What prejudice? What barriers? REFLECTIONS ON LUKE

When Jesus entered the temple courts, he began to drive out those who were selling. “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be a house of prayer’; but you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’ [LUKE 19:45]

Having read these verses many times in the past. I imagined a scene (probably based on some movie I’d seen) with Jesus upending tables and scattering animals and causing no small amount of mayhem in what was a well-oiled economic machine. Like many who read this account, I figured he was upset by them doing business within the Temple precinct rather than praying. And maybe that had something to do with it, but I now see the real issues were to do with exclusion, injustice and prejudice.

Jesus quotes Isaiah 56:7 “for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations” and Jeremiah 7:11 “Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you?”

The context of Jeremiah’s prophecy was a decadent and disgraceful Israel that dared to trample the Temple of God with no reverence in their hearts. No fear of God. They treated God with disdain. They indulged in all manner of corruption and injustice and yet thought they could enter the Temple at will. Their shallow acts of worship were not to please God, but to appease their conscience and hedge their bets.

Isaiah on the other hand cries out that the Temple is to be a house of prayer not only for Jews but for all people. Although God chose Abraham, and through him Israel as the means to bring Christ to the world, God has always loved the whole world and sought to woo humanity back to himself. The exclusivity of the Hebrews and their disdain for the lost of this world ran counter to the heartbeat of God.

Jesus encountered that very same spirit in the Temple that day. An exclusive spirit that ruled people out rather than welcomed them in. They cluttered the Court of the Gentiles with their currency exchange and excluded the kind of people Jesus had spent his time ministering to. People who did not have the means to meet the rigid standards imposed by the religious leaders for Temple entry.

Their prejudice was based on social, economic and racial grounds. Sadly most Jews of that time would never have seen things in that light. They would never have believed themselves to be prejudiced. They would simply have accepted the way things were as being normal.

Whilst we have no Temple, I wonder how much of our church life and practice is in effect a barrier to our ‘Gentile’ population? What social, economic and racial prejudice do we have lurking in our hearts that we are largely oblivious to? If Jesus was to take up a whip today, what animals would he drive out of our shared life and faith? What tables would he overturn? How are we cluttering the entry points of faith with unreasonable expectations and hidden prejudice that effectively turn people away at the door? I shudder to think.

Lord open our eyes to see what you see!

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Missing the moment of God’s visitation – REFLECTIONS ON LUKE

LUKE 19:41 As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it.

Jesus knew the city of Jerusalem more intimately than anyone who ever walked the earth. He had seen it grow from its infancy and become the capital of Hebrew life, culture and faith. He had walked her streets and  knew her people long before he became man. And as he approached this symbol of Jewish life and culture on the eve of his final week he wept over her because she “did not recognize the time of God’s coming” to her.

I wonder what God weeps over with regards to my life? What am I blind to? What am I not recognizing? What is it he wants to reveal to me but I am refusing to see? There comes a point when we miss out on what God wants for us if we are too stubborn of heart, or have focused our desires elsewhere. We miss the moment of God’s visitation.

But I also wonder what we weep over? What stirs our emotions to the point of such pain? Do we weep over our city, our town, our neighbourhood? Do we see what God sees? Do we know what he wants? Are we seeking his Kingdom and will or our own? I guess only the Holy Spirit can reveal such painful truths to us, but maybe our dry eyes are an indicator that we have yet to find the place of intercession where Jesus stands and  weeps. That is the place we must discover and dwell in if we are to see God’s intervention in our own lives let alone in our communities.

Discarded coins? REFLECTIONS ON LUKE

LUKE 15:4 Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it… “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?

As I walked through our cities and towns during my hikoi I quite often found small coins tossed aside as though worthless.  Of course I picked these up and either used them myself or gave them to the next beggar I came across. Lost coins? I don’t think so. They are the discards of people who have far too much.

It struck me that we have grown up in a world where a 1% loss is nothing. We take it in our stride and get on with life. Sorry Mr Sheep. You don’t matter anymore.

But how about a 10% loss as in the case of the woman’s coin? Does a bigger loss motivate us to action? And how about a 50% loss as in the wayward son? Surely we would be motivated to chase after that staggering amount! Yet ironically Jesus’ parable does not support such thinking.

There are the one percenters who get distracted, wander off and unintentionally become separated from the flock. Most churches lose people out the back door. No one seems to notice they’ve gone, at least not until it is too late. We need to notice sooner and go find these people before something worse happens to them.

But what about the ten percenters who get lost within the church? Clichés, clubs, factions, favourites; every church has them. Some people are lost in our ranks, not knowing where they belong, whether they matter, what they have to offer. The church needs to be ‘swept clean’ to spot these lost souls and help them find their worth and their place.

How about those who make the deliberate choice to leave? The fifty percenters? They get miffed, or think church can’t meet their needs. The younger son was self-absorbed and focused on what he could get out of life rather than what he might contribute into the family. Sadly that’s a picture of church today as consumerist spirituality sweeps our ranks.

The Father knew it would take a miracle to gain his boy back again. And no amount of chasing would help. The son had to come to his senses and realise the grass wasn’t greener on the other side. He needed self awareness and to learn empathy. That usually only happens when we are alone and everything turns to custard.

We are to seek the lost and to celebrate when they are found. But that requires a change of focus for us all. A new awareness of where others are up to. A sharing of life rather than just sharing a pew. We need to rescue the lost sheep, to find the lost coins and be welcoming when the mavericks, the misfits, and even the malevolent find their way home. That is quite a challenge!

DRESSED AND READY TO SERVE

LUKE 12:3 Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning    

Starting is easier than finishing; especially finishing well. Staying the course often requires endurance and a single-minded devotion to the task at hand. Jesus commended those who were “dressed and ready for service, and kept their lamps burning” even though it was uncomfortably late.

As I near the end of my hikoi I’m challenged by such thoughts. It would be easy to thumb a lift to Waikanae rather than walk the next 2 days, but what would that achieve. This has always been more about the journey than the destination.

So too with serving God. There are no shortcuts. If we are overly focused on getting to the end; getting to heaven, we wont live well today. We will find our attention is more on ourselves than our King. When our personal salvation and wellbeing becomes the compelling reason we turn to Christ, we soon discover we are carrying the individualistic consumerism of the world into our new life in God.

Following Jesus and serving him BECAUSE of who he is, what he has done and what he is like should be the starting point of our journey, the empowering reality throughout, and the overwhelming reason for continuing the journey to the very end.

We have the wonderful privilege of serving the king of all kings, the author of life, here and now on this planet. And whilst heaven and eternity provide a strong and attractive incentive to how we live, we still need to keep our hearts and minds engaged with the task at hand. And that means seeking to have the same spirit of the faithful servant we discover in Jesus himself.

Being dressed and ready at all times means our focus is on our master and his will, not seeking our own comfort and desires. That’s kind of difficult in the world we now live in. And it requires a deliberate choice “Not my will but yours” as Jesus said to the Father on the eve of his crucifixion. All who wrestle with this reality and who earnestly desire to finish well will find the strength and endurance to do so. God himself will provide it. And one day we will hear the wonderful affirmation of God as he seats us and serves us himself, at his own table.

CLEANLINESS AND CARE FOR THE POOR

“Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? But now as for what is inside you—be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.”  LUKE 11:39

It may come as a surprise to find that Jesus links inner cleanliness with generosity towards the poor. I get the feeling such generosity is not some grandiose gesture necessarily seen by others but the day by day sacrificial giving of a compassionate heart that is usually only witnessed by God.

But I do wonder if our treatment of the poor as a society reflects the inner state of our collective wellbeing as a community? If so, we should begin to worry here in NZ. Poverty is increasing at an alarming rate. The gap between rich and poor has become a canyon in which the echoes of ‘trickle down wealth’ clang around as utterly hollow and meaningless promises of a broken economic theory.

We have a large and growing number of individuals and families sleeping in cars, garages, tents, sleepouts and shacks, not to mention those who are being housed in motels, hotels and other temporary accommodation. All this whilst housing stock is treated as an investment opportunity rather than a human necessity. What’s more, how can it ever be right that investors purchase houses and leave them vacant for whatever insane and selfish reasons they deem economically sound or astute?

We have children going to school hungry, ill-clothed, and ill-prepared to learn the things that might just help them avoid the problems their parents face. We should be offended. But what are we doing about it?

We have many people working hard all day for a wage that is not enough to feed, clothe and house them. How can that ever be right? Surely that is economic slavery? Our system forces such hard working people to become beneficiaries dependant upon the whim of the state.  And don’t tell me that giving people a living wage will adversely affect business and cost jobs. Such neoliberal nonsense supports selfishness and greed and puts the WANTS of shareholders and the top earners of society over the NEEDS of those grinding and grafting away at the bottom of the pile; the very people who make them wealthy. How about accepting less profit and lower salaries for the sake of those being made poor by such economic expectations?

We live in a system that stinks to high heaven but we fail to smell the odour because we are so much a part of it now. It is time that the Christian Church got offended by the poverty that surrounds us. But we are complicit because our silence supports the current system. Maybe it is because we hope to emerge from our working days with enough equity to retire in an economically secure position? Maybe we secretly hope to become financially wealthy? So why rock the boat?

Maybe it is our politics that blinds us? Maybe we have simply never thought life could be different? Whatever the reason for our complicity, we will be held accountable by God for the state of the poor of our society.

Somehow I don’t think Jesus is cheering us on toward the finish line we may be looking towards. I think he is however inviting us to run an entirely different race. I think he is politely pointing at the inside of our cup; a cup that is tarnished by our collective failure. And he is inviting us to have the same concern as he does for the poor, the broken, the marginalised who live around us. Then everything will be clean to us as it is to him.

REFLECTIONS ON LUKE – who is my neighbour

LUKE 10:36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”     

The needs we see today can be quite overwhelming and probably way more than many of our tupuna (ancestors) ever encountered. In all likelihood that’s primarily down to the impact of global media rather than any actual increase. However, constant exposure through TV and other news outlets can create compassion fatigue and it become easier to zone out than engage with what we see. Despite this, any thinking and feeling person must surely ask themselves “Am I responsible for the suffering and misery that I am exposed to, and if so, how am I meant to respond?”

In Jesus’ parable, the Priest and Levite who encountered the beaten man on the road to Jericho sidestepped him and went on their way. Apparently they did not know the man, and if they felt any compassion at all, they did not show it. He was not their problem. The Samaritan was different. His compassionate concern was evident through his neighbourly act.

We don’t know the ethnicity of the fallen man but in Jesus’ mind this seemed to be irrelevant. His comparison between the religious leaders and the Samaritan was, however, deliberate. And provocative. Those who had the law and the prophets should have known and done better, but they didn’t.

The original question asked of Jesus was “Who is my neighbour?”

The answer quite clearly is “Anyone we happen upon who is in need.”

We can not fix the whole world nor take responsibility for the suffering of all those we see on the screen. But every one of us can become true neighbours to the people we encounter in the flesh in our daily lives. At that moment we have a choice. Sidestep the problem, or get involved in whatever way we can. And when we do get involved,  we demonstrate God’s Kingdom to our generation. We show what it means to be the sons and daughters of God on earth.

REFLECTIONS ON LUKE – a perverse generation

LUKE 10:17 The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”

The disciples were on a steep learning curve. They had to journey from the place of unbelief to that of exercising real authority. Their successful mission to the villages showed they were making progress. It was in stark contrast to their recent failure in Luke 9:40 where they were stumped by a demon in a young boy. They were unable to set him free and Jesus not only chided them for their lack of faith, but he also called them perverse.

Perverse behaviour is that which is contrary to what might be expected. It is the deliberate or obstinate desire to behave in an unacceptable manner. The disciples’ lack of faith was not what Jesus wanted nor expected of them. So he began a process of training to change their hearts and minds, and to give them a clearer understanding of how his kingdom worked.

Their encounter with the person driving out demons in Jesus’ name shortly after their failure to deliver the boy showed they still did not get it. They want to shut him down, but Jesus told them to leave him be. This man understood the nature of faith. He somehow knew what the disciples were failing to grasp. True authority and power is found in Jesus and demons obey when they hear Jesus’ name used with genuine belief.

The next part of their training was being sent as part of the 72 into the villages. This may have been a bit of a comedown for them as Jesus had previously sent just the 12 of them out. Now they were not the exclusive and favoured few but part of a bigger group.

None the less, Jesus explicitly tells them they have his authority to cast out demons, heal the sick and proclaim the Kingdom of God. And they seem to finally get it. They have success and come back to Jesus jubilant.

Faith comes from hearing the word of Christ. If Jesus were physically present and telling us to go and heal someone, we would probably have confidence to do exactly that and to expect results. But because we don’t see him we struggle to know what he is saying to us. We doubt we have heard him. Fear of failure grips us and we lack the faith to act.

The disciples were perverse because they should have known better. They had been with Jesus long enough to know he was the source of power. They should delivered the young lad by utilising the authority given to them by the Lord. Instead they tried to muscle it out with their own authority and failed. They should have understood that the man using Jesus’ name was not delivering people by his own power but was doing what Jesus wanted them to do.

We too are a perverse generation. We should know and do better. We should know by now that our authority to act comes not from how strong, or knowledgeable or righteous or courageous or theologically correct we are. It comes directly from our creator and Lord, and if we listen and hear his command, we can and should act in his name and see his Kingdom come in our midst as the disciples did among the villages 2000 yeas ago.

REFLECTIONS ON LUKE – dealing with the mess

During my years as a chef I learnt that you had to “break a few eggs to make an omelette”. There was always a certain amount of messiness and disorder in the kitchen when a meal was being prepared. Pots and bowls here and there, benches covered with food and implements, scraps falling to the floor. Sure there was an effort to clear away unnecessary clutter, but it was producing the meal that was all important. And only once that was safely served could the real clean up begin. Then the left over ingredients were put away, pots and pans cleaned, benches and floors scrubbed and the whole kitchen left ready for the next day.

It seems to me that God puts up with a certain amount of mess and disorder in the ‘kitchen’ because he is focused on the primary goal of bringing his Kingdom to earth and transforming our lives. So when a ‘non-disciple’ was going round driving out demons in his name, it was less of a concern to Jesus than it was to his disciples. The ‘non-disciple’ was simply one messy item in the kitchen.

LUKE 9:49 “Master,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.” “Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.”

We probably need to learn to live with a certain amount of messiness if we are to see God’s kingdom advance in our day. Not everything will fit into our tidy little theological boxes. Some things will irk or annoy but that does not mean we are to interfere or stop what is going on. I like Rabbi Gamaliel’s approach to the controversy of the growing church after Pentecost: “Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.” Acts 5:38

Safely off the river

Last Friday morning, 8 of us set out from Ohinepane near Taumaranui to tackle the 230km length of the Whanganui River in 2 man canoes; my darling wife, my tuakana (oldest brother), my mentor, a friend and his family.

Today Bruce and I emerged at Whanganui and I can say with a whole heart, it has been a blast. Several of us had experienced canoeing before but most hadn’t done any or much at all. So it was an exciting adverture for all of us and I can happily say that none of us canned out despite being chucked in the deep end with the biggest rapid of our trip being the very first one we encounted as soon as we left Ohinepane.

Six of the team canoed the first 5 days as far as Pipiriki, which meant they got to experience  most of the bigger rapids. Bruce and I continued for the final three day at a more gentlemanly pace to Whanganui (there were still rapids but not too bad).

The river is stunning. I will write more about it later, but I simply wanted to say we have been there, done that and got the wet teeshirts to prove it. And it was well worth the effort. I would highly recommend it to anyone.

The people we met were awesome. The scenery was stunning. The River was alive with life. You can see why local iwi revere it. To the whanau who live on and love their river, thank you for allowing us to experience your beautiful river and the amazing life it provides.

And thanks to everyone who supported us in prayer and good will throughout this part of my hikoi. I restart the walk on Monday and have just 6 days to go to reach Waikanae.

REFLECTIONS ON LUKE – the vulnerability of need

When I set out on my hikoi at the end of February, I wondered what I was to take with me. I had a backpack, tent, bed-roll, spare clothes, spare footwear, food, a little gas cooker and pot, eating utensils, water, tarp, rain gear, a bunch of books to give away, my phone and tablet to communicate with, plus other bits and pieces I figured I might need along the way. Yet ringing in my ears were the words of Jesus to his disciples:

He told them: “Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt. Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town. If people do not welcome you, leave their town and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” LUKE 9:3

I didn’t know whether I was to take this injunction literally or figuratively. In the end I reasoned that my wife would rest easier knowing at least I had shelter and rations in case all else failed. But my pack weighed in at 23kg when fully loaded. That’s about 6kg heavier than is comfortable. So over the course of the hikoi I slowly ditched bits of kit that I found I really could do without, and have ended up with about 17kg for my final phase of the walk.

Jesus’ instructions to his disciples were more about being vulnerable than about being minimalist. And being vulnerable means we are less likely to be arrogant, proud and to operate from a position of power and superiority in our dealings with people.

The disciples had to rely on others to meet their daily needs. They had to learn to receive before they could give. There is a book to be written on that principle alone!

They had to trust God to lead them to the right person in the right place at the right time. And then trust him for the outcome, even if that meant God used them as vessels judgement as well as blessing. Sometimes they would bestow his blessing and peace. Sometimes they might have to shake dust off their feet and move on. Either way, they were to walk the way of the vulnerable and not sit in the seat of the strong.

The truth is that most of us have no desire to be vulnerable. We want to be in control. We are happy trusting in our own strength and our innate ability to provide for ourselves and to survive. But maybe that is why most of us fail to experience the miraculous intervention of God in our daily walk? We insulate ourselves against the uncomfortable vulnerability of need. But without realizing it, we limit our need of God.