Monday, December 23, 2013

Light in The Darkness... reflection on The Light of The World and A simple line drawing and John 1:1-14 ... Christmas Eve 2013 (from Eteernity to Here Part 3)

I really like the video we just watched in a very simple way it paints the story of the incarnation, God’s son stepping into the realm of humanity. I know it’s a line drawing, but as I was preparing for tonight and reflecting on the passage we had read from John’s Gospel  I couldn’t help but think that it captured the idea that John uses of Light coming into the darkness.

Last year we went down Franklin Road in Ponsonby to look at the street where most of the houses have Christmas light displays. It was made even more spectacular because the Auckland Car club had chosen that night to park their array of vintage and classic cars down the middle of the street and the lights reflected off the freshly polished paint jobs and gleaming chrome.

The house that stuck in our minds had one word and an arrow in lights outside it. The word was Ditto and the arrow pointed to the blazing array of the house next door. They wanted to be involved but didn’t want to go through all the fuss.

The simple line drawing video reminded me that God’s light coming into the world was not a flashy event. It was not the special effects filled spectacular that our Hollywood soaked imaginations are used to. Ok the Star was pretty cool, and I suppose the angelic choir really lit up the night, but in a profoundly simple way the creator of it all, the eternal word that was with God and that was God stepped into our world and our darkness.

Mary bears a special child, the light of the world. Conceived and growing in the darkness of the womb like any other child.   The baby able to hear the loud sounds about it: To know its mothers voice, the laugh of Joseph when he feels the child kick or the harsh order of roman soldiers in this occupied country demanding that people go to their native town to register. Then after its birth could hear the  hushed and anxious tones of his parents as they discuss having to flee to Egypt and the weeping of the mothers of so many children as a paranoid dictator tries to stop any treat to his rule by killing every male child under two.

The shepherds are sitting maybe by a fire in the cold hills around Bethlehem, keeping watch over their sheep. Always alert that a wolf or lion or two-legged creature may rob them of the animals from which they make their living.

Then there is a blinding light. Like the sky was a curtain it rolls back and an angel appears. It was enough to frighten these hardened outdoors types and they fall on the ground. The angel says fear not and gives them Good News of a child born who is the saviour. A child not in a palace or in the home of the rich and powerful but in a shed lay in a feed trough. Suddenly the night was full of light. The angels arrayed as a mighty army spreading across the expanse of the night sky singing ‘Glory to God in the highest, and peace to all on earth in whom God find’s favour”. The shepherds abandon their sheep and go and see that what they have been told is true.  The Light of the world proclaimed not to the rich and famous, not A-listers or power brokers, or media or the masses,  but to people on the edge. Poor and outcast.


We call them wise men, they gazed at the sky and looked to the stars to understand the world around them. They too see a light: Something new in the heavens. Something that causes them to leave their observatory, maybe change out of their white coats and put away their calculators and plastic pocket protectors, and go on a long journey. The star they understood signalled the birth of a special child. The long awaited ‘King of the Jews’. They journey through lands and the political intrigue of that paranoid dictator Herod to find this one. Lead and guided by a star, to find a child that is the LIght. Finding that child, they worship  him and give and gifts of gold, frankeseince and myrrh. Strange to our twenty first century minds when a packet of treasures or a rattle maybe gifts for a baby. But they were gifts designed for a king.


The light of Christmas caused them to journey from the familiar to look for something new that would bring hope and peace for all humanity.  A light not just for a favoured people, but that would cross all barriers to be a light and bring life for all people.

The video didn’t stop there did it. It could have but it showed that this Child, this light come into the world had a journey to make. AS John said in the word become flesh in Jesus born of Mary, we beheld the light of God’s truth and grace.


A Light that travelled to a hill and preached a sermon on the mount A light that showed God’s invitation to new life with him… Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of God, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be satisfied, those who mourn for they will be comforted, those who are meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are the merciful for they will receive mercy, blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God. Blessed are the peace makers, for they will be called the children of God, blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of God.  Not a light that demanded our attention, but one to whom all who received him he gave the right to be sons and daughters of the most high.


A light that shone on a new way for us to live and be human… Love one another as I have loved you.  A Light that shone even in the darkest of hours nailed to a cross, unjustly condemned, sacrificed on the altar of political expediency, but beyond that paying the price for what we had done wrong. Making it possible for God to Shine his new light into our darkness, and give us new life, bring the light of new creation into our lives.


In the video we watched, at the cross it faded to black, but that is not the end of the story. Just as John said in the passage we had read to us… the light shone in the darkness and the darkness could not overcome it… because the  the light of the world was so strong that even death could not overcome it.


 John starts his gospel with echoes of the genesis story ‘In the beginning’ the creation story and he ends his gospel with new creation, on the first day in the garden, there is the hope of new creation in Jesus risen from the dead.

My friend Malcolm Gordon sums up the incarnation in a wonderful and succinct way. ““Our Advent hope is that God will send his beloved one out into the darkness after his wayward ones. And that no matter how badly that might seem to go for God and for his beloved one, God will somehow win the salvation of many through it.” So this Christmas may you know the Light of the world, the word become flesh more and more in your lives? May you know the life that comes from that light.

The Greatest Gift... Self... From Eternity to Here John 1:1-18 (Part 4) ... Christmas Day 2013

One of the things that has become synonymous with Christmas is… adverts. That’s not profound, it’s a bit sad really… but you know Christmas is coming when people try and sell you stuff. Adverts on TV, letterboxes so full of colourful catalogues that they groan under the weight, Christmas present for all, the right Christmas gifts for that person who is just too hard to please,  on sale, on special, open late, all under one roof, no hassle, stress free …yeah Right… right. Sometimes it’s helpful because I struggle to know what to give people… I struggle because well … the budget is pretty tight. I struggle because I’m not the Grinch, and I want to express my love and kinship in a way that says how I feel. And as a lot of blokes sitting here are probably thinking, I wonder what socks and underwear actually says about what people think about me.

I found this great youtube clip which in a Christmassy advert kind of way, gives the message that I want to share with you this morning. So I’ll play it with the cool computer graphics, with the homage to “hitch hiker Guide to the galaxy” just in case you miss it thats the sperm whale appearing in mid air. .. and the focus that the greatest present is presence. God gave us the greatest gift the Gift of God’s self. ‘the word became flesh and moved into our neighbourhood.

Time for an ad break…

And that is really well put together, but just like in real life it’s easy for the simple message of Christmas to kind of get lost in the razzle dazzle, tinsel  and all the trimmings. The simple message of God’s love for us being shown in giving us the greatest gift of all… that God stepped into our world, to tell us and show us that God  loves us.

AS I shared with the kids a little earlier self is the greatest gift you can give someone.  It shows you love them, you care, people in need and in poverty and oppression want both material help but more long for people like you and I to stand in solidarity with them. That was bought home again recently with the passing of Nelson Mandela, when John Minto  talked of Mandela’s reaction to the protesters stopping the game at Waikato stadium, “It was as if the sun came out”.

One of the ways that people talk about our society today is that we maybe material rich. But we are time poor.  It takes two incomes to make ends meet in Auckland and that eats up time, time to invest in relationships that really matter, time to nurture, time to care, time to foster the community round us. And time to contemplate and know the reality of God and God’s love for us. The greatest gift we have is self, to invest into one another… to love one another.

Self was the gift that God chose to give to us. The passage we had read out in John this morning paints the Christmas story in the context of the big picture… it starts the story in eternity and comes to here, it says that God created all that there is, he gave us the gift of self: Giving us life as unique individuals.

But more than that as we chose to live in darkness, to again give us light and life, he stepped into our world, the eternal God came into the temporal realm of humanity. The Word which was with God , and was God in eternity took on flesh and moved into our neighbourhood in Jesus Christ. God gave us the gift of self.

Self-revealing- No one has seen God but the one who comes from the very heart of God has made God as plain as day.  The image behind me comes from the famous creation alfresco by Michael Angelo, but the Christmas story tells us God got even closer. Embraced by a mothers care, held as he fled into exile, shoulder tapping people in their everyday life to come and follow, touching and healing lepers, comforting grieving friends, over throwing the tables of un just money lenders, held fast and nailed to a cross, being examined and held by disciples amazed at the miracle of resurrection.

Self-sacrificing- The journey from nativity scene to the crucifixion is a short one. AS my friend Malcom Gordon says ““Our Advent hope is that God will send his beloved one out after his wayward ones. And that no matter how badly that might seem to go for God and for his beloved one, God will somehow win the salvation of many through it.” John says This is love not that we loved God but that God first loved us, and gave his son as an atoning sacrifice for all we had done wrong. “

Self-giving, and never self-imposing.  To all who would receive him he gave the right to become the sons and daughters of the most high. It’s an invitation to find life and light, forgiveness and purpose in knowing and being known by God. To find our truth self in relationship with Christ  and in selfless caring for others… and eternal life with Christ at his fathers house.

The greatest gift. The gift of God’s self. Christ’s presence with us,  our presence with God in eternity… The greatest gift not wrapped in paper, but in cloth and laid in a manger, the greatest gift, god’s presence, not wrapped in paper but in humanity, the word made flesh, the greatest gift of all… life for you and I, but it does need to be unwrapped unpacked and  received. This Christmas this new year may you receive this greatest gift  and allow it to bring light and life.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Big Picture in the Prolouge to John's Gospel... John 1:1-18.... From Eternity to Here (Part 2)


The 1997 movie contact tells the story of a relationship between a theologian and a scientist. It’s sci-fi so yes it is about alien contact. When it comes to how John chooses to start his story of Jesus I can’t help but think of the way the film Contact begins, with its sweep out from earth, out from the solar system following radio waves, out through even our sun looking like that the pale blue dot image, out through the pillars of creation, out beyond the milky way, through the star forming hearts of neighbouring galaxies, even through Hubble’s far fields to a cascade of infinite universes seemingly coming into being, an explosion of light like a big bang and then we find ourselves entering the story through the eye of a child. Why don’t we take a moment and watch it…

..Contact starts with the grandeur of the universe and steps that into a story of one person. That’s what John does in his prologue as well. He starts in the beginnings, with the eternal word that was with God and was God and very quickly, in eighteen short verses, we meet Jesus coming to John, the Baptist, to be baptised. It sets the context for the cry of a child born in a stable, because there was not room at the inn, it gives meaning to the child worshipped by shepherds still dazed and amazed by angelic choirs, in Luke’s account. It puts in context, Jesus detailed Whakapapa, the sages journeying from the east, political intrigue and paranoid dictators which is the focus of Matthew’s birth narrative. It places in context, that meeting, between John the Baptist and Jesus, Where the gospels of John and Mark choose to step into the narrative of Jesus life. It starts in eternity and journeys here. It starts in eternity and then steps into our world, the word became flesh and dwelt amongst us. It starts in eternity and journeys to here, to you and I, but to all who would receive him he gives the right to be sons and daughters of the God most high.


It paints the big picture for us.

 The big picture of God.   
1 John 4:8 (that’s the letter of John not the gospel) makes an amazing and succinct statement about the nature of God, before talking about what Christ has done for us and how we should treat each other in response. It says “God is Love”. That love is painted large in the prologue of John’s gospel. WE see it in the eternal relationship between the Word and God. So intimate and close that they can only be described as one. The word was with God and the word was God. That love painted in the way the prologue then uses the relationship we are more used to in our Trinitarian formulas, Father and Son. That no one has seen God except the beloved son, who is able to show us the full extent of the truth and grace of God, because as Eugene Peterson puts it, he comes from the heart of God. The Greek word has that idea of being held to ones bosom. It paints the picture of the Son being able to show us the heart of the Father because he has rested his head on God’s chest and heard the very rhythm and beat of that heart. 


It paints the picture of God being the creator, being the source of all life in the universe.


It paints the picture of God revealing himself to his creation. We see it in the law being given through Moses, that God wanted a people to be able to reflect what God is like by the way they lived and treated each other and the world around them.


When you read through the Prologue to John’s gospel there is an interruption to the flow of John’s thoughts and poetry in verses 6-8 as we look at John the Baptist.  But in painting the big picture about God’s self-revelation John stands as an important figure. He stands as the last of the Old Testament Prophets, because he is calling people back to being faithful to their covenant relationship with God, as such he is the last of the line of prophets who had done that for the Jewish people. God was constantly inviting his people back to himself.  But also he stands as the herald of the dawning of a new day as he proclaims that the Kingdom of God is at hand, he witnesses to who Jesus is. One tradition has John the writer of the gospel in Ephesus, and the emphasis on making sure people do not confuse John the Baptist with the light fits in well with that. In Acts when Paul comes to Ephesus there are a group there that has already been baptised, but not as followers of Jesus but of John, so this John here makes sure they see John the Baptist, as yes an important man, but important because he bears witness, as do all those who have gone before him, to the light that has come into the world in Jesus.

The prologue paints the big picture of God’s love because it tells us for our sake that God stepped into our world, the word became flesh and dwelt amongst us. The light came to shine in the darkness. By the way the tent here does not signify a quick visit, like our Christmas holidays, it’s the word tabernacle, and signifies God presence being with us for the whole journey. Even though  His own did not recognise him, it’s the big picture of God reaching out to us.

Here we step onto the canvas of that big picture because the prologue paints the big picture about the human condition.

It paints the big picture that we were created and made to find our life in relationship with God through Jesus, God’s Word. My friend and mentor Jim Wallace in his study series ‘discover life’ talks about human life using two Greek words one being bios, where we get the word biology, which talks about our physical life, the life we share with all creatures. But John also uses the word Zoe which has an idea of life that is more than just the MRS GREN my children talk about over meals… Movement, Respiration, Sensitivity, Growth, Reproduction, Excreting and Nutrition.

 The word life (zoe) is used some 36 times in John’s gospel and another 13 in the letters of John. In fact John tells us that the reason he has written his gospel is that we may have life.  We were created to find the ultimate fulfilment of our life, eternal life, abundant life… in knowing and being known by God, and living in his light.

The prologue paints the big picture that as humans we live in darkness.  We are fallen and broken. All the way through John’s gospel the motif of light and darkness is used to explain Jesus mission in the world. After that most famous verse in John, John 3:16, that God so loved the word, that he gave his only begotten son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life… John says the reason that people did not receive the light is that we prefer the darkness. One of the things that light does is that it reveals the truth, and says John people see their works are evil. When the light comes when God’s truth is revealed it shows up the extent of our brokenness. Our need for God and that is not comfortable.

The prologue then paints for us the big picture of God’s love, in the Word made flesh, in the beloved son inviting us back to relationship with him. Not only is God’s truth revelled but God’s grace as well. God grace stepping into our world, God giving his son, It’s the big picture that is painted in a babe in a manger, and that child grown into a man, dying on a cross. It paints the picture that to all who would receive him he gives the right to be sons and daughters of the most high.

Songwriter and Presbyterian Minister Malcolm Gordon in his sermon for the first Sunday in advent this year wraps this big picture up for us…  “Our Advent hope is that God will send his beloved one out after his wayward ones. And that no matter how badly that might seem to go for God and for his beloved one, God will somehow win the salvation of many through it.”

It’s the big picture but it’s not some abstract hanging on the wall of a lofty gallery, surrounded by security, unless it may fall into the wrong hands. It’s not some CGI Master piece the beginning of contact which would look  even better if it was in 3D. It makes contact…It’s a big picture that as I said before comes from eternity to here. Its real.


It reaches into the lives of people who encounter Jesus in John’s gospel. It is the offer of new birth and new life made to a Pharisee so worried about his public appearance that he came to see Jesus at night. But so wanting to find light and truth that he comes seeking Jesus.


It is living water that can quench the thirst of a women, so ostracised by her people , that she had to endure the mid-day sun to  come to her local well and draw water. Jesus speaks life into her life. She goes back not with the scent of bad news about her but as the herald of Good news “witnessing to her neighbours… he told me every thing I had ever done… could this be the messiah”.


It speaks healing and wholeness into the life of a cripple, who had been on a waiting list by a pool in a major city for thirty eight years, he is made well when he meets Jesus.


It opens the eyes of a man born blind. Lifting him up out of the dust of the road side where he sat as a beggar.  It would bring comfort to Mary and Martha as Jesus showed his solidarity with their grief and wept at the death of their brother Lazarus and then did the unthinkable and raised him to life again.


It gave the example of love and service to one another, as the master and teacher, stopped to wash the feet of his disciples and commanded all who would know him to  love to love one another.  


It’s the big picture that shines into peoples lives, not only as we cherry pick our way through John’s Gospel but in lives today…

Maybe I could go on and share many other people’s testimony and cherry pick the most spectacular... But the big picture came here to you and I.  For me I grew up in a home where my Mum would go to church, in fact she was a Sunday school teacher, but my dad wanted nothing to do with Church and Christianity.  I grew up in the Church. As a teenager I went to Youth Group for purely social reasons, we went to the beach and out on Saturday night, I was a bit of a nerd and these folk actually seemed to care. When I was asked are you a Christian  I would proudly say “ No and I don’t want to be”. One weekend at a family camp, where we’d been dragged up from playing on the beach to listen to a very boring speaker, that big picture of God’s love stepped into my life, I heard God say “I want You to follow me” and I knew God was real. So I responded.  Life has been up and down since then it hasn’t been all beer and skittles. But I know I am loved and have found amazing life in knowing and following Jesus.

The Big picture… from eternity to here, God’s Word stepping into our world.

The big picture from eternity to here, the here and now, not just the then and there.

The big picture of God’s love… from here to eternity… to you and I… bringing new life to all who will receive him.


Saturday, November 30, 2013

How Do You Start The Story and What Does That Say? From Eternity To Here (Part 1) John 1:1-18

Where do you start the story and what does that say?

Orson Well’s classic movie ‘Citizen Kane’ starts outsides the gates. We stare through the bars into this mysterious mansion. There is one light in the window of an upstairs room. Slowly the camera moves us into that room and we witness the dying words of it occupant “Rose Bud”. For the rest of the movie we hear testimony about this influential newspaper tycoon’s life.  What does rose bud mean, can it unlock the conundrum, the paradox of citizen Kane, can it take us past the gates to understand the man.

Where do you start the story and what does it say?

In 1977 we were introduced to the star wars universe. The Twentieth century fox logo, then a quick title frame announcing this is a Lucasfilm production.  A blank screen and then those words ‘A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away accompanied by that now famous fanfare’. But wait this is episode four the new hope… as the scene is set in that most iconic roll up of words.

We would have to wait twenty one years… when people lined up round the block at cinemas, paid their money went in sat down and watched the movie trailer, then left before the main feature, went outside and lined up all over again. Another set of words “every generation has its legend… every journey has its first step… every saga has a beginning” and amidst snippets of the movie, setting the scene, we witness that moment when Anacin Skywalker is introduced to Obi wan Kenobi.

In an interview George Lucas gave about the launch of Episode one he said “in 1977 the movie going public was not ready for the dark story of the fall of Anacin Skywalker, so he started in episode IV and told the story of his redemption, now he believed they were ready” … and of course us sci-fi buffs love a good prequel.

Where do you start the story and what does that say?

All of the gospels choose to start the story of Jesus Christ in different places and different ways. This year, I want to invite you to reflect on and prepare for celebrating the coming of Christ by looking at how John chooses to start the story of Jesus and what that has to say to us. The series is called from Eternity to Here, because John invites us to go way back… beyond the stable in Bethlehem, beyond angelic visitations to Mary and Joseph, beyond Zechariah, John the Baptists father, back even beyond Jesus whakapapa, that links him to king David and to Abraham  all the way back… to stare off into the eternity of “in the beginnings” and to see that in Jesus; the Word that was, that was with God and that was God, came here, he took on flesh and dwelt amongst us. Showing us what God is like and bringing his truth and grace in all its fullness to us.

In the beginnings, echoes the words of Genesis 1;1 and invites  us to see that here is a continuation of the story of God. The focus just like in Genesis is first and foremost on God. On God who was there before anything else. But John introduces us first and foremost to The Word. RVG Tasker says that the unique contribution of the prologue of the gospel of John is that “it reveals the Word of God not merely as an attribute of God, but as a distinct person within the Godhead, dwelling with the creator before creation began.” John starts his gospel by pointing to Jesus divine origins.

Logos is the Greek translated here as Word, and in our text orientated western world we may have the idea of a written word, but Leonard sweet, says that we miss something of what is portrayed here and maybe we would be best to think of the voice of God, or even the song of God. He tells a joke to illustrate how this fits with the incarnation. A church receptionist used to answer the phone “Jesus loves You, Alice speaking, can I help you ” one day she was very tired and got confused so she answered the phone “Alice loves you, Jesus speaking, can I help you.” As you’d expect there was silence on the other end of the phone for a moment and then the person replied “I thought you’d sound different”. Maybe we are not ready for God’s word to speak in a human voice but he does.

There is lots of Greek philosophical background that goes with the word Logos, its used in the work of Plato, but today I want to focus on three uses of Word in the Old Testament.  

Firstly, as in Genesis we know that God spoke and it came into being.  Here John points to the fact that the Word was the agent through which God created everything. It affirms the pre-existence and uniqueness of the Word, as not being made, of always being with God and also of the hand the word had in creating. But also here there is new hope, the dawn of new beginnings and new creation, the voice of God does not stop being the creative force in the universe. Remember this Easter we looked at John’s account of the resurrection and we saw again the echoes of Genesis… “In the garden” , “On the First Day”… This creation renewal echoes to the very end of the story a, in Revelation 21, the one seated on the throne proclaims behold I make all things new.’

The voice and Word of God speaks of God’s self-revelation. The Word, says John, is the Light of all mankind. We see the light but also by the Light we are able to see. John tells us that in the Word made flesh we see the glory of God, the father. We see the weighty reality of who God is and what he is like. It goes on to tell us why the word made flesh, now talked about as God’s Son, is able to show us what God is like …he has come from the very bosom of God. No one has seen God but the Word is able to show us what God is like because of the depth and intimacy of their relationship with one another. That would have been a special idea for John to use because in his own gospel he talks about resting his head on the bosom of Jesus at the last supper. He Can tell us of Jesus because he has been that close, Jesus can tell us of God’s truth and grace because he is that close. Sadly John’s prologue also introduces us to the fact that God came to his own and they would not receive him. They preferred the darkness to the light.

In the Jewish scriptures God speaking is also the way in which he is able to achieve his purposes and plans in history, his saving actions. Isaiah 55 tells us that just like the snow and rain does not return to the heavens without watering the earth so God’s word does not return to him without achieving all that God has purposed for it. In John’s gospel Jesus last word on the cross is ‘it is finished.’

God’s word says John brings life. In creation it is seen as the source of life for all living things. For all those who received the word made flesh John tells us he gives the right to become the sons and daughters of the God most high. Not children by natural means, not because they belonged to a certain family but because of the action of God himself.

All this may seem rather esoteric, high flying ivory tower theology. Some scholars see these verses as originally being poetry, full of metaphor and motif, word pictures that draw us deeper and deeper. Eugene Patterson in his paraphrase of the bible “the message” actually puts the prologue in poetic verse. Others see this as like a mighty ocean of theology which we have not yet totallyplumed the depth of. Can I say this morning it feels like we’ve just dipped our feet into it. But Paul Metzger says John does not allow us to simply know an egg head God an ivory tower deity, who speaks in theory and abstract and ideas. Who invites us to contemplate and know about him. It does not invite us to consider the triune God as some sort of mathematical equation  1+1+1=1. You can’t put God on a shelf in a dusty tome to gather dust.

At the heart of this passage and the heart of the Gospel is that this word put on flesh and comes looking for us. Come looking to know us and be known by us. In scripture the idea of knowing someone is personal and participatory and in the word made flesh God comes and dwells in our neighbourhood.  God comes and experiences our world, our joys our sorrows, and invites us to know him and enter his new world.  “Take note” says Metzger… “That Jesus as the word of God is by no means egg headed but soft hearted. Jesus is no mathematical puzzle but a living person longing for loving communion with his creation, making us children of God. “

How do you start the story and what does that say?

Star wars starts a Long time ago in a galaxy far, far away’ and the story takes place stays in that distant place. While John starts in the beginnings, the reality is that it steps into our world in the person of Jesus Christ, and God invites us to know him and join our story to his. It steps into our universe and our times with the hope of new life. Not to a cinema near you but into our very lives.

How do you start the story and what does it say.

Citizen Kane ends where it begins with us outside the gate once again and while we know what the word rosebud means it does not help us to understand the aloof mysterious Kane. The Word made flesh leaves no doubt about God and his love for us. It does not leave us far off or outside the gate. The word made flesh, gives those who believe in him the right to be called sons and daughters of the most high God. it to finishes where it starts in eternity, with Christ in his father’s house if we receive the Word made flesh.  

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Ripe Guava, Encourgement and Kereru... Coincidence?

There is  a Guava tree in the neighbours backyard... and the fruit is slowly fermenting on the branches.

Yesterday was a particularly weird Black Dog day. I found myself driving through Auckland traffic, which never helps, and asking God for some encouragement.

Last Night as I sat down for dinner with some of my kids I looked out the window and there for the first time ever I saw Kereru (NZ woodpigeons). We live in suburban Auckland and while there are two volcanic cones across the road from us and a big park down the road, they have never ventured into our back yard before. Yes they were there for the ripe guava, there is nothing funnier than a wood pigeon after they've been eating fermented berries and fruit. But one of the flew right into the tree and looked right in at us.  

In Leonard Sweet's book, Soulsalsa, he talks about mezuzah-ing your world. That is like with the Jews who put the Shema on their door posts so they will remember God's covenant as they go out and come in. I was in Dunedin when I read it so I started giving thanks for the presence of the Holy Spirit every time I saw a Kereru, as they are the native pigeon/dove like bird. If you've read this blog over the years You'll find that they started turning up at significant moments in my life in ways I have taken as God giving me assurance of his presence. Even to the point as I was wrestling with a decision about leaving a place of work a few years ago, one flew right into a window.

It may simply have been the Guava tree had ripe fruit but on the day I needed to again know of God's presence there they were.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Advent Blessing

Last summer  I went to the Urban Vineyard Church here in Auckland, and one of the things that really spoke to me was the way they used images from round Auckland City as the backgrounds for their PowerPoint slides. It bought home to me the reality of the Missional context of the Church.

I have been endeavouring to use such images as well in particular behind the blessings at the end of the services. With advent I couldn't help but focus on the wonderful Pohutukawa trees, that are native to this land and which blossom at Christmas time. They are considered New Zealand's Christmas tree. So here is the slide I will be using over advent.

feel free to use it if its appropriate and to share any you've done with me.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Psalm 22 My God, My God Why Have You Aandoned Me... God Has Done It...Lament, Hope, The Cross, Us and Tust In God

We are looking at what Philip Yancy calls the question that will not go away… where is God when it hurts? The question of evil... And while we would want a definite concrete answer, a formula or equation of which to make sense of it all  we’ve seen that scripture addresses that question primarily through poems and prayers of people of faith as they encounter suffering and sorrow; through Lament. And today I want to finish looking at this question by looking at Psalm 22. Because it starts by asking the question “Where is God when it hurts? ” My God My God why have you forsaken me?”   it is born out of human suffering. But also because it is a psalm of hope and trust that God will make things right, it affirms God’s ultimate salvation. He has done it! yet also because I believe this Psalm helps us to see God’s answer to the question of evil, God’s answer in the person of Jesus,  because this psalm is on the lips of Jesus on the cross, both the first line “My God My God Why Have you forsaken me?” and the last, recorded in John’s Gospel as “It is finished”. But also because it invites us to also make it our song;  It finishes  by pointing to us, future generations yet unborn. For us to join our lament to this one and to trust in God, to acknowledge that yes this is the question that will not go away but God is Good, God is sovereign and he has done it.

It is hard for Christians to read this psalm without thinking of Jesus and the cross. In fact this psalm is quoted more than any other in the New Testament, it’s quoted twenty four times. It is traditionally read on Psalm Sunday or Good Friday. But to fully understand it and its answer to the question of evil, we need to see it first in its original context. That it is a Psalm that picks up both the suffering and the faith of a person a few thousand years before Christ.

Psalm 22 is the lament of a person facing, suffering and oppression. He faces Physical suffering; He uses vivid imagery of joints torn, his strength drying up, dehydration. His pain is such that he uses the image of the worst punishment he has seen his enemies use nailing people by the feet and hands, to express how he feels.

He suffers on a psychological level. He is made to feel sub human by the taunts and scorn of his enemies, as they mock him and call out “Where is your God now?”  One of the things this psalm does is that it not only acknowledges the way in which the victims of oppression and opposition are made to feel subhuman, but that oppression and evil dehumanises those who do the oppressing, his enemies are portrayed as raging cattle out of control. Bashan was the Waikato of the ancient near east, and the cattle there were the biggest and best. Maybe today we’d use the idea of the ‘fat cats’, people who abuse wealth and power. He calls them Lions and Dogs, Dogs for the Jews were not the pets we might thing of today, but the mongrels that roamed the streets and feed off the scrapes. He says they don’t even wait for him to die before they start fighting over the cloths off his back.

He suffers spiritually as well. He finds himself in that place of disorientation, Where is the God who had saved Israel in the past?  Where now is the God who had been with him and kept him from his mother’s womb? At this time of greatest need it seems God has gone on vacation.

But this suffering does not drive him away from God, but rather he realises that despite his suffering, That God is good, that God is worthy of praise, that God has answered his lament. That because of who God is that there will be justice and righteousness in the world. The poor, the widows, orphans, strangers, destitute will be cared for. That evil will be overcome by good. This is not a song of despair but of the power of hope and trust.  It speaks in to the darkness of the light of the coming of God’s kingdom and God reign.  That is what makes it a Psalm for people of hope down through the ages.

“Where is God when it hurts?” Psalm 22 gives us an answer. That in Jesus Christ God himself stepped into the worst of our human suffering, he took it upon himself. Psalm 22 is seen as being prophetic, that it pointed to Christ’s death and resurrection. So much of the language used in this Psalm relates to Jesus experience on the cross. Jesus experienced the Physical suffering, the words used in this psalm fit totally with that most brutal of deaths, crucifixion. The loss of strength, joints being forced out of place, the nailing of hands and feet, the exertion bringing hydration, one of Jesus words on the cross, ”I Thirst” The certainty of death shown in that once on the cross the guards divided up his clothing. They drew lots for the only thing worth having his outer cloak.

Jesus experienced the depth of phycological suffering. Part of the crucifixion process was to dehumanise and humiliate the enemies of the roman state. They were put on display to show the futility of resisting the power of Rome.  Like the mantra of the Borg in the star trek universe ‘resistance is futile’ you will assimilated. . Jesus experienced the taunts and abuse, what made it worse was that it came from the very people he had come to save. He experienced injustice, political expediency, indifference.

But also that Jesus shared the depth of our spiritual suffering; he experienced the feeling of the absence of the presence of God.  Jesus who had said ‘I and the Father are one”, now cries out ‘My God, My God why have you abandoned me”.

Where is God when it hurts? The answer is the cross, that In Christ God stepped into our suffering and took it on himself.  Where is God when it hurts? I have vivid memories of a councillor coming to a course I was on and sharing the story of a young women she was counselling. The Girl was a Christian and she had been sexually abused, raped, and like we saw in Lamentations last week her cry was well where was God when this was happening to me?? The councillor said that she invited the girl to ask that question of God and as they prayed the Girl relived her experience, which of course she did as nightmares every night. This time however she looked over and there was Christ on the cross on the bed next to her. AS she looked into his face she knew He shared her pain, her shame, he took it on himself.

If the story ends at the cross, then what good is that. The reality is that Jesus not only shares the suffering of Psalm 22 he epitomizes the faith in God of Psalm 22 a faith that is willing to trust in God and his plans and purposes and his righteousness even to  the point of death. To trust in God’s salvation even if it means he has to die. To die alone.  You see for a Jewish man to quote the first line of a psalm was short hand for quoting the whole of the Psalm. It was that statement of suffering and lament and also trust in the power of God. In his death Jesus took that suffering that evil, our sin on himself and he defeated it. He took it to the grave. In his death it is defeated, sins penalty has been paid, it has been faced endured and been broken. In its place with the resurrection there is the hope of new life, new creation. Psalm 22’s vision of the righteousness of God having sway in the end becomes a reality. “It is finished”.

Yet, let’s be real, the question of evil, suffering and sorrow, oppression and brutality, have not gone away. Have they, thats why it is the question that will not go away. I read a lot of military history, I don’t know why, it just fascinates me somehow.  Often in conflicts there is a decisive battle, a victory that turns the tide, and after that the enemy is defeated, but the fighting is hardest after that, often the retreat is the bloodiest and most vicious. And we live in the tension between the already, God’s Kingdom has come, and the not yet, we await its final consummation. We live in that tension, Psalm 22 expresses that tension very well … my God, God Why have you forsaken me… and He has done it!.

One of the things Jesus did was to form a new community, a new people, who would live in the new reality of the Kingdom of God. Who would live out the goodness of God in how they treated each other and the world around them… Part of the answer to ‘where is God when it hurts?’  is that he is there, in the pain in the suffering and he invites us to go and find him and bring his light and his hope.

Where is God when it hurts? Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote an amazing influential book on Christian discipleship, based on the Sermon on the Mount, he found the reality of what it cost to live that out and the power of love and compassion, in a Nazi prison. God is present when a woman refuses to move on a segregated bus, a man stands on the steps of the most powerful nation the world has ever seen and dares to voice an alternative dream, to call them back to their Christian understanding of humanity. He’s there in the story behind graffiti on our walls where a young police officer stops to pray for a woman with mental illness and invites her to church.  He is there when a meal and a prayer are given to a family facing the death of a loved one. He is there in a Dutch lady who had lost family in concentration camps fulfils a vision of caring for the very people who persecuted her, now homeless and destitute themselves . He is there when people can dream and see a better future “ and work to make poverty history”. He is there in small groups of people going into prisons with love and compassion. He is there in a hand that helps someone in trouble in the street. He is there, the berlin wall comes down and the oppressive structures in the east admit they were ready for violence and uprising but hey were not ready for prayers and candles. He is there is prayers offered for healing and wholeness. In sharing the hope we have found. People trafficking and slave labour have been bought to our attention again this week, and God is there when people are willing to dedicate their lives to freeing women from such abuse and giving them a new start. He is there when a man steps in to stop a brutal assault on women he does not even, even when it costs him his life. The kingdom of God breaks into our world. The light of Christ shines in the darkness.