Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Which mountain do you worship at?

In John 4:19-20 the woman at the well posed this problem to Jesus:

19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

It was a hot topic. Samaritans and Jews were deeply divided over the issue.  The author of Hebrews seems to play off this debate, but introduces a different twist.  In chapter 12:18-29 he makes a comparison between Mt Sinai, the place of the old covenant, and Mt Zion, the heart of the new covenant. Sinai is all about the law and judgement. Zion about acceptance, grace, and forgiveness.  Sinai is about fear and terror. Zion is about peace and the confident knowledge of the presence and blessing of God. 

All through the reading, as well as in early parts of Hebrews, the author is asking the question of his readers:  Which mountain do you worship at?

For some, the old covenant with its laws and rituals needed to be enfolded into faith in Christ, but as the writer of Hebrews points out, this simply leads to a new legalism and places us back under God's judgement as we are rejecting the grace that has been given through the life and death of Jesus. As he says in verse 28, "we receive a kingdom that cannot be shaken." That is God's kingdom...the messianic kingdom...the new creation.  It is ours as a gift from God. 

The warning at the end of verse 29... "our God is indeed a destroying fire." is a reminder that to reject his grace and to stand outside this kingdom gift, is to put ourselves under his judgement and from that there is no escape.  

So what mountain do you worship at? 

Friday, August 16, 2013

Is it easy to win when you are the only runner in the race?

Hebrews 12:1-2

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

All through Secondary school and into University I was part of the Track and Field team in the spring. My race was the 2 mile. (Remember this was a long time ago and in the US so kilometres weren't invented there yet.) Anyway, I was a space-filler on the team. The coach didn't quite know what to do with me so the 2 mile seemed a good fit. I could run distances well, the problem was I just wasn't fast enough even for that race. So meet after meet I would line up with the other runners and eventually finish the race somewhere in the middle of the pack. Once in awhile I might score a point or two for the team, but normally...well.  So comes the Conference track meet in my 1st year of University and it was decreed that every athlete could only enter 2 events. This was done so that a school had to rely on a team and not just one superstar. This particularly year there were some very good 1 and 2 mile runners in our conference which meant that I regularly finished in the bottom half of the pack. Well imagine my surprise when they called the 2 mile race at the conference meet and I was the only runner to show up at the start line. All the other schools had put their runners into the 1 mile race and other events. The officials had to run the race because they had an  I had to run the race in its entirety to score the points for our team. So I lined up. They fired the starting pistol. I was off.  8 long laps around the track in a big stadium with a grandstand full of people and the infield filled with athletes from 8 Universities all watching the one lone the distance.  It started to be entertaining as every time I passed the grandstands the crowd would erupt in wave of cheers and whistles. When I was running the back straight away from the crowd other athletes would come and run alongside me on the infield yelling encouragement.  When I crossed the finished line, breaking the finishing tape for the one and only time in my career, the sounds of the crowd cheering and applauding were wonderful to hear. What I also heard was the laughter. Laughter at the absurdity of it all. All the top runners had to stand by and watch while this back pack runner took out the race and the points. All that mattered to me was that I had run the race and finished. 

This is the scenario that the writer of the Hebrews has in mind in these verses. The race of faith is not a sprint race, but an endurance race. A race each of us must run by ourselves.  And yet, even while we must run our own race we are not alone for the 'great cloud of witnesses' is all around us to encourage us and cheer us on our way. Finally we must run the race to the finish and, for us, that finish is seeing Christ himself. So run your daily race of faith. Listen for the voices of encouragement from the saints on this earth and the world to come. The finish will come soon enough. In the meantime keep on running.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Looking for a place of my own...

In 2005, my then 13 year old son and I rode bicycles from Seattle, Washington across the Cascades and the Rocky Mountains, the plains of Montana and North Dakota, through Minnesota, Wisconsin, looped around the bottom of Lake Michigan through Chicago, to end up in Saginaw, Michigan. 4700kms of riding that took us 2 months. A couple of things from that trip came to mind when reading and studying Hebrews 11:1-16.

First was the fact that for much of our journey we rode off the map. We had a map that showed a very clear route for bicycles to follow across the upper US, but along the way opportunities came up or weather or roadworks which forced us to leave the maps behind and find our way to the next destination. This bothered my son who always wanted to know where we were long would we be riding...when would we get there...what if we get lost. Time and again I reassured him that we would make our way and that he could just sit back and enjoy the ride. We had time, resources and there were always people along the way to help us if necessary.

Faith is like this. We really can't prove anything about what we believe. We are not really sure where life will take us. We struggle quite often to understand and know God's will. We are on a journey that continually takes us off the map.  When I was younger and planning on being a pastor, I never in my wildest imaginings ever thought I would end up fulfilling my pastoral call in a church half way around the globe on a completely different continent from where I was born and raised and most of my family still live. Life in faith is like that. It's taking a trip, but not really quite knowing what the route is going to be.  You just know that ahead of you is your final destination, which leads to the second thing.

We stayed in many cities and towns along the way. Sometimes in people's homes. Other times we camped. Other times we stayed in motels. The thing that struck us no matter where we were, was that we were not home. People were happy to see us and kind and generous, but we knew we still had the journey ahead of us. These places were not our home or our destination.  Ironically, by the time we arrived at our destination of Saginaw, Michigan, both of us were longing to be back home. In Australia. Our home. Our place.

And that's one of the big thoughts of Hebrews 11. People of faith are always, in this life, strangers and aliens. We are a people in this world, but not of it.  We are people who are looking for a place of our own. Our home. Our place.

From childhood one hymn has carried this thought and expressed so clearly what I have always believed and felt.  I share it with you here...and may God in his grace bring you to your true home. The place prepared for you. The place where you will truly be at rest with no more journeys to make.

"I'm But a Stranger Here"
by T. R. Taylor, 1807-1835

1. I'm but a stranger here,
Heav'n is my home;
Earth is a desert drear,
Heav'n is my home.
Danger and sorrow stand
Round me on every hand;
Heav'n is my fatherland,
Heav'n is my home.

2. What though the tempest rage,
Heav'n is my home;
Short is my pilgrimage,
Heav'n is my home;
And time's wild wintry blast
Soon shall be overpast;
I shall reach home at last,
Heav'n is my home.

3. There at my Savior's side
Heav'n is my home;
I shall be glorified,
Heav'n is my home;
There are the good and blest,
Those I love most and best;
And there I, too, shall rest,
Heav'n is my home.

4. Therefore I murmur not,
Heav'n is my home;
Whate'er my earthly lot,
Heav'n is my home;
And I shall surely stand
There at my Lord's right hand.
Heav'n is my fatherland,
Heav'n is my home.

Hymn #660 The Lutheran Hymnal
Text: Hebrews 4:9
Author: Thomas R. Taylor, 1836, alt.
Composer: Arthur S. Sullivan, 1872
Tune: "Heaven Is My Home"

Thursday, August 01, 2013

A little light reading....Colossians 3:1-11

In preparing for the sermon this week I came across this translation from The Message by Eugene Peterson. It seems so apt that I am posting here...

Colossians 3:1-11   Peterson translation, The Message:
Sisters and brothers, if you are serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don't shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with things right in front of you. Look up and be alert to what is going on around Christ--that's where the action is. See things from his perspective. Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life--even though invisible to spectators--is with Christ in God. Christ is your real life. When Christ shows up again on this earth, you'll show up too--the real you, the glorious you. Meanwhile, be content with obscurity, like Christ. That means killing off everything connected with the way of death, sexual promiscuity, impurity, lust, doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy. That's a life shaped by things and feelings instead of by God. It's because of this kind of thing that God is about to explode in anger. It wasn't long ago that you were doing all that stuff and not knowing any better. But, you know better now. So make sure it's all gone for good, bad temper, irritability, meanness, profanity and dirty talk. Don't lie to one another. You are done with that old life. It's like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you've stripped off and put in the fire. Now you're dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom made by the Creator. It has a Designer label on it. All the old fashions are now obsolete. Words like Jewish and non-Jewish, religious and irreligious, inside and outsider, civilized and uncouth, slave and free mean nothing. From now on everyone is defined by Christ. Everyone is included in Christ. So, dressed by God for this new life of love, put on the wardrobe God picked out for you." 

...the one thing I noticed though is that when all is said and is still easier said (or read) than done if we rely on our own strength.  That's why I really like the thought here...Christ is my real life. 

Yours too, if you want him.