Friday, 31 May 2019

Where’s Jesus?

Acts 1:1-11
In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
The Ascension of Jesus
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Luke 24:44-53
Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
The Ascension of Jesus
Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

The feast of Ascension - which was Thursday this week - comes 40 days after Easter.
But, since most of our Presbyterian churches don’t celebrate Ascension as a separate feast day, we celebrate it today, the nearest Sunday.
The Ascension of our Lord.
I’m sure if you’d asked around wherever you were on Thursday, you’d probably struggle to find someone who could tell you that it was a significant day for the Christian church.
And, even though we celebrate it on the Sunday, as Presbyterians, we don’t particularly give it much space in our observance.
It’s just another of those things that happens after the resurrection on the way to Pentecost.
Another one of those crazy sightings of Jesus after Easter.
Now you see him, now you don’t...

I used to love playing “Where’s Wally” with my children.
We’d spend hours poring over the puzzles trying, in the midst of all the similar distracting images, to find Wally, always well hidden.
Last summer, I discovered “Where’s Jesus?” - an alternative version.
I was at the Church of Scotland’s National Youth Assembly - and had great satisfaction tweeting:
“140 Young Adults in the Church of Scotland have found Jesus!”
As you can imagine, that went down well.

But those days after the resurrection strike me as having been a bit like that for the beleaguered disciples.
Wondering where on earth Jesus was going to pop up next!
And I have a lot of sympathy with them.
What a roller coaster they had been on.
Three years of traipsing the countryside with him on the adventure of their lives.
Three years.
Where they’d given up all they knew to follow this itinerant Preacher.
Three years of miracles and signs and wonders.
Of hard slogs, long days and short nights.
Three years of intrigue and mystery, of what I like to think of as fun and laughter and bone shaking merriment, but also gut wrenching tragedy and mind blowing controversy.
For sure, Jesus provoked every emotion, pressed every button.
And then, after living on tenterhooks, never knowing what might come next, it’s all over.
Jesus has pushed one button too many, goaded the authorities just too far - and those authorities silenced him forever.
Can you imagine the grief of these men and women who have followed him over these three years?
Can you imagine the crushing despair that brought all their hopes tumbling down, plunging them into the depths of darkness?
 It seems that Messiah figures rose and fell throughout history - but this time, Jesus followers thought they were onto the real thing.
And they threw in their all with him to prove it.
No wonder they gathered behind locked doors.
Licking their wounds.
Wallowing in their loss.
And then the audacity of the man.
To come and stand among them.
To appear to them on the beach.
To pop up here there and everywhere over the 40 days.
What was it our text said?
After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.
And, more than that, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there.
And, once he has them together, once they’ve got their heads round him being alive - he disappears again, he ascends into the clouds.
How did the disciples hold on to their sanity.
How did they ever survive this game of divine hide and seek?

Perhaps it was because all that Jesus said to them- while he was with them and especially after the resurrection, finally began to make sense.
All the instructions.
All the farewells.
They seemed like gobbledygook in the heydays, when they were tagging along with Jesus having a high old time performing miracles and dissing the authorities, safe in the protection of the adoring crowds.
But, in the darkness of death, seeing just how much damage the government could do and in the light of the resurrection, seeing how much God could confound the darkness of humanity, bringing light and life, the words and teaching of Jesus began to make sense.
Here was God taking on flesh, showing us an alternative way to live and to love.
Teaching and equipping us for a new way of being.
And, trusting us to get on with it.
That’s the really scary part.
That God trusts us to be the difference that this world needs.
That God trusts us
To bring sight to the blind
Healing to the lame
Freedom for the prisoner.
God trusts us
To feed the hungry
To bind up the broken hearted
To preach good news.
Good news that all are welcome - ALL

Where is Jesus?
In you and you and you...
And so, on this Ascension Sunday, as we come to the table, may we find Jesus already waiting and may we make room for all, not just those who are like us.
Let’s take our heads out of the clouds, not so that we can be rooted where we are -  but so that we can find a lightness in our step that allows us to dance with our ascended Lord who still leads us down alleys we would never anticipate, tripping along to music we might never have heard before, finding a new rhythm of love and service, a rhythm of life that finds Jesus in every nook and cranny, in the faces of all we encounter, the Risen Ascended Christ in our everyday.
May it be so!

Let me finish with this reflection;
40 days since Easter
40 days since we applauded Jesus’ sacrifice
then hauled him out of the tomb
and got on with our lives
40 days that Jesus has walked beside us
offering us myriad glimpses 
of his Risen presence
It was the Risen Christ who sat on the bridge
holding out his cup for a coin
and then took our hand
and looked into our eyes 
and said thank you
as we glanced his way
and gave him some change.
It was the Risen Christ
who sat between us
as a colleague unloaded 
and processed
the costliness of her work
and rediscovered her inner wisdom 
and strength
to carry on serving.
It was the Risen Christ 
who dried our tears
and stoked our anger
and determination
as we tramped the beach
imploring, beseeching God
to show us how
to serve authentically
in an institution
that is besieged 
by power struggles
and injustice.
It was the Risen Christ...
It IS the Risen Christ
The Risen, Ascended Christ
who continues to penetrate
our consciousness
in our every day
looking into our eyes
in the eyes of all whom we encounter
reminding us of his teaching
imploring us to love
and willing us
to go and be disciples.

May it be so!

Saturday, 25 May 2019

Paying it forward

Romans 3:28-30; 5:1-11
No, not at all, but through the law of faith. We consider that a person is treated as righteous by faith, apart from what is accomplished under the Law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Isn’t God the God of Gentiles also? Yes, God is also the God of Gentiles. 30 Since God is one, then the one who makes the circumcised righteous by faith will also make the one who isn’t circumcised righteous through faith. 
Therefore, since we have been made righteous through his faithfulness,[a] we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We have access by faith into this grace in which we stand through him, and we boast in the hope of God’s glory. But not only that! We even take pride in our problems, because we know that trouble produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope. This hope doesn’t put us to shame, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
While we were still weak, at the right moment, Christ died for ungodly people. It isn’t often that someone will die for a righteous person, though maybe someone might dare to die for a good person. But God shows his love for us, because while we were still sinners Christ died for us. So, now that we have been made righteous by his blood, we can be even more certain that we will be saved from God’s wrath through him. 10 If we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son while we were still enemies, now that we have been reconciled, how much more certain is it that we will be saved by his life? 11 And not only that: we even take pride in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, the one through whom we now have a restored relationship with God.

Our Scripture passage today is the kind of preaching I grew up with - preaching filled with big, theological words that I had little clue about. Even though the preachers using those words, straight from Scripture went to great lengths to explain them - and took great lengths of time to do so! I still didn’t really grasp them.
And, I have to say, after years of theological study, I’d still be hard pressed to explain them or to help others understand which doctrines they are part of and how they fit together and what great mysteries they unpack for us today.
And yet...
There is one phrase in the midst of it all that even as a child, I was able to understand very clearly.
And that is: Christ died for ungodly people. 
I got the message that Christ died for ungodly people. 
Even as a child, surrounded by all these big words and theological mysteries, that message shone through - that Christ died for me, not because I was a good person, not because I might have potential and I might be of some use in the kingdom of God - all that didn’t matter to the loving action of God so long ago that Christ died for ungodly people. 
And, as a child, hearing that preached week in, week out, and being surrounded by folk who lived in God’s love and who lived out God’s love, I was not only enabled to hear that and see it lived out, I was able to believe it for myself. Christ died for ungodly people. 
So, instead of trying, and failing, to explain all these theological terms and theories this morning, I want to get to the heart of the matter - that Christ, knowing humanity, would think us - you and I worth going to the cross for.
And so he carried on speaking of love.
He went on encouraging peaceful opposition to corrupt governments.
He continued noising up the occupying forces by gathering crowds to listen to his teaching on subversive love, love that makes a difference.
And he persisted in demonstrating that there was - and is - an alternative way to live, a way that challenges oppression and injustice wherever they are found.
That’s what got him crucified.
The powerful forces of the day - church and state- knew he was onto something and had to silence him before it was too late.
And we are here today to celebrate the life that came out of death because it was already too late.
Jesus lived and died for ungodly people and rose again to walk among us as we live out the love that he taught.
We celebrate life today.
We celebrate love.
And, as we continue to look for ways to follow, it’s not simply about Jesus post resurrection appearances or about the things we learn from the early church as they struggled to work out how to be Christians in an often hostile environment.
It’s not just about the peace Christ gives.
Or the imploring of Christ to “Feed my sheep”
It’s also about Christ’s call to “Follow me”
A call issued to folk at the beginning of his ministry
Follow me.
What does that look like?
What might it look like today?
It looks like the life Jesus lived throughout his ministry.
Follow me - eating with tax collectors, noticing those on the edge...
Follow me - seeing those who simply wanted to be noticed along with those crying out for healing...
Follow me - feeding hungry crowds and spending time alone with God.
Follow me - upending the tables of those who separate others from God
Follow me - sharing a meal around a table - even with those he knows will betray him and deny him.
Follow me - It looks like the very things that got Christ crucified.

As some of you may know, this week, as the Church of Scotland met in General Assembly, our theme has been, Follow me.
How do we do that in all our different communities and contexts today?
How do we do that in our sometimes hostile environments, in a post Christian culture?
How do we do that as we scatter in all directions?
How do we try to be obedient to Christ’s call: Follow me.
In v 10 of our passage in Romans 5, we read:
Now that we have been reconciled, how much more certain is it that we will be saved by his life?
Our passage this morning makes it clear - that it is by following the example of Christ. 
We, whom Christ loves, we who have been reconciled, see in Christ a model for living.
Christ showed us how to live and how to love.
Christ showed us how to live for those who today would be considered ungodly.
It is by following Christ into all the unlikely places he went.
By following Christ in the company of the unlikely people he met and spent time with.
Following Christ, knowing that ungodly as we are, Christ loved us enough to die for us.
And in knowing ourselves so deeply loved, we are freed to follow.
Freed to follow and freed to hope.
With the kind of hope we read of in the passage:
This hope doesn’t put us to shame, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
Hope that doesn’t put us to shame.
Hope that doesn’t disappoint.
Hope that brings life in the midst of death.

As I mentioned at the beginning, even when I didn’t understand all the theological words being spoken and being preached on, yet still I was able to grasp the message that God loved me.
Because the people around me showed that love.
And that’s the challenge for us as followers of Christ today.
How are we being called to show the love of God?
Where are we being called to live out that love?
With whom are we being called to share that love?
Christ loved us enough to continue to protest, to continue to live at the edge, to continue to upset those in power enough to die for us.
But that is only the beginning.
Knowing ourselves loved, even with all our faults and failings, we are challenged to take that love into the world we inhabit every day.
Because that love is not a limited commodity.
It won’t run out.
It is given to be shared!

Part of the role I now play in the Church of Scotland is encouraging folks to rekindle the spark they once had, or to find that spark for the first time, to recognise that we are loved, but to go further than that.
And find the calling of Christ on our lives, individually and in community.
To know that Christ’s love isn’t just about us and our salvation.
It’s not just about us realising how blessed we are.
It’s about paying it forward.

So I invite you this morning, to think for a moment, how or when did you realise you were loved by God?
Is it something you have always known?
Is it something you learned at home, with family?
Is it something you experienced at school, at Youth Camp, in Scouts or BB?
Was it at one of the evangelical rallies?
Or a wee mission hall?
Was it right here in this place?
Take a moment to ponder - how or when did you realise you were loved by God?

And now, ask yourself - who are you making that possible for today?
Where are you sharing the incredible news that God loves even those considered ungodly?
With whom are you sharing God’s love today?

And, looking to the week that lies ahead...
Where are you being called to follow Jesus?
Where are you being called to share that unconditional love?
Where are you being called to share hope that does not disappoint?

And let me share with you three forms of commission today:

In the words of St Paul : 
We take pride in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, the one through whom we now have a restored relationship with God.

In the words of Jesus:
Follow me

And in words often used as a benediction:
You are blessed to be a blessing
Go and serve in love.
For the glory of God


Saturday, 4 May 2019

Breakfast on the beach

John 21:1-19

After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.
When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
Jesus and Peter
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”

This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.
At this time of year, I appreciate that the Lectionary Readings encourage us to stay with Easter, to keep on reading those texts that tell us where and how Jesus appeared after the Resurrection.
Because by the time we’ve slogged through Lent, with whatever disciplines we’ve chosen to embrace and then contemplated Jesus in Holy Week noising up the crowds and the authorities, by the time we’ve done the tenderness of Maundy Thursday and the brutality of Good Friday and then waited out Easter Saturday, we can often arrive at Easter Sunday absolutely exhausted, washed out, ready to proclaim He is Risen - and take a nap!
And while Resurrection changes everything, while it defines who we are and what we believe as followers of Christ, while it infuses our very being, this time of year, this season of Easter, where we sit with these texts, gives us a new opportunity to let the resurrection stories sink in and become part of us once more, re-shaping who we are and what we do as followers of the Risen Christ.
This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.
I love the intimacy and gentleness with which Jesus appears after the resurrection.
From all the various accounts in different gospels, we can’t help but pick up on Jesus focus on individuals, the way he seeks to reassure and comfort, and the way he restores their calling and purpose.
There’s Mary in the garden - Jesus calls her by name, and sends her to spread the news.
Then there are the disciples, huddled away behind locked doors. Jesus appears, breathing peace into them - and even comes back for Thomas who missed out first time around. And, as he breathes peace into them, he tells them: “As the father has sent me, so I send you.”
And, in this encounter, in today’s gospel, Jesus appears on the beach, teaching them how to fish, cooking breakfast for them, commissioning them corporately and individually.
Intimacy, gentleness and, more than that, inclusion.
Jesus took care to ensure that all who encountered his risen presence would know themselves included in his resurrection life and purpose.
Come and have breakfast.
What a beautiful, gentle, intimate invitation.
Come and have breakfast.
I want to pause there for a moment and ask:
When did you last have breakfast with the Risen Christ?
When did you last haul your boat up onto the shore, leave your work behind, and have breakfast with Jesus.
There something really quite intimate about breakfast, isn’t there?
Something vulnerable.
Even for those who are morning people, breakfast tends to be a meal that is quieter than other meals, a meal that we don’t often share with lots of people. It may even be a meal that we miss out on.
Come and have breakfast.
How would it feel to have breakfast with the Risen Christ?
To leave behind the trappings of our work...
To leave behind the poise and assurance that we often don later in the day...
To be intimate and vulnerable.
Come and have breakfast.
The Risen Christ gently enters the spaces we inhabit, even before we are ready for the day ahead, with the invitation;
Come and have breakfast.
 Maybe that’s all you need from this text today - to hear, again, the invitation from Christ, who enters our spaces before we can ever be ready: Come and have breakfast.
But there’s more.

I want to drag you on from that invitation, beautiful as it is, to see what happened next.
When Jesus encounters Peter.
Peter, the impulsive disciple, always away ahead of the rest, always trying to sort and organise and defend... until the night of Jesus’ arrest... when he denied his Lord. 
That night, in the garden, when the soldiers came for Jesus, Peter stepped in with his sword.
Jesus said to him then: “Put your sword back in its sheath.”
Maybe it was at that moment that Peter lost his bravado.
Because here was the man that Peter thought he knew refusing to fight back as he was arrested.
And Peter, who knew only the language of the sword, could no longer fathom out what was going on. If this was not a time for insurrection, a time to rise up and fight, when would be?
Maybe that’s why we find Peter, skulking around the High Priests courtyard, where they’d taken Jesus, denying that he ever knew him.
But in John’s gospel, unlike the other gospels, there’s an added sting in the tail of Peter’s denial.
Peter doesn’t simply deny that he knew Jesus.
He denies that he is one of Jesus disciples.
When asked: Are you also one of his disciples, Peter replied: “I am not”.
Not just denying Jesus but denying his own identity as a disciple of Jesus.
“I am not.”
There are few things that hurt more or are more confusing than losing your identity.
Jesus knows that.
I imagine Jesus asking Peter to take a walk with him on that beach.
And Peter, thinking, it comes.... time to face the music....time to pay.
How confused must he have been when, what Jesus asks is: Do you love me?
I wonder if Peter thought: what game is he playing?
And then, when Jesus asks him again, not once, but twice: Do you love me?
Maybe he was still waiting for the axe to fall, for the words of condemnation to come.
Instead, Jesus was giving Peter what Jesus knew he need most.
He was giving him his identity back.
He was restoring him as a beloved disciple of the Risen Christ.
And commissioning him to Feed my sheep.
What a come back.
What a restoration.
Jesus restored and renewed Peter’s identity as a beloved disciple and handed him back the keys of the kingdom by charging him: Feed my sheep

So what is it you need from the Risen Christ today?
What is your desire as Christ invites you to “Come and have breakfast” ?

Is it forgiveness you seek.
Hear Christ’s words of absolution.

Is it purpose you seek?
Hear Christ’s words of commission: Feed my sheep.

Is it identity you seek?
Hear Christ call you a beloved disciple.

Beloved, called, forgiven child of God - “Come and have breakfast”