Sunday, July 26, 2015

There is A Hole In The Roof Jesus Called Faith (Luke 5:17-26)... Following His Footsteps: The Ministry Of Jesus In Luke's Gospel (Part 7)


Skylights are quite fashionable so I’m told; they flood spaces with natural light, 5 times the amount of light than from a normal window of the same size. The natural light enhances the mood and ambience of a space; they can turn dark and dingy rooms and houses into bright lively and inviting homes. With the right glazing they can be very energy efficient. Well that’s according to some design tips I got off the website of an award winning architect and interior designer. It may be the kind of advice that the owner of the house from our passage in Luke this morning would have to consider, now, because of the faith of a few men, there is a hole in the roof.

 “Windows of grace” is a way that people talk about things and spiritual disciplines that help us to connect with the truth, presence and love of God; prayer, bible reading, preaching and teaching, worship, sacraments, fellowship these are some of those windows, these are some of the ways God can speak and minister into our lives by the Holy Spirit.  They are windows through which God can shine his light into our lives. But in the narrative we are looking at today grace comes not through a window but a hole in the roof…. A hole that Jesus called faith.

We are following Jesus footsteps: Looking at the orderly account of the ministry of Jesus in Luke’s Gospel. Today that journey leads us to a hole in the roof… for some that hole in the roof is an act of faith, being determined in the face of obstacles to see their friend receive a healing encounter with Jesus. For one man that hole in the roof leads to wholeness: forgiveness, healing and restoration. For others that hole in the roof is a problem, it is an opening for them to critique Jesus, to sit in judgment on what he says and does. For Luke, that hole in the roof is something through which we can know more about Jesus, in this encounter, in this healing, through Jesus words and deeds, through the start of conflict with the religious people of his day, to know that the son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins… Let’s have a look at the hole in the roof

There is a hole in the roof. They had put it there. They were his friends and they cared about the man. All we know about him is that he is paralysed. It’s the medical term, it reflects Luke’s background as a doctor, elsewhere people would simply have said cripple.  All they knew was that they hoped Jesus could do something to change all that.  They had heard that Jesus cared for the outcast, the hurt the broken, he talked of God’s outrageous revolution of grace and showed it through deeds of healing and release. They’d come with their friend.

The house where Jesus was teaching was full and there was no way in. It wasn’t just the growing crowd around Jesus, but today the Pharisees and scribes of the law had come from all over, not only from all over Galilee, but from Judea and even from Jerusalem. A normal crowd may have made way willingly for the man to get to Jesus. But these people were part of a religious group, that believed if they kept God’s law, if they kept themselves separate from sin and those that just might be sinners that God would move and restore Israel as a nation. They had come to sit and hear Jesus. The way they came to sit and hear Jesus, gave the feeling that they had come to sit in judgment, to critique and check out if this new prophet was like them, believed what they believed or was he a false prophet. They were not going to move for the paralysed man and his friends… they were there on serious business… and while they might not say it out loud they were suspicious of a person who was paralysed, maybe they had done something wrong and this was God’s judgement.

But his friends were not put off. The power of God was with Jesus to heal those who were ill. They climbed up the side of the house to the flat roof, where people would sit under thatched reed shades on hot days to take advantage of any cooling breeze there was. They had found tools and scraped a hole in the roof and got rope and lowered their friend down to Jesus feet.

There is a hole in the roof… Jesus looks up and watches as the man is lowered down through it. You can see in his eyes in his face that he sees and understands what is going on here. He sees the compassion they have for their friend. He sees the faith they have, that Jesus can heal and make whole… This is the kind of response Jesus has been looking for… Not just amazement or even the beginnings of belief but a breakthrough faith… trust put into action;  Diligent trust, going to great lengths to seek Jesus presence.

Jesus responds to that faith ‘‘friend, your sins are forgiven.” There is debate whether the man’s paralysis was a result of some sin in the past, we are not told. Jesus looks and sees the deeper need, the need to hear words of forgiveness to be put right with God, to be restored to his community, for them to see that he is put right with God. He may be crippled on the inside with feeling s of unworthiness, or guilt, or have carried with himself that look from others that he had obvious done something wrong. But now Jesus is bringing healing from the inside out, from the core of his being to his withered extremities.

There is a hole in the roof. It causes a problem. Jesus words are almost what the Pharisees and scribes of the law have been waiting for. They had listened to his teaching, now what he says to this man causes them concern… he’d dug a hole for himself… Only God has the prerogative the power the authority to forgive sins. Then it was through the rites and sacrifices and sacred rituals at the temple. The things they knew, the things they as a religious group knew and practised so well. Who does Jesus think he is? Isn’t this blasphemy? 

Jesus knows what they are thinking, he can tell by their disease and the looks on their faces and just as Simon had said back when Jesus was presented at the temple as a child, that the thoughts of many hearts would be revealed… So Jesus asks them… which is easier to say ‘your sins are forgiven’ or get up and walk?... It’s a challenging question isn’t it,? It’s the kind of perplexing question that the Pharisees know the answer to, but they also know that if they say well the command to heal is more difficult and Jesus heals that it shows he does have authority to forgive…

Jesus continues ‘But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth.’ We might have missed this reference to the Son of Man, we are so used to it, but  it’s the first time Jesus uses it in this gospel. The Pharisees and the scribes of the law knew their scripture, and they would not have missed it...they were right that Jesus was claiming the authority that only God had to forgive sins and know he uses a title from the Old Testament to refer to himself…the Son of Man … It wasn’t as loaded with meaning as messiah … In Ezekiel it was simply used to refer to the prophet as a human being’ son of man’… but in Daniel  amidst the beasts coming up from the sea, each one more hideous than the last, each  representing the rise and fall of empires on the world stage,  one like the Son of Man is bought before God, and all authority was given to him, his kingdom is established and God says it will last forever… Jesus uses that title for himself… and here we see that Jesus is claiming that authority to forgive sin…  The kingdom of the son of man is come near… It is a kingdom that will be different than the Pharisees hope for, it will be about forgiveness and wholeness and invitation to all to come back and dwell in God’s presence, more than political freedom, more than keeping law to please God enough to act.

So he says to the man ‘get up, pick up your mat and go home.’ And the man feeling his legs strengthened and made new just as his inner being had been made new by Jesus words of forgiveness. He is made whole, he can go home: he is restored physically he is reconciled with his family and community, so he get up goes back to them praising God…Knowing that through a hole in the roof he has encountered God grace in Jesus. He is forgiven and made whole. Everyone else is filled with awe and amazed, even the Pharisees seem to be silenced, at least for now…

There is a hole in the roof and through this miracle story, this interaction with the Pharisees we are shown more of who Jesus is… We see more of his revolution of grace. In the gospel miracles are called signs and wonders… they point us to a deeper understanding, they act as signposts that point us to the truth about Jesus… The Pharisees have it right, Jesus is claiming the prerogative of God to forgive, authority in using the title son of man that was given to him by God… It is not blasphemy when we come to know who Jesus is.

It points us to the central mission of Jesus to break the power of sin, to bring about healing of that central relationship between man and God…it points us to the cross…. It’s not that we can be good enough for God’s favour as the Pharisees taught, but that God is good and extends that to us in grace and mercy.  In Jesus sin and its consequences in our lives will be dealt with… forgiveness, restoration of community, wholeness and healing are found in him.

You can’t call Jesus a faith healer, but we see that faith brings people to Jesus diligently trusting that Jesus is able and willing to move and release and restore… on a personal level, on a community level on a systemic level. It is a faith that calls us to risk and face opposition and obstacle, to go round and break through barriers to seek Jesus presence. It’s not passive, it’s not vain hope, it’s active, as John Wimber says it is spelt R*I*S*K. carrying loads, taking steps and making holes trusting in Jesus.   

There is a hole in the roof… How do you respond to that today?

The spire/skylight at St Peter's
There is a hole in the roof… and sometimes we find ourselves being the reason the hole needs to be there. We can crowd around Jesus and just maybe we become unaware of those needing wanting to know his healing and forgiving touch. We can get in the way, we’ve got Jesus boxed in . Even in our worship our gatherings together our meetings, we don’t leave space for Jesus to speak and to act. Maybe we find ourselves sitting in judgement of Jesus; we want to fit Jesus into our little religious party. We’ve built this whole structure around Jesus intellectually and physically… That needs a hole in the roof for people and for us to get past that to encounter Jesus in a way that brings forgiveness, healing and wholeness. That perplexing question that Jesus asked still challenges us… Which is easier to say ‘your sins are forgiven’ or ‘get up and walk’? We believe Jesus can forgive but can he heal? We need a hole in the roof an open heaven.

There is a hole in the roof… Do you need it today to know Jesus presence… his healing and forgiving words in your life …That can be scary for us… I wonder how safe the man felt as he was man handled up the stairs to the roof, and was lowered down to Jesus feet. But Jesus meet him and spoke wholeness into his life. Maybe you need to open up this morning allow yourself to be lowered to Jesus presence.

There is a hole in the roof…. I hope it is an inspiration for you? An encouragement, as you befriend, as you care for, as you carry others, as you face issues and problems that would hold people captive and cripple. That it is encouragement to keep going, to be determined, to be creative to not let obstacles get in the way of seeking Jesus presence, to  bring friends to Jesus, and seeing Jesus minister to them and to keep on following in his footsteps...

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Encouragement from Matthew 6: 25-34 right outside my window...


On a cold Monday morning as the wind howls round the Church building and two sparrows peak out from the shrub outside my window... Hmm consider the sparrows (birds of he air) A good reminder of God's providence in the face of storms (Matthew 6:25-34)..

Jesus is Willing are we?... A Healing and Restoring Touch From Jesus inLuke 5:12-16 and today.... Following His Footsteps: The Ministry of Jesus in Luke's Gsopel (Part 6)


This is a bit different than I normally preach… It’s called a narrative sermon… it invites us to enter into the passage to see and feel and be involved and then take it back with us to the world in which we live. We are working our way through Luke’s gospel in a series called following his footsteps and today I want to invite you to do just that…Maybe it is summed up well in the image we have had as a resting image this week of a hand from the point of view of the person reaching out…

He was brave even to be in the town, out here in galilee the rules were just a bit less strenuous. But  for so long he has had to live on the edge ostracized and cut off, keeping away from towns and people… if anyone approached he had to call out ’unclean, unclean’ and watch the look of distain and fear on people’s faces as they would scurry away, cross the road, grab their children and shield them behind their backs, till he had passed. Even his own family had had to tell him to stay away, keep his distance, be gone and don’t come back… unless. Unless, the disease went away, his skin became clear again, , yet it hadn’t it just kept getting worse and now he was covered with it so here he would remain beyond touch, beyond embrace and cut off. They called him a leper, but it covered a whole lot of different diseases, not just the one that in modern times would be associated with that name,  he didn’t know which one he had, all of them  were infectious, all of them treated the same way by isolating the patient. An isolation an uncleanness that not only cut him off from the community from human contact and kindness but as people thought and he was made to feel even from God. Not even God would have compassion. Even God was out of touch.

He was brave even to be in the town, he had heard of Jesus, who hadn’t… even on the edge, there had been whispers of hope. A teacher a prophet  who had been thrown out of his home town when he taught that God’s compassion and love and release and healing and wholeness was not just for those  who were good enough, but was for all, ;recovery of sight for the blind release for the prisoner, good news for the poor, revolutionary stuff. He’d even mentioned the story of Namun the Syrian healed of leprosy by Elisha the prophet. He had heard the stories of people healed and made whole, a demonised man set free, a widow healed of a fever, many others wherever Jesus went. There was no doubt God was with this man, there was no doubt he was able, God was able… but was he willing. Was this revolution of God’s grace real and true did it extend even across that barrier that void of avoidance to him.

So he had braved the town, and he had come and found Jesus. He wondered how does one approach this holy man? So like Simon the fisherman who now followed Jesus he had thrown himself on the ground before him, in humility and desperation he had come to this last hope, this compassionate man, he’d come with faith aware that God was able and hope, just maybe God was willing … “lord” he had said, it seemed right to affirm this man’s status, while it didn’t hold the same force of the way the Jews used it as a stand in for the name of God yhwh, it seemed right to acknowledge this agent of God, this master…”if you are willing, you can make me clean.”  That was it that was at the heart of his whole desire, to be clean, not only of this disease but clean and whole again before God, resorted to faith and to his community.

It felt like a life time, what would Jesus do? Would he be like the others repulsed, turning his back and walk away, just kicking dust up over him,  or would he be like those few righteous people who would toss a few coins to help him out, some alms from arm’s length he used to quip.

The next thing he feels is a hand touching him… The first time in years, human contact genuine reaching out to connect. Across the laws of isolation, across the fear of contamination, a touch that would have made Jesus ritually unclean, but somehow with that touch the opposite happens. Jesus speaks words of authority “I am willing , be clean”. That’s what is happening, the skin disease is goes away, but deeper than that there is a newness and a cleanness that reaches down to the very core of his being, bringing cleanness, not only the disease but that sense of separation from God as well. And with that touch a start of the process of reconnection and restoration with God’s people again is made possible.

 Jesus speaks and gives him instructions, ‘don’t tell anyone, go and see the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleaning, as a testimony to them”.  Just as the law in Leviticus 13 had demanded his separation, now Jesus is telling him to go and fulfil the requirements of the law in Leviticus 14 so that he can be welcomed back, he can go back home, he can feel the embrace of family and friends, the warmth of human connection and community. Jesus had made him clean and healed him and now that needed to be acknowledged and affirmed by the professionals of his day. In doing that he can give thanks to God and let them know the goodness of God, and testify like those of old, that God was able to bring me back across the dark places of illness and distress. It will be hard not to tell people, they will know, they will want to know why and how…

News about Jesus spread more and more, maybe it was the lepers testimony or even without it people heard, people hoped, was Jesus willing to heal them, restore them, bring wholeness to them, make them clean.  Jesus heals them and cares for them he shows his compassion and the willingness of God to welcome back and make whole. It could take up all his time, but Jesus slips away to be by himself  he goes to the lonely places to pray. While the crowd gets caught up in what Jesus is doing it seems that for Jesus there is something more important, he has a healing touch he reaches out to touch and welcome back and to clean and heal, but there in those time away and in prayer he seems to be in touch with something more important, he stays in touch with his Father, he is able to stay focused on the mission that God has for his, to be lead and guided, it allows his hands to reach out more with cleansing and healing, renewal and restoration.

I wonder today do we find ourselves wondering Jesus are you willing… In our minds through our theology and out liturgy, our understanding of God and the words we use to express it we are willing to believe that God is able, even only is it is in an abstract way… but is God willing. There are areas in our life where we know that we are unclean, maybe things fester and infect our souls from the inside, they make us drive people away and keep them at bay, we feel they keep us cut off and away from God. We hide them, from each other maybe even from ourselves and even from God. jesus if you knew how unclean I was how could you love me…. Today I want to ask are you willing… Are you willing to brave the town… to come to Jesus… you see Jesus is willing… you can be clean. Sin sickness pain suffering the things that cripple and separate us he is able he is willing to make clean. He is willing are you willing to come to him?
The hand that touched the leper bought healing and cleansing, restoration and wholeness, that same hand now wounded with nail holes, form the cross where he took on himself all our sin and grief and shame, still reaches out to you today. He is  willing to forgive, be frorgiven, he is willing to heal, be healed, He is willing to restore, be made whole, the spots and blemishes that you see holding you prisoner, keeping you on the edge he will make clean and new again,  he is willing to renew, be free from captivity to the past,  the blight of sadness and suffering, pain and rejection, hurt and abuse. Today know that the hurtful slap of hand and word, disease and pain can be replaced by the healing restoring touch of Jesus. 

I wonder if this morning we hear the words of the leper speaking and the Jesus who invites us to follow him and be part of his revolution of grace asks us are you willing…?
 
Historically Leper colonies and mission to leprosy have been an outworking of this passage, people have been willing to reach out as Jesus did... In the South pacific on the Hawaiian Island of Molokai a leper colony was formed to isolate those with the disease to stop its spread. father Damien was a Belgian Catholic Priest who volunteered to go to this colony to care for those people. To give them physical and spiritual care, advocate for them and  give them dignity. Many followed him to work there. He eventually died of the disease, but is known as the Mother Theresa of the south pacific. One of my childhood memories of mission was the little plastic lighthouses on the mantel piece from the leprosy mission that we would fill with the en cent pieces and five cent pieces that always seem to be left in the bottoms of pockets or purses to help this mission care for and reconcile lepers with their community. These are extensions of Jesus willingness to reach out touch and bring wholeness.

A story form the world today… In villages in Africa and Asia… the girls had been taken away trafficked and sold into sex slavery. But now somehow they had come back, some had simply come back to die, wounded used up sick, kicked out and left as refuse, they had come back hoping to receive at least an ounce of solace and care from their families. Others had been rescued, plucked out courageously from a life of rape and abuse, slavery and servitude. They were met with stony silence and shunned and held at arm’s length as unclean. But the Christians from world vision had come and reached out and touched they  had prepared a home for them taught them new trades and ways to look after themselves and formed them into community, now there were not just tears of pain and sorrow and regret but tears of healing and restoration and even joy, and new life. Someone was willing to be the healing hands of Jesus reaching across the social barrier of isolation and uncleanness. Jesus is willing are you?

But look at your hands…Are you willing even closer to home. The ostracized kid in the class room alone on the playground, cut off on the edge because they look different, they act different because of the cruel words spoken about them… Jesus is willing to offer healing hands and make contact and befriend are we?

That person down the road that everyone just want to wash their hands of. They all just wish that they would go away… Jesus is willing to reach out and welcome in are you?

There just seem to be so many social barriers in the world today… Isolation is one of those diseases that infest our modern urban world… They have braved the town, isolated and alone and it seems hostile and even in this big crowd they are alone… hoping for some contact some care some embrace some sense of community and compassion. Will you hear Jesus small voice whisper I am willing are you?

And…Are you willing to step out of it all and to spend the time alone with God in prayer. To find that compassion and love and wholeness that strength from the masters touch so you can go and bring that touch to those around you… Jesus is willing are you?

Monday, July 13, 2015

Out Into The Deep: Getting Caught up in Jesus, Leaving it all and Gone Fishing (Luke 5:1-11)... Following His Footsteps: The Ministry of Jesus in Luke's Gospel (Part 5)


I’m not a great fisherman…But I’ve got some good fishing stories… Like… The first thing I ever caught was the biggest thing I’ve ever caught…I was ten and had got a fishing rod for Christmas. So after lunch I was practising casting in the backyard of our house and managed to hook the cat…like…The best feed I ever caught while fishing was when I was a teenager, over at Little Oneroa on Waiheke Island. We took a net out along the beach and amidst all the seaweed and crabs we dragged up there was ten dollars, which meant we had a good feed of fish n chips on the way home…like catching 400 flounder on  a single day up north on the Whangaroa harbour… mind you I was helping a friend on a commercial fishing boat, we did have over a quarter of a mile of net out… it wasn’t that exciting because we spent about an hour hauling net up by hand and the whole of the trip back gutting and bagging the flounder for him to sell the next day at the market. And I hate the smell of fish and couldn’t get rid of it for days afterwards.

If you were going to sum up my fishing expertise then you could use the words Simon/Peter says to Jesus “we’ve been fishing all night and haven’t caught a thing…” If I’m honest sometimes life in general feels like that and Church and ministry can feel like that as well.

… Perhaps fishing stories easily come to mind when we read the passage of the call of Simon/Peter and his friends from Luke’s gospel this morning. Where Jesus on the lake side uses the fishing boats like a first century PA system, against all the conventions of fishing he miraculously repays the fishermen with a wonderful catch and the pun Jesus uses to speak of the ministry he was calling Simon/Peter to  ‘from now on you will fish for men’. But amidst the fish it is also a narrative about responding to Jesus, the kind of response which enables us to be part of his revolution of grace, to follow him and be gone fishing.

We are working our way through Jesus ministry in the gospel of Luke… Following his Footsteps…We seen that his ministry revolved round proclaiming the kingdom of God, by teaching people and through signs such as healing and deliverance. In the passage we had read to us today Jesus also starts to call a group of people around him to be part of that ministry. A call that is extended to you and I as well: A call if we are going to use the metaphor Jesus does about fishing, to get caught up in Jesus, follow him and become fishers of men.

Last week we looked at Jesus preforming two miracles and as the people of Capernaum came looking for him he told them that he must move on and preach the Kingdom of God in other towns and villages. While in the beginning of his ministry Jesus teaching is reserved for the synagogues it seems that now people flock to hear him, it has spilled out of the synagogue and into the open air, away from just the Sabbath to every day and everywhere. Gennesaret is an area of the Sea of Galilee just to the west of Capernaum. The Geography of the place sets the scene for the narrative. The shore is a series of inlets which are natural amphitheatres. Jesus couldn’t be heard on the shore and the people were crowding round him, absorbing any sound he was making. But by going out a little ways onto the water he could be heard by everyone. NT Wright says “even to this day, if you get in a boat and push out a little from the shore, you can talk in a quite natural voice and anyone on the slopes of the inlet will hear you clearly-more clearly, in fact if you were right there on the shore with them.”

Simon and his fishing partners are on the shore cleaning their nets after a night’s futile fishing. When asked they are willing to let Jesus use their boats. They push out on to the lake, take the time to make sure the boast don’t drift off, who knows they probably had to give Jesus a health and safety briefing as well before he came on board. We know that Simon has already met Jesus; in fact Jesus had healed his mother-in-law of a fever.  But in showing his willingness to help Jesus we see that Simon at least is open to Jesus ministry, he is willing to help and serve. When I was running a large youth ministry in Rotorua we were always on the lookout for young people who we could train up to be leaders. We would watch and see which young people were willing to do the simple things that we would asked them to do, like sweep up after youth group or help put chairs up or away, or dishes in the kitchen… the ones that did it well without grumbling were the ones we approached about leadership. I had some young people come up and ask about leadership, they told me about their skills and abilities, but when you asked them to do a simple menial task they would either say no, or only do a half-hearted job.  The Christian understanding of leadership is service.

After Jesus finishes speaking, and Simon and his friends would have been rather captive listeners, Jesus tells Simon to go out into the deep and put down his nets. This is an interesting thing for Jesus to say as it goes against the prevailing wisdom when it comes to fishing in galilee. The fish will come close to the surface and in towards shore in the evening which is why Simon and the others had been fishing at night… You don’t catch fish in the lake during the day. Jesus wasn’t a fisherman he was a carpenter turned itinerant preacher. Simon and his partners had already had a frustrating night of fishing where they had not caught anything. Simon’s response is to tell Jesus that, but it is also one of trust…”because you say so, we will do it”. Simon steps out of his comfort zones and follow Jesus into the deep.  The focus of Luke’s gospel is how people respond to Jesus and here we see Simon’s response is one of trust and a willingness to obey. A couple of weeks ago the kids took the service and shared on the parable of the wise man and foolish man building their houses. Jesus said the wise man building his house on the rock was like someone who heard Jesus teaching, his word, and put it in to action in his life, who obeyed. In this little thing Simon shows himself willing to do that. Simon is part of the group that Jesus gives his teaching on being a citizen of the Kingdom of God, in the sermon on the plain in chapter 6, Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount, he is part of that group that Jesus tells about the wise builder. In this little thing of being willing to go out into the deep, against his better judgement probably he shows a willingness to trust Jesus to be willing to be faithful in small things that will lead to bigger things.

 
The result is that as they let down the nets they are amazed by the size of the catch they get. We are supposed to see this as going beyond just a good fishing story to a miracle catch. They need both boats and all hands on deck to bring all the fish in. Like all the miracles it is a sign pointing us to who Jesus is, here we see that Jesus has authority over the natural realm and it is a sign of what he is call Simon/peter to in the future.

 
The focus of the narrative is again on Simon’s response to Jesus. Up until now we see that people are amazed at what Jesus did and said But Simon responds with humility. He goes and bows down before Jesus, he is aware that Jesus is the agent of God. He is not fully aware of who Jesus is just yet, he will be the one who when asked and who do you say I am later in the gospel will say you are the messiah the son of God. He is the one who will deny knowing Jesus three times and he is the one who on that very same shore Jesus will be reconciled with and call him to feed his sheep, he is the one who will proclaim and declare Jesus at Pentecost. But now he is simply aware that there is something special about Jesus. He is aware that there is something holy about Jesus and he is not worthy of being in his presence. He asks Jesus to depart because he Simon is a sinful man. The people in Nazareth thought Jesus was one of them made good and wanted to keep him all to themselves, the people at Capernaum wanted Jesus to stay as well, they saw him as a prophet and a healer, but Simon sees something so much more in who Jesus is. His response is one of humility, in light of who Jesus has revealed himself to be in his reaching and his action Simon becomes aware of his need for God’s forgiveness. That humility and willingness to know our own spiritual condition and poverty is the response that Jesus was looking for.  Simon has been out fishing but finds himself being the one being caught. Some people think that they are quite a catch but Simon is the one who is caught up in the person of Jesus.



Jesus does not respond by walking away rather we see the reality of his revolution of grace. The kingdom of God is for those who know their spiritual poverty and humbly come to Christ. Jesus response is to acknowledge that things have now changed, Do not be afraid, from now on You will be a fisher of men.’ There are not the familiar words ‘follow me” from Matthew and Mark’s gospel, but the intent is the same. This encounter between Simon and Jesus follows that of the call narratives in the Old Testament, there is an epiphany a revelation of the reality of God, a reaction from the person encountering God, like Isaiah’s I am a man of unclean lips of a people of unclean lips, or Moses being aware of his inability to speak well, Jeremiah’s no one will listen to me because I’m too young, then we have a   reassurance from God, don’t be afraid, it seems to be the thing that every angel has to say, it is what God says to those who encounter him,  then we have the commissioning... 'from now on you will fish for men."

Simon and James and John Luke tell’s us drew their boats up left everything and followed Jesus. We can get caught up in what it meant for them to leave everything. What it means for us to leave everything, but they are caught up in following Jesus. Suddenly the priority is not on their possessions or their identity and worth expressed by their occupation but its Jesus. The possessions and identity as fishermen are not important... Later in the gospel there was always a boat when they needed it. After the crucifixion and the resurrection Simon/Peter says lets go back fishing, and he has again to be encountered by Jesus and called to ministry. But these things suddenly become secondary when it comes to following Jesus and being about the ministry of Jesus to the world.

I want to briefly tie this down to us here today…

Firstly… I wonder if one of the reasons we find ourselves saying  “we’ve been fishing all night and haven’t caught a thing” is that we unlike Simon and his friends weren’t willing to leave it all behind to follow Jesus… We wanted to take it with us. Not only things like the boat, and our possession’s but also our identity being wrapped up in who we are and what we do rather than in being caught up in Jesus.  I picked up a women hitching one day on the way to wellington. She was dressed in a business suite and I wondered why she was on the side of the road hitching. It turns out she had had a series of transport issues ad was desperately trying to get to Wellington for a job interview. I asked her what field she was trying to work in and she said ‘public relations’ and she asked me what I did and being rather cheesy I said ‘Oh I’m into public relations to’ ‘Oh she said who do you works for?” ‘Jesus’ I replied… I know it was a bit cheesy, ok very cheesy but we started talking about faith and she said she thought Christianity was anti women and we discussed that issue. I ended up taking her all the way to wellington and dropping her off for her interview.

Secondly, God may not call us out from our occupation or job, but Jesus definitely calls us to have a different priority to realise that when we get caught up in Jesus that everything does change… We maybe a farmer but we are now into harvesting for Jesus, we maybe a student but God has called us to be about showing people Jesus, As we get caught up more and more in Jesus and experience his revolution of grace, We are called out into the deep beyond our ordinary and comfortable lives… Dietrich Bonhoeffer is very challenging when he says ‘when Christ calls a person he tells them to come and die’… we are called to lay down our lives and in what we do and what we say to be about Jesus …to be gone fishing.

In Jesus day Rabbi’s were able to pick their disciples from amongst the best of the best. All Jewish boys would learn the Torah and then the best of those would be picked to study more and then the best of the best would be picked to study with the top rabbi’s. It was kind of like the all blacks in New Zealand. Every child plays rugby, the best get picked for top school teams, the best from there might make the ITM cup, the best from there become super rugby players and the pinnacle is the all Blacks.

But Jesus had a different approach to choosing people to follow him. It was about service openness to do what Jesus said and humility. A good friend of mine once told me something I’ve never forgotten… He said God wasn’t looking for people who knew enough or who had ability rather he was looking for people who were FAT…It’s a acrostic not a weight…FAT is  Faithful, Available and Teachable… these are the prerequisites of being a disciple… of God being able to use us to Gone fishing for men.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Jesus Heals and Liberates: The First Two Miracles of Jesus in Luke's Gospel (Luke 4:31-44)... Following Jesus Footsteps: The Ministry of Jesus in Luke's Gospel (part 4)


 
We encounter Jesus preforming his first miracles in our bible reading today and its pretty much splash into the deep end as the first one is liberating a man from an unclean spirit, then rebuking a fever and having it go away… It very much invites us to step out of our comfort zones as we follow his footsteps.

There are two extremes when it comes to thinking of the demonic... In my life I have meet people who you could say were obsessed with the demonic. They saw a demon behind every bush, every problem, every sickness, everything that went wrong.  I was in a prayer meeting one night for a girl in the church I grew up in who was very sick and dying and I remember one man standing up and saying the reason she wasn’t getting better was that we hadn’t prayed against demonic forces and principalities in the right order… I remember thinking if your God is such a legalist mate I don’t want anything to do with him. In the passage we are going to be looking at today the gospel acknowledges a whole raft of different sources for the cause of difficulty and sickness in life, which is not that comforting really but it is comforting to know  that Jesus has authority in the spiritual and physical realms.

I also know many Christians who deny the existence of the demonic or spiritual realm as NT Wright says they write off Jesus encounter with such things as simply medical conditions that people hadn’t diagnosed in Jesus day. Yet there have been a few times in my own ministry where I have encountered strange spiritual situations, that I associated with the demonic.  One night at a home group I lead the whole gathering was like trying to move in porridge, like a wet blanket of depression covered the place and people. I left at the end of the night wondering what was going on and when I got to the end of the drive way, I felt the Holy Spirit say ‘Howard there was a spirit over that place and I needed to go back and deal with it. Great right…so I went back and told the group what I had sensed the Holy Spirit saying and as I said the name of the spirit the women whose flat it was screamed grabbed her head and fell to the ground.  I’d never dealt with anything like this before, so I explained what I thought was happening to the people there told them there was nothing to be afraid of and we gathered and prayed that the spirit might be gone in Jesus name. The whole atmosphere changed and the women got up and was able to say that whatever it was had gone  and she felt a real peace and joy in herself and in that  place.  It led to the other people in the group openly sharing what was going on in their lives and a very powerful time of prayer and the Holy Spirit ministering to people. As we saw in the reading we had today the Kingdom of God is about freedom and release.

We are working our way through Luke’s Gospel looking at the Ministry of Jesus, following his footsteps…  we took a break last week and the kids took the service, it was great  but before that we had looked at Jesus in hishome town where he had opened the scroll of Isaiah and read out a passage which acted as a sort of mission statement for what Jesus was about,

‘the spirit of the Lord is upon me,

 he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor,

 Release to the captives,

 Recovery of sight to the blind,

 to set the oppressed  free,

to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”  

In the passage we had read to us today Luke invites us to see how that mission statement, that revolution of God’s grace and release  starts to work its self out in the Ministry of Jesus.

The passage we had read out revolves around two miracles stories: The freeing of the man with the unclean spirit in the synagogue at Capernaum, and the healing at Simon’s house of his mother in Law. They are placed in the context of Jesus teaching and preaching ministry. It starts with Jesus coming to Capernaum and preaching at the synagogue and it finishes with Jesus spending time with God and affirming that God’s call on his life is to go to many towns and villages with the good news of the Kingdom of God… That is the first time Jesus uses ‘the kingdom of God’ in Luke’s gospel. Jesus ministry is to proclaim the new way of living in relationship with God, and he is to show that in healing and release in people’s lives.

 
In each of the parts of this reading we see people response to Jesus. All the way through Luke’s gospel we are shown that who Jesus is and what he teaches and does calls for us to respond. The people are amazed at his teaching and they see he has authority. Elsewhere in the gospels he is contrast with the teaching of the rabbi’s in that. The rabbi’s would teach in a manner where they would quote this rabbi or that rabbi as a precedent about how to understand scripture, but as Darryl Bock puts it ‘Jesus declares God’s will directly even keeping his direct use of scripture to a few limited citations.’  The people are amazed that this authority even goes to speaking to demons and to physical illness and those things obey him.  People respond in the narrative by bringing others to him to heal and liberate. They respond by wanting him to stay with them, as we move on in the gospel Jesus call will be I’m not staying with you rather come and follow me. When we meet Jesus response is inevitable. As we seen some responded like you can on face book by simply pushing the like button with no real engagement,  as we work our way through Luke we are invited to see more and more what it means for us to respond positively to who Jesus is.  

The miracles themselves speak in so many different ways about Jesus and his mission and his Kingdom.  

They speak of his revolution of Grace…The people in Nazareth had been upset that Jesus revolution of God’s grace seemed to be for the wrong people. Here we start to see how Jesus good news for the poor release for the prisoner is worked out. Someone who was identified as a having an unclean spirit would have been ostracized seen as being on the outside. They would have been classed as a sinner, or cursed. Perhaps, it is the same kind of stigma that is attached to people who suffer from mental illness today that we are trying to break down. Jesus however shows the person God’s mercy and grace and brings liberty. By the way I’m not making a connection between the demonic and mental illness per sae, Luke’s gospel is very quick in the narrative to point out that what is oppressing or possessing these people are spiritual beings and we see that they are very aware of who Jesus is, through the passage they are the ones who acknowledge Jesus as the ‘Holy one of Israel, the son of God, the messiah, Jesus tells them to be quite because he does not need their testimony, it is not mental illness or delusional behaviour.  Simon’s Mother-in-law was living with Simon which means she was a widow and had no son to look after her, which meant she fit the definition of the poor mentioned in Isaiah and she would have been marginalised in her society, but it shows Simons kindness nd also Jesus compassion in healing her. As the sun goes down and the Sabbath ends people respond to this revolution by bringing people suffering from all kinds of illness to Jesus, it’s like the revalation of God’s grace and compassion allows them to do that.

The miracles speak of the release and liberation that this revolution of grace brings. We should not be surprised that as Jesus had already encountered Satan and overcome him in the desert that as he proclaims God’s reign and God’s agenda of freedom, grace and justice that he should encounter and defeat Satan’s foot soldiers.  Most of us without knowing it owe our image of the demonic more to such works as Dante’s inferno than scripture, some people have a very highly developed demonology, but in this passage Luke uses three words, to try and explain what Jesus is dealing with, ‘Spirit’ ‘unclean’ and ‘demon’, he is basically saying that what Jesus is dealing with is the antithesis of the Holy Spirit that comes from God.  Joel Green says that the mission of Jesus is set against these demonic forces, for they are at variance with God’s purposes for human wholeness. God’s purpose is for us to find freedom and wholeness in Christ and when we see these unclean spirits in scripture they are bent on the opposite destruction and oppression of humanity.   

But it goes beyond that… The coming of God’s anointed one is an onslaught against all the powers of evil, be they spiritual or physical, like diseases and illness, on an individual level as we see in these case or systemic as we see as we move on through the gospel. As we see Jesus teaching and ministry come into conflict with the political and religious powers of his day. And as we move though the gospel we see Jesus call people to be an alternative kingdom, people who live out the grace and justice and mercy of God.  next week in Luke 5 we will see him calling people to come and follow him, establishing that new people of God and then in Luke 6, in what is called the sermon on the plain, because it contains so much of Matthews, sermon on the mount, that Jesus gives them instruction of a new way to live, a human society that is set free to live out the reign of God.

 I want to finish by saying three quick things…

Firstly, where we allow Jesus presence and teaching to come it brings liberty and wholeness and life. WE are quite happy to see this in terms of people’s lives being turned around, freedom for addiction or sin we are not so sure about healing… Often when the miracles in the gospel are preached on there is the debate over whether God still moves in the miraculous today as in Jesus day. Does God heal? Does God set free? It’s a serious question because often people will say well praying for healing isn’t it just giving people false hope? John Blanchard’s response is ‘that while God uses the body’s natural mechanism drugs, medicare and medical skill to restore people to health today, he also works directly and by miraculous means. Do we limit God by locking this kind of healing away within the covers of the Bible?

Secondly, where we allow Jesus presence and teaching to come it brings liberty and wholeness and life. It means that we will come into contact and opposition with forces arrayed against God’s kingdom. Spiritual forces, physical forces, human forces... political and systemic. It is important for us to be aware of that and also to be aware that we have the presence of the same Holy Spirit that Jesus did with us and that Jesus has the authority over those powers. By his life and death and resurrection he has broken the powers of sin and death, and as his kingdom has come the power of sin and death and evil to oppress and bind is broken in his name. We can have courage and hope facing those things, at an individual level and a systemic level. Some will be overcome miraculously some by sacrificial service and perseverance proclaiming and living out the Kingdom of God.

Lastly, where we allow Jesus presence and teaching to come it brings liberty and wholeness and life. This morning I want to invite you to be still to encounter Jesus presence here with us today by the power of the Holy Spirit. Are there areas in your life where you know you feel that spiritual oppression or you just can’t seem to be free of that are holding you back from knowing a fullness of life in Christ… I invite you to ask Jesus to shine the light of his presence into those areas. Physical issues and troubles offer them up to Jesus as well… 

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Jesus revolution of grace... a hostile homecoming (Luke 4:14-30) Following hi Footsteps: the Ministry of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke (part 3)


God has used the passage we had read out to us today to give me very specific guidance in my life. I used to work as the Youth Coordinator for Auckland presbytery, way back in the 1990’s.  I was in the job four years and  I asked the trust that I was employed through to have the job paid on the same basis as an ordained minister. It was an attempt to have youth ministry more fully recognised as a valid ministry in the church. What I didn’t foresee was that as the conditions changed that the trust would re-advertise the job. And I could apply if I wanted… which I did… At the same time Jim Wallace from St John’s in Rotorua was the speaker at the labour weekend camp out at Hunua… He just happened to be looking for a parish assistant/ youth pastor and suggested I apply, which I did, as a back-up plan.  Kris and I decided if we were offered the Youth coordinators job we’d stay put. However we got a ring from Jim down in Rotorua who said that they wanted us to go down there and they wanted a reply from us, before the group up in Auckland were due to finish their process. We actually had to make a decision. 

AS I was praying I felt to open my bible to look for guidance and God lead me to this passage in Luke 4. Specifically the part where Jesus says ‘A prophet is without honour in their own country’ and talking about Elijah and the widow of Zaraphath and the Elisha and Naaman the Syrian leper. I could have served God and ministered in either place but I sensed God was calling us away from what is my home, Auckland to go to Rotorua…We had six very fruitful and rewarding years there till we sensed God’s call to ordained ministry and moved to Dunedin for training.

On a personal level that is a way this passage has helped me follow Jesus but as we carefully study this passage there is so much more for us about following his footsteps. We are systematically working our way through Jesus ministry in Luke gospel. In the passage we had today we are told Jesus went about teaching and here we are let into what that teaching was like. At the beginning of Jesus ministry he shares from the book of Isaiah a passage that encapsulates his mission, in modern business speak you could say it’s Jesus Mission statement’. But it also challenges us about how we respond and react to Jesus, because Jesus teaching leads to his home coming being very hostile.

Last week we followed Jesus out into the wilderness and through trials and temptations. We saw that Jesus faced the same kind of temptations we do and that he overcame them with the same resources that we have from God. We saw that it was the Holy Spirit that filled Jesus at his baptism that lead Jesus out into the wilderness and now leads Jesus to galilee in power to begin his ministry. The Holy Spirit will always led us to minister to other people, and will empower us to do so.

The focus of this early passage is Jesus teaching ministry in galilee, but in what Jesus says to his hometown crowd about them expecting to see what Jesus had done in Capernaum, he was also doing miracles, healing people. Two stories of Jesus healing ministry follow right on from the passage we read today as well.  Darryl Bock summarises ‘His message of love was supported by his compassion’. Both are done in the Power of the Holy Spirit… The manifesto of the Holy Spirit is supported by the manifestations of the Holy Spirit.

The setting for what we are looking at is the synagogue in Jesus hometown, where Jews had gathered for public worship, prayer and to hear the scriptures read and expounded. People will often say do I need to go to church to be a follower of Jesus and one the ways I respond to that is that it was Jesus custom to go to worship and pray and hear the scriptures with others. It is a model for us

At the heart of this passage is the reading from the book of Isaiah. Philip Yancy in his book ‘the Jesus I never knew’ summarises Jesus teaching as a revolution of God’s grace. That is bought out here in this reading that Jesus said was being fulfilled in the hearing of the people gathered in that place.  It is the mission God has anointed Jesus to do. To bring good news to the poor proclaim freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free and proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.

It is interesting that historically this has been taken in two different ways. Some will see it as Jesus ministry in spiritual terms. The poor are those who are spiritual poor. Those who are prisoners and oppressed spiritually by sin and death can be set free and forgiven and liberated. The acceptable year of the Lord is referring to the year of jubilee in the Old Testament a time in Israel that was to be about all debts being cancelled, land being restored to their original owners, the land being left fallow to heal and be reinvigorated. We can see that in terms of forgiveness and restoring what the brokenness of this world has inflicted on them.

Others see here a very real call for societal change. It is Good news for the poor that God cares for them and welcomes them to come to him. The poor in Jewish thought were not only those who were physically poor but those of low social status who were marginalised and ostracised. That God’s sides with the oppressed and dispossessed to bring justice, to see real change made debt cancelled a just use and distribution of resources.

 Recovery of sight for the blind is seen in both ways as physical healing and also those who are spiritually blind receiving sight.

Both sides are correct in understanding this passage. It is about salvation and it is about social justice. It is about the holistic grace of God: The spiritual poor and the physical poor receiving good news of acceptance and blessing and care from God; The politically and the spirit prisoners receiving grace and mercy and justice; The oppressed finding real freedom in Christ; the redistribution of wealth; The they didn’t hold on what they had but gave it to those in need of the Acts 2 church. It is the faith and works that we saw in James, that our faith calls us to care and love the poor both by sharing our faith with them and our resources.  In the prologue to his gospel Luke tells us that he is giving an orderly account and the last encounter with Jesus before his entrance into Jerusalem is with the tax collector Zacchaeus. You know the short guy up the tree that we remember from children’s stories. Zacchaeus is presented as the prime example of what it means to respond to Christ. He is the example of what Jesus ministry and this revolution of grace is all about. He is ostracised considered cut off from God, caught up in the oppressive roman tax collection system. He meets Jesus and his life is transformed, he offers to make restitution for all the money he has stolen, and he gives half his money to the poor. Meeting Jesus having Jesus minister the love and grace of God into our lives brings transformation and calls us to be about God’s justice and mercy. At the end of this encounter Jesus restates his mission statement he’s had three years to think and reflect on it and he boils it down to ‘the son of man has come to seek and save the lost’ Zacchaeus shows us the extent of that mission just before Jesus passion and the scope of that mission in terms of societal change and justice as well. 

The challenging thing about this passage however is how Jesus audience responded to what he is saying. They are amazed but somehow they become hostile and determined to do away with Jesus.

At first they are amazed at what they are hearing. In the gospel Jesus is acknowledged as speaking with great authority, great insight. They wonder if this could be the same Jesus that had grown up amongst them. I’ve gone back to the church I grew up in a few times to preach and part of the response I get is this warm acceptance, here is one of our own made good. They are probably surprised that the long haired, barefooted, scruffy monosyllabic grunting teenager has changed and is a passable preacher. I wonder if some of us don’t have an image of who Jesus is, in this case it was “isn’t he the son of joseph”, and we are offended and upset  when Jesus steps out of that image and understanding. Jesus does not fit comfortably with the religious ideas and constructs that we place on him. He is about the purposes and mission of God, a revolution of grace that does tend to call us out to our comfort zones. Philip Yancy mentions the three different Jesus he had met in his life, I’m paraphrasing here … as he was growing up the Sunday school Jesus, meek and mild, the university radical Jesus, untamed and wild, the suburban Jesus, tamed and styled and that as he looked again at Jesus he found someone more wonderful & more challenging than that.

Secondly, in Jesus use of the proverb ‘physician heal yourself’ Jesus sees that the people were looking for Jesus to do the same things that he had done in Capernaum… They wanted to see the spectacular, and the healings. They wanted the manifestations of the Holy Spirit but they didn’t want the manifesto, the revolution of grace and justice to those outside their understanding of who was acceptable to God. They were happy to see Jesus as a home town hero, but not see Jesus for who he was God’s special anointed one, the messiah. We can be like that as well. We can turn the gospel into being about Jesus meeting our needs, and yes Jesus dos care, Jesus is able to provide, Jesus does hear our prayer, Jesus does heal and provide.  We can think it revolves around the Just us of God and not the justice of God… The me-ssion of Jesus and not the mission of God.


Lastly, the people in the synagogue were hostile to the fact that Jesus revolution of grace went beyond the boundaries of their understanding of God’s blessing. The Jews were looking for their messiah who would free them politically from roman rule, would establish them as the rich and powerful and punish and defeat all their enemies. But Jesus wasn’t that kind of messiah, the revolution of grace goes beyond that. The passage from the book of Isaiah is part of a series of God’s call to Israel to be about caring for the poor, being a light to the nations to the nations of what God’s rule and nature is like by the way they care for those who are disadvantaged. Jesus identifies with the prophets of old who called Israel to that and were rejected and killed and he points them to the example of God’s grace shown in Elijah and Elisha in 1 and 2 kings. It would have angered His audience because this was a time of great apostasy of Israel, it is the reign of Ahab and Jezebel who led Israel astray. But also it was an example of the kind of grace Jesus is talking about. There was great need in Israel during the time of famine, and here were many lepers in Israel, but God showed his mercy to the widow at Zarephath, outside of whom the religious people thought was ‘in’ as it were, a woman and a widow and a gentile. Cared for and miraculously provided for. Naamun was a Syrian leper, unclean and untouchable, a gentile and what’s worse an enemy of Israel. What riled Jesus audience wasn’t the grace of God so much as the fact that God was showing grace to the wrong people in their eyes. Isn’t that as challenging for us today?

It calls us out to show love and care to those outside to be about the mission and grace of Jesus…to offer the hope of Christ… The narrative finishes with the crowds taking Jesus to a cliff to throw him off. Ironically it is the very situation he had found himself in during his temptations. In this case God does save him and protect him. The temptation as to put Jesus to the test, but here we see God able to protect those who are about his purposes. Jesus time had not yet come… We often want to know God’s presence and protection and provision, but it is as we move out into God’s mission and purposes that we will see them.