Sunday, August 23, 2015

Chosen to be sent: He looked to his disiples and said (Luke 6:12-20): Following His Footsteps: The Ministry of Jesus in Luke's Gospel (part 11)

Next Sunday there is going to be a very important team naming… The selectors have been contemplating it and working hard behind the scenes for the past four years … Senior players have been peaking for it, new talent has been scouted, discovered and cultivated,  they’ve tried out people to see how they fit into the team environment, sweated injury worries and form slumps, there may be last minute bolters and forced changes. Talk back speculates, paper columns are filled, everyone makes their picks there is only one thing everyone agrees on; this time good people are going to be left out.  The  players nervously wait and wonder… Will they take four locks or an extra loosie?  Three half backs or two? Will it be specialist backups or versatile all-rounders? Have I done enough? … and we await the announcement of the thirty one man All Black’s world cup squad…

It’s a different process, a different purpose, a different number, different names but the passage we had read out to us today revolves round a team naming.  Jesus picks his leadership team from amidst his growing number of disciples. It shows us how Prayer is a significant part of Jesus decision making process and it gives us some good insight into leadership in the church as we look to follow his footsteps.

It’s also a critical turning point in Luke’s gospel and Jesus ministry.   It serves as an introduction to Jesus teaching on what it means to follow him, Luke’s sermon on the plain. Jesus is still about proclaiming the revolution of grace in word and deed, we see that in his healing ministry, bringing release and wholeness, but he now moves to include  instructing his disciples in how to live in a way that expresses that revolution: As Darryl Bock summarises, “It’s a call to exceptional love in light of the offer of God’s gracious blessing.” Next week we’ll start a series looking at that teaching called “plain talking from Jesus.

Last week in two conflict stories revolving around Sabbath observance we’d seen how Jesus and his revolution of grace was coming  more and more into conflict with the Pharisees and scribes of the law, the religious leadership of the day. The passage had ended with those religious leaders responding with over the top irrational anger and deciding that they must do something about Jesus. How is Jesus going to respond to this? What is Jesus next step?

How Jesus deals with this opposition is helpful to us. Firstly Jesus allows himself some breathing room, we see that he doesn’t as much react and our emotional gut reaction to adverse situations is the hardest to really control, but he takes the time to think and reflect before responding. Luke uses a temporal connection with what had gone on previously to tell us that it was on one of those days that Jesus went up to the mountain to pray. I don't know about you but I'm actually pleased to know that Jesus had some 'one of those days" . but how he hadnles it shows that Jesus takes the time to settle, that he takes time to go and pray; To spend time bringing the situation to God.  He seeks God’s face for the way forward. As should we… Ministry and church life should be saturated and started in prayer.

In Israel’s past going to the mountain to pray speaks of firstly encountering the presence of God: Moses encounters the burning bush at Mt Horeb, the same mountain where he encounters God and is given the law. Elijah also goes to Horeb to pray and meets God after the earthquake and rushing wind in the still quite voice. The mountain is also where God’s people seek fresh revelation. Moses is sent to Egypt with the message ‘let my people go’, the law is given, Elijah is strengthened and given a way forward which includes a succession plan. Jesus comes down from the mountain with a definite plan of the way forward.

The second thing Luke says is that he spends the night praying to God, there is a sense here of relationship. It has the sense of a conversation with God. The name Israel means to wrestle with God, Jacob is given it after he wrestled with God or an angel, god’s messenger, in the ancient near east a messenger from a king was to be seen as having the same gravitas as the king himself.  So we have the picture here of prayer being a wrestling with God. When Jesus comes down again he has come to a place of peace and has come to know what God’s plans and purposes are. Often we can see prayer as basically giving God a shopping list rather than to and froing of wrestling to find the way forward.

The way forward is innovative and prophetic…  Jesus choses twelve from his disciples who he designates apostles, or sent ones. While with the All Black’s it’s a process of picking the best and greatest, here in response to prayer we see that the choosing is God’s will, the number is God’s will and the people chosen have been revealed in that time of prayer. We see in choosing twelve that this is Jesus response to the opposition and rejection of the religious leaders of his day. Twelve was an important number in Jewish history it was from the twelve sons of Israel that the nation itself was born. Here we see the beginning of a new people of God, a new leadership, A new group that would carry on Jesus ministry after he had gone. It’s interesting in our world we often choose the most qualified and best to be leaders or take on chief rolls, but here we see that it is the sovereign choosing of God. Jesus revolution of grace had shown that Jesus called fishermen and tax collectors to come and follow him, what he looked for in leaders was the willingness to be with him, to learn from him, to serve with him. When you look back at the scriptures of the Old Testament you see it’s the same, God chooses people and their response is to acknowledge they are not up to the task… Moses, had run away after killing a Egyptian guard and he had a speech impediment, Jeremiah was aware of his young age, Isaiah was aware that he as a man of unclean lips, of a people of unclean lips, David’s brothers who had more of the physical attributes and were trained warriors were amazed that God should anoint their younger brother king. God chose Israel not because it was the biggest or the best amongst the nations far from it, rather it was because they were the smallest and the least.  God chooses, God equips, god enables, and if we remain faithful teachable and available, god can make us fruitful.

I think I’ve told you one of the episodes that God used to call me to ministry. I’m not a morning person…I had been working as a youth pastor at St John’s in Rotorua. It had been a long weekend, an all-nighter, I think and a late Sunday service and I was dead tired. I’d slept in till about 9;30 although Kris will tell you it was closer to eleven. One of Kris’ friends had come round to visit, the kind of Christian that can smile early in the morning before their first cup of coffee. She said hello to me in that happy joyful way, and I always the pastoral sort retored with a grunt and said ‘It’s my day off I don’t have to be nice to you today’ to which she replied… You’re going to make a great minister Howard.’ My ego kicked in and I though why thank you… and then she hammered it home… “yes your so flawed there is hope for the rest of us.” But God used that to let me know he was calling me faults foibles and all to ordained ministry… It is his calling and while I’ve worked on those flaws it is still God’s calling and leading.

When you have a look of the names of the twelve it tells us about Christian leadership as well.  Apart from telling what were the popular names in Jewish families at the time, most of them were named after the heroes of the Maccabean revolt.   We are told it starts with Simon, now called Peter, ,  and that it is Jesus who gave him that name, which means rock. It reflects the basis on which Jesus would found his church, at the end of the sermon on the plain he talks of building ones house on rock being the one who hear God’s word and puts it into practise in their lives. This is what God is going to build his church on, and Peter as the key leader, reminds us of that.  It’s good for us here at St Peter’s to be reminded of that… God builds his church by his people hearing his word and putting it into practise.

Andrew is Peter’s brother and John and James are the other fishermen we have meet before. Matthew is another name for Levi, and when Jesus meets people it brings change and Levi is able to have a new start in life with a new name. It’s interesting that in Luke’s sequel Acts that apart from Peter, john, James and Phillip that the others do not feature in the expanse of the church. It’s hard to argue from silence but within leadership people have different roles and tasks some that propel them to prominence and other that are equally important but are often leaves them in the background. There is diversity in the group as well… the other Simon is called the zealot to differentiate him from Simon who Jesus called Peter. The Zealots were a political movement who believed in armed struggle and violence to  free Judea from roman rule, they were the freedom fighters/ terrorists of their day, this Simon would have found it uncomfortable being in a group with a tax collector, who he saw as a collaborator with the romans. Philip is a Greek name and would have been a Hellenistic Jew whereas the others were from galilee. It easy  for a leadership team to mistake group speak and conformity for unity and peace, but we need diversity in leadership and how we work that is an expression of the way we reflect Jesus love to one another. In a church that weird person who thinks differently just may be a gift from God to open us up to new possibilities. 

When we are working with people there is always risk as well…Luke is upfront in acknowledging Judas Iscariot as being the one who became a traitor, and the calling of God and being with Jesus is no automatic guarantee that people will keep the faith. In our reformed tradition one of the ways of looking and seeing a genuine faith in Christ is the idea of perseverance.  Keep on going and growing till the end, till going home to glory. I have some interesting discussions this week about family friends who had solid dynamic faiths who now don’t want anything to do with God and the shock and pain that causes, a pain that has been with Jesus followers from the beginning.

Jesus is choosing this twelve to act as those who will be able to carry on his ministry after he has gone… In modern business speak Jesus is all about succession planning. He is aware that his mission and revolution of grace will lead to the cross and while he continues proclaiming his revolution of God’s grace he looks to develop those who will be able to see and witness to the reality of who he is and what God wants to do.  In this passage we see he continues to proclaim that and to heal and set free those troubled by unclean spirits, but it also tells us that he looks to his disciples and begins to teach them. We see it with paul as well in the rest of the new testament he always had a team of people who he building up for ministry, chief amongst them is Timothy, just as Bartameus had done with him.  The success of a ministry is only usually seen in what happens when a minister goes, that there are people to step up and take that persons place. The test of leadership is not often seen until it is time for them to step aside and there are many people who are willing and able to step into their role, even go beyond what they have done.  At St John’s one of our key worship leaders moved away and he came to us and said “well I guess that’s the end of the youth worship team”, but we were able to choose two 15 year olds from the guys he had taught and encouraged to take over and they did a great job,  one of them is now employed as a worship and creative ministries pastor at C3 down the road the other is a worship leader in nelson about to release his first live worship album. If you are involved in ministry the key thing is that it is to be given away not held to yourself. One of the things I value was the way people were willing to give me opportunities to minister and lead, when I was young and I feel this week that challenge to do likewise.

Finally, the twelve were called to be Jesus special messengers his apostles they were called to be sent, in the Christian faith leadership is about role not status, service not finally making it. We are all called to discipleship, to know and to grow so that we can express exceptional love in response to God’s generous offer of grace. When Jesus begins his sermon on the plains it tells us he looked to his disciples, not just the twelve but the large number that were with him from all over the area, both Jewish areas and gentile areas like Tyre and Sidon.  We may not all hear our names read out in an all black’s line up, particularly if we actually want to win the world cup, but We are all called to grow in our faith to grow as followers of Jesus. We may not all get to go to  the world cup  but we are all called to be sent, it’s interesting in Luke’s gospel that the twelve are sent out on a short term mission trip and later Jesus send out the seventy two, it’s like Jesus wants more and more of us to witness and be his messengers. It’s the call that is at the heart of our mission statement as a church we are called to be a sustainable, vibrant and authentic community, growing as followers of Jesus, and inspiring others to join us on that journey of following his footsteps… It’s about discipleship, it’s about mission that comes from us being with him… we are called to be sent.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Be It Amidst the Rigid Religious Rules or Relentless Recent Rush, the Son Of Man Is Lord Of The Sabbath (Luke 6:1-11)... Following His Footsteps: The Ministry of Jesus In Luke's Gospel (part 10)

In my life time the attitude to Sunday as the Lord ’s Day of rest have changed greatly. AS a child I remember the great deserted wasteland that the centre of Auckland was on a Sunday.  You could almost imagine the tumbleweeds rolling down Queen Street like it was some western ghost town, now the city advertises itself as a place where the show never ends. Now Queen Street is alive with hustle and bustle on Sundays as much as any other day.

I was at Eden park last night with my sons for the Bledisloe decider and I remembered going to my first test match there… the 1987 rugby world cup final.. I gone with friends who’d spent most of the previous night making a banner saying ‘thank God it’s Saturday… Micheal Jones fan club’… Michael Jones was the all black no 7, the Richie McCaw of his day. As a Christian had made a stand not to play on Sunday… The semi-final had been the first test in New Zealand played on a Sunday and he hadn’t played… we wanted to honour and support him. I’d like to think he payed us back by scoring a try right in front of us and that sign. It was the amateur era then and I wonder how many players could make that kind of stand in the professional era and still have a job…?  

There are places in the world that still hold to  Sabbath observance A facebook friend commented recently on being home in Samoa and realising how Kiwi he had become when he went for have his daily exercise on Apia Park and was told by a security guard… no training today its’ Sunday.

I’m not bemoaning that those things have changed or looking back wistfully to an idealised and more Christianised past. But  I wonder if rediscovering the real idea of Sabbath, as a day of rest unto the lord, isn’t as important and relevant for us today amidst the pressure of the relentless rush to be a  24/7 world,  as it was in Jesus day amidst the pressure of the  rigid religious rules that were enacted to protect the Sabbath ? In both settings it’s important for us to know what it means to Sabbath and what it means that ‘the son of man is Lord of the Sabbath’. It is important for us as we look to follow his footsteps.

The passage we had read out to us today comes as a climax of Jesus early ministry. It shows us how Jesus revolution of grace leads him further and further into conflict with the religious leaders, ideas and forms of his day. It is two narratives that tell of Jesus conflict with the Pharisees over Sabbath observance. They are held together by Jesus statement that the Son of Man is the Lord of the Sabbath in verse 5.

As we saw in our Old Testament reading, part of the Ten Commandments is to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy: To set aside one day in the week for rest and to be able to focus on God and God’s saving acts. We are told that in Egypt Israel had been slaves, there had been no rest they were at the beck and call of their masters, but as God’s people they were to be different. The ability to rest and focus on more than simply toiling was something for all: Rich and poor, free and slave even for their animals. It was a justice issue; you could see that it was the beginning of labour laws like our forty hour week. It was a religious issue, as it called people to set aside labour and their endeavours and their focus on making ends meet or getting ahead to realise and reflect on the fact that there was something more important than that, mainly the God who called them into relationship with himself and his merciful salvation and the blessing he had given. For the Jews Sabbath was from sunset Friday (when they say the day end and begin) to sunset Saturday, It involved family meals and public worship, as well as rest. In the Christian world we have used Sunday, the first day of the week, when we remember Jesus rose from the dead.

During the second temple period, after return form exile, Sabbath observance became a very important marker of Jewish piety and identity. To protect people from breaking the Sabbath ban on working rules and regulations were put in place. What constituted work was tightly defined.

It was like that classic ad about whether a man wearing speedo’s is wearing togs or undies, and how it depends on how far he is from the beach… togs, togs, togs (ok) but after a few more steps Undies (not Ok). You could walk a certain distance on the Sabbath but after that it became work.  Somethings were Ok others not. I remember a set of camp rules at Hunua Falls that reflected some of that in Christian era as well, one of the rules was  no games on a Sunday. Keeping the rules of the day became more important than the focus on God’s goodness and salvation.

In the first conflict story, Jesus and his disciples pluck grain from the fields and eat it on the Sabbath.  It’s not the plucking of the grain that was wrong, parts of every field were set aside for travellers, rather it was the when. Part of the regulations revolved around harvesting, and by plucking the grain, rubbing their hands together to remove the husks and eating it they were in the Pharisees eyes guilty of harvesting, winnowing, and preparing food all banned as work.

Jesus defends his disciples, isn’t that good for us to be reminded as we face criticism, that Jesus is the one who will provide us the words we need.  He tells them the story of David and his men when they were hungry and perused by Saul eating the show bread on the altar that was reserved for the priests.  It was intended to show the Pharisees that the laws were not there to deprive people of their basic needs, as Jesus says in mark’s gospel, the Sabbath was for people, not people for the Sabbath. By referring them to King David Jesus is also pointing to himself as being in that Davidic line and place as well. He is the anointed king waiting for his coronation.

By saying that he is the Lord of the Sabbath, Jesus claims the authority, not the scribes and the Pharisees to rightly interpret and apply the scriptures. To understand properly God’s purpose for the Sabbath and how it fits into God’s liberating revolution of grace, rather than a religion of restraints. It is a sign post for as well that we need to interpret scripture through the lens of Jesus. We look at the whole of the Old Testament law through the lens of Jesus.

In the second story we see that Jesus actually does respect and keep the Sabbath, he comes to the synagogue for public worship and is invited to preach. Sabbath observance is important for Jesus, but his understanding of what that means is more about the compassion and love of God than external observation. We are told that the Pharisees and the scribes are present to spy on Jesus; they are looking for excuses to accuse him. Will Jesus break the Sabbath law by healing someone? In Jewish understanding it was Ok to heal and treat someone if it was a life threatening situation but if it was not life threatening then the person could wait till after the Sabbath.

Jesus sees a man with a withered hand and as he proclaims God’s revolution of grace he also wants to demonstrate it . While the withered hand wasn’t life threatening, Luke’s observation that it as his right hand shows that it would have stopped him from being able to pursue a livelihood. It was compassionate to heal the man and not make him wait any longer.  So he invites the man to stand and knowing what the Pharisees are thinking asks the question… “Is it right to do good or to do evil on the Sabbath?”. It’s a question they would be reluctant to answer. There is irony in it because they are there spying on Jesus planning on catching him out so they can accuse him. If they answer its Ok to do good and Jesus heals the man then they are saying that Jesus is doing good.

Jesus tells the man to stretch out his hand and it is restored to wholeness. Again Jesus is showing his understanding of genuine Sabbath observance that it is about the compassion and grace of God. The Pharisees we are told are furious at this. The word used means anger beyond rational thought and we see that they want to do something against Jesus; they use the Sabbath to do evil.

How does this all apply to us?

Firstly, the idea of Sabbath rest is as important for us as it was for the people of Israel and for the people in Jesus day. Remember it’s a justice issue; the ability to rest shouldn’t be a luxury item for the wealthy in our society. Yet there is increasing pressure put on people to work longer and longer hours to make ends meet. The poor have more than one job because of low wages or poor conditions. We celebrate the institution of the forty hour week with Labour Day, It was designed to be a sign of a just and caring society that did not exploit and wear its workers out for the sake of economic endeavour. That needs to be protected; it impacts on minimum wages, living wages and working conditions.

It is also important that we have Sabbath in our lives to set aside time to realise that there is more important things in life than work and making a living. It actually takes time to do that. As Christians public worship I believe is part of that process of reflection. It says as a community of faith this is important.  The Sabbath was set up prophetically in response to slavery   and it is easy for us to find ourselves enslaved to the grind of consumerism and capitalism and forget that there is things that are more significant: someone more significant. The way many view Sabbath is to simply relax and have a chance to recharge for the coming week, hopefully to catch up with family and self. Our Sabbath is competed with between the pull of so many different things. We actually need to learn the discipline of resting.


In his book ‘the good and beautiful God’ James Bryan Smith   says that the number one enemy of Christian Spiritual Formation is exhaustion. The number one spiritual disciple in his book is ‘get some more rest get more sleep’. With electricity we’ve pushed back the hours of darkness, with electronic media we’ve found ways to relax where are minds are actually stimulated rather than quietened and rested. Instead of going to bed we may veg in front of the TV or more commonly these days our own personal devises. There is more demand for productivity, efficiency demands to produce and Smith says we are over extended physically, emotionally and financially.  We need to make Sabbath rest more a part of our lives.  

In his wonderful book ‘SoulSalsa’ Leonard Sweet encourages some artistic ways to create rest spaces in our day. You see time has become the number one scares item in our world. We need make time to stop to and catch our breath. To catch ones breath by the way is the root of the word Sabbath. Sweet suggests we need to learn to breathe deeply and to de centralise our Sabbath to become every day practises; As the Psalm says ‘This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it”. It’s more than just having the discipline of bible reading and prayer in your day, the old quite time… but This is the day to simply stop to breathe deeply. To find sacred space in waste spaces and waste the time to go and sit and enjoy places… church, a beach, the bush places that the Celtic saints called thin places, where the veil between the spiritual and the physical world is thin. We need to slow the flow… even if it to allow ourselves those MEGO moments…”my eyes glaze over”; where we may not leave the room we are in but we leave the room we are in.

Take micro sabbaticals, look out the window focus on some part of God’s creation, even in our urban wonder and waste. I was in my office on my day off (which sounds bad right) it was a cold morning and I looked out at these two sparrows sheltering in the bush and just watched them for a while. God spoke to me of his provision and love. He cares even for the sparrow. Finally Sweet says we need time to stop the flow,  we live in a world where we are bombarded by messages, images, and the electronic chirpings of  notifications and reminders and we need to stop that and turn it off and give ourselves space to simply be.

Also we need to be reminded that the son of man is the Lord of the Sabbath that it is not primarily about external observances, rules and regulations but that it’s about an internal response to the grace and the love of God. That true religious observance focuses on God’s grace and is expressed in compassion for others. I hope that as we come to church and worship together that we might encounter that compassion and love of God in our lives. You come with a withered hand or a withered heart or withered spirit and encounter the healing and restoring power and love of Jesus Christ in this place in this rest: Through the service or through the service of your brothers and sisters in Christ.  And that Sabbath observance becomes part of our lives as we take that attitude with us.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

A prayer of thanks giving and confession.. for a sunday I'm preaching on 'The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath (Luke 6:1-11)

Loving and holy Heavenly Father,  

Full of mercy, overflowing with grace

We come this morning to stop and to rest from our toil,

To acknowledge your greatness and goodness

To know and experience your abiding presence with us

To give thanks for your saving acts

WE give you thanks for creation

The ocean around us and bush clad hills about us

Hill top panoramas, beach walk vistas, tree shaded valley trails

Shrubs and gardens that form oases in our urban sprawl,

Bird song filled dawns, crisp winter days, storm cloud, rain and hail

We acknowledge your creative hand in it all

We give you thanks for who you have made us,

Unique and individual, able to know and give love

Given gifts and skills, strength and intelligence to work and provide

Gifted with family and friends, called to care for others

You invite us to know you, to take the time to dwell with you

To know that you are with us by your spirit as we go through our days

We give you thanks for what you have done for us in Christ

You have graced us by stepping into the joy and sorrow of our world

You spoke and showed us your ways, your love in Jesus words

You showed grace and mercy in his welcoming and healing touch

You broke the chains of sin and death in Christ’s death on the cross

You have given us new life in Christ risen from the dead.

In response to this we come to give worship and also to ask forgiveness

We have done things that we should not have done

Greed has gone before generosity, Gratification before   gratitude

Personal Profit before people, Comfort before compassion

We have left undone the good you call us to do

Forgive us we pray O Lord.

Righteous and just God

In Jesus Christ we find hope and forgiveness

In your death and resurrection we know new life

As we have confessed our sins we know you forgive

The guilt is removed the slate whipped clean

Renew and restore us to wholeness we pray

Living God, who gives Sabbath rest

May we catch the breath of your spirit in our lives

Fill us afresh, refresh and restore us O God

Enable and empower us, lead and guide us

That in all we do and say we may bring praise to you

To live to your glory; Father, Son and Holy Spirit

Sunday, August 9, 2015

patching clothes, storing the new vintage and Jesus Revolution of grace (Luke 5:31-39)... Following His Footsteps: the Ministry of Jesus in Luke's Gospel (part 9)

"but we've always done it that way"... famous last words...

 “But we’ve always done it that way!’ I wonder how many countless groups, companies, institutions even churches if they were honest should have this engraved on their tombstones.

 “But we’ve always done it that way!” lies behind the questions and answers that Jesus gives in the passage we had read out this morning. As we follow his footsteps through Luke’s gospel we see how Jesus revolution of Grace comes more and more into conflict with the existing religious thoughts and practises of the day. His revolution of Grace, what God was doing now wasn’t going to fit in the old ways, just like you can’t patch old clothes with new cloth and you can’t put new wine in old wineskins. If you try and do that both are ruined and wasted. As we seek to follow Jesus footsteps today, Jesus answer and his quick parables continue to guide us as we can get caught in that same conflict between ‘we’ve always done it that way and Jesus revolution of grace.

There is no scene setting verse at the start of this section of Luke so it’s safe to assume that this discussion is at the banquet at Levi’s place. In response to Jesus calling Levi to ‘come follow me’ Levi had thrown a banquet inviting all his friends, fellow tax collectors and religious outsiders; considered sinners by the Pharisees. The Pharisees had grumbled about it and questioned Jesus disciples… why does Jesus eat with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus had replied with a parable that the well don’t need a doctor only the sick, and the son of man has come not for the righteous but to call sinner to repentance.

It seems quite natural that eating or not eating food as a sign of piety should come up in conversation. In the Old Testament fasting was associated with a discontent for the present, and a longing for a better world. For the Jews it was a way of looking forward to the coming of the messianic age, for God to act on their behalf and send God’s salvation. But fasting twice a week had become a ritual, it had become one of the ways they showed their commitment to God, that they were righteous people, hoping because of it that God would act. John the Baptist had bought with him a renewal movement within Judaism, one that the Pharisees could relate to, a call to repentance and separation from sin. In this verse we see that John’s disciples had fasted, it fits in very well with the preaching and teaching of John, looking forward to the coming of the messiah, preparing the way.

 But Jesus and his disciples didn’t fast, in fact they willing celebrated and banqueted with people. I wonder even if this banquet Levi threw was on one of the days that they the Pharisees had set aside for fasting. Jesus answered that by saying that friends couldn’t be made to fast when the bridegroom was with them. That it was right even in the Pharisees way of thinking to feast and celebrate with a bride groom for his wedding. It’s got some deeper connotations as well In using that analogy Jesus was able to capture a lot of Old Testament imagery that pointed to who he was. In the scriptures Israel was likened to the bride and YWHW her God to her groom. It is carried over into the New Testament epistles where the Church is seen as the bride of Christ. Why fast then when what the Pharisees and john’s disciples were looking forward to was in their midst.

Yes there would be a time to mourn and to fast when the bridegroom was taken away. It is interesting that the passion narrative in Luke occurs between two meals: The last supper and the meal on the road to Emmaus. Today Christians both look with dissatisfaction of the condition of the world and look forward to the return of Christ, and fasting is a discipline you can use to express that. But we also acknowledge that with celebration, Christian worship is a celebration, and with a meal: a remembering of what Jesus had done for us a celebration that the groom is still with us, a foretaste of what is to come. But fasting is never regulated as something followers of Jesus should do. People who practise it see it as a useful disciple helping them focus on prayer.

This is why Jesus moves on to his two parables about meaning cloth and storing new wine. This new thing that God is doing this new revolution of grace, won’t simply act like a patch on the old ways of doing things. Maybe in the age of synthetic materials and pre-shrunk clothing we miss something of what Jesus is saying. If you use new cloth to patch old clothes, it will work at first but as the new cloth shrinks through washing and use it will pull away from the old clothes and leave an even bigger hole. Not only will that but the new cloth be ruined as you cut bits out of it to patch the old. Jesus revolution of grace was something totally new and different; we have been seeing it as we’ve been working our way through Jesus early ministry. It has stretched out and reached out to those thought outside and away from God and welcomed them back as they had responded to it with repentance and faith. It didn’t deal with the external expressions of piousness and religiosity, but with change and release and wholeness at a heart level. That wasn’t simply going to fit as a patch on an old set of clothes, but was new cloth for something new that would develop.

In Jesus day, Wine was stored and left to ferment in animal skins. A sheep or a goat skin would be used. The legs tied up and used to hang the wineskin up and the neck was tied and used as a pourer. As the wine fermented and aged it would give off gases and the skin would be able to stretch to accommodate that process. After a while however it would be stretched and in the sun and open air becomes hard and brittle, less elastic. If you poured new wine in as the fermentation took place the pressure would build up and the skin would crack and burst and both skin and wine would be lost. This revolution of God’s grace this new move of the Spirit of God wasn’t going to fit into the old containers and old structures.

 Jesus finishes by acknowledging that people will want the old wine rather than the new wine. This can be taken in two ways… That there would be a reluctance to change, that people would want the old. Recently we’ve had the opportunity to drink a few bottles of ten year old Spanish wine. It was wonderful with a full rich taste, but that shipment ran out and so we tried a three year old wine from the same place and found it very average and ordinary… Jesus uses this to not only talk about people being reluctant to change but challenges the Pharisees that their focus on rituals and regulations and keeping laws that focused on the externals was the innovation, Jesus focus on faith and trust in the Goodness of God and his goodness and salvation was the true vintage that people longed for.

 These parables continue to be relevant for us today.

the Life Cycle of an organisation.
We can be like the Pharisees and focus on rituals and regulations and the structures we build on and around our faith. We can come to depend on them and value them and trust them and miss the wonderful revolution of grace that came in Jesus Christ. We can focus on the way thing have always been done and we can miss the new things that God is wanting to do in our midst and through us to the world around us.

When it comes to the church I wonder if it’s not the difference between seeing the church as a movement and the church as an institution, on its way to being a museum. In the book by Tim Keller I’m reading at the moment he talks about the difference between an institution and a movement. Both are groups and organisations that spring up round and because of a compelling vision. A movement is the way in which that compelling vision becomes a reality and an institution is usually established to protect and guard the gains made by a movement. Keller list four al mark differences between a movement and an institution.

 Firstly, a movement has a compelling vision. A clear picture of what its leaders are seeking to bring about. Jesus ministry starts with the reading from the scroll of Isaiah, this revolution of grace and forgiveness and release. The leaders invite people to come and follow that vision, if this is where you want to go come along with us. Institutions on the other hand will normally have a vision statement somewhere but what holds it together are rules and regulations and procedures. In a movement what guides the day to day choices are that vision, in an institution it is typically the rules and established patterns.

 Secondly, the unifying vision is so compelling that it leads to a culture of sacrificial commitment and intrinsic rewards. The vision is put ahead of personal comfort and rewards come from seeing the vision being made a reality, in doing good things in and of themselves. Jesus disciples it tells us left everything to follow him. In an institution every position and participant has a set of defined rights and privileges and rules with clear understanding of compensation and benefits. The Pharisees had a set understanding of what God should do in response to their prescribed display of piety. Movements focus on the benefits for others out there and the focus of an institution is within.

Thirdly, Movements and characterised by a generous flexibility to achieve the compelling vision, they are more likely to make sacrifices, make allies and cooperate with those outside to achieve their vision. Institutions are concerned with intentional practices, right procedures, areas of responsibility; they are all about ‘turf conscious silos”.

 Fourthly, movements tend to spontaneously produce new ideas and leaders grow from within, they will focus on leaders who get things done. Institutions don’t like taking risks and are in maintaining things for the long term.

 It’s not a matter of institutions are bad and movements are good, We actually need institutions to keep society functioning. Keller summarises, movements will die out if they do not become organised and able to sustain themselves for the long run. But institutions will simply become empty shells unless they gain some fresh momentum. They are willing to be on the move again inspired captured and open to compelling vision. That we are willing to find new wineskins and put on new clothes to house and be filled by the new wine of the Spirit, the always renewing revolution of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.

We have a new elder being ordained this morning and this is a challenge and an encouragement and a call to you as you step into leadership. To all of us who have been in leadership it is a call to renewal and a rediscovery of the compelling vision of Jesus revolution of grace, and for all of us as a church I hope it is inspiration to be on the move… to follow his footsteps.

Monday, August 3, 2015

The Call of Levi... a relfection.(Luke 5:27-31)... Following His footsteps: The Ministry of Jesus in Luke's gospel (part 8)

This week has been dominated for me by coughing and feeling rundown and tired. I don’t think it’s the flu, unless it’s that mysterious strain of it called man flu… But thankfully it seems to be getting better. And all week I’d been tossing up weather I needed to go to the doctor. You see when I go to see the doctor I acknowledge two things… the first is I am sick  and the second is that I can’t help myself, I need someone to bring me back to health. This is the picture Jesus uses to talk of his mission and his revolution of Grace. This is how Jesus answers his critics who accuse him of hanging out with the wrong crowd. And as we follow his footsteps this is what Jesus calls us to be about as well.

Tax collectors are never popular, and as NT Wright says, “In Jesus day it was worse.” They were notorious as extortionists… taking more than was required. They worked for the Romans or for Herod so they were seen as being politically suspicious, collaborators with an occupying force or a corrupt regime. Because of their contact with gentiles they would have been seen as religiously suspect as well. There was that question of ritual uncleanness. They found themselves on the edge on the outer… branded as sinners.

Levi was a tax collector, but we don’t know if he fitted that stereotype, we don’t have any back story, any details about him, this is the only time he appears in Luke’s gospel. He maybe the same person who is called Matthew in Matthew gospel, the person who is traditional credited with writing that gospel. He isn’t the first tax collector mentioned in Luke’s gospel. When John the Baptist had come calling people to repent and be baptised, to prepare the way of the Lord, it says even tax collectors had come to be baptised… They had asked John what was expected of them, what did it mean for them to show the fruit of repentance and he had told them… “Don’t collect more than is required.” They were stuck in their jobs but even in that difficult place could honour God by acting justly.

Jesus was passing through Levi’s town, he sees him sitting at his tax booth, collecting tax from travellers and traders. We see Jesus revolution of grace. The grace of God that had been encapsulated in the passage from Isaiah that Jesus read at Nazareth that was being fulfilled in the freeing of a demonized man at Capernaum inviting fishermen to become disciples, touching a leper clean, forgiving and healing a paralysed man so he was made whole, and now was shown in reaching out to Levi… ‘Come and follow Me” says Jesus… Usually religious teachers would pick the best of the best, the brightest, and the most pious to be their followers, their students but here Jesus invites Levi- a tax collector, branded a sinner.

We don’t know what he saw in Levi, But Levi shows us the response that Jesus is looking for… In words that echo the actions of the paralysed man at Jesus command to get up, Levi gets up… he is prepared to move, to obey Jesus… he leaves everything: on that table is his identity, his financial security and as he was probably appointed by the authorities he is leaving himself open to trouble with them, and he follows Jesus. In this he shows us that he is repentant, he wants to turn his life around. In response to the love and grace shown by God in Jesus Christ, in those two words of invitation, he leaves it all behind to focus on the purposes of God, in the person of Jesus.

t is a joyous occasion, do you grasp that, and Levi wants to share that with his friends. What better way than throwing a party. As a tax collector as someone ostracized by society all his friends are like him tax collectors or others labelled and shunned as sinners. Levi wants his friends to meet this wonderful man of God who talks and shows the love of God is for all. In the ancient near east to sit down and have table fellowship with people was to accept them as friends. This revolution of grace seems to be contagious, and people come to celebrate with Levi and to meet Jesus.

The Pharisee’s and teachers of the law see what is going on, they are concerned and worried. For them to be religious is to hold themselves separate. To keep the law and keep away from the likes of Levi and his friends, just in case they are seen as giving credence to these people and their way of life . They grumble to Jesus disciples, ‘what is he doing why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Two understandings of God collide one being good enough for God to act on our behalf and the other of the goodness of God shown to all who know their need.

And Jesus responds, “It is not the healthy that need a doctor but the sick. I have come not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” I wonder if we don’t miss speak Jesus here when we read this passage. You see Jesus is using the language of the Pharisees to respond to them. He is picking up how they see themselves righteous, and healthy unaware of their own need for God’s grace. He uses the words they use to describe Jesus friends and Levi’s guests ‘sinner’ and we can focus on those words. But Jesus focus is on making people whole and well, on inviting back and welcoming and drawing to God those who would repent. Those who acknowledge their need for God and are willing to get up and leave it all behind and follow, two understandings of God collide: An earned intervention from God and a welcome to come back. A long list of requirements to be acceptable or simply one to know our need for God and in response to the love and grace we receive from him to repent, a willingness to leave it all behind and follow Jesus.

Where do you stand in this story today?

We don’t like it but it is easy to stand with the Pharisees. I mean they are the religious folk, to find ourselves ghettoised as followers of Jesus…

Do we stand with Levi at the tax booth and this morning you hear Jesus call to you… that liberating call…come follow me… You know your need for God’s love and grace and his call on your life and are you willing to get up, leave it all behind and follow Jesus.

Do you stand with Levi at his place at the banquet feast? Does your experience of this revolution of grace cause you to celebrate and want to share it with your friends, your community, those who need the healing and liberating touch of Jesus? When I was growing up Levi parties used to be popular, dinner thrown for people to invite friends and neighbours to where there would be both conversation about faith and life and like with the many dinner scenes in Luke’s gospel, after dinner talks about Jesus… Maybe it was a good idea it may have seemed a bit contrived. But the call of Levi to follow Jesus is a call to hospitality opening up our lives and our homes to others to those who do not know Jesus… It’s a call to allow our joy at knowing and following Jesus be contagious. It is about bringing the communities we live in to meet Jesus because he is with those who follow him.

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...