Sunday, 25 January 2015

Context and contours

Matthew 5:1-20
You're Blessed
​ When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:
"You're blessed when you're at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
"You're blessed when you feel you've lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
"You're blessed when you're content with just who you are—no more, no less. That's the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can't be bought.
"You're blessed when you've worked up a good appetite for God. He's food and drink in the best meal you'll ever eat.
"You're blessed when you care. At the moment of being 'carefull,' you find yourselves cared for.
"You're blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
"You're blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That's when you discover who you really are, and your place in God's family.
"You're blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God's kingdom.
"Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don't like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.
Salt and Light
"Let me tell you why you are here. You're here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You've lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.
"Here's another way to put it: You're here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We're going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don't think I'm going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I'm putting you on a light stand. Now that I've put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you'll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.
Completing God's Law
"Don't suppose for a minute that I have come to demolish the Scriptures—either God's Law or the Prophets. I'm not here to demolish but to complete. I am going to put it all together, pull it all together in a vast panorama. God's Law is more real and lasting than the stars in the sky and the ground at your feet. Long after stars burn out and earth wears out, God's Law will be alive and working.
"Trivialize even the smallest item in God's Law and you will only have trivialized yourself. But take it seriously, show the way for others, and you will find honor in the kingdom. Unless you do far better than the Pharisees in the matters of right living, you won't know the first thing about entering the kingdom.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Casting doubt

Matthew 4:1-17
The Temptation of Jesus
​Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”
But he answered, “It is written,
‘One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ”
Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple,
saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ ”
Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ”
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”
Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
‘Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.’ ”
Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
Jesus Begins His Ministry in Galilee
Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
“Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
the people who sat in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
light has dawned.”
From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
Last week, we read of Jesus' baptism and recalled our baptism, celebrating our status, baptised or not, as beloved Children of God.
As Matthew records it, after his baptism, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.
Though I've always valued retreat, I've also wondered how frustrating that might have been for Jesus.
Baptised, affirmed, commissioned, and then left cooling his heels for 40 days.
And it is then that the Tempter strikes. When Jesus is weakened and famished and far enough away from that moment of baptism to begin to doubt its authenticity.
One of my mantras is : "In times of desolation, never doubt what God has revealed in times of consolation."
But, 40 days after God's affirmation of his beloved son as he emerged from the waters of baptism, the tempter knew just where and how to strike. Jesus, tired and famished from his sojourn in the wilderness ws particularly vulnerable. And the Tempter went for the jugular.
"If you are the Son of God..."
Striking at the heart of Jesus' identity.
"If you are the Son of God..."
Did he have to prove that identity?
Could he trust the words he had heard at baptism?
Life often conspires to tell us that we are insignificant or less than beloved children of God.
At vulnerable moments, we doubt that affirmation and acceptance that God showers on us.
Attacking us right there is an effective strategy.
And the Tempter knows it.
So as we read the story of Jesus' temptation and witness how he lived into his status as the beloved Son of God, may we be strengthened to defeat all that attacks and makes us question our status as God's beloved children. And, strengthened in that knowledge, we take up our commission to emerge with Christ into ministry in the world.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Remembering our baptism

Matthew 3
The Proclamation of John the Baptist
​In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.’ ”
Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
The Baptism of Jesus
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

This Sunday, as we read about Jesus being baptised by John, we will recall our baptism. In our tradition, we practice infant baptism, so few can actually remember the event. However, the point in reflecting on our baptism is to remind us of the embrace of the love of God (or the God of love) around our lives. God who proclaimed "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.", speaks similar words into our lives today. Words that proclaim that, whoever we are, God affirms us and enfolds us in love.
Recalling God's love and affirmation for us, beloved children, would be enough.
But it would be good, too, to go a step further - to recall that in baptism, as well as being affirmed we are also commissioned - beloved children of God called out to serve God in the world.
Our response to God's love is service.
We may hear that commission affirmed in different ways in different places throughout our life in God but it begins in that moment of baptism, when promises are made, assurances given and when the love and grace of God are claimed for us.
We will leave worship on Sunday with tangible reminders of our baptism - a dove with the words "beloved child of God"  and a word for the journey, both of which, it is hoped, will encourage us, through this next year, to reflect on our baptism, to recall its significance and our commission to respond in service to God who loves us, claiming daily that love and affirmation of God who calls us "beloved children."

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Christmas leftovers

Matthew 2:13-23

The Escape to Egypt
Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”
The Massacre of the Infants
When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
“A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”
The Return from Egypt
When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”

As we think about clearing away our Christmas Nativity scenes for another year, as the twelve days of Christmas draws to a close, we are reluctant to allow this week's text to intrude into our carefully construed messages of hope, light, peace and joy that we have manoeuvred around since the beginning of Advent. We balk at introducing the bitter taste of reality into the cosiness of the Christmas story.
And yet, while those of us fortunate enough to be able to do so, have celebrated the season with family and friends, the scene played out in the wake of the Magi's visit has been the experience of many all over the world:
Young black youths massacred in policing gone wrong.
Ships full of Syrian refugees cast adrift in European waters.
Child trafficking rings catering for all manner of perverse pleasure.
Evil does not stop because a child is born. Power is still abused. The innocent continue to pay the price of perceived threat.
The difference that the birth of the Christ child makes is the knowledge of God with us in all of the world's evil.
God with us bringing a sliver of hope in despair.
God with us, bringing a glimmer of light into the darkness.
God with us bringing a thirst for peace in every conflict.
God with us bringing a stirring of joy in the depths of sorrow.

The God of love, born for us at Christmas, and present every day in all of life and death.