Sunday, 25 May 2014

Restoration after rejection

John 21: 7-19 

“Do you love me?” Peter and Jesus work it out

Two things to tell you before I start this morning:
First – there is a subtitle: Peter and Jesus work it out... which I will go into shortly
Secondly, for anyone who follows the lectionary – I’m off lectionary today! This reading has been niggling away in the background since Easter, and this week it just wouldn’t go away, so I have answered that niggle and I’m going off lectionary, as it is another couple of years before this particular reading comes around again.
This has been an extraordinary week; it has been the General Assembly, and this year I was not a commissioner so I have only been there for one day – as part of the Ministries Council when they reported.

I have however watched via the live stream... and wow!

The debates I have seen have been passionate, and far reaching; there has been grace in hearing opposing views aired and debated.
And so many topics! From the independence debate; to theological forum; to violence against women; to international and ecumenical relations... and just about everything in between

There was tragedy when a commissioner was knocked down and killed after leaving the Assembly on Monday evening.

There was hope when the Assembly agreed to enter into a decade of ministry, setting targets to recruit ministers and to increase local mission and ministry involvement – courses are going to be made available to equip local churches to build up their own mission strategy in their own communities.

In all of this, there was a sense that the church is hopeful, but the church is hurting. The church is hurting herself... because divisions exist; conflict exists; differences of opinion and interpretation have created a great gulf between people. Being aware of that there was a strong and urgent sense that the time has come to move from outlining differences, to finding the things we hold in common, and celebrating the things we share.

It is so easy, when things go badly, to stay focussed on them.
It is easy to pick away at it, adding to the pain... but this is not what Jesus taught the disciples and us.

Jesus had every reason to be angry with Peter; he had every reason to choose someone else to be the leader.
But Jesus more than anything else, had a loving heart, and an openness to forgive and move on. And he knew that Peter needed to both know that, and to accept it for himself.

Peter – the bold, strong, compulsive man, who had sobbed his heart out after his fear overcame him and he pretended he didn’t know Jesus; he denied ever knowing him.
Peter needed to be forgiven, but more than that he needed to forgive himself and move forward.

It does no good revisiting old hurts; old slights; old arguments.
Raking up the past does not help us to move forward.

Jesus knew that for Peter to be able to carry on; to take up the task set for him, there needed to be closure.
That Pater needed to know Jesus had forgiven him; and that he could forgive himself. So Jesus took him aside, and explained it as it was...

Peter – do you love me?
Peter – do you love me?
Peter – do you love me?

Three times to deny
Three times to own
Three times to know it is done.

Three times the charge – look after my sheep, my lambs, my people.

It’s ok Peter
Move on
Move forward
 You are forgiven and free

This is what we need to do too
We are the church for our community
Our mission is not simply to gather here each week and worship God in our own little world
Our mission is to communicate WHY we do this
Our mission is to share the gospel message:
God loves you
God wants you to know him
God wants you to invite him in
God sent his Son into the world so that we might better know and understand that God loves us.

Becoming a Christian is the easy part: do you love God? Do you believe in God: Father Son and Spirit?
DO you believe Jesus died for us? So that sins will be forgiven?

If you answered yes- that’s it!
You’re a Christian

Living it out though is a different story: because as part of that we are all called to share the joy, the comfort, the hope we get from saying yes

We don’t have to go and preach to our neighbours!!
We simply live it out
We show kindness to others
We offer support
We live lives that are wholesome and restrained – that doesn’t mean we can’t have fun...
It just means we do not lead others astray, and we do not do anything we’d be ashamed to own in front of each other, or God.

Peter had acted impetuously, in a way he was ashamed to own.
But Jesus forgave him; let him know it was ok and then trusted him with the task ahead: go and tell others about me

Living the Christian life is about love in action; it is about restoration and reconciliation, because we are all human, we all make mistakes and we all have things that need to be forgiven.
The beauty of our God is that he already knows this in each of us
And continues to love us, to seek us out and to move us forward

We have a challenge
Love God
Tell others
And be open to change
Just as Jesus told his disciples all those years ago

That mission, that earthly mission is for every generation and will lead us home to our eternal mission with him 

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Finding your way home - sermon for May 18th

John 14: 1-14

I love a maze... or a puzzle.
I love to follow clues and discover hidden treasures
Sometimes cryptic; sometimes needing a map; sometimes just following a particular path until that goal is reached...
A few years back, when I was still up in Moray, one of the local farms in a very enterprising venture planted maize – corn plants which grow up to about 8 feet tall, but they didn’t plant in straight rows, instead they planted a puzzle – a maze made from maize. And that summer hundreds of visitors came to follow the paths, and reach the centre. Then, back out again. There was no prize, just the joy and excitement of the adventure.

A spiritual path can be taken through a labyrinth – different from a maze in that there are no dead ends or blind alleys; instead a labyrinth takes you into the centre of a circle and back out again, it takes time, it takes effort, but as you go something amazing happens, as you walk, and pray and contemplate where God may take you on your journey. (If anyone wants to know more ask me and I will give you a finger labyrinth to explore) The circular route, back and forth seems to make you slow down, it enables you to reflect, it touches deeply – if you will let it.
And it can have a profound effect deep within.

This week we have heard one of the most famous passages in St John’s Gospel; it is familiar because it is so often read at funerals – offering the comfort and reassurance of Jesus’ promise that God prepares a place for those who love him.
It is familiar; and indeed it does offer comfort to many, the route home is simple: follow Jesus... but I wanted to explore a little further with you.
Because – can it really be that simple? That easy?

The disciples were dubious too; probably not for the same reasons as me; but nevertheless they too asked pointed questions:

This passage contains two questions, each of which speaks to where the disciples were at that time; and which also may help us to understand a little better

First Thomas asks: Lord we do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way to get there?
My instant response to this is – for goodness sake Thomas, weren’t you listening?
Because Jesus has just told them first he’s going to prepare a place, and second, he is then going to come back and take them – so that they will be where he is.
In which case, why, Thomas, do you need to know? Jesus is going to take you... get a grip!!
But Jesus is much more patient than me!
He takes time to explain – using the most profound of statements.
I am the way, the truth and the life...
And then, as if to take them into something much more tangible he adds: “now that you know me, you will know my Father also; from now on you know him and you have seen him”.

This is the most direct claim that Jesus makes: You see me, you see God, my Father.

Yet, still, they can’t or won’t grasp what he is saying to them and Philip pops up with question two:
“Show us the Father then Jesus. That’s all we need”
Jesus has just said, seeing me is the same as seeing the Father; but Philip cannot grasp what that means – it is beyond his comprehension in that moment. He is not yet ready to fully embrace that Jesus really is God the Son... it is too big.

Jesus answers him; patiently; calmly; slowly...
“Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. If not, believe because of the things I do
Believe my words; if the words don’t work for you, then look at what I can do; look at all the things you’ve witnessed.
Now Philip – can you see?

I could wish that we had more of that conversation; more questions and answers, and each one getting plainer and plainer – until it becomes so obvious; so evident; so clear that no one can ever doubt it...

Yes, I can wish it. But then, where would faith be?
Because faith is intangible; faith cannot be tied down to explanations and definitions.
Faith makes sense looking back, reflecting, faith needs uncertainty.

Faith involves taking that leap; trusting that promise; faith is often coupled with the word blind for good reason.

Jesus is the way
The way is mystery
The mystery is the essence of faith

Jesus is the truth
The truth is that he is God’s Son;
and he is God – he asks us to believe because of the things he did, and does.

And Jesus is life.
The life
If you remember last week, we reaffirmed another of his promises: he came that we may have life. Abundant Life!

And it really is that simple.
And that simplicity really is profound.
Like walking a labyrinth rather than a maze, the path to God, the path home may be circuitous, but following Jesus’ path will not lead up blind alleys, or try to confuse us.
The path home, takes us round and deep within ourselves
The path home is a voyage of discovery
Discovering the place God has for us; discovering also that God knows us, loves us, wants only good things for us

Jesus concludes in this passage by making an outrageous promise that has troubled many faithful souls, over every generation:
“I will do whatever you ask for in my name, so that the Father's glory will be shown through the Son. If you ask me for anything in my name, I will do it”.

This is troubling.
Because every prayer we make in Jesus name is not answered directly; is not granted instantly.
It is important that the middle phrase is given as much emphasis as the first and last... “So that the Father’s glory will be shown through the Son”

We may make prayers which will bring a quick fix; or relieve a particular problem; we may even make prayers that are only for good and generous purposes.
But they may not be to bring God glory
They may be for purely selfish motives
They may be a quick fix when effort and work are needed... we have to do our part
And, sometimes what we need is not the problem itself to be addressed, but our own hearts to be changed, softened, moved to a different palce...
If we were to change our prayers from 
“God please let this or that come true, make good, happen this way...”

“Dear God, help me to accept; help me to understand; help me to let go....”
I wonder how different our walk would be
How different our approach to life on The Way would be

 I believe in prayer
And I believe in miracles
I also believe that sometimes what I need to pray for is my own response, my own heart, my own attitude.

Because that truly is the way to the Father 

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Sermon 11 May: Living with Purpose

Psalm 23; John 10: 1-10

Do you know that today every hymn we sang could’ve been based on or inspired by the same 6 verses?

It has been changed and paraphrased, and set to music over, and over again
We just sang, “I will trust in you”
We could also have sung
The King of Love my Shepherd is
Abide with me
In heavenly love abiding
For the beauty of the earth...
And any one of four settings...

There are 15 hymns listed in the scripture index in my hymn book attributed to it
It is of course
The 23rd Psalm
The Lord’s my Shepherd – only six verses, but six verses that have spoken to generation after generation.

Ever since I first visited the Holy Land the 23rd Psalm has had a deeper meaning for me. And, when I read it I get very impatient with translations that change the meaning of verse 4.
Which is why I asked Jean to read from the NIV this morning rather than the Good News – because you see, the Valley of the Shadow of Death is a real place.

The Wadi Kelt 2012 (JMW)
This  is what that land looks like; and this is the pathway through it.
It is just as dry and dusty and desolate as it appears.

As you walk you may see in the distance another traveller; walking away, or coming towards you.
Wlderness travellers (JMW 2012)

That prospect was one to instil fear into travellers.
Who is it?
Another traveller?
Or a bandit?
A shepherd and his flock?
Or a robber setting up an ambush?
Walking through that terrain was a treacherous journey; it was a perilous enterprise.
Very few people would travel alone; they would gather together for support and protection; protection against wild animals at night and marauders on the journey by day.

It is still a desolate place; visited now by pilgrims who come to see what the wilderness is really like.
When you stop to take it in, even though the place seems empty, uninhabited something amazing happens.
From nowhere come traders!
Selling cloth; beads; water... selling photos with the camel!
You do not see them before you stop, because this place is too hot, too exposed to hang around just in case
But they see the buses long before they reach their destination, so they pack up and head out – on camel and donkey; to try to ply their wares, in the place where you can look along the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

This was the road from Jerusalem to Jericho; along the Wadi Kelt, and there are many, many places that were sites of ambush and attack.
So, the psalm suddenly has a deeper meaning
The Psalmist was writing of a real fear; a genuine situation of peril... and yet, he was still able to say
“even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me”

The Psalmist knew absolutely that with God as guide and guard he would be safe...

Nowadays when pilgrims are taken there the bus stops on a rocky outcrop and all that can be seen is a large cross erected a little farther on at the top of the hill.
Pilgrims are encouraged to go and look at the cross... and amid much grumbling they make their way up.

It is worth the climb, for what you see next is extraordinary.
This is desert; wilderness; there is nothing here... yet, in the 5th century John of Thebes took it upon himself to build a monastery.

St Georges Monastery - Wadi Kelt (JMW 2012)

It clings to the side of the rocky valley; a tribute to humanity’s tenacity.
Much of the building that is there now was built during Crusader times, being restored by the Greek Orthodox Church in the 19th century; it is still occupied now by a tiny group of monks and pilgrims who choose to make their own journey into the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

When you walk this Holy Land, suddenly scriptures that were so familiar and beloved take on another dimension.

Now as I read these words I can visualise the place.
The stories come alive; the imagination is fed by something much more tangible.

And I can sit, and listen to Jesus telling me the stories of a shepherd who knew and cared from his flock... and I can see what the shelter looked like; what the landscape was like.

The shepherd knew his own sheep.
The shepherd still knows his own people.
And when he calls – the sheep; or the people respond.

The shepherd’s task is to protect and nurture his flock.
The Psalmist knew this, and used it to inform his psalm of praise to God...

The shepherd not only protects and nurtures.
He cares for, prepares for the future too: “goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

When Jesus revisited this shepherd motif: which would have been known and understood absolutely by his followers – and the onlookers, he took it further, not only protection and nurture, but safety and a life full of purpose.
A life, full of life.
We are given that challenge
That promise
That hope
How do you live?
If you walk with Jesus by your side; calling you; leading you; following you then you have this promise to hope for, to live by
When you invite Jesus into your life, then he comes wholeheartedly
Not a little bit
Not some days more than others
But abundantly, richly, lavishly – unconditionally – for ever

That was his purpose
When we see friends, others who have no purpose, no goal, those who struggle, we can help them by explaining this

The Lord is my shepherd
God is my Shepherd
He gives me everything I need
When I am afraid
When I walk through the dark and dangerous times of my life
He is there protecting and guiding

When I seek answers – I pray
When I seek help – I pray
When I need direction – I pray
When I need to right words – I pray
Because, I know that wherever I go and whatever happens, when my fears are real, and my grief is tangible, and the way is uncertain
There is one this that is certain
God is my guide
And God sent his Son Jesus to show me
To show us all
The reality of that Psalm
Jesus said
I am the gate for the sheep
Whoever enters through me will be saved
I have come that you may have life
Life in all abundance
Life with purpose
Life in full!


Thursday, 8 May 2014

Midweek Musings

Life with Purpose - reflection on Sunday's readings: Psalm 23; John 10: 1-10

What is your purpose?
Is it to love?
Is it to live a full and fulfilled life?
Is it to make money? Or be successful?

And, as you consider what your purpose may be... how do you measure it?
And what do you take as your guide, your route map? How do you choose how to live?

The bible has many rich images, indeed imagery is a great tool for us because when we can see something, either in the flesh or in our mind’s eye... it becomes more tangible, more real.
Jesus used imagery as a tool; he used images well known and understood in his day; and many of those have stood the test of time. The image of a shepherd, caring for his flock is one such.
But what is the shepherd’s purpose?
Protection; nurture; food and shelter... all very worthy and totally understandable. But that is only the tip of our Shepherd’s goal.
For he doesn’t only want us to be safe and cared for – he wants more! He wants better! He wants only the best... he is more than a hired hand, more than the familiar voice, calling us home.
He wants us to have life in all its fullness.
That is his plan and purpose for those who listen to his voice
Our purposeful life – is full and fulfilling
We cannot measure it by the world’s measure
We cannot quantify it by years, or cash, or goods, or the number of friends we have.
The purpose of life lived in Christ is so much more than that
The Psalmist wrote, thousands of years ago about what life with the Shepherd is like
A refreshed soul
Calm in the shadow of darkness
Riches of grace in the face of enemies
Goodness and love to fill our hearts to overflowing
And a place with God for eternity

Sounds like a purpose to me!

Saturday, 3 May 2014

On the Road - a reflection on the walk to Emmaus

Botanic Gardens Edinburgh photo by J.Woods

How could your heart burn
yet your eyes stay misty?
How could you feel your quickening pulse...
and not know whose words they were?

He called you foolish and slow...
He began to explain – again...
He began to tell you – again
He continued to show you – again, and again...
Yet still, you did not realise!!

But, his words did enter your hearts and minds;
his words gave you hunger
Hunger for more; hunger to know
hunger to engage with this engaging man
and with the Word of God -
So well known – so little understood.

So you invited him in... and suddenly you knew!!
Suddenly you understood!
Suddenly he was there – alive, known, loved, real!!
Now you run!!!
Run boys, run! Go tell the others, go share the joy –

Light came into the world, and the darkness did not overcome it.