Who Do You Say Jesus Is?

good samaritan - african

good samaritan – african from Jesusmafa.com

In the Anglican church we attended yesterday the gospel portion was Luke 9: 18 – 24 in which Jesus asks the disciples who the crowds think he is and then who they think he is. The crowds see a prophet, the disciples see the Christ of God, the long awaited Messiah.

Sounds great but who exactly is this Messiah? Even Peter and the disciples got it wrong. They expected an earthly king. Someone who looked a little like the Roman generals only better. Jesus’s description that follows was far beyond their comprehension.

And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9:22,23)

The idea of a vulnerable God who willingly exposes himself to suffering, pain and death  is hard for all of us to believe. A God with an aching heart who walks amongst the poor, eats with prostitutes, heals lepers, stands with the marginalized, this is the kind of God we still tend to reject. This is the kind of God who is still beyond our comprehension. That Jesus asks us to become like this is often even more incomprehensible.

The closer we walk to Jesus, the closer we move toward the love of God, the more aware we become of the fact that our God is not the arrogant “godlike” character we expect. Out of my meditations yesterday I wrote this prayer:

God you made yourself vulnerable,

Shown us your aching heart,

Open to abuse and contempt,

Willing to be scarred,

Accepting death as a criminal.

This is your love,

This is your faithfulness,

This is you revealed in Jesus Christ.

May we see and give thanks,
Amen.

So my question for today – how do we embrace this God, this vulnerable One with a broken heart and nail scarred hands? And then how do we follow him?

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How Do You Approach God?

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When Sue read my book Return to Our Sensesshe told me she was at first stunned, horrified and appalled by my suggested approach to God. I talked about an intimate, loving relationship which seemed indecent and inappropriate. She had been taught that God was almighty, all powerful, and holy and in humble gratitude she felt she needed to grovel at God’s feet.

She told me that she slowly realized that she had a distorted view of God that was loveless and legalistic. It had placed her in a miserable cage, a self imposed prison from which she is slowly being unravelled.

Unfortunately Sue’s experience of God is not unusual. I grieve for the many sincere Christians who have been taught that God is holy but not loving, powerful but not caring, forgiving but not really forgetting. And as a consequence we live in fear of a God who judges our every action and always finds us lacking.

Part of my grief is because I too grew up with a legalistic and very austere God. My own journey toward belief in a loving, compassionate God was slow and at times painful, painful only because I had to allow God to transform my own hurts and insecurities to make room for the love and compassion God wanted to reveal in my life.

First my participation in a caring Christian community in which love was practiced. I continue to be inspired by the healing power of community. In spite of our imperfections which often mean that Christian community seems less loving than we would like it to be, we still experience more healing together than we ever will as isolated individuals. Second reaching out to help others. In healing others we often discover our own healing. Third, a willingness to change. Probably the most challenging step in discovering that God is loving and caring is admitting that our rigid, legalistic view of God is wrong. A God who makes lots of rules may not be easy to love but is much easier to follow than one who allows us the freedom of discovering and setting our own boundaries.

So how do you approach God? What has helped you to recognize the God who is love?

Ascension Day is Coming – Celebrate the New Creation.

This ivory depiction of the Ascension was produced in Rome or Milan around 4th Century. vi Wikimedia

This ivory depiction of the Ascension was produced in Rome or Milan around 4th Century. vi Wikimedia Commons

Ascension Day is coming May 9th. In my last year’s post: Ascension Day is Coming – Do You Know What it Means?, I listed a number of resources for Ascension Day. This is not a celebration I grew up with and until recently I did not know that this is not just a celebration of the ascension of Christ, it is also a celebration of the new creation that God brought into being through the ascension of Jesus.  So this year I thought I would focus on Jesus as gardener of the new creation in my reflection.

This imagery is very special to me. As a keen gardener  I am intrigued by the concept of Jesus as the gardener of the new creation a concept which grows more powerful for me each year as I continue to garden and reflect on the God who is revealed as I do so. I wrote about this on Good Friday this year but as we approach Ascension Day thought that it was good to reflect on this imagery again,

From The Drogo Sacramentary a Carolingian illuminated manuscript on vellum of c.850, vis wikimedia Commons

From The Drogo Sacramentary a Carolingian illuminated manuscript on vellum of c.850, vis wikimedia Commons

Some theologians think that the whole theme of the Gospel of John is that of new creation. Most of the book of  John (chapters 12-20) takes place during one week in the life of Christ. John concentrates on themes. One theme is that Christ will redeem all of Creation (not just souls) through Re-Creation. In many ways Jesus death was like the planting of a seed (Unless a seed is planted in the soil and dies it remains alone, but its death will produce many new seeds, a plentiful harvest of new lives (Jn 12:24).  And then in John 20:15 we read: “she thought he was the gardener”  Why did it matter that Mary Magdalene thought that Jesus was the gardener?

The gospel of John begins with the words “In the beginning”. This immediately harkens us to the book of Genesis which opens with the same words. John then lays out a series of events in the life of Christ that mirror the Seven Days of Creation.  Read more

In the beginning God planted a garden – the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:8).  In the beginning of the new creation brought into being by the resurrection and ascension of Christ, God now in the form of the risen Christ, is once more seen as a gardener.  The hope and promise of these words which we so often skim over is incredible.  As we read in 2 Corinthians 5:17

“Therefore if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation, the old has passed away, behold, the new has come.”

The new has come – On Good Friday Christ was planted in a garden – his mortal remains were placed in a garden tomb just as we plant seeds in the ground. On Ascension day we celebrate the hope that planting foreshadowed. All around me seeds have sprung into life. New creation has indeed begun and we in its birth the promise of many lives renewed, restored and bearing fruit.

A couple of years ago Good Friday and Earth Day coincided and I wrote the following liturgy which seems to me to be very appropriate as we celebrate this new creation

God all of created life is groaning waiting for the future God has prepared for us,
We hope for the day on which all you have made will be rescued from death and decay,
We wait for the redemption of our bodies and the restoration of our world.

In my opinion whatever we may have to go through now is less than nothing compared with the magnificent future God has planned for us. The whole creation is on tiptoe to see the wonderful sight of the sons of God coming into their own. The world of creation cannot as yet see reality, not because it chooses to be blind, but because in God’s purpose it has been so limited – yet it has been given hope. And the hope is that in the end the whole of created life will be rescued from the tyranny of change and decay, and have its share in that magnificent liberty which can only belong to the children of God!

It is plain to anyone with eyes to see that at the present time all created life groans in a sort of universal travail. And it is plain, too, that we who have a foretaste of the Spirit are in a state of painful tension, while we wait for that redemption of our bodies which will mean that at last we have realised our full sonship in him. We were saved by this hope, but in our moments of impatience let us remember that hope always means waiting for something that we haven’t yet got. But if we hope for something we cannot see, then we must settle down to wait for it in patience. (Romans 8:18 – 25 (Phillips Translation)

God in this season of hope and promise bless the earth rich and fertile with life
God in this season of planting and growth, bless the seed we plant and nurture
As it falls into the ground to grow may we remember your body broken for us

Unless a seed is planted in the soil and dies it remains alone
But its death will produce many new seeds,
a plentiful harvest of new lives (Jn 12:24 NLT)

God as we sprinkle our gardens with the water that gives life,
May we remember lands that are parched and those that are flooded,
May we remember Christ that your life blood was poured out for us,
You were hung upon a tree and crucified,
So that together with all your creation we might be liberated into freedom.

Open up O heavens and pour out your righteousness
Let the earth open wide
So salvation and righteousness can sprout up together (Is 45:8 NLT)

As we watch for the first sprouts of new creation
We remember your resurrection promise,
A new world is breaking into ours with abundance and wholeness

Look I am making all things new…
On each side of the river grew a tree of life
Bearing twelve crops of fruit with a fresh crop each month
The leaves were used for medicine to heal the nations (Rev 21:5; 22:2 NLT)

Jesus our hope lies not in your death but in your resurrection,
Not in your dying but in your rising again,
We wait in hope for your promise to be fulfilled,
Death is conquered, resurrection has begun,
May your healing be revealed in our bodies,
May your healing power be seen throughout the earth,
May we all participate together in the coming of a new heaven and a new earth.

Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in. She saw two white-robed angels, one sitting at the head and the other at the foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying. “Dear woman, why are you crying?” the angels asked her.  “Because they have taken away my Lord,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”  She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. 15 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?”   She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”  “Mary!” Jesus said.  She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”).  “Don’t cling to me,” Jesus said, “for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”  Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord!” Then she gave them his message.  (John 20: 11 – 18 NLT)

Hallelujah, Christ is risen
You who are the gardener of the new creation,
Cultivate the new seeds that have sprung into life,
Bring growth, bring blossom, bring fruit,
May your new creation flourish in us, through us around us,
So that all the world may say together,
Christ is risen he is indeed Hallelujah.

Amen

Practice Resurrection – Plan a Party for Your Mother

Together with my Mum - Australia 2011

Together with my Mum – Australia 2011

Last night on Facebook, I posted that I had just booked tickets for Tom and I to go to Australia in June to celebrate my mother’s 90th birthday. I was amazed at the response, not just the “likes” it received but at the comments by those who remembered special times with their own mothers and fathers. One person shared about taking her mother to Israel when she was in her 80s. Another mentioned that she is heading to Sweden to celebrate her mother’s 85th birthday. Another grieved the fact that she had lost her mother when she was still young and had no opportunity to enjoy the celebrations we are relishing.

When my Dad died nearly 4 years ago, I made a commitment. I decided that I would head down to Australia twice a year to spend time with my Mum. It has not always been easy. The flight is long and gruelling, the work doesn’t stop while I am away and the financial pressure sometimes has me questioning my decision. But the fruit of these visits is immeasurable. The special memories of these last few years are more than I could ever imagine.

Time spent with loved ones needs to be a priority in our lives. If we are too busy or too stressed to party with family and friends then we need to question our priorities. The kingdom of God begins with a great banquet feast and I think that every time we gather with friends and families we catch a glimpse of what that will look like.

Maybe it is not your mother that you need to plan a party for. It could be a friend you have not seen for a long time. Or it could be for your colleagues and co-workers. Or for your neighbours. Celebration is at the heart of God’s kingdom. Jesus’ critics complained that he spent too much time partying – eating and drinking with friends. And he enjoyed that wedding at Cana so much that he made it even more fun for people by turning water into wine. Unfortunately too much partying is not often a criticism people accuse Jesus’ followers of much these days.

So take some time this morning to think about how you could plan a “resurrection party” for those you know and love. What would you need to let go of to free up the time necessary to make it happen?

Christ’s Resurrection Light

 

I posted this prayer on Facebook this morning. It was so popular that I decided to add a photo and post it again here. enjoy!

Christ's resurrection light.001

Practicing Resurrection – Being Radical by Brian “Wolt” Wolters

Easter Sunday has come and gone and its time to practice resurrection living! As I mentioned in my post Practicing Resurrection yesterday, Easter is not just a day it is a season, in fact it is the framework for the rest of our lives. Over the next few weeks I plan to share a number of stories of creative ministries and initiatives that do just that. Today’s post is written by Brian “Wolt” Wolters, director of The Overflow Project.  It was first published as Being Radical, Good Friday on the MSA website as part of a series on the Overflow Project. The MSA team are all joining the initiative this year and we hope you will too.

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Over the past several weeks I have found myself coming up with excuses to drive to work instead of ride my bike.  Even before I get in my truck I tell myself, “Oh, one more day of driving and then I’ll start riding my bike,” or even on a sunny day I’ll say “Oh, it may rain today, so I’ll just drive.”

Why is it that we often have good intentions of doing something we think is best, but then opt for something easier or more convenient? Why do we form habits as human beings that prevent us from being radical?

Many books explore these questions. Some prescribe easy “steps” or even “recipes” for breaking out of patterns and molds that develop over time. On the flip side, other materials suggest creating new habits for life change like setting aside time for prayer and exercise daily.

Insert Good Friday.  Jesus’s death on a cross is radical I think.  He does not conform to culture or take the easy, most comfortable option.  He also does not say oh today, I’m going to start “effective habits.”  He even goes against his own desire and chooses to die!  If you want a vivid reminder the horror of his death, pick up the Mel Gibson film, The Passion of Christ.

The reminder of Jesus death on Good Friday inspires me to be more in tune with God’s voice for my life – instead of my own desires –  and explore being radical by forming new habits and breaking old ones. I pray I am who God made me to be and that I my eyes open to see my comfort zones.

I shared these thoughts about Easter with MSA last year, and am just as excited about The Overflow Project’s initiative this year.  The opportunity is great: to join with others in a unified effort to live with a little less and be able to give a little bit more, following the mold of Jesus death on the cross and celebrating on Easter his resurrection.

Perhaps today is a day to break a habit or start a new one. Jesus leads us in His way and with His death.

An opportunity to celebrate his resurrection on Easter exists.

Join in a challenge for the 50 days of the Easter season.


This is the fourth post in a Friday series about The Overflow Project that was published on the MSA blog, leading up to the 50 Day Challenge starting on Easter.

Periodically during the 50 days, various Challenge participants with share how they are taking the challenge and what they’re learning.

If you decide to take the challenge, please register on their page and share your story!

The Overflow Project is an initiative committed to a new way of living, a way of living that breaks down the walls that divide rich and poor. Using a 50-Day Challenge, The Overflow Project helps individuals, groups and churches simplify their lives in order to give generously. Donated funds provide clean drinking water – a vital resource for community and economic development.

Practicing Resurrection

Celtic cross Iona Abbey

Celtic cross Iona Abbey, Scotland

Its Easter Sunday, for many of us the culmination of our faith, the day for which all of us have waited, hoped and longed for. For many of us this seems like the end of the story, at least that is what you would think by the way we act during the rest of the year. Easter Sunday comes, we give our shouts of Alleluia, sing a few songs of praise, and then we pretty much go about life as usual. Tomorrow we will wake up, drink a cup of coffee or tea, and as I said in a previous Easter post What Have We Done with Jesus, go back to our pre Christ encounter jobs totally unchanged by all that Jesus has said and done.

Easter Sunday is not an end but a beginning. And it isn’t just a single day, it is a whole season that extends until Pentecost. How could we possibly celebrate the wonder of God’s new world which was ushered in by the resurrection, in a single day? And how can we possibly confine the practice of this incredible event to a short church service.

This is the season to practice resurrection, the time to go out and not just shout about the new life we have in Christ but to live it. Jesus resurrection transformed his  disciples. They left homes and families and jobs to live radically different lives. They sold their property and shared it with others. They looked after the sick and cared for the marginalized, and guess what, this small band of disciples became a world wide movement that still transforms lives today. What difference has it made in our lives?

In my study guide Celebrating the Joy of Easter, I ask

What kind of God do we want to incarnate to our world? Is it a God of love and compassion who leaves ninety-nine sheep in order to rescue one that has gone astray, or one who constantly accuses those who do not follow God’s ways? Is it a God who gets his hands dirty by entering, in a very personal and human way, into the pain and suffering of our world, or one who inflicts pain and anguish as punishment for our sins? Is it a God who celebrates life with enthusiasm by turning water into wine at a wedding, or one who strips us of our joy by placing heavy burdens on our shoulders? Is it a God who hears our cries and brings justice for the poor and oppressed, or one who stands aloof and indifferent to our pain?

Easter is the season to show others what kind of world we believe Jesus resurrection ushered into our broken world. It is a season to get out and practice hospitality, compassion, love, healing, generosity and care for creation. It is a season to show by our words and actions that we really do believe Jesus is indeed alive and is transforming our world… through us!