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The Cat is out of the Bag (immolatus vicerit)

March 20, 2015

(Sermon for Advent 5)the-cat-out-the-bag

Texts:        John 12:20-33               Jeremiah 31:31-34

If you haven’t noticed… there is an enormous difference between John’s Gospel and the other three gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). The first three introduce us to Jesus blow by blow, as it happens, as if we too were disciples on the road with him learning with them what it is all about. John on the other hand begins long after the conclusion is known, after the resurrection, and never hides this from his readers. The reason why Jesus is good news for the world… is right there front and centre in the whole story. And so John’s gospel doesn’t begin with the birth of Jesus but before and behind the creation of the world ‘In the beginning was the Word” with God. Before and behind the creation of all things is God who speaks … and God’s Word became the flesh of a human life… and so on.

 

And in today’s scripture… as Jesus life gets close to its culmination, to its moment of ‘glory’, as John’s Jesus likes to call it … we are introduced to some Greeks. John, of course, is written at a time when the Christian gospel is moving well beyond the Jewish community and into the wider world. And so these Greeks (who could well be symbolic representatives, perhaps of this wider world) say to Philip “We want to see Jesus”. We never really find out if they get to see Jesus and there is this curious, cumbersome process where Philip goes to Andrew and then Andrew and Philip go to Jesus…. and then Jesus just begins to talk… its not clear whether the Greeks ever see Jesus.

 

It may just be poor story telling … but it’s as if John wants to remind us that this gospel is going out to those who will always be one step removed from the physical Jesus… like the Greeks, the readers of his gospel will rely on the witness of others. Each of us know of the life and story of Jesus because we got it from others.

 

I wonder whose witness inspired you with the life of Jesus?

 

When Jesus dies on the cross in John’s Gospel his last words are ‘It is finished’. The verb ‘telein’ means to bring to completion. What do you think Jesus was saying was completed in his death… What did he think he was achieving with his death.

 

I think the answer to that question is very clear at the end of todays text. Jesus says:

 

“Now is the judgment of this world,

now the ruler of this world will be driven out.

And I when I am lifted up will draw all people to myself.”

 

Now is the judgment of this world! Last week we read in John 3 a definition of judgment (anyone remember?) “This is the judgment, that the light has come into the world”. Remember Jesus did not come to condemn the world… (according to John 3). The judgment is not active destruction… but insofar as he is rejected he becomes the light that exposes the world for what it is. As he takes on himself the world’s judgment (the judge of the world takes on the world’s judgment) and is lifted up on a cross he reveals the dominion of death for what it is. Declared innocent by his Father at his resurrection, he exposes the lie that rules the world and so proceeds to drive out the ‘ruler of the world’.

 

“The cat (you might say) is out of the bag”. On Thursday morning here at the church we were welcomed by a sheep which had escaped from from its yard somewhere up the road in our suburb (those who read this sermon on my blog will know that NZ is largely inhabited by sheep with a few humans in between, so they will not be too surprised ;-)). The problem for us was, how to get the sheep back to its yard, wherever that was.

 

Once the cat is out of the bag its almost impossible to get it back into the bag. To change the metaphor slightly, once you’ve seen the planet earth from outer space its impossible to imagine a flat earth.

 

What you see, when you see God raised up on a cross… is a world arrayed around, a world controlled by powers of violence and self-deception. You see a world that organises its peace around its scapegoats. The forces that rule this world… the prince of this world, to use the old language … is exposed as an exercise in justified violence, often mysterious and religiously justified violence, it is a world in which, according to Caiaphas, ‘it is necessary for one man to die for the people’. In the ancient world, they called it a sacrifice to the gods. We just know it as a process of finding someone to blame.

 

And most powerfully of all when we see God raised up on a cross, we don’t see a one-finger-salute to the self-deceiving powers of this world… it’s not a gesture of resentment that we see… its a gesture of forgiveness.

 

Jesus now makes it clear that the judgment point for the world – a man lifted up and hanging on a cross – will also become the attraction centre of a new world.

 

Historically we can never be certain that a saying like this goes back to the historical Jesus or not. But even if it really comes from John’s theological reflections up to about 90ad, it is incredible foresight! After over 2000 years of world history this saying has been so profoundly vindicated by the sweeping effect of this event on the history of the world. The voice of the world’s victims has been heard… the divine and moral authority of the world’s victims has subverted the consciousness of the world in so many ways – the God who sides with them has let the cat out of the bag. It’s not as if the power that rules the world has been annihilated and no longer functions, but the cat is out of the bag.

 

And by ‘cat’ here I mean Holy Spirit… Paraclete (in greek) which means counsellor or defense lawyer…

 

When the ruler of the world is judged, when the truth about the world is exposed on the cross. Jesus promises a defence lawyer who will ensure that what is accomplished in cross and resurrection is slowly but surely accomplished in the community of those drawn to the crucified God.

 

Remember John 16

 

“Unless I go (says Jesus)

the Advocate (defence lawyer) will not come to you

but if I do go

I will send him to you

And when he comes

he will show the world how wrong it was

about sin,

about who was in the right

and about judgment”

 

The cat is out of the bag… even if each day, we still find ways of averting our eyes from our victims… Perhaps like the Greeks who wanted “to see Jesus” we too fail to see Jesus in the face of the poor and of our society’s victims… all that may be true but there is still good news. The cat is out of the bag… a covenant is being written on our hearts, the hearts of humanity are being re-programmed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Love that Saves   (sermon)        

March 14, 2015

 John 3:14-21                        Ephesians 2:1-10Cardy Billboard

Elena has become a Christian today…

 

A week ago I talked to the youth group about baptism as the point of entry into a new life as a point of death to a past life and a new beginning as a follower of Jesus. My question to them was ‘Why would anyone choose this?’

 

Why would anyone love God, so much that they would treat their former life as dead and embark on a new life? (I’ve already half answered my own question – they must really love God… not just believe in God’s existence).

 

Today Elena didn’t make a choice to embark on the Christian life, her parents have simply included her in it. Rather than give her the choice they are giving her the default settings. They are raising her to love God.

 

But there is a deeper question… Why love God? It’s not obvious. God is very clever creating and holding the universe in existence and, if you believe this, God is much to be admired… but loved?

 

This is the secret power of John’s gospel… in particular John 3:16

 

God loves the world … not just individuals but ‘the world’… the creation (to be sure)… but also the problematic human world with all its violence and greed. Unbelievably, God loves it.

 

God loves the world-gone-amok so much that he ‘gave his only Son’… (‘begotten’) life from God’s own life … that’s what Jesus is for us ‘life from God’s own life’.

 

God loves the “perishing” world so much. So much that God was prepared to do whatever it took that there might be new life (eternal life, life of the age to come) as opposed to perishing of life.

 

The point of this act of love is to salvage the life of the world from its perishing and to bring new life to birth in the world (that the world might be saved through him). God carried the weight, carried the cost of that work… because God is love through and through.

So says John 3:16

 

This week Glynn Cardy, a Presbyterian minister in Auckland, in order to provoke some discussion at Easter time, put the sign on his Church billboard. “Jesus did NOT die for our sins”.

Sure enough it didn’t take long for his opponents to be outraged and paint over the ‘did NOT’ bit. Glyn was prepared for opposition. His response to the question as to why Jesus died is ‘he died for his own sin’. And what was that? Sedition! As Cardy put it. He was guilty as charged. Undermining the empire. And Cardy is right. I have said as much many times in sermons. But is that the whole story? It is fine to point out one of the causes of Jesus death, a very important cause of Jesus death… but does that mean you have ruled out the impact of Jesus death on ‘our sin’. In explaining it that way, (that Jesus died because he was seditious) does that mean you have explained the whole event? Does it mean that you have explained why we are sitting here two thousand or so years later worshipping the man? Does that explain why people regularly get baptised – die to an old life and commit themselves to a new life following this man? Is Jesus death nothing more than the death of an inspired rebel. That’s the problem with the ‘did NOT’ on Glynn Cardy’s noticeboard.

 

The first preaching of the church took for granted that he died at our hands and at the hands of empire (read Acts) ‘this Jesus whom you crucified’… but what was at least as important for them was that God was involved. Whatever reasons the empire might have had for killing this dangerous man from Nazareth, and they certain had reason, God also had reasons for taking the path towards death. God raised Jesus. God affirmed the man who, although crucified by us, nevertheless chose to face this death and gave himself to it in hope for us.

 

Today we are not reading Glyn Cardy’s noticeboard, we are reading John’s gospel. And for John’s gospel Jesus is not just a political rebel – he comes from the heart of God (Son of God) and the Empire is not just an empire – it comes from the heart of a perishing humanity and epitomises the human problem, our sin. What we see in John’s gospel is more than an encounter between a dreamer and an empire. We have an encounter between the love of God and the sin of the world.

 

And with the resurrection of Jesus comes the victory of God over all that holds humanity in bondage. There is much more at stake with the death of Jesus than the fact that empire is wrong. What is finally at stake is that God is love – love in action.

 

And that action, according to John’s gospel, addresses the problem of sin.

God, says John’s gospel, did not do this to ‘condemn the world’…. But God did do it to ‘judge’ the world. And what is this judgment?

vs 20 “And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world.”

The judgment that God brings is compared to light… moral light, divine light. God judges us by shedding divine light on human action and the human condition. And light judges us because we want to protect ourselves from light… John says people love darkness rather than light

 

To put it another way… we don’t want to admit our neediness. We don’t want to know. And God loves us enough to confront us anyway.

 

Before I finish I want to mention a couple of things about this sin that Jesus’ death addresses. The first is the phrase in the letter to the Ephesians – today’s other text. The writer sees their life prior to conversion as being ‘children of wrath’. It’s a kind of parallel to the phrase ‘Son of God’. One gets his life from the life of God (begotten there, so to speak) and the other gets its life from the cycles of violence that form us as human being – out of the problem of sin.

To put it in the words of W H Auden

            I and the public know

            what all school children learn

            those to whom evil is done

            do evil in return

             

The other thing that struck me this week was Peter Matheson’s Opinion piece in Wednesday’s ODT

“The Cold War, with its threat of nuclear catastrophe, has been replaced by simmering fires of discontent right across the globe.

These factories of hate are not going to go away.”

 

“What realistic alternatives to the present unjust world order could we be offering them?”

 

To which I would only respond… it depends on whether you think communities formed by the love of God are in fact ‘realistic alternatives’. The response to factories of hate has got to be factories of love. God loves the world enough not just to send the Son, not just to raise the Son for us again, but also enough to raise up communities of new life in the world. This is the Christian gospel.

 

 

Stop Making my Father’s House a Marketplace: the gospel in a neo-liberal culture

March 10, 2015

(homiletical input for Cafe Church last Sunday)

John 2:13-22 “Stop making my Father’s house a market place”

 

This phrase stands out for me…

 

Today’s service is going to be a reflection together on this thing Jesus called the

‘marketplace’… What is that?

 

On the other hand we have what Jesus called ‘my Father’s house’ – the temple. But in the way he describes it you hear that word ABBA (Father) and Jesus conception of God’s grace.

 

So on the one hand you have this ‘marketplace’ and on the other hand this oikos (Greek for house) of God’s grace… Interesting from the Greek word for house (oikos) we get words like: economy, ecumenical (church), and ecology…. I wonder if all of these might in some sense be houses of God’s grace. But don’t let’s get ahead of ourselves.

“Don’t make this oikos of God into a Marketplace”

 

Q What do you think of when I say the word ‘market place’?

 

Farmer’s Market … Supermarket … Stock Market … different connotations.

 

What kind of idea of market place might Jesus have in mind when he is concerned that the temple is becoming a ‘market place’?

What is a marketplace?

Here’s my attempt at an informal definition

 A place where we go to get something we want and we pay for it and we leave. No one is really personally involved (or at least they don’t have to be). No one really loses anything, or gives anything away. It is all comfortable exchanges between people who keep their distance from each other and get out of it what they want.

Are markets a bad thing? Should we never trade?

 

Perhaps Jesus is saying that we should divide our life into two parts – the market part and the temple part…the money part and the church part. Is that what he has been saying?

 

I don’t think so. To understand this we need to see Jesus attitude to the temple in the rest of his life. For Jews the Temple is the centre of their religion… it is the place where the divine and the human intersect – the sacred meeting place.

 

Jesus has been a offering a radical alternative to the temple for some time. He has been going around the streets of Israel dramatically declaring forgiveness (by-passing the role of the temple). As Tom Wright suggests it’s like someone going round Dunedin streets issuing passports and drivers licences on their own authority… It helps you understand why the man got himself crucified.

 

Jesus has been taking God out of the temple and into everyday life (not separating the market from the temple) … He has been letting God change the marketplace of everyday life rather than the Market determine God.

 

Jesus sees the opposite happening in the temple of his day … Not just that God is being kept in the temple (in a separate part of life) … but that in the temple God is becoming a commodity.

 

You can’t sell God! You can’t market God! Is Jesus message.

 

So the Jews are outraged… How dare you challenge the temple practices! What sign do you have to prove your authority?

 

The sign that authorises his critique of the temple is his crucifixion and resurrection. The sign that verifies his right to critique the temple assumes that his own life/body in its crucifixion and resurrection is a new ‘temple’ (the place of the intersection of divine and human).

 

“Destroy this temple/body and I will raise it again in three days”

 

Jesus suggests that his body is the true temple! (place of divine/human intersection) and his life is the true life (for us)!

 

His body which will be killed…. is the true temple.

 

In his body… Jesus doesn’t sell God… he gives God away… Or better God gives           God away – in the middle of everyday life, politics, history, economics

 

In other words… through his body… through his death and resurrection God intersects with our every day lives and effects the marketplace exchanges of life… our economy… our ecumenism… our ecology.

 

Q: Any comments/responses?

 

Jesus lives out the life of Abba… Jesus brings the ‘house of Grace’ into our everyday lives… and that’s where we come slap bang up against this thing he calls the marketplace

 

Q: Where in your life do you find yourself influenced by ‘market’ thinking?

see above definition of market [on screen]

 

Q: How does it challenge your spirituality and your sense of God’s grace?

 

Examples for discussion follow-up

· Do I think if I live a good life God will reward that?

· Neo-liberal economics – market must control all things

· ‘I didn’t get much out of it’ after a service

(what do you expect, some kind of religious supermarket)

· We can’t deal with global warming cause it will challenge our lifestyle too much it will ruin our economy – our growth – the market controls the natural world.

· Perhaps we should have more feel-good sermons and bouncier music to attract more people to church, to market ourselves or God better

· Is the church a business?

 

If Jesus is to be believed, none of our life can be lived as if it were an isolated exchange between individuals for the sake of our self-interest – such a life is not being lived ‘in the Father’s house’.

 

By the death and resurrection of Jesus the Father’s house has ‘hit the street’.

 

Christian Pacificism for Lent

February 27, 2015

Sermon: The Suffering Messiah (Mark 8:27-38)coptic Christians beheaded

Let’s hold in our minds for a few minutes the image in our newspapers and the internet over the last fortnight of those 21 Coptic Christians about to be beheaded on the beach. I want us to bring that frightening image today into conversation with todays gospel text:

It begins with Jesus questioning his followers ‘who do people say that I am?’ To which they reply ‘John the Baptizer’… ‘Elijah’ and ‘One of the prophets’. Then Jesus says ‘Who do you say that I am?’ And Peter replies, ‘You are the Messiah! (the coming King, the one who defeats the forces of evil in the world and brings in God’s reign of peace)’. That’s what Messiah meant.

And Jesus immediately and sternly tells them to be silent and not to tell anyone about him.

Interesting response! Why do you think Jesus is not interested in their publicity? Surely he would want people to know that he was the Messiah!

Perhaps the very next verse makes it clear. Verse 31:

“Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering… and be killed”.

He is a messiah who brings God’s reign, not through military victory but through suffering.
I am struck by the contrast between their Messianic hope… and Jesus own understanding of his calling and his future?

“He said all this quite openly.”
On the one hand he hushes up all talk of being Messiah. On the other hand he ‘quite openly’ talks of the suffering he is about to face.

And then he rebukes Peter in the strongest possible language:

“Get behind me Satan! For your mind is not on divine things but on human things”

Your messianic ideas are human rather divine.

Peter, who advocates for a violent divine response, a conquest; Peter is here the tempter (Satan). This kind of a Messiah… who takes on evil in the usual human way, with violence (fighting evil with evil) represents Jesus greatest temptation.

Verse 34

‘Then he called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me”’

The ISIS publicity photograph with the men in orange about to be executed and the men behind with their faces hidden by black balaclavas had a subtitle (do you remember what it was?) ‘The People of the Cross’.

No doubt those who posted that picture on the internet, the PR branch of ISIS, think of the sign of the cross in terms of the crusaders with their swords or the Americans with their bombs

It’s a profound irony, presumably lost on the PR men, that the ‘people of the cross’ in that picture are the ones who look, not like crusaders or American soldiers, or New Zealand soldiers, but like Jesus… like Jesus who won his victory over evil, precisely by going to his public execution… like the guys in orange overalls… for them that was the victory

Can you see Jesus in that picture? Can you see God in that picture? I’m told that in the video of the execution, the Coptic Christians can be seen mouthing the words ‘Jesus Messiah’ and the words ‘Jesus is Lord’ – the words that the Christians challenged the Romans with in the first and second centuries.

Taking up the cross for them is not taking up arms (like the crusaders, or the Romans who carries banners with crosses on them). Taking up the cross is a moment in which they come face to face with the force of evil in the world and, in the name and way of Jesus, confront that evil with their suffering and even their death.

Jesus is at his clearest here.

“For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life.”

”…to gain the whole world” … Even if the whole world is at stake… if the life of the kingdom is lost in the process, then the process is not Jesus’ process and those who undertake it are not followers of Jesus.

He couldn’t be clearer really. The life of the reign of God, has one point of access… and it’s not a violent revolution or a military conquest… it’s suffering, and possibly martyrdom.

Not because Jesus loves suffering. Not because Christianity somehow romanticises suffering. Simply because if you are to face evil without merely escalating and perpetuating the evil, you will have to be prepared to suffer and possibly die.

Lent is the time of year when we contemplate Jesus, the man who gave his life for others and ultimately for us. Why? Most deeply because his life was not his own to possess. As he received it constantly from his Father he gave it away to others.

‘Then he began to tell them that the Son of Man (true human) must undergo great suffering’

We are not just talking about any kind of suffering. The suffering Jesus is talking about is the price of social non-conformity – suffering at human hands, suffering in opposition to the evil powers in the world. So in confronting this world he gives his life into the hands of his Abba, into the silence … that’s the shocking thing, Abba is silent… but in trust and hope for Abba’s resurrection. In trust that love will be victorious in its own way.

In conclusion let us return to the political realities of our picture… And in this context I want to say just one thing. For us this morning in worship the question of what we as New Zealanders ought to do is not the first question. We are not first of all New Zealanders. At our baptism we are marked first of all as Christians. We are first of all followers of Jesus. Our duty is not first of all to John Key or any government, it is to Jesus Christ in whom God gives us our life and our identity.

Climate Change and the Church

February 19, 2015

I’m just back from a Consultation on Climate Change organised by the Council for World Mission (CWM) in Nadi, Fiji. Here’s a poem that came to me one stormy humid day in the splendid isolation of the Novotel Hotel.

CLIMATE CHANGE

 

Building capacity.

Ordering gopher wood.

Till the will of God

Or the ancestors,

Like a wall of liquid sound,

Dissolves difference

Between the waters above

And the waters below

Only to sink

Beneath the coral soil

 

The jagged green hills

Emerge

Steaming from every orifice

Grumbling with

Slow thunder

Standing on the Brink and not Clinging

December 1, 2014

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19; Matthew 13:33-37

 Sheep_wallpapers_218

If we were to sum up our readings for this first Sunday in Advent, I would say they are about living with the end of the world and living on the brink of something new.

I wonder what you think of when you hear the phrase ‘on the brink’? Do you think of disaster? Do you think of base-jumping? Do you think of going through a door way to an unknown situation.

 

Our Psalm comes from the Exile…

Jerusalem, the past, the nation, all their ideas about God and their place in God’s purposes for the world… are in tatters. A world has ended. Its the end of the world.

It’s a bit like the crucifixion of Jesus. The future is lost… but the past too looks like nonsense… All that stuff they used to say and think about God. It looks like stupidity at the end of the world.

 

The Psalm is desperate:

Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine that we may be saved.

 

This is the true meaning of Advent… Desperation. Waiting… but not like those sitting at a bus stop filling in time … like those at the end of the world. Living in exile from our past… trying to work out what to think about our future… singing our mournful ‘o come, o come, emmanuel’.

 

Lawrence Moore has, I think, described our exile and our advent situation most clearly. He writes:

“The Christian Church – at least in the hi-tech, consumerist west – has had its day. Its best years are in the past. The old answers no longer work. The gospel appears to have little or nothing to say that sounds as Good News to the increasing millions who have either had nothing to do with Christian faith or who have quite deliberately voted with their feet and left. A look at trends and statistics shows that Christian faith is something for old people, so that ministry appears increasingly to be about hospice care. People are turning not to Christianity, but to other faiths and spiritualities for answers. And those churches that buck the trends are increasingly simply the exceptions that prove the rule. Church has had its day. It is more and more a museum piece, showcasing a past that is bathed in the golden light of nostalgia. That is why people who come back to Church at significant times in their lives (births, marriages, deaths, national events) want Church to be church as they remember it.”

 

Moore says,

“We need to be realistic and work to kill off residual optimism. Unless we do, we will not take seriously enough the crisis we are in and will be unable to respond appropriately. I am not saying that there aren’t signs of hope. I am not saying that this is the story of every church. Yet, if we look beyond the immediate borders of our own localities, we cannot avoid the fact that there is a clear, alarming pattern. … However good our immediate situation may be, we do not and cannot live in glorious isolation from what is happening to the Christian Church more widely. Church as we know it – and spend huge amounts of money, time, commitment and energy on it – is dying. Whether it is right in the forefront of our consciousness or not, most of church life in the west is about survival. And that is not what we’re here for!”

 

Those are strong words… and yet I think he is right … even if no one wants to hear it. We are not here to survive. We are here to give ourselves away in mission and to pray with the Psalmist: Restore us Lord God of Hosts; let your face shine that we may be saved.

 

Jesus too is preaching at the end of the world. This is what we struggle grasp. And the main reason we struggle to grasp it is because we think he is referring to the end of the physical world … and of course 2000 years later we know that the physical world hasn’t ended. Jesus says this generation will not pass away before these things happened. That generation did pass away. So if he was talking about the physical world he must have been wrong… And that’s not a good look for the church.

But New Testament scholar N T Wright argues, rightly… I think, that although Jesus uses metaphors from what we call ‘apocalyptic literature’ about a physical end of the world and a judge who comes down from the sky… they are precisely that ‘metaphors’ for something else.

 

One thing I really hate is the idea that some people (fundamentalists for example) read the Bible literally while others don’t. No one reads the whole Bible literally. And no one reads the whole Bible non-literally (or metaphorically) either. It’s nonsense. Each part needs to be judged on its own merits depending on what the writer mean. So when Paul calls his the Christians at Corinth to love one another he is talking quite literally and we should understand it literally. When he asks them to bear one another’s burdens he is using a metaphor and it should be understood metaphorically.

 

Tom Wright says, when Jesus talks of cosmic disasters in the heavens he is using the metaphors of a particular tradition to dramatise the significance of the situation his disciples were facing… a situation which is for him and for them like the end of the world.

 

At the beginning of today’s chapter of Mark, Jesus is in the temple and the disciples are impressed by the grandeur of the temple building. Herod’s temple… built as a kind of Roman way of pleasing the Jews and a sign of their faith under Roman rule … a sign of their world … a world that Jesus finds so deeply frustrating… a people who have lost their way. …

 

And so Jesus replies to the oohs and aahs about the buildings with the comment. ‘Not one stone will be left upon another’. This is the context for understanding these metaphors. In other words, this world will end… ‘there will be wars and rumours of wars… we are entering a time of crisis… you will be persecuted. Jesus is being quite literal here. Jesus has a very specific end of the world in mind and its not the physical universe. But in verse 24 (at the beginning of todays reading) he changes gear into ‘apocalyptic poetry’ about the sun darkening signs in the heavens and a ‘Son of Man coming in clouds’ is a dramatic way of saying that the powers of the social world are unravelling… and God will act. Talk of “gathering his elect from the four winds” is the language of hope… but, again not literally referring to four winds. We know that… and Tom Wright argues… so did Jesus.

 

So what is Jesus saying that might be relevant to us today … when a certain kind of world is also ending for us.

 

(1) “The end is nigh”… In some ways I think it would be easier for us all if there were some kind of catastrophe to mark the end of Christendom for us… but I suspect not… church in 20 year’s time will continue to be tolerated as a curious habit for certain groups of consenting adults… whether it be little groups of people singing the same old hymns and doing the same old things. Like what Moore describes as a sort of ‘Christian train spotters” society … or on the other hand whether it be large commercial mega-churches who have perfected their advertising techniques and designed the perfect ‘buzz experience’ for each new generation of young people. In other words church will fade away with no one noticing that the groups that still call themselves church no longer have much to do with what Jesus was on about, no longer look much like Jesus. They will be, if they are not already, just another product on the entertainment market. There is a way of being church, which is our equivalent of the Jerusalem Temple with its large stones. And I think Jesus would invite us to see the writing on the wall. Many of us have known this in our bones for some time now.

(2) don’t cling to the current situation … Jesus is saying to his disciples, there will be a regathering ‘from the four winds’, so don’t look back… the whole world you now know will crumble… ‘heaven and earth will pass away’ so to speak…. but God’s work in the world is bigger than all of that… bigger than the familiar old church that you know, the familiar old way of worship, the familiar old minister you listen to on Sunday morning. For us I think that means… God’s work is bigger than the powerful old church of Christendom at the centre of society with public authority. It’s time to let go of that world. v20 Jesus says, ‘And if anyone says to you at the time, ‘Look! Here is the Messiah! or Look! There he is!’ – do not believe it.’ Prophet’s will come claiming to be the Messiah with the solution to restore this world to you… to bring all the young people back to church (perhaps). The Temple had became a sign of the failure of the people of God in Jesus time – a religious industry – Jesus staged a protest throwing out the money changers. In the same way the powerful church, in our time must like Jesus abandon itself to live in solidarity with the poor and needy and marginal of our world. When the church becomes a powerful institution focussed on its own growth and self-preservation – a religious industry – it has begun to lose its way. The end is nigh.

 

(3) And here’s the third thing Jesus is saying. Watch! v28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves you know that summer is near”. That’s the point… in spite of all the loss and devastation… ‘Summer is near!’

 

Three things: (1) The world of Christendom is ending. (2) Stop clinging to the past. (3) Watch and be alert. Temples and church’s will pass away, but God has not, and will not abandon the way of Jesus Christ. The future of Jesus Christ will come and catch us by surprise if we are not alert to it.

 

 

Improvements on the Serenity Prayer

November 27, 2014

I recently wrote a paper on the theology of marriage and concluded with my own variation on the Serenity Prayer. Somewhere in the back of my mind I recall reading such things but don’t know where, so it may be that this is not original and I am channeling a distant memory. But I reckon this is a definite improvement.

 

God, grant us the serenity

To accept the things we cannot change

The courage to change the things we can

and the wisdom to know that we probably don’t know the difference

And that you are, nevertheless, not limited by our incapacity.

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