Bible Text: Acts 4:32-35 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce Kemp I call to God, and the Lord will save me. Evening and morning and at noon, I utter my complaint and moan, and he hears my voice. (Ps. 55:16-17) The person who wrote this Psalm was actively praying to God but not in terms that we have so often been instructed to pray. So often we have been trained to be nice to God when we pray, to be respectful, to ask for things, to pray for forgiveness for our failings, to honour God with heart, mind, soul and voice. Yet here we have a person who feels that he has the perfect right to complain to God. So the question that lies before us today is: Do we have a right to complain to God and, if so, how are we to do it? As I said, we seem to have been trained that we can complain about anything and anyone but not to or about God. Yet the Bible does not shy away from recording the prayers of people who complain with great freedom and at considerable length to God when bad things happen and when they feel they are at the end of their tether. We hear them say: things are out of hand; I’m isolated, helpless, hopeless, hurting; Lord, do something! The phrase “How long?” appears nearly twenty times in the Psalms. The Psalms are filled with sentiments expressing a desire for God to intervene in situations beyond the author’s control. One of the best examples of complaining in prayer comes from the book of Job. Job is a person who has been greatly blessed by God and yet suffers tremendous setbacks. The book further reveals that these setbacks have been allowed by God. Satan believes that Job will turn from God if his life is less than successful. God does not agree but allows Satan to test Job. He can do anything to him except take his life. And at some point the taking of his life would have been a way to end his suffering; but not even Job considers this. Instead we find Job in conversation, in prayer to God venting and yet at the same time asking questions which are rational. He is puzzled by the turn of events yet he does not lose his faith in God. Job is indeed distraught by grief and human pain, he is goaded to despair by his well-meaning friends, and yet he speaks his words of complaint to God not because he is disappointed or angry with God but because he believes in God and believes that God will answer his questions and his complaint. In the end Job never really gets the answer that he or any of us might have expected but Job is content with his answer. He accepts his situation, he does not lose hope and his life changes again and all is restored. The prophet Jeremiah has become known as the “weeping prophet” and for good cause. Jeremiah was given the task of telling the people of Israel that the nation would be overrun and the people sent into exile. For his trouble he was not only persecuted by his own people but also suffered exile himself and probably never did return to his homeland. The interesting thing to note about Job, Jeremiah and the psalmists is that their prayers of complaint are never met by any rebuke from God. Their complaints were acceptable and accepted. Before we proceed further with the subject of complaining, let’s think back to that image of the Christian life being like a hike we are taking with the Lord. Being invited to go on a hike sounds upbeat, adventurous and perhaps romantic; yet depending on the terrain that the hike will take, it may be more challenging than we were prepared for. As much as we are told by Jesus that the life of faith that we have chosen will not be all sunshine and roses, we focus on the positives and choose to deny the negatives. When we made the decision to believe in God and believe in Jesus, we set ourselves on a path through this life that very likely might involve some trouble or tribulation or persecution. But if we have in our heads that Jesus suffered so that we would not have to suffer or believe that only good things and good times will fill our lives as believers then we deny the reality of life itself. Think about the temptations of Jesus. He had the opportunity to avoid all the things that we encounter in our lives – hunger, the desire to be saved from all ills and trials, the desire to be in total control of our lives; yet he did not give in to the temptation to relieve himself of any of these things. They are part of our life here and he made sure that he knew intimately how it felt to be hungry, ill or depressed or helpless. Foolishly, we have come to believe that we need to be stoic about our pain and troubles. We probably feel that many of the Psalms and other writings where people complain to God are not appropriate but while the Bible teaches self-control, it also teaches us about the relation between our thoughts and our emotions. The view of the Bible is that we are a unified being. This is why we believe in the resurrection of the body because our soul needs a body to be whole. The Bible teaches that when we suffer in body, mind or spirit, that we suffer in whole not in part. Our physical body then is the vehicle through which we express all our thoughts, emotions and actions and so we can describe ourselves as either an embodied soul or an ensouled body. And so it is perfectly appropriate for us as believers to express not only our joys to God, our hopes and our petitions, but also to express our frustrations and make our complaints known to God. And this is all about being realistic about life and realistic about our relationship with God. If as parents we only wanted our children to tell us about the good things that happened, the requests that were easy to grant, we would miss out on much of what happened or happens to our children and would miss so many opportunities to support and encourage them. And so it is with God. But what can lead us to a prayer of complaint? Situations in our lives where we feel opposition, betrayal, deprivation or isolation, losses or depression; any of these can be moments for us to offer a prayer of complaint, an honest prayer that makes no pretense of prettiness. The good news is that God invites us to pour out our hearts to him – even from our darkness – and he never lets go of us once we are in his grip. Finally how does God answer our prayers of complaint? God responds in two basic ways. First he sustains us in our weakness and keeps us going in spite of our pain. Every situation in life that gives rise to a complaint may not be resolved as we may hope but we learn through bringing our complaints to God and asking for his presence and strength that we can survive these situations. Second we are encouraged to keep trusting God despite the circumstances. So we live, passing through life’s ups and downs. Nobody’s Christian existence is sunshine and roses all the way. Some of us experience horrible losses, loss of health, loss of respectability, loss of friends, spouses or even children. These losses are not beyond the bounds of possibility for any of us and are actuality for many of us. But at such times, the only strategy for us is to pray out our complaints to God, following the models we find in Scripture. And as we do so, may we remember that God loves us, we are his children, he has adopted us and that he will hear our complaints and will love us now and forever. AMEN
Bible Text: Mark 16:1-8 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce Kemp april 1 sermon
Bible Text: Mark 14:1-11 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce Kemp | Series: On Praying As we enter Holy Week, it is appropriate that the subject of today’s message on praying is titled “Prayer Checkup”. We are all no doubt familiar with checkups in other aspects of our lives – particularly the importance of medical checkups; but spiritual checkups? Sounds like going to the confessional or having the minister visit and being expected to answer questions about our faith that we really might not feel comfortable discussing. Well, be assured, it involves neither of those things; although, it does involve examining our lives a little closer than perhaps we are used to – in the matter of our spiritual health. When we are challenged to let Scripture shape our lives, to examine our motives for hints of self-serving, and seek connection and/or correction from the living God, we are going through a spiritual checkup. Packer applies this to prayer specifically as prayer is the vehicle through which we engage with God in relationship and it is in and through this relationship that we seek for God to give us our checkup. The passage of Scripture which is the focus of this message is from Psalm 139: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (vv.23-24) As mentioned before, Packer is concerned more with the development of our relationship with God and how we view that relationship. Our actual prayers in words come from the ground we prepare as we enter into the presence of the One we call our Lord, our Friend, our Companion on the journey. And a vital part of that preparation is what he calls a “prayer checkup.” When we come to regard a spiritual checkup as a necessary spiritual discipline and give it its proper place in our lives, we will be more honest in our prayers. As we take ourselves to our doctor and expect that person to examine all aspects of our physical and mental health to help us discover areas of weakness that can be helped through medical treatment, we come to God and expect God to help us examine all aspects of our spiritual health to help us discover areas in our lives that God can help us with that we might become healthier in our spirits, our minds and our bodies. First God checks up on our faith. This happens when we ask ourselves questions such as: Do we trust God, do we trust Christ? Do we look out for and take careful note of God’s promises; do we rely on God to keep those promises? Does our faith bring us peace of heart – peace with God through forgiveness, peace with circumstances through leaning on the Lord, peace with people because through faith we love them? Does our faith hold up in crises or give way under pressure? Second God checks up on our repentance. Our repentance is not about regret and remorse for things gone wrong but a change of life that we are constantly seeking to make. We are to be serious about tracking down and turning away from all the false steps of our past. Remember the Iona Community interpretation of the Lord’s Prayer when we said: Forgive us what we owe to you, as we have also forgiven those who owe anything to us. We ask for forgiveness but we also ask for help to change. Third God checks up on our love. Love is the most basic command of God for life and the one that we all have the most difficulty with - whether it be love of neighbour or enemy or even self. Our checkup is a way to be more conscious of how we are seeking to express our love to God, our love to neighbour or stranger and even of how we are approaching the love of our own self - the person we are in God’s eyes. Fourth God checks up on our humility. Packer describes humility as honest realism and realistic honesty. Genuine humility comes from a desire in us to be Godward in direction and to let that mind that was in Christ Jesus – to quote Paul – be the same mind that is in us. When we invite God’s help in self-examination we will find ourselves asking questions such as: Am I able to joyfully perform tasks in my church that have little or no visibility? Do I regularly credit others for their contributions? Can I value and enjoy people who are not normally considered respectable? Are my thoughts toward the difficult people in my life infused with grace? Do I honour others with my thoughts, words and actions? As we learn to honestly say yes to questions like these, we are learning humility. Fifth God checks up on our wisdom. Time spent in reading the Scriptures, meditating on the words, and exploring the meaning of the Scriptures bring to us a depth of wisdom to help us find the way through this life, what life itself is meant to be and how to cope with life, its ups and downs. Wisdom helps us to form strategies, calculate consequences, channel passions, discern and avoid foolishness and cherish peace and harmony. Finally God checks up on our focus. When you really think about it, when we invite God to check up on our faith, our repentance, our love, our humility and our wisdom, we are inviting him to check up on our focus. How far have our faith, repentance, love humility and wisdom combined to make us clear-sighted about our goal in life and the priorities it brings. God wants us to discern whether we’ve got life together or whether, as yet, we haven’t. Probably the second is true for most of us but that doesn’t mean that we are done for. It just means that we need to keep trying, to keep being open to God’s checkup, to being open to trusting God to continue drawing us along the path. We began this message with Psalm 139: “Search me, O God.” The Psalmist knew that he needed God to check him out. He knew that he needed God to examine him so that he could become more aware of his spiritual health and his relationship to God, to himself and to others. The searching of God – the eternal physician – happens as the teachings found in the Scriptures impress themselves upon us and then the indwelling of the Holy Spirit carries those teachings to the depths of our being where they can help us to help ourselves. A prayer checkup will help us be more focused as we seek to come into the presence of our God and to engage our friend and Lord in honest meaningful conversation. So let us ask God to lead us in the way everlasting; let him search us that we may see what he sees and let him show us what needs to change for the health of our spirit and life. Let us invite God to examine our inner being, the part that no one else sees so we may be led into spiritual health finding our faith enlivened, our desire to follow God deepened and our prayer life strong and engaging. May we not hesitate to go with God! AMEN
Bible Text: John 12:20-33 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce Kemp | Series: On Praying Over the last few weeks we have been following a path to prayer that the author says is more about a who-to than a how-to. But to get to that point where we are focused on the who-to we need some how-tos along the way. First he encouraged us to understand who is the God we want to pray to and then to understand that this is a God who does not just tell us who he is and what he can do but also a God who seeks to be in a real relationship to us. He wants to be a companion to us on this journey called life in general and our lives in particular. And he has chosen to reveal himself in three significant ways in order to help us gain an understanding of how we can relate to him – as a parent, as a visible companion in Jesus and as a spirit that can enter our hearts, minds and souls and bring us gifts of wisdom, peace, and hope. So when we make the choice to have God as our companion and friend on this journey, we come to understand that we will never again travel the path alone. But we also come to understand that we can become distracted and veer off the path that God desires us to follow. But while following those distractions and by-paths we learn that God is ever calling out to us to come back to the real path. With a patience beyond our imagining, he continues to call us until once again we find ourselves back on the way. All of this is really preparation for prayer because as we commit ourselves to being in a relationship with God, we are preparing to speak with God in a real and honest way and also preparing to listen to God speaking to us in a real and honest way. Remember that Packer said that a real friend does not respond to our wants and perceived needs simply because we believe them to be what we really need and want. A real friend understands the situation and the dynamics of our situation and responds in a way that shows a deep care and affection for us. A real friend wants the best for us even if the best may not seem like the best at the time. And if we really trust that friend, we will listen and accept what they say even if it is not what we want to hear. But we can become distracted and we can find ourselves not really listening – perhaps because we have already made up our mind as to what we really want or need and have closed ourselves off to having a conversation or dialogue with our friend. Prayer is so much more than just closing our eyes and going through the motions. Prayer is our dialogue with the one with whom we will have an eternal relationship. And so Packer encouraged us to consider brooding prayer or meditative prayer or contemplative prayer. He reminds us that meditation is as old as the creation of humanity and God ever encouraged people to meditate on his words and commandments. Finding our focus through brooding or meditative prayer is an opportunity to reflect on the Scriptures and begin to seek for a deeper understanding of what God has said to people throughout the ages. In this way we draw ourselves into a place where we not only better understand the one whom we are seeking to pray to but we also can begin to see more clearly the answers we need to the situations we face in our journey. And so we come to the next element on this exploration of prayer: praising. C.S. Lewis came to believe in God as an adult. Once he made the decision, prayer became a big part of his life pattern. But Lewis also had lots of questions. He wondered: why does God, the God of the Bible, the God of Christianity, call on us to praise him? He said,” we all despise the man who demands continual assurance of his own virtue, intelligence, or delightfulness.” Did God want praise so that he could feel good about himself? Is a prayer of praise an opener so that we can get to the stuff that matters to us? Lewis answered these questions in this way. We praise God not because God demands praise but because it is an expression of our gratitude for what God has done for us and in us. Praise is an active enjoyment of a renewed display of God’s active love. Our praise together in church as a body of God’s people is an expression of that gratitude corporately and helps to draw us into a deeper sense of the presence of God. Our prayers of praise help us to once again declare audibly who God is and also can remind us of how we have distanced ourselves from our God. Our praise of God is to become a discipline for us and part of our regular spiritual nourishment or diet. The discipline of offering praise to God helps us to stay focused and remember not only the nature of our relationship to God but also the difference that that relationship can make in our everyday lives. When we come together in a corporate body to worship, the discipline of prayer and praise become more regular and we come to depend on one another to be there so that we might be encouraged. Praising God in prayer also needs to be a part of our overall communication with God as it helps us to find the balance that a good diet always brings. Then we come to recognize that to give praise to God is a duty in the sense that we owe it to our friend and companion to never forget the benefits we have from our relationship and it also becomes a delight when we truly appreciate that relationship, the love, the grace, and the forgiveness. And now for the final answer as to why we give praise to God. We often say that we expect to be in heaven with God when this life is over. But when we get there, will we know what is expected of us? C.S. Lewis says that the praises we offer here, our times spent in corporate worship as well as our individual times of prayer are all preparation for us to be able to continue to praise God in heaven. We teach our children to read, to write, to take care of themselves in so many ways and encourage them to practice these things so that when they become adults, they can continue to take care of themselves. In a similar way, we are taught by the generations that precede us how to offer praise to God, how to sing praises to God, how to become disciplined in prayer, that we might know and never forget how to be a thankful people. I have mentioned many times the experience I had in Morrisburg back in the 1980s. A coming together of Christians who had chosen different expressions of faith and were in different worshiping communities of faith and yet could come together as one body to offer praise and prayer to God and encourage and support one another. That experience taught me much about the importance of praise as prayer and prayer as praise. It showed me that even in our diversity we could find unity when we chose to adopt the discipline and diet of praise to God. Clearly there are many elements to prayer and many things to learn and consider but above all may we remember this. Everything we do, everything we say is to be done to the glory of God and to the further development of our relationship to him both individually and corporately. AMEN
Bible Text: John 3:1-21 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce Kemp | Series: On Praying Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen. (Anglican Book of Prayer 1549) Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day (Psalm 119:97) Brooding may sound like a strange title for a message on praying and I must admit that I was puzzled by the word. But as we seek to develop a relationship with God, with our friend and companion on this hike through life, Packer wants to encourage us to consider what he calls brooding prayer. As much as Packer wants to focus us on who-to in our praying, he recognizes that there will always be a need to mention some of the how-tos. What he calls Christian brooding could also be called meditating. But he wants us to understand that what he is thinking of when he uses the word meditation is not an exercise similar to Eastern or New Age religion. Brooding or meditating is a spiritual discipline that is intended to ripen, stabilize and strengthen our renewed and renewing hearts. He sees it as a vital, energizing element in our communion with God. It is about directing our thinking and bringing discipline to our living and our praying. So often the term brooding can have a negative connotation. But Packer wants us to focus on the positive side of brooding. Self-indulgent forms of brooding can lead to moodiness and be destructive to us. But he wants us to see brooding in a new light, as an activity that can help us control our random thoughts and help us to focus our thoughts in a clear, orderly, vivid and nourishing way. He wants us to really reclaim the word meditation and use it in the most constructive way possible. But to keep us from letting ourselves get distracted and take a by-path, he chooses to use the word brooding. So what is the nature of this Christian brooding or meditating? First it is to be described as thinking in God’s presence, thinking before the Lord, thinking about the Lord and our life in his world, by his grace and under his sway. He then brings to mind the picture of a cow chewing its cud. Cows don’t eat their food once but more than once. In a somewhat similar way, Packer says we are to chew over the lessons we learn from God’s word and so gain a depth of wisdom, motivation in our life and nourishment. We may even speak out loud in our meditating but it is not a sign that we are crazy. Now for some rules to help direct us in Christian brooding or meditation. The first rule is: meditate on God with God. Remember that we are coming to God as a friend and seeking to speak with God. So we come with a humble spirit to show our love for God. The second rule is: meditate on the word in the Word. Remember that we can learn much from meditating on the words contained in passages of Scripture. As we do so, we will be looking to God for help, guidance and direction as we seek to discover his mind and will and then seek to have our lives affected by what we learn. The third rule is: Don’t get discouraged by the unevenness of your focus. God is a patient listener and teacher. When you find your thoughts wandering, gently bring yourself back to the subject or word or words that you have chosen for your time of brooding or meditating. Another term you may have heard for what we are talking about is contemplation or contemplative prayer. Whether we choose to talk about meditation, brooding or contemplation, we need to be thinking about our relationship to God, thinking about God’s purposes, God’s greatness, achievements and blessings. And then what it means to respond to God. Thinking in the presence of God becomes talking to the Lord directly, and talking to God leads back to further thinking in his presence. When this discipline becomes a habit for our inner being, we will find God inhabiting both our hearts and our minds, enabling us to truly think and feel and move in a sustained attitude of prayer. And so we are encouraged to meditate on God’s Word. The practice of meditating on the word of God is as old as the earliest times of the Hebrew people in the Old Testament. Every leader of the people was encouraged to meditate on the law of God both day and night and so find and keep direction in life. To help us use the Bible more effectively in our meditation, Packer suggest seven images for us to consider: 1) we need to see the Bible as a library of different books written in different times; 2) explore the Bible as a landscape of human life; 3) read it as a letter written by God for you; 4) value the Bible as your listening post listening for the Spirit of God; 5) explore the law of God not in a legalistic sense but as instructions given by a loving friend; 6) think of the Bible as your light in the darkness of life; and 7) cling to it as a lifeline taking note of the assurances God gives to people as you read the Scriptures. We are also encouraged to meditate on the works of God. We are to read the ways in which God has been actively involved in the lives of people in the past and so begin to see where God is actively involved in our lives. We can meditate on the promises of God, on the grace God has shown us, on the forgiveness we have received and the hope that Christ’s victory over sin and death has given us. And so we have come to learn that as Christians it is a good thing to be brooding or meditating or contemplating our life with God. We have also come to understand that God has ever encouraged people to meditate or to brood or to contemplate and that it is a way of connecting with God and coming to a deeper understanding of his words and his intentions for us and for the world. But is there one right way to meditate? Well let’s be clear about one thing, meditation is not an end in itself; it is to be seen as a prelude to prayer. Meditation allows us to put ourselves in a place where we can be more open to developing a relationship with God that leads to a who-to in praying. So how do people meditate? All I can do today is to briefly outline some techniques. You can follow the practice of Benedict called Lectio Divina in which a single passage or part of a passage is meditated on. A second technique is to take one of the Gospel narratives and imagine you in the scene as an observer. A third technique is to focus on a theme or a topic. A fourth path is to pray a prayer from the Bible. You can take the prayer itself and then begin to see yourself or someone else in the prayer and then meditate on that. Have we found ourselves spiritually anorexic, half-starved in our relationship with God or our growth in Christ seeming to be stunted or have we found difficulty moving ahead in our faith? Perhaps one of the great drawbacks of our Protestant approach to God and faith is that we tend to live our faith on the surface and may have allowed ourselves to be more concerned with rules than with the spirit. Bringing back into the practice of our faith the freedom to embrace meditation will do much to encourage us to grow in faith and will allow us to explore a depth of relationship with God on a more personal note than perhaps we have allowed ourselves to explore. As I close this today, remember that our faith is to be more than a matter of external observance, that is to become a matter of internal life, a life lived in and with the One who calls us his children, the friend we are to come to know more intimately – the Lord! Amen
Bible Text: John 2:13-22 In the Psalms we find these words: Lord, teach me your way, so that I can live by your truth. Teach me to serve you with complete devotion. Teach me, Lord, the meaning of your laws, and I will obey them at all times. (Ps 86:11; 119:35) We are following a path for the next number of weeks that will help us to explore praying and prayer not from a how-to approach but a who-to approach. We trust that we will come to find delight in prayer rather than just finding prayer a duty. We trust that we will come to a better understanding of the purpose of prayer and its place in developing and sustaining our relationship with God. If you have never read John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, I urge you to do so. While it may seem dated, Bunyan’s allegory on the Christian life contains a wisdom that transcends time and space. While it may not correspond totally to your experience, it nevertheless paints a picture of the Christian journey in life that will no doubt resonate with many. Today we are going to focus on the path of prayer and speak about the by-paths. Packer likens this focus to a hike. If you have ever set out for a hike on a well-marked trail and then seen a path to the side that looked like a real path and decided to take it instead of the well-marked trail, you may have found yourself on a by-path. I found one something like what he is talking about near Banff Alberta. I went for a hike with my oldest son. We expected to be gone 2 hours. Somehow we lost the main trail and found ourselves on what amounted to a goat path clinging to the side of a mountain that overlooked a deep valley. With no hiking sticks and no water we spent another three hours winding our way searching for a familiar landmark. Finally we scrambled up the side of the mountain where we found a campsite and a phone. We then called Diana to come and get us. The experience was one we would never forget but not long to repeat. By-paths can be great adventure but they can also bring great danger. Just as Packer has encouraged us to come to a clearer understanding of who God is in his nature and begin to see that we are being invited to come to God in prayer as a friend, he wants us to find the authentic path of prayer so that we may not find ourselves on a goat path that leads us away from God but on a path that will keep our feet firmly on the way of God. He wants us to see our lives as one long hike – through all its ups and downs – in the company of God who is our companion on the journey. So what are the marks of this true path of prayer? The first mark is to follow instruction we find in Scripture. Packer encourages us to read the Psalms and to read what Paul and others have said about prayer. The second mark is our commitment to a way of life. When we put our faith in Jesus Christ and decide to live as Jesus’ disciples, we are to follow his teachings and so commit ourselves to the way of life given to us by Jesus. The third mark is purity of heart. But by purity of heart he is not thinking of purity in the strict moral sense but rather heeding the first and greatest commandment of which Jesus reminded us: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. Purity of heart is a matter of willing one thing and that is to live every day of one’s life loving God – being single-minded and so being pure in our heart’s affection and focus. Now this may sound like an impossible path to follow, but Packer says that this is the path that God asks each believer to follow and that we can follow that path to God through prayer because God will be patient with us. Our study of Scripture, our commitment to the way of life revealed by the teachings of Jesus and our willingness to love God in heart, mind and soul will draw us along the path of prayer and help us to avoid the by-paths that would tempt us. And what are the by-paths? The by-paths can be many and varied. They often come when we are seeking quick answers to life’s struggles; when we pray for immediate relief for a situation that is troubling us in mind, body or spirit. They also come when we offer a prayer and feel that we have not received an answer to that prayer; or when our prayer becomes more of a demand for a specific outcome rather than seeking to understand the way of God and how that may influence our prayer and the response we will receive. At other times it can be when we try a new method of prayer in the hope that it – by itself - will help us to a better relationship with God. Consider this: does a good friend always do whatever you ask just because you think it is what is needed, or does a good friend listen, give advice or opinion and help you to truly discover what it is you truly need. So often we simply scratch the surface of prayer but fail to truly engage God in our prayers. And that can be the greatest by-path of them all. Going back to the Pilgrim’s Progress, we need to note that the decision of the pilgrim to follow the path of God is not one that is taken alone. The pilgrim has a companion. Somehow we forget that Jesus sent the disciples out two by two – never alone. Yet somehow we have come to believe that our relationship to God and with God is a matter for ourselves alone. True, we each need to take the path of faith for ourselves but we are encouraged to take companions. The Camino walk in Spain says that even if you start the walk alone, you will end it with companions. Jesus himself begins his ministry alone but he ends it with companions. True enough, the companions abandon him at what may be seen as his hour of greatest need but they return and he still considers them companions. In fact, he considers them friends. Packer feels that we need to capture this when talking about our life together as Christians in community. Rather than talking about our fellowship with one another, we need to talk about our friendship with one another and our friendship with God as articulated by Jesus. And what is a friend? Friendship is more than mere acquaintanceship; it is a bond of intimacy built out of mutual trust, truthfulness, care and accountability. James Houston – in a guide to devotional reading – said that “a true friend in Christ will wake me up, help me to grow, and deepen my awareness of God.” (Packer, Praying, pg. 52) For Packer this is the friend we have in Jesus. So our decision to follow the authentic path of prayer will involve us in an understanding of prayer throughout the history of Scripture, it will encourage us to commit ourselves to following the way of God as revealed through Scripture and lead us to a true love of God that we may not find our heart, soul or mind divided but focused on that friendship that God seeks to have with us and we come to understand that we seek to have with God.
Bible Text: 1 Peter 3:8-22 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce Kemp | Series: On Praying The subject of prayer is something which is often spoken of in church. We offer many different kinds of prayer in our worship together. We have prayers of approach, of adoration, of confession, of thanksgiving and of intercession. We have prayers before the reading of Scripture and prayers after we receive our offering. We offer prayers of blessing for meals and we have personal times of devotional prayer – perhaps in the morning and/or the evening. Now I am sure that all of us pray – some more, some less. I am also sure that most of us have struggled with prayer. We know that it is necessary and normal for us to pray but we have no doubt discovered that in practice praying is not always plain or smooth sailing. We read the commands and encouragements to pray in the Bible; Jesus taught the disciples to pray and Paul calls prayer part of the armour of God that every Christian must put on; in fact, he goes so far as to say that all believers are to be praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication (Ephesians 6:18). He goes on to say that: “In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God (Philippians 4:6). Yet we end up struggling, and not just over making time for prayer or finding a place for it. Thoughts wander, hearts that long to be praying freeze once we start, and we dry up. Whether we are using our own words, trying to be silent or reciting a set prayer we can find ourselves questioning whether or not we are really engaged in our prayer. J.I. Packer, the author of the book Praying, whose words will guide us for the next number of weeks knows that good praying is at once both a duty for us as Christians but that it should also be a delight. His objective in writing this book is to help us move from seeing prayer as simply a duty and come to find true delight in our prayer. So we will explore prayer and the practice of praying that we might grow in our knowledge of prayer and come to a place where we find prayer a delightful and refreshing part of our life with God. Sometimes we think that we are in a generation that has more difficulty with prayer because our lives often do not leave space or time for prayer but the reality is that every generation has struggled to find the time and space to pray. Even Jesus had to remove himself from the everyday movement of life to gain space and time for prayer. Packer believes that in spite of the struggles we find we have with prayer; it is possible to have heartfelt, meaningful, enriching realism in our prayers. He sees three things as key to this: 1) a clear realization of the reality of God; 2) a continual practice of the presence of God; and 3) a constant endeavour to please God every day of our lives. A clear realization of the reality of God comes from knowing those facts about God that he himself has told us in the Bible. A continual practice of the presence of God comes from an awareness that one is always under God’s eye and in God’s hands; and, as a Christian, is in the intimate company of God. Our lives are like the lives of anyone else who is on this earth. We have our ups and downs but unlike others who share this life with only their earthly companions, we have the companionship of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. A constant endeavour to please God comes from love to God, called forth by our wonder at the creation that surrounds us and by our wonder at the work of God in Christ to redeem us and save us. But to begin, let us look at some truths about God that we might better understand the God we pray to. The first truth is that God is personal. God presents himself to us in personal terms; he is the God who is here and who meets us, has his eye on us and takes an interest in us as persons, just as we take a personal interest in each other. And so God’s relationship to humans involves two-way speech. God speaks and we listen for God’s words; we speak and God listens to our words. The second truth is that God is multi-dimensional. We know that God is one but we also have come to know God as a Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We know that each is part of God is a revelation of who he is and gives us a fuller understanding of how we can relate to God and God to us. The third truth is that God is unique. We can have a relationship with this God because we know his name. When asked who he was, God answered the people. He said I am who I am; or I will be who I will be” or “I am what I am.” And of all the names that people used, the one most common was the term we hear so much of the Old Testament – Yahweh. This is the covenant name God gave to express his commitment to the people. The fourth truth is that God is powerful. God is able to be present to us even in the most trying and difficult moments of our lives. We think of God as being present with us in our innermost being and able to guide and help us. The fifth truth is that God is purposeful. From the beginning of time through the fall of Adam and Eve, through all the events in the history of the people of Israel, to the coming of God in the person of Jesus, to the granting of the Holy Spirit and to the promise that Christ will return, God reveals his purposes. And his ultimate purpose is to bring us into a close and lasting relationship with him. Packer states that “the Christian life is a matter of developing friendship with God, friendship that flows from the Father’s gift to us of our Lord Jesus Christ, who…now makes friends with us…” (Praying, p. 29) God seeks for our lives to be transformed that we might feel that intimate connection and so live out the reality of this friendship through prayer. The sixth truth is that God is a promise-keeper. God has ever kept his word. The greatest promise of all is that through Jesus our sins are forgiven and we can have hope and peace in believing in the word of God. The seventh truth is that God is paternal but also maternal. While revealed to us as the Father, God has also shown us his maternal side when the Scriptures speak about the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. Throughout the Bible there are many places where we are told that God is like a Father to us and we have many examples of how this Father thinks and acts. The eighth truth is that God is praiseworthy. Packer has given us seven truths about God which are keys to God’s character, his way of being and his way of acting. When we praise God, we are realizing that for all the focus God puts on us and our relationship to him, we need to put a focus on God and be thankful for the opportunity to know him and we offer our praise. One last thing for today: Packer wants us to be aware that his approach is less a “how to” than a “who to” approach to praying. Coming to a knowledge of who and what God is, we have to be clear who we are when we come to God in our prayers. When we ask God for an interview, requesting his attention – which is what we do when we pray – we need to be very clear in our own minds not only about who he is but also about who we are and what constitutes a humble, honest, realistic, reverent attitude toward him. We remember that we come to God as redeemed people, saved by grace to not just be servants but adopted sons and daughters of God; not just followers but friends. So may we appreciate the love of our God as Father, as Christ and as Spirit and let our praying become ever more real.
Bible Text: Mark 9: 2-23 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce Kemp Over the last two weeks we have been exploring the history of the Christian church and the great disruptions that seem to have come every 500 years. Each of these major disruptions changed the accepted way that the church viewed its mission and its purpose. Each disruption brought a change in the authority that guided the church. Each disruption in the church’s life was also associated with a similar disruption in the wider culture of the world. The coming of God in the person of Jesus Christ caused the very first disruption as Jesus’ teaching brought a message from God that challenged the ruling authority and brought into question a number of practices being followed by the Jewish nation. The second disruption occurred in the 6th century and was the culmination of a number of events including councils that debated doctrinal issues such as the human and divine natures of Jesus and the status of Mary. And while the church leaders were grappling with how to be the church of a great empire from the time of Constantine in the 4th century and resolve differences of thought surrounding the faith, the Roman Empire collapsed and with it came the start of what has been termed the Dark Ages. During this time community was organized into small kingdoms and estates. The anarchy that followed led the church to seek for a place of safety for the writings and traditions of the faith. This led to the establishment of monasteries and convents. The third disruption came with the dawn of the Middle Ages in the 11th century. This time saw the rise of tensions between the Eastern Church in Constantinople and the western church in Rome. Significant issues such as whether Greek or Latin should be the dominant language of the church liturgy; what type of bread to use in communion; and whether the Holy Spirit just proceeded from the Father or came through both the Son and the Father divided the church and was not reconciled for nearly a thousand years. This period also saw the rise of kings came to be seen as ruling by divine right. Church leaders saw this as an opportunity to reassert the church of preservers of the holiest of all places – Jerusalem; and so began the Crusades. The fourth disruption came with the Reformation of the 16th century. The abuses of authority and power that had come to mark the leadership within the Western Church led many to search for an authority that they felt could be trusted to remain without corruption. The Reformers believed that the church and the faith belonged with the people and not with the clergy alone. They advocated that all were priests and all could seek forgiveness for their sins from God; and so developed the belief in the priesthood of all believers and a push to make the Bible accessible to the population at large. What emerged from this time was a culture that felt the openness to question and explore. Through the freedom brought to the people of faith through the Reformation came the freedom felt in the society in general that led to discoveries that rocked the world of the 16th centuries. And so began the period we know as the Enlightenment, rationalism and industrialism. Authority in the Church had shifted from the hierarchy of ecclesiastical leaders to the Scripture itself. The study of Scripture was encouraged. But the encouragement people found in the study of Scripture also led them to discover conflicts in the texts and left them often with more questions than answers. Eventually this led to a new discipline in religious studies known as the historical-critical method. The Bible was no longer viewed as one long homogenous book but a series of books written by different authors in different times. This led scholars and others to ask whether the Jesus of Western history and thought was the same as the Jesus of Nazareth. One of the most famous books on the subject was written by Albert Schweitzer called The Quest for the Historical Jesus. It also led scholars to search for what indeed were the true words of Jesus. It is fair to say that we have seen a number of changes in the church generally and in our denomination specifically. We have seen shifts in our own interpretation of Scripture that has led to the acceptance of women as both clergy and elders within the Church. We have changed our ideas surrounding those who can participate at the Lord’s Supper or communion. We now celebrate an open table allowing children of all ages the right to take part. We have developed new confessions such as The Living Faith document which came out in the 1980s. And we continue to be challenged in our approach to the Scriptures and to the role of the Holy Spirit in shaping our life and directing our future as the church. No doubt this is where this Great Emergence will lead us allowing us to respect and honour the Scripture while looking for the leading of the Holy Spirit to make the Word of God and the presence of God be a living force in our lives. Without realizing it, I have been embracing the Great Emergence as I have debated, discussed and grown with Christians from different branches of the Church. I have come to appreciate the places that these different Christians come from and the perspective on faith and life that they bring. I have found that my struggles with matters of faith and life have not really differed from the struggles of others. I have come to realize that no one denomination holds the path to God. Each offers a perspective that can enrich our own journey of faith. Something else that I have come to realize over time is this. I grew up in a church that put adherence to certain rules of doctrinal belief and human conduct as prerequisites to membership but I have to understand more and more that today people first seek to belong to a gathering of Christians because of a shared sense of humanity and an affinity with the individuals sharing in the activities of that group. From there belief comes. And so people do not believe in order to belong but belong in order to believe. How do we encourage the dialogue that will bring the church to a place where it can find its path with God? By being open to receiving all who want to be part of the journey, encouraging the sharing of ideas and letting the Spirit of God show us how we can be the Church that we need to be for this time and so help one another to grow in faith. Feeling like your foundation of faith is being blown out of the water? Well, take heart. This has happened before and those who went through it found the path that God was calling them to take. They found themselves not discouraged or distraught but strengthened in their faith and life with God. They discovered that God indeed was a God not of the past alone with nothing new to share but rather a God who was very much a God of the present and a God of the future. AMEN
Bible Text: Mark 1:32-39 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce Kemp So last week we discovered some things that we may or may not have been aware of. The history of Christianity has gone through a number of shifts, disruptions and restorations. Each upheaval was characterized by changes happening in the political, social and cultural landscape. The church’s response to such changes led to the disruption and the consequent shifts that led the church to a place where stability was once again achieved and the believers could feel secure that they had found the path that God had called them to take and could depend on the principles that they had discovered to guide them. It is easy to look back on history and see what was the root cause of disruptions suffered by others and even easier to understand the situation they faced and even their inability to see what needed to be changed; but it is difficult to see the root cause of our own disruption and not so easy to understand our own situation and be able to see what needs to change. Today we will look at some of the events that led to the Great Reformation of the 16th century and some of the events that have brought us to our own disruption. We know for a fact that when a significant event is marked as the beginning of a new era in history that that event is probably the culmination of a number of events. Case in point is Luther’s theses on the door of the church at Wittenberg Castle in 1517. What Luther put in writing were things that had been gnawing at the fabric of Christianity since 1378. From 1378 to 1418 the Italian and French princes each elected a pope. Each declared the other illegitimate and war ensued. To add to the mix there was a third pope elected by another group. The result was chaos within Western Europe – not only religiously but culturally, politically and socially. No longer could the church see clearly where the authority from God lay. If the church leadership could not be seen as authority, where could the church find its authority to centre itself and guide itself in faith? The answer given to the question of authority was answered in the principle: Sola scriptura, scriptura sola; only the Scripture and the Scriptures only. Tied to this was the principle that all of us are priests. No longer need a person confess to a priest but confession would be directly between the people and God – the priesthood of all believers. But to achieve these great principles would require the people to be able to read the Scriptures for themselves. The introduction of the printing press by Gutenberg enabled the dream of Wycliffe and others to come true. Literacy was no longer restricted to the elite in society or those to whom the church deigned to grant it. And while it would take centuries to achieve the literacy they hoped for, the gate had been open and people could read for themselves the words of Scripture. And we know what that caused – differences of interpretation. But along with this came changes in the ways that society in general was organized. It was at this time that movement of people from the country to the towns began. Cash began to be used as the basis of power, individualism was born, capitalism and the middle class emerged and the nuclear family made its first appearance. What was happening was a whole shift in the way the world was viewed and in the way in which life was being lived. At this same time, there were other major changes occurring. In 1514, Copernicus – a clergyman as well as an astronomer – first declared that the sun – not the earth – was the centre of the universe. He was followed by Columbus who did not fall off the edge of the earth. These things raised questions about the accepted belief in the cosmology of the church. If the earth is round, where is heaven and where is hell? Is God upstairs or where is he? Had the church gotten it wrong? Holes had appeared in the covering and the mesh of the cable and it opened the gate to questioning everything the church had ever held as absolute truth. This led the Reformers to not only form the principles that have been handed down generation to generation within the Protestant tradition of the faith but also to seek for how to interpret all matters related to the faith and so reframe and reconceptualise the Christian message and story and find again a consensus that all could accept. The freedom to think, to question that came with the Reformation in the church would lead to a whole new way of examining the world in which we live. The mid 1800s saw the publication of Charles Darwin’s The Origin of the Species and it became the tipping point that sent the world careening off into new cultural, social, political and theological territory. This can be seen as the point where the Great Emergence can be recognized and this is the time in which we are now living. But we need to recognize that it was not just in the secular society that major changes and shifts in thinking were happening. The rise of critical scholarship and biblical criticism as well as liberal theology happened at this time and by the beginning of the 20th century, there was even more diverse ways of looking at the Scriptures. The re-examination of the Scriptures in their historical and cultural setting led to people questioning the principle of Scripture alone and the inerrancy of Scripture. The flood of change was such that it prompted a meeting of Conservative Protestants who issued their own statement of 5 solas or principles necessary to claim true Christian belief: the inerrancy of the Scripture; the divinity of Jesus Christ; the historicity of the Virgin birth; the substitutionary nature of the Atonement ( in other word, that Jesus paid the price for our sin); and the physical, corporeal return of Jesus, the Christ. They would become known as the “Fundamentals”. And so the term fundamentalism was born. Later were added two more principles: the obligation to evangelize and belief in Jesus as a personal saviour. These principles form the core of evangelical Christianity. I have just scratched the surface of many of the challenges and changes that have come as a result of the Reformation of the 16th century and the questions about life in general and faith in particular that have been the subject of much debate over the last 500 years. But do not despair. The challenges that have come to us in this time are cause not to be afraid but rather to take hold of the questions that have come and seek for the wisdom of God to discover the answers. For us in the church today we will need to recognize that the society around us and even within us is composed of people who are the products of this time. The people who are coming to our churches now do not come with the same history, tradition and understanding of the world especially as it relates to God and faith. The cable will hold but we need to face the tears in the mesh and the covering and not just patch them in hopes they will hold but mend them in such a way that the cable will maintain its strength and so lead us forward to be bearers of a truth that will resonate with the minds and hearts of the people of this time and space. Next week, where is this Great Emergence going? AMEN
Bible Text: Mark 1:21-28 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce Kemp It is a fact that the face of the Church today is different than it was when many of us were youths or even in our young adult years. We have seen changes in church attendance, in the ways we worship, the ways in which we order our day to day and week to week lives. We are keenly aware that the traditional place of the Church within society in general and within the lives of many people has changed. We can lament the change and pray for a return to that time or we can seek to understand what has brought about that change and so begin to find the place and purpose of the Church and our faith for this time. Somehow we can look back on the great disruptions and restorations that occurred in the Old Testament and even look at the disruption and restoration that happened with the coming of Jesus and the birth of the Church and convince ourselves that those things had to happen in order for the world to ultimately find its way to God. But then we imagine that somehow we have been in a holding pattern simply recreating that initial experience of the Church from its earliest moments and marking time until the return of our Lord. And even though we know of the Great Reformation of the 1500’s and celebrate the changes that occurred as a result of that movement, we do not want to even admit that such a change or changes could ever be needed again. The words of the writer to the Hebrews ring true and cannot be denied: Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. But that phrase may not mean that nothing ever changes. Changes in the society around us can cause two things to happen to the church: 1) we can seek to engage ourselves in dialogue around those changes seeking for how we can be the people of God in this changing world; or 2) we can disengage from the world and hide in our bunker waiting for the end of all things to come. The reality is that whenever great disruptions and restorations occurred within the community of faith, there were fears that caused people to bunker but there was also courage to face the fears and seek for the presence of God and the wisdom of God to keep the Church honest and true to the gospel it had received. Bishop Mark Dyer – in a bit of wit and humour – has observed that about every five hundred years the Church feels compelled to hold a giant rummage sale. We are living in and through one of those sales. The point he is trying to make is that about every 500 years the Church looks at who it is and what it has become and begins to re-examine itself. And so we are not to fear this thing we are going through but give carefully consideration to what we will keep and what must be let go. Of course, most of what holds us back and prevents us from truly preparing for the rummage sale is our memories of what we most love about who we are and our fear of destroying those memories. But when the structure of our institutions inhibits real renewal and growth, we need to be prepared to shatter those institutions in order to allow something new to grow. And as much as that may scare us and make us wonder what will our Church locally and universally look like, we need to remember that we are not the first Christians to be faced with this challenge and let our look at how the rummage sales of the past gave us the Church and the faith that we have preserved for these past 500 years. To begin with let’s have a quick history lesson on the rummage sales of our past. The first rummage sale going back in time was the one we know best – The Great Reformation of the 1500s. It was a time that has been described as throwing the baby out with the bath water – an extreme form of cleansing or rummage sale that stripped the resulting Protestant churches of much of the visual parts of the faith. Unfortunately, as with many of the disruptions in the Church, dialogue broke down and the result was a break between the major branches of the Church which are still in the process of being addressed. Back of the Reformation of the 1500s was another rummage sale known as the Great Schism. This occurred in 1054 and was between the Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church in Constantinople and the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church in Rome. The disagreements between them had festered for about a thousand years before the actual break occurred and it took to the middle of the 20th century before reconciliation was achieved. To us the issues might have seemed trivial but to them they were foundational. Back before this was the time known as “The Fall of the Roman Empire” or “The Coming of the Dark Ages”. This time in the history of the church was less of a disruption as the others were and more of a consolidation to preserve the truth of the faith. The fall of Rome brought with it a change in the society. Many of the peoples who invaded Rome adopted the Christian faith but did not preserve it. The church would go through a time when the principles of the faith would be changed beyond recognition. Into such a time, Gregory I, known as Gregory the Great, ensured that the witness of the early church and the writings as well as the orders and observances of the Church would not be lost. The convents and monasteries were given charge of everything until the time would come when the church could emerge again and find its proper voice. To help us come to terms with these disruptions in our religious and social history, Phyllis Tickle wants us to not lose hope for our ability to weather our own disruption which we have been experiencing as a people for at least 100 years. She uses the example of a ship’s cable. As we move forward in this series on the Great Emergence in particular and in our journey of faith in general, I want us to see the cable in our life. The cable represents the three strands that keep a firm connection between us in this time and the initial revelation that is our faith. The cable is our spirituality, our community and our ethics or morality. The mesh sleeve that surrounds this represents our common understanding of how we will live out our spirituality, how we will live in community and what ethics or morals we will seek to uphold. The waterproof covering represents our story, the story that we will tell the next generation of where we have come from, the trials, tribulations and joys that we have experienced and our hopes for the future. The cable is that interior strength that holds the boat firmly to the dock. It is composed of three strands of wire interlocked together, covered by a mesh sleeve and covered over again by a waterproof covering. The outer covering can be nicked and suffer damage but it can be repaired. Even the mesh sleeve can sustain damage and be repaired but the cable will ever hold the boat firm. Whatever this new emergence of the church will be and wherever it will take us, we can know that the cable will never let go and we will ever find ourselves on the path God intends for us to take. AMEN