Monday, August 15, 2016
The words written here have been a long time in coming. Only recently have I been able to put this belief and conviction into words. It all has to do with the mystery, power and wonder of the cross, or as Paul said in Corinthians, “The message, which is offensive to the Jews and nonsense to the Gentiles, the message that makes sure Christ's death on the cross is not robbed of its power.” Forever, it seems to me, the message of the cross has been told as an act of violence (sacrifice) God engineered in order to put humanity right with him. Or in other words God had to violently sacrifice his Son so that he could love those who had become unlovely to him? Truthfully I have never really understood this. It suggests two things: o Firstly God’s love can be restricted by our behaviour. o Secondly, and much more significantly, it suggests violence is the way to deal with the human condition of evil and sin. So entrenched is this idea in modern thought that we follow it, almost without exception. If there is a problem, you get rid of it – hate, division, prejudice, war, assassination, divorce, revenge, terror, murder, take sides, split – are all spurred on by this philosophy. If God used an act of violence to solve a problem, then so can we. And we do, in so many different ways. Think about it for a while. Rather than buy into this way of thinking about the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, I see it differently now, like this: Humanity (through the specific context of the time) murdered Jesus in an abhorrent act of violence. God knew this would happen all along (Ephesians 1:4,5), and he allowed it to happen as it was the perfect opportunity for God to show what redemption and love is really all about. He took all that happened on the cross on himself without reserve, and loved us in return. There was no violent sacrifice by God (it was done to him by us, He didn’t do it), just open arms of love, love which has always loved and always will, love which said, “Father, forgive them for they know what they do.” We choose the substitutional, sacrificial, way of seeing the cross, God having to use violence on himself to buy his love for us back, over God voluntary receiving violence and rejection in a great act of love without retaliation, mainly because we are hard wired to retaliate, to act negatively, hatefully, violently, and prejudicially, rather than loving those who hurt, offend and reject us, just like God did. The first way allows us to believe without a real change of heart, the second way requires a profound life changing transformation.
Monday, August 1, 2016
I remember growing up with the saying, “Stick and stones may hurt my bones, but words will never harm me.” Now I am not sure in what context this saying arose, but it certainly ‘ain’t true’! Words are powerful, both negative words spoken, and positive words spoken. Think about it, God spoke the universe into being! Jesus spoke the word and the sick were healed, the dead raised, and even the wind heard him and obeyed his command. Poems, and songs, and books are written, using words to communicate truth. Lover’s whisper into each other’s ears, using carefully chosen words to describe how they feel. Words of correction and discipline need to be prudently chosen so the right message comes across. The Apostle John said it all in the opening line of his gospel, “In the beginning was the Word.” Words are eternal, ‘in the profound moment of being heard,’ they can shape us forever. Words have an immense, vast, immeasurable power to shape and form and influence, whenever they are spoken John goes on to say, “The Word was with God and the Word was God.” Words have their powerful origin in God. A scary thought that we are entrusted with a power to speak that comes from God! And I am not just meaning spiritual words spoken in a spiritual context; I mean all the words we speak! Words spoken, language used is all sacred text. Put like this, and I think we can and we should, highlights the absurdity and danger of the loose words we speak, the words of hate, judgment, anger, sarcasm, bitterness, violence and revenge that all too easily flow from our mouths (and hearts). I think the Bee Gee’s got it right… You think that I don't even mean A single word I say It's only words, and words are all I have to take your heart away
Tuesday, July 26, 2016
Deep down in the soul, most of us I believe, from decades of religious instruction, try our very best to please God through our good behaviour, and when we fail in these endeavours, we feel guilty that we have disappointed God and ourselves, and ask for forgiveness. It is a repetitive cycle of guilt and failure, but we determinedly and doggedly hold onto this pattern of trying to please by God by being good (attending church on Sunday, not committing adultery, not being a thief, etc.) Whilst we do this we look down on those who are not trying as hard as us, the ‘sinners’ out there, as though we, the people of God, have the moral high ground. Such behaviour is what the bible calls self-righteous, a perfectly descriptive word. It is our ego trying to become righteous on its own. Self-righteousness will always be self sufficient, judgmental, and superior, whilst at the same appearing spiritual and godly. Jesus called this behaviour that of the religious order of his day – the Pharisees and teachers of the law. Many church members today are no different. Jesus never emphasized the promotion of our good self-image because it can be achieved without really loving God or our neighbour, in fact without even really a true conversion. A good self-image achieved by thinking and believing correctly, is not a true change of heart, which results in real gospel values such as loving enemies, caring for the powerless, overlooking personal offenses, living simply, eschewing riches. God doesn't love us because we are good. God loves us because God is good! Our long standing belief that to be perfect means we have to become a person who pleases God all the time turns out to be false. Read what Jesus said to the carriers of this belief in his time, the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law. Rather to be perfect is see your imperfections first, then see them reflected in the imperfections of others; in other words to take the log out your own eye first. When we do this, when we are honest first in the appraisal of ourselves and our need of mercy first, that we are not that good, then we are free to love (even our enemies), forgive, heal, serve and sacrifice. We are right with God through surrender and in participation of his mercy. It has very little, if anything, to do with our good behaviour.
Monday, July 18, 2016
I’m always surprised to hear congregation members say they never hear from the book of Revelation from the pulpit. This is going to be rectified on Sunday! I’m calling the sermon, ‘Reading Revelation’. Revelation is very detailed and also very confusing. So here are just a few simple guidelines… o Don’t get lost in the minute detail, stay with the general themes, chronologically - a vision of Jesus, seven letters to the churches (read them as though they were your church), worship, the seven seals, tribulation, victory, defeat of Satan and judgment, a new heaven and earth, and the final coming of Jesus. Eugene Peterson calls the themes, The Last Word on Scripture, Jesus, the Church, Worship, Evil, Prayer, Witness, Politics, Judgment, Salvation and Heaven. Read the book slowly and you will easily find these themes. o There is nothing new in Revelation. Everything you read in Revelation has been said before in the scriptures. This is why Peterson says Revelation is the Last Word…Christ, scripture, worship, prayer, witness, politics, judgment, salvation and heaven are the first constant themes in Old and New Testament. The book constantly references backward. o Whatever Revelation says is going to happen one day, (and we believe it will), has happened before throughout history, and is still happening today. Every generation sees the signs of the coming of the Christ; it is simply a case of when, rather than if. E.g. the first four seals of chapter 6 - the white horse of victory, the red horse of war, the black horse of famine and the white horse of sickness and death have been riding the waves of history since time began. Christians have always been martyred for their faith; the church is steadfast in worship, witness and prayer. When the church stands up for what it believes, it and its members, will always be in trouble. Let me say it again, get lost in the detail and you will get lost in the book. Stay with the themes, look for them happening in history and today, and you may find Revelation a comfort you did not know it could be.
Monday, July 11, 2016
A few thoughts about the Sunday worship service… I have always leaned more the way of experiencing God in serving others, than experiencing God in a worship service. It makes sense to me that faith is doing something with your life, more than it is feeling something on a Sunday. However I spend most Sundays every year designing and leading worship services with the express purpose of enabling people to better engage and experience God in worship. Here are some discoveries I have made… 1. My leaning is right! The entry into deeper, more experiential worship parallels the church’s involvement in reaching out and serving others. I saw this best in the Edenvale Methodist Church – the more we did, like run a soup kitchen, a nursery school, a hospice, or conduct the Alpha Course, the deeper our worship went, without even really trying to do this. They (worship and service) feed each other, like a never-ending circle, but I would start with outreach… 2. Modern songs using modern means are more likely to lead to experiential worship. Personally, I would keep the old with the new, and throw in some good old hymns with the contemporary music, but the fact remains the new music lends itself more to experiential worship. 3. A group leading the worship (the modern way, with vocalists, guitars, drums, keyboard, etc) are more likely to draw others into experiential worship than a solo playing pianist or organist. There is a place for solo items but the group dynamic seems to me to be more inviting and easier for congregational participation. 4. I am a great believer in perspiration before inspiration. On the same lines also in planning and structure before ad-lib what feels best on the day. So I am saying hard work, plan and practice first, then the freedom to change, be spirit led and flexible ‘on the day’.
Monday, July 4, 2016
A while ago I preached on the blood of Jesus, more specifically, the power of the blood of Jesus. When Jesus laid down his life as an act of love toward us, his blood, which is his life, took away our sins. I preached how this spilling of blood is really the supreme divine act of love. Jesus blood is God’s love, the power behind the forgiveness and renewal of our lives. Today I focus on the bread. Jesus said take this cup and drink my blood, and take this bread and eat my body. If the spilling of his blood is all embracing love and forgiveness, then the breaking of his body is the giving of life. The giving of life! This notion of life is written in the prophets. Bethlehem, the birthplace of King David, preceding the birthplace of Jesus, means, “House of Bread”. No wonder Jesus called himself the ‘bread of life’, it is where he comes from, who he always was, and is, right down to his roots and origin. “If I am ‘in’ you,” Jesus says, “You will live.” Every time we take the bread of Holy Communion and we eat it, we are saying ‘I am alive’. In a very simple way, and, at the deepest level we are alive because He is alive in us. We ‘eat him’; he is the source of our life, springing up inside of us like a never-ending spring of life. No wonder Jesus also called himself the living water. Every time we come to the altar of Holy Communion and drink from the cup, and take the bread, we are saying these two things: o God’s love takes my sins away, and renews my life. o God is in me and I am alive inside.
Friday, July 1, 2016
I am indebted to the American Old Testament scholar, Professor Walter Brueggemann for the thoughts expressed in this Rhodeside. Professor Brueggemann says the Old Testament can be divided into three major parts – The Torah, the Prophets and the Wisdom literature. He describes how these three parts of the Old Testament parallel our spiritual growth. The Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament, correspond to the first half of life, where we shape our identity “through law, tradition, structure, certitude, group ritual, clarity, and chosenness.” Here we feel loved and safe. The Prophets introduce the necessary suffering, "stumbling stones," and failures that initiate us into the second half of life. Prophetic thinking is the capacity for healthy self-criticism, the ability to recognize your own dark side, as the prophets did for Israel. Without failure, suffering, and shadowboxing, most people (and most of religion) never move beyond narcissism and tribal thinking. This has been most of human history up to now, which is why war has been the norm. But healthy self-criticism helps you realize you are not that good and neither is your group. Wisdom literature, (Psalms, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Songs, and the Book of Job) introduces us to the language of mystery and paradox. We are strong enough now to hold together contradictions, even in ourselves, even in others. And we can do so with compassion, forgiveness, patience, and tolerance. We realize that our chosenness is for the sake of letting others know they are chosen too. We have moved from the Torah's exclusivity and "separation as holiness" to inclusivity and allowing everything to belong. Richard Rohr describes Brueggemann’s pattern of growth as order-disorder-reorder, saying, “After order (Torah) we must go through disorder (Prophets) or there is no reorder (Wisdom)! No exceptions.” What a profound pattern of life found in the Old Testament books!