Sunday, 20 October 2013

Sermon Sunday 20th October: Pester Power

Jeremiah 31: 31-34
Luke 18: 1-8

If at first you don’t succeed – try, try again.... as I discovered with the children, generally when we are learning; and when we are preparing; and when something is really worth it – it takes time.

In our grown up world, this is a lesson we have learned – and one that advertisers and merchandisers know all too well: if you repeat it often enough, then eventually people will remember your slogan; your product; your promise.

 Pester power works – and today’s parable shows that pester power is timeless! Not a new invention at all.

There is Pester Power in both of today’s readings; similar but different:

In the Old Testament – it is God who persists, continuing to love, continuing to honour the covenant, even though many would say the people didn’t deserve it.

Yet God remains faithful.
God’s love is eternal, never-ending: Perfectly Persistent. 
What a contrast with the Grumpy Old Man in Jesus’ parable!
Here is a man of power and influence: the judge; who nevertheless is not a very nice man.
He’s not only grumpy; he isn’t fair either.
He respects no one; he has no regard for God, or God’s Law.
And, even in the face of a cut & dried case, he won’t act for this widow.

She however is made of strong stuff!
She doesn’t take no for an answer! She knows she is in the right, so she persists.
She understands the timeless truth of Pester Power!
I imagine she began in hope; returning every few weeks. But as time went by she became more resolute: so she stepped it up... to weekly perhaps.
By now I can also imagine those around her were beginning to tell her to give it up; to admit defeat.
But she is stronger than that. She has right on her side.
So she steps it up again – daily.
Waiting outside the court; following him to dinner; waking early so as to greet him leaving his house.

He may have been disrespectful and unfair and partial in his judgement; but he also knew when he was beat!
He gave in, just to get some peace.

Pester Power… not nagging but the persistence of Godly love, which nags at us, and enables us to grow, to move, to forgive, to speak the truth in love. Contrast that with the Grumpy-Old-Man judge, who gave in, not out of love, but exasperation.

When Jesus tells the parable of the widow persevering in her demands for justice in the face of the opposition of an uncaring judge, He is offering His listeners (including us!) a memorable image of what persevering in prayer means.

I am sure we all have times when we feel that prayer is getting us nowhere - that it is all a waste of time - and been tempted to lose heart and give up.

Jesus knew this would happen - in fact, He had probably met people who had felt their prayers weren’t answered - and many who had lost heart.

It is a fact of prayer that there will be times when we won’t get what we ask for - however fervently we pray.

Others may “reassure” us and say that we are not praying for the right thing. They are probably right - but it isn’t much of a consolation.

Sometimes, our prayer isn’t asking for anything - and we still feel that God isn’t listening - even to our words and prayers of praise and thanksgiving.

There is no easy explanation for this. It simply is the way it is!

It is our challenge; our task to continue, because when the time comes and we are able to look back – suddenly we can see answered prayers; we can see solutions and responses

The easiest option when facing any challenge - in all aspects of our life - may seem to be to give it all up as a bad job! In the short-term, this may even seem to have been the right thing to do.

 But somewhere inside, there usually remains a niggle - what if I had...?

We may see people who faced the same challenge as us and who did see it through - and we see their growth as people.

Witnessing that, we realise what might have been; what can be possible – if we just keep trying.

Jesus is trying to encourage His disciples to see beyond the short-term and the supposed non-response from God.

Because, if, in the end, even the unjust judge caves in and gives justice - how much more can we trust that the God of Justice will see justice done for us.

Jesus concludes - rather sadly it seems - by asking “Will He find any faith on earth?” 

Jeremiah reminds us that God’s perfect persistence in loving us is unending;

Jesus reminds us that persistence pays off

Pester Power doesn’t need to be a negative wearing down and giving in

It can be; it should be – a beautiful, powerful, relational conversation between us and the Creator: because God is not the Grumpy-Old-Man judge who gives in just to regain his peace

God is our loving parent: who forgives us; listens to us and Perfectly, Persistently Loves

If we can hold that – then the answer to Jesus’ question, “Will the Son of Man find faith on earth?” is yes!! Yes! Yes!


Sunday, 13 October 2013

Misunderstandings, perceptions, gratitude and the Glory of God - Sermon Sunday 13th October

2 Kings 5: 1-15c
Luke 17: 11-19
(Note: this is a "skeleton sermon" - the lines in italics will /may be expanded on during the talk)
Dermatitis, eczema, prickly heat, psoriasis, vitiligo and Haines disease.... all different skin conditions.

All conditions that affect not only health, but general well being too. Some because they make you feel ill; but mostly because they look so bad – and that causes others to be fearful.

The stories we heard today in both the Old and New Testaments are about dreaded skin diseases... and in those days any skin break out was treated as worst case: leprosy, because there was no way to tell which was which. Thus, a nasty case of prickly heat could result in being ostracised for a while until you could show your skin was clear again.

Haines disease – what is colloquially called leprosy was not fully distinguished until the 19th century. So, we have no way of knowing exactly what conditions the characters in these bible stories really had – except that they were bad enough (in the case of the 10 men) to have them isolated and needing mutual support; and, desperate enough to try any cure (in the case of Naaman)

 These tales tell us lots of things about the nature of humanity; the Ten Lepers, and the curing of Naaman - Misunderstandings, perceptions, gratitude and the Glory of God.

And on first glance they are very simple; dreaded skin diseases being cured by simple means and (some of) those cured turning to praise God.

The title of my reflections is mostly about the story of Naaman and Elisha- though perhaps also about the kings in the story....

The little slave girl very definitely said “go to the prophet”; but when Naaman went to his king for permission to go, his king sent him to the Israelite king.

And his letter was terse: cure my man!!

And I wonder at this point:
Why didn’t Naaman say anything?
            (because he assumed it had to be the power seat perhaps)

What happens when pride gets in the way?
            (we want to be important; we don’t want it to be too simple)

Why didn’t the king immediately think to send him to Elisha?
            (because he thought in terms of nation and defence and strength – not in the old hermit prophet who was God’s messenger)

Why the wild panic?!
Why assume it was a trick – spoiling for a fight?!
            (cf. above; because let’s face it, if you were asked to do something miraculous what would your first thought be?!)

Once that particular difficulty is sorted out we have the next!!

Naaman – the big commander; used to being honoured and obeyed and feared.
His sense of outrage is excessive!! His pride gets in the way
This prophet sends a servant
And instead of some complex ritual; or mysterious ceremony – he is asked to go bathe in the river – SEVEN times!!
It seems so lame; so ordinary – he has wanted extraordinary – and at least some sort of contact with the great man himself.

But Elisha knows that it is not about him; it is about God. (And Elisha does not presume to be a great man; his pride is virtually nonexistent)

And mercifully Naaman’s servants are much more sensible than their master!
Pointing out the obvious
Persuading him to comply
And then... then of course it does become all about God

All about the Glory of God

All this got me thinking about what we do, how we live right now in our time.

How we too, can jump to conclusions; not listen properly; assume we know what is being asked, when actually, what is happening is something all together different.... how relationships can be damaged and broken because we do not pause to listen properly.
How sometimes, it takes the voice of someone else, to remind us who we are and where we fit, in the grand scheme of things
There are things that draw us together;
And there are things that keep us apart

I am pretty sure, that each one of us can think back, remember, and maybe cringe a little over a friendship or a situation, or a workplace incident where pride got in the way of progress; or thoughtlessness made things go far more badly than was necessary.
(Friends who are no longer in our lives?)

Sometimes those things are only with us for a season; sometimes longer.

But whatever it is: God is there; God who never misunderstands our intent; God who never assumes the worst, or the best.

God who knows us, and our friends, and every situation, far better that we can – thank goodness!!

Friday, 11 October 2013

Baby Love

Today’s Friday is about babies. and this week, I have an hour or so to kill, and therefore some time to contemplate and play!

Tell us about babies in your life, of all kinds, even ideas!
Tell us about the babies you’ve paid attention to in your life:

1. babies of family or friends:
my babies, my boys, especially relevant this wekend, as (hopefully) this time tomorrow I shall have all three of them together for the weekend. This is precipitated by middle son George about to depart to Canada for a whole year. (sigh) So we are going to have a fun-filled, food sharing, free-spirited, fabulous family gathering. Which makes me very, very happy

2. animal babies: when the boys were boys (as opposed to the young men they all are now) we filled the house with animal babies - well, that MAY be an exaggeration! We had numerous small rodents, mostly Russian Hamsters; and one lovely, beautiful puppy - who turned into a dear and faithful companion (for her story see blog from January 2011 "On death & dying"). It taught us all about caring for those who really need us: without us the hamsters would die: they needed food and water and fresh bedding. It was a good thing: it also helped them and me to learn about how we deal with life and death. Little hamsters only live for a couple of years and taking your children through rituals, and bereavement over  "Speedy" is as painful as it can be; yet is also a beautiful thing to do: that garden where they grew up has at least three little graves!!

3. babies you remember in movies or on tv: hmm... lol!! OK: this may come under the title of guilty pleasure!! I love, love to watch all those reality midwife/ birth/ hopsital documentaries. I cry at every birth; and I am totally gripped.

4. babies in the Bible: Isaac; Moses; John; Jesus: each story has a miraculous, wondrous quality, either because of how they were conceived or how they survived against all the odds. When my oldest boy Rick was about 9 or 10; he was asked at bible class what his favourite bible story was. And he chose the story of Isaac and Abraham's visit up the mountain to make a sacrifice. When asked why, he said it was because it shows that even in the very worst situation (your Dad's going to sacrifice you!) God is there, and God will sort it out.

5. anything that may be a “baby” arising in your own life: my current .... obsession.... yes, think it probably is an obsession, is "The Most Organised Wedding in the World Ever that Doesn't have a Date Yet" - mine!!! Ceremony; Music; Dresses, Invitations, Place settings; Menus; Party; Quizzes; Cake you name it, I have it, or have plans for it!! And some day... some day soon, I trust I will have a date too!!

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Sermon 6th October: the Seeds of Faith, Trust & Love

Psalm 37: 3-9
Luke 17: 5-10  

Another week; another parable! And another enigmatic answer to a seemingly simple request.
And, it seemed to me as I read and prepared, question after question was raised

But before we get to that let’s just take a look at the Psalm… psalm 37, if you look at its ‘title’ in our church bible it says “The Destiny of the Wicked and of the Good”
Very forceful! It is also very important to remember that those titles, and the little paragraph headers in your bible are NOT part of the text; they have simply been put there by the compilers to aid understanding, or point you in a particular direction. And if you were to compare it with other translations you will find different headers and different places for the headers.

Now, if we had picked up that psalm without a header attached, what would we have thought it was about?
The few verses we read are all about what happens when we trust God; wait for God and keep the faith.
A simple premise
Trust in him, and he will help you” (v.5b)

One of the reasons I wanted to point you to the psalm is as a reminder to us all that these were days of memory learning; of knowing scriptures; no access to a bible in your pocket, or nowadays on your phone or tablet (lol!!!) scripture was known and studied and loved. So that even the couthy Galileans who followed Jesus knew what scripture said on such things.
 The disciples have just heard Jesus say that they must forgive; over and over – seven times in one day if necessary. And this seems such a tall order; such a difficult task that they ask, “Give us greater faith”

As if having an endless supply of faith would mean that they could do everything and anything.
What do you think they were asking for? Do you think they really knew?

Forgiveness is difficult.
Mind you, admitting you’re wrong and saying sorry and asking for forgiveness isn’t exactly easy either!!
Jesus doesn’t answer the request (of course) nor does he suggest how they could make things better, instead he tells them that they could do astonishing things if they had as much faith as a mustard seed.
A tiny wee dot.
If they had a dot of faith they could uproot trees and move them by will.

But faith doesn’t come as a measurable thing; you can’t weight it; or measure it; or quantify it. Faith isn’t even a conscious thing necessarily. I think it can creep up on you when you are least expecting it; surprise you; influence the way you live and the way you behave.
And there’s the connection suddenly to the master/ servant relationship, which on first reading seems so incongruous. But is actually the nub of what Jesus was trying to get them to understand.

Make our faith greater
A tiny dot of faith will enable great things
A slave doesn’t need thanks for doing his duty
The slave/ servant expects to work all day and wait on the master before he gets his own food and rest. It is just as things are, his bounden duty.

We are servants of God; when we accept that then a whole series of other things come into play too.
We are duty bound to follow God’s commandments, to obey and therefore we are bound to live lives of faith.

Remember the psalm?
Trust in God; wait patiently for God and he will help you.

The commandments can be summed up in one simple phrase: Love God Love Others Love Yourself.
If we do that, we are living lives of faith
For as soon as we let love into our lives lots of other things follow
Love leads to

3 Trust in the Lord and do good; live in the land and be safe.
4 Seek your happiness in the Lord, and he will give you your heart's desire.
5 Give yourself to the Lord; trust in him, and he will help you; (Psalm 37)

And do you know what is even better than that?!
Each one of those really is like a seed: plant love in your life and it grows; nurture a forgiving spirit and it grows; and then more and more good things can creep in: acceptance and trust and kindness all growing out of that tiny seed of faith.

I didn’t plant faith in that list
Because it is faith that enables all those things
It was there all the time; even before you knew it; even before you recognised it.
How much is enough faith?
It doesn’t really matter how you answer that.
Enough faith is enough
It doesn’t need to be measured or weighed – it simply is.

Love God, Love Others, Love Yourself: live a faithful life.