A Community of Faith Seeking Christ

Click here to listen to this 24-minute message.

Today, being the first Sunday after Easter, we have the classic reading from John 20 about Thomas, the one who wanted first-hand evidence that Jesus had, in fact, risen from the dead. Thomas is my favourite New Testament character – I identify fully with his pattern of doubt seeking faith.

But John 20:30-31 lets us know that John’s Gospel is written, primarily, to introduce unbelievers to the Gospel message: “these have been written that you might believe”. So, Thomas is less an example of doubtful-faith for Christians, as he is an example of a faith-seeking non-Christian.

In light of this I help my congregation to re-read this passage from that perspective, and particularly to consider what this passage tells us about being a community of faith that creates a receptive space for those who are not Christians. I make three points:

  1. Not everyone who comes to our church is a Christian, let alone an Anglican Christian. This means we need to to make our services more seeker-friendly.
  2. People living in our area today are modern, questioning, skeptical, not impressed with authority and open to a plurality of truths. This means we need to be accommodating, open to various views, comfortable with difficult questions, comfortable with not having answers to those questions and comfortable with multiple answers to those questions.
  3. People are, nevertheless, looking for answers. This means we need to have thought carefully and deeply about some of the important questions of our time.

I remind my congregation that we are an Anglican church. Part of what that means is that we have a generous orthodoxy. We are like a large tree with expansive branches that provide shade for many people. Within the Anglican communion are charismatics, evangelicals, fundamentalists, social gospelists, liberals and sacramentalists (Anglo-Catholics). It is not that we Anglicans don’t know what we believe; it is rather that we are humble in our belief, acknowledging that we might be wrong, and thus open to others believing differently.

I suggest that this Anglican stance may be because, while we believe that truth (doctrine) is important, we believe that relationship is a bit more important. Thomas’ statement of faith (My Lord and my God) was not prompted by the evidence he got from Jesus, but by his encounter with the person of the risen Christ. It was his relationship with Jesus that stimulated his faith. And so it should be for us.

So, we we’re aiming to be a church that learns from Thomas. We aim to be a community of faith that creates safe relational space for others to seek and find Christ.

Seeing from the Cross

Click here to listen to this 18-minute message.

Today is Good Friday – a poorly named day in my view. It should be Dark Friday. The Passion Week is transformed to good on Easter Sunday, but not before. There is nothing good about Friday. But my opinion is unlikely to change centuries of tradition!

Today, at my Anglican community church in Irene, South Africa, we participate in a three-hour service, from 12pm to 3pm – the hours that Jesus hung on the cross. It is a kind of vigil, like the women who kept watch as Jesus hung there. It is one of the best attended services at our church, and most people stay the full time. Today, we used the Seven Last Words of Christ to structure our service. The priest, deacon and lay ministers shared the preaching. I preached on the passage from John 19:25-27, where Jesus says “Woman, behold! Your son. … Behold! Your mother.” (my translation).

The central thing that stands out for me is that Jesus SEES his mother and his friend (thought to be John, the disciple). And seeing them and their need, he invites them to SEE each other (the Greek for ‘behold’, or ‘here’ in other translations, means ‘Look!’ or ‘See!’). So, in this sermon I suggest four layers of meaning:

  1. The passage foregrounds the humanity, dignity and worth of women, as central to the story. We need to stand against patriarchy, violence against women, the silencing and marginalisation of women, the exploitation of girl children.
  2. The passage speaks about Jesus’ commitment to family and to intimate relationships. We need to invest in these relationships, in the domestic, because this is of interest to God.
  3. The passage suggests the great potential of the church to recreate the world. We should examine our own churches, asking if we are really doing what God wants us to, are we being who God wants us to be?
  4. The passage advances God’s concern and love for the whole of humanity. God sees us, knows us, recognises us, loves us, champions us, cries for us. And we should also.

Wishing you a blessed and joyful Easter 2016.
Adrian

P.S. I struggled to find a picture that depicts what Jesus would have seen from the cross. The arts are almost entirely focused on Jesus on the cross – rightly so. But I found this one by James Tissot, a French painter, painted in c. 1890. For those receiving this by email, you won’t see the featured image for each of my sermons. Follow the link to my blog to see them.

When the World goes Mad

Click here to listen to this 16-minute message.

Sometimes, the world seems to be going mad. On the morning of the day I preached this sermon, two terrorist attacks in Brussels left 31 or so people dead. IS claimed responsibility. Attacks like these, like the multiple attacks in Paris in 2015, make us afraid and want to withdraw from the world. Fear sets in. Muslims and Arabs seem dangerous. The world seems a threatening place.

In South Africa, we face increasingly racialised discourse, from all sides of the political and racial spectrum. Some people are calling for doing away with reconciliation and an increasing emphasis on racial identity and distinctiveness. These conversations elicit fear and uncertainty, prompting us to withdraw from each other into our safe comfort zones.

Jesus also experienced a world going mad. As religious leaders becoming increasingly threatened by him, his actions and his popularity, they set up traps to discredit and marginalise him. They plot to kill him. Indeed, they succeed in murdering him.

But through all this madness, Jesus does not withdraw, he is not cowed by fear, he does not avoid. Instead, Jesus continues to engage, to move towards, to step across boundaries. From where does he get this confidence in the face of considerable odds? He gets it from a confidence that his authority comes from heaven, from God. He knows that he is living out God’s will for him – to reconcile all things together within God’s family.

And so he remains steadfast. As we also need to remain steadfast. To not be cowed or afraid or marginalised. But to continue to live out the faith that we have inherited. A faith that hopes and trusts in a powerful God. A faith that engages and connects. A faith that steps across boundaries and embraces. A faith that loves.

Mark 11:27-33

Participating with God

Dear Friends

Usually, my blogs are podcasts, and this will continue next week as usual. But today I wanted to post a brief reflection on our participation with God.

I do believe, with my whole heart, that God places a call upon each of us – sometimes this is a call to an explicitly Christian ministry, for example, a call to ordination or missionary work. But most often it is a call to be God’s person in the world, to use the gifts that we have been given to reveal God’s love to the people in our environment, to do our job in a way that reflects God’s values and priorities, to care for those in need, to live out our faith in authentic ways. It is a call to be Christ in the world.

For myself, after God called me into a relationship with him in 1984, I began to feel a sense of calling into ministry. I really can’t articulate what this call constitutes. I’m not one who has heard the Voice of God saying, “Adrian, I want you to do this.” Perhaps it was just a feeling. But it was a deep seated feeling, a strong conviction, an imperative, a persistent yearning, a burning in my belly, an annoying compulsion. There is something about this calling that I could not get away from. Nevertheless, I spent the first 20 years of my Christian life running away from this call. I was doing the Jonah! I genuinely did not feel equipped for ministry – my faith is far too frail and uncertain.

Then, back in 2004, through my participation in a version of the purpose driven church, I experienced a renewal of the call, so strong in fact that I HAD to do something about it. I approached a trusted spiritual advisor, and she affirmed the call and took it to our Church Council. Eventually, in August 2005 I preached my first sermon, on Romans 12:1 (you can access the text of this sermon, by clicking here). That first sermon was a confirmation of God’s call – as I stood at the lectern and broke open God’s Word, I knew, for absolute certain, that this is what I was put here for. It was only in acting upon God’s call that I really got confirmation of that call.

It has been a little over seven years, and I have been blessed, by God and the church, to have the opportunity to preach regularly – for the past couple of years it has been twice a month. I thank God for this privilege. God has opened up a space for me to do God’s work, for me to be used by God. This is something amazing about our God – God likes us to participate with him in his work in the world – God chooses to share the work with us. In the process of my participating with God, I have been blessed. And apparently others have been blessed through me. The knowledge that God’s Spirit touches others through my fragile offering of myself is awesome! It is in my brokenness and uncertainty, that God does what God does best – God loves his people.

For myself, the call that God has placed in me is not just an optional thing. Not something I can turn off. Not something that I can run away from. I cannot help but believe that since God gifts each of his children, and since God has a vision for each of his children, God must also have a call for each of his children. I believe firmly that God has a call for you. And if you are still reading this, then I want to prompt you to seek out that calling. To listen to God’s voice – typically, a still, small voice. To listen for God’s call – something in your bones, in your gut. Something burning, something that wants to grow, something that leads you towards God.  God does not just call some; God calls each one. God calls you!

There is a poem that has been very meaningful to me in my journey, which I wish to share with you this week. I’m not much into poetry (I hear some of you gasp! Sorry about that), but this one expresses most accurately what I experience in myself. It puts into words an experience that I am not able to articulate myself. I stumbled across is by accident, but really I think this is a gift from God. And maybe it is a gift for you too.

What is this seed that thou has planted in me
that I must bring to fruit
or pass my life in sterile waste?

What is this gift that thou hast given me
that I must in turn pass on
or it will destroy me?

What is it you are asking me to do
that I must do
or know my life defeated?

I ask, in Christ’s name
Amen.

–        Edward Tyler, 1978
Prayers in Celebration of the Turning Year.