Archive for the ‘Psalms’ Category

Sunday Worship – 5th September

Saturday, September 4th, 2010

I led the service today. The readings were taken from the lectionary and had three messages.

1. Based on Luke 14: 25-33

Thinking about those of us starting a new year at school or university I focused on what Jesus says about counting the cost of what you are embarking on.  Of course Jesus is talking about Christian discipleship but we might also see what this says to us about the new ventures we start throughout our lives.

Thinking about what the year ahead will demand of us might make us think about giving up before we’ve even begun. But most of the time we have an inner drive that won’t allow us to do that. So we have to think about three things.

First, what will we need within ourselves. What reserves of courage, organisation, discipline, calmness, patience and so on will we need to find from our own resources? When challenged in this way we generally find that we have more about us than we realised – we are like a teabag; you don’t know how strong we are until you put us in hot water.

But when we look at the road ahead we will also conclude that we can’t do it on our own. This leads to the second question. What am I going to need from my friends and family? It does no harm to think in advance what practical and emotional help you’re going to need to get through the coming year. When will you need those around you to be understanding, consoling and encouraging?  Why not speak to those you are going to need in advance about what it is that you are going to need from them?

Last, but definitely not least, think about what you are going to need from Jesus.  Even with all the human help in the world there is no substitute for his presence throughout all the ups and downs of 09/10. Why not make this commitment now: through all the good times and bad times I’m about to go through I’m going to talk to Jesus and so receive from him what only he can give me.

2. Based on Psalm 139: 1-6, 13-18

Some people are hard to get to know because they shut others out.  It’s a shame when this happens because knowing and being known by others is one of the greatest pleasures in life.  Most of us can think of someone who really knows us in a way that no one else does; and we like to think that we can know others too in such a special way.

One of the aches of bereavement can be that the person we have lost knew us in a way that no one still alive ever will. That’s one reason we feel so terribly alone, because we are now less known than we were when our loved one was still alive. And what will become of our special knowing of that person now that they are no longer around?

Sometimes when a relationship fails the hurt that we feel is because we have become separated from a person who, whatever else has gone on, still knows us better than anyone else. And sometimes at the end of a relationship we burn with anger because we realise all of a sudden that we gave our heart to someone who never even knew us.

And it’s certainly true that different loved ones know us in different ways  no one gets the total picture.  It would take a combination of our partner, our best friend, our parent, our siblings to get close to a full picture of someone. That’s why biographers try to talk to as many different people who knew their subject as possible.

Humans can never know another human perfectly but God can. We love to be known because it’s part of being loved. Some of the calm and joyful manner that we observe in deeply spiritual people comes from the contentment of being completely and utterly known by God.  And that’s what the Psalmist is writing about in this excerpt, the profound feeling that comes from the realisation that God knows you in the most intimate, loving and secure way.

3. Based on Jeremiah 18: 1-11

In this passage Jeremiah is made to meditate on the fact that God can do what he wants with him or anyone else, just like the potter does as he or she pleases with the clay.

But Jeremiah is also made to think about the misfortune that befalls the nation as having happened by the will of God.   With the memorable phrase ‘I am a potter, shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you’ he expresses this uncomfortable idea. It’s uncomfortable because we hesitate to make God the author of evil events, yet we don’t want to think that he is unaware or powerless to prevent evil.

The later verses say that God is reacting to our own folly and evil, and so we are the author of our own misfortune – an idea that asks as many questions as it answers. Perhaps the book of Job is a better place to look for an answer to the question why bad things happen to good people, but Jeremiah certainly raises some interesting questions.

Without wanting to get into the  theological quagmire that is ‘the problem of evil’, I would say that verse 11 challenges us to look for where God may be at work when bad things happen to us. I’m not saying that every misfortune is a punishment from God, nor do I dismiss the presence of evil in the world that has a source other than God: but sometimes there is a wisdom in our suffering and there are a times when we reflect that terrible events have led us to a better place. This wisdom in our suffering is something that, through prayer, we might learn to perceive  even as our world seems to be falling apart.

Good Friday – 2nd April (Holy Week)

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

We held our service at 11am and it was well attended.

The Call to worship was Hebrews 4: 14-16

Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Hymn – 755- When I survey the wondrous cross

Prayer of Adoration
Almighty God, you made yourself weak that we might have life. You experienced pain, humiliation and death, that we might have joy, freedom and hope. You are the majestic, unfathomable, unapproachable, mysterious and mighty Lord of the Universe – your ways are beyond all our capacities. In heavenly splendour you reign, your will is pure love, a love that is so mighty and so overwhelming that it rescues us from all that we would do to oppose you. You slay us with your love, you submerge us in your grace. You go the cross to bring us back to you.  In your son Jesus Christ you have absorbed the very worst of us, and given back the very essence of you, pure and powerful love. We praise you for this wonderful and glorious gift.

Prayer of Confession

But we confess that we have not deserved this mercy and we have not been worthy of it. Each day you are crucified anew, as human cruelty, human lust for blood has its truly wicked way on your earth. Those who do such things are not so different from us, the same anger and pride lives in their hearts as is in ours. We confess that we cannot separate ourselves from those who nailed you to the cross, from those who mocked you, and from those who screamed for you to be crucified. They are in us and we are in them. Forgive us father that you came in peace and still we respond in war.

Declaration of forgiveness

And yet what is impossible for us is possible for you, and has been achieved. Your gentle humility is mightier than the pride of the whole world. In you love has conquered hatred and your take us into your kingdom – a place where your holy and perfect will is not frustrated, and no amount of sin, no amount of failure by humanity, no degree of cruelty is enough to keep you in the tomb. You rescue us from our folly, and you make us into your people, called to follow Jesus into your Kingdom.  Thank you father for the powerful, permanent, and gracious forgiveness that comes to us from your son on the cross. We delight in this forgiveness, we marvel at it, and we pledge ourselves to you, cleansed, refreshed and free to take your word into our heats and into the world.

Petition for the worship
We come before you now to feel your presence in our time of worship, and that sense of connection with those sitting around us.   Unite our hearts with each other and make us into the body of Christ. Take the words from our lips and make them into a hymn of praise to you and of true communion with all who call on you today. Pour out your Spirit on us as we say the words that Jesus taught us…
Our father…

Hymn -745- Were you there

Old Testament Reading: Psalm 22: 19-31

Hymn – 619 – Such Love

Message

For many years it puzzled me why Jesus said what he did before he died ‘My God, why have you forsaken me?’ Did he think that he had failed as he died? Was he discovering that he was mistaken to think that he was God’s son as he called for help and it didn’t come?

Many people ask why, if Jesus was what he said he was, did he allow himself to be crucified? Why didn’t he rescue himself? In fact, according to the gospels  those watching him asked him exactly that question.

And if Jesus felt that it was all going wrong, and that God really had abandoned him, why did the gospel writers include these words? After all the Gospels were carefully written and we are told that there is much more that was said and done that could have been included. So why include these words on the cross?

The answer is that Jesus experienced and redeemed our total human existence and this includes the pain and fear of saying goodbye (see Mandy Thursday) and the feeling of being abandoned by God.

That bears repeating. The Son of God, who is God in Christ, fully experienced what it feels like to be abandoned by God.  This means that not only is death and grief overcome in Christ, so is an accompanying loss of faith.

So when it happens to us, that we get that phone call, that bolt out of the blue with tragic news and our instant response is ‘There can be no God!’ in fact God has already experienced and overcome this on our behalf.

These moments are real in all our lives: we suffer in such a way that not only do we feel emtional misery or physical pain – we feel like we live in a universe with no God, abandoned to senseless or cruel suffering. But it is exactly at such a moment that we need to remind ourselves that Jesus chose to experience this, and ultimately to take away its power over us.

So it is not just death that is redeemed on the cross (as if that wasn’t enough!) Fear of death, the pain of saying goodbye, and the horrible, lonely feeling of abandonment that goes with it is part of Christ’s passion, so that it can be part of his victory in resurrection too.

Let us pray
Father there are times when it seems to us that you are not there
We feel abandoned, it seems that this is a senseless world full of pain and unnecessary suffering
And when tragedy strikes us we ask where you are and in our pain and our anguish we say, or we think, or we feel, that you are not there
We thank you that in your son Jesus you have felt that same abandonment, that same loneliness in suffering,
We ask that as we think of the cross, of the way of the cross, and of this the day of the cross, that it should speak to those moments in our life when we cry out ‘my God, my God, why have you abandoned me’.
When such moments come upon us, come to us quickly Lord, may we never stay angry, come quickly to us to reassure us that you are there
Help us to learn from all our experiences in life both good and bad and when we suffer help us to know that this is just our portion of that suffering that you chose on the cross,
We think of those days in which death and disaster have come upon people in this past year, in natural disasters, in war zones, in extremes of poverty
Through the pain of Good Friday may we glimpse the joy of Easter Sunday
For us in this church, for our friends and families and for all your people show us how to take up our cross, knowing that we go there with you
Be with us in our time of trial
 By the power of your holy spirit
And in the name of Jesus Christ
Amen

Hymn -536 – On a hill far away

Blessing/Dismissal – Hebrews 10:19-23
 Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful

The Grace

Maundy Thursday: 1st April 2010 (Holy Week)

Saturday, April 24th, 2010

In previous years the church has held a meal on the thursday of holy week, this year for the first time we had a full communion service, (although it was slightly shorter than our usual sunday worship). During the message I talked about bereavement, grieving and ‘saying goodbye’. The full service was as follows: 

The call to worship was  John 13:31b-35

‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him,  God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.  Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’
Hymn – 1- A new commandment
Prayer of Adoration
Almighty, eternal God, You have given us this day, this moment, you have given us a beautiful life. Out of love you give us the breath with which we praise you and out of pure grace you give us bodies and minds with which we experience pleasure. And out of unfathomable mercy you give us souls in which we may know you and be brought into your presence. You wash our feet, you serve us with bread and wine, you put your spirit within us and you bring your kingdom to earth.

Prayer of Confession
And yet we are ungrateful. Our striving is for ourselves, our vision is for the things of this world. We store up treasure that rusts and decays, we think so little of that treasure in heaven you have called us to work for. Forgive us, Lord, for we are not worthy to be washed, cleansed and fed by you -

Declaration of forgiveness
 And yet it is so, it is a glorious fact that you have reached deep into our emptiness and filled us, you have erased our sin, you have washed us with your loving hands, and you have fed us from your bountiful table. You have abolished the separation and pain of human existence, even our grief at the loss of those we love you have chosen to share. And by sharing our grief you have ended its power over us,

Petition for the Worship

We ask you to be with us now, as you are always. In our fellowship, in our singing, in our speaking and our listening, may we perceive you spirit moving among us. In our service of communion may we feel your presence in Christ, and may we know that it is your saving grace, may we feel its power and its beauty in this time together, as we say the words that Jesus taught us
 Our Father…
 

 Old Testament Reading:  Psalm 116: 12-19

What shall I return to the LORD
   for all his bounty to me?
I will lift up the cup of salvation
   and call on the name of the LORD,
I will pay my vows to the LORD
   in the presence of all his people.
Precious in the sight of the LORD
   is the death of his faithful ones.
O LORD, I am your servant;
   I am your servant, the child of your serving-maid.
   You have loosed my bonds.
I will offer to you a thanksgiving sacrifice
   and call on the name of the LORD.
I will pay my vows to the LORD
   in the presence of all his people,
in the courts of the house of the LORD,
   in your midst, O Jerusalem.
Praise the LORD!

Hymn – 465 – - Meekness and Majesty
New Testament Reading: John 13: 1-17
MESSAGE

I reflected on how on Maundy Thursday Jesus did not only institute the Lord’s Supper, he also experienced all the human feelings of knowing that you will die and saying goodbye to friends.

This is important because it’s included in the list of human suffering and joy that Jesus experienced – and because it has been experienced by God in Christ it is transformed. Returning to the idea that ‘what has not been assumed has not been redeemed’ (an old but great theological idea) we say that our humanity has been transformed by the fact that God shared our humanity and went through the whole range of human experience, transforming it in death and resurrection.

The devil tempts Jesus in the wilderness to avoid some of the messier or more unpleasant parts of being human but Jesus knows that his destiny is to experience it all – so that there can be no limits on salvation: he ‘assumes’ (takes on) it all so that there can be no limit on our redemption, no part of our existence that can’t be transformed.

We”ve always understood this to to include physical pain but it includes mental pain too.  So the grief and distress that we experience about death – knowing it’s coming, knowing we can’t avoid it, saying farewell to life – we must remind ourselves that this is part of the cross that Jesus took up. When we grieve or fear death we should know that in Christ God has experienced this too – and because it has been experienced by the divine, its power is taken away. No wonder the devil is so keen that Jesus should opt out of some or all of the suffering way of the cross.

As a nation we’re not good at dealing with the reality of death.  After two world wars we became the land of the stiff upper lip, perhaps this was a good thing, a necessary thing for our survival at the time. But the legacy is that we are now repressed about death, unable to speak of it, and unable to withstand the pain of saying goodbye.

But saying goodbye can be a privilege. Knowing that life is coming to an end can be a great mercy, giving us a chance to say everything that we’ve always wanted to, and to treasure each other while we can. Hospices are often joyful places, because people who know they are dying very often seem to discover a most beautiful way of living – with honesty, tenderness, forgiveness and laughter.

A great many atheists discover a complete joy in life once they know that death is round the corner. If this is availalbe to people who believe that death marks the complete extinction of their existence then how much more joy is there for us who believe in a life beyond death?

One theme that has developed from our Lent and Easter worship and bible studies is that of journeys. We must remember that in Jesus God is with us every step of the way – and that includes in our anticipation of death.

 Communion Hymn – 723 – We come as guests invited

Blessing/Dismissal – Psalm 116:1-2
 
I love the LORD, because he has heard
   my voice and my supplications.
Because he inclined his ear to me,
   therefore I will call on him as long as I live.

The service ended with the shared Grace

Mid-Week Service – Wednesday 10th March (3rd Week of Lent)

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

Call to worship: Isaiah 55: 6-7

 Seek the LORD while he may be found,
   call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake their way,
   and the unrighteous their thoughts;
let them return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on them,
   and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

Hymn 613 – SPIRIT OF THE LIVING GOD

· Prayer of Adoration
Loving God, in Jesus you bring to fulfilment all the promises that you have made to your people. In him you bring us into a new relationship with you and with each other, and you lead us on a journey towards the promised land . Through your risen son we are given certainty that this journey will reach its destination, you walk alongside us and give us everything that we need. And you have destined us for a life with you in Christ, a life of peace, joy and love. We praise you for this unfathomable gift, for this glorious grace, you are almighty, all loving, you are everything to us..
· Prayer of Confession
But we know that we have not been worthy of all that you do for us, we are not fit to be called your children. So often on our journey through life we walk away from you, away from your treasure, away from your purpose for us. We forget you too easily and too often, we become preoccupied with the trivial things of life, and we give our energy to pursuing things that do us no good at all and do not glorify you.
· Declaration of forgiveness
And yet despite all our wandering off course, you place us back on the road, although we flee from you, you never leave our side. All the times that we feel like we have been abandoned your are holding us in your loving and tender embrace. The forgiveness that you grant us through son Jesus Christ is so powerful, so wonderful, that we are brought home to you, in love, mercy and for all time.
· Petition for the worship
We come before you now to feel your presence, to drink from your living waters, to confess our sin and to be refreshed in your mercy. Surely you are alongside in all we do let us feel you especially near to us now as we come together in worship. Unite us with all who call in you today, let us feel that glorious and beautiful spiritual fellowship in our time together. May we be in this special time together the body of Christ. You are the living God, pour out your Spirit on us as we say the words that Jesus taught us…
Our father…

· Old Testament Reading: Psalm 63: 1-8

This Psalm was, so we are told, written by David in the wilderness, when he had gone into hiding.  Like many other Psalms it seems that the mood of author changes during the prayer – at the beginning he talks as though God is distant and so he longs for him, but he soon speaks about how he is engulfed by God’s presence, love and protection.  It would be good if our own prayers had this sense of dynamic change within them – this would mean that this was more of a conversation than a monologue, and that something happens to us when we pray – we end feeling different to how we did when we started.
· Hymn – 48 – Be still and know

Only I knew the tune to this one but I sang it once through and everyone picked it up for a second run through – I think it’s a great tune.
· New Testament Reading: 1 Corinthians 10: 1-13
· Message

We are half way through Lent, and so today’s theme was journeys, in particular the half way point in journeys – which is not always the most comfortable place to be.  We all have a sense of when our journey of faith began, and a vision of where it is leading, but day by day we are living in an ‘in-between’ half way there sort of mode. 

This was how some of the Christians in Corinth seemed to Paul, and so he wrote to them about how some of the ancient Israelites came unstuck when they were ‘half-way’ between captivity and the ‘promised land’. 

In between gaining their freedom and finally reaching the promised land, the Israelites had to endure some harsh times in the wildnerness. And inevitably this is when the muttering and the moaning started, and some started to lose faith. When we reach this half way point we all have this tendency to downplay, or forget the moment that launched us on this journey. And equally it’s in our nature to downplay or forget the destination we’ve been promised when we get bogged down in the problems of today.

But Paul spells it out that Christ (their future) was with them from the very beginning, when he refers to the rock they drew spiritual water from in the Wilderness as Christ – and Christ (our future) has been with us every step of the way and continues to be by our side whether we recognise him there or not.

Paul also told the Corinthians that their suffering was not unique to them – they were not going through anything that hadn’t been gone through before by others. This is a message we hate to hear – when I’m suffering I want to say that no one in the world has ever felt like me. But it’s not true – and there are so many examples of suffering endured and transcended that we have to give up our precious idea that our suffering is somehow unique.

And unlike other religions, Christianity teaches that God himself has gone through our suffering before us in the person of Jesus. And because he has gone through it all, it can all be transformed. Paul asserts that God does not test us beyond what we can endure, for he always provides the way to make it through suffering.  We all have different problems and obstacles on our journey, and it’s not possible for any one of us to say what another’s way forward is when they are in spiritual difficulty. But we can all repeat, and remind each other that God has promised that he will find provide a way, and we have to discover this for ourselves.

We can’t do this unless we depend on God. Sometimes we wonder if we’re going to make it, if we can keep going. But it’s important to remember that it’s ourselves that we lose faith in when we have these moments of doubt. We no longer believe that we have the power to keep on this path with God, but at these times we should be thinking about our faith in God, not in ourselves. We don’t have the power, but he does!

Let us pray
Father we ask that we might learn to depend on your for each step that we take through each day
Give us that assurance that our own path is part of your promise, that our weak and all too human striving is connected to your holy and mighty purpose.
Give us faith to believe in all your promises- and challenge our lack of faith when we walk away from you
Help us, Lord, to see the hard testing that comes our way for what it truly is
Let us see through all temptations, make us able to recognise that which is temporary, that which is unimportant and that which is wrong.
Grant us a vision that sees all before us from your point of view,
And give us that spiritual experience, that manna, that clear cool water, that tells us what the promised land will be like
Teach us to rely on you when tests come our way, show us the way that you have provided, the way that will keep us safe from all temptation and bring us safely to you
May your light shine through us and in our world
Continue to change us
By the power of your holy spirit
And in the name of Jesus Christ
Amen

We carried on the theme of journeys by closing with hymn 400 ‘Lead us Heavenly Father, lead us’ – and then sharing the Grace.

Mid-Week Service – Wednesday 3rd March (2nd week of Lent)

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

This is a summary of today’s service.

Call to worship:Psalm 27: 1-2

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

Prayer of Adoration

Loving God, in Jesus you have stretched out your arms to us to bring us into your warm and tender embrace. In Jesus you announce to us a new life of joy in your presence, and peace in our hearts. Through your risen son we believe that every valley will be exalted and every mountain brought low, and every tear will be wiped away. We praise you and thank you for the wonderful and glorious future that you have promised us.

Prayer of Confession

But we are not there yet, our lives on earth are a time of transformation and of waiting, of waiting and of hard testing. We are not there yet, we are separated from you and from each other. We are held back by sad memories and weighed down with regrets. In Jesus we see perfection, and we know that we do not measure up to Him…

Declaration of forgiveness

And yet all we have to do is allow ourselves to be held by the loving arms that you have stretched out to us in your son, Jesus Christ. Your love for us is so great, so powerful, that we cannot cancel out your mercy. And so our sin, our separation, is cancelled out for us, you cast out all fear, all loneliness, all hopelessness, as you redeem us with a perfect love. Thank you Father for forgiving our sins and bringing us into your arms

Petition for the worship

We come before you now to bask in your light, to feel that sense of connection with you and with each other that is so precious. Help us to leave behind us all that is petty, all that is unworthy, be with us Lord so that in this time of worship that in amongst the words that we read and that we speak and hear we may somehow hear your word.  Pour out your Holy Spirit as we say the words Jesus taught us…
Our father…
 

 Readings: Psalm 27, Luke 9:28-36

 

Message

 

In Psalm 27 David evidently has reason to feel afraid but he declares that he will not be afraid, for God is with him. Experience must have taught him up to this point that being a Godly man does not make you invulnerable to weakness, failure or defeat yet he feels the security not just of God’s presence but of his protection and cries out “I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”

 

Around the world and at all times people who have every reason to feel anger and disappointment towards God instead praise him and express their faith in the good things to come. The words of Psalm 27 take on an added power when we think of them as being uttered by a vulnerable and sometimes tormented and suffering man. And such words are heard today in the joyful prayers of the body of Christ even though they are in the midst of suffering from the aftermath of natural disasters, from grinding poverty and from persecution.

 

I would like to simply put to us this question: how is it that people who undergo such suffering and loss can praise God? How can those for whom life has been one long lesson in disappointment express so much hope? Either they are deluded, cruelly mistaken in their faith, or they have cottoned on to a reality so vivid, so beautiful and so certain in its promise (see monday’s Bible study on Genesis 15) that the devestation and disappointment of this life becomes as nothing compared with the new life God has promised us in Jesus.

 

Luke 9: 28-36 has become known as the Transfiguration – the occasion when Peter, James and John go up a mountain with Jesus to pray. While up there they see a change in Jesus’ appearance and his clothes become ‘dazzling white’. Not only this he is seen in conference with Moses and Elijah,  two of the biggest names in Judaism – prophets from the past with the very highest status, seen ‘in glory’ meaning reflections of the divine essence and presence.

 

I used to discuss this as propoganda intended for Jewish Christians – an invented fable to express the idea that Jesus’ is within the tradition of the prophets, yet surpassing them in greatness.  Clearly some of the miraculous happenings of the Gospels fall into this category, gospel authors did not consider themselves to be writing history in the modern sense of the world, rather they were putting together a narrative account of the whole meaning of Jesus’ ministry, death and resurrection.  Doing this sometimes meant  going beyond the factual and straying into what we would nowadays describe as perhaps mythical, literary or poetic prose.

 

But some of the miraculous events of the Gospels are also referred to in the New Testament Epistles , letters written to individuals or churches without any of the literary flourish of the gospels -  and for this reason these miracles have to be looked at differently.

 

The resurrection is described with a writer’s skill in the Gospel but is also recalled in plain language in the Epistles. I decided that the Transfiguration must be based on a real event after realising that it, too, is referred to elsewhere in the New Testament in the plainest of language.

 

 The transfiguration, as described in Luke 9: 28-36 has all the hallmarks of an invented tradition. But in The second letter of Peter the same event is described in the following words:

 

“For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honour and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying ‘This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.”   

 

Maybe it wasn’t exactly as described, maybe Peter, James and John had an inward spiritual experience which found expression in a more poetic tradition that makes it into Matthew, Mark and Luke’s Gospels. But something very powerful happened, it may be described in flowery language but it isn’t just made up.

 

So if it’s more than just a story, then it’s pretty important that we think about what it means.

 

The word transfiguration comes from a greek word, metamorpho , which has slipped into English usage as metamorhposis to describe a particularly dramatic transformation in someone. Meta means change, morph means form. What is happening, then is that Jesus’ form seems to be changing.

 

Or rather it is being revealed.  Jesus, it is believed, has two natures – he is both fully human and fully divine. The point is that the human nature was there for all to see, the divine nature had to be revealed. Like all the miracles of the gospels the transfiguration was a sneak preview of the heavenly transformation that is promised us in the Kingdom of God.

 

In the transfiguration Peter, James and John witness a sneak preview of the risen Jesus – the point at which his holiness is there for all to see. And the resurrection is itself a sneak preview of something that we hope will happen to us too.

 

And that brings us finally to Lent. During this time of fasting, preparation and prayer, we are focused on a transformation that we wish to see happen in us. We want our human, sinful nature to become a bit less obvious; and we want something divine to shine through instead – not something that comes from within us, but a divinity that we become attached to through Jesus.

 

If we spend the next few weeks trying to become holy then we will not have a very fruitful Easter. But if we give up the search for divinity within us we will be well on our way. For it is only when we abandon the idea of holiness in within us that we gain access to holiness without – Jesus’ holiness can be ours as long as we recognise that it is a gift, a loan, not a right or a possession of ours.

 

But Jesus’ holiness is a permanent loan with permanent effects.  Lets make use of it over the next few weeks, lets stop trying to become holy ourselves. This Lent lets give up trying to cure our own bad habits and start give him a chance to get to work on our behalf. Let us stop searching for a holy light within, it isn’t there. Then we will start to change, because he will change us if we let him. We can be changed now, we can be transfigured with holy light shining from us for all to see, revealing the new life in us as a present and future reality, and a symbol of that time when the light will abolish all darkness.

 

Father we pray for all who are suffering in Haiti and Chile, we thank you that they continue to praise your name and to live in hope. For ourselves we ask for just a drop of the ocean of faith that is found in your people who are suffering natural disasters, cruel persecution and unjust poverty.

And in this time of Lent we ask that we might be changed,

that your light may be kindled within us,

that your light should overcome our darkness.

Teach us to accept your love, help us to let you in.

Make us accept what we cannot change, so that you might take over and begin in us a most wonderful transfiguration.

May your light shine from all of us, may your goodness be reflected in our lives, and may our spiritual union with Christ be revealed in us so that others might be drawn nearer to you.

May your truth shine on us, and from us all the way  to Easter and beyond, by the power of your Holy Spirit and in the name of Jesus Christ,

Amen

Mid-Week Service – Wednesday Feburary 24th (1st Week of Lent)

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

It’s a shame that today’s service couldn’t go ahead. Here’s a summary of the content.

Call to worship: Psalm 91: 1-2

You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.”

Prayers

Almighty, loving Father.

You are Almighty, but you come to us in weakness

You are majesty, yet you walk alongside us in humility

Into your Holy being you take our weakness, our temptation, and our need.  In Jesus it is shared and transformed.We praise you for this gift, that you have willed to experience our hunger, our powerlessness and even our lack of faith.

But you are no tourist, dipping your toe in to our existence and then retreating to celestial ease. You have poured your Spirit onto your people and into our world, so that just as you share the pain and suffering of being human so we might share something of your divine and perfect life.

But this is not something that we have earned or achieved. There are many temptations that we give into, many ways in which we are led away from your purpose. So often we serve ourselves and our thoughts of you are distant  or dishonest.

Yet all that we have to do to receive this gift is to understand that it is a gift: that it comes not from our efforts but from your unconditional and perfect love for us.  And so we declare the forgiveness that is ours, but can can come to us only from you.

Guide us now in your presence, that our worship might be acceptable to you, that we may discover your Word within the words of scripture and feel that sense of connection with each other and you in Christ.  Pour out your Holy Spirit upon us as we say the words that Jesus taught us.

Our Father…

 

Message

Sometimes you have to look at the beginning of a story based on what you’ve learned at the end, and this is such a case. We know that Jesus’ mission is that despite being the centre of all power, majesty and authority, he should experience powerlessness, humiliation, physical suffering and even abandonment by God at the point of death.  This is the way in which redemption, (new life) – will be made available to us, and Jesus knows this from the very beginning.

Presumably the devil knows this too (according to the story) and this is why he tries to tempt Jesus to abandon the suffering and powerlessness that he has opted for. The devil knows the effect that the Son of God suffering like an ordinary human being will have – and so he does what he can to prevent us gaining the new life that comes from the fact that God became a human being and suffered like a human being.

There’s an old theological saying that goes “What has not been assumed has not been redeemed”.  Basically this means that Jesus assumes humanity so that humanity can be redeemed. And he assumes humanity in all its dimensions so that every aspect our lives can be transformed.  The extent to which Jesus is prepared to suffer like us decides the extent to which our own suffering can be transformed – so no wonder the devil wants him to take the easy way out.

And for the millions of people around the world living in hunger today it’s perhaps not such a philosophical point. It may be of real significance that the God that they praise (and make no mistake, faith is real and profound in such places) has shared their hunger – not as a tourist but as a saviour.

For it is in Jesus’ suffering that he accomplishes the end of human suffering, and in his experience of physical hunger that he banishes hunger from the Kingdom of God. (The story of the miracle of the loaves and fishes indicates that God’s kingdom is a place of abundance in which no one goes hungry – that all who are hungry will be filled one day.)  

Imagine Jesus taking the devil’s advice. Suppose he magics  up some bread out of a stone – this would signal the cancelling of God’s plan to share and transform our physical suffeirng. And God could do this – He has no need of us.

Suppose Jesus takes his suggestion that he should demonstrate his Godly power by summoning Angels. This paints the picture of a Jesus that comes down from the cross and ‘saves himself’ in the way that the taunting soldiers say he should. This would be the end of faith – for what meaning would it have if the world worshipped and obeyed a God that presents clear and dazzling proofs of its might? We would be a people brought to God by fear not love.

God has no need to rescue us, in fact He has no need even to create us, but he does so out of love. And he does so in weakness and humility, and in Luke 4 we see Jesus’ determination that this plan should be carried out against all other available options.

And if weakness, humility and physical deprivation are an essential part of God’s love for us and his life in Jesus then we should not be so frightened to experience these things ourselves.

Finally, the point is often made that Jesus uses the scriptures to refute the devil – that’s what happens in the passage in Luke when Jesus is being tempted in the wilderness. What’s less often noted is that the devil is himself using scripture to tempt Jesus, and I’m going to remember this the next time someone says to me “but it says in the bible…”.

The Devil quotes from Psalm 91  – suggesting that Jesus throws himself off the top of the temple,  relying on the protection described  in the Psalm in the words “He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you, On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.”

Jesus retorts by quoting from the book of Deuternonomy. “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”

Are we to conclude that the Psalms (which are used by the devil) are much less trustworthy than Deuternonomy (which is used by Jesus)? By no means! Along with Isaiah the Psalms are the portion of scripture that Jesus refers to more than any other throughout the Gospels.

But we should remember that simply quoting one piece of scripture is no way to settle an argument, and if Jesus’ approach to scripture weighs up different ideas expressed in different Old Testament books and verses then why should ours be any different?  Jesus upholds and reveres the scriptures but he’s no fundamentalist. The gospel message is perceived in scripture only with an intelligent, critical and Jesus centred reading of it.

Let us pray:

Loving God, we thank you that you have chosen to share our humanity,  and so to bring us new life. We praise you for the way in which you choose weakness and hunger for yourself that we might be filled with your power, and the promise of eternal life.

In this time of Lent help us to experience our own weakness in a new light – in your light. Help us to see your purpose in our own difficulties, and to see the face of Jesus in those suffering around us. Refresh and revive us in our daily lives.

May our lust for power be challenged by your weakness, so that we might in our weakness embrace your power. Change us into your people, fit for that glorious future with you in the new life that you have promised us.

In Jesus’ name

Amen

Frank