Easter Sunday Meditation 2015


Christ is risen – he is risen indeed.

Reading: John 20:11-18

Mary stood crying outside the tomb. While she was still crying, she bent over and looked in the tomb (12) and saw two angels there dressed in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been, one at the head and the other at the feet.  (13) ‘Woman, why are you crying?’ they asked her. She answered, ‘They have taken my Lord away, and I do not know where they have put him!’

(14) Then she turned around and saw Jesus standing there; but she did not know that it was Jesus.

(15) ‘Woman, why are you crying?’ Jesus asked her. ‘Who is it that you are looking for?’

She thought he was the gardener, so she said to him, ‘If you took him away, sir, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.’

(16) Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned toward him and said in Hebrew, ‘Rabboni!’ (This means ‘Teacher.’)

(17) ‘Do not hold on to me,’ Jesus told her, ‘because I have not yet gone back up to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them that I am returning to him who is my Father and their Father, my God and their God.’
(18) So Mary Magdalene went and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord and related to them what he had told her. (Good News Bible)

Meditation

‘The day of resurrection, earth, tell it all abroad;

… for Christ the Lord hath risen, our joy that hath no end.’

But wait. Why are you crying?

A lost loved one? A lost opportunity? A failed relationship? Are you afraid of something or someone? Do you feel helpless and alone?

Trevor Hudson reminds us ‘that each person you see … sits next to his or her own pool of tears.’ You are not the only one crying today. You are not alone in your tears.

Mary, too, was crying, and she tried to fix everything, as we do: ‘tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.’

But there is so much that cannot be fixed, however many times we go over what we did; however many times we cry, ‘If only ….’

But what if the empty tomb was not a sign of loss but of life? What if our pain could be transformed into healing for others? What if others could find hope because of what we have experienced?

Jesus calls us by name today. And he sends us out to his brothers and sisters – our brothers and sisters, our parents and children, our neighbours, friends and enemies. He asks us to tell them that his Father is their Father, that his God is their God. We are not alone; we belong to the Father and we belong to each other.

We were never meant to keep the tomb filled with our pain and hurt and fears and anger. It was meant to burst open and to fill the world with light and love and hope.

The Lord is risen – he is risen indeed!

Prayer

Thank you, Lord, for the hope of this day.

Thank you that our tears and the tears of the world do not have the final say.

Help us to discover, in the place of our hurt and loss and suffering, an opportunity to bring hope and love to the world around us.

Help us, today, to call someone by name, to reach into their tears and give them hope.

This meditation was written for the Prestbury Methodist Church Lenten Diary. A collaborative project, with various members of the church writing meditations for each day of Lent around a given theme. See HERE for Easter Saturday and past years’ contributions. 

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Easter Saturday Meditation 2015


The tomb

Reading: Luke 23:50-56

There was a man named Joseph from Arimathea, a town in Judea. He was a good and honorable man, who was waiting for the coming of the Kingdom of God. Although he was a member of the Council, he had not agreed with their decision and action.  (52) He went into the presence of Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.  (53) Then he took the body down, wrapped it in a linen sheet, and placed it in a tomb which had been dug out of solid rock and which had never been used.  (54) It was Friday, and the Sabbath was about to begin. (55) The women who had followed Jesus from Galilee went with Joseph and saw the tomb and how Jesus’ body was placed in it.  (56) Then they went back home and prepared the spices and perfumes for the body. On the Sabbath they rested, as the Law commanded. (Good News Bible)

Meditation

‘It was Friday, and the Sabbath was about to begin.’

They put Jesus in the tomb, and waited….

Meanwhile, the women prepared….

We spend so much time waiting for things outside our control: for telephones to be answered, for service to be provided, for pain to cease, for opportunities to arrive, for miracles to occur. But the secret seems to be hidden from us, as the body of Jesus was hidden in the tomb.

So we wait. We wait to become gentler and more loving; to become kinder and more humble towards our families. We wait for the right circumstances, for more wisdom, for greater faith before we serve our neighbours. We wait for opportunities to do great things for God. We wait to be made holy.

Meanwhile, the women prepared….

While we are waiting, we, too, can prepare. We, too, can care for the body of Jesus: the Church, our community, our family whom Paul called, ‘the body of Christ’. People around us struggling, hurting and dying … and waiting.

What is the Spirit of Jesus inviting you to do to care for the body of Jesus today?

Prayer

Lord, help us recognise your body in the people around us, especially those closest to us.
Lift our eyes from our impatient busyness.
Teach us to prepare, not for some outward event of the future but for the renewal of our hearts and for renewed relationships with our family and our neighbours.
Help us to offer our lives (as Joseph offered his tomb) to be a source of gentleness and kindness for the body of Christ – the people in our family, our neighbourhood and our world.

This meditation was written for the Prestbury Methodist Church Lenten Diary. A collaborative project, with various members of the church writing meditations for each day of Lent around a given theme. See HERE for past years’ contributions.

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How do we live in such a world? A sermon


[A sermon for the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany at Prestbury Methodist Church, 25 January 2015]

SCRIPTURE:    1 Samuel 3:1–20; 1 Corinthians 6:12–20; John 1:43–51

How do we, as Christians, respond to the Paris massacre at Charlie Hebdo or the Boko Haram atrocities in Nigeria?

We may be protected somewhat from violent extremism, but even here we have xenophobia, racism, intolerance, poverty, corruption, you name it. We live in an angry, desperate and violent society. Look at our roads….

How do we live in such a world? Are we, in fact, any different from society around us?

Paul tells us we are the body of Christ. What does that mean? What difference does it make to our responses, to the way we live? If the community who follows Jesus provides an alternative to the ways of the world, how alternative are we? What do we do differently? Do we project something that is better and more desirable than the way people are living now?

I want to suggest three things that stood out for me in the three readings. Three ways in which we can be different.

1. LISTEN
First, from the book of Samuel, we learn to listen.

How often do you get into a conversation with someone where you sense that the person is really listening to you? Listening doesn’t come naturally to us. We are so busy, for one thing. But we also feel vulnerable, so we listen with half an ear while the rest of us is trying to think of a response that will keep us safe.

And we live in a society and in a world that is so divided along crisscrossing lines of race and gender, of religion and politics, of poverty and power. So we don’t listen to what people say anymore. We ask who is speaking, then we know if we need to listen or not.

Samuel had to learn to listen to a different voice, to the voice of God. And God had a tough message for Eli.

Eli’s sons
Eli’s sons had been abusing their position as sons of the trusted priest for years. God had been talking to Eli about it for years, too. But Eli wasn’t listening. Perhaps he thought it was just the exuberance of youth; they’d soon grow up and become responsible. Perhaps he thought it wasn’t really so bad – just a little bit here and there. After all, no one is perfect.

And perhaps it wasn’t God who had spoken to him, anyway. After all, God hadn’t done much speaking to people lately, and he hadn’t appeared in visions. Perhaps Eli had imagined it. But perhaps the visions were rare, not because God didn’t have something to say, but because people weren’t listening.

Sometimes we treat God like the politicians on the front page. We know what he wants to say, and it’s all bad news and condemnation. So we’d rather turn to the sports or the comics.

But God’s message to Eli wasn’t his message to Israel as a whole. Eli and his family were a blockage to the message of God for Israel. God couldn’t get through. So he said, either let me through or get out of my way and I will work with Samuel.

Samuel began to listen
What happened when Samuel began to listen?

‘As Samuel grew up, the LORD was with him and made come true everything that Samuel said.’ (verse 19)

Samuel’s life, his words and actions, began to reflect God’s activity in the life of Israel.

‘So all the people of Israel, from one end of the country to the other, knew that Samuel was indeed a prophet of the LORD.’ (verse 20)

God was speaking to them again.

The gift we can give to our broken and divided world, to our broken and struggling families, to our fear filled and divided communities: we can offer an ear that is tuned to the heart of God. An ear that can hear God saying, I love this world so much; I love this community so much; I love this family so much; I love you so much.

Like Samuel, we can learn to listen to God, who has so much to say to us that we so desperately need to hear.

2. REFLECTION
The second gift we can give the world is reflection. We can reflect before we act.

Not everything is good for you
In 1 Cor 6 we read about those who say, ‘I can do anything I like.’
‘Yes,’ Paul says. ‘Of course you can. In Christ we are free. There are no rules, no laws. You can do anything you like. BUT … not everything is good for you.’

‘You can eat anything you like, too. But some things will make you very uncomfortable; some things will even kill you.’
You can do anything you like, but not everything is good for you; not everything is good for your family, not everything is good for your neighbour.

‘Yes,’ we can say to the cartoonists. ‘You can draw what you like.’ And to the journalist, ‘Yes, you can write what you like.’ BUT, not everything is good for you. Not everything is good for your neighbour. Not everything is good for the world.

Do we want to live in a world where everyone does whatever they like and says what they like, just because they can? And if everyone else is speeding on the road, then I will, too; and if everyone else is cutting in front of everyone else, then I will, too – why should I be left behind; I also have an important meeting.

Or we can learn to reflect before we act and before we speak. We can ask the question, ‘What would love look like here, in this relationship, in this conversation, in this activity, in this community?

Slavery
We can do anything, but Paul said: ‘I’m not going to do anything that will make me its slave.’

And believe me, we don’t just become slaves to alcohol and drugs and gambling. Perhaps more insidious is that we become slaves to irritation; we become slaves to negativity. We become slaves to fear, so that we never reflect and speak the truth to our partners, our families, our communities. We fail to take action because we are afraid of what might happen.

But we don’t escape such slavery without reflection. Without learning to create a gap between actions and our reactions:
Someone does something – we get irritated.
Someone says something – we get angry.
Something happens – we are afraid.

Viktor Frankl
Viktor Frankl says we need to get into that gap. When something happens, we need to stop and reflect before we respond. And as we learn to do that, the gap gets wider and we empower ourselves to make new decisions, to take new actions that can transform our lives and the lives of those we interact with.

I can do anything I like. Yes. But what would love look like right now?

I have a sign in my office: ‘How can I make it easy for you to do great work?’
And what if, before we react to people around us, we were to ask ourselves: ‘How can I make you feel good about yourself?’
Imagine how different our interactions with spouse, children, employees might be.

It’s so easy to criticise, to be negative, to be irritable, to put people down. And we become slaves to those reactions. But what if I were to stop and ask how can I make you feel good about yourself?

Wouldn’t that transform our relationships?
Wouldn’t that transform our families?
Wouldn’t that transform our communities and places of work?

What can we do that is different?
We can listen to the heart of God who loves this world he has created so much.
We can learn to reflect; to consider how love would act, what love would say in each situation and every conversation.

3. BRING PEOPLE TO JESUS
The third thing we can do is found in Phillip’s action in John 1. We can bring people to Jesus.

Phillip said to Nathanael, ‘We have found the one whom Moses wrote about…. He is Jesus … from Nazareth.’

When people ask, ‘What’s happened to you? You used to be so irritable; you used to be so angry; you used to be so fearful,’ we can tell them, ‘We have found the one who makes all the difference. It is Jesus.’

If there is anything good in me – and there is a whole lot of bad stuff that still needs to be fixed; the work has only just begun. But if there is anything good in here, you are looking at Jesus. It isn’t me. It’s what Jesus is doing. If you like it, he can do the same for you

How do we make a difference in this world? How do we live differently?

We can listen. We listen to the one who has a message of love and of healing and of hope.
We can reflect. We can ask how would love respond? How can I make it easy for you to do great work? How can I make you feel good about yourself?
And we can point people to Jesus.

 

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Measurement and wonder – counting and celebrating


This is an article I posted on my business website, but I thought my readers here might enjoy it too – those of you who haven’t entirely given up on another Wondering Preacher post.)


‘Soon man will count all his days, and then smaller segments of the day, and then smaller still—until the counting consumes him, and the wonder of the world he has been given is lost.’    Mitch Albom, The Timekeeper

Ians HourglassMitch Albom has hit on one of the missing ingredients of our modern pressurised existence. A sense of wonder. We seldom get or make the time to stop and enjoy. Counting and measuring is far more important to us.

I read Mitch Albom’s book, rather significantly, while preparing a workshop on performance management. Managing performance comprises a great deal of measurement. We measure success against our targets, of course, but we also want to know how we fared against others chasing the same targets. Because everyone knows that first is the only position that really matters.

Measurement is essential in business, of course. In manufacturing, mere seconds saved in one part of the process can translate into thousands of rands off the price of the product. In accounting, accurate records ensure efficient management of funds. And cash flow is one of the most important measures in any business.

However, in all the measuring, it is easy to forget the wonder. Wonder? In business? Has all this ‘soft skills’ training made Simply Communicate soft in the head? Actually, no.

Steve Jobs, for all his drive and lack of people-management skills, never forgot the wonder of innovation. He delighted in what he could show us, and delighted us as well.

Richard Branson has always been ready to throw out measures that restrict rather than empower, and in his latest book, The Virgin Way, he explains that he has thrown out the measurement of annual leave.  With employees expected to be available 24/7, a company can no longer measure time spent on the job; how can one justify, therefore, trying to measure the time spent off the job?

It comes with a risk, but it will deliver more empowerment to employees than dozens of other initiatives might. Employees are expected to be up to date and organised before riding off into the sunset, of course, which presupposes that other measures are in place. An employee must know what their job is, for example, and what their deliverables are.

Brand Pretorius writes in his book, In the Driving Seat: Lessons Learned in Leadership, ‘I’m all for chasing the numbers in business, but … I found more satisfaction in the so-called “soft issues”.’
‘I believe that business is about much more than just the numbers. It is about making a difference to the lives of employees and the community. It’s about doing what is right for the benefit of all.’

Do the things we measure add to our employees’ sense of wonder, their enjoyment, their sense of achievement, or do they act as a burden, slowing employees down? Do employees become focussed on the measurement rather than what the measurement enables them to achieve? Indeed, are we so obsessed with measuring achievements that we forget to stop and applaud the achievement itself?

When a child comes home, excited at having come second in the race, do we ask them why they didn’t come first? If their report card says 80 percent do we ask them why they didn’t get 100?

Albom pleads with us to celebrate the moment. Take time to wonder. Applaud the achievement. Most people respond with enthusiasm to recognition and applause. We want more of it and we will do anything to get it. Give your employees and your children something they will want to experience again and again. Celebrate the moment; take time to wonder. And that goes for your own achievements, your own moments of celebration as well.

What have you stopped to celebrate recently? Tell us in the comments below.

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Grace in the wilderness


[A sermon for the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost, 22 June 2014]

SCRIPTURE:    Genesis 21:8-21; Psalm 86:1-10; Romans 6:1b-11; Matthew 10:24-39

The Christian calendar
Today is the second Sunday after Pentecost; it is also the beginning of a new season in the Christian calendar.

Is that particularly important? Does it really matter? And more to the point, why should we or the world care. We have much more pressing issues: desperate unemployment, HIV/AIDS and the evils of poverty and crime. The Christian message of love and hope, and of salvation itself, is lost in the noise and turmoil, what do the seasons of the church matter?

When Jesus spoke about proclaiming the message from the rooftops, he wasn’t talking about the Christian calendar. But the themes and the readings set down for each Sunday do help us understand who we are and what we have to say to the world.

During the past six months, the Bible readings in the lectionary have led us through the great events of the New Testament: the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus and the coming of the Spirit.

Those are the dramatic events we know and love and sing about.

Ordinary time
But now we enter a long season lasting five months, where we simply number the Sundays after Pentecost all the way to Advent, four Sundays before Christmas. Catholics call this ‘ordinary (or numbered) time’.

During these weeks, instead of looking at the great events of Jesus life, we look at the way Jesus lived his life as we follow his work and teaching through one of the Gospels.

John van der Laar says this a time for ‘a change in our focus from God’s Story to our story – how we will now live our story differently because of who God is and what God has done; how our lives will become one with God’s story as we seek to follow Jesus.’ (Changing Seasons – So What?’ Sacredise)

But it’s not the first-century Jesus we are trying to follow. It is Jesus living here and now in this poverty-stricken, AIDS-smitten, educationally-challenged, wounded and weeping country of ours.

Because this is where we are called to live – not within these four walls, but out there, in the world, today.

Matthew 10
And today’s readings? Well, in Matthew 10, Jesus prepares his disciples for the mission field, and he tells them (and us) what following him will involve. And it doesn’t make easy reading.

Jesus says that people will swear at us – and they’ll mean it.
Then, as if to comfort us, Jesus says, ‘But don’t worry about them. What can they do to you? They can only kill you.’
‘Oh!’ we might say. ‘I wasn’t planning on getting killed.’
‘But if you want to follow me,’ Jesus will tell us, ‘you must lay down your life and take up your cross.’
Because the cross is not just a heavy burden, it’s an instrument of torturous death. If you take up your cross, you’re going to die.

So, living a Jesus life here in 21st century Africa means we are going to be sworn at, by people who really mean it, and it means giving up our lives. The end is not a nice comfortable seat in church and a friendly Bible study. Far from it. Jesus tells us that he has not come to bring peace, but a sword. Families and friendships will be torn apart. Your enemy isn’t the devil, he tells us; your enemy will be among your family and friends.

‘This isn’t what I signed up for’
What happened?

What about all the ‘peace and goodwill’ the angels sang about at Christmas?
What about the warm fuzzy feelings the Magi experienced when they gathered around the baby?
What about the love poured out on the cross? What about Jesus dying in our place?
What about the power of the Holy Spirit, of the fruit of love and joy and peace?
Where is the Good News in all of this?

No wonder John van der Laar said when he read this passage, ‘this isn’t what I signed up for’. (‘I Didn’t Sign Up For This’, Sacredise)

A two-a-penny sparrow
But that’s not all Jesus says in Matthew 10.

He also tells us that not even a two-a-penny sparrow is out of God’s sight and care. And he even knows how many hairs are left on your head. And, what’s more, ‘if you tell the world you belong to me,’ Jesus says. ‘I will do the same for you before my Father in heaven.’
‘This one belongs to me,’ he’ll say. ‘That one is mine.’

In other words, Jesus is saying that, no matter what happens here, good or bad, we are claimed by God. We are his.

Life is not easy
Life is not easy, for anyone. That’s not the promise. And for those of us who want to follow Jesus, there will be additional burdens. As we reach out to the poor, as we sit next those in pain, as we take up the struggles of those who have no voice, as we challenge those in power, we will risk the dangers Jesus warned us about.

Yes, we pray for peace. Yes, we pray for healing. Yes, we pray for mercy. Yes, we pray for justice. But these things are in God’s hands, not ours. They don’t belong to us as our right. And they don’t arrive in the form of a world cruise or a tropical island trip. We don’t win the lotto and give up the daily grind. That’s where the world finds its peace and joy and comfort – for a while, anyway.

In the middle of the darkness
For you and me, much more meaningful peace and joy and love are to be found not by running away but in the middle of the darkness and pain and suffering.

I’m pretty sure I could randomly point to people here, and they would tell us how they have found God to be most real and closest to them, when the darkness was the greatest, the pain the hardest to bear, the mountain impossible to climb.

Genesis 21
Let’s look at the Genesis reading for a moment. Genesis 21 is not Sarah and Abraham’s finest hour. It is a very dark moment.

Sarah and Abraham were never perfect examples of faith and saintliness. But God chose this broken, struggling couple and enabled them to become better than normal in critical moments of their lives because their greatest desire was to walk with God.

But they sure got it wrong at times. God promised them so much, but like us, they would take matters into their own hands and hurt themselves and others in the process.

Abraham and Hagar
Among other things, they decided to help God with his plan to give Abraham an heir. After all, time’s marching on. Abe’s already nearly 90. So they agree that he should sleep with Sarah’s maid Hagar and get his heir that way. We can’t point fingers. In thousands of years, we still don’t understand sex, and still we haven’t learned that there is no such thing as a one-night stand. The repercussions (baby or not) are long lasting.

When Sarah finally had her own son, Isaac, the true heir, all the bitterness and jealousy of the past ten years or so began to emerge and be dumped on Hagar and her son, Ishmael.

Hagar and Ishmael thrown out
Finally Sarah succeeds in having Hagar and Ishmael thrown out. But don’t blame Sarah. Abraham was no saint in this matter, and Sarah’s life had been hell. Be that as it may, Hagar is out in the wilderness with just enough food and water to take them out of sight but not enough to survive.

And when it was all gone, Hagar left Ishmael under a bush because she couldn’t bear to watch him die.

But God…
And then it happened. One of those, ‘But God,’ moments we come across so often in the Bible. They were dying; this was the end; they couldn’t take any more.

How many of you have been there, or are there now? Who do you know in the same boat?

They were finished, but…! God heard the boy crying.

Of course he did! Ismael was named for this moment. Ishmael means ‘God hears’. And God heard.

As Dawn Chesser put it:

God hears, even when we are alone in the wilderness
God hears, even when we don’t know what to say to God
God hears, even when the tension of living remains unresolved
God hears
(‘Preaching Notes’, General Board of Discipleship)

God opened her eyes
And God provides. Not that God brought banquet, or a tea trolley. He didn’t even bring a well. In verse 19: ‘God opened her eyes.’ She was able to see what was hidden by her pain and her tears. She could see the well, and as she drank, she began to see the way forward.

But they never left the wilderness. Terrible though it may seem, God didn’t rescue them from the wilderness. He helped them find a way to live in the wilderness, to live through the rejection and hate, to survive and prosper. Not what the world calls successful. Not the ‘happy ever after’ that Hollywood pretends money can buy. But peace and the presence of God and a promise still being fulfilled today.

There are people around us, like Hagar, desperate to find a well that will see them through, that will sustain them, that will give them hope. There are people in this church community; people in our neighbourhood; people at work and in our families. They are within touching distance of us, a phone call away.

Called to be a well
Jesus warns us that the journey will be tough and thankless. It’s not that we are trying to die, though that might happen. We are not looking for abuse, though that might come our way. We are here to help people find a well. To be a well to the people around us. To support, to sustain, to share the hope we have in Jesus.

The message for us and for the world around us is not that all will be bright and sunny.  But that God hears. God hears.

God hears
God hears you and me and the people around us as we cry to him in our own pain and for the pain of others. And we discover that his presence is worth far more than worldly wealth and peace. I can’t prove that to you, but there are people here who have discovered its truth for themselves and are living it out today.

As Chrystal Rodli, put it:

‘If we define success as having engaged in an honest pursuit of God’s heart, and having endeavoured to sacrificially give of ourselves and our resources (to further) the kingdom of God, then there is nothing that can stop us from being successful. The world may insult us, mock us, fight us, and hate us, but it cannot stop us.’
[‘Babylon the Great: in or out’, Treasure Contained]

Which is just what Paul said in Romans 8:38, ‘Nothing can separate us from God’s love.’ Nothing.

Amen

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A prayer for Pentecost


Prayer used with the Pentecost Sunday sermon, 08 June 2014 (see here)

  Spirit of the living God,
  Fall afresh on us.
  Fill our hearts to overflowing
  and our fill lives with your joy and delight.

May our excitement and celebration
Move those around us to ask,
‘What’s happening? Are they drunk?’

  Spirit of the living God,
  Fall afresh on us.
  Fill our hearts to overflowing
  and fill our lives with your love and compassion.

May our patience and kindness become our identity,
So that those around us declare in wonder,
‘See how they love one another.’

  Spirit of the living God,
  Fall afresh on us.
  Fill our hearts to overflowing
  and fill our lives with your healing and forgiveness.

May your Kingdom be established in our praises.
So that those around us may call out to the Lord and be saved.

Amen

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