Thursday, January 31, 2013

God has no Favourites

Act 10:25-36  On Peter's arrival Cornelius met him, and falling at his feet, worshipped him. But Peter made him get up, saying, "Stand up; I am only a mortal."  And as he talked with him, he went in and found that many had assembled; and he said to them, "You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.  So when I was sent for, I came without objection. Now may I ask why you sent for me?" Cornelius replied, "Four days ago at this very hour, at three o'clock, I was praying in my house when suddenly a man in dazzling clothes stood before me.  He said, 'Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon, who is called Peter; he is staying in the home of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.'  Therefore I sent for you immediately, and you have been kind enough to come. So now all of us are here in the presence of God to listen to all that the Lord has commanded you to say."  Then Peter began to speak to them: "I truly understand that God shows no partiality,  but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.  You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ--he is Lord of all.”

 Peter lived in a world that believed each nation had its own god. The Jewish people went one step further by insisting that their version of divinity was better than anyone else. They often claimed that they alone worshipped the One True God, and all other cultures followed false gods, and therefore were unclean.

Acts Chapter 10 recounts a systematic dismantling of this belief. Peter discovers that the One True God of his Jewish faith communicates with Cornelius, who as a Roman soldier from Italy would have followed Roman culture in his religious faith and practice.  In amazement he acknowledges: “You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ--he is Lord of all.” (Acts 10:36). Peter accepts that the religious beliefs and practices of another culture are not unclean, because they too can access the same God that he follows.

This is something that the followers of Jesus struggle to hear. Many teach that God only pays attention to Christians - a belief that borders on calling all other religious faiths “unclean”. I am inviting us to re-learn the lesson of Peter: that all people are loved by the Creator God, and we dare not call anyone profane or unclean (Acts 10:28). Let us learn to respect and honour those of another religious belief as sons and daughters of God – and as our brothers and sisters.

Prayer: Father God – teach me how to love all your children as my brothers and sisters – even when they believe in you in ways that I do not understand. Amen.        



Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
“The Authority of God’s Word”
(Scripture reference page 71 A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants)



Wednesday, January 30, 2013

When the Going gets Tough – the Tough get Going

Act 27:1  When it was decided that we were to sail for Italy, they transferred Paul and some other prisoners to a centurion of the Augustan Cohort, named Julius..........
Act 27:18-26  We were being pounded by the storm so violently that on the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard, and on the third day with their own hands they threw the ship's tackle overboard.  When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest raged, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned.   Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul then stood up among them and said, "Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and thereby avoided this damage and loss. I urge you now to keep up your courage, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For last night there stood by me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, 'Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before the emperor; and indeed, God has granted safety to all those who are sailing with you.'  So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told.

Paul is a prisoner of the Emperor, having appealed his court case to Caesar. The sea trip to Rome begins peacefully with favourable weather. The crew changed ships after a port-stop, but then a storm came up and grew worse and worse over a period of days. The sailors tried to reinforce the vessel by tying cables under it, and by throwing everything overboard in order to lighten the load. Finally, the ship faced destruction on the rocks. Paul says to them: "I urge you now to keep up your courage".

 While this is a story of a physical storm, and life-threatening danger, it is a story that can be retold in a way that transcends its historical setting. Everyone of us faces storm in our lives: sometimes, like Paul, we face real physical danger from storms; other times we face our inner emotional and spiritual storms – that can be as dangerous as the swirling wind and flashing thunder. In such moments we hear Paul’s words to “keep us your courage”.  This is not an exercise in wishful thinking, but is instead a hard-nosed decision to ‘keep the faith’. There are moments in life where we need to dig deep, and choose to be courageous even when we do not feel like it. In such moments we can ask God for strength to keep going in the face of the storm.

Prayer: O Lord of the storm: calm my inner fear and give me courage to keep going. And grant me opportunity to assist where I see others caught up in their own storms.  For Jesus sake.  Amen.     


Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
“The Authority of God’s Word”
(Scripture reference page 71 A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants)


Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Complete Joy

Joh 15:1-11  "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower.  He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.  You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you.  Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.  I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.  Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.  If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.  My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.  As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.   If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love.   I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete”.
John writes of the invitation of Jesus to find “complete joy”. Jesus teaches that we are not truly whole until we discover our connection to God. As a branch of vine needs to be connected to the stem and roots to become fruitful, so we are invited to be connected to God, who will supply all we need for fruitful lives.

Prayer, reading the Scriptures, worship, and fellowship with other Jesus-followers are all ways to ‘abide’ in God’s love. Reaching out to those who struggle in life - the poor, the people on the margins, the depressed, and the lonely - are all ways to see the fruit God at work in our lives. Both “abiding” and “fruit” are essential ingredients for complete joy.


            Lord, Thy Word abideth,
            And our footsteps guideth;
            Who its truth believeth
            Light and joy receiveth.
 Hen­ry W. Bak­er


Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
“The Authority of God’s Word”
(Scripture reference page 71 A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants)


Monday, January 28, 2013


Gen 1:1-6  In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth,  the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.  Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light.  And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.  God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.  And God said ....... And it was so

Genesis Chapter One has a rhythm to its words – a rhythm that is built around the opening declaration “And God said” and the closing affirmation “and it was so”. This writing introduces us to the Creator God, an All-powerful Being who brings life into existence by speaking a word. This chapter seeks to remind readers of the power of the spoken word of God.

However, we have discovered that all words have power, not just the words of God. When human beings speak we can change our lives. Sadly, not all of our words change our lives for the better. Unlike God, whose words bring life, some of our words can bring death. When we speak with bitterness and anger to another person we crush the life out of them. When we slander the character of another person we bring words of destruction and not creation.

Make it your resolution for today to walk in the footsteps of our creator God – and only speak words that are life-giving.....word of love, and encouragement, and peace

Prayer: O Creator God: grant me the discernment to use my words wisely, that they may bring life into this world. Amen        


Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
“The Authority of God’s Word”
(Scripture reference page 71 A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants)


Sunday, January 27, 2013

From Complaint to Discipleship.

(Third Sunday after Epiphany Cycle C)
Sermon preached at Prestbury Methodist Church, Pietermaritzburg.
Luk 4:14-21 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.  When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read,  and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:  "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free,  to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."  And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.  Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

 Intro; I want to take us back 19 years: Today - On the 26 January 1994 - Angela King, Chief of Mission for the United Nations Observer Mission to South Africa presented a paper at a seminar hosted by the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation.
In looking to the future of South Africa with a democratically elected government, UNOMSA is optimistic...... UN observations both here and abroad strongly suggest that these elections will be a major step forward on the path to national reconciliation.
(The) socio-economic reconstruction that will be possible when the majority of the population is represented in government structures will make a huge contribution to the reduction of bitterness, criminality and violence.
We are extremely positive we will have a success”.
It is now 19 years later. How do you react?
I suggest that many South African feel disillusioned: we had such high expectations for the end of “bitterness, criminality and violence”. But today we have farm strikes, mine violence, service delivery protests, and corruption in both public and private institutions. Feels like we have been let down?

This is not a new experience for us as human beings.
600 years before Jesus, the children of Israel were defeated by Babylon and carried off to exile as captives. But God sent the prophet Isaiah to reassure them that this would not last:

  Isa 61:1  The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners;
Isa 61:2  to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn;
Isa 61:3  to provide for those who mourn in Zion--to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, to display his glory.
Isa 61:4  They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.

The people clung to this for the next 70 years. This was a period when they prayed each night for their release from captivity. And then their liberation happened: the Persian King, Cyrus the Great, defeated the Babylonians, and allowed the Jews to go back home. I want you to imagine the joy and anticipation of this event as the people returned. We recognise something of this feeling in our country in 1994. People from all over the world came back home, and we were optimistic about our future.

However – the children of Israel soon became deeply disillusioned: because the people did not live as God intended them to. Each one grabbed what they could to look after ‘number 1’; they quarrelled with one another, and fought for power. Over the next 500 years the temple was rebuilt, but the people were never free. Although they had rebuilt the temple, and worshipped faithfully, they remained a vassal state of the Persians; and then of the Greeks and then of the Romans. So the passage of Isaiah remained a difficult scripture for the Children of Israel: it had not really come true. God had not really set them free.

So when we read of Jesus entering the synagogue in his hometown, and choosing to read this passage – it is not a value neutral event. As he announces his reading you must imagine the people shifting uneasily. As he begins reading I can hear the muted murmur of unhappiness. They feel like Jesus is opening 500 year old wounds. He is picking off the scabs and showing the pain of the people: because Isaiah’s prophesy did not come true. They were faithful member of the synagogue, but the poor, the blind, the oppressed and the prisoners still remain. God had not really rescued them.

I wonder if we find our own identification with this: we had such high hopes for 1994: people spoke of God’s miracle in South Africa. People went to church and prayed; Desmond Tutu spoke of the “rainbow nation”; and yet 19 years later we are tempted to ask ourselves: so where is the treasure at the end of the rainbow?

And so when I as the preacher read a passage from the bible that speaks of “good news to the poor “and “recovery of sight to the blind” and “the year of the Lord’s favour” – it sounds a bit far-fetched!
We come to church, and we pray, and yet God has not fixed our country.

 This disappointment gets expressed in various ways:

·        Some of us are so disillusioned that we stop believing that God has anything to do with our lives here and now: instead we turn this into a spiritual value that will come our way after we die.

·        Others lose faith completely and abandon church.

·        And still others sit it out week by week waiting for “God to do his bit”.

 This is the moment that Jesus steps in and challenges the way we understand our relationship with God. Jesus confronts his family and friends in Nazareth.
Luk 4:20  And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.
Luk 4:21  Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

In effect he is saying:
“Do not wait for some distant moment in the future for God to fix this – this comes true today!”
But this is not a promise that Jesus has somehow dropped out of the sky like Superman to fix Gotham City. When he speaks of this being fulfilled he is extending an invitation: Jesus is asking a question of the people in that synagogue: “so who is willing to act on this?”
“who of you will get out of you seats and join me in making this a reality?”

God was never going to do this by some divine magic: this was always the work of the children of Israel. If you go back to the words of Isaiah you will hear the dream of Israel being a light to the nations (Isa 60:1 & 3), a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord (Isa 62:3), a people who gladly do right (Isa 64:5). God wanted a partnership with his people – that together they would build a better nation. And so Jesus reminds them that this is still God’s desire. He challenges them to move from complaint to discipleship.

Perhaps this is the place of challenge for us tonight:
Is it possible that we are a bit like the people in the time of Jesus? We come to church to complain that God has not fixed South Africa – and we struggle to hear God inviting us to work as God’s partners.
Ø  We pray for God to stop the violence – but we are not prepared to be peacemaker
Ø  We ask God to stop the corruption – but we stay silent when we see it happen in our own families.
Ø  We ask God to cure the people with HIV/Aids – but we do not want to go anywhere near someone with the virus.

I am challenging us to make 2013 the year that we move from complaint to discipleship.
In the Methodist tradition we have an annual Covenant Service where we commit ourselves to being in partnership with God.
Let me read the words we will use next week:

In obedience we hear and accept your commands;
in love we seek to do your perfect will;
with joy we offer ourselves anew to you.
We are no longer our own but yours.
I am no longer my own but yours.
Your will, not mine, be done in all things








Saturday, January 26, 2013


Joh 21:15-19  When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my lambs."  A second time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Tend my sheep."  He said to him the third time, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" And he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep.  Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go." (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, "Follow me."

This is one of the great “reconciliation” passages in the Bible. It was written nearly one hundred years after Jesus, at a time when the Christ-followers were divided between those who believed they needed to follow Jesus from a Jewish culture, and those who practiced the teachings of Jesus but had no wish to be Jewish. This passage seems address this bitter disagreement by reminding the readers that the way of Jesus demands reconciliation.

The three-fold question of Jesus to Peter serves to remind him of his boast that he would never fail Jesus (Matt 26:31-33). This moment allows Peter to undo his three-fold denial of Jesus.  While Peter’s denial of Jesus was a bitter betrayal by a best friend, Jesus sets the example: he makes the first move towards healing the rift.

John’s account challenges every generation of Christians to live the way of peace-making and reconciliation. Whether it was the first century community divided by the practice of Jewish culture, or today’s contemporary Christian world divided by issues such as homosexuality, and the way we read the Bible – the expectation of Jesus remains the same: reach out to the one who has insulted / failed / deserted you and make peace. Think of one person who is estranged to you and make it your New Year’s intention to reconcile with them.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, help me to be the first to stretch out my hand to that person who has hurt me. And may your peace guide our healing. Amen      


 Third Sunday after Epiphany
“The Call to Ministry”
(Scripture reference page 65 A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants)


Friday, January 25, 2013

Do not Lose Heart

2Co 4:1-10  Therefore, since it is by God's mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart.  We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God's word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God.  And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.  In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.  For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus' sake.  For it is the God who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.  But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.  We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair;  persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.

St Paul had a difficult relationship with the Corinthian Christians. By the time he wrote this, he had visited them twice, and in 2 Corinthans indicates that he intends visiting them a third time. He has had to defend his character against misunderstanding and criticism. Some have questioned his authority to teach, while others did not like the way he speaks and writes. He freely admits his own imperfections, suggesting that he is only a “clay jar” holding the treasure of God. His task is to point beyond himself: “we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus' sake” (2 Cor 4:5)  
Subsequent history of our faith has seen people in Christian leadership criticised, attacked and vilified. So if we who follow Jesus today find ourselves criticised and unappreciated by church people, we are in good company! Paul was clear – renounce shameful things; proclaim Jesus, and do not give up.   Do not be put off by the criticism of other Christians, but rather allow the life of Jesus to be visible in our bodies.

Prayer: Dear Lord, help me to resist the temptation to attack those who criticise me. Instead may I step back and allow you to shine through my words and actions. Amen.

Third Sunday after Epiphany
“The Call to Ministry”
(Scripture reference page 65 A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants)


Thursday, January 24, 2013

Christian Bragging

1Co 1:26-31  Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;  God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord."

Paul writes this letter to a church he initiated in Corinth, the capital city of the Roman province of Achaia.  This city had originally been Greek, but was destroyed by Roman soldiers in 146BC. Julius Caesar then re-populated it with a variety of people from all over the world. This was a city port made up of ex-soldiers, slaves, merchants, sailors, prostitutes and fortune seekers. Paul points out the obvious when he notes that “not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.”    
What is beginning to emerge however, is a community where people were beginning to compete for status. All too often people who have little social status attempt to remedy this by making others feel inferior. People of the same cultural group insult each other in an attempt to feel superior, and strong personalities seek power over communities. Paul writes to the Christ-followers in Corinth to urge them to abandon their desire for dominance, and to remember that their only status is that of a follower of Jesus.
Sadly this if often true of Christian communities today. Let us re-read the words of Paul for our own time – and be reminded that our status, our life, our wisdom, and our goodness are rooted in Jesus. If we are to boast about anything, then we boast of what the Lord has done.   
Prayer: Lord God of All Creation: thank you for my life. May I always remember that all I have comes from you, so that I might not be distracted by my own self-importance. Amen
Third Sunday after Epiphany
“The Call to Ministry”
(Scripture reference page 65 A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants)




Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A Damascus Road Experience

Act 9:1-6  Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" He asked, "Who are you, Lord?" The reply came, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.  But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do."
Act 9:17-20  So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit." And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength. For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, "He is the Son of God."

This is the story of two people whose lives are radically altered: Saul turns from a persecutor of Christ-followers to become a preacher of the Gospel of Jesus. Ananias moves from fearful avoidance of Saul, to become Saul’s pastor. Both are a kairos moment: the intervention of God into history.

This story has since become part of the language of our modern society. A “Damascus Road experience” refers to a profound, life-changing experience that alters the direction and thinking of an individual.  For some, like Saul, this might be a moment of self-knowledge that leads you to commit your life to following Jesus. For others, this might be an “aha” moment when you gain a new perspective that marks a new direction in life. We cannot engineer these moments. They are gifts of God. We can choose to ignore them, and so lose the opportunity for a God-given correction of our course in life.

Prayer: Lord: thank you for the moments of divine intervention in our lives. Please would you stop me in my tracks when I am getting lost. At such moments I trust you to you turn me around and put me on the right path. Amen


Third Sunday after Epiphany
“The Call to Ministry”
(Scripture reference page 65 A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants)


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Left ... and Followed

Luk 5:1-11  Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch." Simon answered, "Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets." When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break.  So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink.  But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!" For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken;  and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people." When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

Luke locates this story at the lake of Gennesaret , which is also known as the Sea of Galilee. This fresh water lake contained a great variety of fish, which provided the staple food for the region and provided work for the local population. The point made by Luke is that Jesus did not act like a normal rabbi. He did not go to the temple in Jerusalem to collect the best and the brightest as his students. Instead he went to rural Galilee, where he collected local fishermen as his followers. These were largely uneducated labourers, who would have been called the am ha’aretz  - the unwashed proletariat / the working classes / or, as Peter rightly recognises in Luke 5:8 the “sinners” - by the religiously educated classes of Jerusalem.
The criterion for following Jesus is not education, or goodness, or social connection. Jesus invites anyone who will hear him. Though the past two thousand years people have heard the call to follow Jesus. This call has ignored social class, education and cultural background. Perhaps today is the day when you and I hear anew the call to leave everything and follow Jesus.

Prayer: Lord: receive my life today, that I may follow you. And when I go to sleep tonight, receive my life, that I might rest with you. Amen

Third Sunday after Epiphany
“The Call to Ministry”
(Scripture reference page 65 A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants)


Monday, January 21, 2013

Who will go?

Isa 6:1-8  In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple.  Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory."  The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke.  And I said: "Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!" Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs.  The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: "Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out."  Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I; send me!"

The King is dead. Uzziah was sixteen when he became king of Judah and reigned to fifty two years. (2 Kings 15:2), and now there is a power vacuum. It is safe to assume that the people of Judah felt uneasy as they buried their king. A lifetime of stable rule had come to an end, and the prospect of a power struggle loomed large in their future. It is at this moment that Isaiah encounters God. This is an encounter that holds all his senses – hearing the voice of God, smelling the smoke of the incense, feeling the building shake, and tasting the heat of the burning coal on his lips – and Isaiah’s life is changed. An encounter with God evokes his response “Send Me”.

We continue to live in uncertainty. Even though we have presidents, and captains of industry, and leaders of people, they prove themselves unable to stabilize our country. The poorest of the poor burn tyres in protest, and the richest of the rich quietly sent their money offshore. And most of us are like the proverbial “jam in the sandwich” as we battle to make ends meet. We might even whisper to ourselves “I wish that the old president / great person / people’s leader was back – because life was stable then.”  This is the moment for us to learn from Isaiah: he tells us that this is exactly the moment that God becomes visible: Let us, like Isaiah, pay attention to our senses and discover that God is all around us. As we do so, we too might hear the invitation of to join God in the work of creating a world of justice, love and peace. What is you answer?
Prayer: O Lord: open my eyes that I might see you; open my ears that I might hear your invitation; open my mouth that I might taste how sweet your words are; and open my will, that I might work in partnership with you. Amen.  

Third Sunday after Epiphany
“The Call to Ministry”
(Scripture reference page 65 A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants)


Saturday, January 19, 2013

Blessed to become a Blessing

Mat 19:16-26  Then someone came to him and said, "Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?" And he said to him, "Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments." He said to him, "Which ones?" And Jesus said, "You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbor as yourself." The young man said to him, "I have kept all these; what do I still lack?"  Jesus said to him, "If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions.   Then Jesus said to his disciples, "Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God."  When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, "Then who can be saved?"  But Jesus looked at them and said, "For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible."

Many of us who follow Jesus lift his teachings off the pages of scripture and apply then to our own lives. In fact we often want to universalise the words of Jesus as if they applied to all people everywhere for all time. Except for this passage from Matthew! Suddenly the commentaries and expositions agree that this was a word for a particular man at a particular time, and does not apply to anyone else! This is so because this is because this is one of those passages in the Bible that is easy to understand, but difficult to follow!
Jesus says: “If you wish to enter into life then keep the rules and let go of your possessions”. And suddenly this becomes difficult – because, like the man who asked Jesus the question, we have many possessions and find it hard to let go of them. In fact we find it so hard that we want to strip this passage of its meaning by spiritualising its meaning into nothingness. Many commentaries and expositions of this passage argue that Jesus does not expect us to give our stuff away. Some commentaries will admit that perhaps some people are called to do this as a sign of their faith in God, but hasten to add that this is not for everyone. Others suggest that Jesus was exposing this man’s failure to be perfect – and then add that giving away possessions is not a sign of perfection.

So what is so hard about hearing Jesus say that we must share our possessions: he certainly said this on more than one occasion.  It was Jesus who suggested that if we have two coats we could give one away (Luke 3:11); Jesus reproved those who wanted bigger store rooms to store their possessions (Luke 12:17-21); and Jesus encouraged us to trust God instead of our possessions (Matt 6:25-34). Perhaps this year we might take the teaching of Jesus more literally, and practice generosity towards those who struggle to survive life. We who are blessed are called by Jesus to become a blessing to others.

Prayer: O Lord: soften my heart that I might be less greedy and become more generous. For the sake of those who struggle. Amen.

Second Sunday after Epiphany
“Come follow me”
(Scripture reference page 59 A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants)



Friday, January 18, 2013

God’s Preferential Option for the Little Ones.

Mat 11:25-30  At that time Jesus said, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.  All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

The world of Jesus was divided into two: there were those who thought themselves acceptable in the sight of God, and those who believed that they were hated by God. The “beloved of God” were those who had paid their temple taxes, had learned The Law, and had ensured that they had made the necessary sacrifices. These were “the wise”. Then there were the rest: these were the people who had not paid what they should (often because they were too poor), and had not learned the religious rules (often because they were not educated) and who had not made the necessary sacrifices (because of poverty, or because they were ill and therefore not allowed into the temple). They were known as the am ha’aretz  - the rabble, or the “little ones” who had not yet attained spiritual maturity.   

Jesus challenges the idea that only a special few have knowledge and experience of God. Instead, he turns this idea on its head by insisting that God takes a preferential option for the weakest, and the least and the most vulnerable.  The good news that has been handed down through the generations of our faith is that is that when we are at our most fragile, we can call to God, who offers to share the weight of our burden - "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest”. The challenge of our faith is that we who are religious need to unlearn our contempt for the “irreligious rabble”, and discover the deep love of the Father for those who struggle the most in life – whether this struggle is poverty, illness, or simply the inability to believe.

Prayer: O God of love: may I be able to show the same patience and compassion towards the weaknesses in other people that you have shown to me. Amen
Second Sunday after Epiphany
“Come follow me”
(Scripture reference page 59 A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants)



Thursday, January 17, 2013

Whoever will – may come.

Mat 10:32-42  "Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven. "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one's foes will be members of one's own household.   Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.   Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.  "Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet's reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple--truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward."

Jesus lived in a world where some were thought to be more holy than others. People were declared “unclean’ because of physical or mental illness, and were thought to be less loved by God than those who were “clean”. In the above passage from Matthew 10 we find Jesus opposing this idea. He uses the word "whoever" (Greek: hostis) as a recurring idea throughout this passage. It makes the statement comprehensive - to embrace both the bearers and the hearers of the message. The effect of this is to “level the playing fields”. There are none who are exempt – neither the preacher or the hearer, neither the righteous nor the unrighteous, neither the rich nor the poor. And just in case someone still thinks that s/he is too good/too holy/too righteous, Jesus deliberately includes an act of inclusive compassion towards the “little ones”.
Through the years religious people have been tempted to create classes or categories of people. This normally sounds like this: those who believe like us are therefore loved by God, and those who do not are not loved by God. Let us build a new generation that is willing to discover that everyone (hostis) is within the love of the Creator.

Prayer: God of all creation: Thank you for loving me. Open my eyes that I may see your embrace for the other people in my world. Amen.


Second Sunday after Epiphany
“Come follow me”
(Scripture reference page 59 A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants)


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Deny yourself ....Follow Me

Luk 9:23-27  Then he said to them all, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words, of them the Son of Man will be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. But truly tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God."
Luk 9:57-62  As they were going along the road, someone said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." To another he said, "Follow me." But he said, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." But Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God." Another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home." Jesus said to him, "No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."

The verses above are often used to encourage people to follow Jesus. Just as often these verses are quoted without a context, which strips them of their meaning. Note that verse 23 begins with “then”, implying that this connects with what has occurred immediately prior to this. Verse 22 speaks of the Son of Man who must face “great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed”.  Jesus has left rural Judea and is heading for Jerusalem. The ultimate end to his journey will become Golgotha’s suffering and death. Then Jesus said to those who are listening “If anyone desires to come after me.....” I suspect that the initial response was less than enthusiastic. Luke 9:45 tells us that “they were afraid to ask him about this saying”. Following Jesus is difficult, dangerous and may cause your death!
This then becomes the challenge to each succeeding generation of Jesus-followers: to “deny themselves and take up their cross daily” (Luke 9:23) But as I peer into my own motives and attitudes I see little desire for suffering. If I am honest I prefer a quiet life, sustained by supportive friends and a loving family. Yet there is this inner voice that continually prods me out of my place of comfort: a voice that asks me to welcome those who live on the margins of society; a voice that urges me to plough a furrow where none exists; a voice that asks me to set everything else aside for this One Great Love.  Each morning I hear that voice saying “Come, follow Me”, and I have to decide what I will do with my day.

Prayer: Gracious God: you have given me life. Help me to pay attention to you call on my life today – so that I may follow where you lead me. Amen.


Second Sunday after Epiphany
“Come follow me”
(Scripture reference page 59 A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants)