Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Meeting God in the Ten Commandments and not the Temple




Here are some of my thougths about this weeks readings. There will be no sermon posted as we are having a guest preacher.

Over the last weeks I have suggested that Lent is a time for us to pay attention to one of our central questions – whose are we? It is a time to reflect on how our experience and understanding of God shapes how we see ourselves and what our lives are about. Lent is a time then to hear the invitation to deepen that understanding, to let go of some images and embrace new images. Last week we wondered how we are shaped by the character of God. This week we are offered readings that invite us to reflect further on that character.
Our first reading from Exodus 20 is well known – the 10 words or 10 commandments. It is easy to read these as legalistic or moralistic. Howard Wallace reminds us that they “were given so that people may live fully together and before God. They were not given so that people may be worthy to come into God’s presence. On the contrary … they are given after God liberated his people from Egypt and led them in the wilderness. Law or torah in the Old Testament, is always a way to live in the presence of the gracious God who first comes to us in our despair and need. They are also a reminder that living in the presence of this God brings responsibility toward God and toward all God’s creation.”[1] These commandments invite us to see afresh a gracious God who offers us grace and comes to us first. How are we marked by that graciousness and generosity?
Both New Testament readings offer Jesus as the means to enter into the character of God. John tells the story of the cleansing of the temple very differently from the other three gospels. It comes at the beginning of the Jesus ministry, rather than the end. Commentators suggest that it is difficult to be absolutely clear about what Jesus objection is, but it seems he is incensed that the Temple, which was to be the ultimate representation of God’s presence among the people of God and God’s reign of grace, generosity, justice and peace now has come to represent a system that abused power; exploited the poor, especially Galilean poor (remember “Jews” is better translated as Judean elite); and colluded with Rome. The clear message is that the temple is no longer the place to find God. Jesus becomes the one in whom God is known. In John the signs Jesus perform point not only to his authority but also beyond Jesus to the Godhead. In Jesus we meet God afresh. Paul reminds us to let go of our assumptions and baggage when we come to Jesus, and to allow Jesus to shape us instead.
Finally, we are invited to wonder how we as the new temple community reflect the character of God here in Tauranga. If we are a people shaped by God’s grace, generosity, justice and peace, how do we live that out for others to see? A good question for us to pray about this Lent.



[1] http://hwallace.unitingchurch.org.au/WebOTcomments/LentB/Lent3BExod20.html

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Coracle - A Book Review



I was intrigued to be asked to review a book of poems by Peter Stuart. I worked with Peter a number of years ago, and he always seemed a very matter of fact kind of person. More prone to write a “how to” book than a poetry book I thought. One should never take people at face value.
His book is simply entitled “Coracle.” The internet will tell you that a coracle is a small round boat of wickerwork or straw. These little vessels transported the ancient Celts around the coasts and along the water ways of Ireland, Scotland and Wales. In the little book we are taken on surprising journeys. For those of us who understand geography from a road, being on the waterways allows for a different perspective on familiar places, and wonderful views of the new. I will never experience Cromwell the same having been through there with Peter. Nor will Wanaka or Manapouri remain just lakes to pass by, without a serious pause.
Peter also takes us on long journeys to places we might only dream of seeing. In Coracle we are invited into his experience of Istanbul, Bilbao, and Auschwitz. Coracles were slow moving vehicles at the best of times. In these poems we are given time to enter into each place slowly, deeply, to see beneath the surface and encounter something of the essence of each and Peter’s response.
Many Celtic saints also set sail in coracles with no paddle, no means of propulsion or steering. They did this to allow their God to take them where God willed. I am sure a significant number went straight to God through the deep waters of their faith. But many others landed in new places, and there found God waiting. So too in these poems do we find God waiting, or arriving unannounced, taking us on surprising journeys within – within the places and people we meet in these poems; and within ourselves as we allow the journey of these poems to lead us on.
This is a wonderful little collection. At times I laughed out loud. Other times I sat in deep stillness as another took his last breath. Thank you Peter for offering this little coracle, and your insight it contains. 
Coracle is available at Pleroma and Epworth bookshops, and at Kopua Any bookshop can order it in. Also at www.makaropress.co.nz.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Names



Gate Pa: Lent 2 2015
Readings:
Psalm                          Psalm 22:23-31                                                                      
First Reading:                         Genesis 17:1-7,15-16 
Second Reading:        Romans 4:13-25                     
Gospel:                        Mark 8:31-38                                                                    

What I want to say:
I want to explore the importance of names, and suggest that our name be based on the character of God. What name God might be inviting us into. 
I also want to explore Jesus saying that those who follow him are to pick up their cross and follow him. How does this change who we are?

What I want to happen:
People to reflect on what they might be invited to let go of this lent.

The Sermon

1.     Introduction:

One of the themes this week is names
always interesting hear about why people have the names they have
why I have my name
how chose kids names
->why were you given your name?
would you prefer another name?

Names are often understood to say something about you.
I looked up what my name means
>       grace or favour or mercy of God
>       not sure what that might say about me.
ð what does your name mean?
ð what do you think it says about you?
 (talk to your neighbours about this)
what name would you offer your neighbour
wonder what that was like hearing that?

2.     Names

First reading today one of two versions of Abrams encounter with God
burst out laughing at just how preposterous notion Sarai giving birth is
where given new names - Abraham and Sarah.
Names are a big deal in these times
            still are in many parts of the world
names reveal character of someone
fact given new names shows change in who they are.
this encounter with God changes them
            even though they laugh
they have met God
they are changed
they get a new name

3.     Whose we are

Last week I talked about Lent being a time to slow down,
            be still
            to listen deeply.
suggested - it is a time to reflect on the three questions of
                        whose are we
                        who are we
                        what is ours to do.
in particular - whose are we
                        who is this God we seek to follow?
                        how does that affect how we answer the other two questions.
this week we are reminded that
As followers of Christ
            like Abraham and Sarah
            our identity is slowly being changed by God
as we meet God here
            and in our daily lives
we are being changed
who we are shaped by who God is
we are changed by the character of God
another way of saying that heart of God is shaping our heart
            is shaping our sense of who we are
when we ask question - who is God?
will lead to ask "who am I in God?"
so what character of God is taking your attention this Lent?
and what name is God inviting you into this Lent
pause

4.     Take up your cross

Gospel has one better known passages in the Bible
"34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul. (ESV)"
how do we understand that?
            responses
struck me as I read this this week that this is one of those passages easily miss the point.
suspect make it palatable - we have sanitised this
wondered what first century Jew would have thought about this
            or even those hearing gospel in the first century church setting
            ->under authority of Rome.
in that context what Jesus is saying is horrific.
            should appal us
            shock us to our core!
            ->how many even felt mildly apprehensive.
to carry a cross was to be declared an enemy of Rome
            stripped of all hope
            all dignity
            beaten
have means execution laid across your shoulders
forced carry it out city
to place of pain and death by main road
hands or wrists nailed crossbar
raised up to be mocked by those pass by and roman soldiers
            most powerful force in that part of the world
there you would be left to die
long slow tortuous death
Rome - that encapsulated - all wisdom times
            knowledge time
            decides what is important
                        what has value and meaning
to carry a cross meant that
Rome declared
            all that you base your life on
            your god
            your family
            your people
            all that has value and meaning
            all you hope for
was of no consequence
            of no value
            of no meaning
there you hang
sometimes for days
            naked
            abandoned by all
            until you suffocate and die
            and all that gave meaning to your life dies with you
Jesus says
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me when Jesus said take up your cross”
what people would have heard?
what would they have felt listening to that
how outraged and appalled would they have been?
essentially
Jesus pushes our reset button
strips us of everything that has given meaning to our lives
stripping us of all preconceptions about who God is and who we are
says
start again with me
            in me you will find who God is
            and you will find who your are.
we are invited to let go of our ideas about life and God
            start with God found in Jesus,
take up your cross and follow me.

5.     Me        

the invitation in all of this is to let it go
I would love to be a person of influence
I am invited to let it go
I am pretty sure my ideas about youth ministry are pretty good.
I wish more people had listened to me
I wonder if I could have done my previous jobs differently so that more people had listened
I can angst about it if I am not careful
I am invited to let it go
I worry that my legacy will not be what I would like it to be
I am invited to let it go
Instead i am invited walk that way of the cross.
walk way invites me to let go of all that I have built up that makes sense of my likfe
all that I aspire to and hope for
ask
how do I live out character of God in my everyday life
or put it another way
how do I love God with all my heart and soul and mind
and how do I love my neighbour as myself
or
how do I live out the name God invites me into
so what are you being invited to let go of this lent
what name are you being invited to embrace
and live out?
how are you being invited to live the character of  God

Lord Jesus, in your servant Francis you displayed the wonderful power of the cross:
help us always to follow you in the way of the cross,
and give us strength to resist all temptation;
to you, Lord, with the Father and the Holy Spirit be all glory forever.
Amen