Monthly Archives: May 2017
READINGS: 1 Peter 5:6-11; Acts 4:1-14; John 17:1-3
I’ve been working on this for a couple of days now. That sense of wrestling with God – what do you REALLY want to say to us today Lord?
It’s easy to follow the texts for the day – and get enthusiastic about something that arises from those readings.
Or a theme – like today is Ascension Day Sunday. It’s the in-between period we remember – 40 days after Easter the resurrection appearances end – and He’s gone.
I think what also grabbed me is what I’ve written about already in the newsletter. It’s about waiting. They were told to wait. Act 1:4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.
We’re not good at that really. The waiting.
And then there’s the constant prayer theme. That nibbled – asking for a bite. You know the verse I mean? Act 1:14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers. There have been plenty of sermons on the power of praying together. There’s also a redemptive line there too about his family – who though he was mad. Are these the actual brothers?
AND THEN OUR PERSONAL STORY SPEAKS
We had a great weekend away. There are some funny stories attached to the weekend. And the fact that I slept better when away speaks volumes. The truth is that a lot of people don’t sleep. In a world characterized by terror and fear, anxiety is a dominant power that controls or at least shapes our lives.
Peter’s line speaks to us today in the light of this human condition: 1Pe 5:7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
How do we get that message across?
When Ascension day comes and goes, even though we would like it to be a public holiday like the good old days (and it was in parts of Europe and more close to us in Vanuatu – where they still call people to prayer at 4.00am during the week just in case you missed Sunday) – most people don’t have a clue who Jesus is anyway.
And if they have heard about him, they certainly find the idea of him taking off like the latest rocket that Rocket Lab has launched from Mahia Peninsula in Hawke’s Bay quite strange – as this cartoon shows us from the revised comic lectionary:
Although I have to say that my favourite cartoon on the Ascension is this one:
Those of us with experience of attention deficit disorder will immediately sympathize.
The point is – are we really noticing the real issues that people are facing? Or are we inattentive to what is happening.
I was reading something I wrote just over 30 years ago this week. When you go back you wonder if it really was you – it all seems so far away. It was a study of the thinking of Viktor Frankl, who developed logotherapy. (If you are interested in reading about it see the link below).
The key question is about the meaning of our lives. What holds us together?
If you look at the things that dominate the news today – people’s lives are shaped by that search for meaning. And where do they find it? Often in unhelpful places or movements. Here are some possibilities:
Totalitarianism – people are becoming more nationalistic and following strong right-wing leaders. Political trends around the world bear this out. The group becomes more important than the individual. Frankl certainly experienced that in Nazy Germany, beinge a survivor of the holocaust. Nothing has changed.
Terrorism – the extreme violence of individuals and groups trying to force their world view or ideology on people through terror and threat and fear. Fanaticism makes the views of a cause more important than the value of the individual. The Manchester massacre this week is a clear example of this. The Queen said it was “wicked” – and good for her. It was.
And those who can afford to – although you can do this at home too –
To avoid Totalitarianism and Terrorism – and all the other kinds of troubles of the age – what’s the biggest source of foreign exchange income in our economy?
It’s a kind of escapism for the wealthy – you can get away from it all. Although you have to check the travel advisories about countries where there is totalitarianism (some kind of nationalistic uprising) or terrorism. When you are on the way home you are planning the next trip!
Those who can’t afford to travel can watch it all on TV. It’s called armchair travel! It’s all an escape from the anxieties of the age.
And there are other routes people take in their quest for meaning or purpose in this generation.
- The millennials and others say “whatever” in the face of too much authoritarianism or fanaticism – they bounce from job to job with a shruggy look if they find bosses that are too dictatorial.
- The artists and creative people escape in the confusion of bizarre creativity (for us non-artistic mortals) – just look at what passes as modern art today. A classic case was just over a year ago when a teenager who clearly did go to Spec Savers left his specs on the floor in San Francisco’s Museum of Modern art as a prank with a friend. The oohs and aahs were prolific.
On Twitter on 26 May last year one person tweeted: “it’s really just an exacerbated metaphor of society’s perpetual blindness to those cognitive of us #art”
People are looking for meaning in interesting places.
- And then there are the Christians!
How do you and Ideal with the challenges of this age?
Jesus offers us a lot really. Today’s readings had some gems.
- The power of His presence – the Holy Spirit Act 1:4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.
Act 1:5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
The permanent presence and power of God through his Spirit would be there for all.
- The power of prayer – 1Pe 5:7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
There’s another brilliant passage on prayer (from the Message) here:
Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns.
Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. (Phil 4:7-8).
- The power of a relationship that outlasts the chaos of this life – Joh 17:3 Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.
In our song before communion – which is the place where we find our identity (not in totalitarian nationalism) and our security (in the face of terror and fear) – we find the words of David in Psalm 23 which are expressed powerfully by Stuart Townend:
The Lord’s my shepherd, I’ll not want; He makes me lie in pastures green. He leads me by the still, still waters, His goodness restores my soul.
And I will trust in You alone, And I will trust in You alone, For Your endless mercy follows me, Your goodness will lead me home.
He guides my ways in righteousness, And He anoints my head with oil, And my cup, it overflows with joy, I feast on His pure delights.
And I will trust in You alone, And I will trust in You alone, For Your endless mercy follows me, Your goodness will lead me home.
And though I walk the darkest path, I will not fear the evil one, For You are with me, and Your rod and staff ,Are the comfort I need to know.
And I will trust in You alone, And I will trust in You alone, For Your endless mercy follows me, Your goodness will lead me home
Well do you trust in Him alone?
Can people see that you trust in Him alone through the week? At home? At work?
Great question to ponder on this week.
Footnote: The link to my very old bit of research on Viktor Frankl is here:
Let’s sing that song now.
Ephesians 4:11-16; Acts 6:1-8
WHAT ON EARTH ARE YOU DOING?
A story to begin: We took family to a favourite little restaurant out on the wine route out of Auckland. It’s a great little place just before you turn off on the way to Muriwai – to the gannet colony. We often take friends there too who are on holiday. A lovely young girl served us and when the water was finished (no the wine didn’t run out) we asked for another bottle. She came back with one and apologized that it was not cold. They had run out of cold water in the fridge. The only problem was that English was her second or third language, and she had picked up some kiwi expressions. So, she says to us –“this is all we have, so just suck it up.” We decided using glasses was ok. And we couldn’t help laughing – who could blame her? English is challenging.
Which reminds me of the story of the Norwegian au pere – a kind of a nanny or child minder – who heard these kiwi kids up in their bedroom wrecking the place – so she rushed up stairs and burst into the room and asked them quite loudly: “What are you doing on earth?”
That’s very different from “What on earth are you doing???”
“What are you doing on earth?” is a great question though. It applies to our lives as a whole. There are many people who are desperate these days because they no longer have a clear purpose. Life seems pointless. It’s a different generation from those ANZACS for example who stepped up because they believed in a cause greater than themselves. If we had an option to volunteer for war today, I doubt the young people would be convinced that anything would be worth fighting for and sacrificing their lives.
So when it comes to the church the question applies too.
“What are you doing on earth?”
Paul in Ephesians paints a picture of the point of it all. He uses the word “calling”:
Eph 4:1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.
Usually in his letters we can distinguish between theology (Romans 1-11) and practical advice (Romans 12-16). Galatians is the same: chapters 1-4 doctrine and 5-6 practical.
Ephesians is different. You expect chapter 4 to be about living the right life in response to what he has taught in the first three chapters.
But here there is doctrine in chapter 4 too: Eph 4:5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; – is a clear statement of belief and teaching.
As are the verses on ministry. He talks about grace been apportioned to each of us by Jesus (verse 7). Grace means gift. There are other lists of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12. Ephesians 4 is the one that informs what ministry is more than any other.
The risen ascended Jesus – says Paul – is the gift giver: Eph 4:11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers.
Our ministers fit into the pastor/teacher category. It’s a strong Presbyterian tradition to call the minister a “teaching elder”. There’s a lot of emphasis on training these people and equipping them for pastoral ministry. “Nationally ordained” ministers are vetted and trained for the minister of the “word and sacraments”. They are inducted into a “pastoral charge” which means that their function is to be a pastor.
“Pastor” is a shepherding model or picture – this person feeds and cares for the sheep. And elders also have a pastoral role too.
THE GOOD NEWS
Jesus gives people to be gifts to the church.
- We don’t have official apostles – but the whole church is apostolic. It is founded on the teaching of the apostles, and like them we are SENT into our world to make disciples. Some people are church planters today and have apostolic gifts in that sense.
- We don’t have “prophets” in an official capacity (with an office with a sign like “Prophet Jim” on the door.) But in preaching we have a prophetic role to speak on behalf or God into people’s lives and sometimes the community or the nation. And there is prophetic gifting (1 Cor 14:1 and especially 3).
- We do have evangelists who are gifted to preach to people who are not open to the gospel – they are often gifted apologists too. They give answers to peoples’ questions.
- We do have pastor/teachers in our ministry.
These people gifts from Jesus are given: Eph 4:12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up…
And a more literal translation is good news because we are all implicated in this: (NRSV) to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
How? In what way will we be built up? Maturity, stability, knowledge, functionality. The building up of each other is done in love.
Eph 4:13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Eph 4:14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Eph 4:15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. Eph 4:16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
And that makes a change in a world where people break each other down, tear each other apart, threaten to blow each other up, and actually do that.
And we – as we exercise our ministries or works of service – will grow up into the Head, who is Christ. That means we will be like him – and connected to him – and we won’t only reflect on his goodness, but we will in fact reflect his goodness! His grace, love and mercy. When you have a healthy vibrant church like that where people are equipped, fulfilled, and have a meaningful role, led by a caring pastor/teacher – well it grows! It grows up and it grows outward! Spiritual growth and numerical growth both happen. This is what we are doing on earth!
For the early church, however, there were other ministry forms to come. What else were they to do back then? How does this speak to us? ACTS 6 is the key.
In our second reading you see the next level of ministry people appointed by the apostles back in the early church – to solve the problem of feeding people. The 7 deacons appointed are also gifts from God – also to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Many churches have deacons in ministry today, and this is where it started.
But just to keep us on our toes, as it were, we see that God uses the first deacon Stephen in more than just these practical gifts (as He does today with anyone willing and open). We read:
Act 6:8 Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people.
Stephen was never really to go back to waiting on tables. If you read the rest of Acts 6, his sermon in Acts 7 (most of the chapter) in a human sense it ends badly.
Act 7:55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.
Act 7:56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
Act 7:57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him,
Act 7:58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.
Act 7:59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
Act 7:60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.
The persecution that follows means that the believers are scattered, and as they go the gospel is proclaimed through Judea and Samaria – which was Jesus’ intention. And the believers knew EXACTLY what they were doing on earth!
The word of God spreads and the church grows. And if this is strange and very far from our comfortable lives here in New Zealand, consider today what the martyrdom of the Coptic Christians is doing in Egypt now – what a witness as their families model forgiveness. So too the Christian Church in Syria. They know their calling too.
May the body of Christ be built up all over the world to His Glory.
In Jesus’ name.