Who are we? 2.The Redeemed

Isaiah 43.1-13; Galatians 3.10-14

Me? I’m no-one special worse probably. This Kiwi attitude of humility can be a real blockage for talent. Some of the worst tall poppy trimming happens in our own lives – which is sad because so many talented people are limited by their own inner critic. They want you to praise their efforts, but if you do they’ll show everything that’s wrong with what they did. Nobody wants to be a “bighead”.

When this attitude show up in Christian people, especially in churches it’s particularly sad. They are believing a lie when they say that they’re no-one special, that their efforts, their risk-taking is of no great moment.

While were equals, we are in fact equally significant and special. We’re important to how this world runs, to how this faith gets out and about in our part of the world at least. God’s view of us is very different to this over-emphasised humility.

God says you matter to Him in no uncertain terms in Isaiah 43. First He reminds us that we’re fashioned out of the ingenious, creative and compassionate heart of God, the Creator. Surprisingly perhaps we were formed into the image of God, precisely for the purpose of fellowship, with God, with each other and with this wide and beautiful world in which we live and move. In God’s purpose we were perfect, precious and full of purpose – and when we were lost we were sought after.

Still, you might argue, there’s an awful lot of creatures created, why should I think of myself as special.  No-one special? You are bought at a great price (simply because you are already loved and treasured). Our self-awareness often insists that something is wrong with us, that we’re building up a debt of sin, of stupidity, of shame. However in Christ, at God’s initiative, that something wrong has been wiped from the slate of our imagined debtedness, totally paid for by the death and rising of Jesus, Saviour and Lord. God knows you by name, and counts you as worth dying for! So we are now God’s – belonging to Him. Another way to say this is that we are now HIs problem.

God promises that He is with us through everything that we encounter in this imperfect and sometimes scary world. He will let none of those things to destroy us – nothing can drown you completely or consume you. God as Redeemer takes the role of rescuer very seriously in your case.

Being built into a community of the redeemed is how God strengthens us, and grows as we encounter the diversity of ways in which one can live as redeemed, and part of the community of the redeemed. We each belong, because of the same grace of the same God, and because of the love being shown us in the context of a community where all carry this astonishing mark of being loved into new life. In this reality God shows HIs glory in changed and transformed lives with an amazing power and will to change the world in which this community finds itself. If you can imagine it, God boasts about us to the heavens just as He did with Job

Later God says that we are the servant He has chosen to make His being known – His beauty, His power, His enduring love, His uniqueness. It’s not just that there is no God like Him, Isaiah asserts that there is actually no other God, just as there is only One who can save. Everything else is just illusion and hard work to no great end.

By our choices, preoccupations, words and actions we make the Saviour known; in our acts of compassion and kindness we reveal the true nature of God as One who aches to save and rescue the lost out of passionate love. We the servant community are to reflect His sacrificial service of the lost, the least, and the last.

So what? Do you see these people around you? Do you remember those who have walked with us at various times, and those people who attend the varied and even strange churches of Thames? They are all the community of the redeemed, each one of them – the boring and the weird, the wild and the staid, the stable and the wobbly – they’re all redeemed, precious and loved by God. Each of them and their distinctive communities are expression of the wideness of God’s mercy. 

Love them! God does. And in loving them we will astonish those who are on the fringes seeing whether we can live up to what we proclaim. Love them, too. God does because He knows it’s the only thing that’ll get them to this blessed place where we are. 

It we’re redeemed by the King of all Creation, then we have great significance, and no cause to fear anyone or anything. This week try at least one thing that you’ve been putting off or running away from because “I’m no-one special”. God calls you significant and He calls you to be kind with a purpose, however that looks for you and your world.

Let’s take a moment of silence to reflect on God’s words to us this morning – whether it was in anything I said, or something different you heard.

Who are we? 1. The People of God

This is the start of a new series, delivered to the people of Thames Union Parish. An opening series to start thinking about who we really are as a Church.

What’s going on in there Younger people watch or see us coming in here on Sunday mornings and have either no information about what happens here, or worse they have popular media distorted views about who we are, what we believe, even about our usefulness in the face of many concerns and problems. And we often don’t help them by how we behave and talk, whether to them or to others they’ve observed.

We have often not done well – sometimes we’ve been brilliant (but mostly as unconnected individuals) at caring and even carrying people we find struggling. But as a group we’re not hugely evident – even by rumour.

So it begs the question; what is a church, and who are we who claim be a church.

Let me just clarify from the outset, the church is collection of human beings clustered around an astonishing story of grace and kindness flowing for the very heart of God – surprising and unexpected – turning our worlds happily upside down, changing us and our institutions from the inside out. We damage the church by turning into an institution or a building in which the people of God meet, or a set of human traditions to be preserved no matter what.

So my introductory series addresses the question: Who are we as a church? What are we here for? Who are we here for? And how are we meant to function?

Special, distinctive, selected, loved, and purposeful are good words to describe this unique organism the Church – the Body of Christ. In his first letter, Peter uses some very important words to describe us in the context of our relationship with God in Christ.

Living stones – we are an essential part of the fabric of God’s design to house His infinite love and grace, a place for the lonely to find rest and recovery. So we are living stones, fit into an organism of grace and witness to that labouring and despondent, observant community – all around us.

In this organism, this living edifice, Jesus is our foundation, the cornerstone around  whom all else functions and hold together.

A Royal Priesthood who offer the sacrifice of given, surrendered lives through Jesus Christ to the God who loves and saves us.

We are a chosen race, a new ethnicity, a new humanity, based around God’s choosing, and setting apart; generated around wholly different DNA that is based in grace, compassion, community, all from a single spiritual Father – the One God.

We are also called a holy nation – the kingdom of God – acknowledging the rule of God whom we seek to reflect in our personal lives and in our relationships as His distinctive people. We are made holy in the cleansing of the blood in the giving of Jesus Christ for us as our liberation, our hope. We are made so with a purpose – the liberation of others under the name and by the agency of the Cross, the same Cross that liberated us.

God’s own people sounds to me like a summary of what Peter put first. But here the emphasis is that we belong to God – we have a higher priority than our own pleasure and pursuits. It’s less because of our own decision, but much because of HIs taking us permanently under HIs protection and His plan for our lives in His purposes for this wearied planet. As such we live in a relationship of privileges and responsibilities (like every other relationship), we are blessed to be a blessing, we are comforted in order to create a community of comforters for those we encounter every day. In our openness to the Lord’s astonishing grace, we find ourselves chosen with a purpose – equipped and directed, but also wonderfully accompanied by the living Spirit of God and by His loved and treasured guardians.

So what? As a distinctive and treasured community of God’s people we have something worth telling people about, something good into which we invite them. AS privileged children of God we dare to ask the Lord for what we need to do HIs work in this place, and these communities scattered along the coast. What we need He promises to give us, what we seek for He promises we will find, and the opportunities that give us an opening into our communities, He will open to us. As chosen, royal, priestly, holy people we can risk reaching out in His name because we know this is His purpose in us, and in choosing and sending us.WHo are we

No Shortcuts

Genesis 9:8-17; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:9-15

The Only Way to Get There is to stay on the main road.This was my dad’s reasoning to my mum when we were making our first road trip from Dargaville to Auckland. The road was muddy, hard and shingled a lot of the way (it was 1953), and the diversion along the Kaipara Harbour was no shortcut. My sister and I were going to get nauseous whichever way they went. And it could take as long as 6 hours. Now, there is still either SH1 or SH16, and whichever way you go takes at least 2 and a half to three hours, and there are no shortcuts. Even if the road is a lot better now it’s the only way through.

The road following Jesus includes hills and valleys, rough patches, dry deserts, and drenching deluges, and it’s the only way forward with Him. Even if we try to take a diversion here, or a scenic route there, we still find ourselves back on the same road with the Lord. We may be tempted attractive side tracks, or to go back or stop altogether – but He will always call us back onto the road with Him.

In this journey of faith there is road of His choosing that builds and strengthens our relationship with Him, and our willingness to shoulder our part in the work of the pilgrimage of joy. There are stages we all have to go – just like Shakespeare’s imaginative stages of the life of every person…or like the stages of life discerned by Piaget and Maslow.

In this journey with the Jesus Christ, we start with our initiation, or baptism. And this start is at His invitation. either our parents brought us as little ones to be baptised into the family of the Church, or “we made a decision to follow Christ.” Seriously any decision we made was in response to His lovingly insistent invitation. Our Lord goes through baptism to show that this is indeed the beginning of the path of the spiritual life. Even adult baptism is something that’s done to us – by the congregation. We start in fellowship, not alone.

Uncomfortably the next step seems to keep showing up in different forms – like the steep and winding hills that traverse this magnificent and gorgeous peninsula. Temptation or testing is a recurring phase in this pilgrimage of joy, this life-strengthening journey following Christ. Jesus was lead into that situation by the Holy Spirit. It hardly seems fair don’t you think. First the high of baptism and the startling affirmative word breaking through from the heavens, followed by a series of agonising tests.

Even a favoured and holy person like Noah had endure the testing of building a ridiculous boat, waiting for a weather no-one else could see. But for Noah it lead to an eternal covenant between God and humankind (that’s us), to favour us even when we didn’t deserve it. Peter likens Noah’s experience to baptism into a new life. What are you trusting in to keep you through times of testing? Peter offers the resurrection of Jesus Christ as a demonstration of our hope, standing at the end of our trials and tests.

The problem is that too many of us think the Christian life is about avoiding and surviving temptation, about not getting caught, but it is far more than that. For Jesus the initiation and the testing had a purpose that showed itself in his obedience to God’s call in proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom. This was His response to the call on His life, and we know He didn’t just preach. He healed and delivered people from all manner of illnesses and diseases, He challenged religious bigotry, He frequented the company of the socially untouchable. He did what God put before Him, day by day, hour by hour…all the way to the pain and dereliction of His suffering and crucifixion. And our testimony is that even this horrid death could not claim Him, because it was for the sake of a love that saves and redeems us, that in resurrection we see the wonderful triumph of love over all that resists it. Our obedience is expressed in doing whatever God has given us to do that gives some form of proclamation of this amazing good news.

Since we’ve been brought to this astonishing starting point in God’s grace, and we keep on through all the testing that comes our way, we also seek to know and answer the call that each of us has in the Lord who walks with us in that grace. What is your call? What does it look like for you and your life to obediently testify to the wonders of this Good News of the Kingdom of God? What happens for you when you leave this holy hour for the streets and neighbourhoods of Thames?

We each have a calling, that is an expression of the grace that won us, saved us in the midst of testing, and still persists with us – regardless of age, or station in life, or of health. To love as He loved, to care the way He cares, even to ache with that for which He aches. This is HIs relentless and loving call to each of us. In this Lenten season, maybe we can reflect on how our lives can be shaped, or reshaped so as to enable us to continue to be His living vessels in this place and at this time.

Getting Started: Hearing the Call

Hearing the Call – however unlikely

1 Samuel 3.1-10; John 1.43-51

Unlikely calls are how our Lord does things. It’s amazing and often surprising who God calls into roles and ministries of differing sorts – not just ordained ministry. (But even there, God chooses to call people according to values we don’t always understand.) Even those who are called are as startled as anyone else to find themselves drawn into this breathtaking chase of God’s purposes for them. It all starts with God’s very accurate and detailed knowledge of who we are, who we really are – when no-one is looking.

How well does God know you? What parts of who you are, are known? Beyond our amazing, intricate biomechanics that is. Do you think our Creator has insight into our deepest places; our dreams and passions, our ideals and hopes, our “if-onlys”? Is this the One who has had a hand in fashioning the genes, arranging our lineage – building our multi-stranded history that lead to the production of you, of me?
The Psalmist reflects: You shaped me first inside…in my mother’s womb
I am marvellously made
You know me inside and out
Like an open book,
You watched me grow from conception to birth
You saw who You created before I became me
Every single moment You are thinking of me!              Psalm 139
It’s not the usual picture we have of God, but here He is, desperately in love with us, He does not share in our negative image of ourselves.
I watched Guy Martin working with a team building a Spitfire almost from scratch, and saw the utter joy with which it’s builders watched it roar off into the sky, fulfilling all it’s promise.
Does it not occur to us that our Creator celebrates and sings in joy over the pinnacle of His astonishing acts of Creation?
That’s why the Lord didn’t hold back from the only solution that could bring us back to Him, to HIs loving heart (in spite of all our mess!) He wants us to hear and believe His call to follow Him, to work with Him, to find ourselves being magnificently shaped and reshaped for the purpose for which He has drawn us to Himself.

Samuel didn’t even know God spoke to people when he first heard God directing his path. He knew there was a remarkable story behind his life at Shiloh with ancient Eli. Same was after only 12 years old when God called him to a different and prophetic role in the life of Israel. He had to speak harshly to the one who had nurtured and taught him about the shame of Eli’s sons.
Once Samuel understood that this was God calling him and directing him, in spite of his inexperience and youth, he set himself to live according to God’s call – however unlikely that call must have seemed. The Lord had been making and fashioning Samuel into the person who would become one of the most faithful and respected prophets Israel would ever know.

Nathanael who? – is a question on the lips of many NT scholars. His mate Philip had just accepted the invitation to join Jesus’ inner group of followers, along with Peter and Andrew old friends of his. He’s been watching what Jesus is doing from a distance, curious, but not particularly moved and when Philip enthusiastically tells him that this new attraction in town is from Nazareth, Nathanael is plain skeptical. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” It’s kind of like saying the same thing about Maungaturoto.
And yet when Nathanael realises that Jesus knows and understands him, he is deeply moved. This skeptic will see things he never believed were possible, but because of his personal encounter with Jesus, Nathanael will follow Him to the end. He joins his future to Jesus and that of his Galilean friends. He would find himself, along with other followers, doing amazing things, seeing impossible lost lives changed, and people with disastrous illnesses and uncontrollable dysfunctions being healed and liberated. Skeptical Nathanael would be a part of that tumultuous life.

You too have a call on your life from the Lover of our souls, the Liberator of imprisoned spirits. Whatever qualification Samuel and the apostles had, we would never have taken them seriously as indicating them to be the perfect followers and interpreters of Jesus mission among the least and the lost of humanity. So even if you don’t feel all that well suited to such a call, that very fact puts you at the top of the list of possibilities. God isn’t looking for superstars, His greatest pleasure and deepest trust is in those who simply love and trust Him, and would go to the ends of the earth if He asked.
Such is the love of God and the power of our Saviour, that even when we stumble, He picks us back up and breathes new life into us by His Spirit. In this very act we are made into shining stars in God’s forever kingdom enterprise in our here and now.
Please hear this as an expression of the Lord’s compassion on you and those among whom He has placed you – an affirmation of your worth and your value, whatever state you find yourself in as one who is essential to His outrageous plan to reclaim humanity from it’s lost beauty and purpose.

Getting Started: A Clean (Re)-start

Mark 1.4-11; Acts 19.1-7

The end of a long holiday, or a period of grieving, or recovering from emotional disruption, leaves us needing to find a way to restart our daily role in life or ministry, or start a whole new stage and calling in our lives. Some of us try to atone for over indulgence in Christmas Fare (cleansing their systems of too much sugar and fat), and others take a day or two in returning to what we call “normal”

Some try to deal with this by making resolutions. This year is going to be different, because I’m going to exercise more, eat less rubbish, be less grumpy, give up (who knows what), read my Bible every day, even pray every day (actually pray for people (even those who annoy me).

Trouble is we’ve probably broken or ignored most of them already, precisely because we left it up to ourselves, and they were just “good ideas” – and even if we have made ourselves accountable to someone else, we’re already evading questions about how we’re doing.

It’s possible we don’t have a good enough reason to change.

If only we could start as though we were starting out fresh, clean of old habits.

The Bible
Our readings talk about a washing that reflects a decision to embrace a new attitude to life – a change of direction – from self destruction, to wise choices, God choices (as we would see it). However we hear Jesus’ words to Peter, that in this sense one wash is enough to last a lifetime – but that doesn’t seem to have the effect of marking the significant change we feel we need to mark a fresh start.

Paul can see that the Ephesians are not quite as complete in their faith as they would hope, they’re clean but don’t seem to be able to keep up the new way of living. A wash wasn’t quite enough for what they needed. What they were getting was a strategy for “sin-management” (Dallas Willard). What they needed was a reason to carry on being changed. So first Paul completes their baptism through the greater-than-John, Jesus Christ, whose baptism could set their feet on a whole new path in life – no longer living for themselves.

There still remained the question of how to keep on that path – in fact how to achieve a change that got right inside of them – as it were living in and through them. The Holy Spirit, promised by John and delivered by Jesus to His followers, and passed on by faithful followers ever since, is God alive within the believer enabling much more than a squeaky clean life, even a clean restart.

Beyond gospels of sin-management
In his book The Divine Conspiracy Dallas Willard is adamant that salvation in Christ and new life from the inner dwelling of the Holy Spirit was not about staying pure, but about being equipped to carry on the work of Kingdom with heavenly direction and motivation. Too often salvation and the gift of the Spirit is seen as a trophy, marking me like circumcision, as strangely favoured by God. In fact it’s the first steps of a whole new life with renewed, selfless focus. Another book I’d love you try is 21 Elephants by Scottie Reeve. Scottie is the leader of Blueprint a missionary focussed church in the Cuba Street area of Wellington. He recounts how Charles Finney used to immediately sign up converts to the cause for the Abolition of slavery in the US. Scottie is following a similar vision by involving his young community of faith in the aching social needs of inner city Wellington.

Neither writer is interested in solely keeping their community pure and squeaky clean, their keen and ardent concern is to propel outwards, a community that is available for God to change the world through them – one case at a time.

As far as “sin-management” is concerned, if you’re completely focussed on being (or at least becoming) a Holy Spirit-inspired and enabled agent for change, sin is going to be much less of a threat, much less preoccupying. Staying pure is chiefly about being able to actually do what we’re called, each of us, to do. It’s about being a person of character in whom the astonishingly efficacious work of God’s Spirit can begin to deposit the salt and light of the Kingdom of God in the very place where He sets you to relate and embrace those in need.

Restarting Clean and Fully Charged

As we contemplate a year of new opportunities Jesus presents us with the freedom to start anew, free of fear, of addictions, of self-doubt and filled with His Spirit of empowering and enabling to be directed into being a part of His Kingdom coming right here, right now. His grace, powerfully liberating, keeps us close to HIs heart, to His concern for a lost world and He calls us to join Him in bringing a new way of being into our place and our time. Do you hear it? Doesn’t it cry out to you?

Being the Church we’re called to be

[This based in notes from Rev Brendon Wilkinson’s message this morning at Holy Trinity Anglican, Dargaville]

Matthew 4.1-11

The temptations with which the Adversary tries to distract Jesus from His calling are instructive as we look at Jesus’ responses and what they could mean for us as a Church looking to be what God calls us to be

  1. The Church is one that is lead by the Holy Spirit – to understand itself as a community that is being taken to where it can be and do what God is calling to be and do. This must be true of the component members of the Church too. We practice seeking God’s Kingdom and His righteousness, in dependance upon the unfailing guidance of the Holy Spirit.
  2. The Church we are called to be is one that hungers for and devours God’s Word. This is one that seeks God together in faithful prayer, that is fed upon the sustaining power and grace of every word that comes from the mouth of God. Again the strong implication is that we each have a privilege to seek out the sustenance that is ours in daily consuming and being consumed by the Word and words of God.
  3. The Church that is our home is one that lives it’s missional life out of faith in God – explicit and implicit, believing in God’s purpose and plan in all that He calls us to and leads us through, and even those to whom He leads us. Individually we live out our lives in a relationship that is expressive of our thankful faith and trust in God who shows Himself faithful and sure in all HIs ways – even they seems more like a threat than a promise.
  4. The Church that is truly seeking to be what calls for is one that is very clear about who it is and where it comes from. Identity means knowing who you are and how you got where you are and to whom you received the life that you now live. Identity means being clear about who or what decides how we live, and before whom we bow, and to whom we owe worship and honour. Each of us, therefore has the honour of discovering and reminding ourselves in the daily discipline of prayer, study and fellowship about where we came from, by whose word and gracious intervention we came to be on this journey. We remind ourselves who it is that loves us without faltering, and who it is from whom we draw energy and inspiration for all that we hear ourselves being called forward.

The Dethroning of Self

Leviticus 19.1-2,9-18; Psalm 119.33-40; 1 Corinthians 3.10-11,16-23; Matthew 5.38-48

[I shared this in a less formal manner with the tiny congregation of Te Kopuru]

Imagine a different world within or among our world. A world where all the nonsense has ceased – political, philosophical, cultural, theological, racial, denominational. Imagine a world that which in our deepest hearts we long for. Where love is so powerful that hate is so difficult to sustain that: even our enemies up caught up in it – a kingdom so broad and far-reaching that there is room to include all races, cultures, creeds and fads – radicals and conservatives and progressives – punks, hippies, rastas, careerists, wheelers and dealers – Maori and Pakeha, Jew and Arab, Indian and Pakistani, North and South Korean – rulers, rebels, reactionaries – servants and subversives, scientists and artists, hobbyists and contemplatives. Even room for evangelicals, pentecostals, traditionalists, the liturgically inclined and the fringe element. No-one’s fighting, no-one’s competing for the high ground, no-one’s shouting and everyone is trying to hear each other’s music, see each other’s art, observe each other’s heart. All is in Christ and all is for Christ – in fact all IS Christ.

With me on the throne revenge seems like a good idea. I need to be protected – I can not be safely attacked or insulted – those who stand against me must be put in their place. I need to draw the boundary lines that may not be crossed. Recompense is owed to me first, generosity should be directed towards me. My enemies don’t belong in my world – who do they think they are?! With me on the throne I’m not able to take the needs of the world seriously because my needs come first, I must be clothed first, I must be fed first, I must be healed first. Me, me, me, me. Or as George Harrison put it; “I me mine…”

All through the day, I me mine
I me mine, I me mine
All through the night, I me mine
I me mine, I me mine
Now they’re frightened of leaving it
Everyone’s weaving it
Coming on strong all the time
All through the day I me mine

I-I-me-me-mine, I-I-me-me-mine
I-I-me-me-mine, I-I-me-me-mine

But if the world is to be as we imagine and hope then we have just worked against that dream by taking revenge against another.

With Jesus on the throne priorities change, our focus is wider, more far-reaching. He reminds us that He died for us while we were still His enemies, and that repeated offences are met with grace, that we are still welcome at the Table. (Perhaps at that very Table He forgives and restores us as friends of whom He is especially fond.) Perhaps He shows you that your oppressors, those who malign and insult you, are in fact the ones who stand to lose – forever! That in some matters He makes no difference between you and the disregardful, blasé, wrong-doers – that we all got to bask in a long hot summer, and we all were refreshed under the life-giving rain – all of our gardens bloomed anew.
I was going to say that living with those we know and love best is easier, but sometimes they hurt us too – it’s that we’re usually readier to come to terms with them, than those we really don’t like, and don’t care about. But listen in that we’re no better than anyone else in town. The gangs take great care of each other, the perpetrators of injustice hold together quite well, but they harbour huge resentment against those who frustrate or cross them – to the point of quite vicious revenge. When Jesus is enthroned (when self is dethroned) enemies matter to us as people deeply loved and cherished by the God of grace.
People of difference are fascinating examples of the astonishing variety of God’s Creation when His son directs our attitudes and affections. I loved living in Auckland the last 12 years precisely because of the many and beautiful cultures from our global neighbourhood.
So the question is how do we go about living with Jesus on the throne?

Decrees from the Throne often come as mere whispers, as sudden enlightenment about this scripture or that hymn. It means ordering your life so as to pay attention to what He is stirring within your own kindly heart, and doing what you hear or see as His direction. If you’re not sure there is plenty direction and insight available here – with Brendon (and me) and others who have learnt to listen and follow. Still your heart as you come to the altar this morning; listen for His gentle whispers; attend to the imagery of His immense love in the giving of the bread and the wine, the meal that, Spirit-empowered sends you into the world fed to achieve whatever He’s calling you both away from, and towards and into.