Monthly Archives: October 2011

Living God’s mission: 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A, 30 October 2011)

Living God’s mission

Readings
1 Thessalonians 2.9-13
Matthew 23.1-12

The week before last, I was in the lovely city of Adelaide at a National Ministers’ Conference organised by the President of the UCA, Rev’d Alistair McRae.

Many of you will remember Rev’d Jenny Tymms who worshipped as part of us before she moved to Darwin. I’d like to tell you a little bit about some of the input she gave us about ‘creative experiments’ in mission.

But first, let’s look at the Bible, shall we?

We’ve been hearing from 1 Thessalonians for the last few weeks. Of course, it’s a letter written by the Apostle Paul to the Thessalonian church in northern Greece. Scholars are pretty clear that this is the first letter we have written by Paul, and that he wrote it around the year 50 of the first century—that is, twenty years after the death and Resurrection of Jesus. Therefore, it’s very likely the earliest piece of Christian writing known to us.

(Hang on—what about the Gospels? They’re about what Jesus did aren’t they, and that was before the Apostle Paul? Yes, but 1 Thessalonians was written well before the first Gospel. That was Mark, written about fifteen years later around the year 65. We can be pretty clear that 1 Thessalonians is the earliest witness to faith in Jesus Christ that we have.)

In the first part of the letter, Paul shows how warmly he feels towards the Thessalonian believers. He says,

We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labour of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. (1.2-3)

We might wonder if that is a formal thing, like a letter that starts ‘Dear Paul’, and proceeds to tell me I stink. But the warmth of this opening just continues. Paul says,

…we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us. (2.7-8)

He feels towards them like a nursing mother feels to her baby. And like a good father:

…we dealt with each one of you like a father with his children, urging and encouraging you and pleading that you should lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. (2.11-12)

And there’s yet more! When Paul was separated from the Thessalonians, he felt like a child bereft of his parents’ love:

As for us, brothers and sisters, when, for a short time, we were made orphans by being separated from you—in person, not in heart—we longed with great eagerness to see you face to face. (2.17)

Paul really loved these people. He could be mother, father, even child to them. No doubt there were those among the Thessalonians who felt the same. Working side by side on God’s mission had brought them close together.

Paul needed this very personal ‘family’ language to express his affection for the Thessalonians. Yet Jesus says,

call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven.

Is there a problem here? A contradiction? Not so much. It’s like this: in the first century, the father was the absolute boss. It was a time in which the father’s word was unquestionable. And Jesus says No—there is only one Father we owe absolute obedience to, and that is our Father in heaven. The one Jesus called ‘Abba’, ‘Daddy’. Our motherly Father.

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Love is the key: 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A, 23 October 2011)

Love is the key

Readings
1 Thessalonians 2.1-8
Matthew 22.34-46

We meet Jesus again today, still a ‘person of interest’ to the authorities, and in the last week of his life. And still being asked questions. Remember last week we read that he was asked about paying taxes to Caesar—it was a trick question designed to get him offside with either the Jewish people or the Roman oppressors. He cleverly escaped.

Today it looks like a harmless question.

Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?

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The things that belong to God: 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A, 16 October, 2011)

The things that belong to God

Readings
1 Thessalonians 1.1-10
Matthew 22.15-22

 

Last week, we pondered Paul’s words from the latter to the Philippian church:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.

Recall that things were pretty hot for Paul when he wrote these words: he was in jail. and he didn’t know whether he’d live or die.

Things are heating up for Jesus in our reading today. Jesus is in the last week of his life, the week we call Holy Week. He has entered Jerusalem on a donkey; he has driven the money-changers out of the Temple. He is a ‘person of interest’ to the authorities, and they are trying to bring him down.

That’s why, in today’s reading, the Pharisees and the Herodians come together to trap Jesus. Now they are very strange bedfellows indeed… The Pharisees were actually quite a popular and well-respected religious group who stood up for righteousness and obedience to the law. They couldn’t stand the Herodians; it seems the Herodians were aristocrats who were in cahoots with the Roman occupiers and who thought nothing of plotting and scheming to gain advantage for themselves.

The Pharisees and the Herodians joining forces would be like Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott joining together to bury the hatchet in a third person’s back rather than in each other’s. It just didn’t happen.

So the Pharisees and Herodians, these natural enemies, unite against Jesus. He must have posed a real threat to them.

And they have a beauty of a question. A real poser. However Jesus answered, they’d have him. Or so they thought.

Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?

Gotcha Jesus! Let’s see you get out of that one…

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The Lord is near: 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A, 16 October 2011)

The Lord is near


Readings
Exodus 32.1-14
Philippians 4.1-9

 

Whenever you read Philippians, you’ve got to remember one thing: Paul was in jail when he wrote it. So when he says Rejoice!, we should take notice. Paul can rejoice even though he is in chains. Paul can rejoice when he doesn’t know whether he’ll live or die.

How is that?

Quite some years ago now, I was at a conference here in Brisbane and a couple of ministers from the Philippines were also there. They were facing the possibility of arrest when they returned home, yet they had broad smiles on their faces and a deep joy in their hearts.

How is that?

As a hospital chaplain, I used to see people who were seriously ill who could absolutely radiate peace and joy. It did my heart good to sit with them.

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