Saturday, 16 November 2013

Giving dreams flesh

Isaiah 65:17-25
The Glorious New Creation
For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
and its people as a delight.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
or the cry of distress.
No more shall there be in it
an infant that lives but a few days,
or an old person who does not live out a lifetime;
for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth,
and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.
They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
They shall not labor in vain,
or bear children for calamity;
for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord —
and their descendants as well.
Before they call I will answer,
while they are yet speaking I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
but the serpent—its food shall be dust!
They shall not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain,
says the Lord.

2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
Warning against Idleness
Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this command:Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.

This is the penultimate Sunday of the year in the church's calendar.
The new year in the church starts on Advent Sunday which is just two weeks away.
In two weeks time, we will move from a year spent with the gospel of Luke to a year spent with the gospel of Matthew.
But at this time of year, the gospel passages point us to signs of the end of the world as we know it.
Signs that the old order is coming to an end and that a new order is being established and that, finally, we will see justice in the world and peace on earth.
So, before we enter the season of Advent, we are invited to consider what that new order might look like.
"I am about to create..." says the Lord in our Isaiah passage. But, I want to ask: WHEN?
New heavens, new earth, Jerusalem as joy- WHEN?
And I'm sure Gods people in exile, hearing these words fresh, wanted to ask that too- WHEN?
For a people in captivity, living among strangers in borrowed homes on foreign soil, forced to labour for a foreign power, this message must have been like music for their ears:
The days of building houses for others to live in were coming to an end.
The days of working the land, so that others could enjoy the fruit of their labours, will be over.
When will God start delighting in these people again and fulfil all these promises?
When will we ever see that new world when the wolf and the lamb shall eat together and the lion eat straw like an ox?
The glorious new creation - when will that be?
If we struggle to see the tide turning in our personal landscapes, how more more difficult is it to keep hope alive that Gods will can come to pass throughout the world?
That we won't have beamed into our homes daily on news programmes, children and families and towns and cities ravaged by war and disease and natural disaster.
And that we won't see, in the midst of those catastrophic events, people taking advantage of those already down trodden.
Those in power, obstructing aid agencies.
Those with authority getting rich on bribes for allowing passage.
Those, already desperate, turning to looting, depriving others of the little relief available.
When will we see a just and equal sharing of all the earth's resources?
WHEN will that be?
It seems that we have become so used to things as they are that we cannot envisage the world any differently.
And,of course, when disaster strikes, as it has this week in the Philippines, we are happy to send some money for relief, we are happy that our government pitches in too.
We're happy to do our bit but we can't really imagine that things will ever be any other way.
We will always be the ones asked to help, the ones with the ability to be generous.
Here in the UK, we raised £31million this weekend for Children in Need.
We have the capacity and the will to be generous.
But can we imagine a time when that wouldn't be so?
A time when we are not so affluent because resources are distributed much more equitably around the world?
We are good at responding when asked.
But,I wonder, how good we'd be at living less extravagantly as a way of life,so that others wouldn't constantly have to ask for help.
To put it bluntly: Would we be prepared to take a cut, in our income, in our pension, in our benefits, in our healthcare, in whatever other forms of entitlement we have grown used to so that others wouldn't have to exist on our handouts or hand downs?
Would we be prepared to live on less to ensure that folk in other parts of the world had clean water and homes that could sustain the ravages of weather?
Maybe the answer to the question WHEN lies in our hands.
Maybe the WHEN is when we release the sharing capacity to create that new world that is laid out as Gods vision.
And, no matter how many rogue evangelists proclaim that these disasters, the devastation ravaged by nature - or by warfare, the scenes of displaced people living in squalor that we view daily, no matter how many false prophets proclaim that these are signs of God's judgement on an evil world, WE are the people called to keep those dreams alive of a God who loves, a God whose dream is also peace in a world where resources are shared.
We are called, not only to dream with God but to make the dream come true!

Lots of my friends, over the past year or so, have been celebrating big birthdays - birthdays with a 0 on the end.
And there is something about entering a new decade that somehow focuses the mind on goals.
I've seen umpteen lists that folk have drawn up - "things to do before I'm 30 or 40 or 50 ... And so it goes on.
Lists, sometimes referred to as "bucket lists".
In fact there was a film released a few years ago called The Bucket List and starring Jack Nicolson and Morgan Freeman - worth a watch, funny and moving in equal measure.
On my bucket list was the determination to learn to play cello - and I'm delighted now to be taking cello lessons. It's good when we dream about things and then actually manage to capture some of our dreams.
But we don't need to be entering a new decade or facing some kind of trial to draw up a bucket list.
In fact, I'd go as far as to suggest that, every day, we are striving to fulfil some kind of bucket list - to achieve the things that would make any particular day feel like a day well lived.
And so, I'd like to invite you, on this, the penultimate Sunday of the church year, to give some thought to your bucket list.
What goals, big or small, would you like to achieve in the near future?
What difference would you like to make - in your life and in the life of your community?
And would your bucket list have any similarity to the picture of peace and prosperity laid out in the passage we read from Isaiah?

Or would it bear any resemblance to the work ethic of the apostles as laid out in our reading from 2 Thessalonians?
That text has been misappropriated so many times, particularly in this day when governments the world over are trying to shirk their responsibility of caring for those who are unable to support themselves.
The most shocking, tyrannical benefits cuts seek justification from texts such as these.
Of course the apostle did NOT advocate that those in the community who couldn't work should not be supported by those more able and with resources to spare.
The apostle was, rather rebuking those whose work was non productive - those people we find in every community, even here in Castlehill church, whose work is mischief making, those who go out of their way to be difficult or to bring down the efforts of others. Those are the ones who are to be discouraged, the ones we should avoid being caught up with.
Those disruptive people who discourage others from continuing to be generous and loving in their service to God.
We are encouraged, in spite of such idle folk, to never weary in doing what is right.
And, believe me, I know that that is easier said than done.
But why should we allow a few busy bodies to throw us off track, and find ourselves giving of less than our best for Gods Kingdom work?

There is a story of a holy man engaged in his morning meditation under a tree whose roots stretched out over the riverbank. During his meditation he noticed that the river was rising, and a scorpion caught in the roots was about to drown. He crawled out on the roots and reached down to free the scorpion, but every time he did so, the scorpion struck back at him.
“An observer came along and said to the holy man, ‘You fool - Don’t you know that’s a scorpion, and it’s in the nature of a scorpion to want to sting?’
“To which the holy man replied, ‘That may well be, but it is my nature to save, and must I change my nature because the scorpion does not change its nature?”
We are called to go on dreaming and to go on working to see our dreams fulfilled and not be dragged down by those who have no dreams except for harm.

So - What would be on your bucket list?
What if we had a bucket list of bringing to fruition the Isaiah prophecy?
A bucket list that would bring to pass the kind of dreams envisaged there.
What if we could give flesh to the dream that children didn't die from preventable tragedy?
In a country where there is adequate free health care, why are some denied access?
What if we facilitated better access to health care?
What if we gave flesh to the dream that the elderly and the infirm in our community were properly cared for?
And not just cared for but recognised as valuable members of our community and society - not those who have contributed to the past but those who still have a contribution to make today with the wisdom accrued through years of experience?
What if our dream was to fulfil Gods dream for all creation to live in Equity, Justice and Peace?
We know that God has a bias for those who are poor, those who are hungry, those who are homeless.
How about if our prayers and our actions focused on those people, if our bucket list aligned us with the will of God that:

The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
but the serpent—its food shall be dust!
They shall not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain,
says the Lord.

So may it be.

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Sunday, 10 November 2013

Why remember?

Haggai 2:1-9
The Future Glory of the Temple
In the second year of King Darius,
in the seventh month, on the twenty- first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the prophet Haggai, saying: Speak now to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people, and say, Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing? Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the Lord; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord; work, for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts, according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear. For thus says the Lord of hosts:Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; and I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendour, says the Lord of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the Lord of hosts. The latter splendour of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity, says the Lord of hosts.

Luke 20:27-38
The Question about the Resurrection
Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.”
Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”

Haggai is a prophet we don't hear much about.
In just a couple of chapters he boasts of a time in the history of Gods people when they came together, got their focus right, and rebuilt Gods temple.
Haggai comes across as some kind of cheer leader in that process, encouraging the people again and again to "take courage".
But, more than helping the people find their flagging energy, as they become overwhelmed by the enormity of their task, Haggai brings their minds back to what underlies that task.
What is important in it.
The whole point of rebuilding the temple was to honour God.
Giving their time, their talents and their money to focus on God, central to their life and faith.
The people were beginning to fear that they had bitten off more than they could chew.
It was a huge task to rebuild the temple and return it to its former glory.
It took a huge commitment - hard work and dedication.
The prophet Haggai realised that, what the people needed, was not simply someone to appeal to their work ethic, and their charity, they needed someone to stir their soul.
To take them back to basics - reminding them of their roots in God, their relationship - a symbol of which is this temple that honours God and the unique relationship that these people share with God in community.
It's more than - " build the temple and God will reward you"
It's more too, than " build the temple and people will flock to it"
Haggai's message strips away all the superficiality and invites the remnant, those who remember the old times, to remember specifically how God has been at the heart of their culture for ever - and more, will always be at the heart of their being in community.
God - yesterday, today and forever.
That is the God who is to be honoured in the building of this temple, a work that demands only the best in recognition of the God at the heart of all life.
Today we talk of honouring our dead - all those who have been sacrificed in war.
Those who have served their country - and those who have, quite simply gotten in the way of war.
Modern warfare often results in shocking numbers of civilian casualties.
Once again, we need reminded of why we honour the dead today.
And that is - to ensure that we do not ask of others the sacrifice that has already been made.
At the heart of our remembering must be the determination to stop the violence.
That is a huge task.
It seems impossible in today's world where so much rests on the economy and infrastructure of war, where politicians use the threat of war as a first and not a last resort.
But, like God's people, in danger of being overwhelmed at the enormity of their task in rebuilding the temple, so we need to be reminded of the underlying purpose of our remembrance - to bring about peace.
To honour the dead and the God who calls us into life.
To do that demands that we glimpse Gods vision for all Gods people - a vision beyond our limited sight, beyond our dreams.
A vision of the new life offered by God for the life of the world.
In the gospels, we often find Jesus trying to describe that new life.
But often, those around him were too mired in the life they knew to even begin to glimpse the kind of life that Jesus offered.
Like the Sadduccees we encounter in our gospel reading today.
Jesus, surprise, surprise, is arguing with the Sadduccees.
They are trying to trip him up with a question about marriage and the resurrection.
They didn't believe in resurrection and wanted to discredit the notion of it.
Here's the scenario:
For the protection of women, the law decreed that a man should marry his brothers widow.
The Sadduccees painted a ridiculous scenario, involving one bride and seven brothers.
(Not seven brides for seven brothers)
This poor woman was widowed 7 times.
Each time, like property, she was passed on to the next brother.
And so, the Sadduccees asked Jesus - to whom would the woman belong in the next life?
You can just imagine Jesus shaking his head in frustration at their question.
Because they were missing the point entirely.
Resurrection signals a new life we cannot possibly envisage.
It is beyond our ken.
Far outstripping our limited imaginations.
Resurrection sets aside the limited concepts that folk struggle with in this life.
As with the rebuilding of the temple, where the prophet Haggai implores Gods people to have courage, to get back to the centrality of God at the heart of all things, so Jesus encourages those caught up in the minutiae of daily life to catch a glimpse of something much bigger and, in particular, to see God present in all life.

This Remembrance Sunday, we are called to lift our eyes beyond what we see,what we have witnessed, what we have learned about war - the pity of war.
In the words of Harry Patch, one of the last survivors of the First World War: " War isn't worth one life".
We are called, today, to imagine a world without violence.
A world where all life is honoured and where God is at the heart of all life,
Only by working to ensure that war and conflict between races and peoples and nations becomes a thing of the past can we truly honour those we remember today.
Only by working for peace can we honour the God of peace who is at the heart of our faith and our life together.
Today, we are exhorted to "take courage" and to work for peace.
For the glory of God.

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