Through the Bible in a Year – February 22

The Scheme for January and February can be found here

Exodus 25-26; Acts 28; Psalm 69

To our mind – attuned to neat endings, with a sharp desire to Know, and an ultimately deadly curiosity, the end of the book of Acts is most unsatisfactory. Indeed both of our readings in a sense leave us unsatisfied. We want to know what Paul did next! And why oh why does the book of Exodus go into such detail over what seem to our eyes to be nothing more than the religious ephemera which ‘we all know’ are meant to be destroyed – to be replaced by the ‘true worship of God’?

Both readings I suggest challenge this demand for closure. We are not told what Paul did next – all we know is that for two years he continues in the ministry that he has been given – life goes on for him – we are presented in the form of the text something which perhaps we might read as the fruition of the words of Jesus – ‘whoever lives and believes in me, shall never die’. There is a real sense that the Christian Life can be expressed as walking with Jesus, until such time as we Are walking with Him. If it is Life then it never dies . . . and so Paul’s physical death, his onward journey is perfectly expressed in this continuation, the End is hidden in the Present moment.

As for Exodus – again we might perhaps think of Paul, or at least the man of whom he boasts – who is caught up ‘whether in the body or not, I do not know’ – to see things which cannot be expressed.

Moses has moved beyond the boundary. He is in the presence of the Living God upon Sinai – we forget. We lack any sense of the Holy, of Awe, of the numinous. He has sat down with the elders of Israel and eaten and drunk in the presence of God and Lived. Then he ascends further up the mountain and is shown things. How can we begin to imagine that these are mere ‘religious trappings’ – is he not rather shown in terms he can understand and translate into physical form that which somehow expressed the Life that is the worship of the Living God? That in worship there is a need to be shown how – that it is not a form of our untrammelled self expression, but rather that it is the Self shaped by the experience of the Holy communicated through Lampstand and tabernacle – as we are shaped walking in obedience with the One who Tabernacles amongst us, til in his grace ‘we are no more . . .’

Through the Bible in a Year – February 11

The Scheme for January and February can be found here

Exodus 1-3; Acts 17; Psalm 52

As our narrative resumes in Egypt we find an echo of the deeper story of the Creation, of the vocation of the children of God. The Israelites have been ‘fruitful’ and ‘multiplied’, ‘so that the land was filled with them’. The Narrative of Life that was in the beginning [Genesis 1:28] – but they have left The Garden, they have not come to the Land of Promise – and another Narrative is at work, a Narrative of harsh labour and of pain through childbirth. Yet those in the midst who fear God, still live out of the Primal story and Life continues to spring forth.

For Pharaoh and all those who know not the first story, this ‘New Thing’ is a terrible force of which they have no comprehension – indeed it is related to him in miraculous terms ‘the Hebrew women are vigourous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.’ – and Pharaoh tries to stamp it out, as much later they would try to stamp out the Life of the Church as we have been reading in Acts. This message of Life is ‘turning the world upside down!’ – the people of the city are disturbed – but Life continues to spring forth – ‘Many of them therefore believed’

The Gospel is The Narrative of Life – wherever it is revealed in God’s people, it reveals the Narrative of Death, it exposes it. It reveals ‘ordinary life’ for what it is, no life at all. The carefully planned world in which we would all feel secure is shown to be a terrible hoax.

Wherever there is Life this is so. It is the churches in those places where the Death narrative is obvious which flourish. Those such as ours in the ‘West’ shrivel – we have confused the two Narratives, and have put our lives in the hands of Pharaoh and called it Good. We would not dream of acting in a way that turns the world upside down, it suits us too well.

Perhaps this is most evident in our loss of the sense of ‘The Holy’ – ‘The Fear of Israel’. We no longer approach our God with our feet bared. We have little sense ourselves of ‘the Power that is at work amongst us, like the working of His great power when he raised Jesus Christ from the dead’, that in Christ, Death is no more. There is no fear of God before our eyes, merely the fear of our own demise – we believe the Narrative of Death.

Through the Bible in a Year – January 30

The Scheme for January and February can be found here

Job 13-14; Acts 5; Psalm 38

It is interesting to note that Acts 5, in particular the story of Ananias and Sapphira does not occur in any lectionary of the church I have ever used for Sunday worship. As we so foolishly excise those ‘difficult’ bits of readings, Sunday by Sunday, either by dictat of the lectionary, or by skating over them in preaching – we seem all too ready to avoid the dark passages. We just want light

But what is Light, if we have no concept of the Dark

The story of Ananias and Sapphira comes crashing into the narrative of Acts as the most unwelcome of intruders – it is almost as if some vandal has cut down a favourite tree, or defaced a beautiful painting. Up to this point in the narrative all is well. There has been no persecution of the believers – their common life is a thing of beauty, and then all of a sudden two members of the infant church are dead, over what may seem to us to be a very small thing. We are shocked.

Like Job and his friends we argue over the ways of God, which seem unfair to us, and so too it may well seem is the incident with Ananias and Sapphira. ‘But they only told a lie!’

We want Light without there being any Dark – we want the blessing of God, but without any suffering. The treatment of Ananias and Sapphira seems to us unjust. Yet this is because of our failure to see the Light – our failure to apprehend what is happening amongst the believers, the enormity of the Resurrection Life.

It is the very Life and Light of the Living God, which flows through the veins of the early church, in whom there is no darkness at all. The very life of the Triune God is evident in the common life of the community of faith – wherever the Apostles go, there Life springs forth and the church grows and grows.

In Him, there is no darkness at all. Deceit, that hiding which was the outcome of the first sin of our forebears, has no place in the light. Ananias and Sapphira, as Adam and Eve, cover up. We must not miss the echoes of the ancient story. Deceit is in a sense The Sin. It is the Covering up that stops the flow of life. ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins’

To Live in the light is to be honest about our own darkness, and so be healed – to cover up is the way of death. Ananias and Sapphira find the way to the Tree of Life is barred to them. There is no Life – and without Life the end is inevitable.

Confession is a Vital part of living in the Light

Through the Bible in a Year – January 28

The Scheme for January and February can be found here

Job 8-9; Acts 3; Psalm 37:1-19

From the unity of the fellowship of believers flows Life. How many of us in these days either dismiss these stories of healings in the church, or explain them away, as if they were only for the apostolic era. And yet to this day, where the people of God are one such things continue to happen, and Christ is glorified amongst them.

For us to speak as Peter does, ‘in the name of Jesus’, there must be unity, genuine fellowship which goes far far beyond the ‘social club’ mentality which passes for church in the West. Shared lives lead to the sharing of Life. ‘That which I have I give you’, says Peter. Do we have that to give? That Life? Would we see the lame healed, the deaf hear, the blind see and the dead raised? Would we see Life?

Jesus said that only those who lose their lives will find it – he invited the rich young man to leave his possessions and join the band of disciples following him if he was to inherit the Kingdom of God. It is the same invitation he offers to us – to see that truly our greatest possession is our shared life in him, and to sell everything we have to take hold of it.

‘Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, so that times of refreshing might come from the presence of the Lord and that he might send the Messiah appointed for you, that is, Jesus’

Sermon for Christmas

Christmas 2012 audio [Link to Recording of the sermon]

CHRISTMAS DAY 2012

JOHN 1:1-14

‘The Word became flesh and tabernacled amongst us’

One of the advantages of Christmas here in New Zealand is that we get Christmas first! I guess that that means we don’t have to wait as long?? 🙂 But as I’ve been keeping up with friends around the world this past few days, it’s been fun to see them half a day or more behind where we are in terms of their Christmas festivities – and so yesterday morning I heard from a friend in the UK who had just finished their nativity play – and the alarming news that with two minutes to go, they’d lost ‘the baby Jesus’!! The doll that was Always ‘the baby Jesus’ was kept amongst lots of others in a big cupboard of toys for the little ones and with two minutes to go before the service, someone noticed they hadn’t got the doll had gone to the cupboard . . . to discover that the cleaner had had a clean out and the doll had gone!!!

Well, fortunately a little girl at the service had brought her doll with her, and was more than happy for it to take the starring role!!

Yet for all we sing ‘Away in a manger’ and have our crib services, the gospels really aren’t written to have us cooing over ‘the baby Jesus’ – rather the text of the familiar stories as told by Matthew and Luke are far more concerned with telling us the story so that we might be drawn into it and allow it to address us. All these thoughts about the fragility of a baby, about his humble origins are not the concern of the evangelists – rather the way they tell the story is to get us asking the question ‘Who Is This child?’ – Who is this child that Emperors have restless nights because of – Who is this child whose coming requires God’s Spirit to move over the face of the deep as once of old he had Bringing Life out of nothing, a baby from a virgin? Who is this child who causes the angelic host to be seen once more – who is this child who is born in Bethlehem, the City of Old King David, and yet who finds the door of the inn slammed in his face (there is no kindly innkeeper in the narrative) – Who is this child whom Shepherds worship and herald?

And in a sense there is little point us reading Luke and Matthew’s’ account at Christmas – for they are telling the story of Jesus from its human beginnings – it is if you like the beginning of the biography. And at the beginning we cannot see the end – the whole. It is only Mary and Joseph who are told – Joseph is told that this child ‘will save his people from their sins’ – Mary is told ‘He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever and of his kingdom there will be no end’ It all lies in the future – Faithful Israel will ponder all these things in her heart, but Luke and Matthew tell the story from its beginning and cause us to ask the question which the rest of their gospels are written to answer – Who is this child?

John however, tells us it not only from the end, but from before the beginning and beyond its end. John, as we hear at our annual carol service ‘unfolds the great mystery of the Incarnation’

And so that is why as we the people of God gather to Celebrate Christmas – we read John. For John reveals all the breadth, the height and the depth of the reality of this child – when we read John we read the True meaning of Christmas – and It is So big it is like swimming in a vast Ocean of meaning and Truth.

What does John tell us about this child?
This child is the eternal Word of God – He is God’s Very Truth and Life and Light – This child has always been with God – This child is the one through whom everything that has been made was made – This child is the means of Life coming into the World – a Life that gives Light to all people, This Child, this LIght is overcome by nothing, not even death can hold This Child.

John of course knows the Nativity stories – he knows how there is no room for this Child – he came to his own – to the Very city of David – and his own knew him not – the World did not know him – Imperial Rome did not come to pay tribute – only to extract it

But to all who received him, He gave power to become children of God! John is So careful here in setting out what this means – children born not of blood – or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man – children born not by biological process – not by human desire – but born of God. As John knows of the Virgin birth, so he points to the birth This child heralds. This child – ‘the baby Jesus’ whose birth we focus on – as we truly turn our hearts and minds to him – becomes the source of Our Birth

Perhaps this is why we want to sentimentalise the story – as I said a few weeks ago, we don’t want to drag in the evil Herod into our Christmas plays – we want to keep it safe – because in the end this child opens the door to the most dramatic and challenging possibility of all. A possibility that calls our very Life into question – that of our own rebirth as God’s children, born from above, born of the Holy Spirit – as that which was within Mary was conceived of the Holy Spirit.
This child – The one who fulfils the  impossible possibility of the LORD through the prophet Ezekiel – I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. As the Virgin Birth of Jesus heralds an impossible possibility, so too, perhaps even more so it heralds the impossible possibility of the transformation of our hearts – that we might be like Him – the Firstborn.

The birth of Jesus into our flesh, opens the door to our birth into HIs Life – this child

And the Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us and we have beheld his Glory, Glory as of the Father’s only begotten, full of Grace and Truth.

All through Advent we have considered how to be ready – how to prepare our hearts – yet aside from turning our hearts and minds to him there is nothing we can do – He is the one who when we contemplate HIm transforms our hearts. The Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us – literally tabernacled amongst us.
Of old the children of Israel had camped in the Wilderness – three tribes to the east, three to the South, three to the west and three to the north – all facing the centre – the tabernacle – the dwelling place of God, where the Glory of God dwelt above the ark of the covenant – the pillar of cloud by day, the pillar of fire by night. Now he dwells once more amongst his people – that we might behold his Glory and so be changed ourselves from one degree of glory to another

I guess we will all go from this place today to celebrate with much food and more – but I pray we will all take the time to Swim – not in the cold Southern ocean – but deeply into these words of John and into the Wonder of This Child – and so rejoice evermore deeply and truly in our celebration of His Birth. That our Christmas might be truly Merry and Happy and Full of Joy and Light and the Life of Christ.
Amen