, and opposition, hostility and suspicion all around them. There were tears in the midst of their joy…

Either way, the psalm looks for help in the present situation, with faith and trust and hope for the future because of God’s faithfulness in the past. The Psalmist looks not only to history but also to the natural world as well. To the south of Jerusalem lies the Negev Desert for most of the year a dry and barren place, seeming lifeless and without hope of things changing, but then the rains come and the wadi’s fill with water and the desert blooms with the vibrant colours of life. If God can do such a wonder in that place, there is hope that as Israel sows in tears, laments over it sins and seeks God in the face of insurmountable problems, there will be a harvest of joy and plenty. The God of history and creation can be trusted.

Psalm 126 is a psalm of ascent, used by pilgrims as they came to worship at the great festivals in Jerusalem, used as they walked up the steps to the temple. It’s a psalm that not only covered Israel’s past but was general and open enough to invite the pilgrim to bring their cares and concerns before God, both as they viewed the world around them, and the distant places they had come from but also the things that were close to their heart’s and drenched in their private tears and deep sorrow. Bringing them with the same trust and the same hope to God. God who was faithful in the past can be trusted to bring new life and joy in the desert, to restore Zion, and to do more than we could possibly dream of today.

Psalm 126, invites you and I to have the same hope the same trust, in the same faithful God as we ask for God’s help in our present world. In the New Testament reading in John 16 we see Jesus tell his disciples that there will be a time when they will not see him and there will be grief but after that they will see him again and there will be joy, joy that the world cannot take away.  He is talking about his death and resurrection, but it can also be about the ongoing Christian walk as well. There are times when it seems we are facing difficulty and hardship, God may seem far away, but we can trust in God’s unfailing love. There is the empty Cross, Christ has paid the price for all we have done wrong and made it possible to come into a new relationship with him. There is the empty tomb and we have the assurance of new life that goes into eternity because Jesus is risen from the grave. This Sunday we celebrate Pentecost and we know the fulfillment of God’s abiding presence with us because he has kept his promise and poured out the Holy Spirit on all who believe. We have a comforter, an advocate, and enabler, one who comes alongside in the Spirit’s presence.

We can see that in the testimony of other pilgrims who have walked before us, the story of the church for the past two thousand years. In our own lives we have experienced the goodness and the forgiveness the with-us-ness and for-us-ness of God, that gives us hope for the future, as we face the present.

Two illustrations to finish .  On the large scale. In 1963 Martin Luther King Jr gave his I have a dream speech, it was very much like the dream at the beginning of this psalm of God’s preferred future of racial harmony and equality for his children’s generation, freedom from the continued shackles of slavery and oppression. A reality that was going to come through the facing of many present and persistent troubles; beatings, setbacks, prison and political posturing. His famous last speech, tired and weary, even then his hope was that he had been to the mountain top and had looked over to the other side and seen the glory of the lord. Future hope in present time because of God’s faithfulness.

On a personal level. Latifah Philips was the lead singer for the band Page CXVI, a group that has reinterpreted hymns for a new generation. On the day here father died of Cancer, looking for solace she sat down at her piano and began playing a song she remembered from her youth “joy”… “I’ve got the Joy, Joy, Joy down in my heart”, I’ve got Joy, Joy, Joy down in my heart” and it comes across as a lament as all the pain and sorrow and grief comes out. But also of the reality of real joy and real hope in what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. If you google Joy it’s on youtube… It's a declaration of sowing in tears and reaping in joy, of hope because of God’s faithful unfailing love. In that present dark reality in her blog about this song she says

 “it was not until grief became a part of my story that I realized that joy
is not simply an expression, but an attitude and acknowledgment of the
deep peace of knowing a Savior.”

… Joy even when it seems and feels impossible”

May you find hope for the future in your present reality by knowing the faithful one Jesus Christ, and trusting that ‘ he has done great things for them, and he has done great things for us’.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Putting our hand in the hand of God at work in the world (Daniel 5, John 20:21-23)

Banksy is probably the world’s best known, unknown, graffiti artist. His works are displayed on the walls of public spaces all over the world. they are preserved, treasured, photographed and pondered by thousands. They are collected and displayed in the most prestigious art galleries. They are worth copious amounts of money. But his identity remains a secret.

His work is satirical and poignant and critiques the world in which we live. This Banksy was painted on a wall of a Bristol Youth centre. It’s called ‘mobile lovers’ and challenges the addiction society has to mobile phones, and how that impacts on the face to face relationships we have. Are we present in the moment or is it a moment simply to be presented on social media and lived out or even missed out upon, captivated by cyber space?

  I’m not sure of the impact that Banksy has, whether his art has the power to initiate change.  But writing on walls has been a way in which unrest, disagreement and opposition to political powers and oppression have been expressed for ages. In the passage that we are looking at today it is how God chooses to speak judgement to Belshazzar, the last ruler of Babylon. It is a wonderfully visual demonstration of the Hand of God at work in human history: that the affirmation of the book of Daniel that God is in control amidst the rise and fall of empires and the whirl and swirl of history is true.

We are working our way through a whirlwind survey of the work of the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures of the Old Testament. Moving from hovering over the waters in the Genesis creation narrative, through to the Spirit being poured out on all believers in the fulfilment of the prophecy in Joel chapter two at Pentecost. We are looking at what went on then and there, and through the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, what it means for us today. In Daniel chapter 5 we see the Spirit of God at work on the big scale, the big canvas of world powers. But also, how the Spirit filled believer is part of, and connected to that work of the Holy Spirit. We see that in the character of Daniel, who interprets the mystical words written on the wall by a finger… Again the hand of God and the finger of God are ways of talking of the Holy Spirit.

The book of Daniel is set in the time of the exile in Babylon, Daniel is amongst the children taken by king Nebuchadnezzar to train up and work in the civil service of the empire. Daniel is portrayed as one of the heroes of the faith in that setting. Despite the pressure to confirm to his new surroundings Daniel and his friends keep their faith, because of that they epitomise all the characterises of someone filled with God’s Spirit. They have wisdom, God has given them gifts, like the ability to interpret dreams, like Joseph in Genesis. Because of that they are promoted and given important roles.

 The real hero of the book of Daniel however is Israel’s God, who despite his people being beaten by the Babylonian army is still the sovereign all powerful God, in control of the flow of human history. In the dreams and visions that Daniel has of statues and strange and ferocious beasts coming out of the water, we see that history is moving towards a time when God himself will establish his Kingdom. The visions and dreams of Daniel point us to the coming of the one like a son of man, who we know as Jesus Christ. In Daniel and his friends being divinely delivered by God from fiery furnaces and lions dens we see the sovereignty of God to defend his people. In chapters four and five, which we are looking at today, we see that it is Israel’s God who speaks to the lives of, and is sovereign over the powerful world leaders of the day.

Daniel chapter five is set in a drunken party thrown by Belshazzar for a thousand of his nobles. During it he calls for the gold and silver goblets that king Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple in Jerusalem and uses them both for drinking and toasting the God’s of silver, gold, bronze and wood and stone. Belshazzar is a difficult figure to track down in history, what we know of Babylon after Nebuchadnezzar’s death is a series of short lived kings, culminating in someone outside Nebuchadnezzar’s family taking the throne, Nebonidus whose son, Belshazzar, ruled in his place whien he was absent for 10 years from the city. As the party goes on a finger appears and writes on the wall, causing Belshazzar to be full of fear.

Belshazzar asks all his magicians and sorcerers and wise men to explain the words and they cannot. Then we have the queen which is probably, the wife of Nebuchadnezzar, tell him of Daniel being filled with the Spirit of the gods, and having the wisdom to understand such things. The queen is very much a Babylonian and so she couches the understanding of Daniel being filled with the Holy Spirit in very pagan, polytheistic ways. Belshazzar calls for Daniel, and in a very dismissive, derogatory way asks this ’mere captive’ to tell him what these words mean. Which Daniel proceeds to do.

AS Daniel speaks he contrasts Belshazzar to his predecessor Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar, had ruled with some wisdom and had respected the religious objects he’d bought back from Jerusalem, objects that were set aside for worship and not for common use. Belshazzar had no such respect, this was sacrilege using these cups to worship the God’s of material things.  Nebuchadnezzar, had had a dream which Daniel had interpreted for him, God had spoken to him about his own pride and arrogance, thinking he was the ruler of it all, not simply ruling because the sovereign God had allowed it.  Nebuchadnezzar had heeded the dream and then one day forgot it and had ended up with a mental illness that meant not only did he loose his throne, but ended up living like a wild animal. When he come to his senses and was restored to his previous position, he also started reforms in the empire for just and righteous treatment of people. Daniel chapter four is unique in Old Testament scripture, it is written in Aramaic not Hebrew and it is basically Nebuchadnezzar telling his story, giving his testimony that through that process he now believes in the God of Israel.  Belshazzar had no such humility and had not heeded that story. So God was going to judge him.

The words on the wall are Mene, Mene, Tekel, Parsin, they are weight measurements and amounts of money, going from a high amount to a lesser one, and Daniel says it means, numbered weighted divided. Belshazzar’s days as ruler are numbered, he has been weighed and found wanting; the kingdom of Babylon under his rule had fallen so much, not ruled with wisdom and justice but rather by one who is totally consumed with what’s in it for me, carnal pleasure and material prosperity. Divided, because he would be overthrown and Babylon divided amongst the Medes and the Persians. Which happens that very night as the city is easily conquered by Darius the Mede, the general of King Cyrus of Persia. Belshazzar is killed.

In this story we see God moving in history. Both in the case of Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar. In Daniel chapter 4, where Nebuchadnezzar, responds to God’s warning and judgement and repents of his pride and changes. In chapter 5 Belshazzar does not repent and so faces God’s judgement. In both cases Daniel is the one who speaks God’s word, as we saw in the call of Ezekiel last week whether it is listened to or not. Daniel speaks to Nebuchadnezzar with more grace and hope than he does to Belshazzar, whom he does not readily give the chance to repent, maybe because Belshazzar has not been willing to heed history and has not even been humble enough to seek God’s advice through Daniel. In the Old Testament, God gives dreams and visions to non-believers but it is the representatives of his people who have the presence of the Holy Spirit who are needed to give people understanding, who are used to speak God’s word clearly into those situations.

So what does all this have to say to us today.

The first is that God is at work through the Holy Spirit in human history. We can think the world is out of control, on some frenzied aimless dance through time, But God is in control, history is moving towards a conclusion, God is working his plans for good and not harm. Daniel shows that in that the whole book points to the coming of the Kingdom of God in Jesus Christ. World history is changed by his coming, his death and his resurrection. We as God’s people are called to have trust and faith in God’s power and presence. It may seem like evil triumphs but in the long view of God’s divine justice this is not the case.

Daniel gives us indicators of how we should live in the light of that truth. We see him faithfully keeping his faith. The only way his enemies can come up with to get rid of him is to make it illegal for people to pray to their own God under king Darius. His spiritual practises of Prayer and meditation are what keeps him focused and going, trusting and serving, and he will not stop them for anything. That is how he ends up in the Lion’s den.

Also we see Daniel prepared to keep on serving and working in the place where he finds himself. When he is called upon to speak, he speaks God’s truth trusting in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit to enable him to do it. He can speak with authority and knowledge. Theologian Karl Barth instructed people to read their Bibles and newspapers side by side, and to interpret the newspaper by what they read in the bible. Maybe in today’s world we need to read our bibles on our phones side by side with newsfeeds. It is easy to perhaps to do it the other way round and let what we see in the headlines interpret what we read in the scripture… making it nothing more than old wisdom being pushed to fit the agenda of this world rather than shine the light of God’s Kingdom into this world. We need the spirits help and presence, leading and guidance to do that.

In our New Testament reading from John’s gospel, we also have Jesus teaching on the presence of the Holy Spirit. Jesus breaths on his disciples and sends them out into the world, just as the father has sent Jesus, to bring the kingdom of God. he gives them his Holy Spirit to do this. Jesus outlines our mission as to forgive people their sins. It is about calling people to turn from their own ways towards God’s ways Just as Daniel had done with Nebuchadnezzar, but the challenge is that if we do not forgive people they will not be forgiven. As 2 Corinthians 5:19-20 says, we are called to the ministry of the message of reconciliation with God, as ambassadors of Christ. Sometimes like with Belshazzar in Daniel 5 that message is one of judgement, I the hope that people will respond and know God’s grace. We are always called to speak God’s timeless word and truth in a timely manner, and the spirit enables us to do that. 

Missio Dei or the mission of God is a term used to tie the working of God in our world together with how we live as the Church. God’s work in the world has always being sending, the father sends the son and the father and son send the Spirit. And as we read in John 20 the father also sends us, the mission we are called to as a church is to see what the spirit is doing in the world and go and join in. With God’s grace, and trust and justice. To be carriers of God’s mercy and love, forgiveness and peace.  Historially you can see it in the revivals of England under the John Wesley and others leading not only to a renewal of people’s faith, but leading directly to the enlightenment, the abolition of slavery, the reform of prisons, child labour laws, the establishment of the RSPCA, a desire for universal education and literacy. Renewed personal and communal spiritual vitality resulting in systemic change and transformation. In fact one commentator said that the Wesleyan revival and its impact stopped England from the same bloody revolution that France went through. The way in which the church in the west finds itself pushed out of a position of power and influence at the centre of society is also showing us that the Kingdom of God lies at the edge of society, in caring for the poor, the prisoner, the sick and hurt, disadvantaged and powerless, that is where it can see the Spirit bring the most change and transformation. It’s at the edges of society as we are called to be one people across so many diverse cultures and nationalities, very much like the first century church, where at Pentecost people heard them speaking in their own languages from all over the world. In a world once again that worships material wealth and sees success in terms of what we have, that there is more to life, fulfilment is found in knowing God and sharing what we have as the Spirit leads. As the world sees us doing that it will again seek out what we have to say: the gospel of Jesus Christ. As the world sees that written in our lives not stencilled on a wall, when we are more Christ like (or Christy) rather than Banksy will we see the kingdom of God made known: As we entrust our hands into the hand of God moving in the world.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

God in control of this out of control world of ours... A prayer of thanksgiving and confession and communal lament and affirmation of trust

I've been preaching my way through the psalms of ascent at a retirement village and in Psalm 124 and 125 we looked at Communal laments. Looking at how on a personal and societal level things are not at all good. One of the amazing things about these communal laments is that they contain some of the strongest affirmations of faith and hope in God... Lament goes along with trust. 

This week I'm preaching on Daniel chapter 5 which is a passage about the spirit moving in world history. It is again a passage that deals with the worst of human sacrilege and the decline and decay of empire, and in the middle of that God's sovereign hand, offering last minute grace but also changing empire. In the middle of that Daniel is faithful and willing to move and be where the Spirit moves... In my own inadequate way I've tried to tie this all together in a prayer for the service this Sunday... In the face of terror attacks at a concert in Manchester, continued civil war in Syria, famine in eat Africa, North Korean missile tests and the seeming swirl and whirl of political change.

The affirmation of the prayers of ascent and Daniel are that God is in control. That we are called to live out our transformative faith in Jesus Christ amidst this with the ministry of reconciliation, humble service and selfless love   of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.

It would be easy to find ourselves shaken to the core,

Distort and full of despair as we see what is happening around us

Bomb blasts murder teenagers and children die in civil war

Famine and conflict join hands to kill with hunger’s cruel grip

The dangerous bravado of sabre rattling with nuclear tipped missiles

The unsettling swing of ideology, and polarizing, politics of popularity  

Amidst the wrestle to know truth from well-constructed fake,  

Lurching from crisis to crisis, climate change and super bug

It is easy to wonder where it’s all going, spinning out of control

But amidst histories crazed forward dance

We stop and proclaim God’s hand is at work

The sovereign Lord, creator of all, is in control

Working his purposes by the Holy Spirit, in this world

Calling his people to follow Christ and to reconcile

Amidst it all God has sent his Son, his kingdom has come

Not in the clash of army or over whelming force

But in humble service and sacrificial love

In Jesus life, death and resurrection

God is at work, his plans for good and not for harm

His desire for people to be forgiven and made whole,

For justice and righteousness to flow

For those whom he has called and made his own

To see what the Spirit is doing and join right in

To be peace makers and Christ light bearers

To love one another as Christ has loved us

Witnesses to the hope and good news of Jesus Christ

Living as Kingdom of God citizens in the realms of this world

Righteous and Holy, God

The one who rules above the storm,

We give you praise for who you are, both sovereign and loving

We declare your goodness and grace that has bought us life

We pray for your forgiveness, for wrong done and good left undone

We thank you that in Christ the slate is wiped clean

We pray for the renewing presence of your spirit

That we might be your people, and do your will  

That we may live, and speak and act to your glory


Sunday, May 21, 2017

Empowered to Proclaim: God's Word in the Power of the Holy Spirit (Ezekiel 2:1-3:3, Acts 1:4-11)

Do you know what the number one fear for people is?

It’s glossophobia… the fear of public speaking, getting up in front of a group of people and speaking to them. Jay Leno quipped it’s so bad that at a funeral most of us ‘would rather be the person in the casket than the one giving the eulogy’.   I’m not sure about that, but it does sum it up for many of us.

You might think that as I stand up and preach each week and lead worship that I’m immune, but that is not the case. I always tell couples I marry that on the day, I’ll be the most nervous because I’m the one who has to say the majority of the words.  At funerals, I always make sure I’ve got everything I’m going to say written down, including my own name, just in case I forget it. When I’ve had to speak at places like presbytery or general assembly in a debate I quite literally shake and often what I say comes across as emotionally charged. But I stand up and preach because I believe it is what God has called me to do, to take his timeless word and open it up in a timely manner for his people. Praise God he gives me the strength I need to do it by his Holy Spirit.

I think in the Church there is another fear that people have, that is sharing their faith with others, talking about Jesus Christ in their everyday life. I’ll put my hand up and say I’m like that as well.

Heading into Pentecost this year we are working through a series looking at the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament: From hovering over the waters in the creation story in Genesis right through to being poured out in fulfillment of the prophecy in Joel chapter two. Seeing what the Holy Spirit was about then and there and how Jesus changed all that and what it means to us here and now. Today we are looking at the calling of Ezekiel to be a prophet, to speak God’s word, and what that has to say to us today about being called to be witnesses to Jesus Christ risen from the dead.

Ezekiel is a prophet who speaks to the Jewish people in their exile in Babylon.  He was a priest by profession and at the opening of the book we find him amidst the exiles at the Kebar river, which is a channel off the Euphrates river just to the south of Babylon. We are told that the hand of the Lord, a metaphor for the Holy Spirit, was on Ezekiel, he was anointed as a priest but you get the sense that God has been leading and guiding him in life. Even bringing him to being in the midst of the exiles. There as a priest to be of some comfort for his people as they mourned about where they were. Psalm 137 paints the picture of Jewish gatherings in exile “by the rivers of Babylon, where we sat down, there we wept when we remembered Zion”.  Ezekiel has an overwhelming vision of God. God on his throne, carried by these amazing living creatures, four faced seraphs. The image behind me is from the Book of Kells, and it is a representation of the four gospels as each of the faces of those four creatures, the Man, the Ox, the Eagle and the Lion. An amazing image of the reality of Jesus Christ carried to us by the four gospels. Ezekiel’s vision is of God being with his people in exile.  Ezekiel sees the one who is on the throne and falls flat on his face, in fear because he has seen the Lord.  That is where the passage we had read to us this morning comes in. It is the passage of Ezekiel’s call to ministry.

God says ‘to stand up and he will speak to Ezekiel’ and as he says this we are told that the Spirit came upon Ezekiel and it enabled him to stand and to hear what God was saying to him. Ezekiel had an amazing spiritual experience, he saw God sitting on his throne, but what stops that from just being something that overwhelms his senses and leaves him terrified is the presence of the Holy Spirit in his life. It gives him the courage to stand in God’s presence and to hear what God is saying. This is what the Holy Spirit is still doing in and for us. As we saw last week the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives is a seal of his ownership , that we don’t need to grovel and fear God but we belong to him, that we can stand in his presence through Jesus death and resurrection.  In John’s gospel Jesus speaks of not leaving us as orphan’s but making us part of his family by sending the advocate, the comforter. The comforter, the spirit of truth, that will teach us all we need to know and will bring to our minds all that Jesus has said. The Holy Spirit in us enables us to stand and to hear God’s words.

Then Ezekiel receives God’s commission to be his prophet. To take his message to God’s rebellious people. In the Old Testament God chooses individuals to do special tasks for him. Ezekiel is ‘to be sent’ to his people, to speak God’s word to them, whether they will listen or not. He is to be a faithful servant amidst a rebellious, hard headed, stiff necked people. In the New Testament, the disciples are called apostles, and apostles basically means the sent ones. Commissioned by God, and in the passage, we had read to us in Acts Chapter 1 Jesus sends them and all his followers, he sends them to speak his word, to witness to Jesus Christ risen from the death. To witness in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the end of the earth. Instead of simply calling and sending individuals in Christ, God now sends his people, all of us, to speak his word to the world.  Just as God gives Ezekiel his Holy Spirit to enable him to do what he is called to do, Jesus sends his holy Spirit, to give us the power to do what God calls us to do.

I was a bit reluctant to use Ezekiel’s call as an example for us because it is unique in the scriptures, Ezekiel does not give God any excuses why he shouldn’t do what God has said.  Most of the people God chooses and calls in the Old testament have big buts. Which has nothing to do with how much they’ve got to sit down with. Rather they have excuses and reasons why they are not the ones to be called.  Moses wasn’t good at speaking, he had a speech impediment, Gideon, was the least important member of the least important family in the least important tribe of Israel, Jeremiah is too young, no one will listen as he’s only a boy, Amos is criticized for being just a farmer from Tekoa, (you can imagine Te koa being this small town down the east coast somewhere, right next to nowhere, which of course is Maori for nowhere) what has he got to say to the people in the big city. Jonah just plumb does not want to do it, he hates the people of Nineveh. It’s not that Ezekiel is perfect, rather in being called to speak to a rebellious people as a faithful servant, he does not get a chance to voice his excuses. It does say in chapter 3:14 that the hand of the Lord leads his home and that he is bitter and angry in his own spirit. The key thing is God chooses ordinary people to do his will to speak his word and to achieve his purposes. You could give the same sort of list of people in the New Testament, and down through church history, however it is God’s spirit that gives them what they need to do God’s work, to proclaim God’s word.

The Key reason I’ve chosen Ezekiel, is because we get something of the process by which God enables Ezekiel to speak his word and to prophecy, which is important for us. It is easy to think of God inspiring people to speak like someone being God’s loudspeaker system, or like God’s type writer. God pushes the keys and the words come out. It’s not the case. Ezekiel is told to speak God’s word, but first he is invited to eat what God gives him. A hand, again a symbol for the Holy Spirit, gives him a scroll to eat. To digest and allow to fill him up. You get the picture of it becoming part of him, being the sustenance for life, and what gives him strength and energy for life. Before we speak God’s words we must know God’s word and allow it to be digested and fill up our lives and be our nourishment and food. Then we are able to let it flow out of us. That’s the process of inspiration. Down through history people have seen things as so inspired they are God’s word for all time but for most of us it is God’s timely word, for the situation we are in…

Did you notice the paradox in how the scroll tastes to Ezekiel. The scroll that is given to Ezekiel is full of lament and mourning and woe. But it tastes sweet to Ezekiel. God is asking Ezekiel to speak to a rebellious people, and the words of God’s covenant of grace has to be bitter to them, they think God will come and quickly bring them back to Jerusalem, but God’s word is that as they have been rebellious for so many generations that this exile is going to last for a long period of time, so much so that they will have to settle down where they live and learn to be God’s people all over again in a foreign setting. It points out that they will have to change their ways so that God can move in a new way. But to a faithful person like Ezekiel, they are sweet because they speak of God’s desire to redeem his people, his unfailing love for his people, that this exile has purpose and meaning in God’s plans and purposes. It is like when Paul talks of the preaching Christ crucified, it is folly to the gentiles and Jews, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God for our salvation.   

In this eating of the scroll we see how God enables and inspires people to speak his word. His word is given to us, in this case it may well have been the Sinai covenant with its list of blessings for obedience and woes or consequences for disobedience and Ezekiel digests it and then it is spoken to the specific time and place and situation through the personality, words, and temperament of Ezekiel. We’ve mentioned the repetition of the phrase rebellious people in this passage and repetition of phrases and words is a stylistic part of the book of Ezekiel, it may well be a mark of how he speaks. Why say something once when you can emphasis it by saying it again and again. With the Spirit being involved in the process and in the person what comes out is equally tht persons word and God’s word to that situation. In the case of Ezekiel and the other books of scripture the decernment process of God's People lead by God's Spirit have seen as being God's abiding word for all time: authoritatively God's word for all people all time.  

You and have the word of God, Jesus Christ living within us by the Holy Spirit, we have the word of God in the scriptures of the Old and New Testament which the Holy Spirit uses to speak into our lives, the spirit enables us to speak that out to the people around us, to witness to Jesus Christ. The Spirit brings it to mind, gives us the words when we need them. Because God has gifted each of us with our own individuality it’s going to sound like us, but God can use that to speak into people’s lives. We are called to do that weather people listen or not… we are called to proclaim it by  living  it out, and speaking it out.

Let me finish with a great illustration, audio bibles are usually produced with the bible being read by someone with beautiful BBC English. The Jesus story book which Sundayfunday are using is a great example its produced in the states but the stories are read by David Suchet, the amazing English actor, who ironically you will know as Agatha Christie’s Belgian detective Hercule  Poirot. He has a wonderful voice. It is done I think because it gives the bible and the story the authority that a BBC voice over might give a documentary. In fact that kind of voice over is called ‘the voice of God’, this is how it is, this is the truth, my BBC English proves it. We can have that idea of this is how God’s word should sound.

But with the rise of the Internet and digital media, there is a democratization of the voices you can hear broadcast… or rather pod cast. People are doing their own content, their own shows, telling their own stories, making their own comment. Bible in action in New Zealand are in the process of producing what they are calling the pod bible. They are  putting the contemporary English version bible online. They have taken 300 volunteers from round New Zealand, men women, young people, older people, people for whom English is their first language and others for whom English is a second or even a third language and got them to read a chapter of the bible each. With their own inflections and imperfections, accents and inadequacies, there amateur passion of the scripture rather than professional polish for the presentation. It makes the scriptures come alive, you hear it in our voices, the voices you might hear down the road, at the mall, beside you on the bus or train, at the football game. 

This is what the Holy Spirit is doing in us. We have been called to witness to what we know of Jesus Christ; it’s not the voice over word of God BBC doco, unless that is you, the spirit allows you to speak and proclaim what you know, how you know it, how it has been digested into your life and made part of you. There are people who have a prophetic ministry and calling, but we are all called to voice God’s timeless word in a timely manner to the very time we inhabit, and it the Holy Spirit that enables and empowers us to do that.

 Jay Hotere died last week. I’d never met him but he had influenced a lot of people who I know and admire. One person placed a video of his testimony on line. I watched it…Jay had grown up in a violent abusive environment and sadly for so many men in our society was starting down the track of repeating that destructive behaviour. He got to the point of wanting to kill himself and prayed well Jesus if your real you’d better let me know because if you don’t I’m going to end it.  The phone rang and it was a mate of his who said, God had been telling him to ring, what was going on, and not to do anything till he got there. Jay became a Christian and his life changed and he helped transform many other lives. The voice and word of God came in a friend’s voice. Adrian Plass is a wonderful Christian broadcaster and author in England and one night read out a very personal letter to god over the radio, voicing his doubts and fears and feeling of being unworthy. When he got home there was a letter on his doorstep, from God replying to all his doubts and fears, assuring him he was loved, and Plass said it was amazing how similar God’s handwriting was to his mothers.

You are called to speak God’s word by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Postscript: I am aware that in this sermon I do not make mention of the phrase 'Son of Man' which along with it's mention in Daniel's vision in Daniel 7. Theologically this phrase Son of Man is significant because it is the title that Jesus Chose to use for himself. Son of Man in Ezekiel is a phrase which means 'Mere mortal'. In Daniel 7 it is a vision of heaven where one like the son of man appears as God's anointed one. The title pulls together both the idea of a mere moral, Jesus as totally human called to speak and proclaim God's word, and the son of man as God's son in Daniel.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Not A Silent God... A prayer of thanksgiving and confession.

For presbyterian's the burning bush is a great symbol of God speaking to his people.
it refelcts the fact that God listens, god responds, God calls and god saves his people
It is our churches symbol, this is the stainglass window at St Peter's Ellerslie Mt Wellington

In 1 Corinthians 12:1-3 Paul talks to the Corinthians about the difference between the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and dumb idols. The dumb idols can't and don't speak, but God can and does chose to speak, and he can and does chose to speak in and through his people. plug in gifts of the Holy Spirit which is what this chapter in scripture is known for.  The test for God's word is whether it glorifies Jesus or not... 

This prayer is a reflection on the fact that we have a God who speaks and giving thanks for that.   
A God who speaks through creation, through the story of his dealing with his people, in new testament and old, who spoke in Jesus Christ the word made flesh, who speaks by the Holy Spirit's presence in us and by the Holy Spirits enabling through us.  In return we speak to God, in praise in confession and in suplication. We speak and live to proclaim that jesus is Lord...

So feel free to pray this prayer, it's designed for public worship so feel free to use any or all of it, if you find it helpful and encouraging, or none of it if you don't. I'm always happy to learn and improve so if you've got some condtructive suggestions please leave a comment.

Loving God,

We thank you that you are not a silent God,

We are not left staring off into the void wondering.

Left without a clue as to how to make sense of it all

Rather you have revealed yourself to us.

Creator God

The truth is you spoke and it all came into being,

All of it made good and reflecting its makers glory

The night sky without words declares your greatness

We have no excuse- with clarity and understand from what you made*

* On sunday I changed this line which is a direct quote from Romans 1:20. It was prayed as

"with clarity and understanding what you made shows undeniable truth"

Holy God

We see how you have chosen and lead your people

You have given them the law, how to live and reflect your justice

You have spoken through your prophets, and good news speakers

Your timeless word timely given and preserved in the scriptures

Saviour God

In Jesus Your word become flesh

You spoke with a real voice, in human form

You spoke sacrificial love in the agony of the cross

And new life and hope as you rose from the Grave

Spirit of God, Holy and true

God’s word, Jesus Christ dwells in us, by your power

We hear God’s voice because we are filled with your presence

We now all we need of your truth and remember Christ’s words

By you we are strengthened, enabled to witness and to speak

God who is with us,

You speak to us through your people

The shared words from friend and family

Through apostle, prophet, evangelist, teacher and pastor

Spirit inspired Loving gesture and truth revealed

God who speaks with us

We come this morning and bring you praise

We confess our sin and ask for you to forgive

We ask you to fill us a new with your spirit

That in how we live and what we say we may proclaim 'Jesus is Lord' 

Monday, May 15, 2017

Anointed: belonging, service and for all of us... (1 Samuel 10:1-13, 16:14, 2 Corintihians 1:21-22)

When I was a youth pastor we invited a guest speaker along to one of our services. When he turned up he said to me, “he had chosen a particular message of his for the evening”. He told me that, “this sermon of his had a real anointing on it.” Which really puzzled me… I just figured that it was Pentecostal speak for, I’m an itinerant preacher and I’ve got a series of ten or so messages I choose from and this one is one of my better ones.  But I was concerned that he would use terminology that inferred that the message he had was somehow more spirit filled, more holy, more God inspired than other sermons and other peoples sermons

 I’ve heard this word anointed used more and more recently. I’ve heard people call a song anointed, saying that somehow it is more special and more Holy Spirit endowed than other ones. I’ve heard people speak about this person or that person being anointed for a specific ministry, Christian conferences will talk of having this speaker along who will impart a special anointing onto people. This church or that ministry is anointed. It may be just a dialect of that weird church language, Chistianese that I don’t speak. It may just be Semantics, but it puzzles and worries me.

Along with that proclamation of something being anointed comes a sense that its better than everything else, or more special than anyone else, this is the reason it is successful. People will often use the anointing as a way of stopping people being critical or even asking questions about a person or an institution or a way of doing things, because it is speaking against God’s anointed. That can easily become abusive controlling power wrapped up in spiritual terms. It’s dangerous and can be damaging.

Why does this impact on you and I? why share this? Because I think it’s important. You see one of the things that came along with the reemphasis on the Holy Spirit in the Pentecostal and charismatic movements was that if you were not experiencing all these different manifestations of God’s Holy Spirit, it used to be based around speaking in tongues, then you didn’t have God’s Spirit and you were seen as kind of a second-class citizen of the kingdom of God. You may be familiar with Dr Zuess’ Sneeches who lived on beaches! And the star bellied Sneechers thought they were the best kind of Sneechers because they had stars upon thars. We can miss the fact that in God’s anointed one, Jesus Christ, we have all been set aside, anointed by God’s Holy Spirit to be God’s people to serve together to achieve the purposes of God.

We are working our way through the Old Testament, looking at the work of the Holy Spirit in scriptures: from hovering over the water in the creation narrative at the beginning of Genesis, to the fulfilment at Pentecost of God pouring out the Spirit on all who believe. It gives us a chance to look at what the Spirit did then and there, to ask what difference Jesus life death and resurrection made, and what it means for us today. 

This week we are looking at Saul, his anointing as King and the connection with that of the work of the Holy Spirit, at the beginning of 1 Samuel chapter 10, and that disturbing verse in 1 Samuel 16 where it says that the Holy Spirit departed from Saul after Samuel had anointed David and that an evil spirit tormented him.

The book of Samuel follows on from the book of Judges. Israel has got to the point where they are not happy with simply having God appoint a judge for Israel when needed. They are beginning to have  more of a sense of being a nation together, and want a central government to defend them against their enemies. God gives them what they want, he sends Samuel to find Saul… Physically Saul is what you might expect a warrior king to look like, he stands head and shoulders above the crowd. He had just been chasing his father’s donkeys across the hill country, he is physically fit.   So on God’s command Samuel anoints him as King. He pours oil over his head, in Israel before this priests had been anointed with oil to set them apart for their work and now Saul is being set apart for the service of being King, being a leader. It is a symbol of God’s choosing, this is the one whom God has chosen to rule over us. It was also seen as God giving the person all the gifts that were required for the role they were being asked to take on. Given the wisdom to make right decisions, to,as we saw with Gideon last week, have the courage to trust God and to act.

The passage we had read out basically deals with the three signs that Samuel gives to Saul to encourage him that what Samuel has said and done is from God. To prepare him for the role he will take up. To enable his to develop the trust in God he will need to carry out that role. Three signs were, (click)  that Saul would meet some men who would tell him his father’s donkeys had been found, and would convey back to Saul’s father news that Saul was safe and well. Just a simple thing but it could show Saul that Samuel was speaking from God. it also actually dealt with the things that were on Saul’s agenda from his past role as a shepherd’s son. Dealing with the past personal stuff so he was ready for what was to come.   

The second was that he would meet some men going to worship who would offer his two loaves of bread to eat. A simple sign that Samuel was speaking the truth, a sign that God was able to provide for his everyday needs, like Jesus says to his disciples that he can provide our daily needs so that we should put first the Kingdom of God. It was also bread set aside for worship and sacrifice. This bread was only for the priests to eat, it was a sign that he was indeed anointed by God, just like the priests. David would also eat that consecrated bread.

The last one was that at the oak of tabor Saul would meet a group of prophets, dancing and singing and telling forth God’s word, and the Spirit would fall on him and he would join them.  A garrison of the philistines being there is mentioned as well. The sign is that God would fill him with his Spirit to enable him both to speak God’s word but also the courage to face the enemies of Israel. All these things happen to Saul.

It tells us that the Spirit of the Lord did fall on Saul and he prophesised, we don’t know what that actual did, just that people acknowldged it was because the Spirit of the Lord had come upon him. . We know the prophets were singing and dancing and giving praise to God, maybe hesimply joined in. when we praise and worship God we are proclaiming and declaring God’s goodness and God’s story, God’s faithfulness and power to each other and to those who hear us. It maybe that Saul started talking and speaking God’s word… taking what the people knew of God’s activity and applying it to the present situation, speaking truth to power, with the philistines not too far away to speak of YWHW as Israel’s God was speaking truth to the military power of the time. But those present recognised it as coming from God’s spirit. It was out of character which is why one of the men asks if “Saul is now one of the prophets’.

It tells us that Saul changed, he was transformed. But such a spiritual experience  wasn’t a guarantee that Saul was totally different than he had been. He may have at that time been aware of God’s presence and God’s provision and empowering, but as the story of Saul goes on we see that it does not translate into him being willing to trust and wait on God, he seems very determined to go his own way. Being filled with the Holy Spirit is not being possessed by the Holy Spirit, it does not over ride our will or our personality, we always must choose to follow and live for Jesus. The power of being King, draws him away from being humble and trusting God. It leads to God choosing another in David and the presence of God’s Spirit departing from Saul and God allowing his to be tormented by an evil spirit. It is not the Spiritual experience that is the significant thing it is that on going right relationship with God, humbly walking with the Spirit, with the Lord that brings lasting change. While David made heaps of mistakes the thing that sets him apart a a king is, that David was a man after God’s own heart.

What does this all have to say to us.

Firstly we ned to do
a bit of theology. The whole of the Old Testament is preparing us and pointing towards the coming of Jesus Christ. People being anointed and spirit filled to achieve God’s purposes and there brokenness and in ability to perfectly keep God’s will points us towards God Anointed one, God’s chosen one, God’s messiah  who would  be filled with God’s Holy Spirit to achieve God’s purposes in reconciling the world to God. Jesus is the anointed one, set aside for God’s purposes, empowered to declare God’s kingdom in word and signs and wonders and in his death and resurrection. It is in the anointed one that you and I are bought into relationship with God and are anointed by the Holy Spirit to be God’s people.

In our new testament reading today, Paul is defending his calling as an apostle to the Corinthians, who think Paul’s change of travel plans, and postponing coming to see them is a sign that he is fickle and not trustworthy, rather than it being a set of difficult circumstances. Paul does not defend that by saying well I’m God’s anointed don’t criticise me. Rather he points to the fact that he and his team are like everyone else, we belong to Christ. He is the one who makes us stand firm, he has anointed us all, poured out and filled all of us by his Holy Spirit.  That is his seal of ownership on us. A message would be sent from a king to a group of people or an individual and it would be deemed authentic if it had the kings seal on it. Made in wax with a ring or a stamp… The spirit’s presence in all our lives is like a down payment a guarantee of what is to come. A taste of eternity with Christ.

Applying that to our lives… anointing is first about all of us in relationship with God. being anointed by the Holy Spirit means we are all God’s chosen people, we have been chosen in and through the chosen one Jesus Christ. God chooses to live with and in us by the Holy Spirit. It is no longer just the chosen one or two, the ones that seem to be more successful or prominent, but all of us, you and even me. We are God’s spirited people. In 1 Peter 2:9, Peter uses the image of both sets of people who were anointed and set aside for God in the old testament to speak of the body of Christ, the Church. He says ‘But You are a chosen people (anointed) a royal priesthood, a holy nation (set aside) God’s special possession’. That you may declare forth the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” The spirit of God is on all of us that together, like Saul did initially, we may declare what God has done for us.

It applies to us because we are all anointed for service. It’s not about being successful or having influence in the world, but the road of humbly serving the Lord. God will often make the things that someone does more fruitful in terms of numbers and being noticed, but we are all anointed and gifted to together to witness to Jesus Christ. Paul talks of Christian ministry to the Corinthians as one planting and one watering, but affirms that it is God who brings the growth. It’s interesting we can see mass evangelism having big results and we can forget that most people come to know Jesus through a friend or family member loving them and sharing the good news of Jesus Christ.

It applies to us because it is easy to equate being filled with God Spirit or anointed in God’ spirit as a spiritual experience. I’ve had heaps of Spiritual experiences and they are encouraging and life changing, they awaken us again and again to the transforming power and presence of God, being filled with God’s Spirit invites us to live in step with the Spirit, It I about a daily walk with Jesus Christ, an ongoing, on growing relationship…We can be about wht God has called us to do because we know he both is able to deal with our past and hold our future in his hands, can put first the kingdom of God because we know God will supply our needs, that he has filled us with his Holy Spirit. That in the end is what allows that anointing to permeate all areas of our life, that in the end is the thing that strengthens us and enables us to live for Christ and that  is fruitful… as it produces in us love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control… it results in Christ, the anointed one, being made manifest in and through us.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

A prayer of thanksgiving and confession using feminine images of God (connected with mothering) in scripture... for Mother's Day

"Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing- Matthew  22;37

Just a quick prayer of thanksgiving and confession for Mothers day this week.
I've taken some time to use feminine images of God from the scripture.

God All sufficient is one possible translation of El shaddai and is a more feminine image of God, one possible origin for El Shaddai is the God who has breasts being able to feed her children, rather than the more common and masculine God almighty... God of the mountains.

carrying on from that "in whom we live and move and have our being" is from Acts, and can be seen as giving a picture of a child in the womb. Hosea 11: 3-4 gives a picture of God teaching Ephraim to walk.

Jesus uses the image of the widow seeking a precious lost coin in Luke 15, a parable alongside the parable of the lost sheep and the prodigal son. Jesus voices his love and desire for that city and his people in terms of a mother hen wanting to gather her chicks beneath her wings. using her body to shield them from harm.... what a great picture of Christ's death on the cross... this is my body broken for you.

I've used the picture of the mother eagle in Deuteronomy 32 teaching its chicks to fly to look at the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing us to maturity in Christ. if you read in the book of Acts you see a reoccurring pattern of the church getting comfortable and stepping away from its prime mission and then the Holy Spirit stirring things up again and the church moving on in its mission and maturity.

The opening line of the last bit comes from Psalm 123:2-3 and is the second half of the male female servants looking to the hand of their masters(both male and female) as an illustration of our being Attentive to do the will of God.

God all sufficient,

In whom, we live and move and have our being

You made us, created us male and female in your likeness

You look after us and care, nurture, heal and guide

You comfort us in our sorrows, help us to stand and walk with you

Jesus Christ our loving saviour

Like a widow seeking a precious coin, you came to seek the lost

like a mother hen draws its chicks beneath its wings

You came to draw us all back to know God’s great love

You lived, and died and rose again to make us God’s children

Holy Spirit, comforter and Guide

You fill us with strength and light; Christ abides in us

Like a mother eagle you ruffle our comfortable nests

To make us step out and trust ourselves upon your wind

You swoop and catch us when we fall  

As a maid looks to her mistress’ hand, we look to you

We come this morning to give you praise

We ask you to forgive wrong done and good left undone

Restore us to yourself and fill us afresh with spirit breath

That we may live and love to your glory all our life