Wednesday, 23 September 2020

Win a victory for humanity by your tythe


Harvest Festival Reflection September 2020



Do the names Mercy Baguma and Jeff Bezos mean anything to you? They were both in the news when I sat down to write this Harvest Festival reflection. But by the time you read this you may have forgotten who they are even if you’d heard the names at the time.

Let’s start with Jeff Bezos. He is the man behind Amazon. And on 26th August it was announced that he was worth $200 billion. That is $200,000,000,000! To give you an idea of how vast that sum of money is, earlier this year a man called Humphrey Yang calculated that if one single grain of rice represented $100,000 of Bezos’ wealth, his wealth would weigh 26.3 kilograms!

But what of Mercy Baguma? On the same day as Bezos’ new fortune was revealed Mercy Baguma, a woman who was living in extreme poverty, and relying on charities and friends to buy food, was found dead next to her crying baby in a flat Glasgow. 34-year-old Mercy Baguma, was from Uganda. Her one-year old son was suffering from malnutrition and required hospital treatment. It is understood Baguma had lost her job after her limited leave to remain in this country expired and she had been relying on donations of food from friends and charitable organisations.

You may be thinking what have these stories got to do with Harvest Festival? Harvest Festival should be about celebrating all good gifts around us. Actually, these stories have a lot to do with Harvest Festival.

The Bible passages suggested for Harvest Festival in the Methodist Worship book include Deuteronomy 26: 1 – 12, Ruth 2: 1 – 23, 1 Timothy 6: 6 – 19, Matthew 6: 25 - 33 There is a theme of giving thanks of course – notably in Deuteronomy. It is right we should give thanks to God for the food we have.

But that is not the only thing that emerges from these Bible passages. In the two Old Testament passages we see that it is it right that we should give thanks for the harvest and the food we have but we should respond to the harvest by ensuring that others less fortunate than ourselves are provided for.

12 When you have finished setting aside a tenth of all your produce in the third year, the year of the tithe, you shall give it to the Levite, the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied. Deuteronomy 26:12

And the whole theme running through the passage from Ruth is the same - care for someone less fortunate by ensuring something was left behind in the fields during harvest so that those in need would be provided for.

Most of us don’t have fields in which to leave something behind for others to help themselves – though I was touched recently when out for a wander on my scooter around Cepen Park South, to see a box of courgettes outside a house with a sign saying “Help yourself we can’t eat them all”. Most of us cannot relate to Boaz in the story of Ruth with his fields of corn.

But we can relate to the call of God for us to use what we have to help others. Which brings me to the passage from 1 Timothy. The main theme of this passage is the concern regarding the dangers of wealth and the attitudes of mind and habits of life that acquisition and possession of wealth encourage. Who ever the writer to Timothy was (maybe Paul, maybe not) he is building on themes that were already well known to the earliest Christians. We all know how Jesus talked about money and its dangers on several occasions.

Now unless you have very good accountants who manage to help you hide away your wealth, I doubt if anyone reading this reflection is in quite the same league as Jeff Bezos. And you may think “Why is David lecturing me on money?” It’s a fair question. But money poses a danger to everyone and it is worth reminding ourselves of that.

The Chinese tell of a man who dreamed day and night of gold. He rose one day and, when the sun was high, he went to the crowded marketplace. He stepped directly to the booth of a gold dealer, snatched a bag full of gold coins, and walked calmly away. The officials who arrested him were puzzled. "Why did you rob the gold dealer in broad daylight?" they asked. "And in the presence of so many people?"

"I did not see any people," the man replied. "I saw only gold." How often do we see it happen? People no longer see people; they see only gold.

Now we must be careful at this point. There is nothing inherently evil about money. Indeed, properly used, money can do much good. Until Jeff Bezos came along the wealthiest man in the world was Bill Gates – the founder of Microsoft computers. In recent years Gates and his wife Melinda have given away vast sums of money through their Foundation. In particular they have helped fund polio vaccination programs so that that disease is now eradicated in most parts of the world. (Though by any standards the Gates’ still have huge wealth.)

Nevertheless, the love of money is the scariest drug on the market, by Jesus' standards. It is addictive. It is deadening. It causes us to lose our sensitivity to others and to God. And most of all it keeps is from being part of God’s ministry to the world.

Dr. Thomas Lane Butts once put it this way: "One of the miracles of the organized church is that you can be busy at your daily tasks at home and at the same time be preaching the Gospel in Africa, feeding the hungry in Haiti, or helping the homeless in India. You can win some victory for humanity, wherever you are, by your tithe."

It is right then at Harvest Festival to think of our own money and how we use it to benefit others in the name of God. And it is right to think of how others use their money.

To close I come back to the two names I started this reflection with - Jeff Bezos and Mercy Baguma. What kind of world is it, what kind of country is ours, that lauds multi billionaires and yet allows a young mother to die next to her malnourished son? 

17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19 In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. 1 Timothy 6: 17 - 19

Sunday, 20 September 2020

The past is a place of reference, not a place of residence

 


Reflection Sunday 20th September 2020 – 

Exodus 16: 1 – 15

 

My Reflections over the last few weeks have not looked at the story of Moses but perhaps you’ve been reading those passages in the suggested Sunday Bible readings yourself. If you have, you’ll have read how God chose Moses to bring out the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land. They’ve been kept safe from the plagues, marked Passover, and have come through the Red Sea and now they find themselves in the Desert of Sin, the wilderness.

I doubt if many of us have found ourselves in a wilderness. But we know from things we have read or from films and television documentaries what the wilderness is like. A place lacking in water and food. And we know that before preparing for a journey through a wilderness we would need to ensure we had plenty of supplies.

The people of Israel seem unprepared, whether this was because they’d left Egypt in a hurry who knows. But they now find themselves without adequate supplies and what do they do? They start grumbling

In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat round pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.’

It’s worth thinking about these couple of verses for a moment. What the Israelites are saying is that they consider things were so bad in the wilderness they would have preferred to stay in slavery in Egypt and die - either through the plagues or by the Angel of Death. “We would have died in Egypt but at least we had food to eat.” And certainly, there is nothing in the accounts to suggest that in Egypt the “Hebrew slaves” lacked food – even if they were captives.

But the Hebrews’ present trouble in the wilderness distorts their memory of the recent past. Egypt was a place of deep abuse and heavy-handed oppression. In the wilderness they are not experiencing abuse or oppression. Their only trouble is a lack of bread and meat. And this short-term concern about food overrides any long-term hope for a future of freedom and well-being.

All too often, like the Hebrews in the wilderness, there is a tendency to look back to past times. But in doing so we gain a distorted view of what those past times were like. We see it amongst some at present in our own country. A looking back to a time when Britain ruled the waves. A looking back to a time when this country stood on its own. Of course, it was never really like that but that is the perception and for some this nostalgia seems to shield them from the realities of the present day.

It happens in church too.  As a minister all too often I get told stories of how years ago there was a Sunday school with 50 young people or a church being full. Everything was wonderful.  Was it really?

When faced with a challenging time, it is comforting to look back. We can put on the rose tinted glasses and draw false comfort. But this isn’t helpful.

A quote I find useful in this respect is this

“The past is a place of reference, not a place of residence; the past is a place of learning, not a place of living.” Roy T. Bennett The Light in the Heart

The Hebrews were looking back to Egypt and wished they were still living there as they had had meat and bread. In fact, instead of wishing they were living there, they should have been learning from their experience there.

We can learn from looking back. Learn the things that were good and helpful and learn from those things that didn’t work or were a problem.

Again, what the Hebrews seemed to have forgotten is that God is with them in the wilderness. Their grumbling is directed to Moses and Aaron not to God. Yet God is with them and God will provide for them just as God is guiding them through the wilderness.

We know that we have been living in a strange times these last six months. And for our country the past few years have been unsettling too. Therefore, I understand why in church and outside church it is comforting to try and look back at the past and gain comfort from it. But we are in the here and now and, to quote John Wesley, “Best of all God is with us”.

God has not abandoned us. He is with us leading us through this strange time. Leading his people to somewhere different. Moving us from what we knew before – even what we knew immediately before Covid.

Like you maybe, I’m not sure what God has in store for us. I’m not sure where he is leading us during this wilderness time. But he is leading. And I feel sure that he will provide manna for us to get through this strange time. What form that “manna” will take I’m not sure either! (Though in our Circuit it could be said the manna has been the ability of the Circuit to help financially some of our smaller chapels through this challenging time.)

Psalm 105 picks up the themes of the Exodus passage. And the Psalmist reminds us that on some occasions it is acceptable to look back to remind ourselves at what God has done and learn from that. Therefore, during these wilderness times (and always) we should

Look to the Lord and his strength;
    seek his face always.

Remember the wonders he has done,
    his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced, Psalm 105: 4 – 5

Sunday, 13 September 2020

What colour is the patch on your back?

 


Reflection Sunday 13th September 2020 Romans 14: 1 – 12

 

Many years ago, a stranger walked into a small town and stood in the town square. He wore a long black coat but sewn on to it were patches of cloth of many shapes, sizes, and colours. As the day went on the townsfolk began to gather around in curious silence until eventually one brave person plucked up the courage to ask the stranger about his odd coat.

The stranger began to point to the different patches and explained in detail, that they represented the sins of different people in the town. Embarrassed, some left the square. Indignant, other shook their heads in denial of the accusation. After explaining every patch, and denouncing every sin, the man turned around and headed out of town. Then the townspeople saw that on the back of the coat was one large patch covering the man’s back. What could it mean? Whose sin? Why hadn’t he mentioned it? Eventually, a young girl said “I know. That represents his own sin, for he is willing to point out the sin of others yet fails to see his own.”

Matthew’s Gospel puts it this way:

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” Matthew 7:3

It’s easy to criticise others and hold others to our standards whilst at the same time ignoring our own shortcomings isn’t it? It is an age-old problem. It was certainly something Paul had to address with the church in Rome.

In the church in Rome there was tension regarding appropriate religious practices, between what we might think of as Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. The Jewish Christians knew what it meant to be observant Jews – including males being circumcised, and having got follow Jewish dietary rules (eating kosher meat.) Did this observance make them “strong”? But what did it mean to be an observant Gentile Christian? If they ate any kind of meat or if they were vegetarian, did that make them “weak”? (It’s was an issue that had cropped up before in other churches, such as in Corinth.)

In writing this part of his letter, Paul is seeking to bridge the gap between the two. He is seeking to remind the church that they are all in community with one another and the Church, any church, is made up of all kinds of people.

Of course, it is tempting to want to try and form a community of faith with people “like us”. But that is not what being the church is meant to be. When we are followers of Christ we are called to move from our “comfort zones” to places where Christ leads. Let’s not forget, the first “church”, Jesus’ earliest disciples, were a motley crew including fishermen, tax collectors and prostitutes.

Paul insists that the church is made up of those who think of themselves as strong in the faith and those who think of themselves as weak in the faith.

Who are we to think of ourselves as “strong” or “weak” in faith? The problem is we want to define who is strong or weak by our standards not God’s. All too often people think of themselves as “strong” in faith for all the wrong reasons. For example they think they ar strong in faith because they’ve held a church office for many years or have attended the same church for many years. Or have had some theological training.

But our strength doesn’t come from church membership. Strength is not defined by how much Bible we know or even from how much we contribute financially. Our strength comes from knowing how weak we are. Our strength comes from recognising that we all have a patch on the back of our coats signifying our own sin and short comings.

The irony is that those who think of themselves as strong Christians are weak in the eyes of God because they have a judgmental spirit and do not see their own weakness.

For Paul, what seems to make a strong believer is a trust in God’s grace in Jesus Christ and an acceptance of sin and the need for salvation.

In 1988, the poet, Carol Wimmer, became concerned about the self-righteous, judgmental spirit she was seeing in some people. She felt strongly that being judgmental is a perversion of the Christian faith. So, she wrote a poem about this. It's called "When I say I am a Christian" and it reads like this:

"When I say, ‘I am a Christian,' I'm not shouting, ‘I've been saved!' I'm
whispering, ‘I get lost!' That's why I chose this way.

When I say ‘I am a Christian,' I don't speak with human pride. I'm
confessing that I stumble – needing God to be my guide.

When I say ‘I am a Christian,' I'm not trying to be strong. I'm professing
that I'm weak and pray for strength to carry on.

When I say ‘I am a Christian,' I'm not bragging of success. I'm admitting
that I've failed and cannot ever pay the debt.

When I say, ‘I am a Christian,' I don't think I know it all. I submit to
my confusion asking humbly to be taught.

When I say ‘I am a Christian,' I'm not claiming to be perfect. My flaws
are far too visible, but God believes I'm worth it.

When I say, ‘I am a Christian,' I still feel the sting of pain. I have my
share of heartache which is why I seek His name.

When I say, ‘I am a Christian,' I do not wish to judge. I have no
authority – I only know I'm loved."

 

Having the ability to realise we have a coloured patch on our backs, or a plank in our eye, however you wish to think of it, is so important to our faith. Having the ability not to judge others and to overlook the patches on their coats is what is required of us. And knowing that God’s grace, Christ’s love, for each one us, means as weak as we are, we are made strong.

 

Sunday, 6 September 2020

I am the Church, you are the Church, we are the Church together

 



Reflection Sunday 6th September 2020

Matthew 18: 15 - 20 

 

This Sunday, for the first time since 15th March, I will take a service in church. For the first time in almost 6 months I will lead Sunday worship in church. Because of Covid 19 restrictions numbers must be limited. It won’t be the same. But that is no bad thing. And in fact, is worship always “the same”?

For all of us these last 6 months have been strange. And I suspect for many of us nothing has been stranger than a Sunday. I know for the first couple of months I found Sundays really difficult. Having been out of active ministry for 18 months due to illness, I thought I’d adjust quite quickly to Sunday’s being different. But I suppose the difference this time is that whilst ill I was not “on duty” whereas throughout the lock down and beyond I have been in active ministry but it was the case of trying to decide what active ministry meant.

Active ministry is not just about Sunday of course. But as I have written previously, my week revolves around Sunday. Therefore, when Sunday was not as I know it, I had to find another way of it being Sunday.

I am sure many of you experienced similar feelings. That is why I suggested to you that you use the services I was sending out, at the usual time for church on a Sunday. And many of you have told me this is what you did and found it helpful.

One of the things all of us have missed during the lockdown, in general terms and in church terms, is the interaction with other people. Despite sending letters, despite phone calls, despite modern technology such as Skype or Zoom allowing us to see one another in person and talk, nothing beats meeting face to face.

Most human beings need that interaction with one another. Many of you know what it is like to be alone and you value being with others. Interaction with others is important for our wellbeing.

But interaction with others is important for our faith well being too.

The famous 19th century preacher Dwight L. Moody was visiting a prominent Chicago citizen when the idea of church membership and involvement came up. “I believe I can be just as good a Christian outside the church as I can be inside it,” the man said. Moody said nothing. Instead, he moved to the fireplace, blazing against the winter outside, removed one burning coal and placed it on the hearth. The two men sat together and watched the ember die out. “I see,” the other man said.

This age-old illustration serves well to prove the importance of interacting with other Christians.

Our Gospel reading today is an interesting and challenging one. It bears our full consideration sometime. It reminds us of how even in a church context people fall out. It reminds us how when this happens, we are to act with grace and seek reconciliation. It also discusses what should be done if reconciliation is not possible. However, that is for another day.

But I want to skip ahead to the last verse of the passage.

20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.’ Matthew 18:20

These words show the importance of gathering together. They are words Dwight Moody no doubt had in mind in his encouraging the businessman to be actively involved in a church. For where two or three (or more!) are gathered, Christ is at work. He is with us.

And where we are gathered the Holy Spirit has chance to fan the embers so that the individual coals burn brighter and warmer.

That is not to say that if we are on our own Jesus is not with us. Jesus told us

And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’ Matthew 28: 20

When we’ve worshipped on our own these last 6 months, or if you are still not at church for health reasons, Jesus is with us. But what Matthew 18:20 reminds us is that if we can, if it is safe to do so, we should, we must, gather together.

When Franklin Delano Roosevelt was President of the USA, he normally attended a particular Episcopal church in Washington. Of course, crowds of tourists and others came just to see the man. One Saturday the rector's phone rang, and a lady asked, "Do you expect the President to be in church tomorrow?" Promptly and thoughtfully, the rector replied, "This I cannot promise; but I can promise that God will be here, and this should be incentive for quite a large attendance."

The presence of God ought to be enough to bring almost anybody to church! And he is here, you know. Yes, I know the omnipresent God is everywhere. But when God’s people meet in the worship of him, somehow, he is uniquely there. “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.’

There seems to be a special kind of way in which God is present where his people meet. Or, it may be that when God's people gather, it is they who are present in a special kind of way. Or, it may be both of those. Anyway, when God's people meet in the name of Christ, it is a special kind of meeting between them and God.

So it is, between ourselves and our Lord today. Amen

Thursday, 3 September 2020

In the world not of the world

 


Reflection Sunday 30th August 2020 – Romans 12: 9 – 21

 

The Church, the body of Christ, has been referred to as being “called out” of the world as a community “set apart” for a distinct mission to the world. We are in the world but not of the world. But this raises some questions? Why are we different? What is distinctive about the Church? How can we be in the world but not part of the world? And if we are apart from the world, what is our stance in relation to the world?

These have been questions for the Church since its very beginning. And certainly, it was a real issue for the Church in Rome Paul is writing to.

How the Church relates to the surrounding world determines how the Church’s identity and character is formed. The early Church saw itself as very much set apart from many of the values of the Roman Empire. The early Church wrestled with how to stand in contrast to the privilege, power, influence, and affluence of Rome.  The early Church was very aware of how to live differently as defined by the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. A Jesus who had been killed by the authority of Rome and yet who showed himself more powerful than Rome through his resurrection.

The challenge for the Church has always been not to be sucked into conformity with the ways of the world. When the church has been faced with the overwhelming power of a mighty Empire or government, it has been very difficult not to conform. For example, in Nazi Germany, significant number of Protestants joined the National Church – a Nazi initiative. (A significant minority including Dietrich Bonhoeffer – formed the Confessing Church, in opposition to Nazi ideology.)

But we shouldn’t assume that it is just in times of oppression that the Church can conform to the world. Conformity to the ways of the world is just as much a temptation when the surrounding world seems benign and presents itself as a patron of the values that Christian communities emulate.

And this I fear is where the Church in most of the affluent Western world finds itself today. The Church has influenced much of the society around itself. But society has taken the nice easy bits and chosen to ignore the harder aspects of faith. With genuine respect to our Anglican friends, they in practice find themselves in the cosy position through 600 years of history, of being the State Church. And for much of that time they undoubtedly had some truly Christian influence. But now the world has moved on and the world sees them (and all Christians in this country) as an irrelevance.

But it is not just an Anglican issue. The Methodist Church at one time punched above its weight in advocating the Christian message on the wider stage. But like many others, we’ve become so comfortable with the world that we’ve lost our identity as an alternative community.  Driven by the desire for relevance, and seduced by what Eleazar S. Fernandez in “Feasting on the Word” calls the 3 Bs (Buildings, Budget and Bodies [members]) we’ve ended up being comfortable with the world around us rather than standing in opposition to it where necessary.

In the part of his letter to the Romans we are thinking about today, Paul is reminding the fledgling Church in Rome of the values they need to adopt to make the Church there distinct from the world around. It is a long list – though all the things Paul espouses are founded on love

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Romans 12: 9 – 10

What Paul goes on to say is a radical agenda for a Church faced with real hardship and oppression.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil… 18 … live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge…. 20 On the contrary:

‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.

21 Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.

We who live in the power of Christ embody virtues and practices that promote life giving relations. We are called “to engage a way of being and acting that seeks to embody genuine love, mutual regard, humility, solidarity, peace and harmony. It is a way of being and acting that cares not only for members of the faith community but also wider society, particularly strangers in our midst.” Eleazer S. Fernandez

Over recent weeks, the news has carried reports of refugees trying to reach this country in small boats from France. Some of the newspapers, stoked by some of our politicians (or vice versa?) have condemned these people.

I am not telling you what to think about the issue. But I ask you to reflect on what Paul is saying in this passage. To me Paul’s words remind us what we as the community of faith should be thinking, doing, and saying in contrast to the world. We should we part of welcoming the stranger. But we should also be part of the solution. Seeking peace. Seeking solutions to the causes that make people leave their homelands.

The world around us won’t want to hear this message. Such a message doesn’t get the votes, doesn’t sell the newspapers. But it is the message Christ wants us to bring to our troubled world.





 

Founded on rock and rubble

 


Reflection Matthew 16: 13 – 20 23rd August 2020

 

Those of us who are parents will perhaps remember being nervous when we gave our children the keys of the car for the first time and allowed them to drive for the first time on their own. No longer will someone supervise them. What will they do? Will they be safe? Will they drive too fast? Do they have the maturity to handle the responsibility?

In the passage we are going to think about, Jesus gives Peter “the keys of the kingdom”. Different parts of the Church universal interpret this in different ways. The Roman Catholic church of course see this phrase as the basis of the start of the Popes and hence papal authority and all that means. Whilst Protestants may not affirm this interpretation, we can agree that the authority Jesus gives Peter. What does this mean?

Why has Jesus given the keys to Peter? Will he act responsibly? Has he got the maturity? If we look at Peter’s track record before this point it does not inspire confidence. Peter constantly misses the point and talks before he thinks. And a few verses later (verse 23) Jesus calls him “Satan” for setting his mind on human things not divine things. Then of course in Matthew 26: 69 – 75 where Peter denies Jesus three times.

Jesus? You’re really going to entrust the building of the Church, the body of Christ to this man? Why?

Back at the start of this passage Jesus asks the disciples the question “Who do people say that Son of Man is?” (The Son of Man being a description Jesus uses over 80 times to describe himself and who he is, in the Gospels.) The disciples reply “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, other Jeremiah or one of the prophets” verse 14. This suggests that the Jewish people tended to base their faith on different emphasises. Sound familiar? Why else in the Protestant church do we have some many denominations? Because the founders of the domination have interpreted Jesus in slightly different ways.

However, in verse 15 Jesus makes the question to his disciples more pointed. “Who do you say that I am?” verse 15. We can imagine the stunned silence, the looking away not to catch Jesus’, the teacher’s, eye. Eventually, inevitably, Simon Son of Jonah speaks up

“You are the Messiah, the Son of God” vese16

Jesus responds:

17 ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven

And of course

18 And I tell you that you are Peter,[b] and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades[c] will not overcome it.

We might assume that Peter has gained a serious promotion because of this. But unlike an earthly promotion based (usually) on a person’s skills and abilities, Peter is “promoted” for other reasons. Peter is promoted for his testimony. It is as if Peter is saying:

“What I have experienced with you Jesus is that means that I know you are the Messiah, the one who has been sent to us as a gateway into the kingdom of God.”

(As an aside, it is worth remembering the meaning of “Peter”. Peter means “stone” or “rock”. Cepha in Aramaic; Petros in Greek. In the Christian church it has become a name in its own right. But we miss the point. Jesus is giving Peter a nickname. Prior to Jesus there was no such name. Jesus is saying “I’m nicknaming you ‘Rock’. You are Rock and, on this rock, I build my church.”)

As I’ve mentioned, historically the Roman Catholic Church has claimed the foundation of the church on Peter the original bishop. There has been a succession since. And it must be said that although Protestant churches tend not to hold Peter in the same way, there is nevertheless a sense of succession for preachers and ministers.

But the Church is not founded on Peter, just as it is not founded on John the Baptist or Elijah, or Martin Luther, John Calvin, or John Wesley. The foundation rock is not Peter the Rock; the foundation of the Church – the body of Christ – is Peter’s testimony. The rock on which we build out faith is Peter’s recognition that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ.

The Church, our own faith, rests on the questions Jesus puts to us all

“Who do you say that I am? What is your experience of me in your life? What is your testimony? What is your experience of the living God through my witness and presence in your life?”

“Who do you say that I am?” is the rock on which the Church, our own faith, is built. This is what gave Peter the permission to drive the car! This is what allows us to be Jesus’ witnesses. He knows we will not be perfect. He knows we will make mistakes. He knows we will be sinful. But nonetheless we are given the keys of the kingdom.

“Who do you say that I am?” is a question posed to all people who claim to followers of Jesus.

We may feel that we can’t possibly be “rocks”. We are weak. We are flawed. But it is in our weakness that Christ’s strength become apparent. A point Paul makes:

But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12: 9 - 10

I have never been renowned for my DIY skills but what I lack in practical skills I make up for with theory. Therefore, I know that a structure needs good foundations. And often in building the foundation of a wall for example, or laying a patio, it is good to use rubble. Broken bits of brick and stone. On their own they are nothing but when combined with cement they form a firm foundation. On our own we may think of ourselves as broken useless stones. But as part of a community, combined with the cement of Christ binding us together, all things are possible.




Forgivness and reconciliation

 




Reflection Sunday 16th August 2020 Genesis 45: 1 – 15

 

If you’ve ever seen the musical “Joseph and his Technicolour Dreamcoat” I defy you not to start humming some of the songs as we look at our passage for scripture today.

Last Sunday’s Genesis passage introduced us to Joseph, with his brightly coloured coat, and his brothers. We learned how the brothers plotted against Joseph and sold him into slavery.

Today we’ve skipped on – towards the end of the musical if you like – and we find Joseph reunited with his brothers. The brothers have come to Egypt to seek help – there is a famine in their homeland. As you’ll see in the preceding chapters, at first, they have no idea who Joseph is. They think he is an important Egyptian official who ensures that they are given plenty of food to return home with. Though not before Joseph plays some tricks on them. Joseph hides a silver goblet in Benjamin’s sack and pretends Benjamin has stolen it to ensure Benjamin is left behind to become a slave. (See chapter 44.)

Only after all this does Joseph come clean “I am Joseph!” Genesis 45:3

At this point, it might be understandable if Joseph sought revenge on his brothers for what they did. After all he is in a position to do with his brothers what he pleases. Yet his language and demeanour show no evidence of anger. (“He wept loudly” Genesis 45:2) He sets aside his trappings of royalty and brings himself down to the level of his brothers.

Note that earlier I said, “we find Joseph reunited with his brothers”. I purposely didn’t say “reconciled” which might have been a more suitable a word. Reconciled implies I think that people have put aside their differences. And often reconciliation comes about following forgiveness or in some instances reconciliation leads to forgiveness.

You may recall that in South Africa, after the end of Apartheid, Archbishop Desmond Tutu led the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The mandate of the commission was to bear witness to, record, and in some cases grant amnesty to the perpetrators of crimes relating to human rights violations, as well as offering reparation and rehabilitation to the victims. There were some remarkable stories of forgiveness following the work of the Commission.

I think it’s also worth remembering that we can be “reconciled” to a situation. Meaning we are content with it. It might not be perfect, but it is liveable with.

Here Joseph forgives. (Reconciliation will have to wait until chapter 50.) Joseph’s forgiveness comes about because he believes the brothers’ actions were part of God’s plans.

And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. ……  But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.[a] ‘So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt. Genesis 45: 5 – 8

Joseph is exhibiting Gospel forgiveness, the Good News forgiveness we think of with Jesus. God, acting through Joseph, has ensured life rather than death. Life in the sense of the family not going hungry as opposed to death via the famine. Life in Joseph not taking revenge and putting his brothers to death. But also new life that follows forgiveness. God has used the actions of the brothers, no matter how reprehensible that action was, as a way of sustaining the life of this family.

You may know the name Corrie ten Boom. She was a remarkable woman. The ten Booms hid Jewish people in their home in the Netherlands during the Second World War. The ten Booms were betrayed and sent to a concentration camp. Only Corrie survived and after the war she developed a ministry preaching about forgiveness and reconciliation.

In her book The Hiding Place, in which she tells her story, there is a remarkable scene. It is 1947 and Corrie has been speaking at a church in Munich about forgiveness. After the talk she was approached by a man who she recognised as having been a camp guard at Ravensbruck concentration camp. (During her talk Corrie said she’d been in the camp.) The man didn’t recognise her. He explained how he’d been a guard and asked for her forgiveness.

Corrie says that when the man offered his hand she froze. Until by saying a silent prayer asking for strength to forgive.

And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.

“I forgive you, brother!” I cried. “With all my heart!”

That was not the end. Corrie – naturally – felt angry towards the man, and this anger stayed with her for some time. She wrote:

Help came in the form of a kindly Lutheran pastor to whom I confessed my failure after two sleepless weeks.

“Up in that church tower,” he said, “is a bell which is rung by pulling on a rope. After the sexton lets go of the rope, the bell keeps on swinging. First ding then dong. Slower and slower until there’s a final dong and it stops.

“I believe the same thing is true of forgiveness. When we forgive someone, we take our hand off the rope. But if we’ve been tugging at our grievances for a long time, we mustn’t be surprised if the old angry thoughts keep coming for a while. They’re just the ding-dongs of the old bell slowing down.”

And so it proved to be. There were a few more midnight reverberations, a couple of dings when the subject came up in my conversation. But the force–which was my willingness in the matter–had gone out of them. They came less and less often and at last stopped altogether.

We know we are to forgive others. We pray it every time we say the Lord’s Prayer. But equally we all know it is sometimes not an easy thing to do. Maybe some of you reading this will relate to Corrie ten Boom’s story. Not the horror of a concentration camp, but in the difficulty in forgiving or being reconciled with someone who has hurt you.

If you find yourself having difficulty forgiving someone, or being reconciled, please pray about it. But equally know that once we let go of the rope of your grievances, eventually they will stop. And more over, we are all loved deeply by God and forgiven by him as his precious children.