Friday, January 28, 2011

The blessed are....

Matthew 5:1-12, a portion of Scripture and the teachings of Jesus referred to as the Beatitudes. It received this name based on the Latin word for 'blessed'. These 12 verses have been studied, interpreted, re-interpreted, applied, turned inside out and back again over the many years since Jesus first spoke them on the unidentified hill somewhere in Palestine. The problem is that no one is really sure how we should understand these words of Jesus. Let me give you a sample...

One author wrote: "The Beatitudes are there for the purpose of being done."

Luther said the Beatitudes were there to remind us of our hopelessness of fulfilling the law and its impossible demands.

Another commentator said that these are ‘eschatological’ promises…that is pertaining to God’s purpose in this world and the coming of his kingdom…not just the end of the world.

While one scholar believed that Jesus isn't just telling us who is blessed, he is telling us what we need to be in order to be blessed.

Finally a Biblical scholar with social justice on their mind felt that the Beatitudes reveals a Christian movement of deep diversity struggling inwardly for its own soul and wrestles with the question, “What is the form of life and discipleship to which the resurrected Jesus is calling us?”

...I hope these few examples (and believe me there are many more points of view)help you understand the problems we face when coming to this text.

While preparing for this coming Sunday's sermon I came across one person whose words resonated with me. He had this to say...

What would it be like just to bless the congregation. To tell them that God loves and adores them, that God wants the very best for them, that God esteems them worthy of not just God's attention but God's blessing. You may have to say it a couple of times, as we're either so used to hearing the words that we don't really listen or so convinced that we don't merit God's blessing that we have a hard time believing it.

In fact, perhaps we shouldn't just talk about God's blessing but actually enact it. It could be that we decide to have persons come up to be individually blessed. Or that we conclude the sermon with a remembrance of baptism and the blessing baptism signifies. Or perhaps we could have people share with each other where they have recently experienced God's blessing. Or maybe have folks turn to another to hear and receive God's blessing. Whatever we do, we need to think hard about how to help people hear and believe that they are blessed because we become what we are called, and calling our people blessed will over time transform them to be God's blessing in and to the world.

Struck home to me. Sometimes we are so much into interpretation or dissection of the text itself that we don't let it speak simply and clearly, allowing the words of Jesus to do their work in our lives and the lives of those who are within hearing. In reflection the words of Jesus in Matthew 5 raised a question in my mind...

What difference would it make if instead of being critical of other people and the situations I found myself in I simply blessed them?

Friday, January 14, 2011

The 'everyday' disciple...

When you think of the twelve disciples, who comes to mind? Peter...maybe James and John. It is so easy to remember Judas the betrayer and even Thomas, the doubter. Then again you may think of Matthew, the tax collector. But that is only 6 and Jesus had 12. My question today is did anybody think of Andrew?

Some writers have described Andrew as an ‘everyday’ disciple. He is a disciple in the middle of the other disciples. He is not part of that inner circle of Peter, James and John. He doesn’t ask challenging questions of Jesus like Thomas or some of the other disciples. If we were to try to place Andrew into our world today he would be the sort of person that you see every day and seldom notice. A bus driver or one of your workmates that keeps to himself or a quiet neighbour. Maybe he is the woman at the checkout at Aldi or Woolworths. Then again he could be your mechanic or your hairdresser. Andrew is someone who is absolutely essential to make the world work. Andrew is also the sort of person who is absolutely essential to make the church work. If you don’t have the Andrews of life, the world does not work very well. If the church does not have the Andrews of life, the church does not work very well. In fact, much of the problem within the church is because of the lack of Andrews.

Now that you have a bit of a picture of Andrew in your mind let’s just add one more thing. Andrew was Simon Peter’s brother. Now Peter was an outspoken forthright person so you can imagine what it would have been like for Andrew growing up in his brother’s shadow. Andrew was second fiddle, second chair, second best. Anytime the two brothers would play games, who would chose the game to be played? Simon Peter. When a joke is being told, who is telling it? Simon Peter. When someone asked the two of them a question about fishing, who was the one who volunteered the answer immediately? Simon Peter. When you think about it, Andrew is always in the shadow of his older brother. Second chair, second fiddle, second choice. When you start to think about it, Andrew was left out. Let me explain. You have two brothers, James and John, sons of thunder and then there were the other two brothers, Simon Peter and Andrew. The big three disciples were Peter, James and John, and Andrew was not included in the list. Where was Andrew on the Mount of Transfiguration? Where was Andrew at the Garden of Gethsemane? Andrew wasn’t there. When you think about it, Andrew was kind of left out.

But Andrew still played a key role in so many ways. Today is just one story from Scripture that tells us a bit about the importance of this ‘everyday’ disciple.
Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist. John the Baptist was out there in the wilderness near the Jordan River, some fifty miles from the capital of Jerusalem. He was like a religious hermit; he was a super strict Jew. No dancing. No smoking. No women. No nothing. All he was doing out there in the wilderness was praying to God. John the Baptist was a super strict Jew. Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist.
Jesus had come out into the wilderness and had been baptized by John the Baptist. John the Baptist pointed to Jesus, and said, “Andrew. There is the one. Right there. The one who is walking there. I just baptized him. He is the one. He is the Lamb of God and he will change the whole world.” John the Baptist said this in such a way that Andrew was given permission to go and follow Jesus.

Andrew approached Jesus and Jesus asked him a question: “What are you looking for?” Now, this is not just a casual question. In John’s gospel, everything has a double meaning, and the question had this meaning. “Andrew, what are you really looking for in life? Andrew, what do you really want out of life? Andrew, what is the core of what you need to make you a happy, contented person? What are you looking for?”
Andrew responded to that question with another question. “Where are you staying?” That question does not mean, “Are you staying at the Beach Sands? Are you staying at the Novatel? Have you rented a small place somewhere near the beach?” The Greek word that Andrew uses means: “Where are you living, Jesus? What lives inside of you? What is it that gives you such life inside of you?”

Jesus answered, “Come and see.” And the word, “see,” is meaningful. The Greek word Jesus uses in his response refers to spiritual insight. “Do you see?” can mean sight. “Do you see?” can mean insight. Jesus was saying, “Come and see what you are really looking for.”

Andrew spent the whole day with Jesus and it got to be about four o’clock in the afternoon. The story suggests that Jesus, his friends, and Andrew spent the whole night together. Andrew had twenty-four hours with Jesus. What did they talk about? We don’t know what was said, but something happened in that twenty-four hours that Andrew, being in the presence of God, being in the presence of the Holy Spirit, being in the presence of Jesus, something happened inside of Andrew. He was transformed. Andrew became a disciple of Jesus Christ.

The first thing the next morning, what did Andrew do? Andrew went and found his brother. The brother to whom he had played second string, second fiddle, second chair. It was the first thing he did in that morning. The Bible records the following dialogue and action...

The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). 42 And he brought him to Jesus.

Andrew did not try to convert his brother. Andrew did not try to change his brother or convince his brother. Andrew knew that if he brought his brother into the presence of Jesus, that his brother could be transformed just the way that he, Andrew, had been transformed by Christ. That is what happened. Andrew brought his brother to Jesus and Simon gave his life to Christ.

So in this story about Andrew, we find that Andrew, this ‘everyday’ disciple brought his brother to Jesus Christ. What is even more interesting that twice more during Jesus’ ministry on earth Andrew brings people to Jesus. Some Greeks who come wishing to meet Jesus and then a boy with some loaves and fishes at the feeding of the 5000.

What a very simple act. May Andrew’s actions encourage you. Bringing people to Jesus is not about answering hard theological questions or participating in endless debates. It is simply sharing him with the people you mix with everyday and extending to them the invitation to ‘Come and see’.