Sunday, 17 March 2019

Preaching from Afar

This week I am guest preacher in Southminster Church, Boise, Idaho.
Here is the sermon for Sunday 17th March
Matthew 20 - the labourers in the vineyard

Me with a quizzical looking Jesus in Freak Alley, Boise, ID
Work… work… work.
We go to work; we get home from work; we go to work; we get home from work and at the end of the month, God-willing, there’s a pay cheque.
We go to work; we get part way though the day, and hey, there’s a late arrival. Yeah, but he’s late clocking on so he will have to make up the time – right?
We go to work; we get back after lunch, and what? There’s a late arrival. She did what? Yeah, but she’ll need to make up the time – right?

Same scenario; different venue. Workers in a vineyard, sweating under the fierce sun.
They work hard; they know at the end of the day there will be a pay-out. They will have earned their keep. The family will eat tonight. And all will be well.

Jesus knew people.
He knew what a well-defined sense of right and wrong looked like.
He knew what a well-defined sense of justice thought of the world.

Jesus was not into a well-defined sense of anything really
Jesus was in the business of shake-up; of turning things on their head.
You think you know what right and wrong is?
You think you know truth?!
Think again.
Think again.

God’s Kingdom. God’s Kin-dom is not what we think it will be.
God’s Kin-dom will welcome in the people we do not necessarily consider are really worthy.

If God chooses to be generous with the entry requirements – who are we to complain?! 

The question we need to consider most when we hear again the story of the workers in the vineyard is: who will be taken on at the 11thhour?

What if the people we struggle with most in our world are the ones who get the late pass?
What if, the very people, who cause us the most grief are also welcome in the Kingdom? 

Think of one person right now. 
Think of the one person who causes you to pause; to pray; to shudder.
The one person who you really cannot imagine in the Kin-dom.
The person, who challenges your sensibilities – their attitude; their politics; their moral code; their work ethic… the way they choose to live their life. 
That person. 

That person is a beloved child of God
Just as you are a beloved child of God

That person has as much right to a place in the kingdom as you or I.

Picture them. 
And then, if you can, picture that person in God’s kingdom. 

Alongside you. 
How does that feel?

Alongside you in the kingdom, living in God’s special place…

Jesus’ stories do that. They make you pause
They make you see. 

Jesus told stories that people could identify with for a reason.
Stories they could imagine, picture, relate to…
He told stories that resonated then, and can still resonate today.

Jesus’ stories told TRUTH. 
Jesus’ stories still tell TRUTH today. 

And sometimes that TRUTH can cause us to cry out… “but it’s not fair!!” 

So, what do we do, if we who feel we labour hard, look across and see those we consider do not?
What do we do, when they are rewarded, and we want to cry out: “It’s not fair!” 

 How do we respond, when we see those whose work appears to our eyes, to be counter to the kingdom, invited, included in the Kin-dom too?

How do we respond when we witness those whom we do not accept – being accepted.

How do we feel knowing that THEY are invited to labour alongside US?

If Jesus stories tell us a TRUTH, that is still relevant today, how are we to perceive it? Live with it? Work alongside it?

Am I going to shout at God?
Rail against God’s just decisions?
Question God?

Am I going to return to the childhood wail… “it’s not fair!!!”

And as I stamp my foot
And as we complain bitterly at the unfairness of it all

Jesus looks at us
Jesus looks right at each one of us
Right at the heart of each of us
Right into our hearts and minds

And reminds us (again) – all are welcome in the Kingdom.
All have a chance 

Jesus reminds us, “friend, I do you no wrong. Take what is yours. If I choose to share it with these others it is not your concern. I may do what I choose with that which is mine to give.”

On Monday, in Seattle, at NEXT Church Gathering, I heard a phrase which has stayed with me.
We are all used to hearing the question “who is my neighbour”
The question was reframed: “to whom may I be a neighbour today?”

When Jesus calls the labourers to receive their pay
There will not be degrees of God’s kindom – for we are all kin.

There will be no hierarchy
For God is fair and just and all are equal

All will be welcome
First and last
Last and first

Each equally welcomed
Each equally rewarded

Who is my co-worker in God’s Kin-dom?
How may I work to accept that God’s grace and love and gifting is far greater than I may imagine possible?

God. Our God of justice and fairness, turns the world upside down
God turns us upside down too.
And that, my friends, can only be a good thing! 

Thursday, 7 March 2019

Lent Photo a Day - Fear

it is the second day of Lent... today's photo is yours truly, wrapped up, hidden, disguised even... 

Today's word for the Lent Photo is fear... 
as I contemplated Fear, I wondered, 
what is it that I am fearful of?
What do I wrap myself up in
to avoid fear?
What do I hide behind in order to not face my fears? 

Precious Holy
as I hide from fear
make me bold, make me brave
if not today, then at least tomorrow
Help me to open up and remove the comforts
To step out, knowing that I am never truly alone
but resting in your love and guidance
Trusting that in all things,
you walk beside me,
"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow
I will fear no evil, for you are with me"

#lentphotoaday19 #lent19 #fear

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Ash Wednesday - Pray

Gritty, black, moist, staining, reminding...

Remember you are dust and ashes
Remember you will return to ashes and dust
Turn back to God
Turn to God
Dedicate and rededicate
Your ashes
Your life
Your love
Your very self....

God, of ashes and dust and earth
Breathe new life into us we pray


Sunday, 3 March 2019

From Mountaintop to Valley Below – walking in God’s Footsteps

Sermon for Transfiguration 3 March 2019   Exodus 34: 29-35; Luke 9: 28-36
“Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some people move our souls to dance. They awaken us to a new understanding with the passing whisper of their wisdom. Some people make the sky more beautiful to gaze upon. They stay in our lives for awhile, leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never, ever the same.”― Flavia Weedn

Traditionally the Sunday before Lent begins is Transfiguration Sunday. Now, you may know exactly what this means; you may have an image in your head right now of a person transfigured…
But, before I ask you to picture that, let’s explore a little.
When I spoke earlier – we looked at light and brightness; we looked at shiny happy people
And I am sure when you heard the story of Moses coming down the mountain, his face shining brighter than  the people could bear, that some of you like me, thought of Charlton Heston, coming down the mountain in the classic film The Ten Commandments
I watched a clip of it during the week, and I was also able to imagine just how different that would be if they made the film again now – the special effects would be far greater I am sure!

Here we have two mountaintop experiences; encounters with the Divine. Life changing moments, snatched, glimpsed, stored away to be revisited time and again.
For Moses the change was permanent, the Exodus reading tells us that he had to speak to the people with a veil covering his face, and he only uncovered it went he went in to the tent to speak with God. Moses came down from the mountaintop, but even in the valley below, God’s presence stayed with him.

Some of us will have had the experience of being in the company of someone in whom we get a sense of the heavenly, the otherworldly, come to earth.
It may be difficult to pin down exactly what this person exudes that gives us this impression. But nonetheless we sense the presence of a certain holiness, a certain lightness of being that affects those with whom that person has contact.
There can be little doubt that Jesus had this affect on those who knew and followed him, but in this moment there is no doubting, no uncertainty for Peter, James and John.
They are assuredly in the company of the saints and life suddenly takes on a whole new dimension.
Empowered by this experience, not afraid any more the disciples must have felt they could do anything with Jesus.
But then they come back down to earth. They cannot stay on the mountaintop forever; they cannot freeze the moment in time. Life goes on, and they must descend.
Back down in the valley the disciples are confronted by their inadequacy in being unable to heal a young lad of the convulsions that were attributed to an evil spirit. They still have so much to learn…
Back down in the valley the Israelites cannot stay on track either – even with God’s commandments to guide; every time Moses went from them they lost faith, began to stray. The very reason they spent forty years wandering in the desert is because of their reluctance to follow and trust God, and God’s servant Moses.
And then, in full circle, as Jesus, on the mountaintop is revealed in all his glory, he is joined by Moses and Elijah. Moses, back on the mountaintop, encouraging and strengthening Jesus for the task ahead.
Earlier this week, as I was doing some preparatory reading. There was a suggestion made, that when Jesus went off to pray alone, maybe he met Moses and Elijah every time – it was just that this time he brought witnesses along.
It is an interesting thought. Jesus, joining the prophets of old, for encouragement; for support; to be fortified for the task at hand. For we cannot stay on the mountaintop – there is work to be done in the valleys below.

This has been a long season of Epiphany; the season of revelation, a time to reveal who Jesus is.
Week by week we have witnessed little by little, the signs of Jesus divinity; the wonder of his power, the revelation of his task.
Each of those moments were moments of transfiguration along the way.
This contemporary reading takes us back over the season and reminds us of those places where we have met and learned something, and been signposted to who Jesus is. When we realise what has been happening perhaps we see it not as a revelation, but more a revolution in the way God reveals the love offered for us all.
Not on a mountain-top but by the Jordan we saw the glory of God.It was a revelation as the Messiah showed himself not as being set apart from all of us but being baptised as one of us.God beside us, God one of us; this everyday epiphany is revolution.Not on a mountain-top but in the synagogue we saw the greatness of God.It was a revelation as his words filled us and called us into a new hearing; a word moved from promise to fulfilment; this everyday epiphany is revolution.Not on a mountain-top but in the celebrations of life the truth of God is revealed.This is a revelation where the best wine is kept till the very end, the fullness of flavour, the generosity of God, the final revelation becomes a revolution.Not on a mountain-top but on the roadways of the world glory is found.This is a revelation that Jesus has been revealed not in mighty cathedrals but on the roadways of life amid all who leave footprints in the dust and stoor of everyday epiphanies.This common revelation is heaven’s revolution. (Spill the Beans Issue 6: 2013)
This week Lent begins, the season of preparation in the run up to Easter; we will once again climb to the mountaintop: the hill of Calvary; the tomb of death and the mountaintop of resurrection.
For now, we must stay in the Valley: there is work to be done; but we know, the journey to the cross will take us to new heights, we can trust that God will walk with us, every step of the way – we are not alone.
As we go into our time of prayer, read now, those words I read right at the beginning:
“Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some people move our souls to dance. They awaken us to a new understanding with the passing whisper of their wisdom. Some people make the sky more beautiful to gaze upon. They stay in our lives for awhile, leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never, ever the same.” ― Flavia Weedn

– from the mountaintop of  love, God leaves footprints of Godly love in our hearts and we are never the same again.