Archive for the ‘Luke’ 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.

Bible Study – Monday 15th March (Fourth week in Lent)

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

Tonight’s Bible Study looked briefly at Psalm 32 before focusing on the Parable of the Lost Son in Luke 15: 11b -32, as well as Luke 15: 1-3.

The three verses at the beginning of chapter fifteen are important because they remind us of the context in which the Parable is told. The Son in the story could well be intended to represent the ‘tax collectors and sinners’ referred to, and the older brother who is so angry and judgmental at the mercy being shown to his sibling has much in common with the pharisees who criticized Jesus for hanging out with such bad company.

But looking at this particular context should not excuse us from allowing the Parable to be addressed to us, and to ask who might we be in this story?

We could be both of the sons but perhaps we’re guilty of thinking we have nothing in common with either of them.  We like to think that we are saved – that is we have been brought into the right relationship with God – but perhaps we are more like the elder son about this. 

We all have a tendency to think that the wideness of God’s mercy is a jolly good thing for all those other  people whose lives are out of control. But actually the Lost or Prodigal Son represents all of us in our relationship with God.

The Biblical narrative states that all humanity was created as the children of God, rightful heirs of his divine blessings, but that we have become alienated or separated from God and we no longer have the right to call ourselves his children. Humanity has certainly lost its right to inherit new life and so finds itself in the same position as the Prodigal Son. But just like him we find a way back through the merciful love of our father.

If we want to be readmitted to God’s heavenly family we have to do what the prodigal son did, that is realise our position before throwing ourselves on our Father’s mercy. The Parable shows us how it is that we should approach God, what it is that is required of us to release in us the tidal wave of forgiveness that God has for us – we have to be repentant and humble.

This is a message that can be found throughout the New Testament, and at various places in the Old. We looked at these verses and considered how each applies to the Parable of the Lost Son. Click on each link to read and come to your own conclusions!

2 Peter 3:9, Romans 8: 14-17, Ephesians 1:5, Matthew 23:25-28, Matthew 7:1-5, 1 John 2:9-11, Romans 9:31-33, Romans 10: 3-4, Romans 9: 14-16.

Frank

Bible Study – Monday 8th March (3rd week of Lent)

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

We had a very interesting discussion about the two readings from yesterday’s service, Isaiah 55:1-9 and Luke 13: 1-9 with some varied ideas and points of view being put forward.

We talked about the points I had made in the service on Sunday, on this same passage, and about some of the the difficulties it presents. I wondered whether the text doesn’t refer to the idea that the ‘end of the world’ was expected by the earliest Christians, who thought that the apocalyspe was round the corner, and that Jesus would return to judge the living and the dead. This didn’t trouble most of the group though, who didn’t feel that this was the only meaning that could be applied to it.

It seemed to us all that in Luke 13: 1-9, Jesus spells out the need for our faith to result in good deeds, and that if it doesn’t then a kind of death will be the result. But does this mean sudden physical death? Or does it mean being excluded from the new life that is in Christ – and if so are we to understand this a literal ‘afterlife’ or as a spiritual life that occurs in this life?

I was keen to stress that the section about ‘bearing fruit’ should not be seen as meaning that God will judge us according to our achievements on earth – rather that we are saved by faith, but faith that does not lead to action is not real faith at the end of the day.

One of the most interesting points was that the Luke passage was reminiscent of the Old Testament, with its blood and thunder reference to destruction, while the Isaiah passage was like something out of the New Testament, with its rich and tender description of God’s nearness and approachability.

Lots of other interesting points were made, and this is usually the case so do join us next Monday when we will be looking at some of the Lectionary readings from the fourth week of Lent.

Frank

Sunday Worship – March 7th (3rd Week in Lent)

Monday, March 8th, 2010

Sunday afternoon’s service was all about Global Poverty Prayer Week and in particular the work of Tear Fund. The service was led jointly by me (Frank – Tapton’s Pastor) and Shirley Simpson who is the Tear Fund representative at Hillsborough Tabernacle Congregational Church.

Shirley explained how Tear Fund works with local churches in developing countries  to improve lives, supporting development projects, campaigns and disaster relief projects financially as well as practically  on the ground. In their own words

We’re passionate about our vision to work with and through a worldwide network of local churches – forming one global church – to end poverty.

From the Tear Fund statement of values

Tear Fund are not only fantastically committed Christians, they are a higly professional organisations and it seems to me that they are effective too. What I like most of all about them is that rather than imposing large and alien organisations on local communities they work through local churches to bring about change.  Independent and local churches are often those best connected with the local community and its needs and so it’s great that Tear Fund takes this approach to its work – as congregationalists we can’t help but approve!

Shirley and I both spoke about how disasters such as the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile cause many to question belief in God.

Shirley listed some questions that need asking of humanity rather than God, including why there was such poverty in Haitit, making people so much more vulnerable to this tragedy, and why it is we only notice the island and its problems when disaster strikes.  She also asked why it is that those who would condemn God for the earthquake do not by the same logic praise him for the outpouring of goodness in the response to the earthquake.

We read the following Lectionary readings: Isaiah 55:1-9 and Luke 13: 1-19.

I spoke about the second reading from Luke, about how Jesus seems to be challenging a picture of God that is stuck in certain portions of the Old Testament.  Often Jesus quotes from scripture to make his point but in this discussion about why God has let some of his followers be killed (some by persecution, some when a tower collapses on them) he seems to simply appeal to the common sense of the people he’s talking with. To the idea that such disasters are evidence of God’s displeasure or indifference his response could be paraprhased as ‘Come on! Do you really think that this is what God is like?’

Our picture of God should be based on what is revealed about him in Jesus – not just his teachings but also his actions and the things that happen to him through God (crucifixion, resurrection etc.) These add up to a picture of a God who loves us more than we understand or deserve and whose plans for us stretch out into infinity.

In the Old Testament we often see a farily crude (by comparison) picture of God as someone who favours justice and intevenes in history to free people from captivity, but is also jealous, vindictive and vengeful. He also, apparently, is big on collective punishment.  In many parts of the Old Testament God is represented as using ‘natural disasters’ as a way of punishing thousands of people at a time.

When people ask how I can believe in a God who would allow the disaster in Haiti I want to ask them what sort of God do they think I believe in? Do they think my picture of God is so stuck in the Old Testament that I believe God relates to his creation in this way. Our picture of God should be drawn from what we learn about him through Jesus, and it should never exclude the ‘new heaven and the new earth’, the plans God has for us beyond this earthly life.

Jesus is clear that what he reveals to us about God is consistent with the Old Testament, but it’s not identical. The God that Jesus reveals is to be found in the Old Testament, but not without the light that Jesus shines on the scriptures. Jesus’ Father is hidden away in enigmatic and mysterious verses throughout the scriptures, particularly in Isaiah and the Psalms. And the God who is the Father of Jesus is not to be confused with a limited, cartoonish picture of God that we see at times in the Old Testament.

Don’t draw any conclusions from the Old Testament unless you read it from the point of view of the New Testament. As the saying goes, the Old Testament is revealed in the New, the New Testament is revealed in the Old. Certain sections of the Old Testament display a crude caricature of God in which all our rewards and punishments happen in this life and there is nothing more to be hoped for,  but that picture of God is radically redrawn by Jesus.

Earthquakes are not a punishment from God, nor are they evidence of his indifference or powerlessness. There is no part of human suffering that is not experienced and absorbed by God on the cross, and he can rightly be said to suffer alongside us. Therefore there is no part of human suffering that cannot be transformed into joy, and it will be.

Frank

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

Sunday Worship – Sunday February 28th

Monday, March 1st, 2010

The service was led by the Reverend Alan Hindmarch.  The readings followed the lectionary and were Genesis 15: 1-12 and Luke 13: 31-35.

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