Worship Roster for December 2017

The Worship Roster for December 2017 can be downloaded here.  If you are unable to fulfill your roster responsibility, please find a replacement.

Note, with the commencement of Advent begins the new liturgical year of the Church and commences Year B, the Year of Mark’s Gospel.

Readings: Advent1 Advent2 Advent3 Advent4 Christmas (Day) 1 after Christmas

Prayers: Advent1 Advent2 Advent3 Advent4 ChristDay Christmas1

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Worship Roster for October 2017

The Worship Roster for October 2017 can be downloaded here.  If you are unable to fulfill your roster responsibility, please find a replacement.

Readings: Sunday26 Sunday27 Sunday28 Sunday29 Sunday30

Prayers: Sunday26 Sunday27 Sunday28 Sunday29 Sunday30

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Baptism – The Call to Ongoing Repentance

I have often queried the biblical translators’ rendering of the response of the wise men as ‘pay homage’ which seems a lesser response than I have believed.  ‘Pay homage’ seems to suggest simply honouring, a show of respect, of a good person rather than ‘worship’.  For your information the word in the Greek is ‘worship’.  It seems clear to me that Matthew in recording this event wanted it to be clear that the wise men were moved to recognise the infant Jesus as divine; they bent their knee and worshipped him.  This is an important point in Matthew’s recounting the event and the translation is disappointing.

I have also spoke about the example of the journey of the wise men from seeing the star in the west to their worship of the infant Jesus and return home by another road as a model for our own discipleship.  As it did for the wise men, our discipleship process begins with an experience we have called kairos, a moment where something challenges our status quo, and we go searching for understanding of what this might mean.  We often get distracted by returning to our expected response and, finding that inadequate, if we allow the journey to continue we discover that we are learning something new.  This kairos is a moment where God is revealing himself to us and, in seeking understanding, we come to new knowledge of God and ourselves.  This new belief transforms us and leads us into new behaviour.

There are arguments within the church about baptism, what it might mean and when it should take place.  Generally these arguments are driven, I think, by a focus on a particular charism of baptism from grace through to repentance of sin into salvation.

Both Mark and Luke, in Acts, describe John’s baptism as one of repentance.  Matthew describes this repentance as the process of making way for the Lord to be revealed, which John the Evangelist supports by recording John the Baptist during one of his days baptising declaring about Jesus, ‘Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’

Just as an aside, I always found it interesting that ‘sin’ is in the singular; however Mark has ‘sins’ in the plural.  I’ll let you ponder what that might mean for yourself.

So, John’s baptism was one that was calling people to repent in order to prepare for God to be revealed.  I doubt that anybody would have any other understanding of repentance to literally mean changing your mind about something.

Sometimes, however, I think we can make the mistake of connecting repentance with sinfulness alone.  Perhaps it is right that repentance calls us to change our mind about our actions that damage our relationship with God, with others and with ourselves.  But if repentance is about changing our minds about our behaviour then we must be open to the possibility that there is a different way of behaving that builds up those relationships.  This, of course, also means that we also need to find another way of defining sin.

In addition to this, and this is a theologically important point that touches on that quandary I posed earlier, that is, ‘it’s interesting that sin is in the singular,’ despite the singular and plural rendering of sin, the repentance of John’s baptism is for preparation to receive the Lord, not to turn away from sin.  The reality is that all of us continue sinning.  The difference is that we have turned to God and trust in the work God has done to overcome the power of sin over us.  The single sin, then, is not turning to God.  The message of John’s baptism is to repent so you are able to receive God’s revelation of himself.

Just as it was for the wise men, so it is for John’s discipleship programme, repentance has more to do with our being able to receive the revelation of God.  To repent certainly means to change your mind, but it also implies that you make yourself open to the possibility that things could be understood differently.

I was reading something on the internet on Thursday titled ‘8 Signs You Might be an Evengelical Reject.’  The first of these was

You are nuanced in your understanding of “heresy” while believing that Jesus Christ is the source of all Truth.

In other words, judging folks who are wrestling with difficult questions about God and the bible, or those who come to different conclusions is off the table. Of course, heresy is a real thing–truth exists–but the honest truth is that we can’t know truth with absolute certainty… we see things like St. Paul: “Now we see a reflection in a mirror; then we will see face-to-face. Now I know partially, but then I will know completely in the same way that I have been completely known” (1 Cor. 13.12 CEB). Absolute certainty is a myth. Heresy matters, but it shouldn’t be defined by those who have “all the right answers.”[1]

I found myself agreeing with this and thinking, ‘to know the truth with absolute certainty, to have “all the right answers”, is not just a myth, it is sin;’ it does not leave the way open for new possibilities, it does not leave room for God to reveal himself.

The first part of discipleship is repentance.  The primary repentance is when we first turn to God through Jesus Christ, what we commonly call conversion.  The ongoing journey of discipleship is a repentance that is concerned with being open to the possibility that God is continuing to reveal himself to his creation.

This starts with the God moment, in the biblical Greek, kairos.  Kairos, that point when God disturbs our status quo.  Repentance is the process of looking at the facts of what actually took place in the kairos, then reflecting on what this may mean through talking about it with others.  by ‘others’ I include God, in prayer, what the bible has to say about the situation, what Christians down the ages have to say and what your contemporary Christians have to offer.  This is the purpose of our house groups, a group of people who can assist us in our discipleship journey.  Interpretation of revelation for Christians is not done in isolation, is not undertaken without reference and consultation to others.

Note that no actions or changes in behaviour have been decided yet.  Repentance is the process that leads to change.  Matthew makes that quite clear in his account of John’s baptism, ‘Bear fruit that befits repentance.’  Change of behaviour, action, comes out of the new belief we come to because we have been open to the possibility that God is revealing something new to us.  We are not stuck in our tradition, we have not arrived, we are disciples on a journey.  I encourage you to be a part of a group that will provide you with the means to continue on your discipleship journey.

[1] www.patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/2015/01/05/8-signs-reject/#ixzz3OCglvyJI

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2 Peter 3:8-15 – Patience in Waiting

I wonder how many of you consider yourselves patient.

I am sure that many of you have heard the brief prayer, ‘Lord, give me patience; and I want it now!’

Peter Marshall prayed,

‘Teach us, O Lord, the discipline of patience, for to wait is often harder than to work.’

Joyce Meyer says,

‘Patience is not simply the ability to wait – it’s how we behave while we’re waiting.’

But Pope Francis said,

‘This is me, a sinner on whom the Lord has turned his gaze. And this is what I said when they asked me if I would accept my election as pontiff. I am a sinner, but I trust in the infinite mercy and patience of our Lord Jesus Christ, and I accept in a spirit of penance.’

Pope Francis gets patience a little closer, because Peter, in writing to the Early Church does not speak about humans being patient, he speaks about the Lord’s patience:

The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

and

Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation. (2 Peter 3:14-15)

The Lord is patient with us in order that we come to salvation and because he is patient we have salvation.  Thank God for his patience.  Of course we should argue that if we are created in the image and likeness of God, if God’s nature is to be patient, then it is in our make-up to be patient as well.

There is a danger, of course, as American journalist Kin Hubbard recognised, ‘Lack of pep is often mistaken for patience.’  As we know from the gospel, God’s patient salvation was not without effort in bringing about his hope for our salvation.  Patience is not an excuse for doing nothing; it is bound up with the hope of the thing to be achieved, and working toward its achievement with endurance.

makrothumei – longsuffering, forbearing, patience – 3rd person, singular

Here Peter is telling each and every member of the Church that they are the object of God’s salvific patience.  It is not directed at the collective church, but each individual.  God has been patient with you in order that you may come to salvation and continues to be patient in order that others may come to salvation as well.

From the Old Testament we can understand God’s patience as his gift to us.  God acknowledges that we are sinful, that our humanity is corrupted by the sinful nature.  God understands that we are never going to be perfect.  This does not mean that we are not saved.  Instead God works patiently with us so that we can continually turn more and more toward God’s self.

We see this nature of God in Jonah’s response to the repentance of the Ninevites, he prayed to the Lord and said,

O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. (Jonah 4:2)

God’s patience is not just with the church, those who are being saved, but also with those who yet do not know him; and he sends his people to those with whom he is patient in order that they may come to his salvation because of his patience.  God does not hatch chickens by smashing the egg and we should beware doing the same.  What God has done for us, we should reflect for others.

Despite this acceptance by God of our corrupted human nature, as the Rabbis reveal, patience does not equate with lenient permissiveness; allowing us to get away with whatever behaviour we can imagine.  As Peter writes,

But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home. Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish.  (2 Peter 3:13-14)

We are to attempt to live out our lives according to the promise, according to what we understand God has promised us, according to how we understand God to be at this point in time.  The word ‘peace’ here meaning secure in our relationship with God that he has patiently waited for us to have.  It is this that sees us as ‘without spot or blemish’; not that we are perfect, as we have already understood.  As I say, God looks at us through Jesus coloured glasses.

There is an old bumper sticker that read, ‘Be patient with me, God has not finished with me yet.’

In the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant caught out owing his master ten thousand talents, he falls on his knees before his master, saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” (Matthew 18:26) and his master showed him more than patience, forgave him his debt, which is of course the purpose of God’s patience.  However, when that slave went out and came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him money and was asked the same question, “Have patience with me and I will pay you,” (Matthew 18:29) he did not display the patience toward him that he himself has received.  For this he was accused by his master, being found, as Peter would have it, ‘with spot or blemish’.  What we have received, what we have understood, we are to display to others.  So Paul lists patience among the fruit of the Spirit.  (Galatians 5:22)

This of course may lead to that aspect of patience which is endurance, to which Jeremiah testifies,

  O Lord, you know;

  remember me and visit me,

  and bring down retribution for me on my persecutors.

  In your forbearance [patience] do not take me away;

  know that on your account I suffer insult. (Jeremiah 15:15)

Living with and in the patience of God for us and for others can be tough.   English clergyman, Richard Cecil, said ‘God’s way of answering the Christian’s prayer for more patience, experience, hope and love often is to put him into the furnace of affliction.’  We learn patience through the challenges that life throws at us.

Horst argues that patience is a central theme to Peter’s second letter.  He is explaining why the Lord has not returned in glory with the fulfilment of his kingdom as soon as they had expected.  The glass-half-full Peter is explaining that this is a positive thing because it allows time and space for others to turn back to God.

As we celebrate Advent, not just as our preparation for Christmas, but also as a foreshadowing of the preparation of the ultimate return of Jesus, there is a tension in our praying for Christ’s return.  On one hand we desire to see the kingdom fulfilled in his return, but we also recognise that there is so much more work to be done in enabling others to turn again to God.  We wait patiently, actively and with endurance until that time comes.

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Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24, Matthew 25:31-46 – Actions approved by motivation

Some time ago I was at a short conference at St Stephens Richmond titled, Open Space Technology.  When the advertising first came out I had rejected it simply because of its title; not that I am opposed to technology, in fact, I love it.  However, it was the Technology bit that confused me.  I tried to explain the conference to my colleagues at Deanery and the word Technology got in the way.

Having been at the conference I am more able to appreciate that Open Space Technology has less to do with the design of office space and more to do with group communication processes.

An Episcopalian, that is, Anglican, priest in the USA, Harrison Owen, noted when he was undertaking consultations within businesses, organisations and churches, the most significant and beneficial conversations happened naturally over tea or coffee or when people were having a meal.  Having undertaken research into this he developed a process to naturally inspire conversations that would lead to action.  Because it was observed and researched he called the process Open Space Technology.

A part of the Open Space is idea that the leader or organiser only acts a facilitator of the process but not a part of the process.  In this sense it is not consultation at all.

The important aspect of Open Space Technology is that it enables, through asking the right questions, those things that people are passionate about to be discovered and doing something accordingly.

I had the privilege of having breakfast with the conference convenor, The Reverend Michael Wood, Chaplain to the University of Western Australia; we were the only ones staying in the motel.  As I spoke about the work we were doing in here at St Stephens through our House Groups and Parish Community Growth Meetings and we realised that we were intuitively doing a rudimentary Open Space Technology.  Always encouraging when those things happen.

The most important aspect of Open Space Technology is the intention for it connect with the gifts and passions of the members of the congregation and have those gifts and passions expressed in mission and ministry.  We have all heard the saying, ‘The person with the vision gets the job,’ to which there is some truth.  The missions and ministries that are sustainable are those that are driven by our own desires.  One of the reasons that many mission activities fail, or lack endurance, is because it was the bright idea of the Vicar and we are being forced to do it.  The point here seems clear to me; it is not what we do in ministry and mission that honours God, it is why we do it.

There is something of this in the readings from Ezekiel and Matthew today.  Can I quickly make reference to the difference between the two stories of the sheep.  In Matthew there is a clear distinction between sheep and goats.  However, in Ezekiel both groups are sheep.  For Ezekiel he is talking about all God’s people, but there are some of God’s sheep who are oppressing others of God’s people.  So we have fat sheep, the oppressors, and lean sheep, those who are oppressed.  Ezekiel is addressing the injustice that is taking place amongst God’s people.

Is the Matthean Jesus reinterpreting this story?  Certainly the parable of the sheep and the goats is also concerned with justice and injustice.  Those classed as sheep are those who cared for the hungry, the thirsty, the foreigner, the unprotected, the oppressed and the sick.  We are told, they will inherit the kingdom of God.  Those classed as goats, however, are those who did not do these things, and they would not inherit eternal life.

We need to be careful here about how we interpret this story.  If we say we have eternal life because we do these things, then we are saying we are saved by what we do, and we know this is contrary to the good news of Jesus.

Firstly, it seems to me, this is saying these things will happen where the kingdom of God is present.  If we are in the kingdom of God and the kingdom of God is in us, we will do these things.

Therefore, it must be saying that it is not what we do that makes our mission and ministry acceptable, it is why we do them that makes them acceptable.  It is our motivation for what we do that leads our ministry and mission to be the things of the kingdom.

Why do we undertake mission and ministry, why do we think that every person deserves the same that we have?  If we know that God loves us and what God has done to express that love through Jesus, then we will know that God loves all people and wants the same for them that he wants for us.   This, for me, is the foundational motivation.

There is, however, a secondary motivation.  That is, God has created you and me with gifts and purpose and has given additional gifts for different times and seasons.  It is who we are created to be that gives rise to our passions and when we undertake the ministry and mission according to those passions we are energised by what we do.  It seems to me those who are sheep are those who are actively expressing the nature of who they are as God created them to be and these things will be consistent with God because we are created in his image and likeness.

The work of Open Space Technology is a process that is designed to help us to tap into our passions and, where those passions are shared with others, to work with them in implementing ministry and mission.  A part of the task of our house groups is just this; working out what we as individuals, or as a house group, are being called to do for the building up and expressing God’s kingdom as ministry and mission.

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