Jesus the Teacher

Read:  Matt 4: 12-23

Jesus was a teacher.  People called him Rabbi.  One of the first things he does as he begins his ministry is to call together a group of people called disciples.  Disciples are people who learn from someone and then follow in the way epitomized by the life and teaching of a teacher.  The word disciple come a Latin word which means to learn.   So as modern disciples of Jesus we are learners.  We are people who have learned and still are learning how to live well in 2020, with Jesus as our teacher. 

Our scriptures talk often of Jesus as a teacher.  I remember as a young boy at Sunday School hearing stories about Jesus and being drawn into a way of looking at the world and other people that resonated deep within.   He seemed to radiate the presence of God.  Often the teaching was about moral living.   I discovered it was much better to tell the truth than to lie.  Jesus taught me to be honest and respectful.  I was amazed at the way Jesus reached out to strangers and people who were rejected by others and tried to do the same.  I has my eyes opened to see others treated badly by others at school so would try and befriend them.  Kids with a different skin colour or some oddity would often be picked on or ignored, so I tried to put myself in their shoes and feel how it might be for them and act accordingly.  Every week we would meet in our Sunday School and learn.

Later in my student years I was part of a Youth Group.  The learning continued.  This was the time that there was a movement of the Spirit and the Charismatic Movement was moving through the church.  There were many discussions and eye opening moments about what that all meant. I was part of several flats that were idealistically asking how should we live as followers of Jesus.  We took to heart Jesus’ advice to live simply and tried to avoid being duped into the consumer dream that happiness is found in having lots of things.  Part of that dream was to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle so as to consume less of the world’s resources which we did for some years, but alas the meat lover won through again.  We talked a lot about the importance of community and welcomed others into our flat who were a bit lost in the world.  We were part of the anti-nuclear movement staging street dramas and doing whatever we could to alert others to the evil of nuclear weapons.  When Jesus said ‘blessed are the peacemakers’, we took his words seriously.  To spend billions on making and peddling weapons of destruction in a world wracked by poverty and basic health and education issues, seemed and seams so wrong.  Jesus clearly stood for another way.  In our flat we talked often of how we could be a witness for Jesus and so we tried to invite someone we didn’t know well at church to share a meal with us each week.  It was an all guys flat so guests had to put up with some interesting meals. 

In those days we didn’t know much about carbon footprints and taking off overseas for the bog OE was common.  I felt called by Jesus to do something different.  It wasn’t London and parties, but I decided I wanted to learn about world poverty.  I had been captured by the prophetic writings in the Old Testament which speak so much about equality and justice for all. These writings filled out Jesus’ teaching on welcoming all people as brothers and sisters.  As I looked within I felt a call to visit Christian communities around the world but also to live in a wealthy country and a poor country to see what I could learn.  In America I volunteered to help in a Christian rehab community for people suffering from mental illness for six months.  It was real eye opener into some of the issues surrounding mental illness, the importance of therapeutic drugs, but also the huge importance of a loving community in any healing.  I also learned that despite being a very wealthy country America had terrible poverty and many people were consigned to the scrapheap.  I then spent a year in India working as a volunteer with the Presbyterian mission project in Jagadhri and in a multi-faith ashram trying to teach kids from very poor villages how they could farm and grow crops in more productive ways.  I learned poverty was a complex matter that had few quick fixes.  I discovered more laughter in rural India than existed back home in New Zealand.  But I also learned about the spiritual practices of Jesus like the setting aside of quiet time to meditate and reflecting on God and on what was really motivating and driving my life.  I had my eyes opened to other Christian traditions and other religions as an important part of listening to Jesus, and seeking to be a disciple….someone who was constantly learning from Jesus.

Youth is, of course, a time to experiment and learn.  Unburdened by responsibility you can take risks and can be idealistic.  Time progresses and sadly these elements get trampled in our lives.  We tend to adopt a settled and safe routine that is risk averse – as we move on we like to stay safe in the boat instead of trying to walk on water.  We tend to become one of the crowd and our Christian faith becomes a chameleon faith of fitting in and adapting to our society.  Jesus becomes domesticated.  The danger is that no longer is Jesus a teacher and we disciples, but we are much happier to talk of Jesus as possibly a friend, a comforter, but the teacher takes a back seat.  We may talk simply of Jesus as the one who has saved us by his death, our Saviour, and forget that salvation is about finding and discovering heaven on earth.  Repent, open your eyes, for the kingdom of heaven is in your midst if only we have eyes to see and imaginations to dream.  We need the Rabbi to show us.  We need Jesus to teach us how to find true life.

I believe that most of us want to live a life that honours God, our creator, a life that is meaningful, a life of significance, a life that honours our soul and the dream of God within each of us.  We want to live a life of integrity, a life that is true to our essence, and which will make a difference in our world.  To do this I believe we have to continue to learn, and we have to be part of a group of disciples of Jesus who challenge and encourage each other in our faith journey.  We need to see ourselves as learners and experimenters with Jesus as our guide and teacher.   

I was speaking to a person a while ago who started going to church.  Actually they were going to a church on a Tuesday as part of a Weight Watchers group.  He said he’d been trying to lose weight for years and knew all the head stuff about what was required.  Eat less, exercise more….it’s pretty simple really.  But however hard he tried he never managed to put it into practice.  His weight remained the same or in reality slowly crept up over the years.  What made the difference he said was meeting with others who encouraged and supported him and together they began living a new way.  He wasn’t sure just what made the difference but being with others, sharing the journey with others, learning with others, being encouraged by the example of others, changed everything.  In just a couple of months he’s lost nearly 15kg.  It’s being part of a group together that’s made the difference, he said.

I don’t quite understand why our religion and spirituality is so private.  We are good at keeping masks in place which hide the real me and you.  We very rarely talk about Jesus and what he might be saying to us, or how he might be calling us to open our eyes as disciples in 2020.  Sometimes I think I as the minister may be the problem, because when you label someone as the expert you deny your own journey and experience.  They know the answers and I don’t.  Let me tell you, I am still learning and I do not know all the answers.  I often learn from you. 

Maybe we get older and say I’m done with learning, and we stop asking questions, but I look at Rob and Margaret Mclean in our midst and see people not who are old but who retain a youthful sense of asking questions even as they draw close to 100 years of journeying.  I think one of their secrets is that they never stop asking questions.  As a rabbi or teacher, Jesus taught his disciples to risk asking all sorts of questions so they could find the true way of living.  Notice how often he asks a question of others.   I believe the gospel of Jesus, spreads not by force, or fear, but by fascination.  We open our eyes to the kingdom of heaven when we ask questions together, talk together, courageously be honest and take down the masks we hide behind.  One day Jesus took a child in his arms and said unless you become as a child you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  I’ve often reflected on that.  Children are curious and ask questions.  Children have yet to learn the secret of hiding behind masks.  Children know they have more to learn and new realities to see. 

Our church community is a learning community, so let’s not be afraid of asking questions however stupid they may seem, and let’s never stop searching for the answers to the question ‘What Would Jesus Do’ in our journey together.   Let us be people who help one another open our eyes to the reality of heaven in our midst.

Dugald Wilson 26th Jan 2020

Titles for Jesus – Son of God, Lamb of God, Messiah

An intro to John’s gospel…

John was writing his gospel maybe 100 years after Jesus was born.  The year was 863 – 863 years since the city of Rome was established.  By this time small Christian communities had formed.  About .01% of the population were Christian, so if Christchurch existed back then there would less Christians in the whole city than are gathered here – maybe a little group of thirty dissidents, because that’s how we would be seen, followers of Jesus. In the whole Roman Empire maybe 8,000 Christians.  Tiny but resilient. 

We have a fascinating letter written by Pliny, a local governor in what we know as Turkey in AD112 about the time John was writing his gospel.  The letter concerned the new Christian sect.  It is actually the first reference to Christians in Roman records that we still have.  Pliny the governor writes to Emperor Trajan in Rome asking what he should do about the Christians that have been brought to him for trial.  There was no blanket persecution of Christians in the empire but obviously there was local voices who were upset by this new sect and Pliny wants advice.  He points out the Christians meet as a little club that shares a common meal, they sing hymns to Christ as if he were a god, and commit to not practicing fraud, theft, or adultery.  Clearly they do not follow the accepted practice of worshipping the local Roman gods.  Emperor Trajan responds with clear advice.  Don’t go after these Christians and don’t listen to any anonymous accusations.  However if you do have Christians brought before you and they refuse to denounce their faith and curse Jesus, and worship the Roman gods then kill them.   It’s never much fun being a small outsider group.  But this outsider group continued to grow, maybe just 2-3 people per year, but year after year. Clearly they meant business as you don’t continue to practice your faith without good cause if it could mean you got executed.  In ten years 30 had become 50.

People found friendship, acceptance, every person and all life was valued, every person was seen to have a ministry because this tiny group ushered in a new way of living.   Some of these groups were actually called people of the Way.  They claimed Jesus was alive with them in Spirit leading, encouraging, teaching. 

They were sustained by practices like the common meal where everyone was treated as an equal, worship, prayers, mutual support and friendship, and the teaching.  The equality in the group meant that women were treated with respect in a world that often abandoned girl babies to die.  It meant slaves sat down at the communion meal with their owners.  The teaching and learning was ongoing as Christians sought to live out the Way of Jesus in a world that knew nothing of Jesus.  Most people in the surrounding communities had never heard of Jesus. 

One of the obvious needs was to have some concise writings that told the story of their departed leader.   Matthew, Mark, and Luke had provided such stories by this stage but John and others were gathering material for additional life stories.  There were other gospels written but only John’s story would be added to the other three when the scriptures were finally put together in a later process. 

Read: John 1: 29-42

John’s story of Jesus opens with some amazing credentials.  Son of God or Chosen One in some early Greek versions, Teacher Rabbi, Lamb of God, Messiah, the Anointed One.  

I wonder what John meant by using these titles.  They were not titles Jesus claimed for himself and I doubt they were actually used freely by his immediate disciples.  However by the time John was writing his gospel they were in free use.  One hundred years after Jesus Christians were using these titles to help explain who Jesus was for them.  I want to take a closer look.

Lamb of God:  Matthew, Mark, and Luke don’t use the title Lamb of God, but John does, and he does because he wants to make a link.   John introduces Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  Many Christians assume that this is referring to Jesus’ death which is seen to be a sacrifice for sin.   I see sin as separation from God.  The world is in a state of darkness.  Violence and inhumanity exist all round us.  We see literally the earth burning across the ditch, people and all sorts of God’s creatures perish literally because of greed and over consumptive lifestyles.  The power of evil is strong.  John says Jesus came to heal this, to take away the sin of the world, the separation from what God desires.  John is taking us back to the beginning of the Exodus story the people of Israel were living in a state of sin.  It wasn’t so much that they were bad people, but they living in a terrible state of oppression and God heard their cries and promised to lead them to a new land.   But there was an event that signalled this journey to the new land.  The Passover, the key festival for all Jews even today.  I remember well being very intrigued as a youngster when at the time of Passover our Jewish neighbours in Dunedin acquired a little lamb. I heard it bleating and then silence.  The father of the household  happened to be a surgeon at the hospital so I guess the end was well managed.  At the first Passover an unblemished lamb was killed, the blood was collected and sprinkled over their doorways as a protection from evil and as a sign that God would lead them to the new Promised Land.   The lamb was eaten as the last meal in slavery.  A new journey was begun.  The blood of the lamb was not a simple ritual to atone for sin, but was to protect and establish a covenantal relationship of hope as together with God they sought the new land where lion and lamb would exist in peace together, and sin or separation from God would be no more.    So the lamb is about a journey with God to a new place.  Fast forward back to Jesus and John and the message is that Jesus is going to be the one to lead us to the new earth where sin or separation from God is no more.  The lamb is about leaving behind what enslaves us, be it bad habits, unjust economic systems, mistakes we have made in our personal lives, lifestyles that are unsustainable to find the new person, the new society, the new earth.  It’s going to take blood and guts, exposing what is evil, forgiveness, faith, and lots of hard work but the way of this gentle lamb is the way of redemption and true life.  The lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world will be our guide, our light, our companion, our hope in the great journey to see the whole earth not perish, but find eternal life.

Son of God:  There is a context behind this title.  In the Old Testament it sometimes refers to the nation of Israel (Hosea11:1) sometimes to the king (Ps2:7), sometimes to heavenly beings (Job 1:6, 2:1).  In the time of Jesus the term was used of ‘holy men’ who were mystics or healers.  There is a thread in the use of the term and that is a “Son of God’ was someone who had an especially intimate relationship with God.  You could see God in that person.  In our own time we might call Desmond Tutu a Son of God, or Mother Teresa a Daughter of God.   They are human beings who radiate the qualities of God and we see God in their lives inspiring us.  For us as Christians Jesus is the Son of God because we see God clearly in him.  For us he became the decisive revelation of God.  A key question however in our time is also whether the Way that our Son of God calls us to is found in other places and in other traditions.  I believe it is, but that’s something to talk about later.  There is however another context we should be aware of.  Ten years ago Janet and I had the privilege of visiting the ruins of Ephesus.  There as we wandered around the ancient streets we came across this archway [photo]  The wording above it is important.  It proclaims Caesar Augustus to be a Son of God (DIVI F) and High Priest (PONTIFICO MAXIMO).  In the Roman Empire ‘Son of God’ referred to one thing – the emperor Caesar.    It began with Caesar Augustus, who ruled from 31BC to 14CE.  According to roman imperial theology he was the product of a divine conception conceived in the womb of his mother, Attia, by the god Apollo.  The title ‘Son of God’ occurred on coins and inscriptions throughout the empire.   So when Jesus’ followers spoke of Jesus as the “Son of God” they were not only saying he was especially related to God, but they were saying something treasonous.  The real Son of God was not Caesar and his world of so called Pax Romana the peace of Rome established by brute power, but Jesus the Lamb of God.  And that as they sometimes discovered meant they faced the lions or some other hideous fate.  Being a Christian meant you didn’t follow the party line but stood out and followed a different path and Way, a different “Son of God.”   The guide and authority in your life was not Caesar but Jesus.  We comfortable Christians living in the lap of consumerism need to hear this challenge very clearly.  For too long we have seen faith as just fitting in to our world and our society, Jesus the Son of God, calls us to stand out and be different.  We are called to show others in our community a new Way of living – the Jesus Way – because Jesus is the Son of God.

Messiah:  Messiah is a distinctly Jewish idea and had no great meaning in the Roman world.  However we all know the Greek word used to translate the word Messiah – it is Christos from which of course we get the title Christ.  I think many people are a little confused by name Christ and some think it must be Jesus’ family name because we often talk of Jesus as Jesus Christ.  We should correctly say Jesus the Christ.  Christ or Messiah was a title which meant the anointed one.  The original meaning was literally someone who was anointed with oil.  The Old Testament practice indicated that the person anointed had been singled out by God as having special gifts or functions.  In 1 Samuel 24:6 David refuses to let his men harm King Saul because he is the Lord’s anointed.  In Psalm 23 the Psalmist radically proclaims that God sees us all as special when he writes ‘you anoint my head with oil’ but in general thinking it was a way of signifying someone who was a special leader.  During the period of Jesus’ ministry Palestine was occupied and administered by Rome, and the Jewish people felt pretty much about the Romans as the Iraqi’s think of the Americans.  Be great to see them gone! Jewish people in Palestine longed to see the foreign occupying army gone, and this gave rise to the hopes of a Messiah, a new king anointed by God who would expel the Romans and restore national freedom.  Remember the comment by the two disciples trudging home along the Emmaus road after the death of Jesus.  Sad and disappointed they say to each other, “we hoped he would be the one who would liberate our nation Israel.”    Some expected a warrior messiah but as the Messiah Jesus was a very different kettle of fish.  Instead of kicking butt he spoke of reconciliation and building bridges.  Instead of imposing from the top down he worked from the bottom up, unleashing the power of compassion and grace.  Be your true self, be generous, respect all life, love God and love neighbour as yourself.   Jesus our Messiah was anointed by God to reshape life on earth, to bring true life and freedom and justice for all.  I think he would say to us,  ‘ahhh but you are all messiahs, all anointed, all special, each with your God given gifts.  Together let’s heal this earth, together let’s unleash to power of compassion and grace and love.’ 

The last title in the reading is Rabbi or Teacher and we’ll pick up on that next week. 

Dugald Wilson 19 Jan 2020

The Word – 5th January 2020

Readings: Gen 1:1-5, John 1:1-18.

5, 10,15,20,   and the next number is…..?     25

1,10,2,20,3,30,4,40,5,   and the next number is?  50

0,1,4,9,16,25,    and the next number is?    36

1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34   and the next number is?    55

INTHEBEGINNINGGO   and the next letter is  D

You can work out the answers because there is order in the pattern.  With a little thought (some find it easier than others) you can work out what comes next.  There is a rational order which makes sense.  The world of science revolves around the reality that the earth is full of observable pattern that we can comprehend.  Our bodies are formed of wonderfully connected patterns and relationships that enable us to be, and enable medical science to make some wonderful discoveries that enhance life.  The world of music is another example of how notes and sounds can be put into patterns that make sense to us and good music will evoke something deep within us.   Of course it’s not always this way.  There is lots of mystery out there, and there is no shortage of chaos and unpredictability, some of you know this  painfully well in your lives.   Sometimes the world feels like this:

21,8, 45, 217, 7, 69   a random collection of jumbled numbers or

XFHATMKWOZ   random letters that have no meaning or

4,4,4,4,4,4,4,4,4, sameness and repetition going nowhere.

One of the great conundrums of our time I think is this:  is there some sort of pattern which makes some sense or is it all random chance.  Is life on earth a confusing cacophony.  Is there really pattern, or is it all random meaningless chance.  And if there is some hints of order and pattern, is there something behind that that we might call God, or are the hints of order just meaningless flashes of coincidence that exist because sometimes if you roll the dice you get 3 sixes in a row. 

Our Christian faith proclaims of course that there is something more to life than coincidence and random chance.  From a single molecule to a strand of DNA, from a bird in flight to the slow movement of a glacier, there’s a logic, a meaning, an unfolding pattern to it all.   Like wood, reality has a grain.  I like the image of the braided river which is so relevant to us in this place.  Our rivers cross the Canterbury plains with channels of water intertwining, but the water travels in complex paths always towards the sea where it will find a home.  If we pay attention, creation has pattern and as we encounter the pattern we can discover something of its source and purpose.   Our scriptures are clear from the very opening lines there is a Creator who is creating.  It’s poetry of course, not text book science, but God carefully creates, light and darkness, and as we read further sea and dry land, creatures of all sorts, and eventually there is the emergence of the first human beings.  We continue to evolve and creation is not a fixed event.   The point of the biblical poetry is that it is not mere random scattering of scrabble letters on a scrabble board and hoping there might be some words formed, but the letters are somehow placed in recognisable ways that form words.  Gods hand, or God’s breath is shaping and calling life into being. Some myself included are happy to see creation as a revelation of God alongside other revelations like our scriptures.

Of course we often struggle to make sense of what is.  Scenes of grief and tragedy as fire rips through vast areas of our neighbouring country.  Senseless violence that destroys life.  I watch a cat slowly play with a bird that has been caught.  A close family member gets cancer and is gone within weeks.  There is mystery but I for one still see a power at work, patterns of meaning.  I for one sense God at work and a universe that is evolving with purpose, heading somewhere.  There is providence at play.

The gospel of John adds insight to our story.  Mirroring the creation stories John has a special word for the pattern and meaning written into the universe by God.  He calls it Logos which is translated in most English Bibles as ‘Word’.   In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was GodLogos is the rational principle or pattern through which life comes to be.  Logos is at work as the waters are separated and the different forms of life emerge in the seas and on the land.  It is if you like the guiding voice that calls life into being.  Logos is at work shaping the patterns of life,  establishing how everything is connected to everything else.  (This word logos by the way is a common word in our vocabulary.  Bio-logos or biology – the science of how natural life works and connects. Psycho-logos or psychology – the science of how minds work and observing mind patterns). 

But in an absolutely stunning statement John tells us The Word or Logos was made flesh in a man named Jesus.  In other words, if we want to know about the logic of the universe and what God is like we should pay attention to the Logos or logic that is found in the life of Jesus.  We should look at the patterns of life, the values, the wisdom found in the life of Jesus.  In his stories, in his wisdom, we will unlock the secrets of how things are supposed to be. 

In Jesus we discover this power at work in the universe we call God can be pictured metaphorically as a loving parent who enjoys connecting with their children.  We see Jesus often seeking to discern the leading and the wisdom of God.  In Jesus we see this power at work healing what is broken, restoring and forgiving.  We discover that we are connected to all life with no us and them, and all life is sacred.  We discover this power invites and rarely forces.  We see logos at work in the way he treated others, in his passion to stand up to injustice, in his concern to uphold human dignity especially for women and those downtrodden in some way.  The logic or patterns we find in Jesus lead us to walking a new path, the path of eternal or true life.

Of course there are other patterns to be found to live by.  We see around us the path of rivalry.  Under this logic the earth is a huge battlefield in which participants can survive only by competing, deceiving, or displacing their rivals.  In this universe the strongest and those who have some competitive advantage survive, the ruthless are rewarded and the meek and poor are crushed.  You fight for your own survival and conveniently forget about others.  We paddle our own boats and we hold tight to the rewards we gain.   It’s not the logos we see in Jesus.

Others live by the logic of compliance and keeping your head down.  Do what you are told, play by the rules, pay your dues, don’t rock the boat.  Taking risks, stepping out of the boat, trusting God or trusting the urgings of your own soul are all discouraged as irrational risky lunacy.  It’s not the logos we see in Jesus.

Another very common logic even within churches is to see the universe as a giant machine.  God has given us rules to live by, but God as a living presence to all intense and purposes is dead.   There is according to this logic no other power at work in our world, no presence of a living God.  Listening for God, inviting God to transform our living, praying or any spiritual practice is of low priority.  It is not the logos we see in Jesus.

The image of our great braided rivers in Canterbury is an image that speaks to our lives and to the life of earth.  They represent not some meaningless wandering but an interconnection of paths heading to the sea.  There is a power guiding shaping, leading.  In our own lives the creation stories of Genesis and of John offer us another alternative to the logic of rivalry, the logic of compliance, or the logic of meaningless mechanism.   They dare us to believe that the universe runs on the logic of God which is a logic of creativity, kindness, grace, and love.   It is a living alive logic seeking to transform your life and mine, and indeed to bring a new creation to birth as Paul reminds us often.   The universe is God’s creative project, filled with beauty, opportunity, challenge, and meaning.  As we step over the threshold into a New Year, a new decade, my plea is that you might take the logic of Jesus more seriously in your lives.  Trust in the power we see in Jesus.  Walk with renewed hope that Jesus is the Way.   Put more time into your spiritual practices and launch your boat afresh into the braided river that is full of life and adventure as it heads towards the sea. God is leading all of history somewhere larger and broader and better for all humanity.  We can be part of that through Jesus the Logos, the Word.

Dugald Wilson  5 January 2020   

Christmas Eve 2019

Christmas Eve Reflection 2019

In all sorts of ways we celebrate Christmas  with lights.  We put ligts around houses, on trees here in church we light candles.  Christmas isn’t Christmas without some lights Some of this makes more sense in the northern hemisphere where its winter and darkness comes early. 

Light is essential for us.  We need it to find our way.  Without light nothing grows.  We need it to see each other clearly and to see the beautiful world we live in.  Christians talk of Jesus as a light.  He helps us find our way in life.  He helps us discover what is important and true.  The Bible says that somehow the world is in darkness and needs a light to shine on what is good and true, a light to show us the way. The light of Jesus takes many forms.  In the darkness many of us doubt our value and worth.  When I call Jesus light in my life one part of that light is his teaching that each one of us precious and each one with a purpose.  It is a light that it opens our eyes to see the sacredness in others.  There will always be people I find it hard to get along with in this world, because we are all different, but the light of Jesus calls us to respect others and to look for the presence of God in others.  The light of Jesus helps us see in another way.  Every one of us is meant to be, called into being by God, uniquely crafted by God.  We need Gods light to build communities where people are valued and we treat one another with compassion.

As we look back over this past year we remember March 15th.   51 people killed in our city, families left without fathers and sons, many facing ongoing disability, and mental trauma.  The outpouring of compassion and the renewed effort to look over the fences that divide, the work put in to build bridges was a sign of the light.   ‘Them’ became ‘us’.  I trust you can reflect on ways you embraced the light. 

We all have this ability to look at others who are different and pull out the label ‘them’.     I like to put someone else down because it makes me feel better.  It gives me self worth to find fault in others.  The light of Jesus encourages us to see that we are all cracked in some way.  Every one of us is flawed.  We actually all know that deep down and we have to find a way to deal with that.  The us and them way is not the way of the light.  Put a box around them and load our stuff on them – it’s called transference and we all do it. 

But there is another way.  Bring the light of Jesus into the narrative.  This light invites us to tell a story of valuing ourselves and each other just as we are, cracks and all. We are valued, we are loved by God as cracked imperfect human beings.  Within that light we can begin the work of transforming and healing ourselves, and the communities of which we are part addressing issues like systematic inequality, our consumptive lifestyles, the crazy busyness, climate change. 

It begins when we begin to see with the light of Christ. 

If there is one sentence that sums up the light of Christ it is this great truth he gave us ….love God and your neighbour as you love yourself.  Respect God and respect your neighbour as you do yourself.  It is not easy but this is the light that will heal the darkness in our world.  This is the light that I celebrate in the birth of the Jesus the Son of God.

Making Space for God

Isaiah 2:1-5

    Ami, who was the first born in her family.  But now Mum was pregnant again and she was very excited..  The day arrived and she became the proud sister to a little brother.   Just a few days after the birth, with her brother back in the family home Ami made a request to her parents.  She wanted to be alone with her new brother in his room, with the door shut.  Her insistence about being alone with the baby had her parents worried.  What was Ami planning to do to him?  They had detected no hint of jealous behaviour, but was she planning some dastardly deed as a jealous sibling.  Thankfully they had installed an intercom system in anticipation of the baby’s arrival, so they agreed to their daughters wish knowing they could listen in, and if they heard the slightest indication that something untoward was happening they could be in the room in an instant.

   So Ami was allowed into the room alone and the door was carefully shut.  The parents raced to the intercom to listen in. They heard their daughter’s footsteps moving across the room, and imagined her standing over the bassinet, and then they heard her saying to her little two day old brother, “I’m Ami, and you can help me.  Mum and Dad tell me you are a gift from God.  Can you tell about God – I’ve almost forgotten.”

   Children often delightfully open us to realities about ourselves.  As often happens children reveal things about us.  Ami is telling us in her question to her young brother that we come from God, but somehow in the process of growing up, of learning about this world, we forget God.  In fact in our secular culture we forget about God easily.  God doesn’t get a mention on the news, God doesn’t feature in the Press, and God has been removed from just about every sphere of public life.   

   The strange thing is that even within church circles God is hidden away.  Outside the golden hour of church on Sunday God often doesn’t seem to exist.  I was telling our Session a week ago I have had three people talk to me recently about the reality that when we finish our worship services where we have prayed with God, sung hymns of praise to God, and herd the minister talk about God we leave the worship space and suddenly God is off the radar.  Jesus is never mentioned.  I wonder why that is.  We can talk weather, cricket, garden, children, even politics but God is hush hush.

  I have a suspicion it has something to do with the church we have been brought up in.  The culture in  that church kept God removed from everyday life.  God was a Sunday only God and dare I say it but a clergy mediated God.  Many people I think believed that because we are not very expert at spirituality or God stuff that they should leave it to the experts.  Not being expert meant you kept your mouth shut. Maybe if we have had some experiences that might be God related we also kept them quiet because we thought others would label us as kooky if we shared them. ]

Whatever the reason the consequences are the same.  God is kept locked away. Jesus is hidden and ignored in our discourse with one another.

     I have a simple plea this morning….. can we start talking about God?  Can we with Ami ask more often of each other….tell me about God.  Can we re-introduce God into our thinking and our conversations?  Can we live as if God matters to us instead of hiding God away?

   I ask this for two reasons.  Firstly I do find it odd that in my ministry most of my God conversations are with people who don’t go to church.  Especially in recent years I keep bumping into people who tell me they don’t go to church but they want to talk about God and their experiences of God.  Sometime they even say they’ve tried church but they didn’t find people willing to talk about God.  I’m simply puzzled why this might be so.  I talk with other ministers and I find this is not uncommon.   Sociologists tell us that people are more interested in God and spirituality than they used to be but they don’t make strong links between this interest and church and I guess the answer stares us in face.  But secondly I’m interested in some research by an American author Dorothy Butler Bass who took some time to research why some mainline churches like ours were growing in North America when most are slowly declining and dying.  We are not talking mega churches here but traditional mainline protestant churches.  If you boiled down her findings she discovered that the churches that were growing were churches where people talked about God.  God was alive in their midst in some way.  Pushed further she says that growing churches have people in them that commit time to nurturing the presence of God with spiritual practices. Healing practices like Reiki, prayer practices like meditation, intentional hospitality practices, regular testimony, working for justice, and people asking questions about how we should live as followers of Jesus.

  Remember  Isaiah’s prophecy we read this morning.  Come to the Lord’s house that we may learn of God’s ways, and seek guidance.  We learn most through conversation and sharing our conversation.  We learn most as we honestly engage with one another and encourage one another with our stories and our learnings.  We need to see God in each other, feel God in each other, touch God in each other, experience God in each other.  We need to walk together with God.   That’s why we have church, so we can be a community that talks about God and Jesus together, learn together and encourage each other.  We can help one another see God more clearly in our lives rather that walking with a hidden God.

    Often we are blind to God’s presence in our lives.   We simply don’t see the acting of God in our lives.  Two people can watch the same beautiful sunset, and only one may say “praise be to God for the wonderful gift of creation”.  Two people can hear a thrush singing as the dawn breaks but only one may ask so why is that bird singing with such praise?  Two people will see the same act of kindness but only one may say, “I see the presence of God in this action.”  Two people will suffer the same tragedy, but only one may sense the deeply everlasting arms of God.  God is alive in our world but sometimes we need the encouragement of another to help us see, hear, know.  And each of us can be the person that encourages another to see God and know God more truly. 

There is a practice I want to encourage you to engage in in this season of Advent.  I’m not asking you to recite the apostles creed to each other, or to go out on street corners and tell the world about Jesus, (but feel free).  What I am asking is that you might ask questions of each other.  While you have a cuppa after our service would you simply ask, ‘what did God whisper to you today at worship?’ or ‘what do you take away from worship?’  Another way of asking could be ‘what warmed your heart today in worship?’, or ‘what is sitting with you after our time together?’  I’m trying to think of questions that are not just head questions but open us to the possibility that God moves in all sorts of ways as we gather to worship.  It may be a line in a reading or hymn, it may be the music, it may be the address, or it may be the silence.  Often it will be something you feel inside and often it will be tentative and nudging.  Can we help one another be more aware of God whispering, encouraging.  Tell me about God I seem to have forgotten….. 

If you want to push this a step further I invite you to ask these questions of yourself, and not just after worship on Sunday but every day.  At the end of the day take just 5 minutes to ask yourself where did I meet God today, and what did God say to me.  Who did I just bump into out of the blue and what message from God did they bring me?  When did I feel my heart warmed?  When did I feel most alive and why?  There are other ways of engaging with this question.  I know some who regularly have a coffee with a friend and they ask these sorts of questions of each other. 

And a final word.  There will usually not be dramatic messages shared.  Most commonly I think God is whispering words of encouragement and love.  Be yourself, know my love, know you are precious. 

Most commonly God is simply nudging you and me into our true purpose.

Can we build practices into our lives that will help us rediscover God as a presence that is alive in our midst, encouraging us, and calling us into true life where we no longer need to be fearful of others, and where we can beat our swords into ploughshares and nurture life together..  Let us help one another discover God again.

Dugald Wilson

1 Dec 2019