Rejected!

Todays readings come from 1 Samuel 10 & 11 and Revelation 3:1-6.

Rejection hurts. Even when it’s not a big deal, rejection hurts.

Reading 1 Samuel 10, I am struck by the rejection theme.  The Lord God says:

I brought Israel up out of Egypt, and I delivered you from the power of Egypt and all the kingdoms that oppressed you.’ But you have now rejected your God, who saves you out of all your disasters and calamities. And you have said, ‘No, appoint a king over us.’ (1 Sam 10:18-19)

What a tragedy that unfolds before us. The beginning of the Kingship of Israel is born out of the rejection of God!

He was their King, the one who had rescued them out of Egypt.

He was their King, who did not forsake them in the desert, but wandered with them for 40 years!

He was their King who had led them into the promised land, winning battle after battle for the Israelites.

He was their King who had shown himself faithful to the promise to Abraham.

He was their King who desired to bless them.

What more could they want?  How could they do such a thing as reject their King? When you have a more powerful, just and loving King then any of your neighbouring countries… why would you want a King like your neighbours?

It’s easy to look back and shake my head at the actions of the Israelites. Such disbelief. Such unfaithfulness. Yet it doesn’t take much reflection to find myself empathising rather than criticising the Israelites. As I reflect on thoughts, words, actions and attitudes I can quickly find ways in which I am rejecting God as King and asking for a King like my neighbours – i.e.. myself. It makes no sense, but there’s something in me that wants to reject God’s rightful Kingship and substitute my own.

The words of the angel to the church in Sardis, though stern and solemn, are nonetheless encouraging for moments like these:

 Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you. (Rev 3:2-3)

When I find myself slipping onto the throne as I reject my good and rightful King, I am reminded that in his goodness and mercy, he does not abandon me, but just ask me to remember and repent.

May we remember who is King, and repent when he is not our King!

 

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The Road To Emmaus

BY Jane Thomas
Today we begin our slow journey away from the Easter weekend of remembrance, worship and celebration. A Monday off is thankfully a gentle way to ease back into every day life, however, there is a real sense after a weekend such as this, that we have been taken out of our everyday lives and thrust into another reality. The Easter reality centres on a story which is overwhelming emotionally and revolves around the largest questions we have about life, death, friendship, loyalty,  betrayal, identity, expectation, hope, and God. No wonder we need some sort of respite on Monday!
The long walk away from the traumas of Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus by two followers of Jesus, happens in a space of terrible exhaustion and heightened emotion, following three days of drama, violence and distress. Their sadness is still palpable when another traveller joins them. Luke tells us straight up that the stranger is in fact Jesus, but the two disciples are unable to recognise him, and we have the awkward experience of listening to these two disciples share intimate details of their own misunderstandings and misconceptions about the very person who is now their traveling companion along the way.  
The men share freely, courageously really, the multiple deaths they have experienced, which have left them utterly bereft and grief-stricken… 
The horrific and brutal death of a friend, one who they considered a prophet “mighty in deed and word.” 
The death of their trust in religious leaders who betrayed Jesus with such cruel, self-serving cynicism. 
The death of their heartfelt hopes and anticipation that Jesus was the Messiah, sent from God to rescue the oppressed and occupied people of Israel.
To increase their confusion and disturbance, there were reports from fellow disciples of angels, an empty tomb and a missing body.
Jesus is their unrecognised companion through this outpouring of distress, listening and walking alongside. He gives them his close, intimate and undivided attention.
Jesus meets us where we are at.
The two disciples’ hearts burn within them as Jesus responds to their distress and uses scripture to lift their minds to a bigger story of rescue and God’s purposes, which culminates in the glory of a suffering Messiah. This is life giving food and the disciples are hungry for more. They urge him to share a meal with them.
Jesus doesn’t leave us where he finds us.
Jesus breaks bread with the disciples in an action reminiscent of the last supper, held only four nights previously. And it is in this moment that they recognise him for who he is. They remember the bread, symbol of his body, “given for them” (Luke 22: 19). Their eyes are opened to the mystery of a different death. A death offered freely, which has astonishingly brought nourishment, and enabled hope for rescue and new life.
Jesus takes us where we can’t go on our own.
Filled with joy and energy, able to ‘see’ at last, the two disciples return to Jerusalem, to community. 
Today, in the quiet after Easter, perhaps there may be time to ponder the mystery of a death which births life rather than annihilation. And of a God who meets us in our pondering.
Jane

In need of a good resurrection?

HE IS RISEN!

Happy Easter.

Today’s reading takes us back to the first Easter morning.

I wonder what it was like for the women as they wandered to the tomb. They were probably  quite confused.  The events of the previous week had been troubling to them. The death of their friend Jesus – devastating. They lived in a much less individualistic culture than ours. Their hopes were for the prosperity of their people, God’s people, as much as for their own personal satisfaction in life.  They had hope that Jesus was the Messiah (or the Christ/King) that Israel had been longing for.  They were hoping that he was the one who would finally restore the people of God, undo the curses (particularly the curse of death) and bring hope by restoring life to the world. They knew the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 40-66, especially Isaiah 65:17-25) had spoken of this new age. They hoped Jesus was the one. But now, he too had been defeated by that great enemy of death.

On this morning, they are going to pay respect, to treat the body, to continue their mourning.

The empty tomb first brought about in them curiosity. The appearing of angels brought fear. The words of the angels brought hope. Hope that Jesus is not to be found among the dead. Hope that “he has risen”.

As the woman recounted the story to the male disciples, they considered the story to be nonsense.  How ridiculous – a resurrection? Peter, however was intrigued and began to wonder at what was happening.

For many of us, Resurrection is so much part of our worldview that we can take it for granted. Imagine how hard it was for these first disciples, in the very moment itself, full of grief at the events of Friday, to understand what was taking place.  But Peter wondered.

Surely he entertained that this could be true.
Surely he saw that if Jesus was resurrected, death was defeated.
Surely his wonderings engaged the idea of a new creation, a new age.

Is this the defeat of death for which they had hoped?

Often we can get consumed in our individualism.  It’s right to see this story as part of your own story – that you too will be experience a resurrection in which the pains and troubles of this world will be gone. But resurrection, Easter, is about much more than that.

This momentous morning reminds us that the new age has broken into the world.  Reflecting on this morning many years later, Paul writes in 1 Cor 15:55

Where, O death, is your victory?
    Where, O death, is your sting?

The larger narrative we are invited into in that a new age dawned with the resurrection. Life came. Life won. Life lives.

Those of us in Christ now live in the new age. Colossians 3:1 reminds us:

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.

The Kingdom of God has broken in. The victorious, risen and ascended King, Jesus, now reigns.  We who partake in the resurrection are to be practicing kingdom living. We are to live in the life giving hope of the resurrection- not just that I will be resurrected, but that new life is available now, and we, the resurrection people are its agent. Our lives of justice, peace, love and reconciliation are not simply good things to do,  they are the only thing to do if we truly believe that he has risen, that new life and new creation have begun!

 

 

Feeling any fear?

Even with the rise in global terrorism, there is still not many fears that I carry in day to day life. To be sure, occasional health and family fears arise, though they are probably more on the anxiety scale than full blown fear.  What do you fear in life?

Todays Passages are Exodus 34 and Luke 21.

As I read them, the expression that comes to my mind is “fear of the Lord”.

In the Exodus passage the Holiness of God is on display. The Lord comes down in a cloud. He reveals himself both as compassionate and gracious, but also as the one whom can not let the guilty go unpunished.He declares his covenant with Moses, and commands obedience from the people. He is not a God to be messed with.

If that part of the story wasn’t enough, Moses radiant face displays clearly the glory of God. Moses needs a veil to cover his face.

In Luke 21, Jesus’ answer to the question of the destruction of the temple brings its own level of fear surrounding the coming of the Kingdom of God.

But it wasn’t so much those two stories where I saw the fear of the Lord. It was in the little account at the start of Luke 21 where a poor widow throws two copper coins into the temple treasury. It was all she had to live on.

Fear of the Lord is different to fear. Fear of the Lord recognises who he is and lives in awe of him. Such awe leads to radical obedience. That’s what the widow did.

As I said, there’s not much in life I need to fear. And that probably leads me to a less than healthy fear of the Lord also. Perhaps we need to be driven back to the Lord’s words to Moses:

The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation. (Ex 34:6-7)

May our vision of him lead to a healthy and practical fear of the Lord.

The meaning in ceremony.

I have a confession.

A painful one.

An embarrassing one (in some contexts at least).

Brace yourself…

I love a good Anglican prayer book church service.

There. It’s out. Feels better already.

It’s taken a long time to get to that point. Earlier in my life those same prayer book services drove me away from the church. To the teenage me they were boring, repetitive and meaningless.

Pomp without Purpose.

Ritual without Relevance.

Moments without Meaning.

Today, we read of the instructions for the passover in Exodus 12:1-28. Before jumping too quickly to consider the significance of the passover for Christians just stop for a moment to consider how this played out.

We know that the Israelites acted obediently (v27-28) and (SPOILER ALERT) that God did release the people from  Egypt.  There escape story is for the days that come but for now imagine the years between this story and the death of Jesus (which we will come to shortly).  Whether wanderers in the desert, inhabiters of the inherited land or aliens in exile the Israelites were to “obey these instructions as a lasting ordinance” (v24) and to pass the meaning of them onto their children. The ritual came with a story that carried much meaning.

No doubt across the centuries there were children and adults who stopped celebrating the passover, or at least stopped explaining it’s significance and meaning.  Yet some remained faithful not just to the ceremony but to the meaning. The story of God and his redemptive acts through the passover lamb, the story of how he rescued his people from slavery and liberated them to live together under his rule in the promised land… this story remained in the narrative of Jesus’ time.

It wasn’t a long lost story that Jesus played into, it was a known and experienced story which Jesus fulfilled.  In Mark 14 we see the size of this festival (v1-2) and the disciples total engagement in it (v12f).  At that passover, Jesus speaks of his own body and blood. His blood would be poured out for many. His disciples may well have remembered John the Baptists description of him as the ‘Lamb of God’ (John 1:29).  Regardless, Jesus takes all the meaning of the passover and shows himself as the new passover lamb who is rescuing God’s people from slavery and liberating them to live under his rule.

Take a moment this morning to remind yourself of the magnitude of the story in which we live – this incredible story of God redeeming the world, forgiving sin, and liberating his people for a new life and new purpose.  And next time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper together, allow its meaning to draw not only you, but those whom may ask the what and why questions, back into the grand story of our incredible God and his purpose for the world.

Things not going to plan?

What do you do when things don’t quite go how you planned?

I watched a guy at Ikea recently attempt and put a flatpack into his car.  I don’t think he had measured the car before making the purchase. Or maybe he had.  His perseverance ended up paying off, he got the goods into the car.  Only problem… no room for the passenger. 🙂 It got me thinking about how often that scenario (perhaps with a different ending) plays out at a place like Ikea.  All the future thoughts, hopes and dreams (how this flat pack will solve all my problems… once i get it together) quickly crushed, or at least delayed.

When Moses and Aaron rock up to Pharaoh, they are filled with expectation. Not only has God called Moses, he has promised him that he will deliver the Israelites. Even better, he has given Moses some pretty nifty powers to perform before Pharaoh (Exodus 4:21).

In chapter 5, things don’t quite go to plan. Pharaoh doesn’t let the people go.  Worse, he makes them work harder. worse again – the supervisors get in the way (I’m resisting the jokes here..).

Moses despairs at what is taking place.  Things have got worse for the people, not better. Consider his questions (v22):

Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people?

Is this why you sent me?

and his accusation (v23),

you have not rescued your people at all.

In time Moses would see God’s grander power and work. He would see God rescue his people.  He would see blessing and not trouble come on God’s people.

Sometimes I find myself in shoes like Moses. Sure, he is different to me – but he reminds me of my humanity.  Knowing the promise of God and trusting the promise of God are two different things.

I’m glad that God didn’t render Moses incapable because of his questions and accusation.

I’m glad that God is big enough and secure enough to hear the doubts of his people.

I’m glad that in the midst of those doubts and accusations he revealed himself to Moses, and graciously taught him to trust.

I’m glad that God is the same with you and I today – growing our ability to trust even when we despair that things don’t quite seem to be lining up with his promises.

However today pans out, may we our eyes look to him and our heart increase in trust of him.

 

 

Ethics and the life of faith

Moral dilemmas surround us in the complex world in which we live. We can easily find ourselves in disagreement with those whom we love and respect over moral decisions.

This seems to be the case at the conclusion of our readings from Genesis 33-34. And it appears the issue is never really resolved.

The story centres around the consequences of the rape of Dinah, daughter of Jacob.  Consider the varied responses.

Shechem – the perpetrator fell in love with Dinah  and told his Father, Hamor, to “Get me this girl as my wife”. He later pleads with Jacob and his sons for favour.

Jacob – hears his daughter had been defiled and waits for his sons to return home.  At the end of the story he seems more concerned with his future livelihood in the land, then the honour of Dinah’s name.

Hamor – goes to speak with Jacob regarding the marriage. The sons are home.

Jacob’s sons – shocked and furious, outraged.  The deceive Shechem to set up an elaborate revenge by weakening the men through requiring circumcision.  They broke their own agreement in this revenge. Simeon and Levi kill every male of the town in revenge.

The story concludes with Jacob condemning Simeon and Levi for their actions – not for their deceit or the killing or even for the revenge, but that they “have brought trouble on me by making me obnoxious to … the people living in this land.”

He fears their future. Simeon and Levi are more concerned with righting the wrong that had been done to Dinah. Rather than look at the consequences of their actions, they consider the implications of inaction – “Should we have treated our sister like a prostitute?”.

The question sits uncomfortably and unresolved.  Of course we want to answer “No!”, and perhaps Jacob would also want to answer the same way.  But does their concern justify their action? Does the end (Dinah’s honour) justify the means (Killing the men)?

I am not foolish enough to try and resolve what the passage leaves unresolved. It just got me to consider how tough some of our ethical dilemmas can be, and how we need each other, and the Spirit of God, to help us act rightly.

In Romans, Paul gives another principle that we might consider regarding revenge.

Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. (Romans 12:19)

Such a principle may appear to support Jacob’s inaction but would create  issues of it’s own.

Our approach to ethical dilemmas needs to be careful and generous – that we can empathise with others in the complexities of life, and together seek what is good under God in the situation.

What thoughts or experiences can you share to help us in such dilemmas?