Mind full or Mindful 02-12-2018

Mind Full or Mindful. [Advent 1 ~ Hope]  

Jeremiah 33: 14 – 16; Luke 21: 25 – 36; 1 Thessalonians 3: 9 – 13

I sat in the chiropractic surgery the other day pondering the texts for this Sunday. The wall in front of me was filled with ‘inspirational’ quotes. Some amused me, some were banal, but this one caught my imagination, “Mind full or Mindful”. In a way Jesus was saying something about this when he said, ‘Be on guard! Don’t let yourselves become occupied with too much feasting and drinking and with the worries of this life, that Day may suddenly catch you like a trap.’ He was speaking about his Second Coming. Jesus was reminding his disciples to be watchful.

Clearly Jesus understood that we get our minds so full of things: the things we hope for, the things we want to do, the things that disturb us, the things we should be doing, the things that worry us and the things that distract us. It is a fact that our minds are full of stuff – distractions, dreams, diversions and disturbances.  Reflect a little on our lives and how full they are. That is not wrong in itself. There is blessing in having things to do. There is blessing in being able to contribute. But the workload can be a curse. We all need time to stop and reflect. Why on earth do we have on the very first page of Holy Scripture the notion that the Seventh Day is a Day of Rest?  That Day of Rest is not simply about worshipping God, it is being mindful of who and whose we are. It is the opportunity to set aside the mind fullness of life – the life full of things – and be mindful of God, self and others.  Is it not a model to apply to our lives? For every six things we do we should pause and reflect on the seventh.  Have you ever found yourself to be so busy that you have either missed something or made a bad decision? 

We talk about the wisdom of hindsight. It is so much easier to see what should have happened after the event.  But surely the point is that if we want to act wisely we need to stop and reflect. To put it another way, if you want wisdom you need to listen. Wisdom is not about filling one’s life with knowledge, it is about pausing to listen to life, what others say, and what the Spirit says to you. 

Mindfulness is almost a cottage industry now. People write books and run seminars on the subject.  They are good and useful. But friends, the Scripture is full of examples of mindfulness: of men and women who heard the call to greater things. The actors in the drama of the birth of Christ are examples of mindfulness. Scripture tells us that the Sabbath Rest is important. We have a rule about it. Sadly we think the rule is about controlling us and robbing us of independence. What fools we are! We think that psychology has something to offer us when so much truth lies in the Scriptures that we ignore. The Sabbath Rest is the time to pause and to look back to God and look forward to the future – mindful of the deeper things of life. 

Now I have used some of these ‘mindful’ programmes and read and practised ‘mindfulness’, but I am mindful in the first instance of what Scripture teaches us about prayer, meditation and worship. Our texts today are about being mindful of what is going on and how it all fits into God’s grand scheme. Mindfulness results in increased peacefulness, health and alertness.

Let’s start with Jeremiah.  This prophet lived in a period some 600 years before the birth of Jesus. He lived in a time where there was reason for despair. Their enemies surrounded the people of God and the city was under siege.   There was every reason to believe that God was either too weak to protect them or so angry with them that he was punishing them. All seemed lost. And to cap it all Jeremiah was imprisoned by the leaders of his city for prophesying that the city and temple would fall. He was right and the city did fall. But Jeremiah could also see the day when God would forgive and restore the people to their land, city and temple. He completes this section with the words; the Lord is our righteousness [33: 16]. What power lies in these words for they contain a great truth. When we become mindful of God we start to enjoy the strength, beauty and love of God. God is our righteousness.

Jesus said something similar. His words are apt for today. When we see strange weather patterns, people confused and frightened by the power of the seas and winds then the Son of Man will appear. I quote the Luke 21: 25.  There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.” I am not going to pretend to know when Christ Jesus will return. And I am certainly not implying that the extreme weather conditions in Queensland and NSW this week, the dramatic melting of the north and south poles in the past few decades and the disastrous destabilization in nations around the world, resulting in millions of displaced and homeless people, are signs that the end is coming.  But I am saying that such times as these, are times for reflection, not simply action.  We need to empty our minds of prejudices, fears and the desire to keep things as they are and become mindful of what is happening and could happen.  Jesus’ charge to his disciples remains true for us today. ‘Be on guard!  Heed Jesus’ advice to ‘look, listen and reflect on what you see and hear’.  In short be mindful.  Avoid filling your minds with so much that there’s not time to be mindful.  Beware of being entrapped by the suddenness of disasters, for there are early warning signs [Lk 21: 35].

Paul’s letter to the Thessalonian church also helps us.  Paul, and his associates, like Timothy and the Thessalonians, were certainly mindful of each other. When in prison they prayed that the Thessalonians would keep the faith and grow in it. The Thessalonian church remembered to pray for Paul’s ministry and expressed a yearning to see him again [1 Thess 3:6ff].  In all the stress of persecution and imprisonment two things remain constant. All are mindful of each other and practised love. They were charged to keep practising the faith and to grow in holiness while they waited for the coming of Christ Jesus. 

The Christian life is a life of anticipation. It anticipates God’s future. It is a life of love and preparation. It is a life of devotion and goodness.  It is not a life of repetitive ritual and merely turning in circles.  It is a life of growth in love and holiness.

Hope is so important for us. There is a story of a leper colony in days gone by when medicine and our knowledge of leprosy was limited. The lepers were herded into a high walled compound and separated from family and society. They were lonely and abandoned men who could only prowl around their yard. Yet one of these men kept a gleam in his eye. He could smile, and if you offered him something, he could still say, thank you. The Sister in charge was keen to know the reason for this miracle. What kept him alive? She observed him. She noticed that each day he would go to a spot along the high wall and a face would appear. The face of small woman, full of smiles. Then the face would disappear. The man was always there to receive his smile. He would smile back. This was the food of his spirit. Then when the face would disappear he would turn to wait another twenty-four hours to begin afresh.

One day the Sister took them by surprise. He simply said, She is my wife. And after a pause he went on. Before I came here, she hid me and looked after me. A native doctor gave her an ointment for my face. She would cover my face but always left one spot for her lips. But it couldn’t last. They picked me up. She followed me here and when she comes to see me every day, I know that it is because of her that I can still go on living. [C Arcodia, Stories for Sharing 1991, p.75]

The Gospel reminds us of the people who were mindful of the times and of their hope in the coming of the Lord. Mary and Elizabeth, Zechariah and Simeon, Joseph, the Shepherds, and the Wisemen all longed for God to act. God’s past prophecies and the actions gave them hope for the future.  Hope fueled their faith and prepared them to see the Christ-child. ‘What oxygen is to the lungs, such is hope for the meaning of life.’ [Emil Brunner] 

*******

Peter C Whitaker, Leighmoor UC:  02/12/2018

pcwhitaker@icloud.com

 / www.leighmoorunitingchurch.org

Christ the King Sunday 25-11-2018

Christ the King Sunday

1 Samuel 8: 1- 22; John 18:33-37; Rev 1: 4b-8

Are there any advantages in being subject to another?

Would you vote for a republic? Or, would you keep the Sovereignty of the UK?  A question that may seem irrelevant to us, but I suspect that we too will face another referendum in the future. But this sermon is not about that. It is about the heart of the matter, that is, how we view our independence, whether collective or individual. Our independence is so important to us.  We might ask, ‘Is there any advantage in being subject to another?’ 

Being subjects of a monarch goes against the very notion of independence, individualism and democracy.  The problem lies in the simple dichotomy we construct: this either or. The reality is different. We can never be entirely independent of others. We cannot be an island unto ourselves. If it were possible we would become a desert island bereft of friends and support. On reflection there needs to be a balance between independence and subjection. There have been moments in my life where I have been dependent upon others.  There have been times when I have been subject to another’s leadership. This has not necessarily been a bad thing; in fact often it has been to my advantage and my growth enabling me to stand alone, which sounds contradictory. So the matter is very much a question of balance and what the outcomes of my independence or subjection might be.

This Sunday begs these questions. Our texts raise the questions about our views on our independence or our subjection to a sovereign. Our New Testament texts, or Christian Scriptures as some prefer to call them, speak of Jesus as King.  Pilate asks Jesus if he is the King of the Jews. The book of Revelation declares Jesus to be the ‘ruler of the kings of the earth’. A theme Handel beautifully expresses in his oratorio Messiah. Now in each instance the notion of Jesus as king is political.  Pilate wants to know if Jesus is king to ascertain whether Jesus constitutes a threat to the Roman Emperor.  A king other than Caesar would be making a counter claim for the people’s loyalty, unless that king was a vassal king. The writer of Revelation is explicitly making such a claim in stating that Jesus is the ruler of the kings of the earth’: ‘the alpha and the omega’ of life [Rev 1: 5,8]. Politics are at the heart of Jesus’ kingship.

For the people of Jesus’ time it was solely a choice between Caesar or Christ. This was a life and death choice. To whom are you giving your allegiance?  Today it is so easy for us because we are given the lie of secularism. That is, we are told that religion is a private affair so you can be loyal to your family, your tribe and your nation and still have your faith. Your faith is a private matter society tells us. Christ Jesus is not a private matter for one simple reason – to be Christian is to live the Christian life out in public. It is either King Jesus or yourself. It is either King Jesus or your country.  It doesn’t always follow that your country, albeit Christian, is Christian. Two examples of that dilemma in the Western World were Nazi Germany and Apartheid South Africa.  Both countries had and have strong Christian traditions. Both governments of the day used the Church and most Christians supported the political order of Nazism and Apartheid respectively. 

Kingship was not always the metaphor God used to self-describe. In the days of Samuel the governance of the land was through the prophet-priest. His sons were expected to take up the mantle of leadership, but they behaved badly. The people asked for a king. In Samuel’s dying days he was asked to be a kingmaker. Samuel was not happy. He saw the dangers that come with earthly kings. He understood that absolute power could so easily corrupt the king. By the way I would argue that the longevity of the English monarchy is due to the checks and balances placed on England’s kings, which began with the 13th Century Magna Carta. The Jews wanted a king. For Samuel the Law of God meant God alone was king. In the end God allowed the people to have their way. It is not without significance that their outstanding kings were those who were humble and godly in their practice.

This stuff about King Jesus is very important. Jesus does not deny that he is king. What he insists upon is that his kingship is not like that of the world’s kingships. He tells Pilate that if his kingship was like that of the world he would have an army and they would defend him. Jesus is not saying that his kingdom is not of the world, but that it is from heaven. His kingdom is directed by the truth, love and grace of God.  He doesn’t and won’t allow his followers to behave like the followers of earthly kings. And he goes on to define his work as a witness to the truth. Here the concept of truth goes beyond the notion that truth is making sure that what you say corresponds to what is. For Jesus truth is the essence of divinity. We read that Jesus comes full of grace and truth [Jn 1:8,14]; that Jesus is the truth [14:6]; and, that the Spirit is the Spirit of Truth [16:13]. 

What is the nature of this king Jesus?  This last Tuesday, during the weekly time set aside to pray, I sat here in the sanctuary area contemplating how I might share afresh this old theme of King Jesus.  I wondered how I could visaulize this concept.  The notion of Jesus the Crucified one as the king of all the rulers of the world seem so far from our comprehension. I sat and gazed at the lit candle. The flame burned strong and true. Its brightness spoke to me of God’s word of truth and slowly the scene before me provided the visualization tool I was searching for.  And my eyes rose to take in the Sanctuary cross dominating the scene. The Cross with its concealed light sends rays of light that bounce off the wall giving a glow to the cross. The candle flame and the Cross both give light. The light of the candle is caught up in the Cross. One cannot separate the light and the Cross because they are the same.  Their nature is to burn bright and give light. Both are self-sacrificing. The candle burns giving light but slowly diminishes. The Cross represents the self-giving love of Christ for us.  The candle and the cross are one metaphor: they speak of the self-less gift of love God has given us in King Jesus. The light represents God’s word of truth and power. The Cross reminds us of sacrifical redeeming love of God. (Look afresh at the Christ candle and Cross – the image of King Jesus.)

Jesus’ kingship was a life of submission to Love.  Love is God.  King Jesus was both subject to God and God with us.  This is Jesus’ kingship and we are asked to follow in his footsteps.  We are asked to submit our wills to his way of love where we will gain far more than whatever we may conceivably have lost in subjecting ourselves to this king – King Jesus.

“Dame Julian of Norwich tells us that Our Good Lord showed Himself to her in different ways.  One was His sweet incarnation, when He was born of His mother. Another was His blessed Passion, when He showed Himself dying on the Cross. Another time, she saw Him as if in a point, that is, His presence as Creator in everything, upholding it. At other times, He showed her Himself reigning as a king. But the way He showed Himself to her most often as a King reigning in the human soul. There he has fixed His resting place, and His royal city: and out of this worshipful throne He shall never rise, nor move His dwelling-place from it for ever.”  [F H Drinkwater, A37. P. 113]

At one of the settlements on a Red Indian reservation, where the Roman Catholic priest was able to visit the Catholics only rarely, a Government agent came as usual.  He had things to give away, waistcoats and shirts and tobacco.

To one old man, who was a Roman Catholic, the agent jokingly said, ‘Your priest doesn’t look after you, he doesn’t seem to have brought you any presents, does he?’

The old man pointed to his bare chest, ‘Can you see into my soul?’

‘No, I can’t,’ said the agent.

‘Well, if you could you would see the beautiful white garment that God gave me when the Blackrobe baptised me.  And every time he comes he washes it clean for me in the blood of Jesus Christ.  And when he gives me Communion, He puts Jesus Himself into my heart. Your tobacco soon goes off in smoke, and your shirts soon wear out, but the presents that the Blackrobe brings will stay with me and take me to heaven. [A44 p.133]  

I know to whom I am willing to subject myself.  I am happy to have a king to kneel before. The road may not be easy but the company is glorious and the future incredible.

*******

Peter C Whitaker, Leighmoor UC:  25/11/2018

pcwhitaker@icloud.com

 / www.leighmoorunitingchurch.org

Reflection on Psalm 16. 18-11-2018

A Reflection on Psalm 16 and the N.T.Book of Hebrews   – by Geoff Serpell

The16th Psalm reveals that fear can be overcome by trust in God. Being complete means happiness and contentment whilst we have the gift of a conscience to help our unswerving faith in God.

The lectionary reading from Hebrews requires us to keep stirring up- the church, having the example of God’s Son, making a supreme sacrifice, forgiving, and loving so we too may follow His great example, putting our tangible assets to one side and encouraging each other to have a stronger faith.

If we see the psalms as a book of worship for the Hebrew congregation of the day, then this `16th is a hymn. The request to be kept from harm in uncertain times is similar to the Lord’s Prayer, “Save me from the time of trial”.  Verse 7 is like a prayer, leading to contemplation, meditation and reading the scriptures.  

Beth Tanner, connected to the South Melbourne Baptist Church, comments on the psalm and reports a game her family plays with local and national news programming. They list all the things they were told to be afraid of in a 30 minute span. The average is from 6 to 8 per broadcast, ranging from races of persons, to scary multi-national terror groups, “to the dangers of sunscreen”. It is Mrs Tanner’s way of showing her children just how much of the media is designed to keep them fearful. The theme of the Psalm is an antidote to a culture of selling fear. The theme is trust God in the face of an uncertain future.

The person who has the characteristics in this psalm is “complete” and so is happy and content. Being content lies not in material assets, which are not going with us when we pass on, but rather being content with God and our relationship with God and our relationships with each other and our place in God’s Kingdom. This completeness provides us with strength and confidence to speak out and act against worldly unjust powers. We have also been gifted a conscience to keep us in the way of the Lord. Finally the psalm concludes with praise of what is to come in the future and that future is secure in God’s hands.

The kingdoms of the world are violent and unjust taking Saudi Arabia and Nigeria as two examples, so trust should rather be placed in God’s right hand where our complete selves are to be found.  

My New Bible commentary says that the NT book of Hebrews is a gold mine for those who want to dig deeply.  There is much treasure here to enrich our understanding of God and his purposes.  We are provided with insights into the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ and the nature of salvation. Of interest is to ask who wrote this book. Paul? Maybe not. Maybe Barnabas, the Levite from Cyprus. Another guess is Apollo, a highly educated Alexandrian Jew. It matters little who God chooses to write Hebrews.

The book was written to encourage Jewish converts, familiar with the Old Testament, to not revert to Judaism. The theme of the book is the absolute supremacy and sufficiency of Jesus Christ as revealer and mediator of God’s Grace. The promises and prophecies of the Old Testament are fulfilled in the ‘new covenant’ or New Testament, of which Christ is the mediator. Hebrews could be called the book of better things.

In our secular litigious society, there is the trend to make more and more laws. Rarely do we examine the heart of what is going on. This resembles the situation in Hebrews in which every priest stands day after day at his service offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. When the way is lost we want more laws and control, but these do not change the underlying situation.

The writer of Hebrews is clear that Jesus’ offering changes this dynamic for all time.  Now a new covenant will be made with people’s hearts and minds, and the Holy Spirit will institute and enable a whole new way of being and doing for God’s people.  In acts of love and Christlike service there is no law or legal impediment.

Jesus was to share fully in our humanity, to suffer and die, so that he might fulfil the high-priestly role of making atonement for our sins. Hebrews encourages us to endure in faith, hope and love whatever the struggles and difficulties we have. We are able to live out our faith to the full, and have a life of love in action.

The fact that  Christ, our great high priest,  has opened the curtain to the blocked access to the Most Holy Place in the Jewish temple, calls us to exercise our freedom- confidently drawing near to God in faith, continuing public witness to our faith, and encouraging one another through service and love.

Here is an analogy from cooking: if you don’t stir up the pot on the stove, the ingredients will settle to the bottom, stick to the pot and eventually transform into a mass of charred gunk. Stirring not only keeps the goodness from settling to the bottom but also serves to blend a dish that is savoury, delicious and nourishing.  Through love, we are required to stir up one another and encourage us all to do good works. We should keep the pot cooking and we need to be regular in worship.

In a gift book from our son Andrew, called “Australian Stories of Hope and Joy”, a chapter written by the Australian Rev. Gordon Moyes who was the Minister at Cheltenham Church of Christ years ago, relates the recovery of an World War two aeroplane from a crash site in Greenland. Years after the crash, a Bob Cardin planned to burrow 268 feet down through ice to remove the plane piece by piece using a meltdown generator pumping hot water to melt the ice about two feet per hour down a narrow shaft through the ice. Every piece of the plane was eventually removed and taken to USA for restoration. The world’s only P-38 was flying again.

Bob was an example of what the New Testament calls a ‘witness’. A witness is someone like Bob, who was there and who can testify to what he saw and heard, telling a story of rescue, restoration, renewal and rejoicing. His message in its essential parts was similar to that of Christians making their witness to Jesus Christ.

Rescue. The whole point of the coming of Jesus was an expression of God’s love for a lost humanity. Outside of God, each of us is lost. We need to be rescued.

Recovery. Once found, we must be brought back from the icy grip of death. As the plane was entombed without any future, so we are dead in sin until we hear a voice calling us to come out of the tomb, and we are raised to walk in new life.

Restoration. That recovery leads to our restoration. Paul wrote, ‘If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.’

Rejoicing. We have no alternative but to witness to this restoration of our true nature. We have been rescued, recovered, restored! The outcome of all witness is praise to God. The witness is always rejoicing.

When such a person witnesses to the life-changing power of Jesus Christ, others want to receive it and believe it too.

Finally, from the 2018 Friendship Book, for 31 October there is a reference to the Australian Coat of Arms. Being a book published in Britain, they know about the emu and kangaroo on it.

Both the emu and the kangaroo can cover ground rapidly when moving forward, but have more difficulty backing up.

The notion was that Australia, like the animals on its Coat of Arms, should always be striding forward.

Sometimes in life we have to move backwards but, as often as we can, let’s make it a run up to a great bound forward.

In the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Giving All – Armistice 11-11-2018

Giving All ~ Armistice.

Psalm 127;  Mark 12: 38 – 44

At the 11th hour on the 11th of the 11th month in 1918 the armistice agreement to end the fight was signed in the railway carriage of the Commander of the Allied forces in the forest of Compiègne. The death toll was enormous. It is estimated that there were some 15-19 million military and civilian deaths and about 23 million wounded. 62 thousand Australian armed personnel died. It was supposed to be the war that would end all wars, but it didn’t.

Armistice or Remembrance Day is symbolised by the red poppy. And the reasons for this lie in a mixture of biology and personal history. In May 1915 Lt. Alexis Helmer, a Canadian Artillery officer was killed. His friend, Major Dr John McCrae, was asked to conduct his funeral as the chaplain was engaged elsewhere. We are not sure how soon after the funeral, but some say that evening, John McCrae sat down and penned a poem as he reflected on the day’s events and the loss of his friend. What inspired McCrae was a phenomenon that had emerged during the war. The common red corn poppy is found in Europe, North America, Asia and is a native of the Mediterranean region. The seed only germinates when is exposed to light. So the seed can lie dormant in the earth for many, many years. As the trenches, ordinance and traffic churned up the fields of Flanders the seeds came to light. What they experienced was that the poppies germinated and dotted the graves and battleground with red flowers. It was thought that the blood of soldiers fallen into the soil had redden the flowers, but it was the biological nature of the plant. It is thought that the sight of poppies and the death of his friend, whom he had buried, inspired him to right the poem, In Flanders Fields. The poem begins with these words; 

In Flanders’ fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
and ends with 

If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders’ Fields.

After the war the poppies and poem were remembered. A French woman, Anna Guerin, brought the poppies made from silk and sold them in Britain to raise funds. A US academic, Moira Michael, bought one and having read McCrae’s In Flanders Fields, vowed to wear one in remembrance of the war. In 1919 at an international gathering of YMCA secretaries Moira raised the importance of the poem and the poppies. Out of that discussion arose movement to sell the poppies both as a fundraiser for returned wounded soldiers and as a remembrance of the dead. Within a short time the selling and wearing of red poppies in remembrance of the dead soldiers became a lasting tradition.

Today we remember the Australian men and women who went to war motivated by their faith in God, King and Country, and filled with the values of duty, loyalty and commitment. The Australians were remembered for their bravery and their mateship.   They gave their all, and for some it was their life.

Shirley Edwards and Geoff Serpell supplied some helpful information for us. Shirley’s father, John Francis Dunn was an armourer in the 1st Australian Flying Squadron and went into action in 1916. His commanding officer was the first trained Australian pilot, Lt. Richard Williams who in time became the first Chief of Air Service of the RAAF, which was formed in 1921.

Geoff shared information that he had gathered from a visit Villers-Bretonneux.  The Australians became known as ‘Diggers’ a term they used themselves. It is a term that was used in the 1800s and came to be used of the Australian service men in the Anglo-Boer war, because many of them were miners and they used their mining skills to the advantage of military engagements.

There is no better example of the impact made by the Diggers during World War 1 than in the small French village of Villers-Bretonneux, about 16 kilometres from the strategic regional centre of Amiens. It was here on Anzac Day 1918 that the Australians recaptured the village whilst halting the rampaging German advance. Villers was liberated and it was the last Germans’ throw of the dice. It went on the defensive after this reverse and the Digger had played a substantial role in turning the tide.

The people of Villers-Bretonneux have never forgotten the Australians’ role in saving their town. A plaque outside the Town Hall attests to the Australian Army”…From a population of just 4.5 million people, 313000 volunteered to serve during the war.65% of these became casualties.’ Down the road from the Town hall is Rue Victoria and the local primary school. It is named the Victoria Primary School in honour of the schoolchildren of the Australian state of Victoria who donated their pennies to help rebuild it after it was completely destroyed in March and April 1918. It was rebuilt in 1927.

In that school’s quadrangle is a large sign with letters half a metre high, in English, and they read: “DO NOT FORGET AUSTRALIA”. A plaque on the front wall says in part: “May the memory of great sacrifice in a common cause keep France and Australia together forever in bonds of friendship and mutual esteem.” 

Above the classrooms the school treasures an Anzac museum, containing a fine collection of memorabilia, artefacts and photos commemorating Australia’s role in liberation of their town.

We will remember these men and women because of the legacy they left us of hope, courage, honour and mateship as they struggled through extreme adversity. Many died and many more returned physically and mentally scarred.  Our remembrance does not honour the warring, because there is no justification for war. All wars are caused by our failure to work through our differences, our prejudices, our self-interest and greed. Foolish and selfish people bring about war.

We remember them for their endurance and nobility in the face of such suffering. Adversity brings out the worst and best in us. The adversity of WW1 left us with a tradition honour in adversity, hope in the face of defeat, and compassion for our mates.

We remember them, not to honour war, but to acknowledge their sacrifice. I came across a reflection of someone who said, we enjoy the freedom of the press because of peoples’ sacrifice like that of our armed service personnel. But having said that we should not think that the sacrifice of these soldiers lives is like the sacrifice of Jesus.  Our soldiers died as victims of evil. Jesus died as the victor of evil, for he destroyed its ultimate power by love. Our soldiers’ death did not result in victory. It was the death of the enemy that gave us victory.   Jesus’ death changed the power of evil for both friend and foe. The soldiers did go to sacrifice their lives. Jesus did go and sacrifice his life.

Finally a word about our reading.  Jesus commends the Widow not for her gift, but what her gift represented.  She was poor. She gave out of her poverty, whereas others had given out of their wealth. In reality most of us give to charity and the church out of our excess wealth. The widow’s gift was so small, yet it was so great because she gave all she had to live on. This would have been the money that bought her the food to live on. There is another sense of the Greek that scholars point out. It can be interpreted not simply as that she gave all she had for living, but she gave her life to God. We understand that. The widow’s giving is reminiscent of the disciples’ leaving their nets and tax tables – their living – and following Jesus. The widow’s giving calls to mind Jesus’ words about taking up our cross and following him. The widow’s giving all reminds us of Jesus’ words to the disciples that he has not come to lord it over others, but give his life as a ransom for all.

I believe our armed personnel went to war not intending to die but they did intend to stand against the enemy. For many their all was taken from them. We must remember them for all they gave. We must also remember that war is our shame.

*******

Peter C Whitaker, Leighmoor UC:  11/11/2018

pcwhitaker@icloud.com

 / www.leighmoorunitingchurch.org

IN FLANDERS FIELDS

In Flanders’ fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place: and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders’ fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe;
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high,
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow  
In Flanders’ Fields.

Two Commandments 04-11-2018

Two Commandments = One. 

Mark 12: 28 – 34;  1 John 4: 7 – 21

Can Christianity be reduced to a simple principle?

The 1961 musical, the Carnival, told us that ‘love makes the world go round’.  The popular song has been sung by Perry Como, Deon Jackson, Paul Anka, Jennifer Lopez, Madonna to name a few. But they were really singing about romantic love.  Whatever we mean by this word ‘love’ it has something to do with its root meaning: a strong feeling of affection whether sexual or platonic; for things or for people.  

He who loves not, lives not. Ramón Lull

Love is the key to the entire therapeutic program of the modern psychiatric hospital. 

Karl A Menninger.

Last week we focused on faith as one of the key components of our humanity. This week it is love.  Our reading from Mark shows Jesus being questioned by a Scribe. Jesus had already responded to the Sadducees with their questions on tax and the resurrection, which were designed to trap him [Mk 12: 13,14,18]. Jesus’ wise answers silenced the Sadducees. A Scribe observing Jesus’ artful responses comes up and asks, ‘which is the first commandment?’  Jesus answers with the Shema and the first and second commandments.

The Shema is the Hebrew for  ‘hear, O Israel’.  It is the call to the people to hear God. Each day a devout religious Jew will recite the Shema and the first commandment. It is found in Deuteronomy 6 and it is followed by the Great commandment.

Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone.  5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.  6 Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart.  7 Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.  8 Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead,  9 and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

There is no doubt that the Shema and the Commandment to love God is of paramount importance to the Hebrew people. It was so important to keep in mind that God is One and that Israel was to love God that the people were to have these words before their eyes as they moved about. Some took to literally wearing on their heads and arms small leather boxes containing these Scripture passages.

Now the verb ‘to love’ used in Deuteronomy is a personal word that is used for family relationships. It evokes the sense of desiring God and enjoying God.  Loving God involves the whole of one’s being – 

one’s heart: the seat of emotions; 

one’s soul: the core of one’s being; and 

with all our strength: the essence of our will.  

The verb ‘to love’ implies an intimacy. The language used speaks of an inter-personal relationship. It is a profoundly awesome statement, because we are commanded to enter an intimate relationship with this awesome creator God. This level of intimacy is made clear just a few verses later in Deuteronomy 7 where we read in verse 7.

It was not because you were more numerous than any other people that the LORD set his heart on you and chose you—for you were the fewest of all peoples.  8 It was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath that he swore to your ancestors.

How … how amazing is that? God the Creator loved them and chose them for a special task. That’s extraordinary! That’s the incredible part of our faith, not that God exists. They were to love God because God loved them first and made a covenant to bless them so they would be a blessing to others [Gen 12: 3].  The 1st Letter of John 4:19 says exactly same thing – we love because he first loved us.

Jesus has answered this Scribe with an answer that goes to the very root of the Jewish faith – God is One and we must love God with all of our being.  But Jesus adds the second great commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ Did you know that this command is only mentioned once in the whole of the OT in Leviticus 19:18.  The ‘neighbour’ referred to their fellow Jews and all aliens in the land. It is a social law governing the prohibition on killing, adultery, and stealing [Deut 5: 17-19]. It formed the basis for trading honestly [Deut 25: 13-16]. And it underpinned all rules and laws that addressed the poor, the marginalised and the exploited so that they would treat each other with dignity [Lev 19: 9-16]. The Scribe sees the truth of Jesus’ teaching and he earns the affirmative comment from Jesus; “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

Here we have a window into the heart of God and the intimacy between seeker and God. It is a truly beautiful picture of Jesus and the Scribe – a moment of truth where common minds met.

We will understand more if we understand the background. The Scribes were interpreters of the Law of God both the written and oral law. The Sadducees were did not accept the oral law neither did they believe in the resurrection of the dead. Scribes and Sadducees were not on the same page. Now in the Scribal schools of interpretation there were two approaches to the Law of God. On the one hand there were Scribes who wanted to expand the Law to encompass all aspects of life to ensure obedience to God. On the other there were Scribes seeking to simplify the Law.  Some kept expanding the Law and others wanted to reduce the Law. Jesus clearly wants to reduce the Law too.

There is a story of a proselyte coming to the great Rabbi Hillel and asking him to teach him the whole law while he stood on one leg. Hillel answered, “What you hate for yourself do not do to your neighbour. This is the whole law, the rest is commentary. Go and learn.” 

Simon the Righteous had said, “On three things stands the world – on the law, on the worship and on works of love”.

Sammlai had taught that Moses received 613 rules on Mount Sinai

David came and reduced the 613 to 11 in Psalm 15.

Isaiah reduced the 11 to 6 in Isaiah 33:15.

Micah reduced the 6 to 3 in Micah 6:8.

Isaiah again reduced the 3 to 2 in Isaiah 66:1.

Habakkuk reduced them all to one – The just shall live by faith [Hab 2:4].

Augustine much later said, “Love God and do what you like”.

Jesus was the first who put the two Great commandments together  – Love God and love your neighbour.  This was the religion Jesus taught – love God and love others.

The story of Two Brothers helps us understand how we might live out this commandment. 

“Two brothers worked together on a family farm. One was unmarried and the other married with children. They shared equally the fruit of their labour – produce and profit. But one day the single brother said to himself, You know, it’s not right that we should share the produce equally, and the profit too.  After all, I’m all alone, just by myself and my needs are simple. But there is my poor brother with a wife and all those children.

So in the middle of the night he took a sack of grain from his bin, crept over the field between their houses and dumped it into his brother’s bin.

Meanwhile, unknown to him, his brother had the same thought. He said to himself, It is not right that we should share produce and profit equally.  After all, I am married;  I have my wife to look after me and my children for years to come. But my brother has no one, and no one to take care of his future.

So he too, in the middle of the night, began taking a sack of grain from his bin and sneaking across the field to deposit it in his brother’s bin.

And both were puzzled for years as to why their supply did not dwindle. Well, one night it just so happened that they both set out for each other’s barn at the same time. In the dark they bumped into each other carrying their sacks. Each was startled, but then it slowly dawned on them what was happening. They dropped their sacks and embraced one another.

Suddenly the dark sky lit up and a voice from heaven spoke, “Here at last is the place where I will build my Temple. For where brothers meet in love, there my Presence shall dwell.”

Every time we love another with compassion and selflessness we create another building block for God’s future world.

*******

Peter C Whitaker, Leighmoor UC:  28/10/2018

pcwhitaker@icloud.com

 / www.leighmoorunitingchurch.org

Your Faith has made you well 28-10-2018

Your Faith has made you well. 

Romans 12: 3 – 8;  Mark 10: 46 – 52

Is it possible that reason could replace faith? 

Faith is so important to us.  Imagine a life without faith – no friends, no freedom, no hope! Yes, that is what it would be like if we didn’t have faith. Faith makes it possible to have friends, freedom and hope.

Let me explain.  Every time we get into a motor vehicle, or an aeroplane we do so trusting that others using the road and airways will behave responsibly. Because our faith is generally rewarded we tend to take such steps without thinking. Your faith in road users tells you that the car hurtling down the road towards you will keep to their side of the road.

When we meet someone for the first time we accept them with a degree of faith. We have learnt to have faith in others because we have experienced the faithfulness of parents and significant adults. They have not only been faithful towards us but have put their faith in us entrusting us with responsibility.  I know that sometimes things are not perfect in our upbringing and faith is broken down. But all this goes to show is how important faith for living. All our relationships are dependent upon faith and faith maintains them faith. And it is this faith that leads to our maturity and freedom. Faith is one of the key components in our humanity that allows us grow and become, and live with hope. 

Faith in tomorrow helps us find solutions to life. Faith helps us take the next step when we can’t see the staircase. An inspiring example of this are the INVICTAS Games where armed service persons, who have suffered loss of limbs and great mental stress, have competed in a spirit of true courage an mateship. 

I firmly believe that God created us this way.  I believe that God has created us with three key components that are the essence of relationships and the root cause of our freedom. Paul emphasises this in Corinthians 13 where he says that there are ‘faith, hope and love and the greatest of these is love’.  [1Cor. 13:13]  Today I want to talk about faith.  I was inspired to do so when I read the Gospel reading set for today regarding Bartimaeus.  Jesus said to him, Go; your faith has made you well.”  Wow!  His faith had made him well.  How big is that! Jesus’ statement tells us so much about faith.

Now the Bible has a lot to say about faith and the part it plays in our lives. I am going to look briefly at some aspects and then come back to the Bartimaeus story. 

Faith as a gift.  Faith I have argued is part of our humanity. It is one of the key components along with hope and love that make us human.  It is God’s gift to us.  Early Christian thinkers understood this. But they were equally concerned that we exercise this gift with humility, lest we think that it is our faith that saves us. Ephesians makes it clear that we are saved by faith, which is a gift of God [Eph 2: 8-9]. In chapter 3:12 we find the statement reiterated in the words through faith in him.  But a growing number of scholars are saying that our English translations haven’t got it right. The Greek genitive applies to Jesus. That means it should read through the faith of him. My reading of Ephesians convinces me that it is the faithfulness of Jesus that saves us just as we sang about God’s faithfulness at the beginning of the service (TiS 154 Great is your faithfulness). 

So we all have the gift of faith in us. It is how God the Creator made us. So the following 

apocryphal story of Jesus arriving in heaven may help us see the two sides of faith -our faith in God and God’s faith in us. 

The angels greeted and praised Jesus when he arrived in heaven after the Crucifixion and Resurrection. They asked what he had done to ensure that his mighty work would not be forgotten. Jesus replied, ‘I have asked Peter, John, James and my followers to tell others.’  The angels asked again, ‘What have you done to ensure that they will do that?’ Jesus replied, ‘ I have asked Peter, John, James and my followers to tell others.’ But the angels persisted. They said, ‘You know Lord what humankind is like. They forget and they fail you. What have you done to ensure that your good work will never be forgotten?’  Jesus replied, ‘ I have asked Peter, John, James and my followers to tell others.’ 

Increase our faith.  It is not unnatural for us to ask God to increase our faith.  In a sense one could take the metaphor of faith as a shield and say that there are times when our shield needs maintenance. 

I have always taken great comfort from the story of the father who brought his epileptic son to Jesus. Jesus wasn’t present. He was up the mountain of Transfiguration. So the father asked the disciples to pray for the boy.  But their prayers seemed ineffective.  When Jesus returned the boy went into convulsions again.  The father explained to Jesus what had happened. Jesus’ response was telling. He spoke of the insufficiency of the disciple’s faith. You see the disciples were not perfect. They had lots to learn. May be their greatness lay in their willingness to learn. The father turned again to Jesus and asked him to help. Jesus replied, ‘that everything is possible for the person who has faith’ [9:23]. And there we have that thought again. Jesus is saying you have faith exercise it. 

The father of the boy plaintively cries out; “I do have faith, but not enough. Help me to have more.” [9:24] So often I have cried out to our Lord with the same prayer, ‘help me to have more faith’. Jesus healed the boy. Not surprisingly we find in Luke the disciples asking Jesus to increase their faith [17:5]. I imagine it is the prayer we all pray from time to time. But in reality it is practising our prayer for more faith that matters.

Bruce Larson tells a story in his book Edge of Adventure.  It’s about a letter found in a baking-power tin wired to the handle of an old pump, which offered the only hope of drinking water on a very long and seldom-used trail cross the Amargosa Desert in USA; the letter read as follows:

This pump is alright as of Jun 1932. I put the new leather suck washer into it, and it ought to last several years. But this leather washer dries out and the pump has got to be primed. Under the white rock, I buried a bottle of water. There’s enough water in it to prime the pump, but not if you drink some first. Pour in about one quarter, and let her soak to wet the leather. Then pour in the rest, medium fast and pump like crazy. You’ll get water. The well has never run dry. Have faith. When you get watered up, fill the bottle and put it back like you found it for the next feller.

Signed Desert Pete.

P.S. Don’t go drink up the water first. Prime the pump with it first, and you’ll get all you can hold.”

Faith making us well.  So we come back to Bartimaeus.  There he is at the gates of Jericho.  Jesus passes by. The crowd is pressing upon the space. Bartimaeus learns that the crowd is gathering to see Jesus.  When he learns this he shouts out, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.’ [Mk 10:47]  Now many of the people scolded him. Bartimaeus was a nobody. He was just a blind beggar.  He had no social esteem.  But to Jesus he was important. Jesus trusted him.

Let us remember that Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem. On the road the disciples had been arguing about who would get the important seats in heaven. It all started with John and James asking Jesus for the best seats [10:35-45]. The disciples still hadn’t fully understood. They had slipped back into the way the world thinks. But before them in contrast is Bartimaeus who in his need cries out to Jesus and identifies him as the Son of David – a messianic title. Bartimaeus’ faith is generating hope in him.  He cries out loudly, above the noise of the crowd. Those who hear want to silence him. Jesus hears him and wants to heal him. Jesus calls him and Bartimaeus comes to him.  He leaves his cloak behind. The cloak was laid out to catch what coins were thrown his way. So in leaving his cloak Bartimaeus leaves his income source. He goes to Jesus. Jesus asks him what he wants. Bartimaeus says he wants his sight. Jesus says, ‘Go, your faith has made you well.’ [10:52] Bartimaeus’ faith has brought him to Jesus. Bartimaeus comes to Jesus in spite of many telling him to stay where he was. The gift of faith has been exercised by Bartimaeus. He trusts Jesus and he is healed. Healed, Bartimaeus follows Jesus. Can you see how that gift of faith, can make us well too?

Is our faith sufficient to shield us from attacks on us? Is our faith deep enough to allow God to heal us, or do we need to pray for our faith to be increased? Let us sing the song, Have faith in God [Srce 400], by Geoff Bullock. 

Have faith in God,

let your hope rest on the

faith he has place in your heart.

Never give up,

Never let go of the

faith he has place in your heart.

*******

Peter C Whitaker, Leighmoor UC:  28/10/2018

pcwhitaker@icloud.com

 / www.leighmoorunitingchurch.org

The Armour of God 21-10-2018

The Armour of God. [Eph. 6]

Ephesians  6: 10 – 24

What does the story of Noah share with the Armour of God in Ephesians? 

The armour of God in Ephesians like the story of Noah has been well used in children’s ministry.  Boys love the swords and shields. Children can place the animals in the Ark. They both provide tactile interactive lessons. All very good, isn’t it? I pride myself on having a competency in children’s education. When I was the General Editor of a National primary school religious education programme I edited out these texts in the lower levels and reserved them for grade six.  Why?

You see both Noah and the Armour of God are adult texts with very sophisticated thoughts. What do they have in common?  In the first place they deal with evil at an advanced level.   Secondly they both encourage us to stand against the evil. 

Evil is addressed in both texts, albeit in different ways. The armour of God’s description in Ephesians is preceded with the reason for it.  We are standing against evil in all its power: the forces of evil, principalities, heavenly beings and demonic powers.   Now all this language has been purged from our conversation in most Western churches. We don’t talk about the Devil, or demons, or spiritual powers. We Westerners know that reason tells us all we need to know.  Therefore we are the one’s who do the evil. That is, any evil is purely a human activity. We just need to educate ourselves and set some rules and all will be fine. It has nothing to do with the demonic in life. But is it really as easy as all that?

Now I am not asking you to believe in the Devil, or demons, or cosmic forces of evil, if that is what you don’t believe in. Personally I keep an open mind on the question as to whether there is or not a Devil, or demons or powers of evil in the world. I am asking to consider something about the nature of evil. Let us consider what happens in our institutions, community structures and workplaces. You join a company, a club and even a church and you find that there is a spirit or atmosphere in the place. I recall my brother, who claims not to be a Christian, when entering the Biblical research centre where I was working remarking in the entrance hall, “This place feels so peaceful!” He immediately on entering the building felt the atmosphere.  There was something there that was more than the sum of the individual people in it. The research centre had its own spirit. You say, ‘that’s absurd’.  Have you never been to a place and felt something about the place, the environment.  You enter a place and something about it makes you want to respond in a certain way. My brother felt that on that occasion. We talk of friendly churches. Of course individuals determine the friendliness, but the friendliness can reach a level that is bigger than the individuals. The notion that something can be greater than the sum of its parts is as old as Aristotle and we call it synergy.  Take a beam that is 6×4 (150x100mm). A single beam of that size will not be as strong as a laminated beam of the same size. Synergy does not only apply to the physical world but human communities. 

When reading for my undergraduate degree in divinity I learnt that institutions and systems have a force that can be demonic.  That is, the culture of a place affects those who enter that culture driving and controlling the behaviour. Create a culture of ‘making the most money as you can’ which is rewarded by individual bonuses, and don’t be surprised to find that the outcome means those in power serve their own interests before those they serve. The evolving culture will be characterised by greed and self-interest. Correspondingly values like trust and integrity will slip. As these trends grow and become integrated into the institution they drive the group. Those entering the institution will be caught up in it. If a new person protests they will be put aside. Most who enter will take on the culture. That is what I see as a form of the demonic, where the culture drives us down a pathway of self-interest at the expense of others.  This is what has happened, I believe, with our banking and financial institutions. This is what happens in politics.  A culture becomes evil when it sets aside respect and justice for others. Evil is present when injustice and elitism, truth and unity are compromised. When the collective wrong-doing becomes greater than the sum of the individuals then the demonic has entered and toxicity emerges. The forces flowing from these cultures are powerful.  This is what Paul is writing about. And we ignore this wisdom at our peril. It is not easy to combat such evil. 

[I could go on to talk about how criminalising refugees leads naturally to showing less compassion to these displaced people. Examples abound in history of how we characterise a people so that we can empower ourselves and the total force of this leads to discrimination, injustice.  Apartheid, Nazism, Sexism, Chauvinism all exhibit the same characteristic and have become toxic and demonic forces that gather people up into them.]

Now the only way we can combat such forces is by standing against them. We need to stand together– shoulder-to-shoulder as the ancient soldiers did.  On the battlefield the soldiers would stand shoulder to shoulder making a wall of defence with their shields and weapons. This is why we are encouraged to put on the armour of God.  The military image of this passage should not distract us from the truth here. The Armour of God reflects the spiritual nature of the warfare.  There is the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of proclamation, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword, which is the Word of God.  And above all we are to pray. We are to pray together sustaining our unity and praying to speak with boldness.  Notice how the first Christians prayed for boldness  [6: 18-20; cf. Acts 4: 26-28]. Our attention was drawn to this last week when we heard the story of Pastor Christian Reger. Notice too that the military equipment symbolises the very things that make for peace and harmony, unity and well-being: truth, rightness, faith, forgiveness and God’s Word. 

I want to tell you about Peter Norman, because his stand illustrates what Ephesians is teaching. You may not have heard of him. Peter Norman was born in Coburg, Melbourne, in 1942 and was raised in a Salvation Army home. He died in 2006. He was an Australian Olympian at the 1968 Olympics and he is known for the stand he took.

He did very well and earned a silver medal in the 200m final at the 1968 Mexico Olympics. His time of 20.06 seconds still stands as an Australian record.  That alone would make him stand out, but … !  At the 1968 Olympics an iconic Olympian moment involving Norman took place. After the final, Carlos and Smith had told Norman what they were planning to do during the ceremony. As journalist Martin Flanagan wrote: “They asked Norman if he believed in human rights. He said he did. They asked him if he believed in God. Norman, who came from a Salvation Army background, said he believed strongly in God. We knew that what we were going to do was far greater than any athletic feat. He said, ‘I’ll stand with you’. Carlos said he expected to see fear in Norman’s eyes. He didn’t; ‘I saw love.’ On the way to the medal ceremony, Norman saw the OPHR [Olympic Project for Human Rights] badge being worn by Paul Hoffman, a white member of the US Rowing Team, and asked him if he could wear it. It was Norman who suggested that Smith and Carlos share the black gloves used in their salute, after Carlos left his pair at the Olympic Village. This is the reason for Smith raising his right fist, while Carlos raised his left.

Standing in solidarity with the two black USA Olympians Norman was part of one the iconic moments in Olympian history. The US Olympic Committee sent Smith and Carlos home from Mexico in disgrace, while Norman also suffered a backlash for his role in the Black Power salute. Norman, in spite of maintaining his fitness, was also sidelined by a racist ‘keep Australia white’ culture. His standing shoulder to shoulder earned him the censure of the Australian Olympic Committee and the nation. The AO Committee denied any sense of blacklisting Norman.  However what happened says it all.

In 2006 Peter Norman died.  Tommie Smith and John Carlos gave eulogies at his funeral and the date of his funeral, the 9th October 2006, was declared a Peter Norman Day by the US Track & Field Federation in the USA.  Australia first recognised Peter Norman on 11th October 2012 when the Australian House of Representatives passed a motion apologising to Peter Norman’s family and recognised what he stood for. Only after the government’s apology did the Australian Olympic Committee bestow the Order of Merit on Norman.  In 2019 a statue of Peter Norman will be erected in Melbourne.   The 9th October is also Peter Norman Day in Australia now.

His daughter Janita said the family had always taken enormous pride in Norman’s actions. “My father was someone who held strong beliefs and who spoke his mind and yet it’s the image of him standing there silently on the podium that has made such an impact on our lives,” she said. “But we are also grateful that his athletic achievement is recognised.”  Australian Athletics also announced recently that distance runner Eloise Wellings was the inaugural recipient of the Peter Norman Humanitarian Award. 

Peter Norman stood by his faith and stood for the truth of the Gospel – for harmony and justice. He paid a price, but he has is one of the important persons is the battle against racism.

*******

Peter C Whitaker, Leighmoor UC:  21/10/2018

pcwhitaker@icloud.com

 / www.leighmoorunitingchurch.org

Two Ways to Live 14-10-2018

Two Ways To Live. [Eph. 5]  

Ephesians  4: 17 – 5: 21

When is imitation not imitation? 

We live in a very divided world?  There is a fundamental divide between good and evil: God and humankind. That means we are faced with choosing between one way or another. Jesus said that one couldn’t serve both money and God [Mt 5: 24].   In the book of Revelation our Lord spurns those who are lukewarm: neither hot nor cold [Rev 3: 15-17].    

Divisions rack humanity. Divisions between rich and poor, homeless and housed, refugee and citizen undermine peace. Ideological differences threaten our harmony and progress and not least concerning energy resources and climate change. Our confidence has been shattered by the greed and selfishness exhibited by our banking and financial institutions. Morality seems to have slipped to a low level of selfishness infecting all walks of life. We live in a world that challenges us to decide how we want to live our lives. Basically do we want to serve our own interests or are we going to serve the interests of the community and our environment?  There are two-ways to live. We can live by the law of loving our neighbour as ourselves or just loving ourselves and what is ours. Indifference, ignorance or luke warmness is not a moral response.

Those of us studying Ephesians could not help seeing our world in the text. Ephesians describes the common world as darkened in their understanding, having no part in the life that God gives, for they are completely ignorant and stubborn. They have lost all feeling of shame; they give themselves over to vice and do all sorts of indecent things without restraint. [4: 18-20]  Our world happily separates itself from God. We seem to have little shame about our greed and the breaking of a moral code. If anything we are embarrassed if we are caught.  

In contrast Paul writes, No more lying, then! Each of you must tell the truth to one another, because we are all members together in the body of Christ. If you become angry, do not let your anger lead you into sin, and do not stay angry all day.  Don’t give the Devil a chance. Those who used to rob must stop robbing and start working, in order to earn an honest living for themselves and to be able to help the poor.  Do not use harmful words, but only helpful words, the kind that build up and provide what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you.  And do not make God’s Holy Spirit sad; for the Spirit is God’s mark of ownership on you, a guarantee that the Day will come when God will set you free. Get rid of all bitterness, passion, and anger. No more shouting or insults, no more hateful feelings of any sort.  Instead, be kind and tender-hearted to one another, and forgive one another, as God has forgiven you through Christ. [4: 25-32]  

The Ephesian Christians are challenged to imitate Christ. [5: 1]  The challenge is appropriate. They are Christian now. They follow Christ. They are to live the life that Christ leads. But they have come to Christ from the world.  That means they have to put off the old life and put on the new life in Christ [4: 22-24]. Christ Jesus’ way is not the way of self-indulgence, greed, stubbornness, or ignorance of God.  What was true then is true for us today. We spend most of our lives working and playing in an environment of self-interest, competition, acquisition and greed, which rubs off on to us. We are infected by the ways of our culture. We must put off the culture of the world and take on the culture of Christ if we are to be true to Jesus Christ.

Treating coming to ‘church’ like a tonic that we take once a week to inoculate us from sinfulness is not the Christian life.  On the contrary it is precisely this view that has led the Church to the position where we have organised our structures like the world’s and entered a downward spiral.

Those first Christians understood what imitation meant. Today we tend to hear imitation as mimicry. We look to our heroes and copy their dress and hairstyles. Paul, Philo and early Christian writers expressed what the Roman-Greek culture understood about imitation. Imitation was living one’s life by the values and beliefs of the hero they followed. They understood that the rulers were to imitate their gods, and the people their ruler.  That is why Paul could write to the Corinthians saying,  Imitate me, then, just as I imitate Christ.  I praise you because you always remember me and follow the teachings that I have handed on to you, but understand Christ is supreme”. [1 Cor 11:1-3] This same thought is expressed in 1 Thessalonians [1:6-7] and 1 Peter [2:21]. And in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus tells us to be perfect – just as your Father in heaven is perfect [Matthew 5:48].  Indifference is amoral. 

Ephesians rightly does not give us a moral and ethical code to follow, but correctly points us to Christ Jesus whom we are to follow. That is the choice with which we are faced. There are basically two ways in life: God’s and the World’s.  Which way are you choosing, for to choose you must. Only nobodies sit on the fence.

History provides us with many stories of people who chose Christ, took up their cross and let the light of God shine in this world. Christian Reger was one such Christian.  He survived four years of Dachau Concentration camp in Germany during the 2nd World War. Reger was not a Jew he was a German. His crime was that he was a minister of the Confessing Church led by Martin Niemoller and Dietrich Bonheoffer. The Confessing Church stood against the Nazis. Reger’s organist had betrayed him. 

In prison he faced torture, starvation, the death ovens and awful cruelty done to others. Some Christians lost their faith. Reger nearly did. He said he had abandoned all hope in a living God in his first month in Dachau. With the cruelty and suffering all around him the odds against God’s existence seemed too great. He started to give up on God being a living God.

 

The authorities allowed a prisoner only one letter a month from home and then only after careful censorship. Exactly one month to the day of his incarceration, Christian Reger received his first letter from his wife. She mentioned news of the family and friends and assured him of her love. At the bottom of the letter, she penned a Bible passage Acts 4: 26-29. Reger had smuggled a Bible into the camp and was able to look up the reference. It comes from a speech delivered by Peter and John after their release from prison, when they prayed.

The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers have gathered together against the Lord and against his Messiah.’  For in this city, in fact, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness.  Yes, in the face of danger they prayed for boldness to speak God’s word. Thank God for their choice.

He appreciated his wife’s concern but he was preoccupied with what lay ahead. He was to be interrogated by the SS that afternoon. He would be asked to name other Christians in the Confessing Church. If he did, they would be arrested and possibly be killed. If he refused, the soldiers would probably beat him with clubs or torture him with electricity.

Reger waited nervously outside the interrogation room. A door opened and a fellow minister whom Reger had never met came out. Without saying a word or changing the expression of his face, the minister walked up to Reger, slipped something into his coat pocket, and then walked away. Seconds later SS guards appeared and ordered Reger into the room for the interrogation.

The interrogation went much better than Christian Reger expected. He was sweating despite the cold when he arrived back at his barracks. He crawled into his bunk to rest. Remembering the strange encounter with the other minister, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a matchbox. When he opened the box he found a folded slip of paper. He opened the paper and read Acts 4:26-29. The exact same verse he had read in his wife’s note. It was not possible for the other minister to have known that. His heart pounded hard against his chest. Reger realised that this was a sign from God to him. He had received the same message from two entirely different sources this day. He knew that if he was thinking of giving up on God, God had not given up on him. 

For the next four years Reger encouraged other Christians and formed an ecumenical church made up of Catholics and Protestants. In the presence of unmitigated human brutality, they bore witness to the power of God to forgive.

After the war Reger became a chaplain at Dachau with a mission to tell the world that God’s love is deeper than the depth of human depravity. [Philip Yancey]

I pray that we can sing this next song, ‘I want to walk as a child of the light, I want to follow Jesus’ as our prayer of commitment. And I pray that Christ’s light will transform our lives as we lead a life of love, compassion, forgiveness and reconciliation.

*******

Peter C Whitaker, Leighmoor UC:  14/10/2018

pcwhitaker@icloud.com

 / www.leighmoorunitingchurch.org

Walk the Talk 07-10-2018

Walk the Talk. [Eph. 4]  

Ephesians 4: 1 – 16

Are you walking your Christian vocation or just talking it?

‘Walk the talk’ basically means to perform actions that are consistent with our claims. The phrase ‘walk the talk’ is a 20th Century phrase. The notion of walking the talk goes back in time. E.g. In Shakespeare’s Richard III the 1st Murderer says; “Fear not, my Lord, we will not stand to prate; talkers are no good doers: be assured we come to use our hands and not our tongues.”  This distinction between talkers and doers is as old as the hills. 

Paul in Ephesians encourages us to ‘walk the talk’, writing walk worthy of the vocation wherewith you have been called [KJV 4:1]. He says the same thing 4 times in chapter four. [Note that in modern translations the verb ‘to live’ is used instead of ‘walk’.]

In Ephesians chapter 4 we come to the practical side of the faith. The first three chapters have explained the basis of the Faith, which is that we are saved by God’s grace through the faithfulness of Jesus [3:12]. God’s grace redeems, heals and transforms us into the people God wants us to be. That wonderful song written by the converted slave-ship captain, John Newton, says it all. 

Amazing grace (how sweet the sound)

that saved a wretch like me!

I once was lost, but now am found,

was blind, but now I see.

`Twas  grace that taught my heart to fear,

and grace my fears relieved;

how precious did that grace appear

the hour I first believed!

Ephesians describes the wonders of the faith. God loves us and God rescues us through Christ. God rescues us from the powers of evil and our destructive selfishness. Rescued we become the Church. The church is not something we belong to like a club membership. Rather we are gathered through Christ into a unique group, which represents Christ on earth.  We are Christ’s body on earth. We are the Church. As the Church – the community of Christ, we form the Temple of God. God dwells in this Temple, the body of Christ Jesus on earth. That is what God’s grace has done for us – made us a new instrument of peace.

Now we are asked to ‘walk it’ – to live out our lives with actions consistent with these truths. Our lives must exhibit the unity and the corresponding peace that belongs to the body of Christ on earth – the Church. We are not encouraged to follow a set of rules. That is not the point of ‘walking the talk’ in Christianity.  The whole point is that we maintain the unity of the faith.  We Christians are to put every effort into maintaining the unity of the faith [4: 3].  We have been told in chapters 1 and 3 that the great secret plan of God is to bring all things in heaven and earth into a unity so that there can be peace [1: 9-10; 3: 3-10]. God’s grace doesn’t mean we have a guaranteed seat on the heavenly train. God’s grace means that we have been recruited to be God’s witnesses – God’s people with a special task that involves maintaining unity in the Church, Christ’s body on earth, and promoting peace to all peoples. 

God’s intention is to reconcile all things so that we can have peace [1: 9-10].  Peace is the very thing we don’t have in this world. We don’t have personal peace. We are restless creatures. We don’t have peace with others. We have fractured relationships.  We don’t have peace with other peoples. Tribalism constantly tears us apart. What is important to note is that peace comes as a result of unity. When we are united we are naturally at peace with each other.

If God calls us into unity in Christ Jesus then we are also called to maintain the unity. This is what we are to do – maintain the unity in the Church. Unity needs to be maintained, because we always default to some kind of disunity.  To maintain the unity we need the right attitude.  The attitudes that foster unity are humility, gentleness, patience, and lovingly caring for each other. Our attitude is crucial to peacemaking and unity.  So Paul writes; I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life [walk worthily] worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace [4: 1-3]. Maintaining the unity of the Church is our chief focus through developing our fellowship and maturing into compassionate agents of grace. Right actions flow from our unity.

We need more than the right attitude. We need the right attributes. The essential attribute of God is God’s oneness. Whenever the Scriptures speak of God the underlying thought is that God is one. So when we speak of the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we speak of an undivided unity. When we speak of God as the Creator we read that Christ is the co-Creator and it is the Spirit who forms order out of the chaos [Gen 1: 1-3; Jn 1:1-4]. Creation is the work of the Trinity.

We need the right gifts to build up the Church.  God gives us those gifts. They are named in Ephesians. They are the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. God gifts us with these tasks, which builds and renews the Church. The Church needs not only the right attitude and attributes, but needs the right gifts for growth so that the Church can fulfil its task.

We might find it easier to be gentle, remain patient, caring for each other, if we remember that our task is to develop our unity. Focused on unity we will naturally take these attitudes and attributes into our daily living.

I offer a story to illustrate our need to continue to strive for unity in the Church. It’s a simple story. Let us hear it with an open heart and mind. 

Once upon a time a flock of quail lived near a marsh and they would fly to the nearby fields every day to feed. The only problem was that there was Bird Hunter who lived nearby. He was very successful in catching the quail and selling them in the local market. The reason he had grown so successful in catching them was that he had learned to imitate perfectly the call of the quail Leader. The Bird Hunter gave the call and the quail, thinking it was the leader, flew to where the Bird Catcher was waiting. They landed and he easily cast his net capturing many.

One day the Leader called all the quails together for a conference. He said, “We are becoming decimated! Soon there will be none of us left.  The Bird Hunter is catching us all. But I have found out how he does it. He has learned to imitate my call and that deceives you.”

“But I have a plan. The next time you hear what you think is my call and fly to the area and when the Bird Hunter throws his net on top of you, here is what you are to do:  all together you stick your heads through the openings in the net and in one motion fly up with the net and land on the thorn bush.  The net will stick there. Then you can extricate yourselves the Bird Hunter will have to spend the day freeing his net.”

This is what they did.  The Bird Hunter came, gave the imitation call and the quail came.  When the net was thrown over them they stuck their heads through the openings and together flew to the thorn bush.  They left a frustrated Hunter extricating his net off the thorn bush.

This went on for some time resulting in the Bird Hunter’s income declining as he caught fewer and fewer quail. The Bird Hunter’s wife complained bitterly about the loss of income and wanted to know what he was going to do about it. The Bird Hunter explained to his wife what was happening and said; “Be patient the birds will begin to quarrel and then I will catch them again.”  

Well it happened.  One day when the Bird Hunter made his call all the quail rose up and flew to the area where he was.  But as they were flying one quail accidentally brushed against another.  “Watch out where you’re going, clumsy!” cried the quail. The 1st quail quickly explained that it was an accident. “An accident!” cried the 2nd quail. “If you watched where you were going it wouldn’t have happened in the first place.” Well, the 1st quail that had bumped the other one was annoyed with the ungracious response of the 2nd quail. They began to argue. Other quail got involved taking sides, as you would. 

Meanwhile when they landed this time the quail were uneasy. This time when the Bird Hunter threw the net over them they were still murmuring and agitated, forgetting to focus on working together.  Some quail cried out, “Stop bickering! Let us work together!”  Some quail cried out, “ Come, let us fly together this way.”  But other quail wanted to fly the other way. Some even muttered that they were tired of doing what others wanted.

While they were arguing the Bird Hunter came up and gathered them up and took them to market, making a good few dollars that day.  [‘Stories for Sharing’ p. 60.]

*******

Peter C Whitaker, Leighmoor UC:  07/10/2018

pcwhitaker@icloud.com

 / www.leighmoorunitingchurch.org

Crossed-Shaped Living 23-09-2018

Cross-Shaped Living. [Eph. 3]

Ephesians 3: 1 – 12; 1 Samuel 17

Christian endeavour achieves very little without the power of God.

One of the great things about human endeavour is that through it much knowledge has been gained and great technological advances have taken place. The Duke of Wellington said this about human endeavour; All the business of war, and indeed all the business of life, is to endeavour to find out what you don’t know by what you do; that’s what I called ‘guess what was at the other side of the hill’.  But all is not rosy in the garden. Some note the limitations of human endeavour. Elbert Hubbard brings us down to earth with his thoughts that, Don’t take life too seriously, you will never get out of it alive. And he also said, Polygamy: an endeavour to get more out of life than there is in it.  As much as humankind can celebrate our endeavour combined with our creativity, we have not yet been able to establish a lasting peace based on justice. The dream of Karl Marx foundered on the rocks of fear, human folly and self-centredness. The free market philosophy fails precisely because it feeds self-interest. For there to be peace – real peace – we need grace to temper our humanity.  I speak of God’s grace. God’s grace is a love given selflessly to those who least deserve it. It is a love given to the helpless – all humanity – who cannot earn it.  It is genuine love that holds us together. We humans know this.  Human love which flowers for a moment is a glimpse into God’s kingdom.  That is why human endeavour for the good of humankind cannot succeed without the help of God.

This third sermon in our Ephesians’ series provides a dynamic picture of this truth that nothing of ultimate goodness is achieved without God’s power. 

We’ve reflected on a pattern for the Christian life as beginning with sitting, then walking the faith and finally standing firm in the faith. This sermon addresses an aspect of ‘sitting’ with God and letting God act; that is letting go of the reins so God can direct our lives for the good. There is nothing so detrimental to our walk with God than us wanting to run the show. Not because God wants us to be submissive puppets, rather until we learn to see and understand God, we will default to our view on life.  To sit with God means we learn to see the world through God’s eyes. To sit with God allows us to experience God’s power. Otherwise our striving blinds us to God’s power, or at least dilutes God’s power [2:6; Rev 3:21]. What Paul offers us in Ephesians is a view of how the power of God works. The clue to this is the Cross-Shaped-Living (CSL). Paul provides us with a personal testimony to the Cross-Shaped-Life.

In chapter 3, our primary text for today, Paul explains how the power of God is working to bring about peace and unity. Paul’s explanation begins with a personal testimony that is counter-intuitive. He tells us that he is in prison. How does this help us understand what God is doing?  In the first place if God is all-powerful why then is his top agent in prison?  Secondly, telling people you’re in prison tends to cast doubt about your trustworthiness.  So when Paul talks about being a prisoner it tends to throw up more questions than answers. But if we pause to reflect on exactly what Paul says we see a different picture. Paul writes; “For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles. Paul says he is a prisoner of Christ and it is for their sake that he is a prisoner. 

Paul wants his readers to understand that God’s power works differently to the way of the world. We think of the powerful as those who have influence, control and shape reality.  Power is exercised through status, wealth, political control and media manipulation. In the end the powerful can enforce their view on others. But God doesn’t work this way.  God’s greatest action is the self-giving love seen in Christ Jesus. And the greatest example is the Cross.  Jesus met the political and military evil with love.  It was Jesus’ love and truth that destroyed the political and military evil.  Jesus would not compromise and resort to military or political power battles. Love ultimately destroys evil because evil cannot destroy love. Love given remains while evil spirals into decay.  Look at the history of the powerful evil ones and their ultimate downward spiral of decay and destruction.  But Jesus’ self-giving love raised the Church: a community of love, truth and peace. The Church has grown while the Roman Empire and Jewish Sanhedrin disappeared in the pages of history.

The story of David and Goliath points to the same truth that God’s strength is displayed through the weak. David is a boy who looks after his family’s sheep. He is too young to fight, but old enough to take food and supplies to his brothers in battle. David appears near the battle lines of Israel and the Philistines. The Israelites and the Philistines were fighting over more than land. It is was a battle about whose god was the greatest. David comes along as an inquisitive boy would and asks questions. But the naïve lad wants to know why the Israelites are scared of Goliath when their God is greater. David’s questions and views are expressed to King Saul. Saul calls David into his presence. In the exchange David expresses his willingness to confront Goliath in the name of God Almighty. Saul wishes to dress him in armour, but David feels restricted. He is not yet a man nor a soldier. But he boldly declares that he will face Goliath.  When he does Goliath mocks him and asking, ‘Why have the Israelites sent a boy to me armed with a few stones?’ David stands there in the faith that God will prevail.  God does, through David’s faith and his experience in fighting wild animals that attack his sheep.

We all know how it ends.  David’s accuracy with a slingshot stuns Goliath and while unconscious David slays him.  All see this as a demonstration of God’s power working through the weak. 

This is precisely what Paul wants the Christians in Ephesus to understand. God’s power is visible in spite of Paul’s imprisonment.  God’s power is demonstrated through our humility and faith, because our humility and faith allow God to act.   Paul’s imprisonment is not a sign that the Roman gods are more powerful. If that were true why is the Church still growing when Paul is a prisoner of Rome? No, the power of God is at work in the Church.  Paul is saying that his imprisonment is showing exactly who is in control – it is God. God is transforming things.  Paul understands the profound godly truth that human endeavour will never bring about the good and justice without the power of God.

Paul then goes on to explain two very important things.  Firstly, that God’s power comes to us as a gracious gift. Earlier in the epistle to the Ephesians Paul has expressed this truth saying; But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our sins, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God [2:4-8].  Grace – love given to the undeserved – is God’s power exhibited in humble service to this world.

The second important thing in this passage is the mystery Paul talks about [1:9-10; 3:4-6]. In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.  It is hard for us to appreciate the significance of the bitter division between the Jews and Gentiles.  The term ‘Gentiles’ means the other nations. But right up until the time of Jesus the only way there would be any reconciliation between a Jew and a Gentile is if the Gentile became a Jew. But what the first Christians, who were Jews, came to realise was that God was receiving the Gentiles, who turned to Christ Jesus, and blessing them with the Holy Spirit just as the first followers of Christ were blessed [Acts 10]. This reconciliation resulted in a new unity and peace between former Jews and Gentiles. If the Resurrection declares the power of God working in Jesus of Nazareth then the unity and peace in the Church declares the working of the power of God in the Church.  Our peace and unity is the sign of God’s power in our midst. Its absence declares that we have turned away.

Cross-Shaped-Living is sitting in the grace of God’s reconciling love in Christ Jesus and living a life of selfless love. This love is to be seen in our love for one another and our love for all of God’s world.  Cross-Shaped-Living allows our human endeavour to be empowered by God’s grace.

*******

Peter C Whitaker, Leighmoor UC:  23/09/2018

pcwhitaker@icloud.com

 / www.leighmoorunitingchurch.org