Tuesday, April 27, 2021

On a hillside 18) B7 Group peace on the outside.


This Easter event expresses group peace on the OUTSIDE by the extraordinary other commission of Jesus.  I say 'other' because the most famous commission at the end of Matthew's gospel in which Jesus sends out disciples into all the world to make disciples does not stand alone. John 20 shows another commission:  As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.  And with that he breathed on them and said: Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them they are not forgiven.  It looks like a mini-Pentecost before Pentecost. Here, Jesus breathes on them the Holy Spirit – the breath of resurrection life, of peace, love, and forgiveness.  They share in his mission, as the Father sent me, I am sending you.  It has immense authority - not, of course to forgive sins themselves but to declare God's forgiveness. It's all about peace-making as bringers of good news about God’s forgiveness.  Blessed are the empowered peacemakers.

Now outside their fellowship they are to be active peacemakers.  One text that really sticks with me as so important for OUTSIDE peace-making is Romans 12: 18: If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.   Notice how practical this is. There are circumstances outside your control and mine. Some have more influence. Prince Philip died in the week that I preached this and I was interested that the i newspaper editorial listed his many roles and at the top it had: war hero, loyal consort, peacemaker behind Palace doors. Well, for most of us influence is more limited. But we do have some influence. We live in a series of concentric circles and the further you move from the center of your own orbit the less influence you have. But there are many relationships and situations where it does depend on you. Close by. At the centre is home where you maybe single or live with family members; around that circle is the extended family; then church family; then neighbours. In all those areas we do have opportunity to be peacemakers.  Further is our work place, our community around, our nation and the international sphere.  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 

As I wrote last time this beatitude is demanding.  David Head wrote a books of prayers for the natural man – very self-centred prayers!  Like this: I pray for the relations with whom I have been encumbered. I should hardly have chosen a single one of them. Help me to find some good in them, however difficult a job that may be. Don’t let me see too much of any of them. Let the occasional duty visit be brief and bearable. Lord what selfish, thoughtless, jealous, difficult and presumptuous people most of my neighbours are. May I be rewarded for my patience with them by finding that they are all of use to me.

Jesus the Peacemaker calls us to join him in a better mission - to be peacemakers wherever its possible. .

Thursday, April 22, 2021

On a hillside 17) B7 Group peace - easy?


In this room with Jesus there are very different personalities, contrasting stories and complications in relationships. We know they argued about who was the most important.  It’s never easy in a group to remain at peace.  But now Jesus brings peace centre-stage as the characteristic of his people.

A (very) long time ago Carol and I attended a Christian Student Congress which drew hundreds of students from all denominations to Edinburgh.   And, unfortunately, it got off to a very bad start because the organizers had given us over to be a captive audience to TV filming a variety show.  It caused an almighty row, walkouts and the next time we met it fed the most ferocious anger and condemnation and divisions amongst us.  It was incredible uncomfortable being there. That’s why I remember it so well.  And someone sitting behind us said: 'See how these Christians love one another'.  It was irony because all we could see was the absence of love and peace.  It was later I realized that he was quoting  Tertullian (an early church leader) who lived around the end of the 2nd. century.  But when he said it he meant it for real: See how these Christians love each other and how they are ready to die for each other.  That’s Jesus followers at their best.

Sadly, we are naturally gifted at peace-wrecking.  On a spectrum from peace-making at the one end to peace-wrecking at the other, most of us gravitate towards the peace-wrecking end. Indeed, some have black belts in peace wrecking.  It is so easy to fall out with people, be hurt, jealous, angry, irritated, share bad chemistry.  Yes, spoil peace. When Jesus brings peace among his disciples he calls us to stop peace-wrecking to become peace makers. It's one of his tough demands but he promises his help.  It needs all the qualities we have met in the beatitudes so far - like meekness, gentleness with the strength of steel.  Velvet covered bricks.  Here are deeply challenging implications for how we behave together INSIDE church.   But there is much more....

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

On a hillside 16) B7 group peace on the inside

When Jesus speaks a second time: Peace be with you we realize that it's not just a greeting to shaken disciples.  Something significant has happened and it's to do with PEACE!  For what Jesus has done on the cross is profound. His act of sacrifice has won peace for the world. 'But now in Christ Jesus, you who were once far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ. For he is our peace ( Eph.: 2:13,14). Jesus died, once for all, to bring everything together in God. Everything - all the conflicts, separation of people from God, all the despair in people, between people, between nations, between all created things.  Jesus is the Peacemaker winning a new cosmic reality of deep harmony and togetherness.  It is God's win-win. Isaiah foresaw the possibility: One day the wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat (Isa 11:6). Woody Allen commented:'I don't imagine the sheep gets much sleep'!  What the cross has accomplished - the sheer scale of at-one-ment, reconciliation, forgiveness - changes everything.

And it seems so appropriate that the seventh beatitude belongs in this room: Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called sons of God.  This beatitude has a wide reach.  It calls us to pray on the largest scale for peacemakers in places of conflict across our world.  But this locked room also helps us drill down into some very personal implications.  For here peace has two aspects - working INSIDE the group of disciples as well as OUTSIDE . 

INSIDE PEACE - the binding together of disciples by the peace of Jesus is startling. Before Jesus comes they are individuals coping with sadness in fear in their own ways. Very different personalities with complicated relationships (like jealousy and jostling for position).  Yet now, with Jesus alive they are confronted by a whole new focus for living together.  Jesus is the highest common denominator.  He has vindicated everything he promised them. They can share faith, hope, courage in a togetherness that was never possible before. He had told them 'My peace I give to you, not as the world gives to you' (John 14:27) but how could they ever understand this kind of peace until Jesus the peacemaker stands before them.  The risen Jesus brings them together as never before. Them and every group of Christ-followers ever since.

But is this peace-making togetherness easy?   Never......

Sunday, April 11, 2021

On a hillside 15) B7 The Peacemaker

A couple of you have told me that you are following the posts on the Beatitudes. Thank You! Well, the series has been somewhat disjoined.  Blessed are the meek seemed such an appropriate fit for Palm Sunday.  And, this Sunday, Blessed are the peacemakers really connects with Jesus' resurrection appearance in the locked room.

Some claim that of all the resurrection appearances the story of the disciples together in a locked room expresses the impact of Easter more than any other.  Here is a group for whom the worst has happened and there is no way forward.  Death has happened. It was all so unfair. The travesty of the trial, the horrific cross, the finality of the tomb. The enemies of Jesus had triumphed.  In that room is deep personal failure. Failure of courage, one a denier, all deserters. Utterly miserable they are bound by grief, guilt and fear. How they have let Jesus down!  They have nothing now but the dread of  a knock on the door as the enemies come for them.  Poignantly, they have heard strange talk from women who had been at the tomb earlier that day.  But their tale sounded absurd.  So they huddle in fear.  They have been with the best person you could imagine, who said the best words and did the best things and now he has gone for ever and they let him down.

We cannot register the shock when Jesus comes and stands before them. We are to understand that he didn't knock on the door. Suddenly he is there. And when he speaks it's as though they have never let him down.  He gives the customary greeting: Peace be with you.  Not one word of judgement, rebuke, disappointment.  He shows them his hands and side.  It really is him.  Not a collective delusion!  Jesus of the cross is alive - with them.  There's a massive understatement - And the disciples were overjoyed with they saw the Lord.  They are ecstatic, delirious with joy.  He is with them and he is saying PEACE which spells out a togetherness with love that is so powerful and active it brings everything that is broken into the deepest harmony possible. From the worst to the best feeling in the world.  If they had known the words and tune they could sing with Louis Armstrong:  I see skies of blue, and clouds of white, the bright blessed day , the dark sacred night, and I think to myself: What a wonderful world!.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

A very Happy Easter 2)

The second word is POWER.  Many people are confused about power and love. They say: 'If your God is so powerful why doesn’t he stop terrible things like this pandemic from happening'. It doesn't seem that you can have both.  But they are confusing force with power. God never forces his way into the lives of men and women.  One of the big mysteries about Easter is why God does not enforce this supreme moment of unrepeatable triumph for the world?. Nothing like this has happened before or since. Come on, Lord, go public.  Why doesn’t he enforce his victory?  

When I read Muhammed Ali’s autobiography (not because I’m into boxing but because I wanted to see what made him tick) he tells how he changed his name from Cassius Clay and told the world he was the greatest and would win against Sonny Liston to become Heavy Weight Champion of the World.  So many people were against him. People said they wanted his big mouth shut up for ever.  There was actual hatred.  And when he won in the 7th round, he says in his autobiography.

The press gather in front of me it’s hard to forget that nearly all of them considered me a hoax. They started to shoot question at me, but I cut them off: 'Hold it, Hold it', I say.  'You’ve all had your chance to say what you thought before the fight now its my turn.  Now I want all of you to tell the whole world while the cameras are on us. Tell the world that I’m the greatest. There’s a silence. Who’s the greatest/ I say again. They look up with solemn faces but the room is still silent. FOR THE LAST TIME I shout. All the eyes of the world are on us. You just a bunch of hypocrites I proved all of you wrong. I shook up the World. Tell me who is the Greatest'. They hesitate for a minute and final in a dull tone they answer 'YOU ARE'.   
 I copied that and marked it 'Easter' because on Easter Day Jesus truly is the Greatest!  He has shaken up the world, proved his critics wrong. So why doesn't he appear to Caiaphas and Annas who schemed his death in cold blood; confront Pilate and Herod and put them in their place; process again into Jerusalem but this time as a victory parade?  BECAUSE THIS IS NOT GOD''S WAY.  It never is.

Rather, God's way is to meet weeping Mary at the tomb and call her 'Mary'.Personal, individual. And two disciples along the road to Emmaus who don't recognize him until supper, and disciples in a closed room. He never forces himself on the world. That’s the wonder of his love drawing oiur faith.   And I love the beatitude he gives to Thomas.  Because you have seen me you believe; Blessed are those who has not seen yet have believed (John 20:29).  He does want the whole world to know that he has transformed our existence.  But he works by love and by faith. One-by-one. That makes it deeply personal.  Do I trust him as my Easter Lord? That’s the crunch point for all of us. 

Monday, April 5, 2021

A very Happy Easter

It was thrilling to be back in church with the allotted socially-distanced mask-wearers....all greeting each other with care and great enthusiasm. I shared how 'jazzed' I was to be preaching on this greatest day of the year.  Matthew’s account is dramatic (Matt. 28:1-10) Because he tells us that at dawn the first Easter Day there was an earthquake.  The very ground shook violently.  Matthew also tells us that when Jesus died the earth shook. Here is God at work. I focused on two major aspects of God's work with us. 

The POWER of God.  On Jan 12 2021 I was sitting at the kitchen table in our small extension when suddenly, the whole section of the house was shaken by a huge shock wave that hit the French doors with violence and seemed to move everything.  I imagined the extension would have cracks coming apart from the main house.  Outside, neighbours had gathered because the shock.  Carol was sure it was a sonic boom and later the RAF confirmed that Quick Reaction Alert Typhoon aircraft had been launched to intercept an aircraft that has lost communication. We were assured they were authorized to fly at supersonic speeds and sure enough sonic boom had blasted a wide area.  Apparently it can have force of 100 megawatts per square metre and sound loud at 200 decibels! 

Now, I mustn’t let imagination run wild, but the way Matthew tells it - at the same time as the Angel of the Lord comes down from heaven and going to the tomb rolls back the stone, with appearance like lightning and clothes white as snow, the earthquake occurs. An extraordinary shaking divine intervention. A godly POW.  At the epicentre, guards were so afraid  they shook and became like dead men.  Angels were there are the beginning of the story with Elizabeth and Mary and at Christmas their message ran: Don’t be afraid, We bring good news.  And here in a convulsion in the very fabric of the universe the angel announces: Fear not (why wouldn't you be frightened?) He's not here, he is risen. Go and look in the empty tomb. He's alive and on the move. Everything is shaken to the core.   

How God breaks the rules! All that we thought we knew about life and death is transformed. God has dealt with Man’s first enemy SIN as his only son dies to bear the consequences of our sin and to set us free, the righteous for the unrighteous. God has dealt with man’s last enemy DEATH as his only Son rises from the dead.  He guarantees life has ultimate meaning.  Up until the first Easter nobody could tell us what life was about and how it was to end. Of course people speculated. Philosophers philosophized, optimists optimized, pessimists pessimized. But no one knew for sure until that first Easter when God acted in power to show us  definitively, that human life has purpose far beyond what we see. And that the Lord who declared: I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life' really is!  He is the Resurrection and the Life.  Everything is changed for the better. 

Friday, April 2, 2021

Good Friday

Sometimes it seems almost effortless; sometimes it's the hardest thing in the world.  

In the beginning God spoke  'Let there be light and there was light. God saw that the light was good'  Genesis 1:1-5 gives the timeless truth that God is creator. Out of nothing he spun the universe. With awesome power, control, and wisdom he creates. There is not one word of sweat, suffering or, agonizing.  God commands and it was so.  He made the world good.

But today we see Jesus, the Son of God dying on a cross (Mark 15:33-37). He had suffered the agony in the garden with sweat like drops of blood, needing the companionship of his closest disciples who had fallen asleep and missed much of the desolation of seeing the man who seemed in control of  the wind and waves, of feeding 5000 people, of every situation, now wrestling for his future, for their future.  Every painful step has hurt - the betrayal, denial, cruelty and today the awfulness of crucifixion.  When we read his crying out in a loud voice 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?' we cannot imagine the depth of pain as Son is severed from Father for the sake of bearing our sin.  Nor can we easily cope with the pathos of bystanders misunderstanding the gravity of sacrifice here. 

What a cost to love like this. As the old hymn 'There is a green hill far away' puts it:

There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin; 

He only could unlock the gate of heaven and let us in.

How dearly, dearly has He loved! And we must love him too, 

And trust in his redeeming blood and try his works to do.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Maundy Thursday B3

In our daily study we have just read through the story of Jesus before Pilate (John 18,19).  Our Bible notes entitled it 'Outmanoeuvred', as the religious leaders manipulate the crowd and succeed in extracting Jesus' death sentence from Pilate'   So much is happening through Holy Week but the theme of meekness continues to hold my attention.  I see it in the words and silences of Jesus before Pilate.  This is strength of personality restrained for God's sake.  This evening we remember the loving way Jesus spends the Last Supper with his disciples. We need to keep marvelling at his meekness in all that he is going to endure for us.  Jesus' unique act to change the world remains our focus.  He did this for me.

My sermon on the beatitude Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth emphasized the power of this Holy Week when a single figure, rejected reviled, and nailed to a cross does what only he can. That through his dying and rising he opens up a new way for us to live with God, walking as forgiven, purposeful children in his eternal Kingdom.  Is this easy?  Oh no, losing patience and self-control spoils so much in our lives!  Yet Jesus by his Spirit takes our best and our worst, our tempers, egos, drives, impatience and work them into fruit that we call fruit of the Spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self Control. Actually those last six qualities can be summed up by the one word MEEKNESS.  A combination of qualities that can be manufactured only by the Spirit of the meek Jesus living within us.  

Holy Week should impact how I am going to behave.  Have I any idea how much practicing meekness by the power of Jesus can change things around me - my home, relationships, work place, neighbours, and especially as church where Jesus calls us to embody this Spirit together?  Jesus' walk to the cross is a unique story that changes the world.  We worship with wonder and praise. And it makes it possible for us to take this beatitude to heart - it's the way that God works to bring deeper happiness. 

 The Marie Curie Foundation called us this past week to a Reflection Day. It reminded me of Eve's story about her parents, Marie and Pierre.  Having discovered radium which exceeded their expectations in intensity and application Pierre explained they had a huge choice to make.  Others were jostling to use their discovery. Would they describe the results of their research without delay giving all the details, or consider themselves inventors and patent the process.  Marie was adamant. They couldn't withhold information which would make so much difference to treating disease. She had no doubt, nor did Pierre.  Fifteen minutes later they were on their beloved bicycles. Eve wrote that they had chosen forever between poverty and fortune. In the evening they came back exhausted, their arms filled with leaves and field flowers.

But this Beatitude is about little stories of our everyday behaviour......