Sunday, 25 July 2010

The Medium is the Message

Pentecost 10 year C Sermon Media Prayer Day 
Acts 17:16 – 34
Today, throughout the country, Christians of all denominations are taking a few moments… to pray for the spread of the Gospel … through New Zealand’s media…and to pray for Christians …working in all forms of mass media.

Today all NZ Christians have a unique opportunity to join in prayer for their fellow-Christians in television, radio, film, electronic media and print. Since it began in the year 2000 …Media
Prayer Day… has had the support of denominational leaders across the Christian spectrum. This call to prayer is supported by our Moderator… Dr. Graham Redding.

The day has real meaning for me because for 17 years I was a Christian working for Television New Zealand . I can recall praying with other Christians in the film editing booths at Avalon Studios. In those days I was an anonymous Christian in the media. And you may wonder why…
well sometimes it pays to keep a low profile.

Because when a Christian in the media falls…the crash is heard around the nation and around the world. An example is the Producer and Director of the Passion of the Christ…
Mel Gibson whose recent abusive outbursts…
have been broadcast for all to hear.

But we can be proud of those who identify publically as Christians in the New Zealand media…people like weather presenter Jim Hickey, front woman Petra Baguust or current affairs journalist Rob Harley.
But we have
among us… someone who’s been a Christian in the media far longer than any one of them
we have Bartha Hill.
Bartha was born in Holland and immigrated to New Zealand in 1954. She’s a longtime… freelance journalist… researcher… and writer. As far as the mass media is concerned… Bartha’s work… has appeared in the ODT and in Woman’s Weekly. And she’s is a regular contributor to national Christian publications.

And for the past eight
years… amidst all her other writing and family responsibilities…Bartha’s exercised her gifts… as the editor of our parish Newsletter. Sadly for us… Graham and Bartha are shifting to Dunedin in August…
to be closer to their
family. Happily for us Helen Brooke has offered to take over.

Bartha would you come forward…
to give us a taste… of what the journey has been like?

1.      How have things changed for Christians in the media over the past forty years.
2.      Most rewarding thing about writing for the mainstream media.
3.      What was the most difficult assignment/project.
4.      Tell me about the times what you wanted to say from a faith perspective has been challenged by secular editors.
5.      How did you handle it.
6.      Your proudest moment. [Give flowers]

Now let us continue our prayers for others…
especially for Christians in the media.

Beloved God we ask for strength of faith and integrity for Christians who work in television, radio, print, film, advertising, marketing and on the web – for presenters, writers and editors, directors, producers and media managers. We pray for those whose names are well known but also for those behind the scenes. We pray that media gatekeepers - who make editorial decisions… which allow a Christian perspective or prevent a Christian voice being heard. Whether they know you or not we pray they will be open to your guidance. And we pray for all those who work within Christian television, radio, film, electronic media and print…that through the work of all these…
your will… will be done. In Jesus name AMEN.

Acts 17:16 – 34
There’s a very good story in the book of Acts about how the Apostle Paul uses the mass media to get the message of the Gospel across almost 2000 years ago. It goes like this…

While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. So he debated this in the synagogue with the Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace…
day by day with anyone who happened to be there. 

One day a group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with him. Some of them asked, "What’s this babbler trying to say?" Others remarked, "He seems to be advocating foreign gods." They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. 
Then they took him and brought him to a meeting on the Rock of Ares', in the shadow of the Acropolis, which functioned as seat of the high Court of Appeal for criminal and civil cases in Athens. Here they interogated Paul.

"May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting?  You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean." 

And Luke the author of Acts… ads here as an aside
(All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there…
spent their time doing nothing but talking about and
listening to the latest ideas.)
Paul then stood up to address the meeting of the Areopagus "Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious.  For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.
"The God who made the world and everything in it…
is the creator of heaven and earth and doesn’t
live in temples. God isn’t served by human hands, as if he needs anything, because God gives all men life and breath and
else.  From one human being God made every nation… that they should inhabit the whole earth;
God did this so humankind would
seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him…though he’s not far…
from each
one of us. 'For as some of your own poets have said…in him we live and move and have our being.'
'We are his offspring.'

And since
we’re God's offspring, we shouldn’t think the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made from human design and skill.
In the past God overlooked such ignorance…but now he commands all people everywhere to turn to him. 
For he’s set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he’s appointed.  And God has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead."

Now when they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, "We want to hear you again on this subject."  At that, Paul left the Council…
and Luke adds: A few became followers of Paul and believed.

Paul used all the media available to him... to communicate the gospel…which is the Greek word for good news…

In Athens he used the medium familiar to the people…
the alters and sculpture of civic religion...finding one to an unknown god…the same way Jesus used parables of everyday life to communicate to the people he met…

To chide and guide the infant church …Paul wrote letters. Letter which were copied and distributed widely.

Never before in history had conditions been more
perfect communicating across long distances… a sophisticated network of roads allowed the Romans to move armies and trade goods and to communicate news essential for the growth of the Empire.

When Rome reached the height of its power, no fewer than 29 great military highways radiated from the city.
In building their Empire the Roman’s had constructed a medium of communication that had never before existed a medium which would allow the spread of the Gospel.

So you can see that what media exist for the communication of the Gospel changes dramatically over time.
St Francis of Assisi said ‘in communicating the gospel use words only when necessary.’ He considered acts of mercy and compassion by Jesus’ followers… to be by far
the greatest means for communicating Jesus’ teaching.

Our own behaviour is one of the most powerful media we have to help people understand the good news of Jesus and what it means to follow him. And when Christians have access to mass media… like television radio and films…
our actions and words reach whole populations.

Some of us believe the heart of the Gospel message is…
that the creator of the
universe… loves us and wants a relationship with us…and to communicate this to us…
God used his
son as the medium…to act out God’s love
for us…sacrificially… in life and in death.

Today when we act out his teaching… as the body of Christ spanning the globe… we are a form of mass media.
So let us take great care… every
moment in days ahead…
that it’s
love compassion mercy forgivenss and peace…that we communicate in every sphere.

In Christ our Saviour…the medium is the ultimate message.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

The Word of God fully known

Pentecost 9 year C Sermon Bible Sunday   
Colossians 1:15-28

The oldest surviving Christian Bibles are Greek manuscripts from fourth century AD; the oldest Hebrew manuscripts date from the Middle Ages.
1.      In the first century an assembly of Jewish leaders formally closed the Hebrew Scriptures.
2.      it took 400 years for the Church to decide on a final list of books for the NT.  
3.      One of the standards of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand is that ‘The supreme rule of faith and life and the supreme standard of the Church is the Word of God contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.’
4.      The character and structure of the Church owes much to the Reformation including commitments to
a.                   Jesus Christ as Lord over each individual, society and all of life,
b.                  the responsibility of members of the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit,
c.                   to study the Scriptures,
d.                  the responsibility of the Church’s ministers, guided by the Holy Spirit, to expound the Scriptures, and
e.                   the potential for study, teaching and proclamation of the Word of God to change lives and transform society in
f.                   accordance with God’s purpose in the world.
                        The Church stands within a heritage of confessions of faith that give living expression to the Word of God.
We are a reformed church ever requiring reformation, listening and responding to the Word of God in dependence on the promised guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Now for our Bible Quiz…

break up into groups of five

Raise your hand when your group has agreed on the answer to all four question.

The first three groups to answer all the questions all get Moro bars.

Everyone participates in quiz

1.                  Why do we carry the Bible in each Sunday with the Minister following?

2.                  Why are Matthew Mark and Luke called the Synoptic Gospels?

3.                  Name one major prophet and one minor prophet.

4.                  Which books are called the Books of the Law or Torah?

5.                  Bonus question: which were the last two books to be accepted in the New Testament by the Church?

Reading  Colossians Colossians 1:15-28

Paul is writing…

For in him… that’s Jesus… all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell…and through Jesus… God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things…

And Paul says…. he became a servant of this gospel…
to make

To make the word of God fully known…
this mystery, which is Christ in you…the hope of glory.

It is he whom we proclaim… [pause]
the word of God fully known.

If Jesus is the full revelation of the Word of God…then what importance do we place on His words in our lives?
How radical are we prepared to be in our discipleship,
how much
time are we prepared to spend immersed in His word to us… and seeking to obey His call to active discipleship? [pause]

When Jesus spoke to his disciples about the signs of the end of the age…I’m with many Biblical scholars who believe Jesus was predicting the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem…something his Jewish friends simply couldn’t imagine. And it did happen 40 years later.

following all Jesus’ dire prophesy about the devastation to come… if God’s people refused to love their enemies …and live justly in peace
After all the ominous predictions…Jesus added this promise
Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words will never disappear.

As a rabbi… Jesus asserted his authority to bring a new interpretation to scripture…The Hebrew word for such authority is shmikah…and a rabbi with shmikah… would say things like… ‘you have heard it said…but I tell you’.

Remember how Jesus said this about forgiveness in place of revenge? Turn the other cheek instead of an eye for an eye.
Jesus had
shmikah and what he was saying is… some rabbis interpret scripture this way… but I tell you… this is what God really means …in that verse.

And the ancient Jews had a technical term
for the endless
process of
debating and interpreting scripture
as they struggled to
discern the will of God…
as they argued about
what was forbidden and what was allowed. Their technical term for this was binding and loosing.
To ‘
bind’ something meant to forbid it…
loose something… was to allow it.

Rabbi’s would bind certain practices or traditions…
and loose
others … and here’s the really cool part…
when a rabbi gave his followers the authority to bind and to loose… they called this

 ‘giving the keys of the kingdom’.

Notice where Jesus says in Matthew  ‘I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’

What Jesus is doing here is incredible and has huge implications for us. Jesus is actually giving his followers…
authority to make new interpretations of scripture.

This authority to reinterpret scripture would be increasingly important …as more and more Gentiles became part of Jesus’ movement…
they’d have to make
huge decisions about scriptural references to circumcision and eating food the Torah considered unclean?

Jesus gives
his disciples the authority to wrestle with the Law… and work out new interpretations… and when Paul was writing his letter to the Colossians they were doing just that…they were working out what it would look like for millions of people to be Christians.

And Paul emphasizes this authority in relation to Jesus life and teaching…saying in him the fullness of God was pleased to dwell…in him the word of God is fully known. [pause]

Of course what they were wrestling with were the Hebrew Scriptures…That’s all they had…Today…our access to Jesus life and teaching is through the Gospels and Paul’s letters and…and in light of Jesus teaching we can discern God’s intentions…
in what we now call the
Old Testament…

As Christians…Jesus teaching and Paul’s letters help us to sift and discern and interpret…. what God is
saying to us today through scripture.

What importance do you place…on Jesus words in your life? Are you prepared to spend time… immersed in His words … seeking to obey His purposes?
How radical are
you prepared to be in your discipleship?
It’s vitally important that we spend time “at the feet of Jesus” every single day, letting Him share His Word with us.
Unless we meet Christ personally and privately every day…in reading… in prayer and contemplation…
we will soon end up like Martha: in the story of Mary and Martha…busy but not blessed.

Reading the Bible may not be a central activity in your life…but in Christian living…there are important spiritual disciplines…and daily Bible reading is one of them….
I’ve heard every excuse in the book: but I promise you spending time with Jesus this way is worth it.

One way we can make time for the Word of God is called
Praying with the Word or Lectio Divina. This spiritual practice comes from the belief that the Word of God can be a searchlight into our hearts and minds.
Moving our hearts and minds is one way God speaks to us. When we allow the word of God to drift lovingly over our preoccupations…anything can happen. It’s important that we don’t shield any part of us… from the words of Scripture we hear or read. There’s no point in pretending before God.
I’m hoping you’ll practice praying with the Word at home.
Let’s practice it now.
First, I’ll read the passage and you just listen.
Then you read it to yourself.  As you read it…if you’re struck by a word or phrase that has
meaning for you, there’s no need to hurry to finish the passage. You can dwell on any word or phrase as long as you like, allowing yourself to savour it, and enter more deeply into whatever it stirs within you. Noticing this and staying with it… is the work of listening to what God is saying to us.

Luke 10:38-42
Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village,
where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to what he was saying.But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked,
"Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me."
But the Lord answered her,
"Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted
by many things;
there is need of only one thing.
Mary has chosen the better part,
which will not be taken away from her."

Now in the warmth and silence of companionship, just sit with the text and let it sink in. We’ll have a couple of minutes of silence and then some music especially written for Bible Sunday.
Time of silent reflection [2 minutes]

My thanks to Rob Bell’s book Velvet Elvis for many of the most interesting tidbits in this sermon.