Reflection: "All You Need is Love"
You may remember from last week’s reading in Luke, that Jesus had returned from his 40 days in the wilderness and was preaching around Galilee.
Eventually he returned to his hometown of Nazareth and read the scroll of Isaiah in the synagogue.
No problems so far!
What is it that allows people to get up and preach in front of others?
Do they have to spend 3 years at a seminary college, or get a PhD in divinity, before they’re qualified?
In our reading from Jeremiah, we see that God himself touched the lips of a young man, who was full of self-doubt, saying that he, God, would speak through Jeremiah’s mouth.
God told him that he had been chosen to be a prophet, even before he had been formed in the womb.
This is similar to the story of Moses, who also professed to God that he wasn’t a good speaker and probably wouldn’t make a very good prophet.
It just goes to show that God can use talents that we don’t even realise that we have.
If God wants you, he’ll give you the words, or actions, that are required for you to be his servant.
Jesus did not really have any special religious training before preaching to the people in the temple at Nazareth.
He would have gone through the normal schooling for young Jewish boys, which entailed learning the Torah (the first 5 books of our current Old Testament) by heart, at an early age.
The best learners were then apprenticed under a Rabbi, to learn how to interpret the readings and laws.
Today, we understand that, as the Son of God, he could do anything, but to his peers, in the first century, he was just the son of the carpenter Joseph.
Maybe Jesus just followed what many preachers do today – he listened to God.
Paul reinforces this process in his first letter to the Corinthians.
He explains that words spoken without love are like a resounding gong or a clanging symbol.
We can see from Luke’s account of Jesus preaching to the Nazarenes that there was a problem with what he said.
The words he spoke, after he sat down, definitely did not please the others who were there.
The people weren’t too happy and seemed keen to let Jesus know how they felt.
Jesus was taking a big risk in saying these things in the synagogue.
Things had been going well during his time of preaching around Galilee and now he had come home to Nazareth.
Jesus had been preaching to huge crowds and had performed amazing miracles.
Yes, it was hard coming back where people knew him as a boy playing in the street, but that doesn’t seem to have been the problem.
He was welcomed as the hometown boy made good.
Things were going well until Jesus challenged them to look at their own feelings towards people who were not Jews.
Their own spiritual pride could not imagine that God would work outside their country, beyond their Jewish faith.
If Jesus had just stuck to good Biblical generalities, everything would probably have been all right.
Let’s not forget that he’s just finished reading Isaiah’s prophecy of a year of favour, of Jubilee, when the blind find sight, the captives - release, the oppressed - relief, and all the poor of this world - consolation.
And, lest we be mistaken about the direction Jesus is heading in, it’s just as important to note what he doesn’t read. Because the passage from Isaiah goes on, telling of that day when the Lord will trample down all Israel’s enemies, crush them underfoot and restore Israel to its rightful place.
But no, Jesus doesn’t read that part.
He’s not thinking locally, but globally, and this isn’t a nationalistic sermon, but one in which he declares that God loves all the world and has a special concern for the poor, the captives, the blind and the oppressed.
And for this to come true, there needs to be some changes in the attitudes of the Jewish people.
For, as Mary sings before her boy was even born, in order to raise the lowly, God’s going to have to bring down the powerful; and in order to feed the poor, the rich are going to have to go away empty (Read Luke 1:46-55)
This is what Jesus is talking about, but the home crowd just doesn’t get it.
This frustrates Jesus and drives his point home in the words he says in verses 23 to 27.
And this time they do get it.
So clearly, in fact, that they’re ready to get him.
Would God favour Syria over Israel?
Would God heal in Capernaum, but not in Nazareth?
I don’t think so - that’s heresy, they say.
And we know what they do with heretics.
They were ready to throw him over the cliff just outside of town.
But Jesus was ruled by love – love of God and love of these people of Nazareth.
He loved them too much to let their racism, and their hatred of anyone who wasn’t Jewish, go unchallenged.
I don’t know about you, but whenever I hear the words “I’m only telling you this in love” I know I’m about to get verbally whacked.
Too often “speaking the truth in love” is just an excuse for rudeness.
But on the flip side, a really good friend, or a loving partner or parent, will often tell you difficult truths when no one else will.
I rely on Lynne’s critiques of my messages before I send them out and I know that she’ll lovingly tell me when I’m a bit off track and need to revise the way I’m trying to communicate a thought.
She’s not being harshly critical, but her loving way lets me know when I could express something more positively.
As Paul says to the Christians at Corinth, “love rejoices in the truth”.
He certainly took the risk to tell them that all their spiritual gifts were of no use if they weren’t built on loving relationships.
Jesus loved the people of Nazareth enough to show them the truth about themselves, just as he does for us.
That is why we have a prayer of confession in each of our church services.
We can only risk having that prayer if we really know that God loves each of us more than any of our sins or mistakes.
We can only risk speaking the truth to others if we are continually showing them love in ways that speak louder than the difficult truths.
So, the next time you feel the need to let someone know that maybe they have strayed a bit and need some loving guidance to get back on track, don’t just say that you’re doing this lovingly, but prayerfully examine your motives for raising the issue, before letting them have both barrels.
Are you just satisfying your own ego, or do you really, lovingly, care for the person that you’re speaking with?
I think the expression being used these days is to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.
Even that well known singing group, the Beatles, recognised that in their 1967 hit “All you need is love”.
In Corinthians we read “Faith, hope and love abide; and the greatest of these is love.”
Until we can meet again, face to face, the peace and love of God be with you.
How many of us would describe ourselves as procrastinators.
You know, those people whose motto is “Don’t do today what you can put off until tomorrow.”
Now I’m sure that even those who won’t own up to practicing full-blown procrastination, will probably agree that they’ve dabbled in this black art at times.
Sometimes the task at hand just seems too overwhelming and we think that it’ll be easier if we put it aside for a while, but history has shown us that this way of thinking has some serious flaws in it.
Jobs don’t miraculously get easier with the passing of time – in fact, most of the time, they get harder because that inevitable deadline comes around so much quicker and, in the end, you have to hurry – sometimes at the expense of the quality of the finished product.
Luckily for us, our role model, Jesus, didn’t suffer from the same ailment.
We read in Luke’s gospel that, on returning home after his 40 days of temptation in the wilderness, Jesus read the scriptures at his local synagogue.
The passage he read was from Isaiah 61 and foretold of the coming Messiah’s ministry of teaching and healing.
Tradition had it that the rabbi who read the scripture would also expand on it, so that those who were listening would gain greater understanding.
Instead, Jesus simply says: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”.
When an organisation clarifies its mission statement, they often try to simplify it into a motto.
Mission statements can tend to get a bit long winded, but a motto is supposed to be short and pithy.
Even short mission statements like one from the clothing and footwear company Nike, which goes “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world”, is known by very few people.
However, most will remember the motto “Just do it”.
So, the motto of Jesus was simply “today”.
Today he was commencing his father’s mission for his life here on earth.
Today he was fulfilling the prophesy of Isaiah.
Today he had changed from being a nobody – a tradesman’s son – to being the Messiah, who would become the saviour of the world.
He was focussed on what was happening in his “today” and he was on a mission from God.
Those of you who have ever seen the 1980’s film the Blues Brothers, will instantly recognise those words. Joliet Jake and his brother Elwood Blues decide they are on a mission from God to save the Catholic orphanage they had grown up in.
They reunite with other members of their rhythm and blues band, to make the money that is needed to pay the back taxes to the county, and along the way, they break just about every law they can, to achieve their mission.
Jesus, too, was on a mission from God and that’s what he announced in the synagogue in Nazareth, as he began his public ministry.
Jesus told them that the words of the prophet were being fulfilled - as he was anointed to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind and to let the oppressed go free.
Jesus was clear about why he was being sent by God and from the beginning, announced that to people, knowing that they might misunderstand.
In fact, the people of Nazareth were so angry with Jesus that in subsequent verses, Luke tells us that they tried to throw him off the cliff above the town.
So what’s the difference between Jesus, the Blues Brothers and us?
It’s an important question, because Jesus makes it clear that we too are on a mission from God, continuing his work to bring God’s love, peace and justice to this world.
The big difference is that for the Blues Brothers, the end justifies the means.
They think that because they are working for a good cause, anything they do to achieve that goal is all right.
So they will lie, cheat, break the law – whatever is needed.
Jesus is different - and calls us to be different.
For Jesus, the means IS PART of the end.
If we’re working to bring the reign of God to earth, we must show signs of it beginning now.
We’re called to share in showing God’s amazing love for every human being, especially the ones rejected by the world.
We’re called to build peace - by peaceful means.
We’re called to work for justice in our world, beginning here in Australia.
How we are now, must show signs to people of what the kingdom of God might be like..
Australia Day is approaching and, when celebrating it, we have an obvious example of injustice under our noses.
Should aborigines, the first inhabitants of the land we now call Australia, be treated as a less worthy group - who deserve the bad health and the sad poverty-trap in which many languish?
Think also about asylum seekers - especially those we call ‘boat people’.
Do they, including their little children, warrant being shut away behind barbed wire in remote places of Australia while their claim to legitimacy is being processed?
Are those who have recently come to this land – including those from other faiths, such as Islam or Hinduism, etc. any less worthy than those of anglo-saxon extraction, who can only claim up to 200 years of heritage in Australia?
What about the sick, the imprisoned, the uneducated? Are they any less welcome in the kingdom of God?
So today, we need to decide whether we’re with Jesus, or against him?
Are we for his mission, or against it?
Do we live as if all races and classes are equally important to God, or as if some are of lesser value?
Do we carry on this “Jesus thing” which, incidentally, is also the “God’s thing”?
Don’t wait for the kingdom of God to come “in the future” because Jesus tells us that it’s here today - right now. Among us, for us, and excluding no-one.
All the vulnerable, the marginalised, the rejected and neglected people of our community, or in overseas countries, are those people whom Jesus came to include.
So, as much as I love the Blues Brothers music and the movie about their exploits – they’re not my heroes.
We are also on a mission from God.
Not in their style, but following the Jesus who lived out what he was called by God to achieve.
The only time in which we can live is right now - today.
Yesterday cannot be regained and tomorrow cannot be visited.
This day is what matters to Christ Jesus.
Now is the hour when the “Jesus thing” stands before us as unlimited opportunity, so how will we react?
As he tells us – “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”
Let’s prepare ourselves to head off on our missions.
They probably won’t be overseas, or even into the outback, or into the prisons, but they will be significant – if we allow ourselves to be guided by the Holy Spirit.
So, off you go - be Christ’s missionaries wherever you are in the world.
Vaya con Dios (go/travel with God)
Reflection: "How Much is Enough?"
As this is my first full Reflection for 2022, I feel that I’m still allowed to wish you “Happy New Year”.
I’m sure that most of us will be hoping that it will be a better year than 2021, but with the COVID19 Omicron variant running rampant in Lane Cove, in Sydney, in New South Wales, in Australia and across the globe, then I fear we may be in for a rather bumpy ride. At least in the first month or two, in any case.
We had planned to reopen the church for face-to-face worship on Sunday January 9th, following a short break over Christmas, but the risks to our vulnerable congregation far outweighed the benefits, so we remained locked down.
In fact, the way the number of cases are trending, we don’t see much chance of reopening in the month of January.
Online worship services are available each Sunday from many larger churches and our Online newsletter can point you in the right direction to be able to join in on those services.
Lynne & I have also deferred our first trip to the church at Forbes until late February, just to keep everyone safe.
I am still available on my mobile phone, should anyone feel the need for a pastoral chat.
I pray that you and your loved ones have remained safe and well during the start to this year.
Our bible readings this week centre around God’s provisions to us and to the people around the time of Jesus.
Whilst we may not be too happy with the provision of a viral pandemic, our faith leads us to trust that God has everything under control and that there is a very good reason for the events of the past few years.
The Christian singing group, Third Day, paraphrases Psalm 62 nicely when they sing :
“Your love, oh Lord reaches to the heavens. Your faithfulness stretches to the sky.
Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains. Your justice flows like the ocean's tide.
I will lift my voice to worship You, my King. I will find my strength in the shadow of your wings.”
We can relate to those words when we put our trust in God’s providence, knowing that he keeps us safe and strong, no matter what the challenges are that are thrown our way.
The first miracle of Jesus, related by John when describing the wedding at Cana, in Galilee, results in the transformation of ordinary water into wine. And not just ordinary wine, but wine of the finest quality.
When God provides, he provides only the best!
Of course, we need only look up into the night sky (which is easier when we move away from the man-made light pollution in the big cities) to observe the billions of galaxies that comprise our cosmos.
God doesn’t only provide the best, but the most.
We call this provision of excessive abundance “grace” and God’s grace is never ending for us, his children.
It’s a free gift and all we have to do is to acknowledge God as our sovereign Lord and dedicate our lives to service his kingdom, here on earth, to receive it.
The best example of God’s generosity would have to be the forgiveness of our sins.
Jesus came to earth, in the form of a human, to take the punishment for all our sins and by dying on the cross, in God’s eyes we are no longer accountable for these transgressions.
What more could a Christian disciple want?
God’s generosity is something we should never take for granted and I encourage you to spend time, every day, conversing with God (we call it prayer) and thanking him for his unfailing provisions for us.
I pray that your 2022 will be a year where you achieve your full potential and, with God’s support, my belief is that you are able to do that.
Stay safe…………Pastor Rick
We had planned to get back into the swing of things on Sunday 9th January, but the continued virulence of the Omicron strain of the COVID19 virus has led us to cancel the church service for that day.
We hope to 'resume normal service' as soon as possible.