Monday, January 23, 2017

Managing Grace (Luke 16:1-13)...

The first book I opened this week as I began preparing for the message today, started by saying…

 “Luke 16:1-8 contains probably the most difficult parable in Luke”

Great …Not really the words you want to read right after a holiday. I like to ease back into things but this was…SPLASH! Straight in the deep end… right! It’s not a well-known parable, I can’t remember hearing a sermon on it, it’s not an easy parable to understand and it’s never easy when Jesus talks about finances, and on the surface, it sounds like Jesus is commending sharp financial practises. We don’t like the stark way Jesus generalises this parable…how he applies it and pushes it home…” you can’t serve two masters, you cannot serve both God and Money”. It may be a hard parable, but I believe this passage has a lot to say to us as a church and individually as we face this new year. It speaks to us about how we manage the lavish over the top grace that we have been given through Jesus Christ, through forgiveness how we use our resources and caring for those in need.

We’ve been working our way through Jesus journey to Jerusalem in Luke’s Gospel.  A journey that takes up the central third of the gospel. The narrative of which focuses on Jesus teaching about what it means to follow him. It’s a journey that will lead Jesus to the cross. For us it is a journey that will lead to the cross as well; as we will be on this journey till Easter and, more importantly, because Jesus invites us to take up our cross daily and follow him. To die to ourselves and come alive in Christ.

Before we had a break for Christmas we had been looking at three of Jesus most familiar and well-loved parables. The lost sheep, the lostcoin and the lost son. They are parables that Jesus told to explain to the religious leaders of his day why he was willing to sit down and share meals with the people they viewed as sinners and outcasts. They are great pictures of God’s great grace his willingness to go and seek and save the lost, to welcome people back into fellowship with him and God. They finish with a challenge to Jesus listeners about whether they will come in and join the celebration of rejoicing that people turn back to God, and welcoming them in as well. Over Christmas of course we have remembered and celebrated the coming of Jesus Christ, that saving grace coming into the world on that mission to seek and save: That we can be forgiven, reconciled and welcomed in.

In this passage, we are looking at today, Jesus now directs his teaching to his disciples. He had answered his critics about his welcoming repentant sinners to table fellowship and while this seems like a new section of teaching Jesus is pointing out how they, his disciples which includes us should act in response to God’s great grace, and of course when Luke talks about that we see that the depth of how much we have been changed by God’s love and grace is shown very practically in how deep it reaches into our pockets, wallets and purses, bank accounts, assets and priorities.  AS the book of James puts it what good is it to say “God Bless you” and send your brother and sister away in need…

Jesus tells the parable of a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. The rich man calls the manager to give an account of what he has done. It’s implied that there is some wrong doing here and that the consequence of this audit is that the manager will be fired. In the face of this crisis what is the manager to do. The manager may have been a slave or simply an employee, we need to realise that in his culture his status and prosperity even his life is based on his relationship with the rich man as a patron, he is part of his household. We don’t know what the manager had been doing, the word used here about his wasting his master’s possessions is the same used in the parable of the prodigal son for the younger son wasting his inheritance on lose and lavish living. the morning I started work one of the top stories on my laptop’s news feed was that one of singer Alana Morrissett’s managers had admitted to embezzling millions of dollars to feed his lavish lifestyle and gambling addiction.

The manager in the parable now must respond to this crisis. Like the prodigal son he sees his prospects are very dark. He will be dismissed from his master’s household, and not only will he lose his home his job he would loss his ability to make a living. Financial advisers or managers who have a reputation for misusing funds don’t find it easy to find another job. He is not physically strong enough to make a living as a labourer and he’d die of shame having to beg.

He comes up with an interesting plan. He calls in the master’s debtors one by one and negotiates a reduction in the amount of money they owe. One owed three thousand litres of olive oil… and the manager cuts this down to fifteen hundred. You may have bought a litre bottle of olive oil at the supermarket recently and so are doing some maths in your heard about how much this is. Scholars suggest that this amount of olive oil was three years’ production off an above average sized farm. The man who owed this much was a wealthy man as well and was now indebted to the manager. Likewise, another owed thirty tons of wheat and the manager negotiated it down to twenty-four. Again, it was a large amount of wheat and showed the one who owed it was also a big landowner.

Opinion varies on what was happening here. NT Wright surmises that the rich man himself was breaking Jewish law about not charging interest on loans. This was often gotten around by, by asking for produce like olive oil and wheat as interest. The manger was being shrewd by endearing himself to those whose debt he forgave by dealing with the illegal interest. The Rich man couldn’t then accuse him of any misdoing without having to acknowledge his own unjust financial dealings. Others suggest that this was the manager writing off his own margins on the amounts loaned, he is dealing with his own corrupt financial practises or he is simply writing off debt. But in each case, he has made sure he has people to whom he can look to for hospitality and friendship, people who are obliged to take him in and care for him. In Greco-roman society status and friendship were based on the idea of patronage and reciprocity, you were obliged to look after someone if you were in their debt or they did you a favour. The manager is relying on those relationships to keep him if he is indeed fired.  Now maybe his actions meant the rich man will get paid back quicker, but the emphasis of Jesus parable is on finding a home to go to. The Rich man commends him for this as he sees that he is indeed a clever manager. We don’t know what the rich man does to the manager, again its left unfinished, unresolved…  It allows Jesus to put his own disciples into the story.

Jesus uses this somewhat odd and negative example to invite his disciples to see how they use their resources in light of eternity and a relationship with God, do they squander it on keeping status, and perusing luxury in this world keeping themselves in the lifestyle they would like to become accustomed to, or use it in a way that reflects the Kingdom of God.

On one level the idea of forgiveness of debt in the parable has a spiritual connotation. Financial illustrations and forgiving others because we have been forgiven go together in the gospel narrative. In response to Peter’s question how often must I forgive my brother? Jesus talks of the servant who was forgiven a great amount then not returning that by forgiving a fellow servant a small amounts as a negative example of not forgiving a person. In the Lord’s prayer, we pray, ‘forgive us our debts as we forgive the debts of others’, forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.’

But Jesus stops it just being able to be spiritualised like that by tying his parable down to some very concrete teaching on Finances which are challenging and helpful for us.

We need to Plan a head. Financial planners are always asking people to think ahead, to look beyond the here and now. To go beyond the addictive nature of our consumer society and the pull of instant gratification. The government asks us to save for our retirement. In Jesus parable his disciples are also asked to look beyond the here and now to eternity, to make that the future planning that directs the priorities for life and their resources. In the sermon on the mount in Matthew’s gospel Jesus set those same priorities by inviting us put first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these other things will be added unto you’. It’s not a prosperity gospel it’s not the keep to getting rich, it’s a providence gospel where we rely on God’s grace and mercy. Jesus however is not saying we should not care about finances and resources, it’s not that they should be squandered but rather we need to have good financial management in our lives and churches, but with the priority of investing in the Kingdom of God.

The second thing we need to view what we have been given as God’s provision. Jesus says that what we have is not our own but rather we have been given it by God. When we think of things in light of God’s providence how we use them becomes important. Right back to Genesis we see we are given stewardship over creation, our abilities to earn money are using God given talents, if we believe that God leads and guides us where we work and what we do and what we earn are blessings from God, along with which go responsibility: ‘If you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true wealth?’ we have been intrusted with the wondrous Gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news of God’s salvation or new and abundant life for all in Christ, sadly down through the ages it is amazing how much the churches and Christians attitude to wealth and possessions have got in the way of making that great liberating truth known and a reality in the world.

Lastly Jesus puts it in terms that we are not fully comfortable with. The relationship between a servant and a master, it is the key relationship in the parable and here Jesus applies it to our relationship with God. You can’t serve two masters you will end up loving one and despising the other, you can’t serve both God and money. It is easy to find yourself being dictated to by finances, weather you have a lot and even more when you struggling to make ends meet. It can compete for our focus and priorities with our relationship with Jesus… as a parent one of the issues that concerns me is the escalating price of housing in Auckland. I remember the mayor of Auckland speaking at the Epsom Girls Grammar prize giving two years ago and talking about the great public transport system and how the girls sitting there today will benefit from this in the future and I remember thinking I wonder how many of these young people will afford to live in this city. Futurist and Christian Author Tom Sine says that many Christian young people today are going to have to make decisions about the future. If they want to buy the kind of House they grew up in it is going to consume great amounts of their income and time, it is going to cut down the options for them in terms of different avenues of serving God. It is going to take some good and very clever financial thinking to envision a different future for our children. We need a fresh vision of the kingdom of God that will compete with the crumbling western world’s vision that I heard articulated many times at University… get a good education so I can get a good job and can get the good life… Bingo! That is what life is about?

Like I said at the beginning… this parable is one of the most difficult in Luke. To understand it we needed to explore its cultural context more than usual. I’m not sure I’ve done a great job in unpacking this morning. It’s difficult because it reaches into our priorities in life and how they are lived out in our finances. It challenges our business practises, it challenges how as a church we view money… the in way of looking at that is it’s a call to move from a maintenance budget, about just keeping going, to a missional budget, how can what we have be best used for the furthering of God’s kingdom. As we will see next week when we look at the parable of Lazarus and the rich man that it challenges how we respond to poverty about us. But at the start of the New Year it is a call to once again choose to follow Jesus. Yes aware of his great over the top lavish grace but also aware of the call that it has on all aspects of our lives, to with all we are and all we have been given to serve him as well.

Lets Pray...
Inviting people to Respond: By the way I dew the Illustartion we've been using as the focus for this mornings service on the carpark. I used this wonderful new product called washable pavement chalk... great for parents, it measn that they can wash off their kids chalk drawings. I had intended to invite people as you left to respond to todays message by standing fora moment and then choosing to walk one way or the other... it was intended as a way of connecting with the Kinethetic learners amoungst us... But it rained..  alot over friday and saturday night... and the thing about washable chalk is that it washeds off... and it did... but lets respond to what we have heard today by standing and singing " I have decided to follow Jesus'

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

A Belated New Year's Prayer of Thankgiving and Confession.

I'm back from my summer holiday break and preparing the service for Sunday. It is a chance to give thanks for this time of year full of people, holidays, reflection and yes the possibility of the  'same old same old' routine in the new year and also of change and new horizons, the uncertainties of personal life and the blur and churn of history's flow, but also of new possibilities trusting in Jesus Christ.

As usual I humbly offer this prayer. I'm aware its very southern hemisphere orientated for the weather and seasonal nature... but hey! feel free to use any of it that you find helpful.

Happy New Year

Creator God,

In summer holiday time we give you praise for what you have made,

Long warm days, sand beaches, shade trees and cooling summer breeze,

The many places we have been to explore, relax, unwind and recharge,

Distant open sea, holiday coasts, countryside and wild bush destinations,

Even the stay put, open space of city park and close by walks,

We thank you for the people we have meet with

 Family ties strengthened in festive celebrations,

Old friendships renewed and new acquaintances made.

Saving God,

In this new year we’ve taken the time to look back and reflect:

On your grace and mercy shown in choosing to become one of us;

Dwelling with us and knowing life’s joys and deep sorrow and pain.

In Jesus, we encounter the great Love you have for your people;

We know forgiveness and new life in his death and resurrection,

We know your guidance and enabling through the Holy spirit’s presence.

We see how you have been with us in the ebbs and flows of the past year

How you have worked your purposes, purposes for good, in our lives.

Loving God,

We thank you for the chance to have a break and holiday;

To allow ourselves to be recharged, invigorated for what is to come.

We thank you for being with us in the difficulties that don’t take a break;

Your presence with us brings us hope and gives us peace.

Thank you that in our failings and wrong doings you are with us too,

You forgive us and reconcile us to you and each other.

As we settle into the routine again allow us not to loose sight of you,

Rather to see that you are the one who leads and guides in all of life.

God who holds our time in your hands,

At this new year we look forward with uncertainty,

While it may be more of the same, we do not know what is to come,

The seasons and currents of this world seem to be in flux,  

In our own lives we sense the winds of change blow,

Help us to look forward with the certainty of your presence,

Help us to move forward in faith, trusting your sovereign guidance,

Help us to know and show your generous love in all we say and do,

That we may indeed bring glory to you God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Great joy in the face of Great Sorrow (Matthew 2:1-18) Christmas Day Message

it may be a bit late (due to laptop dying on Christmas Day but here is the message from Christmas day 2016).

Sometimes it seems like things never change.

Super powers trying to impose their will on the world, I mean that’s why Mary and joseph were going to Bethlehem, right, It was a census, an upheaval imposed from afar, Caesar Augustus called it to  gather information to count heads so he could get more taxes and revenue for the Roman empire.

A housing crisis leading to a pregnant mother desperately seeking a place to have her child… finally being offered a stable. I’m sorry there is no room. IT’s not ideal but you can live in the garage, it better than being in your car!

 Paranoid dictators concerned about the rise of alternatives, sending death squads to make sure any resistance is stopped, and stamped out.  The weeping of mothers as government forces move in with brutal violence and little thought of mercy. Desperate refugees  clinging to, holding and shielding their little ones, making the long wearying  trek,  fleeing carnage, seeking refuge and asylum.

Maybe these things only register on the periphery of history and our consciousness. They go almost unnoticed in the hustle and bustle of our lives, family celebrations, holiday plans and simply keeping things going. In the face of dealing with our own news and our own  pain our own grief our own suffering and sorrows.

Sometimes it seems like things never change.  The nightly news sounds so much like the Gospel narrative of Jesus birth.

But Christmas tells us that they can and that they do change.

It tells us that in the midst of all the human activity and even inhumane horror, that God is concerned and God cares and chooses to do something to bring change. That in Jesus God stepped into our world, the word became flesh and dwell in our neighbourhood.  Not with power and might, or shock and awe as we’ve heard the US military talk of, not by coming to a place of influence and privilege, where he would be listened to by right, able to demand obedience. But by stepping into the everydayness of life:

Born to a young women of faith but not of status, the circumstances of her pregnancy somewhat suspicious, her fiancĂ©  caught between loving her and wanting to do the righteous thing and send her away, his dilemma only resolved by an angel appearing in a dream.

Born amidst the upheaval of a census, where displaced peoples mean there is only room in a local stable.

When his special birth is acknowledged by people from far off countries it just about ruins everything, by alerting Herod, that there is one born ‘King of the Jews’, a rival to his only families dynastic claims, and he sends in death squads to kill every male child under two. 

Born in to a refugee family, fleeing for his life.

But this child when a man would speak out about a different kind of Kingdom, a different way to live, where all were welcomed in to know God as father, to have a clean start and new life, and be enabled and empowered to love one another, to care for the poor and lost and the least, to overcome evil with good,. He talked of a world order flipped on its head where the least was important to God and the powerful seen as blind to their own need for change and transformation.

Then he would die on a cross, a criminals death, an innocent man killed for political expediency. But a death that the Gospel narratives display as a coronation, a victory over the powers of this world, over sin and death.

But that is not the end of this story. God raised him to life again. Things can change because we can have new life, a fresh start, be invigorated to love and serve and be peacemakers and live generously because of Jesus Christ.

There is great sorrow in the Christmas story it finishes with a lament, the weeping of mothers for their dead children. But it is a source of great Joy. It is Joy that God has kept his promise to step in and bring change.

It is a cause for great Joy, because in this baby born in Bethlehem, there is a light that points us to a way to bring change and transformation, in our own lives as we meet and give ourselves to Him, no longer a baby, but the Lord.

It is cause for great Joy, because in following Jesus example of loving one another, even our enemies and facing down evil and oppression with sacrificial love, and poverty with loving generosity… that it can change.

You see there is great joy because the Kingdom of God, the reign of God, has broken into the realm of man.  If we will but embrace it and allow Jesus to bring his light and new life into our lives we can be agents of change.

So rejoice and find great joy this Christmas, In Christ’s presence and grace.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Mission Accomplished an Advent reflection on Isaiah 55:8-11

I’m not sure that rain is that welcome at Christmas time. Christmas BBQ meals, with everyone huddling under the eaves of the house and the food being run in and out from the BBQ with the cook standing under an umbrella, water squelching in their jandals.The kids didn’t need the slip and slide in the backyard this year. They just slide down the increasingly muddy back lawn, and you don’t know how you are going to get them cleaned up to come inside later… and you definitely don’t want grandma slipping on that muddy slope as she is hurried in from the car. Then there is that camping trip you’re going on tomorrow, wet road travelling, pitching a tent in the rain, not fun and then digging a trench round it keep it safe and dry… well dry-ish.

Snow… at Christmas? We are more used to sun and sand... I guess it’s what those northern hemisphere dreams are made of. For some of us it’s in our genetic memory or even our childhood memories of distant homelands. We certainly sing about it enough in those carols as we swelter in increased heat and humidity, with the drone of fans as necessary accompaniment.

This year my advent reflection has revolved around rain and snow the images that are used in the passage we had read out from Isaiah 55. A passage which for me captures the wonder and grandeur of the incarnation: that places that child born in a Bethlehem stable into perspective. AS the rain and snow come down from heaven and do not return without watering the earth… so it is with my word that goes out of my mouth: it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purposes for which I sent it.”

The word became flesh and dwelt amongst us as John so succinctly puts it in the prologue to his gospel. No one has seen God but in Jesus we have beheld his mercy and grace. This is the mystery of the incarnation the magic if your will of Christmas, that God would take on human form, become a defenceless baby, born amidst the upheaval and housing crisis conditions caused by the census called by the world super power of the time …Rome. It is beyond us to comprehend God becoming a child and being placed in danger, having to flee as a refugee from the death squads of a paranoid dictator, a story which fills out TV screens each night as we see the human tragedy of Syria and Aleppo.  A virgin conceives a child, who is heralded by angels and welcomed by lowly shepherds, this is the wisdom of God so far beyond our own. A child who would grow in to a man and would live and heal and teach of God’s great love, and would die a criminals death on the cross, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians to the world  this is foolishness, but to those of us being saved it is the power of God.

The passage is full of images that point us to Christ; his person, his purpose and mission.

Water. Our kids took the service last week and did a wonderful job… we had mainly music for the pre-schoolers our primary kids with Sunday funday and our youth with SPY. They talked of the Gift of Jesus at Christmas and the key passage again was from John’s gospel where to the Samaritan women at the well who Jesus had asked to draw him some water in the mid-day heat he said…’If you knew the gift of God and who it is who asks for a drink, you would ask him and he would have give you living water’…This wonderful image of Jesus as the living water, able to parch our spiritual thirst and bring forth new life in the most barren deserts of our life… If we will but ask him.

The image of the water producing seed for the sower to make bread for the eater, points us to Jesus. “I am the bread of life” He said, God sending his son his word to sustain and give us what we need for new life. In the picture of a seed in the hand of the sower becoming a harvest of wheat to make bread we have Jesus own words predicting his death ‘Unless a seed falls to the ground and dies it cannot  bear fruit, but if it falls to ground and dies it produces much fruit.’ Foretelling hi death and how that would result in such a rich harvest of forgiveness and new life for us.

Finally Jesus words on the cross ‘it is finish” echo those of Isaiah ‘My word will not return to me without achieving all I have reposed for it’. Jesus mission was complete, the word made flesh achieved everything that God sent him to achieve. In Christ’s life, death and resurrection all that needs to be done for you and I to be forgiven and be bought back into relationship with God and know his presence and love has been done. Mission accomplished… from manger to cross and empty tomb all that needs to be done for us to know God’s love and grace has been done…

It’s like the present under the tree, the hours of thought, the struggling to find a car park, pushing through the crowds, or hoping you hadn’t missed the postal date from overseas for that thing you found on the Internet has been done and you are given a great gift and all you need to do is open it and receive it.

May you know new life in Jesus this Christmas!

Friday, December 16, 2016

A prayer of thanksgiving for Christmas day...

One of the things I love about Luke's narrative of Jesus birth is all the voices that we hear giving praise and helping us to understand the significance of the birth of this Child, Jesus... I've often pictured it like an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical with Mary and Zechariah singing and the most amazing and upside down production number... Where the vast host of angels are like performers on a grand stage preforming not the rich who can afford tickets but to a small group of outcast shepherds... Then like a postscript Simeon and Anna in the temple sign a duet not to bring the curtain down but to invite us to enter into the rest of the gospel story.

This Christmas, in this prayer I want to join my voice to this cast... It tries to capture the words of scripture and I've also tried to say them in my own words as well.

AS with all prayers and stuff I write you are welcome to use any or all of it that you would find helpful and encouraging...

This Christmas we join our voices with Mary to give you praise.

Our souls glorify the LORD

And our spirits rejoice in God our saviour,

We thank you that you have remembered us in our humble state

That you have blessed us and done great things

You have shown mercy to those who fear you

Way back then, now and for generations to come

Your ways are so different than ours

You don’t stand with the powerful and self-righteous

You are for those who are aware of their deep seated need for you

Your heart is for the poor and the lowly

Those who have all they need, seem to have no need for you

Yet you have helped your people and shown us mercy

You are faithful to your promises

This Christmas, as your spirited people, we join our voices with Zechariah

We praise the LORD, the God of Israel

In Christ you have come to your people, and bought them back to you

You’ve kept your promise of a just and honest king from David’s house

You’ve been faithful to your word, spoken through the prophets

AS you said you would, you’ve pulled us from the clutch of death and sin

Rescued and restored us to serve you, and love one another without fear

To live out your justice and grace empowered by your Spirit’s presence

We will declare your word, God, and tell the good news of Jesus Christ

We proclaim that in this Christ we celebrate today we can know new life

That because of Jesus, his birth, life and death that we can be forgiven

The slate is wiped clean, through your tender mercy

Mercy, like a new day dawning, through this child, the light of the world

A light that shines for those living in darkness and deaths cold shadow

A light to guide our feet onto the path of peace.

This Christmas we join our voice with Simeon and Anna,

We embrace this child you have given, and give you praise,

In Him you have kept your promise to us

We can leave this place, our hearts full of peace and joy

Because in Jesus we have seen your saving grace

Good news and hope prepared for the whole world

The light of the revelation of God, for gentile and Jew alike

The one who will bring glory to You Father God in all nations

Who will cause many to stumble and others to find solid footing,

He will not be accepted by all, many will speak against him

But in whose truth, the very core of being will be made known

The one who gave his life up for us, that in him we may find life

Lord God, in the midst of the suffering and sorrow of life

 we will not stop telling of your son Jesus to all who look for hope

This Christmas we join our voices with the whole host of heaven

Glory to God in the highest

And on earth… peace to those on whom God’s favour rests

This Christmas we join our voices to say the prayer Jesus taught his disciples.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

prayer for the fourth Sunday in Advent... love...

This is a prayer for our Carols and readings service this Sunday. The focus for the fourth Sunday in Advent is love, and this will come after our call to worship which is 1 John 4: 8-12. a wonderful passage about love and the incarnation as an expression of God's love for us.

The prayer follows a simple progression, what we 'love' about Christmas, the love of Christmas in Jesus Christ, and living out that Christmas love by loving one another. It starts with I guess is an idealized Christmas which we would all love to experience (well I know our northern friends like there white Christmas) ad then moves on to look at the Love of God shown in the incarnation, the coming and life, death and Resurrection of Jesus. Then finishes by taking that love into the imperfect hurt and needy world in which we live. where people struggle with debt, grief aloneness and isolation at Christmas, its a Christmas time when we hear the word genocide in Allepo in Syria, where in New Zealand we find that we have been named as the most prosperous country in the world the same week as a study was released saying that one in three children in our nation live in poverty... praying that we may be people who would bring God's Christmas love into this world of ours.

If you are northern hemisphere person reading this prayer... I'm sorry but it pure Southern hemisphere Christmas in the summer time. The Pohutukawa is known as  the New Zealand Christmas tree, it Blooms with vibrant crimson flowers just before Christmas. Red and green are traditional Christmas colours and remind us of new life in Christ's blood. The image that goes with this prayer is the Pohutukawa tree in our church car park...   

Like most of my payers I've tried to write with a bit of poetic styling and structure. I'm not sure it flows I am sure I only have a small bit of poetic style. Once again I hope it is of use and helps express something of our praise and prayers for this season. Please feel free to use any or all or none of it.

Dear God

We want to thank you for what we love about Christmas

Time to gather with family and friends and just catch up

Taking time to reconnect with loved ones who live far away

The sudden chance to relax and wind down after end of year rush

A summer break after that same rush that seems to have lasted all year

For gifts given and for giving gifts as expressions of love

For banquet like meals, left overs and easy going BBQ’s

Sunny beaches lined with Pohutukawa crimson bloom

Favourite carols that spark memories and gospel story hope

Father God

We want to thank you for Christmas Love

That you heard the cry of your people in darkness caught

That you faithfully sort to change, bring back and make new

Your word stepping into our world, full of grace and truth

In Bethlehem stall, the word becoming flesh and being with us

Dwelling with us: knowing our joy and sorrow,in Jesus our Emmanuel

Good news for poor, sight for blind and captives go free

Forgiveness of sin through Christ’s death on a tree

New creation breaking forth from empty tomb, as ‘he is risen indeed’

Your ongoing presence and kingdom in the promised Holy Spirit sent

Gracious saviour

We pray for your Christmas love today

May it find those alone, weighed down and sorrow filled,

May it reach to bring lasting peace amidst bomb blast and gunfire

May it bring hope in the face of poverty, neglect,  violence and abuse

Bring wholeness and healing to pained, stained  and broken souls

Forgiveness and reconciliation to family, community and world

The light of your kingdom in the dark recesses where evil seeks to rule

May it inspire generosity and sacrificial love in the face our self-seeking

May we be like Christ and love first: love as you first loved us

Monday, December 5, 2016

The LOst Son (Luke 15:11-34)... On The Crossroad

My favourite crime drama is criminal minds… I jokingly say it’s because the insights into abnormal psychology help me understand my children more. But really I think it the excellent work and writing that has gone into making the BAU team a family. Which you can see portrayed in this poster.

Why mention criminal minds? Well call it coincidence but this week’s episode “mirror Image”  revolved around the very passage and parable we are looking at today.  It focused on the background of relatively new character Dr Tara Lewis.  It was the story of two estranged siblings. The older who had followed the expected career path, and a younger brother who had dropped out and got caught up in any and every ‘get  rich quick scheme going and was always on to his father and family for more money that got squandered . The father wanted the two to be reconciled. Dr Lewis wasn’t that keen. I don’t want to spoil the episode for you, or go into the dark and bizarre physiological thriller element, but it ends with the younger brother being rescued and embraced and welcomed back  by his father while the older sibling, Dr Lewis, stands off somewhat distant not knowing what to do…while she had helped rescue him would she forgive him… and we have the voice over quote that the show has made its trademark… “this brother of yours was dead but is alive again, he was lost and is found’- Luke… the conflict is still unresolved and we are left to wonder how the older sibling will act.

Jesus parable of the prodigal son or more aptly the forgiving father is so much more detailed than the previous two. It paints characters that like this show does to me, draws us in and captivate us. It is a wondrous journey to the very father heart and character of God, and it finishes unresolved leaving us to decide what happens next and in that it invites us to find ourselves in the story, to find ourselves in relation to  Jesus and God’ big hearted love.

We are on a Journey with Jesus to Jerusalem in Luke’s gospel. A journey that takes up the central third of the gospel narrative, and the journey narrative focuses on Jesus teaching about what it means to be his disciples. It’s a journey that will lead Jesus and us to the Cross. It’s a journey we are invited to join not just in the pages of a book, but in our lives as well as we live out Jesus teaching on discipleship following him on the cross road.

The section we are looking at in Luke chapter 15, the parable of the lost sheep and lost coin, that we looked at last week and the lost son we are looking at this week, forms a discrete unit at the centre of Jesus journey to Jerusalem and really at the centre of the gospel itself. As such it lends itself very nicely to this advent season.  Jesus we are told is surrounded by tax collectors and sinners, they have gathered to hear him, and he sits down to dine with them.  When we read that people hear Jesus they are acting as disciples, Jesus had said that his disciples are the ones who hear his words and put them into action. He sits down to dine with them and as we see in the stories Jesus tells in this section, such behaviour is a celebration of people repenting and turning back to God. The Pharisees and teachers of the law mutter and mumble, how can Jesus be a man of God and hang out with such people? Jesus tell these most memorable parables as a defence of his ministry, to show the people who think they know God the best that they do not know the love and grace of God at all. And in the way the parable of the father and his two sons is left hanging that invites them and us to join the rejoicing that the lost are being found, the dead have been made alive again.

The story revolves around a father who has two sons. It starts by focusing on the younger son. Who comes to his father and demands his inheritance now. The father is a landowner and so the property is divided up between the two brothers. AS the younger brother, his portion would have been smaller than his brothers. Such action would be shocking to Jesus hearers because in doing such a thing the son disowns his family, dishonouring his father. Not only that but by selling it off and turning it into cash he further shames his family, such things were not done in Jesus day, land like in our Maori culture here in New Zealand was very much about identity; it said who you were and where you belonged. Likewise it was unheard of for someone to move away from his family to seek his fortune in a distant land. The implication here for Jesus Jewish listeners was that he was heading off to a gentile land. Of course the resulted squandering of his money on wild living shows he has turned his back on his family his land his people and his faith. While a parable is a story with one central point, here it is almost allegorical about the impact of sin and walking away from our relationship with God.

The Father seems rather passive in this part of the story, his behaviour may have equally shocked Jesus listeners. By Law such a demand to divey it up when you were alive, should have been met with a decline and even a beating and banishment for such disrespect, shameful and rebellious behaviour. But the father lets the son go, he takes the shame and hurt and pain of this disobedience. We are often asked why does God allow people to walk away from him, to sin, surely he could demand and make it that we obeyed him. Yet part of the love and grace of God is his willingness to allow us to exercise freewill. He hope his love will keep us close but out of that love Go is willing to face the pain and sorrow and the shame of being a God who has his creation his people turn away from him.

The younger son soon finds himself poor and broke, he has misspent all that the father had given him and instead of high living and enjoyment he now finds himself destitute. This is often the case that we see freedom from the restrains of duty and family ties, of faith to be desirable, but it can so easily lead downwards to ruin and pain. We are told to make matters worse a famine hits the land. While it would have been demeaning the young son could have depended on the alms and generosity of the people and society about him, but even this was taken away, peoples kindness was curbed by their own dire needs. He ends up for a Jew with the worst of jobs; he is hired to look after pigs: Unclean animals.  He is no better than a slave, his pay is not enough to feed himself and he looks longingly at the husks and pods that the pigs are feed.

Then Jesus tells us that the young son came to his senses. Here as his life bottoms out he takes stock, he starts thinking straight. In a profound picture of what repentance is we see the young son realise where his own wilful disobedience has lead him down this disastrous path. He realises he has sinned against his family and against God. But it’s just not being sorry for where he is or for what he has done, his mind starts to turn towards home, he is aware again of his father’s goodness and generosity, that his father treats his servants better than he is being treated and maybe there is hope that in going back and confessing his sin and stupidity that he will experience some of that grace and be hired as a lowly servant. He gets up and he starts the long trek home, nervous, unsure of his reception but hoping because of what he knows of his father’s love. Rehearsing in his mind what he will say, how he will have to confess all he has done wrong. 

The focus of the story now changes; the central figure comes into frame. We switch to the Father. There is the idea of a loving father looking out down the road his son had left and grieving for him. Only to see the son he thought lost to him forever, come into view in the distance. Even though he was dishevelled and in rags the Father knows his child. He sees him under the filth and dirt.  In the Jewish culture of the day the thing to have done would be for the father to wait with a stern look on his face till the son has come and explained himself, thrown himself on his father’s mercy. But this is not Jewish culture its Jesus culture the father does something shocking, he dispenses with any idea of dignity and status and runs down the street to embrace his son. Even before the son can offer his long practised heartfelt apology and plea, he is embraced and orders are given for the finest robes and the family ring and sandals to be bought the fatted calf to be killed for a great feast. He is not simply assigned to the role of a servant but is welcomed back and received fully into the family again. He was lost but he is found, dead but is alive again.

Here is Jesus insight into the heart of God the Father: A God who is willing to forgive and welcome back those who have gone astray. In this advent season the idea of laying aside dignity and status to embrace the repentant sinner takes on deeper significance as we reflect on our Heavenly father sending his son Jesus into the world. To be good news for the poor, bring sight to the blind, freedom for the captive and prisoner and proclaim the acceptable year of the lord, To seek and save the lost. The whole gospel and Jesus mission so beautifully wrapped up in a story here of family reunion and reconciliation.

While there is great feasting and happiness, because the one who was lost is now found, and the one who was dead is now alive, isn’t that a great picture of the new life we can receive through Christs death and resurrection, Jesus tells us the third character in the story comes home for the field where he has been working. It is the older brother. He asks what is going on and is told his lost brother has retuned and a great celebration is happening. But the Older brother reacts with anger, he remembers the shame of the betrayal, the shame of the younger son forsaking the family, all the past hurts and his own dutiful service and  will not come into celebrate.

We again see the love of the Father, willing to put aside the important role of being host to a great party, and humbly going to his son outside. He is meet with vitriol… as he says ‘Your brother has returned” . The older son does not seem to know his father at all. He acts like a servant, yes he has faithfully worked and done everything right and proper, and he throws it back at his father that he has never thrown such a party for him… the older son knows his duty but does not understand the love and forgiveness and grace that his father possesses.  I wonder if we cannot find ourselves in the same position when it comes to knowing God. We don’t know God at all, we may fear God or serve him out of duty, and not know that he loves us so deeply, not share the joy of his great mercy and love for all his children who would return to him.

The father again acts out of love and assures the older son that everything he has belongs to the older son and he has always been with him… there is the same offering of love and acceptance… he invites him in to celebrate the lost son is now found the dead son is now alive.’

The story ends there abruptly and unfinished. We are left to ask ourselves how it ends? Will the older son go in, or will he remain the lost son? Will the younger son actually change his ways? When people turn to Christ We can wonder if they have really changed if all they have done in the past can be forgiven and forgotten.  The people Jesus told this story to are a mix of those who might relate to the younger son or to the older son.  The tax collectors and sinners embraced again by the big hearted love of God, rejoiced over as they turn again towards God in repentance. Or the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, who had thought they were dutifully serving God and hurt and angry about how the younger brother had behaved.

It’s a story that remains unresolved in church history it would have spoken to Luke’s first hearers in a church made up of Jewish believers and gentile believers.  The one so over joyed at finding themselves welcomed in by Christ, and the others wrestling with what this now meant, both trying to resolve what it means to be in the fathers household together. It has gone on in every new push and expression of the gospel and church, new forms and styles of worship which emphasise the joy and celebration of knowing God and older more traditional forms and a sense of duty and respect.

The story remains unresolved for us today, because it is our story. We are invited to see ourselves in this story and resolve it in our own lives, in how we respond to the big hearted love of God.