Looking up, looking out

Click here to listen to this 15-minute message.

We live in a world that seems to be doing not very well. Globally and nationally we face many challenges. And many of us face personal challenges as well. These can wear us down, challenging our faith, leading us to wish we could escape all of it.

In such times, most of us look up. We look up toward heaven, towards God, and wish that God would fix things up. “I lift up my eyes to the hills,” says the Psalmist (121:1). Paul writes at length about this in 2 Corinthians 4:16 – 5:5. He reminds us that the world and the body we live in are transient – they last but a short time and then are done. So, he longs for a more permanent world – heaven – where we can dwell for eternity with God, and where we will be doing considerably better than we are now.

So, we look up for a better future. We look up for life after death. We look up for an eternal reward. We look up for justice. We look up for comfort and solace. We look up for hope and courage.

It is good for us to look up.

But God also calls us to look out. God is not in the business of escapism. God is not inviting us to run away from or ignore or avoid the difficulties that we are facing in this world. Rather, God wants us, calls us, to be a co-worker with God in bringing into being the Kingdom of God in our midst. This was the ministry of Jesus – “the Kingdom of God is near”. Looking out means to look around us, to look at the world as it is, to really see what’s going on. Jesus always had his eyes wide open and was looking out. In English, to ‘look out’ for someone also means to care for someone.

We hear this sentiment in the Song of Mary (Luke 1:46-55), when Mary begins to understand what God was doing through her, and the way she was participating in birthing the Son of God, who would order the world, turning tables, balancing books, righting wrongs. These were present things that Jesus would do, and Mary recognised that she was a participant in making this ministry possible. Mary was looking out at the world and seeing the role she and her son would play in confronting evil.

We hear this also in the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13), where Jesus prays not that we may escape to heaven, but rather that heaven will come to earth: “Your kingdom come,
your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”. The rest of the prayer is about present realities: daily food, forgiveness, reconciliation, holy living, protection. His is a looking out prayer, not a looking up prayer. This prayer is about looking out at the world as it is.

Looking up and looking out are important Biblical principles for Christian living. In South Africa, during the years of struggle against apartheid, the Anglican church (which I’m part of) applied this principles. Our church services – sacramental, liturgical – are designed to help us look up to a God who is majestic, powerful, compassionate, gracious. We come to church, into a beautiful service, to escape the ugliness of the world outside; we come to church to look up. But, the Anglican church was also instrumental in undermining and eventually toppling the apartheid government and its laws; our church was looking out. THIS is what church is meant to be: Looking up and looking out.

Resurrection Life

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Click here to listen to the MP3 of this 18 minute sermon.

Today is the first Sunday after Easter and we centre our thoughts on the resurrection and what it means for us. In John’s Gospel, resurrection is virtually synonymous with Life, and so this sermon is about the Resurrection Life. Jesus says, “I am the Resurrection and the Life”. He also says, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full”.

I am including the readings from John (New International Version) so that you have them readily at hand.

Love, peace and joy
Adrian

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Resurrection and Life are intimately tied together in Jesus

  • Jn 11:25 – Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies;

Jesus repeatedly speaks as if he embodies Life itself

  • Jn 1:4 – In him was life, and that life was the light of men.
  • Jn 5:26 –  For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself.
  • Jn 6:63 – The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.

Jesus repeatedly says that he IS Life

  • Jn 14:6 – Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
  • Jn 6:48 – I am the bread of life.
  • Jn 8:12 – When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Jesus repeatedly says that we obtain Life through him

  • Jn 10:10 – The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
  • Jn 4:14 – but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
  • Jn 6:27 – Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”
  • Jn 6:35 – Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.
  • Jn 6:51 – I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
  • Jn 6:54 – Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.

Jesus repeatedly says that we must believe in him to gain eternal life

  • Jn 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
  • Jn 17:3 – Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.
  • Jn 5:24 – “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.
  • Jn 6:40 – For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”

Reflecting on the Incarnation

Click here to listen to a podcast of this 23 minute sermon.

Today is the start of Advent, that season in which we reflect back on Christ’s entry into the world some two thousand years ago and anticipate his coming again, one day, in glory. Western Christians (in contrast to Eastern Orthodox Christians) have tended to reduce Advent to a celebration of Christmas – the birth of Jesus. But the incarnation properly starts at conception. Somehow – who knows how! – God spliced himself into Mary’s egg. The incarnation is a full blending of human and divine in the individual called Jesus. It is a profound mystery that I really cannot explain. But we assert that Jesus is both fully God and fully human. What we learn from the Orthodox tradition is that this is the central event in Christian history – that in the incarnation God changed the course of history forever – changing the genetic makeup of humanity and opening up a spiritual path that had til then been closed.

In this sermon I try to unpack this in terms of two central theologies:

  • The notion of kenosis, that God emptied himself in order to merge with Mary’s egg – emptied of omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence – to be teeny tiny small; left the eternal and perfect union between Father, Son and Spirit in order to join with humanity; immersed himself into human experience with all its sorrows and joys. Kenosis is a profound and radical expression of God’s love for humanity. What else could prompt such an extravagant and risky venture?
  • The notion of theosis, that the chasm between God the uncreated and humans the created creatures was closed when God became human, thereby opening a path for humans to participate in the divine. That God would have incarnated even if humanity had not fallen. That the purpose for Jesus coming into the world was not merely to die on the cross, but to pioneer a path for humanity to reconcile with God. Theosis points us towards hope – hope for the future, hope for what God is able to achieve in us, hope for the coming transformation and restoration.

This is a rather cerebral sermon – be warned! It invites us to engage with ways of thinking about the incarnation that may be unfamiliar to us. Don’t feel obliged to agree with what I say – I myself am not sure about all of it! But engaging with different Christian perspectives can be deeply enriching. I do, however, assert that Love and Hope are key Advent themes, and hope that these reflections on kenosis and theosis may provide some food for thought to underpin these themes.

Oh, and it is World Aids Day today, so I attempt to make some links from all of this to the ongoing fight against HIV and Aids.

Blessings and joy during this season!

Persevere in Faith

Click here to listen to the podcast of this 20 minute sermon.

Sometimes our faith flags – God seems absent, silent, unresponsive; our hearts feel dry and dusty; we are thirsty, but barely know we’re thirsty. Sometimes the world around us presses in and squashes our faith – the demands are so great, so burdensome, that it is hard to remain connected to God. Sometimes people say things or we witness or experience things that shake our confidence in God – how could a good God allow these things to happen, how can a rational person believe in God?

All of us experience ups and downs in our faith journeys. We are, though, encouraged to persevere in our faith through the dry times, in the hope that better days will come. Today, here in Pretoria, South Africa, we are experiencing our first real rain after the long dry winter. What a blessing when the rains finally come! The ground sucks it up and brings new life. What a blessing it is when God’s Spirit falls afresh on us after a period of drought!

This sermon speaks about persevering in faith – about hanging on to God, about clinging to the Word of God, about staying in touch with other Christians. It is about continuing to walk in faith, even if not in feelings or experience, praying that God will rekindle our faith, restore our hope, bring the fresh rains.

It draws on four readings:

  • Luke 18:1-8 – “Always pray and never give up”
  • 2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:5 – “Continue in what you have learned”
  • Jeremiah 31:27-34 – “God’s Law is written on our hearts”
  • Psalm 119:97-105 – “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet”

Love, peace and fresh rains
Adrian