Saturday, 22 October 2011

Community is... Passing on the vision

Readings:  Deuteronomy 34 v 1-12
                  Matthew 22 v 34-40
In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit

Deuteronomy 34:1-12
1 Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the Lord showed him the whole land: Gilead as far as Dan, 2 all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, 3 the Negeb, and the Plain--that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees--as far as Zoar. 4 The Lord said to him, "This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, "I will give it to your descendants'; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there." 

5 Then Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the land of Moab, at the Lord's command. 6 He was buried in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor, but no one knows his burial place to this day. 7 Moses was one hundred twenty years old when he died; his sight was unimpaired and his vigor had not abated. 8 The Israelites wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days; then the period of mourning for Moses was ended. 

9 Joshua son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid his hands on him; and the Israelites obeyed him, doing as the Lord had commanded Moses. 10 Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face. 11 He was unequaled for all the signs and wonders that the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants and his entire land, 12 and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.

 Last week , we attended worship at a tiny church in the village of Collouire in the South of France. It was part of the Reformed church in France. I don’t have a lot of French but I followed the gist of the sermon, helped by the fact that the preacher was using the lectionary, the prescribed readings for that Sunday. It’s one of the things I love about following the lectionary is the idea that churches all over the world, in all sorts of places, different denominations in different languages are, together, struggling with the same texts.
And so, in that little church in France, I was enabled to hear the word of God, a word of challenge and a word of grace.
That afternoon, as we wandered around the village, we were stopped, literally, in our tracks by this colourful jazz band. (pic)
Just a foretaste of the wonderful, fun music we are enjoying this morning. (praise is led by Rae Bros New Orleans Jazz Band)
The promised land is sure to be full of jazz musicians.

What of that Promised Land?
Over these last few weeks we have journeyed, perhaps slogged might be a better description, with Moses and the Israelites, through the wilderness from their flight from Egypt to their journey to the Promised Land.
We have read stories of challenge and confrontation, of triumph and failure.
Today, Moses bids farewell.
That intrepid leader who has overcome all sorts of difficulties, who has conquered personal inadequacies, who has communed with God on the mountain top and then endured the grumbling of the people he led, Moses, within sight of the Promised Land, has to bid us farewell.
After all that he has achieved and all that he has endured, Moses doesn’t actually get to enter the promised land.
But he does get to see it.
There, on the Mountain top, it is laid out before him.
There’s a lovely detail in the passage that Moses’ sight was not impaired and his vigor was unabated – and so he was able to see in all it’s glory, this land promised to the Israelites.
With this sight burning in his mind and with passion still in his heart, Moses died.
The Israelites buried Moses, mourned him for 30 days and then moved on with their new leader, Joshua.
But what a wonderful epitaph we read:

Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face. 11 He was unequaled for all the signs and wonders that the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants and his entire land, 12 and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.

It is the end AND a beginning.
As the baton of leadership is passed from the elder statesman Moses to the younger but still wise Joshua.
Why was this passage so smooth?
Why does it appear seamless?
Because, although the leadership has changed, although there was the inevitable mourning of a great leader, the vision that the Israelites followed was one rooted, not in humans but in God – the passion that endured was founded on the will and purpose of God.
As it has been in the church from generation to generation,
Leaders pass on the baton and the vision remains rooted in God.
There will always be the grumblers, always the skeptics, always those small minded enough to want to hold things back.
But God’s vision to which we subscribe is so much bigger.
God’s vision sees beyond the pettiness and all the attempts at holding back progress.
God’s vision leads us on to a land and a life we can only imagine, bound as we are in human concepts.
Consider this quote from Oscar Romero:
“The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our wisdom. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us. No statement says all that could be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No program accomplishes our mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything. That is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water the seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our capabilities. We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.”

And the promise from today’s story is that God’s kingdom will come despite us, the followers of God. Even with all our stubbornness and pride we cannot hold back God’s mission.
Fraser Aitken, from St Columba’s posted on facebook yesterday:
“What a comfort this passage is to leaders of the church today”.
That notion that if we are faithful in leadership, though we may not see the fruit of our labour, God’s plans will not be thwarted.
No matter how many obstacles we encounter, no matter how difficult it is to get people to change, to look outwards instead of inwards, to glimpse a vision much bigger than ours, God continues to lead us on beyond the present to a wonderful future.

Supposing then, that we choose not to be a stumbling block.
Suppose we were to embrace God’s vision wholeheartedly.
Where would we begin?
Jesus answer to his antagonists in the gospel provides for us the answer to that question.
6 "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?" 37 He said to him, " "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."

Living like that, discovering HOW to love God by practicing love on our neighbours allows us to glimpse a vision of that new Kingdom that is God’s will for us – that kingdom where people live in love able to enjoy all that God promises to us.
Able to live in love because we are no longer squabbling for position, no longer holding back, no longer grappling for power but living in love with each other and with God.
Loving each other teaches us how to truly love God.
Loving like that takes us right to the heart of God.

As those entrusted today with passing on that baton of love, may we be enabled to lay down all that holds us back, may we stop being stumbling blocks to the kingdom and, instead love until we know the heart of God and see God’s vision come to life in this place, for this time and for this people that we are called to serve.
A vison fulfilled in God's own time, a vision that we work towards by loving God and our neighbour.
To God be the glory.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Community is... Trusting together

Reading:  Exodus 32 v 1-14
                  Matthew 22 v 1-14

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

Many tributes have been paid this week to Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple inc who died tragically early.
He leaves a huge legacy in his technological innovations, innovations that have revolutionised the world of computing and global communication.
Not just the I phone and I pod and I pad but an inspiring story of amazing entrepreneurship and motivation
I saw a cartoon depicting Steve Jobs arriving at the pearly gates. St Peter is paging through a huge roll book, looking for Steve’s name. Steve tells him: I have an app for that.
Steve did in fact create and encourage others to create and circulate many apps that make life much easier and convenient.
But what struck me about the notion contained in that cartoon – is the idea of even heaven moving with the times, heaven being brought into the technological age.
And a God who not only imparts wisdom but also listens to and learns from humans.
The God we worship is a God of relationships.
And that is certainly a theme in our readings this morning.
Having got the people out of slavery in Egypt, God is building a relationship with those people.
Through Moses, God gave the people the ten commandments – rules that would help the community to live rightly together.
Rules, as we discovered last week that would not inhibit but would enhance relationships and community life.
Moses, after receiving the 10 commandments spends time on the mountain conversing with God.
Leaving his brother Aaron in charge.
And while Moses and God get to know each other better, the people decide to rebel.
Their rebellion consists of spectacularly breaking the first and second commandment – they make for themselves a God to take the place of the God who has led them out of Egypt.
Moses was nowhere in sight.
And, though God had proved to be faithful throughout their journey, the people’s sight was very short – as was their memory.
They demanded something more immediate and obvious.
How many of us have demanded at times, that God should be more evident?
How often have we wished that God would be more direct and not keep us guessing?
That’s exactly the sort of wrestling that’s going on in the minds of the people of Israel with both God and Moses out of their sight just when, more than anything, they need stability and assurance.
You’d think that, being left in charge of the people, Aaron would have been on his guard.
The track record is that the people are quarrelsome and argumentative as we have seen over these past few weeks journeying with them through the wilderness.
And, sure enough, after a short time with Aaron in charge, they get restless again.
They ask Aaron to make them a god whom they can worship and who can go before them.
And Aaron, although he knew well that it was wrong to do as they asked, wanted to please the people.
Aaron compromised what was right in exchange for a quieter life.
A strategy that was bound to come crashing down around him.
But a strategy that we see played out time and again in communities and in the church.
Popularity is not won by making difficult decisions – decisions that folk probably won’t like – even though they know them to be right.
All of us are susceptible to compromising our faith just so that we won’t rock the boat.
We may not instigate wrong things but, so often, we go along with them, we tolerate the wrong so that we don’t give offence or draw attention to ourselves.
God’s call to us as a community is to be strong together  - to trust together and, together, find strength to stand against evil in our world.

But then the story takes an interesting turn.
God sees what is going on and urges Moses to return to the people quickly so that they can be destroyed for their wickedness.
And that is when we see something of the fruit of the time that Moses has spent with God on the mountain – and probably also something of all the lessons he has learned as they’ve journeyed through the wilderness:
Moses has been developing a relationship with God, a relationship that allows him to converse with God and plead for the people.
Moses has learned enough, from spending time with God, to know that the love of God is sufficient to overcome all difficulties. Moses has learned that, no matter how far people stray, God’s love will always be big enough to allow people a way back to a healed relationship with God.
Moses has learned that God is not a distant, vengeful being but is a God who invites involvement and who invokes love and compassion before condemnation.
God is a God of relationships.
A God who is prepared to listen as well as to speak.
A God who is moved by the plight of people.
All this, Moses has learned as he has developed a new relationship with God.
And Moses has also learned how fragile are the people he has been chosen to lead.
He knows their weakness and their fickleness.
He knows how short their memories are.
He knows that they constantly have to be reminded of the goodness of God and of God’s faithfulness.
Moses knows that his leadership must be firm and conciliatory.
Not compromised.
But strong and loving.
It was strength and love that allowed Moses to plead with God to stick with the Israelites and love them back onto the right path no matter how far they strayed.
These are lessons that are not learned once and for all.
They are lessons that are gleaned from relationship.
We learn about the nature of God by nurturing our relationship with God.
And, every day, we learn a little bit more – sometimes more of the same, for we constantly need reminding about the nature of God – and sometimes, God reveals new things.
That’s a wonderful thing – no matter how long we journey with God, still there is more to learn, still there are more and wonderful facets of God to be revealed.

In the gospels, we find Jesus teaching about God in so many different ways.
Not least in the parables he shared.
The parable we read today, of the feast to which those who were originally invited did not come must have had quite an impact on the people who were there at the telling.
It spoke forcibly into a culture where there were very defined social roles and norms.
And cut across those traditions.
Those who would normally be expected to attend such a great feast excluded themselves and so the invitation list was broadened.
This parable points to an inclusiveness that Jesus is keen to emphasise throughout his ministry, much to the disgust of the religious leaders of the day, those who were keen to guard the faith.
All are welcome to the feast.
The table that Jesus sets, as we proclaim every time we celebrate communion, has no boundaries but is open to all.
So, what on earth is going on at the end of this story, when one reveler is ejected for being improperly dressed?
What’s THAT all about?
OF course this parable, like the other parables Jesus told, may speak in different ways to different people at different times.
But I believe that for this people today – for us as a community journeying together, learning to trust, this parable is a reminder of the transformative nature of our relationship with God.
We are all called.
We are all equipped to be God’s people, given all that we need to form a relationship with God.
But sometimes, we distance ourselves from the community by holding back.
By not giving as we could or as we should.
Although we might believe all that God promises, we fail to be changed by living into those promises.
Trusting together is not a matter for our intellect or our emotion.
IT is a total transformation of our whole being.
Trusting God together in community involves our whole lives.
Anything less leads to us excluding ourselves from the amazing grace and transforming love of God.
You are called.
I am called.
Called to be part of this trusting community.
May we be enabled to abandon ourselves to the transforming power of God as we journey together in community, trusting God in all things.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Community is... Living rightly

Considering the 10 commandments this morning, we discovered that things are easier with instructions - though we can often get by without. Gregor even managed to create this "church" from a dinosaur kit!
In spite of everyone's inventiveness and creativity, we concluded that rules are good for keeping us together and on the better path.
And so, with the help of the Israelites in the wilderness, we discovered another aspect of being a community of God's people - living rightly.