Sunday, 22 July 2012

Reading the Word with heart and mind

Pentecost 8 year B 12 Sermon Ephesians 2:11-22
Now listen again to Paul’s words…
with your heart and your mind

With Jesus…the very Word of God made flesh as the
cornerstonewe are joined together
and we grow into a holy temple…built spiritually
into a dwelling place for God.  [pause]

And as we learned last week…the Bible is all about
human life… ‘with God’
and how God makes life with God

We heard why Jesus was given the name Immanuel
which means God with us…because in Jesus
God’s everlasting purpose was revealed in the flesh
that we who are made in the image of God…
should in every way be a dwelling place…for God.
That’s you and I together… as the Body of Christ

From Genesis to Revelation we see how God’s been with us all along…from creation to rebellion and 
And last week in part one of this series…
we saw when we step back from scripture’s many parts…
we have a new perspective
when we step we can see the unity of the whole… 
revealed in a grand mosaic
of the with God life…hovering over the waters of creation and incarnate in the person of the Christ…
promising us…. ‘I am with you.’

and asking us
 ‘will you be with me?’

And once we step backto view the Bible on this grand scale what we have isn’t only human story tellers and poets
but a place for us…to meet…to be with…
the divine author of all things.
And with that in mind...we learned to approach scripture

And above all humbly

Expecting God to meet us there. Expecting God to breathe a word into our lives. Attentively… searching 
the Bible’s stories and themes …and with humility
because an encounter with the living God… is holy ground.

And also last week we practiced together…the spiritual discipline of divine readingpraying for God’s word 
to us in Scripture… reading out loud…then silently…
noticing what words and phrases seem rise to our attention.

Jesus confirmed the greatest commandment of life with God …that we’re to love God with all our hearts 
and all our minds and all our strength… so today in part two we learn how to read the Bible this way too… 
with our hearts and our minds…
and how by this we gain strength… not by trying harder
but by training like an Olympic athlete…and practising more.

First our minds…we read the Bible in four ways
with our minds…and our objective is to gain understanding

The first way we read the Bible with our minds… is literally …from cover to cover …internalising its life giving message. Only by reading the whole of Scripture can we begin to understand its force and power. And so 
we enter into history weeping with Sarah at her bareness struggling with Abraham to offer up his son puzzling with Job at the tragedies of life,
rejoicing at Israel’s release from the house of bondage,
Bowing in awe with Mary…at the messianic promise and cringing with Peter as he contemplates his 
betrayal of Jesus.

Word slide
The second way to read the Bible with our minds is in context. This means being firmly respectful of the 
original writers intentions… and how they tried to depict life with God.
It means not trying to control their story
or impose our own meaning on it.

Third we read the Bible in conversation with itself.
Standing back…to see how the whole gives structure
and meaning to each part.
How the Gospels and the letters are in conversation
with the books of the prophets and the law

Fourthly…Christians are to read the Bible
in conversation with the witness of the whole People of God…past and present

The Church learned from the Synagogue…
that it’s the whole community who read the Bible
not just one person. Our brothers and sisters in Christ
throughout the centuries… can help us understand
the nature of life with God. They can provide insight
and discernment… to enrich our own spiritual life…

We never read scripture alone…but always in the mystical communion of saints. We read in conversation 
with the living…like Rob Bell and Tom Wright and those who are no longer with us except in their writing…like 
St Augustine …Theresa of Avila…John Calvin and Martin Luther and Thomas Merton…

To shine a light on the many ways life with God can be experienced…we read with wise and mature 
of scripture…And we see that reading with the mind
is critically important to our understanding  [pause]

But reading with the heart… is also a time honoured way
for the people of God…and we did some of this divine reading last week

In reading the Bible with our hearts
we take a deep breath…and slow down…
With the heart we read in six different ways…
Reading with the heart we listen…Listening…we submit…yielding to what God wants to say to us
through the text.
Allowing its message to flow into us
instead of trying to master it.
Allowing God to apply the text to our lives.
Reflecting on the text…fully engaged –with the drama.

A fourth way to read with our hearts…is to pray the text.
When we pray the text…we allow it to express our gratitude our confession… our fears and complaints…
and our requests to God.

A fifth way to read with our hearts is by applying what we read to our own lives.

Which of course leads us to obedience…always turning… from our selfish ways…to the with God’s way… 
of Shalom

This is the very life to which you and I are called.
What Jesus means when he says
‘I am come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly.’ The with God life is a life of unhurried peace 
and power. It’s solid. It’s serene. Its’ simple…it’s radiant.
And though it permeates all our time we must take time for it.

So let us meet with God together in scripture once more…

Hand out scripture
Pray… Lord, pour the living water that comes from your very Word in Christ… into our dry and thirsty spirits. 
In Jesus’ name AMEN.
Read out loud
Now read the passage again in silence noticing what stands out for you from the passage. [Read in silence right through]
We will continue our reflection as the band begins and they will sense when its time to sing.
Ephesians 2:11-22
So then remember that… at one time you Gentiles by birth,
called ‘the un-circumcision’ by those who are called ‘the circumcision’
a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands
Remember you were at that time without Christ,
being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel,
and strangers to the covenants of promise,
having no hope and without God in the world.
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off
have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one
and has broken down the dividing wall,
that is the hostility between us.
He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances
that he might create in himself one new humanity
in place of two thus making peace,
to reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross,
putting that hostility to death through it.
So he came to proclaim peace to you who were far off
and peace to those who were near;
for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father.
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens,
but citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,
built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets,
with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.
In him the whole structure is joined and grows
into a holy temple in the Lord;
And in whom… spiritually…you are also built together
into a dwelling place for God.

Holy Reading
Expectantly   Attentively   Humbly

Lord, pour the living water that comes from your very word in Christ… into our dry and thirsty spirits.  In Jesus’ name AMEN.

Once again I acknowledge with gratitude Richard Foster's book Life with God as a rich source for this sermon.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

How to read the Bible: The Immanuel Principle

Pentecost 7 year B 12 Sermon  
The Bible… is all about human life ‘with God’…
about how God…has made this ‘with’ God life… possible
and how God will achieve… this purpose.

And of course you know the name Immanuel…
is the title given to Jesus…because in him
was revealed God’s everlasting purpose …that humankind should be in every way… a dwelling place for God.

The unity of the Bible revealed in the grand mosaic
of scripture… can only be discovered when we step back
from its parts…to see the whole… centred in the person
of the Word of God made flesh… in Jesus.
Richard Foster calls this unity… the Immanuel Principle.

When we read the Bible… we find this dynamic…pulsating with God life… on almost every page…and every story…
we hear how God was with Abraham, Moses, Esther, and David…with the prophets…with Mary…with Peter James and John…with Paul and Barnabas…and Lydia and Phoebe

It’s only when we stand back…where we can view
the vast sweep of the grand mosaic…only then…can we see
how the ‘with God’ life… actually works
and how it keeps working… today as we open ourselves
to God’s Word for us…
When we step back this way… we can that the Bible creates a holy meeting place …for God’s Spirit… and our spirit.
When we view the vast mosaic of scripture…from the book of Genesis to the Revelation of St John…then we can see
that the Immanuel Principle is after all…a cosmic principle …that God used all along in creation and redemption
to guide life on earth…then…now… and in the future.

When we step back …we can see the gracious Word of God…through whom all things were made…hovering over the silent waters of creation and flowing right through history
telling us…. ‘I am with you.’

When we view the Bible this way… we can see how God’s Word...can become a river of grace…flowing into our thirsty spirits… inviting us to enter the stream
where God asks us the question…

‘will you be with me?’

And once we decide to surrender freely
once we decide to take our feet off the bottom…
then we can gradually receive that life with God…
not just for ourselves…but for the sake of the world
God so loves

And so if we decide in faith…to view the Bible as a holy meeting place for our spirit and God’s spirit…
what’s the best approach to take
what inner attitudes are appropriate for this holy activity… this… divine reading?

In his book Life with God…Richard Foster suggests
we consciously approach the Bible in three important ways.

And above all Humbly

First we read… expecting God to meet us in scripture.
We bring our life to the life with God expressed there.
Yes the Bible’s human authors were part of another era…
but there’s a Living Author… who wants to meet us there…
who wants to breathe transformation into our lives…
A living author who wants to create dialogue with us

There’s a difference between… being in the same room
with someone… and being present to them…as anyone who’s ever wilted in a doctor’s waiting room knows.

And out of love…God gives us freedom
to respond as we chose
so when we come to scripture expectantly
we open ourselves to God’s presence
so there might be some conversation…

The next attitude we must bring to reading the Bible…
is attentiveness…first and foremost…
this means reading the Bible on its own terms.
The great systematic theologian Karl Barth – invites us to ask these questions of scripture. ‘What sort of house is it
to which the Bible is a door? What sort of landscape…
spreads out before our eyes when we throw open its pages?

And when we open our Bibles
what strikes us immediately is… it’s not nice and neat! Sometimes it’s confusing…it doesn’t seem to be organised in obvious ways…we might even ask ourselves…
‘why didn’t God just give it to us straight?’

Well the straight answer to that question…
is that the Bible is a story. It’s a collection of books…
a library…
with a wide range of characters and events…
all within one grand narrative…the story that human beings are important to God…and God’s purposes are worked out through the messiness of human history. [pause]

What we can take from this is…it seems to be more important to God… for you and I to learn God’s ways in freedom …freedom to reject God… and mess things up
than it is for God… to get things done efficiently

And when we’re attentive to what’s really happening in scripture… we also learn…the condition of our hearts…
is far more important to God…than how well we play
by the rules. We learn that Jesus politically incorrect way
really offends religious authority…
because Jesus breaks the rules…and acts out of love

As first Samuel says…the Lord doesn’t see as mortals who look on outward appearance see …but looks into the heart.
If God wanted us to have a definitive field guide to faith
all written down and tidy…then I trust we’d have it…
but then it would be easy for us to ignore the living God… wouldn’t it?

And when we read the Bible attentively…we see its stories … like all stories… have settings and plots and characters and themes. Recurring places like mountains and valleys and wilderness and rivers. Places we can imagine ourselves in places we look around…

There are objects…stones, altars, scrolls, garments, and animals. We can ask ourselves… what conflicts the lead characters are facing…how well do they handle their rolls

And we can notice recurring themes in the biblical story…  God loves his creatures…human beings always seem to want what they can’t have …God is grieved and angered when humans rebel…but pursues and forgives them anyway… God’s involved in the lives… not just… of the chosen people but the lives of all people…

When we come to the Bible attentively we find endless access points for how our life can be gathered up
and changed… by life with God.

The third way we come to scripture…is beautifully expressed
by the prophet Micah… and later by Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount…‘and what does God require of us… but to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God…

On a dusty road north of Jerusalem… within a few years of the death of Jesus
a murderous religious zealot…is literally dropped in his tracks. He’s armed to the teeth…with letters from the high priest…
giving him authority to search the synagogues of Damascus…for followers of Jesus politically incorrect Way

One moment Saul of Tarsus is hot on their trail. The next moment he’s flat on the ground…His Latin name is Paul
and while his conversion with the risen Christ…
takes place under exceptional circumstances…
the event has universal significance
for the ways of God… with all humankind.

What does Paul’s story tell us when we read it with humility?
Three things. One

God comes searching for us.
God speaks to us personally in the context
of what God’s doing with us together as the people of God.
The manifestation of God’s presence…
can lay us out flat …figuratively if not literally.
And when we get up again…we are changed…
our direction and purpose in life…are utterly transformed

This happened to me too… moving from the glitz and the glamour of television… to the ministry of God’s Word….

Anytime we read the Bible with humility
we’re inviting a Damascus road experience.
When we read with an open mind and an open heart…
we can expect an encounter… with the living God

So how do we read the Bible humbly?  Well we can begin with a few moments of prayerful silence
we can release every concern
that isn’t rooted in the desire to experience God’s presence in our reading …and we can wait…till we’re inwardly quiet…

Next…to hear what God may be saying to us through the word…we don’t just focus on our favourite verse
but read an entire passage out loud…

Then we go back a second time to read it silently… noticing and underlining the parts that seem particularly significant

The third time we go back through the highlighted bits…
to see if a particular image or phrase or verse…
lifts itself to our attention. We might write this down
and carry it with us… to reflect on throughout our day.

This spiritual discipline of holy reading…is one way to seek
the gentle leading of God’s spirit. Our humble submission to the text… allows God to shape the outlook and posture of our hearts.
And there’s great freedom in such submission
the freedom to lay down the heavy burden…
of getting it right all the time…the weight of having to see what we think we should see. Holy reading frees us
from trying to control the Word of God…

As you read you may find yourself praying…
God pour your living water… that comes from Christ
through these words and into my dry and thirsty spirit.

This humble spiritual discipline has been called Lectio Divina for the past 2000 years…holy reading…let’s try it now.

Close your eyes… let us pray together…God in our reading …pour the living water that comes from your very Word in Christ… into our dry and thirsty spirits.  In Jesus’ name AMEN.
Let’s read aloud together from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians
Just as God chose us in Christ
before the foundation of the world…
to be holy and blameless before him in love.
God destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ according to the good pleasure of his will,
to the praise of his glorious grace
that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.

In him we have redemption through his blood,
the forgiveness of our sins according to the rich grace he lavished on us.

With all wisdom and insight God has made known to us
the mystery of his will,
according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ,
as a plan for the fullness of time
to gather up all things in him,
things in heaven and things on earth.

In him you also… when you heard the word of truth,
the gospel of your salvation…and believed in him…
you also were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; This is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God's own people, to the praise of his glory.

Now read the passage again in silence noticing what stands out for you from the passage. [Read in silence right through] We will continue our reflection as we listen to This is the air I breathe…your very Word spoken to me…

[1] I am unashamedly borrowing from Richard Foster’s book Life with God: Reading the Bible for Spiritual Transformation, HarperCollins, 2010 and thank David Baird for giving it to me.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Faith and Fairness

Pentecost 5 year B Sermon  Luke 4:14-28
This week…David Beckham’s dream
of playing for the UK Olympic team
just fizzled out…and his fans are crying foul and unfair especially since Britain’s most famous soccer star…
has been such an outstanding ambassador
for the London Olympics.

Of course Beckham himself received the news
with characteristic humility…but the news media
and many of his fans are saying… it’s justnotfair.

They say Beckham deserves his day in the Olympic sun. After all his hard work…helping the UK get the games
in the first place… and carrying torch in the build-up…
many believe Beckham’s entitled to a place
on the Olympic squad.

But it’s not gonna happen…

The story splashed across our television and computer screens… this week… alongside an outcry at how unfair ACCs pay-outs were…to those whose privacy they breached
One commentator was asked
‘But how do you measure…fairness?’

And that’s a really good question isn’t it?
Have you ever heard Christians asking similar questions over a cup of coffee…in relation to faith?  I certainly do…

Like…It seems so unfair…
Sophie’s lead such a good life… now she has to fight that terrible disease…Or it doesn’t seem fair the Farrington’s can’t have a baby, they’re such a nice Christian couple.’
Or how can one person be expected to endure so many tragedies…it just doesn’t seem fair
We might ask the same questions about our own life too…
Why is this happening to me God? It’s not fair?
Haven’t I been through enough!

Last week we imagined what we’d say to a friend over a cup of coffee…a non-Christian friend…who asks us
‘what is faith anyway?

And in working out our answer… we learned that Christian faith isn’t something we have in greater or lesser quantities …but something we do…a decision we make…
over and over again…a decision to trust in the wisdom and purposes… of our gracious God of love…
revealed in the person of Jesus.

So following that logic in relation to our faith
wouldn’t it make sense to ask
‘what fairness can possibly mean…
in light the good news Jesus was sent to proclaim.

And of course…these aren’t questions we get asked in café’s by non-believers …they’re our questions…
they’re believer questions

Scary question…like does God intend life to be fair?
And what would it look like if life was fair…for everyone?
Should Christians have some sort of advantage?
Does a good Christian life entitle us
to perpetual good health… wealth… and happiness.
But what if these aren’t even the right questions?

Maybe there are better questions…when we’re facing illness
or distress…like…what does Jesus’ suffering have to
teach us… about our own suffering?
Or ‘what can we learn about what’s fair…
from Jesus’ teaching…or the practises of the early church.

Early church mosaic
You know the phenomenal success of the church
in the Roman Empire of the first century
was precisely to do with fairness …

not because they promised everyone…
a life of perpetual health wealth and happiness
but because the wellbeing of everyone was their definition of fair…everyone…male and female, Jew and Gentile, slave and free.

Women and slaves and pagans were attracted in droves
to this good news…no longer could people be excluded because of their gender or status…and the intention was
to widen the circle gathered around Jesus
until the whole of humanity… was included. [pause]

Did Jesus and his followers promise some sort of entitlement to health and wealth and happiness… or did Jesus call his followers to work… so everyone has their fair share of health and wealth and happiness…

Coffee slide
Our answer to these questions
is absolutely critical for the world…

spiritually economically and politically. Why?

Because if we say Christians should have an advantage …because of our faith…then our sense of entitlement could make us indifferent to the suffering of others.
When we have a sense of entitlement the risk is
our first priority will always be
to hold on to what we possess… at all costs.

But that kind of thinking arises… from a works based salvation not from a grace…based faith…

A works view of salvation has led to an Empire of Entitlement…in places like the United States. If the gospel of grace isn’t consulted when decision are made about what’s fair…those who have…will fight to protect what is theirs
at all costs… rather than share

So who decides for us as Christians…what is fair…
is it the media…is it the loudest voice…the one with the most fame or power and wealth… Because what seem fair might to David Beckham’s fans will certainly feel unfair… to the one who missed out were Beckham chosen to play

Or is it Jesus gospel we consult…and those who act out his good news…for the poor and the captive and the oppressed.

One thing I’ve always loved about New Zealand
is that fairness is defined differently here…than where I grew up…certainly when I arrived 40 years ago…

Supreme Court slide
In the States…only two days ago…
the US Supreme Court decided…to uphold affordable healthcare for every citizen… regardless of wealth

This view of fairness Kiwis accept as a given
had to be fought for all the way to the Supreme Court
and if President Obama loses the election this year…

his opponent is vowing to overturn the policy…why?

because people who will vote for him…
simply don’t want to share their wealth through higher taxes… so the health system can operate fairly.

political slide…
And check out who gets to make the decisions
about what is fair…. In the States

Change slide
Only one per cent of the population are millionaires.
While fifty per cent of the Senate… are that wealthy.

Change slide
In the States…
there are eight hundred and twenty thousand
homeless people
yet there are twenty two empty houses for every one of them.

Were Americans to ask the politically incorrect question…
Were Kiwis to ask the politically incorrect question…
What would Jesus do…and act on it…
would things be more fair

well clearly it depends on where you stand
and what you have to lose…
and who you think of Jesus good news is for.

Coffee slide
Ok, Diane, you say… that’s all very well and good
in relation to politics and health care
we agree everyone deserves affordable health care…we’re kiwis aren’t we…

but …what about other questions of fairness in relation to suffering and death…the questions we’re wrestling with in our own lives…the ones our friends ask us…over cups of coffee. How is it fair for God to allow a child to die…
or a good person to suffer?

Well, if it’s your friend… asking in the café…
of course you could point to Mary the mother of Jesus…
to answer both questions…
for Mary was powerless…to stop the death of her boy
and there was no sin in him …yet he suffered terribly

The frailty of her son’s body… was simply a reality…
a given…a condition of the incarnation.

Jesus wept…Jesus was tempted…Jesus bore the wounds of his tormentors…and Jesus died
in faithfulness …to the Way…to the good news…
he was sent to reveal

Jesus refused to benefit from the harm of another
by retaliating…even though it surely meant his death.
Breathing words of forgiveness…with his last breath.

In the incarnation, Jesus took on all it means to be human… even our frailty…even our suffering and our death…
so we would understand… not only…
the height and depth and breadth of God’s love for us…
but also… that we might understand more perfectly
what it means to be human

Of course we must work hard to stay fit and in good health
in gratitude for this body given to us…the body with which to experience tenderness and passion…and the softness of a babies cheek. But our body is a fragile vessel…
and there’s a sense in which its frailty and vulnerability
are the trade-off…the fair trade-off…
for all the joys and delight that life brings.

If we were indestructible cyborgs and felt nothing
then maybe we could live forever in this world.
But thank God we’re not…

And yes there comes a time… in all our lives
when we must surrender to that reality…
and maybe…just maybe it has nothing to do with fairness.
Maybe that’s why we can’t just faith some things out or faith our frailty away…maybe we just have to trust
God’s wisdom and purposes of love…

and because this vulnerability applies to every person born
…there’s a sense of fairness in it after all.

We are not called to reverse the second law of thermodynamics…God’s physical laws are not ours to control…what we are called to do…
is dismantle what is unfair and unjust…and selfish and greedy. What we are called to do is what the prophet Micah fortold which Jesus announced in the synagogue was his life’s work…to do justice…and love kindness…and walk humbly with our gracious God…
that is the work of the Cross.