Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sunday Podcast

For your listening pleasure, here is this morning's sermon based on Matthew 15:21-28...

Crumbs or Bread?

A prostitute went to see a minister in dire straits - homeless, sick and unable to buy food for her 2 year old daughter. Through sobs she told of how she had been forced to prostitute her own child to feed her drug habit. He could barely take hearing any more of the story she was telling and besides he was legally bound to inform the authorities if he became aware of any cases of child abuse.

Unsure of what to say to her to offer her any advice, he asked her if she had ever been to church to seek any support. The look she gave the minister was one that would live with him for the rest of his ministry, ‘Church?’, she said incredulously, ‘Church? Why would I ever go there? I was already feeling terrible about myself. They would only make me feel worse!’

This true story reminds us of the way that people perceive the followers of Jesus to be. In this morning’s Gospel reading - it is Jesus’ disciples who are seeking to send this undesirable noisy woman of questionable integrity and faith away. Jesus should not be mixing and certainly not seen to be mixing with people like her. Would we want to have anything to do with her? People generally think of us as judgmental, holier than thou do-gooders who believe they are better than everyone else. This morning, Jesus reminds us that to be His disciples, to even call ourselves Christians, we must not find ourselves to be anywhere near living out that preconception.

Jesus makes His way out to Tyre and Sidon. These prosperous, multicultural cities were made wealthy through the manufacture and sale of purple cloth, quality cedar timber and ship building. Due to their ‘international trade’, they were heavily influenced by both of the superpowers of the day - the Romans and the the Greeks and were most definitely seen by most Jews as places not to go to.  Religiously, the Canaanites worshipped a plethora of Gods including Baal. Jews saw themselves as better than the Canaanites mostly due to Old Testament stories like Elijah’s defeat of the prophets of Baal on the mountaintop.

Why is Jesus going here?  As they arrive this local woman starts making a scene. No wonder the disciples start feeling uncomfortable. Yet notice what she is shouting - she calls Jesus - Son of David. She recognises Him as the Jewish Messiah. She may may regularly worship many gods, but she recognises Jesus as someone significant. Maybe she has found that her gods are silent and unable or unwilling to respond to her cries for help. Perhaps the Son of David - God present on earth - can transform her world.

This persistent Canaanite woman approaches this Jewish Messiah and kneels before him. She knows that he can help her cause. She knows that he offers more than empty words or broken promises. Having reiterated to his disciples that he has come to call the lost sheep of the house of Israel, Jesus then responds to her request for help with a very enigmatic statement: It is not fair to throw the children’s food to the dogs.

Non Jews, were vilified and popularly called dogs. Is this a racist slur on the lips of our Lord? No. The image Jesus has chosen is an image of endearment, not insult. The picture of dinner time, with little kids at the table, and their pet puppies at their feet, maybe tugging on their robes for food or play. The puppies, dear to the children and probably so too to the master, were to be fed after the children. Jesus must take care of those to whom he is sent first.

Did the woman misunderstand Jesus’ words as words of love? ‘But even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table...’ Either way, she is clearly demonstrating a very strong faith - even those who don’t deserve to be fed by the master, scavenge for whatever they can. She knows Jesus can give her daughter what she is asking for her.

Jesus challenges the Canaanite woman to articulate her faith - so it’s more than just empty words. She calls Him Son of David, acknowledging Him as the Jewish messiah.  Yet she demonstrates that even those outside the expected boundaries of the work of God’s Jewish Messiah, fully understand what He is teaching and revealing - even the dogs eat the crumbs, the words of Godly wisdom and ways to Godly living, that fall.

Jesus welcomes and responds to this woman because her grasp of what it means to have faith. She clearly gets who Jesus is and he includes and welcomes her - even though she would be excluded and alienated by many others. She comes to Jesus as a stranger and leaves a friend.

We all know people like the prostitute I told you about. They are people who wouldn’t normally go anywhere near a church for fear of being condemned. Yet that’s how most people feel about coming to church. But Jesus didn’t invite that Canaanite woman to come to Jerusalem to meet her - he met her in her home town.

There are many people in our community who long to meet with God. They cry out to him in desperation in some cases every day, for release, relief, for healing, for hope. They are often people we wouldn’t expect to see in our churches, and yet if we talk with them - like the Canaanite woman - they know what God can do in and for their lives. They understand the all transforming power of the love of God in Christ Jesus.

This morning are we all too often like the disciples - keeping the Canaanite woman far from Jesus if at all possible, ensuring the ‘undesirables’ are kept away from our Lord? Or are we like Jesus, meeting those people where they are; where we most often are - at the shops, bus stops, chemists, doctors’ surgery or the pub?

On 25th September, B2CS, we encouraging you to rediscover those people you know who wouldn’t normally come to church, who like the Canaanite woman, who have heard of Jesus, who used to come to church, but who don’t anymore and to invite them for a special service on that day. To come back to church. Jesus, in you meets them where they are and invites them into renewed relationship with Him.

This says it all...

After all, what are we offering our community? Crumbs? Memories of what church was or should be? A chance to come to Harvest festival or a beetle drive as lovely as those may be? Or are we offering them Jesus - who meets them in their desperation, offering release, relief, healing, and hope, the Living Bread, in whom all our hungers are satisfied? Amen.

Monday, August 08, 2011

The Word as a Wordle - Trinity 8

Her is the wordle of Sunday's (shortened) Gospel reading from Matthew 15:21-28

Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Salvation according to Charlie Stoltzfus

Tony Campolo, the American evangelist was invited to preach at a Pentecostal Church and before the service the leaders prayed for him. He wanted to get on with preaching but soon they started praying for things in their own lives.

One man said, “Oh, Lord, be with Charlie Stoltzfus, my neighbor. You know Charlie, Lord. He’s leaving his wife and three kids today and he’s going off. Lord, we don’t know where he’s going. Find a miracle to bring him back. He lives at Exit 14A off the Pennsylvania Turnpike. You know, Lord, in that little trailer park. His is the first one on the right hand side.” And Tony’s thinking, oh brother, why is he giving God directions. God knows this guy and knows where he is. God created this him. Tony just wants to start preaching.

Finally, he preaches the sermon. The service is over. He gets in his car and starts driving home. He’s on the Pennsylvania Turnpike and he sees hitch- hikers holding up signs – California, New York, Philadelphia. He passes by them but one guy has a sign that said “Anywhere.” Tony said to himself I’m going to pull over. He pulled over, backed up, and the guy got in. Tony said, “I’m intrigued by your sign.” The guy said, “Yeah, I don’t care where I go, I’ll go anywhere, I just have to get away from where I am.” Tony introduces himself and asks the guy his name. He replies, “Hi, I’m Charlie Stoltzfus.”

So Tony drives on. When they get to Exit 14A Tony exits the Turnpike and starts driving back. The guy said, “Where are you going?” Tony said, “I’m taking you home.” The guy said, “Now wait a minute. What do you mean you’re taking me home.” Tony said, “You left your wife and your three kids and I’m taking you home right now.” The guy said, “You don’t know where I live.” Tony said, “Yes I do, in the trailer park up here, in the first silver trailer on the right.” And the guy said, “How do you know that? Who told you that?” Tony said, “God told me!” He pulls over, gets Charlie out of the car and goes into the trailer with him. Charlie and his wife and Tony spend time talking together. A year later Tony learned that Charlie and his wife had decided to stay together – their marriage is restored. Friends, there are no lengths that God will not go to, to bring us back into relationship with Him. He reaches out His hand, we just have to take it.

At the heart of this morning’s Gospel reading, lies unseen, the heart of God, beating with love for His world.  It is the love which God has for His world that calls His Son to complete His work of creation by coming amongst us in the first place. It is this same love that Jesus demonstrates by feeding the crowd with bread and fish. It is the same love that sends the crowd away, allowing Jesus to cross the lake and climb a mountain to pray; to renew and be renewed in His Father’s love himself.

It is the same love of God, that compels Jesus to reveal to the disciples who He really is. Early in the morning He comes walking across the water to the to them in the boat. Only the Creator of the universe can defy the laws of physics - God in Jesus Christ draws near to those He specially loves. The disciples are rightly terrified at what they are seeing. Is this a ghost?  Jesus speaks to them and His words sound like reassurance - ‘it is I’ and yet they echo God’s revealing of Himself to Moses in the burning bush ‘I am who I am.’ None other that the Creator God is with the disciples on the lake.

This is all just classic Peter, unsure of himself and unsure of who Jesus is. ‘Lord, if it you, if you really are God, I’m going to come out of the boat and out onto the water & walk with you.’  So he does. Just as Peter begins to experience the reality of God’s love for Himself, he doubts and starts to sink ‘Lord save me!’ And Jesus reaches out His hand in love and saves him.

All too often friends, we think we have faith sown up. We think we know God. He is safely contained in the pages of the scriptures or in the guise of bread and wine, and yet we forget all too easy that He has the capacity to surprise us. To think and act outside the box. It is this God of surprises that limits Himself and meets us invitingly contained in the pages of the scriptures or in the guise of bread and wine. And yet it is this God in Jesus Christ who out of love for us encourages us to step out of the safety of those comfort zones, of what we think or believe God to be, and to walk with him.

The boat is a safe place to be whether that boat is our lifestyles, our jobs, our houses, our choices, our humanity even. We believe that we can only ever be like ‘this’ - sad, tired, broken, unforgiving, unforgiven, guilty, shamed. Jesus comes alongside us in love and encourages us to step out with Him, to trust Him, to leave the boat - our old lives - completely behind. Jesus doesn’t meet us someway off on the lakeshore, He meets us where we are, by the boat. He comes alongside us. He doesn’t deny where we have sailed, where our lives have taken us whether filled with goodness or sadness. It doesn’t matter to Him how we feel about ourselves.  He loves us for who we are and encourages us to be where He is - in the presence, in the love of God - where we were created to be.

That encounter, with the love of God in Christ whether in Scripture, Sacrament or wherever is all transforming - for through it we can walk with Him. And we know we can trust Him too, when he stumbled, when he doubted, when he struggled to believe in Jesus - to let go and to let God, Jesus came alongside Peter and Thomas and countless others in love reassuring, restoring, renewing and resurrecting their lives.

Friends, in life, whenever and wherever we fail, no matter how far we feel we have fallen even when we feel He can’t, Jesus reaches out His hand to save us, restoring and renewing and resurrecting our relationship with each other, with Him and with his Heavenly Father in love. All we need to do is take His hand. When we do, wherever we are, He walks with us to where He is - helping us to become in each step we take, more and more like the Son of God - whole and holy people transformed by His love. Amen.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Better late than never - The Word as a Wordle for Trinity 7

The Gospel reading for Sunday is another well known story about Jesus, where He and then He and Peter walk on water from Matthew 14:22-33...

'...Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake. But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’ 

 Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.'...'

Things that stand out as I read the passage include:
  • This is classic Peter and classic Jesus
  • Is Jesus physically different? They don't recognise Him and think He is a ghost
  • This is the God of surprises at work - we think we know Jesus/God (teaching, healing, raising the dead etc) but then He does something completely unexpected and walks on water
  • We need to trust God, and as He reaches out to us, so we need to take His hand and step out
  • We need to join Jesus where He is - not in the safety of the boat, our lives, our routines, our earthly expectations and limitations - but accept Jesus invitation to join Him in the realm of the Divine.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Workplace prayer resource

I recently rediscovered something that we promoted elsewhere in previous years.

For those of you who work at a desk (however often) the ReJesus website (which is a brilliant site anyway!) produced a fantactic resource that you can print on stiffened paper or card and have some quiet prayerful time in the middle of your working day.

It's easy to print and make and easy to use. To down load it just click the image below...

Pleased to meet you!

There is a new post on the parish blog about meeting me in small groups. It would be great to do that and gives me a chance to get to know you and you me. Clink the link below and have a read!