Minister’s Blog 1 October 2017
One of the biggest political experiments has been the creation of the European Union. The idea was to bring together what are very diverse countries, with long histories, to create a larger bloc that were stronger together. This involved passing a lot of laws to unify the member states legal systems and regulate matters between them. The UK was never a huge fan of this (see the recent Brexit vote for proof) and always complained bitterly about the rules imposed on them. But, being British, they were always complied with them after they’d sent a sternly worded letter to “The Times”. Other member states spoke frequently about how marvellous the EU is yet never bothered to implement the rules. So which country was the better member?
It’s the point made in our reading today. A man with two sons asks them to work for him. One says yes but doesn’t do anything about it, the other says no but has a change of heart and goes to work. Jesus asks the Pharisees, “which son did his father’s will?” The correct answer is, of course, the second son and the Pharisees are caught out again. Jesus has told this parable to illustrate the difference between the Pharisees who have said “yes” to God but done nothing and the disciples who look like they’ve said “no” to God but are in fact doing God’s work.
It remains a lesson for us in the church. By claiming to be Christian and by coming to church we are giving the appearance of having said “yes” to God yet how we live may suggest that we are in fact not doing so. We tend to be critical of those who look like they’ve said “no” to God but who may actually be the ones who have had a change of heart and are now doing God’s will. I know it’s a famous line but it’s true, just as standing in a garage doesn’t make you a car, just coming to church does not make you a Christian. It’s about our saying “yes” to God, changing who we are, causing us to live in a different way and actually doing God’s will.
Minister’s Blog 24 September 2017
I remember a minister in Scotland telling me a story about a little boy and his mother who were out shopping at a fruit shop. The shop owner, trying to be nice, handed the boy an orange. The boy took the orange silently. His mother looked at her son with that look only mothers can give and said, “And what do you say to the nice man”. The son held out his hand with the orange to the grocer and said, “Peel it” Sometimes we get confused over what is a gift given graciously from the heart and what we consider is our entitlement and therefore something we can insist on!
There is similar confusion over the concept of grace that is the subject of our reading today. Peter has asked what he and the first disciples will receive as a reward for following Jesus from the beginning. In reply, Jesus tells the parable of the owner of the vineyard who pays all workers, irrespective of when they began work, the same wage. The workers hired first complain, they’ve been working longer, surely they deserve more than those who turned up at the last minute? And when we read this parable we tend to sympathise with the first workers. We also believe they deserve more than the others because they have worked longer.
But the parable is only problematic if we have a view of grace as something we earn in return for our service to Jesus, like wages. The parable makes sense if we see grace as a gift and our service to Jesus as our grateful response to receiving it. We rejoice at receiving a gift and thank the giver for their generosity. We understand wages as our entitlement for what we do. So seeing grace as our wages for service leads us to resent others receiving it and blame God for being so unfair. Seeing grace as a gift allows us to rejoice when others receive it as well and prompts us to serve God in loving gratitude for all God has done for us.
Minister’s Blog 17 September 2017
There is a wonderful BBC programme called Rev. which was based on the daily struggles of an inner-city vicar. During one episode, he is attacked by a member of the congregation who is drunk. The following day the member turns up sheepishly at the home of the vicar and asks to be forgiven saying “you have to forgive me, it’s like the law or something”. Forgiveness is perhaps the best-known trait that Christians are meant to have. Yet on a personal level it’s one of those things that sounds fine in principle but when we are the victim it takes on a different perspective. Why should we forgive those who hurt us?
That we feel like this is not a surprise to Jesus. It’s probably why He tells the disciples the parable of the unforgiving servant as part of His instructions to the church. In this parable, a servant is forgiven a debt that he had no chance of ever repaying. As he goes on his way he refuses to forgive a debt owed to him that is miniscule in comparison. Jesus tells the story to highlight the stupidity of an attitude that freely embraces forgiveness for us yet denies it to others. From God’s perspective, those sins against us are slight and easily able to be forgiven, especially when so much forgiveness has been extended to us.
As we have been seeing, Jesus has set up the church to continue His mission to the world. A large part of His mission involves bringing reconciliation to the world. Reconciliation is only possible if there is forgiveness given for harms caused. We are expressly called to achieve reconciliation and therefore we are expressly called to forgive as part of that process. It’s not easy and it involves us being humble, recognising that it’s not about us but it’s about the kingdom. All we’re being asked to do is pass on what we have received ourselves; allow others to experience the same freedom we have. As Jacob said to Esau when he was forgiven, “seeing your face is like seeing the face of God”. Wouldn’t we be fulfilling our calling if we showed this world the face of God when we forgive?
Minister’s Blog 10 September 2017
My favourite line from the Stanley Kubrik movie “Dr Strangelove” comes when the generals are arguing about the best way to deal with a threat. They are gathered together in the war room of the Pentagon when the President, fed up with their arguing shouts “Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the war room”. Sure it is the irony that brings the laughs, but on a practical level, it is hard to wage a war against an enemy if the generals are fighting amongst themselves. To be more effective, the generals need to be reconciled together to face the threat.
Jesus has set up this new group called the church and is now giving His instructions to them for how they will minister to the world. Sadly He knows humans too well and recognises that there are going to be times when the people in the church don’t get along. He knows that if the church is riven by divisions it won’t be effective in its mission to the world. So Jesus gives the church His instructions for how to deal with division. And it involves approaching the issue from a novel angle and it speaks volumes about how the church are meant to behave
While it easy to judge the offender and look down on them for their failings, Jesus encourages us to work together as a community of love to restore the offender back into the body of believers. The aim is to bring them back onto the right path and make the community whole again. It’s not about punishment and retribution but accepting that we all make mistakes and to strive for reconciliation. The church was called into being to continue with work of Jesus. If we are fighting among ourselves we aren’t going to be effective in this core mission. To paraphrase Dr Strangelove, may there be no fighting in the body of the Prince of Peace. May we show the world what a loving community of reconciled people can do for each other and the world at large.
Minister’s Blog 3 September 2017
I know “Yes Minister” was supposed to be fiction, but I always thought of it as a documentary. The civil servants think they know what is best for the country while the elected politicians keep insisting they have the correct outlook. Sir Humphrey Appleby would often remark that what was proposed was “a courageous decision” which brought Jim Hacker to his senses and made him rethink what he wanted to do. We too sometimes say something when a friend is planning some course of action that we think is bad. I’ve heard the phrase “I wouldn’t do that if I were you” more often than I can count as those who have more wisdom seek to prevent me causing some harm. TV shows aside, it’s usually spoken out of love, a genuine desire to prevent harm befalling another. But it is always motivated by a subjective opinion, how we see it against how others see it.
In our reading today, Peter has just heard the news that Jesus is intending to go to Jerusalem where He will be handed over to the authorities and executed. Having just declared that Jesus is the Messiah, Peter does not want this to happen to Jesus and seeks to prevail upon Jesus not to do this. In his eyes, on a theological level, the Messiah would never come to such an end. On a personal level, he does not want his friend to suffer and die. Jesus famously rebukes Peter for only seeing as humans do and not as God does.
If we see as the world does, we think that forgiving others, giving to others, helping others and doing without for ourselves is something that “losers” do. But this is the point Jesus makes in this passage. God does not see forgiveness, charity and grace as things that make us less, but rather as things that make us more. Just as the cross was changed from a symbol of fear into a symbol of hope, so must we see that living a kingdom life is what makes us great. Paul puts it far more clearly than me when he writes, “for the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are dying, but to those who are saved it is the power of God”. May we see things that way too.
Minister’s Blog 27 August 2017
Back in the day, before Google Maps and satellite navigation, we used to rely on sign posts to get anywhere. Sure we probably had a well-thumbed and dog eared road atlas in the car that was the starting point for planning a journey, but as we travelled we kept an eye out for the signs that told us where to go. It’s funny that today the more sophisticated sat navs also display the sign you are to look for to confirm when and where to turn. Signs are important because they point to something more than themselves, they point to a destination.
Israel had been called to act as a sign pointing people towards God. For all their funny rules and regulations, they had been called by God to live in such a way as to show people something of the nature of God. It was to be what would define them. Sadly they didn’t always get it right and from time to time God sent a prophet to steer them back on the right road so they would point the nations of the world towards God. But when the Messiah came to them, not everyone accepted Him so a new sign had to be made, and in our reading today we see that this new sign is the church.
The church has been called into being by God to point people towards God. To be this physical presence of the kingdom in our communities and through how it witnesses, to direct people’s attention towards God. We are to teach scripture and engage in God’s mission of love and reconciliation to the world. So when the church fails to do these things we are not living out our calling. When we act or speak contrary to the good news of Jesus Christ we are not pointing people towards God and are failing in our mission. It’s our responsibility in how we live to ensure that what we say and do always points towards God’s love and nothing else. After all, what use is a sign if it is pointing in the wrong direction?
Minister’s Blog 20 August 2017
“Good things come to those who wait” is a saying used to extol the virtue of patience. I hear it a lot, mainly because I’m one of the most impatient people I know. Yet as a society we are becoming more impatient. We have instant messenger, can access information immediately through the internet, send emails across the world in a second and through credit cards buy what we want, when we want and worry about paying for it later. We live in a high tech, high speed world and we want it all and we want it now. So the idea of waiting for something is alien to how we live.
I’m thinking about impatience thanks to the reading this morning with the incident involving Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman. God has promised that salvation will come in time to the entire world, but God’s plan involves it coming to the Jews first. The day will come when the woman can have her child saved, but she’s going to have to wait until Jesus finishes His mission to the Jews. The problem for her is that she cannot wait. Her daughter is ill now and needs cured now, not in some time in the future. She knows Jesus is the only one who can save her and so she pesters Jesus continually until He saves her.
For us, on a wider scale, we know to look forward to the final culmination of the kingdom of God when all will be made well. It is our comfort when we see injustice, poverty, illness and so on that one day all these things will be no more. But what if we stopped considering these promises as just being in the future? Are these kingdom aims not important enough that we should be pursuing them now, with persistent prayer and action? Is the church getting a reputation for being a bit insipid; for saying a lot but not doing anything about it? Are we in danger of becoming a bit “lukewarm” about our world? Maybe we need to develop a bit more impatience with how the world is rather than just leaving it to the future and becoming a bit more of a “nuisance” like this woman was that day.
Minister’s Blog 13 August 2017
I’m not really at home on the ocean wave, the sea is not my milieu; I’m more a son of the soil. Once I took the ferry to the Orkney Islands off the north coast of Scotland and found myself considerably out of my comfort zone. The sea was rough, the ferry was pitching and I was clinging onto both the rail, and my lunch, for dear life. I assure you that the thought of climbing over the side of the boat and trying to see if I had enough faith to walk on water was the last thing on my mind.
In the church, we’ve become rather used to laughing at Peter; using him as an example of how not to do things. Yet in our reading today, Peter is the only one who has enough faith in Jesus to get out of the boat and go towards Him. Yes he can’t quite believe it is Jesus who is walking towards the boat in a storm but nonetheless, he climbs out of the boat and takes a few steps towards Jesus. It’s at that point his initial enthusiasm wears off and he becomes extremely aware of the raging storm, high seas and strong winds and rain. He begins to lose his focus on Jesus and starts to sink prompting his urgent request to be saved.
It’s a strong lesson for us today. It’s easy to be a Christian when all is going well with life, when it is set fair and plain sailing. But life has a habit of throwing up storms around us that can make us fear. It’s easy then to miss seeing Jesus walking towards us in our peril rather than walking away. It’s easy to be more aware of the concerns we face thus losing our sight of Jesus and causing us to sink too. What if we could have enough focus on Jesus to tune out the distractions of the world. What could we accomplish then? We may not manage to walk on water but I’m pretty certain we could achieve wonderful things if we kept our eyes on Jesus and not on the problems that beset us in the knowledge that Jesus can quell them if we let Him.
Minister’s Blog 6 August 2017
I was once serving communion and I began to panic as there were still many in the congregation to be served and I was running out of bread. Not surprisingly I thought of our reading today! But that’s the problem with human thinking, we only see the size of the problem and the lack of resources to meet it and think it cannot be done. For example, we come to Jesus with an issue like poverty and ask Him to deal with it. Jesus tell us we are right to worry about it and tells us to fix it. We look at the problem and see how big it is and see how few our resources are and give up claiming change is impossible.
Here the disciples faced a similar, seemingly insurmountable, problem. They are concerned about the crowds who have followed Jesus out into the wilderness. They have been there for hours and will need fed. They bring their concerns to Jesus who tells them they are right to be concerned about the needs of others and suggests they address them by feeding the crowd themselves. Of course, they object, we don’t have enough, we can’t feed this many people, what you ask is impossible and so on. Jesus asks them to give all that they have to Him which they do and, of course, Jesus feeds the crowd.
The human view is to see the size of the problem and compare this with the lack of resources we have. Jesus sees it differently. He knows the size of the problem but He also sees the unlimited resources of God to meet them. For me, the point of the feeding of the 5,000 is this, God has the capability we lack. What we must do is take all we have and hand it over to God. God will honour our sacrifice and use what we have brought to meet the need through God’s resources. Are we limiting the growth of the kingdom through our lack of faith by being unwilling to commit what resources we possess towards solving the issue simply because we think what we have isn’t enough so we never try? Here we are encouraged to give what we have, even knowing it isn’t enough, but to give it nonetheless because we know God can, and will, use it to further God’s kingdom.
Minister’s Blog 30 July 2017
I am a huge fan of the humble yeast cell. Yeast is needed for two things I love to make, beer and bread. But it’s a living organism so you have to be careful how you add it. If your mixture is too hot the yeast dies; too cold and it hibernates. So whether I am making bread or beer there is the moment of truth, the addition of the yeast. And once added, the mixture looks no different to when it did immediately beforehand. You have to wait to see if it works. Over time it becomes obvious with either a risen dough or a frothy beer. But it’s those initial moments where it looks no different that we are thinking about today.
In our reading, Jesus gives us five short images of the kingdom of God. They are very diverse but can be grouped into three themes with the mustard seed and yeast relating to the beginning of the kingdom, the buried treasure and the great pearl speak of the value of the kingdom and the net speaks of the end times. I think they were spoken to bring comfort to the first disciples. They’d been waiting for the kingdom to come and Jesus brought it. Yet their world looked pretty much the same; it was no different now to how it had been.
But that’s the thing about the kingdom, it’s like our friend the yeast cell. Once it entered the world it began its work. Each disciple is like a yeast cell, transforming the world around themselves through how they live. Others are affected and begin to seek God themselves and become transformed to do likewise. And so it spreads over time and location until it covers the world. There are times when we wonder about the presence of the kingdom of God when the world doesn’t look very different. But this reading encourages us to be patient and to remain faithful. The kingdom is there, growing and spreading, and one day will be obvious to all. That’s where history is heading, we are privileged to be a part of the process.
Minister’s Blog 23 July 2017
I’m not green fingered in the slightest, in fact, I tend to avoid gardening at all costs. Proof of my ineptitude in this area is found in the one time I was asked to weed a flower bed. I wasn’t entirely certain what was a weed and so employed a scorched earth policy removing everything from the ground leaving a pristine patch of bare earth and a huge pile of weeds and recently planted plants on the compost pile. Suffice to say, I am now closely supervised when asked to do anything in the garden. So the commandment in today’s reading about leaving the weeding to God is one I am happy to follow!
This reading addresses the long-standing question of the presence of evil in the world through the parable of the weeds in the wheat. In a well-known parable, a crop of wheat is adulterated by another sowing weeds among it. The workers are furious that the crop is imperilled in this manner and offer to go into the field and uproot the weeds. They are told not to as their efforts will harm the crop. Rather they are told to leave the crop to grow to maturity and to see what fruit each plant produces. At that stage, and only then, will the farmer collect the good crop into his barn and destroy the weeds.
While it is frustrating that the question of the presence of evil in the world is not answered, this parable does bring us comfort. We learn that evil is not part of God’s plan for the world and that it has no place in God’s creation. We are assured that God is not only aware of the problem of evil in the world but that, one day, God will deal decisively with it. We are comforted that we are not the ones tasked with eradicating it but are to remain faithful and fruitful in our own lives. We are encouraged to note the patience of God in giving everyone a chance to change and to develop our own patience to trust that God will, one day, eradicate evil once and for all. So may we do our part by ensuring that evil does not flourish around us, may we never despair when it looks like evil has the upper hand and may we keep our trust in God.
Minister’s Blog 9 July 2017
Thomas Merton wrote about the efforts we make to project an image of who we want to be to the world. We can go to great lengths to appear as we want others to see us but the problem here is that the public persona is not always the same as who we really are. When we are at home, in private, we revert to our true natures. And, if we have children who live at home, they see the real person. And, from too many children’s talks to mention, sometimes children tell us things about the parents that the parents would rather keep quiet about
This week, Jesus is once again mired in conflict with the religious leaders. He warns His disciples that His interpretation as to the nature of God is the correct one. And His basis for this claim is nothing less than the fact He is the Son of God. As someone who has been with God since the beginning, has lived in God’s presence, He is the best placed person to reveal the nature of God to us. He then goes on to tell His disciples that it’s easy to get back to God if they follow Him. Due to His relationship, He knows the way to God. And, astonishingly, Jesus offers to share this with us.
One of the most shocking things Jesus did in His ministry was refer to God as “Dad”. But this reveals an intimate and close connection between them and it is something we can easily overlook. Jesus isn’t just a good teacher with a fresh take on understanding God. Jesus isn’t just a prophet with the secret of how to get into heaven. Jesus is the Son of God, has intimate knowledge of God, and is willing to share this with us because He knows how God wants us to live. Jesus lives in a close relationship with God and invites us to share this with Him. We need to stop thinking of Christianity as a burden on us and see it as a blessing; see it as the means to be reconciled to God. It is only in following Jesus that we find rest because that’s where we’re meant to be.
Minister’s Blog 2 July 2017
We were at a theme park where the headline ride was a huge rollercoaster that looked terrifying. The problem was, one of our kids wanted to ride it and couldn’t unless accompanied by a parent. We drew lots and I lost so with fear and trembling, I rode it. It was terrifying but I lived to tell the tale (and ride it again). The thing about rollercoasters is that they are safe. They are well designed and have safety checks. That’s the fun of them, the feeling of being dangerously out of control yet knowing that you’ll arrive safely at the end. If there was a reasonable expectation that you would not survive the trip, they’d be a lot less popular.
We are looking at the incident with Abraham and Isaac from Genesis this morning. Abraham is asked by God to sacrifice his son Isaac. There is no guarantee given for him doing so. Abraham must have felt awful; his life was made complete with the arrival of his son and now God demanded he kill him? Yet, leaving aside our revulsion at his actions, Abraham has enough faith in God to know that everything would turn out well, even if that looked impossible from where he was. He does all that God asks of him and, as we know, at the end of it all, things are well. He is regarded as being the example of faith for us to follow
So what has this to do with a rollercoaster? Well I think there are times in our life when we feel out of control, when it looks like our life is careering off the tracks and we can see no positive resolution. Like a rollercoaster, life gets very bumpy. But just as we have faith in the designer of the rollercoaster that we’ll make it safely through, if we have faith in God, we will make it through. When we face tough times, we need to cling to this knowledge that God remains ultimately in control and if we press on, in faith, God will show us the way through. Abraham couldn’t see how his situation could ever reach a positive resolution and it did, that’s faith. May we have the same faith to get through the rough patches in our life.
Minister’s Blog 25 June 2017
I’m a fan of the book “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” It is claimed that one of the reasons why the fictitious guide is so popular is that it has the words “Don’t Panic” printed in large friendly letters on the cover. Indeed, Arthur C Clark wrote that “Don’t Panic” was perhaps the best advice ever given to the human race. Somewhat frustratingly though, no reason was ever given why we were not to panic. I’m sure there’s been times in your life when you’ve expressed an anxiety only to be told “don’t worry” without ever having the reasons why explained to you. And, if you’re like me, it probably didn’t make you feel any better!
In our reading today, Jesus tells the disciples not to panic when they are sent out in mission. Fortunately, Jesus has a good understanding of human nature and explains to them exactly why they are not to panic. Firstly, He assures them that the time is coming when the truth about Jesus will be known by all. Secondly, He reminds them that their future is safe in God’s hands. And lastly, He points out that God remains in control of all things, even if it looks like God isn’t, and that God, who remains in control, loves them deeply. This knowledge comforts the disciples who then venture out into the world to proclaim Jesus to all.
We are looking at what it means for us to be sent out in mission, so we should take this advice to heart too. As we saw last week, not everyone in the world wants to hear about Jesus or start living like we’re meant to. It can be a scary thought to try and change the way things are when people don’t want to change; when we know we will meet with opposition to the message. But these three reasons remain. The time is coming when we will be proved right about Jesus, God’s promises can be relied upon and God is always in charge. All we need is a little faith; faith that it’s going to be all right. Faith that brings us comfort when we feel anxious. Faith that we are fulfilling our calling, to proclaim Jesus as lord with confidence. So let’s heed the advice of Jesus as we go in mission and, as we go, don’t panic.
Minister’s Blog 18 June 2017
One of the (many) criticisms levelled at Christians is that we are naïve. We are often accused of viewing the world through rose tinted glasses and adopting a Pollyanna approach to life. We are seen as simply taking things on face value without ever questioning what lies behind it. And like most criticisms we face, there isn’t much truth to this. We are in fact encouraged to be realistic about the world and to work within it to bring about change.
Just consider the instructions Jesus gives His apostles as He sends them out in mission. He warns them that it won’t be easy, that it won’t lead to a life of luxury and that they will face rejection, hostility and persecution. Jesus cannot be accused of putting a gloss on things! He warns them to be as gentle as doves yet as wise as serpents as they go. In other words, to bring the kingdom message to everyone but to have your eyes open to the reality of the world. The message may be rejected and so they are to move on elsewhere. There’s plenty of others who will benefit from the message they have so don’t waste your time with those who won’t hear you out.
If we are realistic, we acknowledge that there is a difference between the way the world currently is and the way the world is going to be one day. You only need look at our media to see that there is a lot wrong with the world. That’s why there is a need for us to go out on mission. We have to show the world there is a different way to live, the kingdom way. We have to demonstrate the need to change. Sadly, we also have to accept that not all the world wants things to change. Our message is too important to stay inside of our churches or for us to be discouraged when someone rejects the gospel. That’s why we need to be prepared for rejection. There’s an entire world out there that needs to hear our message of hope. We cannot be put off by those who refuse to hear it.
Minister’s Blog 11 June 2017
I remember one Christmas insisting that I cook the Christmas lunch. Attempting something different, I searched the internet and hit upon a recipe from none other than Gordon Ramsay. The recipe began “simply remove and de-bone the turkey legs”. Let me tell you, there was nothing simple about that instruction. It’s a bit like “simply master quantum physics” what looks on paper to be easy, turns out to be a lot more complicated in practice. I have no doubt to a trained chef with the right equipment it was a simple task but for me, lacking the skills and a sharp knife, it was a nightmare. I can confirm that after it was all over, nobody died of food poisoning or went hungry.
This week we are looking at our commission from Jesus as expressed in Matthew. Jesus wants to give instructions to His disciples on how to continue the mission and tells them “simply go and make disciples of all nations, baptise them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and teach them all I have commanded you”. On the face of this it looks remarkably simple. Yet how do we, ordinary people, go about fulfilling this? What if we’ve not had years of experience or training? Does this apply to us or only to those more mature Christians? Do we think we’ll not have to do this because it is too hard for us or because we lack some necessary element?
Well it won’t be a surprise to you to know that God has already thought of this. The answer was given to us at Pentecost with the gift of the Holy Spirit. It’s wrapped up in this mystery that is the Trinity. God sends Jesus to show us that the Kingdom of God is upon us and then gifts us the Spirit to empower us in continuing the mission. This is what we celebrate on Trinity Sunday, that we rely on all three persons of the Trinity to continue with the mission entrusted to us. And through this reliance we can fulfil the simple instruction set before us. We can go and make disciples, baptise in the name of the Triune God, and teach them all that Jesus has done. So let’s get on with fulfilling this commission in the power of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Minister’s Blog 4 June 2017
Pentecost is a huge event in the church calendar. Whilst it is technically not the birth of the church as the disciples had been meeting together beforehand, it is, without doubt, the start of something new. From now on the church will be powered by the gift of the Holy Spirit to enable it to continue Christ’s mission into the world. We are told they had gathered from all parts of the world and heard a sound like wind, saw a sight like flames and received the Holy Spirit. Despite having different languages, the Spirit enabled them to understand each other. It brought them together; it unified them as one.
And so, fuelled by the Spirit the church moves from this upper room in Jerusalem and ventures out into the world. The rest of the book of Acts tells us about this early movement and while next week, the lectionary moves back to the gospel of Matthew, I do recommend you read in your spare time the rest of Acts to gain this sense of moving onwards as one in order to carry on with Christ’s mission and bring the good news to everyone. Many obstacles are overcome through relying on the Spirit to guide and sustain this group; the fledgling church.
Today sees us worshipping together at Hillier Road for the last time and it is worth pausing to remember this and to celebrate all the wonderful things we have seen and done in God’s name at this place. But it also sees us looking forward to our own journey outwards. Our next step is to worship at William Road for a while until we can move to our new home. Wherever we are, we are still one, Noarlunga Uniting Church. We are still joined together, united in the Spirit of God. And we are still carrying on Christ’s mission, to go into the world and tell others the good news. We can remember the deeds of those who went before us and established these buildings and still honour their pioneering spirit by striking out on this, our new path. We also have the certainty of the Holy Spirit to guide and sustain us on our walk.
Minister’s Blog 28 May 2017
A seemingly inevitable consequence of humans coming together is the need to have a leader. We vote for leaders for our nation, for our state and for our local government area. If we are a shareholder in a company we can vote for the leader in that company. We appoint them to lead in our clubs and societies. And the church is not exempt either. While we acknowledge that Jesus is the true leader of the church, we also recognise some among us as those God has called into a leadership role. Now there is nothing bad in itself about having leaders; it’s only a problem when the leaders are not leading well.
Peter has some words of advice for those early church leaders, and I think it is still relevant today. He casts church leadership not in terms of someone barking orders and imposing their will on others, but rather exhorts them to lead in a more Christlike manner, as a shepherd of God’s flock. The emphasis is on caring for God’s people, not lording it over them. Leaders should not seek to satisfy their own desires or wants, be they financial, sexual or something else. They should only look to satisfy God’s desires. They are to take Christ as their example and be a good example to those whom they are leading.
I feel that, in a very real way, Christian leadership seems to be a by-product of good discipleship. As Tom Wright said, a good shepherd doesn’t worry about how to be a good shepherd but only concentrates on doing what is best for the flock. Christian leaders should be seen to be caring for those in the congregation, leading them in discipleship, in teaching and in pastoral care. They should equip the people of God to help them to carry out their own callings. They ought to serve the congregation as opposed to being served by them. Church leaders owe a heavy duty of responsibility towards their congregations and are accountable to them for how they lead. Any person who finds themself in any position of leadership needs to develop a strong sense of humility and ensure they are fulfilling God’s commission and not their own insecurities or desires.
Minister’s Blog 21 May 2017
One of the great pressures we face in life is to conform; to fit in and not stand out. There is this abiding fear of being seen in the “wrong” clothes for the current fashion trend, being seen in the “wrong” sort of location or listening to the “wrong” style of music. Even among groups that consider themselves “alternative” there is still a uniform way of dressing or a uniform way of behaving and not following it leads you to standing out even among an outside group! We are always under pressure to fit in with others.
One of the easiest ways to stand out these days is to follow Jesus. Living as a disciple of Jesus means you live in a very different way from the rest of the world. By meeting hate with love, responding to harm with forgiveness and grace, by caring for others and giving of yourself to help, you stick out in society. In this part of Peter’s first letter to the church he acknowledges this fact and seeks to provide the church with strategies to cope with the criticism we will face for living our lives according to kingdom values.
The key comes from knowing where true authority lies. Do we worry about the scorn of the world for standing up for the marginalised, for doing what is right? Or do we worry about moving further and further from God in trying to please the world and ignoring our responsibilities to steward God’s world? Peter reminds us we are saved by God’s grace, not by the worlds, and therefore we should never be afraid of upsetting the world by doing what God calls us to do. As the Japanese proverb says, the nail that sticks out most gets hit hardest. But by remaining faithful to God we find God’s strength more than enough to bear the blow of the world’s hammer.
Minister’s Blog 14 May 2017
Over the course of my life so far, I’ve had to build quite a lot of furniture. I traipse off to a certain Swedish furniture company armed with a tape measure and return with exotically named boxes. I empty them out onto the floor and that’s when the panic sets in. How on earth do I manipulate these pieces of wood, screws and dowels into a serviceable wardrobe or chest of drawers? Well fortunately our Scandinavian friends have addressed this issue and provide instructions for building in all their products. By following the instructions carefully, at the end of it I am left with items that resemble the picture on the package and can be pressed into domestic use.
Well building a church seems a lot more complicated than a bookcase so how do we go about that? In our reading today, Peter handily provides the building instructions for the church. Peter advises that you bring together individuals who have made the decision to live in a new way by following Jesus. Then you fit them together using Jesus as the pattern. You build these people around Jesus using Him as both the base of the structure, and as the model to form the people around. That way the church comes together and, because of it being modelled on Jesus, it resembles Jesus to the world. It can continue with Jesus’ mission to the world.
It seems like it is too easy; that there has to be something more to it than this. But I think we have tried to make it more complicated, and in doing so have missed this core function, to be Jesus to our communities. The theologian David Wells wrote, “The gospel is the message of Christ’s salvation; the church is its most important corporate expression. The truth about Christ and His death, therefore should find tangible expression in the church. Thus the gospel that created the church should also be modelled by the church”. May the gospel that created us be modelled by us. May this be the pattern that we use as we build ourselves into the future.
Minister’s Blog 7 May 2017
One phrase I hear (and use) a lot is “That’s not fair!” While I accept that no one ever said life was going to be fair, incidents of unfairness are not hard to come by and leave us with a range of emotions, usually negative ones! So it’s not a surprise given the amount of unfairness we encounter in life that we wonder how we are meant to respond as Christians.
Our reading today covers this area. Peter is writing advice to the church that finds itself alienated from the world in which it inhabits. He wants to give some practical advice to those members of the early church that are struggling with how to live in a society that is very different from the way Jesus wants it to be. And while this part of his letter is directed to slaves, it nonetheless contains some good advice for us. We are not slaves, but we are also living in a world very different from how Jesus wants it to be; we too are members of a church that is becoming more and more alienated from the world.
What it comes down to is to accept that we are going to encounter unfairness and injustice and when we do we are to use Jesus as our example. Jesus met with unfairness and injustice in His life. He challenged it but never resorted to violence or repaid injustice with more injustice. When the world turned on Him, He accepted His fate, as underserving as it was, and trusted to God to vindicate Him. I think we are to use this pattern as our example. We should challenge injustice and unfairness but only with love and grace. If we cannot change the situation we should leave it to God. We should never resort to the similar behaviours we face. It’s never going to be easy to let go and let God deal with things, but that’s what Jesus did and we have to follow Him in all the steps of His life.
Minister’s Blog 30 April 2017
Well that’s Easter over for another year and the only evidence left is those last few bits of chocolate. Most folk are back at work, the students are back to Uni and the schools go back tomorrow. The festival is over and we get back to “normal” after the holidays. The only thing we have to look forward to next is Christmas and that’s ages away. So we are quick to fall back into the old routines and familiar patterns.
It’s the same attitude we see in the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. They’d been with Jesus for a while, seen Him close up, listened to His teaching and seen His miracles. They had really thought He was the Messiah, the one who would save everyone but they had seen Him be arrested and executed. There was some amazing story that His body wasn’t in the tomb after three days but they hadn’t seen Him and so they have turned their backs on Jerusalem and headed for home. They had decided to go back to “normal”; the excitement was over.
But Jesus is with them and reveals Himself to them. The reality for them after Easter is that life is now lived in fellowship with the risen Lord and nothing is ever going to be the same again. If we are honest, we too are sometimes heading for Emmaus. There are events in our life that cause us to question the presence of God. We can turn our back on the amazing things that we have seen Jesus do and begin to wonder where God fits in with what we are experiencing. Yet it is at that very point, as we turn from God, that Jesus is with us, reminding us of who He is and what He is capable of doing. We only need open our hearts to know He is beside us every step we take in life. The only choice we have to make is whether we are walking away from Jerusalem or towards it.
Minister’s Blog 16 April 2017 (Easter Sunday)
Have you ever watched the movie “Apollo 13”? It tells the amazing true story of the astronauts on the Apollo 13 mission that ran into a “problem” during its flight to the moon. Towards the end there is the heart stopping moment when the world didn’t know if they had made it safely back to earth or not. Well, I say heart stopping but, in reality, we know they do. So, while the director does a great job of ramping up the tension, he faces the very real problem that the audience knows it ends well for the astronauts. History has spoiled the ending for us.
I think Easter is the same. For humans, death is the ending that awaits us and we worry about what is going to happen when we die. As Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, death is “the undiscovered country from which no traveller returns”. This unknown end is what awaits us all and naturally we are anxious, worried or afraid of death. But at Easter, Jesus returns from this “undiscovered” country to show us that God has power over death. Death is not the end we feared but rather the gateway to a new life lived with God.
So it turns out God is not a great mystery writer after all; God has revealed the ending to us. History spoils the mystery of death because of what happened in Jerusalem around 2,000 years ago. So we live facing fears and anxieties, we face difficulties and we wonder how we will ever get out of this situation. The world asks us to look at death with fear and trepidation. But as Christians we know how it is going to end. It’s easy to be caught up in the drama of the Apollo 13 movie and forget for a moment that we know how it turns out. It’s just as easy to get caught up in the drama of life and forget how that is going to turn out. Easter is the bump back to earth, the reminder of the reality that Jesus truly is the Resurrection and the life. Easter is the spoiler that lets us know, whatever we face or fear, the ending is known, and it’s a good one. Happy Easter!
Minister’s Blog 9 April 2017
Advertising is really great at raising our expectations. From a cleaning product that removes the toughest baked on grease with a single wipe to the latest “must have” toy for Christmas, we are saturated with promises of how fantastic something is. So we buy it and can’t wait to try it out only to find it usually falls short of our expectations. Maybe we put it to the back of the cupboard, maybe we throw it out or maybe we write a complaint to the maker, the reaction may be different but the emotion is the same, it’s a disappointment.
It’s pretty swift how the crowd in Jerusalem move from adulation on Palm Sunday to condemnation on Good Friday. We wonder how that could have changed their minds so quickly about Jesus in the space of a few days? Well I reckon disappointment has a lot to do with it. They had been waiting for the Messiah for centuries and suddenly here He was in amongst them. The problem was none of them were certain what was going to happen and they had placed all their confused and unclear expectations upon Him without ever asking what God’s expectations were. When it became clear Jesus was here for God’s plan and not their own, they turned on Him.
We are a long way removed from the events on Palm Sunday, and from this distance we can look down on the crowd and analyse their behaviour. But I worry at times we are no different in that we also place our expectations on Jesus and feel disappointed with Him when we feel let down. Maybe we thought being a Christian would make everything easy for us? Maybe we thought that by following Jesus nothing bad would ever happen to us again? The issue here is that it is all about what we thought. What we have seen over Lent is how Jesus is here to fulfil God’s plan for salvation, not ours. Perhaps we need to give up placing our expectations on Jesus and simply ask God what are God’s expectations on us? That way, maybe we will be less disappointed in Jesus and more satisfied in serving His will rather than our own.
Minister’s Blog 2 April 2017
“I want to live forever, so far…so good” Woody Allen
A few years ago, I saw an advert on TV for something called “Final Life Expense Cover”. It took me ages to work out it was a policy to help pay for your funeral. It claimed that it would be there if you needed it. If? I’d have thought it’s more of a “when” but presumably it isn’t good business to talk about death. Are we so fearful of dying that we will refer to it in these terms? I suppose it is technically true that dying is the last thing we do in our lives, but really, have we come to this?
In our reading today, Jesus confronts death head on at the tomb of His friend Lazarus. Jesus is moved to tears by the scene He meets there. He acknowledges the pain that death brings and assures the family that Lazarus will rise again. They think He means on the final day, but Jesus is the Resurrection. He has come to bring the Kingdom of God to earth and part of that means showing that death is no more. Rather than wait until the final day He commands Lazarus back to life. In doing so He demonstrates God is more powerful than even death.
As humans we are united in the common experience of knowing we will all die one day. But as Christians we are also united in the common experience of knowing that death is not the end, but rather the beginning of a new relationship with God. And while it is good to remind us of this fact at funerals when this reading is commonly used, it is also good to remind us of this fact while we live. It allows us to live life free from the fear of death, truly releasing us to live lives of fullness. Easter is just around the corner when we will see just how complete Jesus’ mastery over death is. And it is in this power that we live. So by all means remember you will die one day, but refuse to be intimidated by this fact and really live, celebrating Christ’s victory over the grave every day of your life.
Minister’s Blog 26 March 2017
One of the things that has stuck in my mind from my time at college was a conversation I had with a fellow student. He told me his grandmother warned him that if he told a lie, Jesus would sneak into his room at night and set fire to his pillow as he slept. Of all the images of Jesus we have in our minds, I suspect a nocturnal pyromaniac has never been one of them. Unsurprisingly, he grew up somewhat afraid of Jesus. I’m very glad to tell you he now has a different view of Jesus but it does raise a serious point under consideration today.
In our reading the disciples see a man who has been blind since birth. They ask if it is the man or his parents who sinned thus causing him to be in this condition. It’s a genuine question as there are a lot of references in Hebrew Scripture to God rewarding those who are righteous. The obverse is that if you are cursed then it must be your lack of righteousness. Jesus states the man’s blindness is nothing to do with sin. Jesus suggests that instead of blaming someone for his condition they should do what they can to help the man in order to demonstrate God’s love.
For all our advances, there are sadly some who still believe that a person’s misfortune has to do with their lack of faith. The usual remedy prescribed is to demonstrate more faith by giving more money to the church. It’s called the prosperity gospel and it usually results in only the pastor becoming prosperous. Our call as Christians is not to ascribe blame when we see misfortune but to see things as Jesus does. To realise we are in a position to demonstrate God’s love through our loving service. So when we feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, befriend the lonely and nurse the sick we are showing more of God’s generous love and less of our own judgment.
Minister’s Blog 19 March 2017
Have you ever thought you’re wasting your time with some activity? Have you ever been told to stop doing something because it’s a waste of time? It doesn’t matter what the activity is, it’s that sense that whatever purpose you had hoped to achieve at the outset, there’s that voice telling you that it will never be achieved. It’s letting you know that you’d be better to spend your resources (be it time or money or something else) in a more profitable direction.
In today’s reading the disciples see Jesus chatting to a Samaritan woman. They think that Jesus is wasting His time as she is (a) a woman and therefore, in that culture, inferior to a man (b) a social outcast and (c) a Samaritan, a group the Jews had no time for given their long history of antagonism towards each other. As Jesus is the Jewish Messiah shouldn’t He should be directing His energies towards the Jews? Yet as a result of this conversation, not only does the woman place her faith in Jesus, but her enthusiasm for Jesus draws many more to find Jesus and place their faith in Him.
As we saw last week, Jesus has been sent by God for all of creation, and as shocking as it is for the Jews to realise, that also means the Samaritans. As the life of Jesus unfolds we see the message spreading to the Gentiles as well and across the entire world. If we are honest with ourselves, there are those we consider that to minister to would be a waste of time and we should be directing our meagre resources towards more “fruitful” areas. But Jesus considered everyone worth the time. That’s the challenge for us, to know that there is no one with whom we would be wasting our time. To go into mission into all areas of the world to all people because we never know what could result from just one conversation.
Minister’s Blog 12 March 2017
I applied for an Australian passport recently and I had to produce my birth certificate as part of the process. It’s an odd piece of paper, as while it confirms when and where I was born and who my parents are, it is never actually used to prove the fact that I was born. The fact that I am wandering around this planet is evidence of that fact by itself. No one really doubts you were born because, if you exist, you were born.
I got to thinking this way due to the reading this week, the curious incident of the Pharisee in the nigh time. Jesus explains to Nicodemus that to see the kingdom of God a person must be born again. Obviously, Nicodemus struggles with this concept as it is a physical impossibility. Except Jesus seems to mean that one needs to be born anew from above to see the kingdom, a spiritual birth rather than a physical one. And so, this phrase of being “born again” has taken a life of its own in Christian circles and (pardon the pun) given birth to a whole movement.
But being born is just the start of it, both for life and the Christian life. The birth of a child is only the beginning and new parents must nurture, feed, protect, educate and raise up children to be a mature and responsible adult. So it is with spiritual birth, while it is important, it is just the beginning, not the end in itself. Through the Spirit we are nurtured, protected, educated and raised up into mature and responsible Christians. Just as people know we are born because we live, wouldn’t it be great if they knew we were Christians because we lived lives of love and grace and didn’t have to produce a “birth certificate” in order to prove it?
Minister’s Blog 5 March 2017
As Oscar Wilde famously said, “I can resist anything, except temptation”. At the risk of stating the obvious, temptation is whatever tempts us and makes us stray from the path we had set out on. If we are aiming to lose weight, we are tempted by cakes and biscuits; if we are aiming to get fit we are tempted to skip the exercise and relax on the sofa instead. It’s less about the causes of temptation however but rather the effect it has on us if we give in; it deflects us from our destination.
Before Jesus begins His mission, we are told He is led out into the wilderness and while there is tempted in body, faith and spirit. Giving in to any of these temptations would have the same effect, deflecting Jesus from His God given mission, to bring about the Kingdom of God. Be in no doubt, as a human being, Jesus was being truly tempted yet He remained focussed on God and refused to give in to it. For Jesus, it was all about the mission and He was not prepared to imperil it for the sake of His own comfort given what was at stake. God’s call was uppermost in His mind and would receive His full attention as the number one priority for Him.
This idea of resisting temptation so we can keep true to God’s call is what we are looking at today. Using the example of one of the early reformers of the church, we see the effect of sticking to God’s plan and while it is tempting to do something less than what God calls us to, it is nonetheless our duty to remain true. God has called us as individuals and as a community, to a mission, and we must remain true to that and not give into temptations like convenience or familiarity. This Lent we will be looking closely at Jesus and drawing inspiration and guidance from Him so we too can remain on the road God calls us down and not give into temptation that would lead us away.
Minister’s Blog 26 February 2017
As someone with poor eyesight I know how important it is to be able to see clearly. My eyesight is so important to me that I break into a panic sweat at the opticians when faced with the question “which one is better, A or B?” in case I get it wrong! And if I have taken my glasses off for any reason, it’s simply amazing how clearly I see when I put them back on. And it’s this idea of seeing clearly that we are looking at today in the Transfiguration of Jesus.
In a well-known passage included in Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus climbs up a mountain with a few disciples and before their eyes He begins to shine brightly and Moses and Elijah are seen talking to Him. God’s voice speaks reminding the disciples that Jesus is God’s Son and adds a new instruction; that we are to listen to Jesus. It’s a profound experience and one Peter writes about later (2 Peter 1:16-18) where he cites it as a reason why he follows Jesus, and support for why we should too.
But to be clear, what happens on the mountain does not involve a change to who Jesus is. Matthew has been clear from the beginning, Jesus is, and always has been, the Son of God. I believe that on the mountain the disciples get their first clear view of who Jesus is; they have put on their spiritual glasses. They see Jesus clearly for the first time and it changes them forever. The challenge for us is to also see Jesus clearly. Not see Him as a teacher, a great moralist or a life coach. We have to see Jesus as God made human. Then we understand that we listen to Jesus not because it seems like a good idea, but because it is God’s command. And if we live like God calls us to, we also allow others to see Jesus clearly too.