Author Archives: Dugald Wilson

Jesus and Money

Mark 10:17-31

He is a stranger in Mark’s gospel but he has a question that resonates for many of us. What must I do to inherit eternal life? What do I need to do to really come alive in my life? How do I live a life that makes a difference and leaves an eternal mark? How do I live a life of significance? How doe I find true peace?

It’s a question others had asked but Jesus recognizes that it’s a genuine question from someone who is genuinely searching. This stranger genuinely wanted to explore a question that most of us ask at some point. Jesus responds by quoting from the Ten Commandments. You shall not commit adultery, you shall not commit murder, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness, honour you father and mother. These are six commandments are good rules for nurturing life. Interesting that this life is seen as life in community with others and not some individualistic fulfillment. Also interesting that Jesus omits the first four commandments relating to our relationship with God. The man however is quick in response and boldly proclaims that he’s kept all these good community rules since he was a boy. He knows the importance of good morals that safeguard the human family and trust, honesty, and dignity in the community. I appreciated the story in the Press this week of the building inspector in Auckland who left his ipad on site after a pre inspection report prior to a big concrete pour undertaken by a Chinese construction firm. He returned 30 minutes later to retrieve his computer to discover all the steel reinforcing was being removed prior to the pour. The writer was lamenting the influence of foreigners who had no culture of honesty. I wondered if he might have given thought to where the backbone of honesty came from in our own culture and whether in fact declining standards are due to something else other than just the influence of foreign culture. Maybe the rejection of established religion with traditional teaching like the ten commandments has something to do with it?

However Jesus’ questioner has no problem with declining standards of honesty and as Mark tells the story he says simply Jesus looked at him and loved him. Jesus’ heart warmed towards this man who is genuinely trying to live a good life. What follows is said in love, and is offered to the man as a means of drawing him closer to the fullness of life he is hankering after. Jesus says you need to take another step in your faith journey, “sell everything you own and give it all away.” And the story takes another turn as it is revealed the man went away with a heavy heart because he had great wealth.

I bet you could have heard a pin drop. It was a huge ask. I sometimes wonder if Jesus expected him to pick up the invitation there and then, go home and put his house and contents, and maybe his business on the market, or was he expecting that the man needed to undergo some serious rethinking of his values way of life that would take time. I suspect the latter but we simply don’t know. We are simply told the man became sad for he was very rich. Quite simply it was a bridge too far, and I think most of us feel for the man, and possibly a little uncomfortable ourselves because on the world scale we are all very very rich.

In what follows Jesus unpacks the incident with his disciples who share our discomfort. He draws on the image of a narrow gate in the Jerusalem city wall known as the eye of the needle which was a squeeze just for a man to get through but for a camel especially one loaded with goods and possessions it was simply impossible. The message was simple you could only get through if you let go of all your possessions. If you want to find eternal life, if you want to enter God’s kingdom you have to learn to let go. And if you are going to let go then you actually need to address the issue of where you put your trust. What do you hold on to for security in life?

I wonder if this is why Mark and the other gospel writers put this story alongside the incident with the children. Children are good trusting their parents. They usually have implicit trust that their parents will take good care of them….sadly not always though. Jesus must have known that children can be demanding, annoying, and sometimes downright awful, but in the end they trust – trust in the love of their parents and other family members. I remember one of the games I used to play with one of my nephews when he was young. It’s a game I wouldn’t play with him now because he is now bigger than me, but as a little fellow he loved to climb up on the back of an armchair and launch himself off into my arms. It was a risky game because from the back of a chair it was a long way down but he trusted that I would catch him every time. As an adult we don’t find such trusting easy. I recall an interactive experiment in the old Science Alive display that used to be in the railway station in town. This particular experiment involved letting yourself drop off a 5m wall that was polished and gently curved outwards towards the bottom. The idea was that your downward momentum was transferred by the gentle curve into horizontal momentum and that you could drop the 5m onto the hard wooden surface below. The trick was the bottom of the wall was curved and your downward momentum was transferred by the curve to horizontal momentum and so despite no soft surface to break your fall you ended up with no broken bones. All I can say is that I didn’t find it easy trusting that all would be well as I struggled to let go and drop! I needed some of my nephew’s childlike trust. Such is the trust and faith Jesus is inviting us to put in God. I’ve talked before of learning to swim and trust the buoyancy of the water. Tense up and you sink, relax and you float. This is faith. We trust the love of God and we trust the buoyancy of God. We trust in the Ways of God. If the rich man was to find life says Jesus he would need to let go of the wealth and the security and trust he put in the wealth. He trusted that the commandments would provide life, but in his holding tight to his money he showed he needed to take another step into true faith.

Most of us I suspect are somewhere along this road of learning to trust God and the ways of God. It’s not a simple road. It’s not a simple matter of giving everything away and hoping God will take care of us.. Our scriptures tell us in a number of places we have to ensure that we are not an unnecessary burden on others. We do have bills to pay and we need to live responsibly and take care of our own welfare. We do need money to put food on the table and ensure we have a roof over the heads of those we are responsible for. But it’s really easy to loose the balance. It is very easy for our possessions to become something we hold tightly to and they begin to own us and rob us of life.

I am reminded of the story of Sir Moses Montefiore a good Jew and friend of Queen Victoria. Sir Moses was a man of considerable wealth who retired at age 40 and spent the next 60 years of his life putting his wealth to good use improving the lives of others, and working for the welfare of humanity. A sort of Bill and Melinda Gates sort of figure. Someone asked him one day how much he was worth. He contemplated for a while and then named a figure. The questioner was puzzled and queried the response. “That is a large sum but I don’t think it is enough. By my calculation you should be worth at least ten times the figure you have given me.” In reply Sir Moses gave the following response: “You didn’t ask me how much I own. You asked me how much am I worth. So I calculated the amount I have given to charity in the last year and that is the figure I gave you. You see,” he said, “we are worth what we are willing to give to others.”

Sir Moses understood that he was merely a trustee of the wealth, and that he was called to use his wealth to reshape the world according to the life of God, and in learning that basic truth of faith he had made a significant shift from owning his wealth and claiming it as his to understanding we are mere trustees. Trusting in God is more than some blind faith, but it is releasing our grip on our wealth and the powerful thought that it is mine, and realizing that all we have is gift and all we have is God’s. Once we start seeing wealth as gift we start asking how is it best used. We are part of a culture that says we should amass wealth so we can leave it to the kids. I don’t think Jesus would agree. Andrew Carnegie the wealthy industrialist had a great dream – it was simply to bounce your last cheque. In our world maybe that is to go into permanent overdraft as you breathe your last. By the time you die you have given it all away. I like that dream and my aim is to follow it.

Generosity is at the heart of life. Giving things away, putting your wealth to good use, to God’s use, actually brings life. To live generously and bounce one’s last cheque is to die vertical, not horizontal. To die vertical is to die fully engaged with life and promoting life. To die horizontal is to passively allow others to decide how your wealth is used, to put it in the bank for a rainy day where it’s used to pay fat salaries to unscrupulous managers, or to leave it to the kids will happily spend it on some frivolous endeavor.

Jesus makes it clear we are to be trustees not passive hoarders. We are to take risks with God to declare a new kingdom on earth. I don’t think we are all called to be ascetics and give it all away although I do think simpler less materialistic lives are called for. Life is to be lived and enjoyed. Life is to be enhanced. Riches like leeches can suck your soul dry and leave you bloodless. Over the last 50 years our material standards have sky rocketed … I wish I could say people were happier and more truly full of peace. Amassing wealth does not bring significance, it is generosity and adoption of the idea that we are trustees of everything we own – that brings the life we long for.

Dugald Wilson 14 Oct 2018

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Relationships

Gen 2:18-25 Mark 10:2-9    7 October 2018

A Sunday School attendee was asked, ‘what does God say about marriage?’ The boy thought about this for a moment and then responded with Jesus’ words from the cross: “Father forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.” I guess that’s true for most of us who have entered this sacred relationship. We may not know what we were doing, but surveys tell us that we do have some idea of what we want. For women it’s affection, conversation, honesty and openness, financial support, and family commitment. For men the list is different – for us it’s sex, recreational companionship, an attractive spouse, domestic support, and finally admiration. I should point out these were American surveys so it’s probably different here! But with such different expectations its little wonder that marriage is fraught with difficulties and challenges.

Marriage is a fundamental relationship in our scriptures. In the creation story from Genesis 2:18-25 we have a statement that ‘it is not good for the Adam or earthchild to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for the earthchild’. The state of loneliness is the one thing in creation that is not good, for it seems humans are created to live in relationship. I should also point out the word for helper sometimes is thought of as someone inferior who serves. This is not so. Later on in our scriptures in Deuteronomy 33:29, God is described using the same word. God is our helper. Essentially the term means providing something that is lacking in the other. Human beings it seems are not complete and whole by themselves but are created to live in relationship with others. In partnership and community there is a blossoming of life. What our scriptures say is that we are communal beings and we are at our best when we commit to communal relationships.

A key building block for communal relationship is marriage. The uniqueness of this relationship is spelt out in two ways. “Therefore a man (or person) leaves his (her) mother and father and clings to his wife (another), and they become one flesh.” (Gen 3:24) Firstly there is a marital leaving. There is a disengaging from the family that brought us up and gave us our beginning to launch a new unit of life. This message of letting go for us has to do with the leaving a childlike state of dependency and taking responsibility as an adult to shape new life. Young people of today need to hear this as they cling to the security of parents, and modern parents need to hear this as they build dependent relationships with their children. Around us birds are building and inhabiting nests but very shortly the nests will be abandoned as parents literally kick the young ones out into the world to sink or swim. The second message is about marital union which is something far more than the intimacy of sexual encounter. It involves everyday skills of friendship, listening, appreciating, encouraging. It is why good friendships often lead to secure and satisfying marriages. At the heart of becoming one flesh is the hard work of love. Many couples seem to work on the assumption that marital intimacy just happens. We talk of falling in love.

One of my favourite authors Dr Scott Peck in his excellent book, “The Road Less Travelled” says a couple of things that stick with me. The first is that people who fall in love eventually fall out of love and that’s when real love begins to take root. When the rosy coloured spectacles come off and we see one another in the real light of day with warts and wrinkles and still commit to seeking the welfare and growth of another – that’s real love. He also says that the opposite of love is not hate but is laziness. Love is essentially hard work as we commit to the growth and well being of another, but it’s very very easy to slip into lazy patterns and routines in our relationships that treat our partners as part of the furniture. The opposite of love is laziness. We no longer see the special-ness and sacredness in another, and we take the other people in our lives, or ourselves, for granted. We forget to affirm, appreciate, and communicate worth and value. It is a wonderful thing to switch off our ego and self centredness, to dull down our ‘what can I get out of this’, and focus wholly on helping another grow and blossom. It is a good thing to take a moment to reflect in our relationships how I might be a better lover, how I might encourage the life in another, what can I do to grow aliveness in another….or again even within yourself. This is the work that is at the center of marriage and at the center of family.

Words work well for some but for others images are important so I want to encourage you with an image. This is a picture of a sculpture sculptured by the French artist Auguste Rodin in 1908 called originally the Ark of the Covenant, but renamed by Rodin rather interestingly the Cathedral. I think the great interior space of a gothic cathedral is encapsulated in the space between the hands. If you look closely you’ll notice the hands are both right hands. There are two people involved here. The hands are about to clasp. It is the space between them that intrigues me, and speaks of the work of love and marriage. It is a sacred and mysterious space. The two hands are nurturing something awesome together. A marriage isn’t just about a practical arrangement of living together, or about fulfilling one another’s needs, but it is participating in a new dream, nurturing a new sacred space through which something mysterious and awesome, God breathed, emerges. A good question to ask for those of us who live in the gift of marriage is, “what are we nurturing in our relationship, and how are we serving the sacred presence of love through which the world will be healed?”

I want to remind you of Jesus’ words… that two become one flesh. They are no longer two distinct individuals but are melded somehow into a new form which I think is a sign of the interconnectedness that was at the heart of Jesus’ vision of a new earth. Deep relationship in its many forms is what Jesus is talking about here. People transcending their ego driven lives to see sacredness and value in another. We are part of a culture that is possibly the most individualistic self seeking culture of all time and in that culture it’s no wonder marriage is a disaster. Community is a disaster, caring for creation is a disaster, but loneliness and anxiety are winners. We have neglected the importance of relationship and instead promoted the ideal of getting for self. What can I get out of the relationship is the question we ask rather than what can I give and how can I serve. What will fulfil my needs as opposed to how can I create sacred space, a cathedral.

We now see the consequences of these ideas in a record high number of failed marriages with huge costs on the partners who have to deal with the failure in so many ways, the cost to the children, and to society as a whole. Before those with marriages intact sit smugly back however, I observe many marriages that are so called “intact” because they have lasted the distance are far from ideal. Lasting the distance isn’t anything to be proud of if the dream of God and the life giving sacrificial love has gone from the relationship. Jesus as we know had much to say about skin deep appearances. Some of you know the painful reality of facing up to a relationship that has failed and taking steps to move on. I salute your courage! Jesus is someone who believes in the second chance. All of us fail in life, and all of us are surrounded by the deep love of God which does not give up on us. Working out balances between ideals and realities is never easy.

I want to end with another image – simple story of encouragement. Robert Salzer is a surgeon who has written of some of his experiences. In this story he visits a young woman after surgery to her face. He writes:
I stand by the bed where a young woman lies, her face postoperative, her mouth twisted in palsy, clownish. A tiny twig of the facial nerve, the one to the muscles of her mouth has been severed. I had followed with religious fervour the curve of her flesh, I promise you that. Nevertheless, to remove the tumour in her cheek, I had cut the little nerve. Her young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed, and together they seem to dwell in the evening light, isolated from me, private. Who are they I ask myself, he and his wrymouth I have made, who gaze at each other? The young woman speaks. “Will my mouth always be like this?” she asks. “Yes”, I say, “it will. It is because the nerve was cut.” She nods and is silent. But the young man smiles. “I like it”, he says. “It is kind of cute.” All at once I know who he is. I understand, and I lower my gaze. One is not bold in an encounter with a god. Unmindful, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth, and I am so close I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate to hers, to show her that their kiss still works.

I wonder why such a story evokes awe and a deep sense of this is what life is about. Rodin might have said if he were a witness to this encounter…. Cathedral.  Some might say sacrament – an action in which God is present.
May there be God filled moments in your relationships and in your marriages.

Dugald Wilson 7 October 2018

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A Tool For Disciples

Luke 6: 12-19 A Tool For Disciples

Jesus’s big plan to renew the earth revolved around disciples. It’s not a term we seem to use much these days, but you and I are disciples. We are followers of Jesus. We are people who are trying to live the Jesus way in 2018. Dallas Willard defined discipleship this way: “Discipleship is learning from Jesus how to live like Jesus.” This is exactly what we see the twelve disciples doing in the gospels. By being with Jesus, they learned from Jesus how to think, act, and live like he did. That’s what communion is all about – we take Jesus into our beings that he might transform our lives and draw the best out of our lives. The twelve disciples watched Jesus, imitated Jesus, and invited others to imitate Jesus by imitating them. That started a movement that spread around the world

There may be many different pictures of what discipleship might look like but one helpful tool is what I call the discipleship triangle. This helps us remember there are three key dimensions to the Jesus life style.
UP

IN                                           OUT

Dimension 1: Up – Jesus connected with God. For Jesus there was a presence that was bigger than him in the world and through practices like prayer, worship, meditation and stillness he connected with this presence. In the synagogue, in the quiet of the hills, in the traditions of his faith, in allowing the stories of scripture to speak, in conversations with others Jesus connected, listened deeply, intentionally allowed his life to be shaped by this presence we call God. Disciples all through the ages have followed suit and found practices that enhanced this connecting with god we call the UP dimension in their lives. Model always have limitations and one here is that the UP may be looking deeply within!

Dimension 2: In— Jesus spent time very intentionally with a small group. He gathered others around him. They knew one another, served one another, and loved one another. They engaged together like family. They helped one another to an amazing degree that we struggle to understand in our individualized western world but this community aspect of discipleship has always been important. There’s a little quote I think is really important. Jesus left no written documents behind rather he left a community of ‘nobody’ human beings. This community of nobodies was to be salt to flavor the whole and yeast in the bread. They were to be an example, a light on a hill in the way they cared, learned, encouraged, and made a difference. Paul talked often of the community being like a body where different parts have different skills but working together we are to give witness to a new way of living.

Dimension 3: Out- Jesus was a man with a mission. That mission was to bring a new earth into being. He healed the sick, touched the lepers and engaged with outsiders, he fed the hungry, and opened blind eyes and deaf ears. He talked of a love that accepted and valued all of life. He said he was here to proclaim the Kingdom of God on earth, inviting people to engage with the living God and join the new movement to transform life on this planet. The revolution and transformation goes on as we modern disciples engage with Jesus in our own time and context and seek to bring true life into being.
Up-In–and-Out was the way Jesus lived with his disciples. As present day followers we are called to have those same dimensions in our lives. If you are like me you’ll probably notice that one or two of these dimensions is stronger. That’s normal because hopefully we are balanced out as part of a community. Serious imbalances though need to be looked at.
And that is also where some people suggest and I agree that actually there is another dimension that is really important, and that is OF. We are actually part of a bigger whole than just our little congregation. We are part of the Alpine Presbytery, and part of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand, and part of the reformed group of churches worldwide, and part of all the churches. This OF is actually really important because it anchors us in a tradition and a stream that isn’t just us. Without the OF there would be no scriptures, no songs to sing, no patterns of worship passed on, and no bullets to fire at the terrible Presbytery! On a personal level the OF also encapsulates the reality that our faith has often been passed on and nurtured by others and of course it also encapsulates the call to pass on the faith to others. So our simple triangle might be better pictured as an arrow.
UP (through participating in the life of God)

 

(as part of the whole body) OF      —————————– OUT (bringing life to the world)

 

IN (through fellowship in the congregation)

The Of-Up-In-Out arrow helps us be intentional about our call to be a disciple of Jesus. We can use it to evaluate our own walk with Jesus. Do we have all four dimensions in our walk? That’s something for you to ponder.

But this little picture of our life as a disciple isn’t just helpful for individuals. It can also helps us evaluate groups, ministries, and even our congregation. Do our groups and ministries exhibit characteristics of all four dimensions? Healthy church groups are about all four…of/up/in/out…. A balance of all four dimensions will help our groups function as groups that honour God and radiate the presence of Jesus in our context and in our time.
Our Mission Discernment Group has spent some time looking at that and you’ll see in the Annual Report some of our discussion. I need to say we did this as a challenge to ourselves and not as a group telling others what to do. In the end our challenge to ourselves was so what can we do about it, and how can we help groups in our congregation develop a more balanced approach to our activities. One thing we noticed was that many of our groups and activities are not strong in the UP department. They are clearly motivated by a desire to share the gift of love, but Jesus and God are often not acknowledged in any way, and the participation of God in the activity is not openly expressed. We function often as atheists – as if God is absent. We could be just another service club that does good things.
So for example when we looked at our great little foot clinic which is a magnificent outreach activity for seniors who have difficulty cutting their toenails we noted there was some tremendous connecting within the group and with those who come. Compassion flows in abundance and people leave foot clinic not only with toenails clipped but feeling good about life and feeling loved. Wonderful. There is lots of IN and OUT. We also noted there was a collection of foot clinics in Christchurch in all sorts of churches and some linking for purposes of training and support. Some OF. We wondered if we could enhance the UP by maybe offering a short prayer of blessing for each client, or possibly giving them a card with a blessing for them on it.

Our website has IN, UP, and OUT aspects. The UP has recently been strengthened with the addition of sermons. IN could be strengthened by promoting the website as a place for information about what’s on in the congregations life, and both IN/OUT/UP could be strengthened with some small video interviews of members talking about life and faith – maybe some of our members talking about their faith and journey as a disciple of Jesus. You all have amazing stories to share. More OF linkages could be made highlighting the work of the wider church.

I hope you get the picture, and see how this little model might work. The real value is that together we might ask the questions and maybe get our creative juices running. That we might experiment with some ideas to help balance and strengthen the OF/UP/OF/OUT dimensions of what we do together..

In groups we spend time looking at the question: What do you see as the strengths using the UP/IN/OF/OUT model of the groups in our congregation with which you are familiar? Can you suggest ways we might strengthen the dimensions that are weakest? (or even the stronger ones…)

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Inner and Outer…. Mark 7 1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Jesus learned from an early age that we human beings are a little like a car. How it runs depends on who is driving and what juice is in the tank. One of our neighbours recently put diesel in his van instead of petrol. It wasn’t a good move. He did drain most of the diesel out and put petrol back in but the poor old van has been sounding very sick as it drives past our place spluttering and misfiring badly as he tried to burn off the residue of diesel in the system. His van needs petrol to run well.

To get us going well we need to be aware of our inner life and what voices within are fuelling us and driving us. Jesus taught that true and fruitful life would come as we incorporate a process of reflection in our living, and look carefully what we are trying to run on. To do this Jesus found it important to turn off the music and noise in our lives, to stop the activity and spend time alone in solitude. One place he headed frequently was a quiet place where he could turn inward and look inward at what was fuelling his life. Was it ego juice and a desire to promote self and be noticed by others or was it God juice and a higher desire to serve something beyond self.

I wonder if you ever look within and examine what fuel is in your tank. I know I’m better off when I do. Someone challenged me the other day about something I said and I caught myself immediately jumping to the defence of my view. Instead of listening and really hearing what the other person was saying I wanted to tell them I was right and they were wrong. Where did that come from? What was driving that response? Or the other evening I was a little tired and was working at sending some emails and my computer did some things that computers do and I lost something I had been working on. I found myself getting quite angry with a little bit of plastic technology and ….. It really wasn’t that important and my reaction was over the top. But where did that come from. What was driving that? Or I was out my bike and saw a young fellow up ahead on his bike and I thought I can bike faster than him and set about really pumping the legs. Why did I do that? What was driving my actions?

Taking time to look within is an interesting process. Making space to be aware of what is driving your actions and your words is an insightful thing to do. It’s something Jesus encouraged us all to do. One place I know some of do this work of reflection is coming to church Sunday by Sunday.

A place of solitude is where the everyday stuff that keeps us running around in circles doesn’t happen anymore. It’s a place where we no longer mow lawns, cook fancy meals, head off to work, worry about the kids, because in the solitude none of these things matter anymore. There isn’t lots of stimuli, no TV, no streaming music, no internet, no smart phones, and no incoming messages. There is silence, a landscape paired back to bare simplicity, and in this space life can be examined. In such an environment you begin to notice what is happening inside yourself.

Our scriptures tell us that Jesus before he set out on his public ministry spent time in the desert. I think he spent a lot of time in the desert, specifically in the Judean desert an area between the Dead Sea and the city of Jerusalem. It’s not desert like the Sahara full of sand, but is a rocky hilly desert with ravines cut into it by water, the result of sudden downpours. It’s a harsh empty environment, and yet there is life tucked away if you know where to find it. People have always found such places good places to become aware of what is going on within.

There I think Jesus listened and observed what was going on inside. Why did he react to that critical voice with such defensive vehemence? What was that niggling anger or frustration all about? What voices could he encourage that brought life into his being? What happenings in his life brought a deep joy to and peace to him. What demons needed to be faced? What life bringing angels needed to be nurtured? Our forefather John Calvin talked of human beings as being like horses who need a rider and that rider can either be God or the Devil. I don’t see things quite in those terms, but I do see there is a power at work in my life, a self seeking power, a greedy power, a me first power that I call my ego speaking. This voice promises much under the guise of success but ultimately delivers no peace and no deep joy. But in the stillness I am aware of another voice. Some call it the true self, or the God spirit and this voice whispers of other things…. The importance of serving and using your gifts for the common good, the need to listen well, the joy of anchoring your life in what is true and not what is popular, and a grace that sees everything in life is gift. Which one do we feed, and which one do we starve.

Once upon a time, there was a Navajo grandfather, who told his grandson, “Grandson, there are two wolves inside of me. One wolf is, good and altruistic, generous and kind, compassionate, and the other wolf is selfish, mean and greedy, violent and angry. The two wolves are in a constant fight within me.” The grandson, with wide eyes, says, “But which one will win, grandpa?” And the grandfather says, “The one which I feed.”
We come today to feed on Jesus. We come to take his life into ours that we might be transformed as people from the inside out.

I can’t remember a time in my life when Jesus wasn’t influencing my life a feeding me with patterns of behaviour and ways of thinking and seeing. Many of these patterns were mediated by parents who tried to instil a sense of the importance of others, of serving rather than getting, of looking for the best in others, and looking deep within self to determine what was really driving your actions. There were other important people too who I looked up to and saw compassion in action.

But there were other influences too. I remember well long walks home from school through the town belt in Dunedin. These were times of solitude and I learned the importance of silence and the importance of looking within. In stillness you can start to see some of the demons within us all and start to notice how many of our actions are motivated by our ego and the desire to push ahead of others. You need solitude and stillness in your life, a place where you can examine what’s driving things.

And you need the example of Jesus. As I read and re read the stories, and heard his sayings something gripped my heart even as a youngster. His words and actions seemed to speak to me as no other. In those early days I think I was motivated by a desire to get to heaven and I still am. What’s changed is that heaven is no longer out beyond the clouds somewhere, but is here and now. What hasn’t changed is the message that God is a loving accepting God who seeks to shape our lives into something worthwhile. It’s all grounded in a love that will not let us go. It’s not about proving our success but about using what has been gifted to us. It’s not about being better than others but working together for the good of all. It’s not about winning but about loosing something.

Jesus is quite clear, religion that fails to transform hearts, the deep places within, is useless religion. Religion that fails to transform lives is not worth committing time and energy to. Religion that is just about appearances is worthless.
I come to this meal today to feed on Jesus and to be transformed by Jesus. I come to commit to a way of self reflection with Jesus as my guide. I invite you to join me.

Dugald Wilson September 2nd 2018

• What idea from today’s address caught your attention, challenged you, or encouraged you in some way.
• Pick ‘a significant encounter’ you have had in the past few days and reflect on your reactions and words. Honestly reflect on what was behind your responses? Did you seek to increase your prestige and power or to serve God?
• Examine yourself when you feel angry and ask what is driving this…

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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.)

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