Author Archives: Dugald Wilson

Irenaeus of Lyon – John 6: 47-58

Irenaeus of Lyon – John 6: 47-58

I want to introduce you to someone who lived some 1900 years ago. Irenaeus the bishop of Lyon. He is one of what we call the early church fathers. These are people who were prominent in the church after the first apostles. He lived between 115 and 200AD we are not actually sure of the exact dates. We do know he was born in what is now Turkey into a Christian family. Not much is known about his early life except that he became a missionary in Lyon, France, not far from the Taize Community of today. When the local bishop was killed in a persecution of Christians, Irenaeus was chosen to fill the position and became the local leader of the Christian community there. These were interesting times as the Christian presence in the Roman Empire was miniscule. Some fascinating research by Rodney Stark tells us that by the year 150AD, the middle of Irenaeus’s life there were maybe 41,000 Christians in the whole Roman Empire. Less than 0.1% of the population were followers of Jesus, a tiny but growing minority. They usually met in one another’s homes, and they were often having fascinating debates about what it meant to be a Christian. At this stage they had no Bible as we know it, and they were very much adventurers in the faith, working out the shape of their faith in Jesus.

One of Irenaeus’ claim to fame was that he and other leaders saw the need to start to gather writings that might define true Christianity. Different groups of Christians were following quite different paths in their Christian journey and there was a growing need to define what this faith was all about. This was partly a reaction to a large and influential group of Christians, led by a fellow called Marcion, They thought the God of the Old Testament was thoroughly bloodthirsty and violent and this didn’t fit at all with the God of Jesus. So they wanted to ditch the whole Old Testament. We don’t know for sure but some scholars suggest the Marcion followers were about half of all Christians at one point and quite a few of you may well say ‘pity they didn’t win the day’. Irenaeus however liked the Old Testament. I don’t think the violence thrilled him, but the very earthy stories of God alive in the lives of very real fallible human beings did. The Greeks had ideas of perfection and being perfect, but the Hebrews and the Old Testament told an earthed story rooted in human experience. People did have failings but it wasn’t perfection that mattered in story after story in these writings. Rather it was trust and faithfulness rooted in real human beings that counted. That’s what God worked with trying to shape a new earth. For Irenaeus ditching the Old Testament was unthinkable. Real human lives were important. He actually penned a statement that was rather startling… the glory of God is the human being fully alive…After all in Jesus Irenaeus said God had chosen to enter human life.

Irenaeus also leapt into an argument about how many gospels of the dozens then in circulation should be included in the writings that were being gathered into what we know as the New Testament. He advanced the creative idea that must be four since there had been four faces in the vision of Ezekiel: a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle. Although his logic may appear rather strange to us, there are only four gospels in the New Testament and if you know your symbols you’ll also recognize the signs of the gospel writers – a man for Matthew, a lion for Mark, an ox for Luke, and an eagle for John! That we have four gospels is due some quirky arguments and dear old Irenaeus.

But it’s this quote I want to focus on. the glory of God is the human being fully alive. We see God’s glory in a human being fully alive. Irenaeus was struck by the claim that Jesus was a real human being and yet was alive with God. His favourite festival was Christmas because that celebration the incarnation, God alive in a human being. There was a huge influence of what is called gnostic teaching and practice which focused on the opposite. Some were saying God was to be found by denying our human –ness, our every day-ness, and looking for spirit filled experiences. They wanted to split life into separate physical and spiritual spheres. Some adopted ascetic practices that denied the body as a way to God, and others said it didn’t really matter how you lived in your body because that life didn’t count, and so we have stories of free sexual expression and wild parties. Life in the Spirit and life in the body were two different things. Irenaeus said, ‘no this bodily earthy stuff is infused with the spirit.’ Look for God in all that is created. Honour your bodies, honour the earth, and honour the spirit that lives within these physical realities. The glory of God is the human being fully alive.

Questions raged about whether Jesus was really human, did the resurrection involve the body or was it just a spiritual reality, and was salvation a release from this world or a transformation of this world. The gnostic or dualists who sought to separate body and spirit said Jesus wasn’t really human, the resurrection was a spiritual event, and salvation involved exiting this world. Irenaeus stood on the other side of the fence. Jesus was human, the resurrection involved the body, and salvation was about transformation of this earth we call home. .

You may say what difference does this make. Consider this…many Christians in the United States in particular say don’t get too hung up about caring for the earth because we are going to heaven anyway. If the earth burns up, who cares because we are going to a better place. In fact some would say the sooner the better. Wow, Irenaeus would have something to say about that. But this influence of devaluing the earth and the body also shows in other ways. Many of us fail to take our lives seriously. Too easily we slip into patterns of life that say this is as good as it gets. Is it laziness or is it fear, or is it a lack of faith but we never take the risk of exploring aliveness. We want to be sure we have bases covered, we fear stepping out of the norm, we worry about what others may think, we like to stick with the crowd. Fully alive… well ‘half alive’ is the best we can hope for.

Consider this…Jesus makes it abundantly clear that as we engage with him we will find true life, abundant life, full aliveness. I think that’s what the message in today’s reading about eating flesh and bread is about, finding sustenance, seeing a vision of how to live well, dwelling in each other’s company so something of the life of Jesus enters our very bodies and minds. Eat this bread that I offer, take mylife into your life and you’ll find true aliveness. It’s a bold claim that is at the heart of our celebration of communion (The Lord’s Supper). If you want to be truly alive engaging with Jesus will help.

I want to get specific. Jesus opens our eyes to a journey sharing, adventure sharing God. Yes the God of the Old Testament may appear bloodthirsty, but clearly this was not the God of Jesus. Marcion got that right. So maybe the writers telling us about the Amalekites, men women and children, being slaughtered at God’s command got it wrong. What they got right, however, was the sense of God as a journey sharing, adventure sharing God. A God of the exodus, a God of Abraham and Sarah, a God of Ruth, a God of David. People who took risks. People who saw life as a journey of adventure. People who simply put their trust in God. Our God shares our human journey, our God loves a good adventure, our God takes risks, our God is interested more in a faith-filled journey than in perfection.

Jesus opens our eyes to the gift of yourself. Each of us sacred, valued. Each of us with a part to play. The glory of God is to be found in living your life and being who you are according to Irenaeus. His call to us is not to deny our life but to enter into it more fully. His call to us is to look deeper and discover your soul – your inner calling. You’ll know when you are touching base with this calling because you will feel alive. Keep searching for your deep passions and deep desires and trust that these passions and desires are of God. The life of God within. I need to stress the deep here because we are not talking about the desire for a new car, or an easy life….go deeper. A good practice is to regularly look at your life and ask, ‘when did I really feel alive?’ ‘What was going on?’ ‘Why was I buzzing and feeling so energized?’ Usually when we touch base with our true calling there is a release of energy in our beings because we get in tune with our soul, our deep places, our deep desires.

Jesus opens our eyes to the truth that life is found in linking our lives with others and working to bring new life into the world. Life is found in giving. Life is found in team. Life is found in making a difference together.

“The glory of God is the person fully alive.” Say ‘YES’ to yourself often. Engage with your life – it is a gift of great value. Listen to the inner murmurings. Search for the inner calling, and give yourself with others to making a difference.

“The glory of God is the person fully alive”.
Thank God for Irenaeus!

Dugald Wilson 12th August 2018

Question: What would you do if you had time and money to do anything? ( If we keep asking this question we’ll get a glimpse of inner calling.)

Posted in Sermons | Leave a comment

Aliveness John 6:24-35

Aliveness John 6: 24-35

When I phoned Lee to set up a time to visit there was no-one home and I had to leave a message on her answerphone. It turned out that she was outside gardening. At 84 Lee was not someone to sit inside on a warm day watching TV but was keen to be active and to keep on living. I had known her over ten years and I had discovered she was someone who lived life. If the day had been colder she probably would have been inside baking or out in her car distributing some baking to someone in need. But don’t make the mistake of thinking Lee was more of a Martha that a Mary in the biblical sense. Like Martha she liked to keep busy, but like Mary she paused to sit at the teacher’s feet. She regularly as she put it prayed as she took a little walk around the neighbourhood each morning. On Sunday she would always be at church greeting others and doing what she could to make newcomers welcome. She went out of her way to notice people who might be alone or new and instead of sitting in the same seat every Sunday moved around to wherever she could connect with strangers or those she thought might appreciate a listening ear. After worship she loved to chew the fat over some point in the sermon that had caught her attention. She was no saint, just plainspoken and happy to be herself, warm, and accepting – a faith honed out of real life experience.

When I did finally catch up with Lee she reminded me that it had been 18 months since her husband of 56 years had passed away. There was a moment of stillness and a tear, but her face lit up again as she reencountered how they had gone on their honeymoon as two innocent young people in a borrowed car and a few pounds in their pocket. There was another tear as she talked about her first night alone after all those years, and it was evident that she had a very deep sense of the loss. Tears are part of life she said as she moved on to update me on news of her family.

When I asked Lee about her new journey, she recounted a story that revealed much on her attitude and outlook. It seems a friend had questioned her about going to the movies not long after her husband had died, implying that Lee was not grieving appropriately. Lee reminded the woman that it was her husband that had died and not her and that she was getting on with living. I remember she flashed me a smile and a wink as she shared her response. She went on to say that did feel bereft, but that she had made her mind up to live each day with purpose and resolve. She volunteered that at the heart of this resolve was her faith and her belief that God had special things for her to do. I asked her about that and she explained that her way of looking at things was pretty simple. God had made her the way she was and had a purpose for her life. “I love being generous and I love encouraging others,” she said. “These things give me a real buzz. I believe we all have a ministry and when I’m in touch with my ministry I really come alive. It’s exciting.” I thought the Apostle Paul might find some big words to describe what she was saying like Living in Christ or Living in the Spirit, but Lee’s simple way of seeing things made sense to me.

I found Lee’s faith infectious. Though she glimpsed in the rear view mirror she did not dwell in the past. She had made the decision to fully live out her life with gusto, engagement, and that childlike attitude that so appealed to Jesus the willingness to learn something new. She seemed to have discovered her calling and her path of contributing to the greater good. Being alive for her has something to do with serving. When I stood to leave she told me to wait a moment and scurried off to the kitchen. She returned bearing some biscuits that she had made that very morning. Graceful, generous to the end. There was something about Lee that many people noticed. She was alive, she was gracious and generous, and there was a deep joy even with the tears. There was authenticity. She was who she was without smoke and mirrors and she was happy to be who she was. She didn’t find fault in others although she could let you know when something wasn’t right. She accepted all sorts of people as they were and encouraged them. Young people could be a pain, but she took time to try and understand and appreciate what their lives might be like. She had a heart for the struggling, and if she were alive today she would have purchased Fairtrade bananas, and she just might have joined the bike brigade to do her bit for climate change.

Jesus talked often about something he called eternal life. He claims the crowds were searching for the food of eternal life. The gospel writer, John, makes it clear that he believes if you follow Jesus you’ll find this life. I think Lee had discovered the truth of what Jesus was on about. She had discovered a quality of life that was much more than just existing. I think it had much to do with believing she was in God’s hands, and God had something new to teach her each day. Fear was not something she seemed to worry about… fear of others, fear of death. She seemed to have a deep trust in God that all would be well. She was not alone. She was living with purpose and meaning. She had great patterns and rituals in her life that sustained her and encouraged life. She had friends she could talk with and at 84 she still saw life as an adventure. She was willing to risk herself, to step out and give things a go. She was not stuck in a rut but was still walking along the road, discovering, learning, growing. Life was good.

In my younger days I used to think eternal life was all about going to heaven when I died. That’s what religion was about. I didn’t read the gospels closely enough. I do believe we return into God when we die, but Jesus was quite adamant that eternal life begins now. When he talks of eternal life he’s talking about a quality of life that begins now. I saw much of that in my friend Lee. She had a quality of aliveness that I think would have made Jesus smile and say, you are on to it.

I think we all have a deep desire in our beings to be more alive. We want to be less fearful. Who cares about what others think. Wouldn’t it be good to be 100% authentic, and to know deep joy. Wouldn’t it be good to be so in touch with our gifts that we didn’t need to compete with others but could be great encouragers of others. Wouldn’t it be great to feel we were using our gifts whatever they might be in service of God to help build a new earth? To know we were part of God’s plan to see less lonely people, less violence, and more peace in the world.

Our faith isn’t about insurance policies for when we die nor is it about appeasing an angry God. It’s about discovering an aliveness in our lives now. It’s about overcoming the fears that shrink and imprison us. It’s about trusting God and living with a sense of adventure and authenticity. It’s about learning to live with generosity and compassion for all God’s creatures. It’s about serving and learning to be courageous, with a grateful heart.
Sadly many people look at Christians and seem to think religion is something that shrinks, starves, imposes, cages, and freezes aliveness rather than fostering it. I felt a great sadness when I read of a recent survey of young people that found Christian young people were more inclined to judge others and to be less generous to people in need. Teaching our children about Jesus shouldn’t make them more judgmental and less generous.
Sadly many people think to be a Christian means you have to believe all sorts of things about Jesus. Jesus is God’s son, Jesus paid the price of our sin, Jesus will give you a ticket to heaven. Our gospel proclaims we need to believe in Jesus. Christianity is not primarily about what we think in our heads, but is about a way of life. The word belief actually comes from two words ‘by’ and ‘live’ or if we put them the other way round ‘live by’. True belief shows in our actions. Frankly I don’t think it greatly matters whether you believe the virgin birth actually happened, or whether Jesus actually walked on water. I’m much more interested in how Jesus impacts your life and how he brings eternal life and aliveness into your daily walk. Self-acceptance, overcoming fear, upholding the power of love and compassion in the way we live.

I believe God is doing new things in our time. One of those is that God is calling us as a Christian community to be beacons of aliveness. I’ve used the example of Lee, but in case you are wondering I see plenty of signs of aliveness amongst us.
I am the bread of life said Jesus. I have come to give people aliveness. What is this bread, what is at the heart of this life do you think? How does Jesus bring aliveness into your life? I invite you to talk with neighbours briefly about some of the things you have discovered about this aliveness Jesus was talking about?

Dugald Wilson 5 August 2018

Posted in Sermons | Leave a comment

The completed cross

Posted in Photos | Comments Off on The completed cross

A new feature in the rebuild is a cross in the front wall

Posted in Photos | Comments Off on A new feature in the rebuild is a cross in the front wall

Caring for Creation – Climate Change

Global Warming… Luke 14:7-14

It is a very simple message about humility and hospitality. Jesus noticed that people liked to sit in places of honour. They liked to sit at the top table at weddings and enjoy the good life. They liked to receive the best treatment. Traveling first class can be fun but it’s also addictive. It’s very easy to think this is normal and forget that for most it isn’t normal. Jesus said be careful, be humble.
He then talks of who you might invite into your own home for dinner. Is it just your friends and people who are just like you? Is it people who are already part of your circle of friends and family? Jesus talks of another way when he says make sure you invite the others, the poor, the ones you don’t normally mix with, the ones that don’t really matter. And he says when you do this, when you invite the people from outside the fence to your table you’ll be blessed.. You’ll learn something.
Now I suspect there is plenty here to challenge in the way we live our day to day lives. Humility and hospitality are key elements of a Christian life. Our celebration of communion where we all gather around around a table no matter who we are is a constant message and reminder of how it is in the kingdom of God. All are equal, and it doesn’t matter if you are Donald Trump or Joesephine Bloggs you are welcome. We are all interconnected as part of Gods creation.

I wonder what that might have to say to us as we address one of the most pressing issues in our world – climate change. However we might want to look at it, we are part of the small group that sit around the top table and there is plenty of evidence we are very good at thumbing our nose at everyone else in the world. They don’t matter. Who cares if the people of Tuvalu no longer have a home because the ocean has risen. I think it’s now an established reality that the world is heating up and that human activity is “extremely likely” to blame. Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide are now at levels “unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years.” Sea levels are expected to rise and the oceans have acidified as they have absorbed increased levels of carbon dioxide. We can expect more mosquitoes, more extreme weather events, and a shrinking of land mass as oceans rise.

I see varying responses. The United Sates seems to be backing right off. They have a president who is more interested in saving coal miners jobs than taking a lead in addressing climate change. We may go tut tut, but I wonder whether as individuals we are pretty good at saying someone else’s problem. So what if hurricane wipe out life on some Pacific island or sea level rise destroys millions of homes in Bangladesh. So long as we are OK all is OK. Those others don’t really belong at our table. As a nation it’s easy for us to say we are just a very small contributor to the greenhouse gases that seem to be at the heart of the problem. But when you bring it down to the personal level there are only ten nations in the world that emit more greenhouses gasses than we do – per person. When it comes to pumping out carbon in various forms we punch well above our weight. The global average of carbon dioxide equivalent per person is something like four metric tonnes per year, but we manage just under 20 metric tonnes per person – five times the global average. Of course a key issue for us is cows – we have a lot of cows out there belching out methane, which is actually a much more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. The only good news is that it doesn’t last as long in the atmosphere. To put it bluntly we sit at the top table in terms of lifestyle and we need to open our eyes and make some real changes to our lifestyles. We need to invite others to our table and understand we are part of a global issue that affects us all.

So where are the problem areas? Well we know for us kiwis the cows are an issue as they produce lots of methane and we also put lots of nitrogen onto the land. The methane is a short term greenhouse gas, but unfortunately it’s much nastier than CO2. We are going to have to find ways to reduce these emissions. The obvious answer is reduce the numbers of cows. But dairying is carrying our economy. It’s not easy. We have good people working on resolving this. It’s easy to point the finger elsewhere and say others need to change.

What about us? City folk. One of the big issues for us is that we consume lots of stuff, and just about every product or service we use causes CO2 emissions in its manufacture or in the transport to get it to us. Ensuring we consume less and live more simply is possibly one of the biggest things each of us could do. Buy products that last and don’t have to be replaced regularly. We often don’t need to replace our perfectly good cell phone or TV so why do we? Buy products without packaging. Sharing more stuff with others would really help. A group like us could start a stuff to be shared resource bank. Literally all the stuff we have is killing us and will certainly kill the planet if everyone has what we have. Cutting down consumption of stuff and living more simply is fundamental to a future planet that resembles the good creation God longs for.

Another major contributor of our CO2 emissions is our love affair with cars. We have more cars per head of population than just about anyone else in the world and we love to use them all the time. We could be walking or cycling more and incidentally enjoying better health, but no, even if it is a short trip to the shops we use the car. We have a great public transport system in Christchurch but often buses trundle around half empty. Far too many of us have never used a bus. Land transport, cars buses, trucks, including the trucks and other vehicles carting around all the stuff we really don’t need, accounts for about 40% of our CO2 emissions and it’s growing rapidly.

We also love to travel by air and we need to remember that one return flight to a European city produces about ten metric tonnes of CO2 per passenger, or two and a half times the global annual average in one hit. Travel is good as it reconnects us with family and opens our eyes to other cultures and peoples, but we really need to be careful about how often we use planes. Planes also bring in all sorts of food from around the world. How good it is to have Italian kiwifruit out of our season, but remember those imported food items are adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

We are it seems very definitely at the top table gobbling up the best food and living as we wish while the earth it seems is heading towards death and destruction for many. Climate change will affect all of us but it will be the poor who suffer most. It’s time we invited others to our table and looked beyond our narrow self interest.

The Bible has a term that describes what is required, and it’s the term repent! Repent means changing direction and that is never easy. It requires work and effort. But currently the way we live is the equivalent of taking our place at the top table and saying to hell with everyone else. Jesus would simply call it sinful, and invites us to head down a different road.
I don’t for one minute suggest it will be easy. There isn’t any immediate threat that we can see will threaten us in the next five minutes so why get worried. There is no elephant standing on our toe so why do anything? We find it hard dealing with issues that aren’t immediate and don’t have immediate effect. Like the frog being heated in hot water it’s easy to put off jumping out of the pot until of course it’s too late. Toss in an element of uncertainty because we actually don’t know precisely what will happen as greenhouse gas concentrations increase, and it becomes incredibly easy to put our head in the sand and hope that it won’t be so bad for our grandchildren as the scientists tell us.

I believe Jesus Christ came to heal and save the world, and as a faithful disciple I need to change my lifestyle. I believe Jesus cares so much about this sacred world that he would sacrifice even his life to save it, so where is the sacrifice in riding my bike or the bus more often. I believe Jesus meant what he said invite others to sit down and share our table and our life with them. Picture the people of every low lying country, listen to the cries of species going extinct as temperature rises. Hear the weeping of the planet, and the weeping of God..

I know I can’t solve the issue by myself, but I do believe we can be light and salt. We can work together to reduce the amount of carbon we are putting into the atmosphere. We can do things like choosing to live simply, sharing what we have – couldn’t someone with skills amongst us start a sharing pool of tools and other items, buying things that last. Reduce, recycle, reuse. Be someone who leads the way with an electric vehicle. I’m blessed to be fit enough to bike. I know I could use the bus more. Reduce our trips by air. , ensuring the power we use is generated by renewable means. Simply doing what everyone else does isn’t enough – we are called to be a light. We are called to be salt. God has given us responsibility to care for the earth. Conversation, encouragement, creative thinking, courageous action.
Let’s stop sitting around the top table with our heads in the sand. The first step is simple…. We have a coffee or cup of tea after worship. Have a conversation. Share something you already do that helps turn this beast around. Celebrate that. Then see if you can agree on something you can do together that will help honour the call to be salt and light.

Dugald Wilson

Posted in Sermons | Comments Off on Caring for Creation – Climate Change