Saturday, 20 August 2016

Christ is all in all

Colossians 3: 1-17 and Luke 13: 10-17

It is sometimes worth remembering the status that Paul’s letters would have had in the early church. Paul was writing to very young churches, the gospels had not yet been written down. Most Christian teaching was carried by word of mouth – stories of what Jesus had done, miracles he had performed, parables he had told, teachings he had given.
We have the luxury of opening our Bible and finding orderly accounts of Jesus’ life – the church at Colossae relied on rumours, and accounts, and snippets. And then they received firstly teaching from Paul himself, and then a letter from the great man, setting down for them how they should live as followers of Jesus Christ.

And what wonderful teaching he gives: (shown on screen)
Set your mind on things above, not below.
Put away the life of sin, malice, anger and debauchery and put on compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience.
Let the peace of Christ rule your hearts, be thankful, and let the Word of Christ dwell richly in you.

And do all this because you are not just followers of Christ, you have been raised to life with Christ and your true life is now with God in Christ. You are new beings, no longer divided according to race or faith or status: Christ is all in all.

These words will have been read and re-read in the Colossian church: held onto, learned, and used as an inspiration to follow Christ more closely and live as people of the Way, what became known as ‘Christians’.

There are times in our lives when these are all the words we need – Christ is all in all.
But following Christ is not just about being inspired by words like this – if our life is in Christ it means even more than following Him.

Let’s look again at the story of the healing of the woman bent double, and see how this story helps us to understand Paul’s teaching more fully.

The story begins with Jesus teaching on the Sabbath – he is helping those who will listen to him to set their minds on things above not things below. He is teaching about the things of God’s kingdom, and we can only assume that the leader of the synagogue is listening and approves of what he hears.

But then the woman who is crippled and bent over comes into the synagogue. This is someone who find it hard to set their eyes on thing above, let alone her mind. Her life is pain, sorrow, even disgrace – as she lives in a world where illness was seen as punishment for wrong-doing.

How does Jesus help her?
He sets her free.
The word of Christ certainly dwells richly in her heart and mind and soul “You are set free” Jesus says – and she is.
Now she can walk tall and straight and pain-free – and she immediately begins praising God – she finds it entirely natural to be thankful for the healing she has received – thankful for what God has done in her life through Jesus.

Surely everyone in the synagogue is thankful?
Well, no not everyone – the leader of the synagogue is himself weighed down – not by illness but by spiritual blindness. Instead of setting his mind on things above and giving thanks for this healing, he has set his mind on the things below – on the rule against working on the Sabbath. Jesus has healed – surely that is work – and that is sinful, so he warns the people in the synagogue ‘come for healing on other days, not the Sabbath’.

How far this poor man is from putting on compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. And Jesus sees that “you hypocrite! You would release an animal on the Sabbath and let it drink – surely you should rejoice that this daughter of Abraham has been set free.”.

The Peace of Christ speaks into the situation with gracious words of love, forgiveness and release.

Paul knows so much of the story of Jesus – he has spent many hours with Peter and James and other disciples – and he wants the church at Colossae to understand how this jesus affects their lives.

When the peace of Christ rules their hearts,
When the Word of Christ dwells richly in them
When their minds are on things above
When they put away sin and put on love
When they live as thankful children of God,
Then their lives, their hopes, their future are in Christ
And they will live as God’s own people.

And so what about us? How does this teaching of Paul help us to be made new in Christ?
If ‘Christ is all in all’ sounds lofty and amazing but not exactly practical, how can we apply Paul’s teaching to the lives we are really living and the difficulties we are actually facing?

I don’t know what is happening in each of your lives at the moment, so let’s take an example that I know many young people will face around this time of year: exam results.
If you say to someone who is wondering how to make their way in life with the results they have I know “Christ is all in all” is true, but it sounds a bit like the religious version of ‘never mind’. But for our young people facing decisions in life I believe Paul’s teaching can help.
Let’s look again at what Paul says:
Set your mind on things above, not things below.
It is easy to compare ourselves with others when results come out & feel we have not done well enough – certainly not done as well as others: but when we set our mind in things above we remember that God has a purpose for our lives, and whatever path we end up taking, we can love God and love other people and so be part of the building of God’s kingdom.

Put away sin in your life and put on compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, and above all love.
When my daughter was little I once heard her tell one of her friends “my mum never walks past a Big Issue seller without buying one, unless she already has it, and then she talks to them and explains”. I burned with shame – this really wasn’t true – there were times when I put my head down and hurried past like so many others. But since they day I have at least tried to be more compassionate and kind – and when we practice that in the little things in life they become habits, and most of all, God is glorified. I’ve lost count of the number of Big Issue sellers who have said to me “God bless you” – he certainly has.

The world tells us that it is our status in life – our income, our possessions, our job title, that gives us value – but Paul teaches that it is what we do with our lives: putting away sin and selfishness and putting on love; that makes us blessed.

Let the Peace of Christ rule your hearts. Be thankful. Let the Word of Christ dwell richly in you.
There is powerful work for our churches to do in supporting young people in their choices in life: valuing them and listening to them, helping them to pray about the future, giving thanks to God both for their young lives and the possibilities that are open to them. And hearing always the words of Jesus Christ ‘You are set free’. Free to find a way to walk your path as those who live in Christ, and in whom Christ’s love shines and heals.

Perhaps you are not currently in touch with young people pondering life’s start: perhaps you have other concerns about other stages of life’s journey. 
But Paul’s teaching can still guide and strengthen you, and the Word of Christ can still dwell richly in you: ‘you are set free’ to know Christ as all in all.
To his glory and praise and that of the Father & the Holy Spirit.

Friday, 12 August 2016

Judging what is right:

 Hebrews 11: 29-12:2 Luke 12: 49-56

What a strange few weeks it has been in the news: atrocities in Belgium, Nice, now Thailand – and yet also the positive news of the Olympics and its stories for human friendship and peaceful competition and joyful endeavour.
Richard Holloway, former Bishop of Edinburgh, has said this about the human condition in his book “Between the Monster and the Saint”:
“It is a harsh world, indescribably cruel.
It is a gentle world, unbelievably beautiful.
It is a world that can make us bitter, hateful, rabid, destroyers of joy.
It is a world that can draw forth tenderness from us, as we lean towards one another over broken gates.
It is a world of monsters and saints, a mutilated world, but it is the only one we have been given. We should let it shock us not into hatred or anxiety, but into unconditional love.”

So how can what Jesus says to his disciples in Luke’s gospel help us as we try to respond lovingly to the world and its news?

Jesus speaks of “this fateful hour”. “You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and sky but you cannot interpret this fateful hour”.

Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem – He ‘sets his face resolutely towards Jerusalem’ in Luke chapter 9 v 51 and continues on this journey until this final ascent into the city in chapter 19 v 28. Everything that happens in chapters 10 to 18 – and that’s more than a third of Luke’s gospel – happens in the shadow of Jesus’ forthcoming death in Jerusalem.
Jesus knows, and he wants his disciples to know, that the time is coming when he will confront sin, evil and death head on – and he will triumph, but not without suffering.

Everything else that happens pales into insignificance next to the sacrifice of Jesus in the cause of God’s kingdom of love, forgiveness and justice.

Jesus is acknowledged as a wise teacher, and so people have come to him with questions and issues and disputes and have asked Jesus what to do.
Martha has come to Jesus, complaining about Mary; the lawyer asks what he has to do to gain eternal life; the disciples wish to learn how to pray; others are asking questions about cleanliness; and then there is the approach from the man asking Jesus to tell his brother to divide the fairly property fairly.
In response to all this, Jesus wants to point his listeners towards what is really important – the things of God. Do not worry.. but seek first the kingdom.

There is a time of great decision coming in the lives of Jesus’ disciples – he warns them that he will go through a ‘baptism’ of suffering, and that it will bring division and difficulty. In the end, Jesus is so much more than a wise teacher, he is God with us, is prepared to go to the farthest end to demonstrate God’s love for us – for the whole world.

So what difference does this make to those of us who describe ourselves as followers of the Jesus? And what does this mean for us as we talk and think about the role of this church in this place, and as you seek new leadership? How can we be people who make a difference to the world in the name of Christ Jesus?

I think one thing that is not an option is for us to follow Jesus in a half-hearted or part-time way.
I remember a few years ago filling in some sort of questionnaire & under ‘leisure activities”, along with walking and painting and going to the theatre, it listed “religious adherence”. I was appalled – to think that my discipleship of Jesus Christ could be reduced to a “leisure activity” – as if it was just how I choose to fill my Sunday mornings if the car’s already washed and there’s nothing on the television. Surely following Jesus should shape all of our lives, all of our choices, how we view other people as well as how we treat them.

This church is not just somewhere to come to fill in an hour or so on Sunday – it is a place to be fed and nurtured in your faith: a place of challenge as well as a place of comfort.

Faith itself, as the letter to the Hebrews points out, is the core of our being as people of God. Many have gone before us our ancestors in faith – Abraham and Sarah, Isaac, Moses, and others – and these form a ‘great cloud of witnesses’ around us as we run our own race of life.

Running that race, we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus – remembering that he is the one who “endured the cross, ignoring its disgrace, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God”. Jesus is the one who shows us how to respond to what is monstrous in our world.

When life is difficult, painful, and puzzling, there will always be people who ask us how we can believe in God, how we can remain people of faith, when the world is so full of pain. Jesus shows us that the pain is not the sign that God is absent, but that he has endured pain and death in order to overcome it. We believe in a God who is present in the pain, and endures pain, and transforms pain into victory.

So in a world of violence we look to Jesus as our hope
In a world of conflict we look to Jesus as our peace
In a world of fear we look to Jesus as our joy.

And we dedicate ourselves to work and pray for God’s kingdom to come and for the love of God to reach all people in our mixed-up and broken world.
May this church, and each of our lives, be a place where God's love and God's challenge is known and heard.
In the name of Christ