Monday, March 19, 2018

Modeling The Noble Task of Church Leadership (1 Timothy 3:1-16)

Most of the books I’ve been reading recently on leadership, have used as epic adventure to illustrate the qualities and aspects of leadership they are talking about.

Leonard Sweet in his book Summoned to Lead used ‘Earnest Shackleton’ whose true leadership came when his 1914 expedition to the south pole met with disaster and his ship aptly named ‘the endurance’ was caught and crushed by ice. Over a two year period Shackleton was able to lead all his ships company safety home, at great personal risk and heroic endeavour. He stepped up to the challenge of the moment.

Tod Bolsinger in his book ‘canoeing the mountains’ uses the Lewis and Clark expedition. Lewis and Clark had set out with a company on a river adventure up the Missouri River, with the false expectation that they would find a water way that would connect the east with the pacific west, only to be confronted by the vast hostile Rocky Mountains, to achieve their mission of exploration they had to adapt to life in the mountains. Their men had to trust them as they went off the map into a new and for white Americans unknown environment.

They are great tales,  they capture the imagination, and are a great metaphor for the challenge of leading a church in a world that has gone through so much rapid change, that it no longer feels familiar, that is new and different. One of sweets other books calls it being the church in the perfect storm.

Sometimes however it is hard to equate the leadership roles in our congregation with those epic adventures. The everyday, week to week month to month stuff. In the passage we are looking at today Paul asserts that it is a trustworthy saying That whoever aspires to be an overseer or a leader desires a noble task. That looking at providing leadership in the church is looking at doing a good and great thing, it is a call to an epic journey

When people look for jobs and tasks they will talk of looking for work that is “fulfilling, satisfying, financially rewarding, enjoyable, and perhaps needed in society” but they don’t often say they are looking for a task that is noble or good in and of itself. So what does this passage have to say to us about leadership, remember we are looking at Paul’s letters to his fellow workers, known as the pastoral epistles to give us insight into Christian leadership, God’s call to maturity and ministry within the church.

Paul had written to Timothy to encourage him in the task of countering false teachers. Who were misleading the church away from its mission, away from faith worked out in love to contentious arguments about myths and genealogies, misleading them away from a life that reflects the gospel to one that reflects the society around them. Paul had started with prayer and public worship and how people were to act and the demeanour they were to have that reflected the gospel. Now Paul turns to talk about leadership for the community to continue it on the right path it needs to have the right kind of leadership.

After his assertion that leadership is good and noble, he gives a rundown of the qualities that are to needed when selecting Christian leaders. The list is very similar to the one we saw in the book of Titus when Paul told Titus to appoint elders in the church on Cyprus. There are some things in the list that speak of what we’d call competences like being apt at teaching and shown to be able to effectively and peaceable run the household of God by how their home life was like.

Unlike in his letter to Titus he differentiates two different kinds of leadership episkopos, which means ‘overseers’ and diakonos which we translate as deacons but means those who wait tables or serve. In the middle of that in v14 he talks about the qualities of women in leadership, which we shouldn’t be surprised about, before going back to some more teaching on deacons and finally a wonderful section where he uses a hymn about Jesus ministry and mission as a way of summing up how the church should seek to live in pure holiness.

For the last couple of weeks, we’ve worked through the text from 1 Timothy, word by word and line by line, and that’s been important. But when we looked at the book of Titus earlier this year we did the same thingwith Paul’s duty code, his list of desirable traits for Christian leaders, in that case it was elders. Today I want to explore understanding this passage in the context of different models or understandings of Church. Because what this passage has to say is determined by our understanding of the Church.

The first model of church is what is known as the settled church, or the hierarchical church, which basically sees Church as an institution, to be preserved and maintained. It is basically the model of Church that served during Christendom, that time when the church was at the centre of European society. I’ve illustrated that as a triangle sitting on a long side. Theologically it says Christ is the head of the church and other positions of leadership work their way up or down from that to lead the body of chirst. 

The focus on leadership becomes about positions within that structure and who is fit to have those positions. Historically, there have been debates over the structure of church leadership as elsewhere Paul talks about eldership being the model for church leadership, to which my Presbyterian heart goes, Amen. By the second century overseer had become associated with the office of the bishop. The oversight of a city or region being in the hands of the bishop. Likewise deacons were seen as a position in the Church, set up to take on the more practical jobs and roles to keep the church functioning.  In our system in the old days we would have referred to them as managers.

Character and attributes are like a check list for people to attain those leadership offices. Arguments and decisions over who can do what becomes almost legalistic. The husband of one wife, can a widow, or a single man be in those positions. Can women be in leadership. It’s interesting that the churches that are the most fervent against women in leadership are also the ones who seem to have forgotten the idea of a married leadership and have enshrined celibacy for their leaders.  The ministry gifts of the Holy Spirit are then identified with those offices rather than as being  given to the whole people of God for them to minister to one another and share the gospel.

Some see Paul’s teaching here as the beginning of the church transitioning from a pioneering movement where leadership was from gifted itinerants to an established institutional church. The positives of the institutional church is that its stable, institutions are designed to maintain the advances made in the past. However it is also open to the pitfalls that Paul mentions for overseers to fall into the snare of pride, it can become about status and power.  You only have to look at church history, ancient and modern to see those abuses. Institution and all its trappings, both good and bad,  can be the thing that is worshipped not Christ. Institutions find it hard to adapt and to be reenergised. While institutions have that idea of permanence, they have a life cycle.  A great example is video rental stores, every block used to have one, now they are as rare as hens teeth.

Greenleaf's famous model of servant leadership
is a of a leader being first amongst equals.
Another model is the servant leadership model. That leadership is all about serving others. If it is healthy then it is a more biblical understanding of leadership. You could say it is tips the hierarchal model on its head, where leadership holds the church up to Christ. Overseers elders and deacons then become about roles and functions not position and office. They are there to serve the church. Paul’s list of qualities equally applies, we want those who serve to be worthy of doing it, we need people with a Christlikeness to serve as Christ served and love as Christ loved, as well as being capable. Overseers and deacons can be seen as equals and part of a team with different and complimentary roles, not as a hierarchy. Spiritual gifts can be seen as given to some to help others.

The theology is good but in practise it can result in the leaders being left to do all the work, all the heavy lifting of keeping things going and we can forget that the purpose of the church is that we might all grow into full holiness and godliness, our faith has its outworking in love. We can become a served church rather than a serving church. Things are left to a small group of people who have the curse of Atlas, to carry the world on their shoulders and they get tired and worn out, either to be replaced or the structure gets wobblier and wobblier and unstable. I couldn’t help but think of a spinning top, a child’s toy, that is able to keep up on its point because it is spinning at a certain speed, its hard to keep it at that speed, but you’ve got to, or else it wobbles and falls flat.

We’ve seen churches that have simply dissolved and collapsed because of the failing of one of its key components. It also lends itself to a consumer ideal of church, we shop around till we find the place where we get the services and service we want, and when it changes so do we.

Lastly is the missional Church model, represented here by a triangle on its side, an arrow heading towards Christ.  Put very simply it is the church that hears Jesus call to follow me, and is prepared to do that, we often think of the people who answered Jesus original call as his disciples, but when Jesus  prayed and chose the twelve they were not just as followers and learners but apostles, sent ones, to do God’s will. In Timothy one of the things that concerns Paul is that the false teachers have derailed the church at Ephesus from supporting and working with him on his mission, that is at the heart of God, to see all people come to saving knowledge of the truth., worked out by our faith resulting in love.

Leadership in this model, both overseeing and serving is seen as working so that the church is able to keep going in its mission, to keep following to achieve what God has called us to do, corporately as witnessing communities and to discern and clarify and direct the church in that way. Others serve to enable us in our mission. It’s not about a position or office, or a role that need to be fulfilled, but rather it is the how we are to do what God calls us to do. The rugby vernacular is that we have leaders all over the field working for a common vision.  The qualities of leadership that Paul lists of both groups are indicators that the person we select for leadership has their lives attuned and resonating with Christ and his mission. There marital life, family life, their relationship with wealth, their appetite focused on following Christ. Men and women. By the way biblical scholars think that Paul’s mention of women means he was open to women deacons, but I wonder if here Paul didn’t leave the door open for women overseers as well, he has to mention women’s exemplary behaviour because in roman society none of them would have been the heads of households, so their ability in that area couldn’t be tested.  The overseers are apt to teach as they have their lives attuned to Christ and are passionate about Christ’s mission. How they are seen by those outside is significant because they are witnessing to Christ (the same as the other models but in this one its an important part of who they are and their leadership role). Serving deacons becomes the things that need to be done practical and spiritual to fulfil God’s mission. We can all exercise leadership as we see where we are and we nudge ourselves and our community forward in following Christ.  Change is still hard and difficult, and I recently read a definition of missional  leadership as being the art of disappointing people at a pace they can endure. But we change because we are on the mission God has called us for an epic journey unique to each faith community. 

In the end Paul says, our epic journey  our mission is to  find the spring from which comes  the call to leadership and the call for all the church to order our lives, even amidst the wild storms of societal change and as we head off the map of the familiar In the words of the hymn Paul quotes it is to follow and worship and obey the one who…

Appeared in flesh

Was vindicated by the Spirit

Was seen by angels

Was preached among the nations

Was believed on in the world

Was taken up in glory.

…Are  you ready for the noble task.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Change our tune to resound with God's heart ( A prayer of thanksgiving and confession based on psalm 33:1-110

This is a prayer of thanksgiving and confession written as a reflection on Psalm 33:1-11, which was the psalm section in my devotions this morning. As always I'm using it public worship and am happy for people to use any part, line phrase or all of my attempts at writing prayers that you find useful. 

Mighty and Eternal God

We lift up our hearts in praise this morning

Our voices together to tell of your righteous love

We sing of all the wonders you have done

We shout for joy because your word is right and true

we use our word craft, musicality, and exuberance

to celebrate that the world is full of your unfailing love

Creator God

You spoke and the heavens were made

You breathed star and galaxy into being

The depth of the oceans seems so distant and alien

Yet you formed them and know them

They seem unknown and wild and hostile to us

Yet for you they are like water in a jar, kept in your storehouse

Sovereign God

We stand in awe at all that you have made and created

In reverence we acknowledge its grandeur

Beyond our ability to comprehend, You spoke and it came into being

Not fleeting and temporary like with the things of man

But established and constant, and standing firm

Obeying your word and command, according to your design and plan

Loving God,

Our ideologies and idea, politics and nations blossom then fade

Our plans and our self-seeking purposes you thwart

But your plans for us are forever sure

Your heart desires worked out lovingly generation after generation

Your salvation plan in Christ Jesus his life death and resurrection

Reconciliation with you for all who would trust in him

Holy God

We confess that we have gone astray

Forgive us for the things that we have done wrong

Forgive us for the good we have left undone

Thank you for your great love in Jesus Christ

That because you are faithful and just , we are forgiven

The slate is wiped clean, the stain has been removed

Gracious Father

Fill us a fresh with your Holy Spirit

Help us sing a new song to change our tune

May our lives resound in resonance with you

Our heart beat for what is on your heart

Lead us, teach us direct and conduct us

To witness to the hope we have in you for your glory

This Could be Fraught: Women in Leadership and what Paul actually Taught ( 1 Timothy 2:11-15)

This week we have marked international women’s day, a time to celebrate women and their achievements and to take stock of where we are in terms of equality, rights and treatment of women. It just so happens that inadvertently in my preaching plan for the year we are looking at a passage that “has been used unrelentingly as a proof text to swiftly and decisively squelch the ministry of women in fellowship” (John Zens, 2012). It has also contributed to reinforcing a hierarchical view of the relationship between men and women, that has been detrimental to women…and men… and has harmed the whole church. It has also been pointed to as proof that Paul and scripture are antiwomen, and so should be dismissed at best as archaic and irrelevant, and at worst as harmful and dangerous. So while it may be fraught, it is timely that we look at what Paul actually taught about women in leadership. By the way I know it’s not an issue here at St Peter’s, because we been well served by wonderful women elders and several women ministers, mainly rev Sandra Warner, my predecessor, but it is an ongoing issue in the world today and like with Paul’s time impacts on the churches mission to all people.  

The passage we are looking at today is acknowledged as being difficult at many levels “Contextually, culturally, linguistically, grammatically and conceptually’. Big words, big issues. We need to dig deep and wrestle with it. Because in the end it has a lot to say to us that we might not hear if we simply either write it off or quote to reinforce our own preconceived ideas.  So we are going to do some word studies, some background to place it in its cultural context and in the light of the rest of scripture, then hopefully cross the bridge between the there and then and the here and now having understood it more deeply and all within twenty minutes… Can I say that there are many different interpretations of this passage and I’d love to lay them all out to you, and choices about words and meaning are often made depending on which view of men and women you hold… my view will probably become clear, it’s not about side stepping this passage but as always  we hope to remain faithful to scripture.
When it comes to the Epistles in the New Testament we need to realise that the key to understanding is that they are occasional. They are written to a specific time and a specific place, a context. We need to understand it that context before we can start to apply it. AS we work through the pastoral epistles we need to remember that, they are not simply text books on being a leader. The context of the whole of Paul’s letter to Timothy is that Paul has left Timothy in Ephesus to deal with false teachers and teachings that are disrupting the Church and its witness. It would be great if we had a comprehensive understanding of what that false teaching was, we only get glimpses from what Paul tells us, its influence however needs to be to kept in mind.

Paul starts dealing with this false teaching by addressing the impact that it was having on public worship and prayer life of the Church. V11-15 are a continuation of Paul’s teaching which started in verse 1 with acall to prayer for all people, because God’s heart was for all people to come to a saving knowledge of the truth through the one God and one mediator between humanity and God Jesus Christ who gave his life as a ransom for all. There is a universality of that prayer, all people, men and women, Christ died for all, men and women. We come to saving knowledge the same way, men and women. Then Paul had gone on to deal with the demeanour of people who prayed. Which welooked at last week. He told men to lift holy hands and pray without anger or dispute. Which at its core has to do with power, who is right and who is wrong. He also challenged a group of women, mainly wealthy who were attired in a way that reflected the cultural and religious life in Ephesus not the heart attitude of  a Christian who comes to worship God. That’s a overview… Verse 11-15 is a continuation of that and is designed to deal with the same group of women, and to deal with the underlying issues there.

Lets look through the text. “  A woman should learn in quietness and full submission.” The first thing we should note is that Paul wants women to learn. In Paul’s letter to  the church at Ephesus he had said he wanted the whole body to learn and grow into maturity and fullness to be equipped for every good deed (Ephesians 4). The gospel and New Testament Church was different from its Jewish and some pagan systems in that it saw women learning in religious matters as important. This includes such things as Paul in 1 Corinthians 12 when he talks of we should not be uninformed about spiritual gifts and using them in the body. That the church grows when everyone uses the gifts that the holy spirit has given, the holy spirit that was poured out on all flesh, men and women, both who would prophecy, which means to tell forth God’s word.

The word that the NIV rightly translates ‘quietness’ has been translated in other places as in silence. It has been used to effectively silence women, from speaking and taking part in public worship, which by the way is contra to the flow of the New Testament. The word quietness here is the same as the word “quite life” that Paul had used as the reason why we should pray for people in authority, so we could live a peaceful and quite life, which were the best conditions for the church to grow into all Holiness and godliness. It’s not about silence its about a lack of conflict and trouble. Submission here has the idea of not all women being submissive to men, rather it is the right attitude for learning, like silence in a library,  it’s not to men per se but to the word of God, to the gospel and apostolic teaching. Martha’s sister Mary is the example of what it means to be a disciple and a learner in Luke 10:38-42. She is sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening. Now some have said that that gospel story reinforces the idea of women being silent, but listening is not a passive exercise and we are not told if Mary was asking questions, It does show that Jesus was comfortable with Women as disciples and in the public space of the house. Now Paul could have said this because there were women present who because of the influence of false teachers were not willing to listen, in fact in 2 Timothy 3:6-7 Paul talks of a group of women who were under the influence of the false teachers who were always learning but did not come to a knowledge of the truth. They were not willing to accept the apostolic teaching, you can imagine how that would impact public worship.  

Lets move on… “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man, she must be quite.”

Firstly the flow of scripture in the gospel and new testament is towards equal involvement of men and women in leadership and the mission of the church. The women were the first to hear the good news that Jesus had risen from the dead. Men and women were together in the upper room at Pentecost and received the infilling of the holy spirit which Jesus said would enable them to be his witnesses.

Secondly  Paul’s own ministry practises elsewhere in scripture show us that Paul was in actual fact comfortable with women in leadership. Even in Ephesus, Pricilla and Aquilla, had been teaching and has taught Apollos, the truth about the gospel. Paul uses the same title coworkers for them, her, as he does for Timothy and Titus, and the fact that Pricilla comes first is significant.  Paul had intrusted Pheobe with the letter to the Romans, which means she would have not just acted as a postman but would have most likely read the letter to them, explaining and expounding it. Junia in Romans 16 who along with Andonicus is acknowledged as outstanding amongst the apostles.  There are many other examples of women Paul acknowledges as being in leadership roles in the church. So how do we understand Paul now saying I do not permit women to teach?

The word do not permit has been argued over as to weather it is a blanket ban or more along the lines of in this situation, or now I do not…

We then need to consider what Paul is not permitting. There are two things here teach and have authority over a man. The word for authority here is unique in the new testament cannon, its not the usual word for authority. It has negative overtones about authority in its uses in other literature. So it can mean be dominant over a man. Paul does not permit a women to teach in such a way that she is trying to get what she wants and dominate men, see needs to be quite, which again is the word not for silent but peaceful, and in order. Women teaching and dominating men would have been looked down upon by roman and Greek society and Jewish society as well and would be detrimental to the spread of the gospel. Just as that attitude to women is detrimental to the gospel in our day.

We shouldn’t be surprised that Paul would not allow women to dominate men, because in his letter to the church at Ephesus as Paul had addressed the roman household code his teaching had been Ephesians 5:12) submit to one another out of reverence to Christ.  There is a mutuality about that, that revolutionises the Roman household code from an imposition of a strict social order into loving service. The majority of Paul’s teaching in that section on wives and husbands is to us husbands, to love, nurture and honour our wives to build them up to die to ourselves in service to them just as Christ died for the Church. Because we need to hear that, because patriarchy and forcing that roman social order can result as we see in dominating a wife and spousal abuse. Perhaps the best way of looking at this idea of authority is the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 20:25where he tells his disciples not to be like the gentile rulers who lord it over each other, rather they were to learn to be the servant of all. 

Then Paul goes back to the genesis story… For Adam was formed first, then eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the women who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbirth’. The hierarchical understanding of this passage, is that Paul is asserting the primacy of men, and saying that women are easily deceived and not as spiritually smart as men, and relegating them to the domestic sphere of childbirth and caring for the family… We tend to see it like that because we’ve been conditioned by that reading. Again social context is important. Firstly from 1 Timothy 4:3 we see that some of the false teaching was around abstinence and not being married, in 2 Timothy 1:17-18 Paul talks of two false teachers who had said the resurrection had already come, there is a sense here that the group of women were seeing that married life and childbearing were no longer part of that. The other side to this is that the main religion in Ephesus was the worship of the goddess Artimus, or Diane, Ephesus was world famous and dominated by the temple of Artimus, a large portion of its wealth came from that, (you can see that in Acts 19). In that religion the all priests were women, it was a religion where women dominated men and Artimus was also the one that women prayed to for safety in childbirth. The hair styles that are mentioned in verse 8-10 were associated with this worship as well… it was said their prayers were wrapped up in their hair. So Paul is working on two fronts her, not to say that women are inferior to men, but probably to remind that group of women that they were not above men, the creation story is used as a leveller. While there is some debate over the childbirth part, saving her is not the being saved in terms of being put right with God, which is only by faith in Christ, does not make sense and on a different pastoral level a misunderstanding of this passage can have horrible and damaging impact on childless couples. The wider understanding of the word saved is in play here to mean physical safety. There may have been a fear for women who had been part of the Artimus worship, as most pagans in Ephesus would have been at facing pregnancy without that, but it is God who with them.   At the same time he is addressing the fact that the normal role of the women in domestic life is not to be abandoned..

In the end Paul’s hope for women is that they may continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety. The same thing that Paul wishes for all the church, Christian virtues wrapped in Greek philosophical terms. Faith that invisible relationship with God, made possible for all through Jesus Christ, reflected in love, how we treat those around us and holiness a life that is consistent with the God whom we worship, very relevant if Paul is dealing with the remnants of Artimus worship with the gospel. Propriety gives the idea of self-control, which is one of the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

Ok very quickly, lets wrap it up… sadly this passage had fitted into a strong patriarchal tendancy in the church historically… Today however, our western society and its understanding of the place of women is very different in than it was in Paul’s day. We are open to women leaders and teachers. The causation of this passage is still relevant, and we do need to be on guard about issues of domination and power, not love and service in leadership, of either gender, remember it is about faith which has it outworking in love. In revelation Jesus has to remind the church in Ephesus to remember their first love.

Paul’s focus in on the mission of the church, god wanting all people to come to a saving knowledge of the truth and the gospel has been welcomed in to many places because Christians were prepared to teach women. In many places round the world there maybe good reason for caution in the speed of which women are welcomed into public leadership, as in Paul’s day, having many women teachers is a society that did not permit women teachers would have been counterproductive, today it may endanger them and the church. But in the west as Philip towner finishes his commentary on this passage says “too little too slow could neutralize the church’s impact on society just as effectively.”

Monday, March 5, 2018

A pleasing and attractive attitude for prayer and worship (1 Timothy 2:8-10)

Can I say this week and next, when we look at what Paul has to say about women teaching men, that we are looking at passages that seem foreign and opposed to our societies understanding of gender equality. And because we’re aware of this gulf they are hard passages for us. They are verses that are pointed to as showing that Paul and the church are anti-women. They have been expounded as dogma for all time and place and written off as simply cultural bias not relevant to us today. They have been used, or should I say sadly misused, to reinforce patriarchy in the Church. Glorivale in the South Island is New Zealand’s extreme example of that, where women preform set tasks, wear certain clothes and their chief role in life seems to be submitting to husbands and bearing children, but patriarchy has touched and impacted all parts of the church, with negative consequences, women have not been valued for their gifts and abilities, and the whole church has missed out because of it. With all that in mind as we look at these passages we need to pay serious attention to what they had to say to the people then and there and carefully unpack what they have to say to us today.

Paul had started his teaching to Timothy by urging that all kinds of prayer, for all people, and all those in authority be made in the church. He had said the reason to do this was that God desired all people to be saved and for all to come to a knowledge of the truth. There is but one God, and one mediator between God and man, the person Christ Jesus, who gave his life as a ransom for all. Our prayer and worship life is to reflect the heart of God for all people. Now Paul moves on to speak of what constitutes effective prayer. What makes pleasing worship to God. How should we go about this Prayer that is vital to God’s mission to all.  We could get caught up in the hand gestures and the hairstyles and miss what it is that Paul is saying, that the integrity of our faith and life is important when it comes to prayer and worship.  

Public prayer and worship in Ephesus would have taken place in people’s homes. They would have in the public part of the home or the atrium. So, when Paul starts making very specific comments he would look at it in terms of a household. He speaks to men and women. Now some people have taken the fact that there is no repetition of the verb to pray when Paul addresses women to indicate that women were not involved in public worship or prayer. But we know from 1 Corinthians 11, that this was not the case, that Paul was happy with women speaking in church, they could prophecy, we see him referred to women as his co-workers in Romans 16 and other places. This is more important for next week. But the passage we are looking at today is best seen as Paul talking of different issues for men and women as they pray.

The other thing to notice here is that Paul uses the word ‘wants’ here to start this section. What he is saying here is not an imperative, not a command, it is strongly recommended.

Paul asks for men everywhere to lift holy hands without anger or dispute. The traditional Jewish and pagan posture for prayer was to stand with hands raised before God.  It is posture of openness to God, of humility. I liken it to a little child, who is reaching up for their parent to pick them up and embrace them. Lifting hands in worship and prayer has always been part of church liturgy for clergy, but it has become more common for all with the charismatic and Pentecostal movement.  Now Paul is not saying that one body position is more spiritual than another, and to have your prayer answered you need to have your hands raised. I jokingly suggested at our last minister’s association, that it was so hot and humid, that it might be better not to raise our arms when we prayed. In the ministers association I was in another city, prayer actually divided us, the Pentecostals would stand up and walk around and shout to God, claiming this and that, and us mainliners would be seated with eyes closed and heads bowed, and speak quietly, and most of them actually felt intimidated. Me I’m happy with both, usually when I’m with people who want quite prayer I want to be loud and when I’m with those who want to be loud, I want to be quite. 

Neither here do I think Paul has in mind the ritual cleaning of hands that is an important part of Jewish religious rituals. That Paul is saying we should wash our hands before we pray. That may sound silly but for Muslims, hand and foot washing is a very important part of their five daily prayers. A room set aside for Muslim prayer must have those facilities to wash.

Paul here is speaking of the attitude behind the gesture. He specifically talks of anger and dispute. When we are divided in prayer it is not effective prayer. Psalm 133 that we also had read out to us today speaks of the blessing that unity, a family living together has. Speaking to Timothy in Ephesus the impact that false teaching was having on the church was that it was disruptive and divisive. Paul had said they were about controversial speculation rather than advancing God’s work- which is by faith and results in love.  So you can imagine the church full of anger, unforgiveness and bitterness and dispute. Jesus had given instruction for prayer which said if we are coming to God and realise that someone has something against us to leave our sacrifice and go and set things right. He had taught us to pray ‘forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us’ and without that love our prayers are not effectual.

Expanding that to us today. Authentic worship and prayer comes from authentic lifestyle. Prayer to a God who desires all to be saved, calls us to be united and one in that prayer. It is a real challenge, we as the church are splintered and not united, I wonder what impact it has on our witness and worship in the world. To pray for a world to be reconciled with its maker, makes us also desire to be reconciled with one another. Real practical stuff, its why I was happy to advertise the Open heaven prayer meeting that various large Pentecostal churches initiated in January, and why I like such movements as thy kingdom come, which while starting in the Anglican church has become a global coming together to pray. Hopefully as we get involve in that this year we are going to finish the week with a combined service with other churches doing it.

Having dealt with that tendency for men to be angry and in dispute. Paul moves to deal with the women, and specifically a faction in the Church that are being disruptive. We need to do some background here to understand it. Worship happened in public space and public space in roman society was primarily the realm of men. In Jewish worship the men were the focus of worship as well and the women were there but not engaged as much. But in Christian worship they are both engaged and able to contribute, we’ll discuss this more next week. However in Roman society at the time there was also a move for women to want to take a more active role in public life, it was predominantly a move amongst the more affluent women. Part of that movement was that they threw off the socially accepted indicators of being a married women, remember it was the norm in that society for women to be married. If they were a married women it was expected that they would wear a stola which was a robe like garment that had plenty of cloth. It wasn’t the burqua we see today with traditional Muslim countries, but it indicated they were married women, it did have a head covering. Which as you may remember from when we looked at 1 Corinthians 11 Paul had asked that women wore when they prophesied.  The movement amongst the roman women meant that they rather dressed in togas which were more revealing and had sexual connotations and a rejection of the exclusiveness of marriage, as they were worn by court concubines and temple prostitutes. The hair styles they adopted and jewellery they wore also were part of that. Paul is concerned when people see Christian worship that they will equate the church with a movement in roman society that was disliked and seen as disrupting social order. The wearing of these new styles also usually was a sign of status and position as well, and you could see that such a display of opulence would have impacted a church that was made up of people from all parts of the society. School uniforms were bought in as an attempt to be an egalitarian measure, but you still get the social distinctions between a unitarian polo and shorts and skirt for state schools, and the uniforms of the private schools… Decency and propriety in this case are to encourage them to keep the traditional clothing markers that indicate their married status.  

Paul again is not anti-fashion rather when it comes to prayer and worship his hope for women is the same as for the men. That instead of accentuating differences between them that they focus on the heart attitude as well. That their lives reflect in their good deeds a heart that worship’s God. In fact, it is liberating to say that for the women the aim and goal is the same that faith is shown by love. Just as all men and women come to saving knowledge of God through Jesus Christ, they are to live that out in the same way as well. They are to participate and contribute to the public worship life of the church and to the mission of the church by praying for all people. They witness to that with their love for others.

In our society women’s clothes and appearance are not so tightly connected with status and position in society. We are a lot more casual about such things…  We rightly see women having equal roles in public life. There is a lot of pressure on women and men these days of course to conform to societal constructed ideals of what to wear and how to look. I think there are dangers in seeing clothing being an expression of sexuality, which was one of the complaints Paul had. I understand it’s about liberation, but Paul’s challenge is still relevant,  so is his assertion that it’s about the heart attitude of a person.

There are expectations within the church as well on appearance for men and women. I had an old Scottish gentleman in my parish in Napier, who because I didn’t wear clerical garb said, “aye, I don’t know what will happen to me when I die, because you’re not a real Presbyterian minister are ya who is going to bury me." My degrees and ordination certificate (he had been at my ordination service) were not enough to convince him, fortunately I left before he did. Likewise when Kris and I were in Wellington there was a large church meeting across the road form where we were staying  and we toyed with the idea of going there for worship, the dress code was casual and relaxed, but as we watched people go in we kind of realised that we were not  casual and relaxed in the right way, we were not cool enough, or at least that’s how we felt. Hey, the vagrant sage look is not for everyone… But at the heart of God’s desire for us at worship and prayer and in life is that we may know him and our lives might reflect the inner beauty of Christ in how we act and react to the people around us.

I mentioned Psalm 24 in relation with the 1949 revival on the Hebrides last week and I believe that it is a good illustration of what Paul is getting at here. Who can climb the mountain of the Lord, who can stand in the holy place? Those will clean hands and a pure heart. We know that we have been put right with God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and because of that we can come and stand in the very presence of God, but remember that that faith, that invisible relationship with God, shows itself in love, the relationship with have with those around us. It is the integrity of those two things that Paul says is a pleasing and attractive attitude and posture for prayer and worship.

Prayer of thanksgiving and confession based on a reflection on 'Counting Every Blessing' by Rend Collective

Our worship team have been teaching 'counting every blessing' by rend collective to the congregation and on Sunday I introduced the song with a short video clip of two of the band members talking about the meaning behind the song and its significance for them. 
This Prayer is my reflection on that. 
It's autumn in New Zealand and the oyster catchers are gathering getting ready for the long flight north. aware that every season God is able to bless them as they take off on their amazing adventure. 

Loving God,

We come before you today, from so many different seasons in our lives

From moments of light, vitality and joy like a great summers day

And from places that feel like the cold dark bite of winter

From the vibrancy, growth and newness of spring,

and the slowing down of autumn

from those places we acknowledge your greatness and your goodness

In all those seasons we see that you have been good to us

We look beyond what we can see and feel and acknowledge your truth

You are our loving father in heaven

You have send you son into the world to seek and save

Jesus proclaimed good news abundant life following him

He made the way for us to have our sins forgiven

For us to be reconciled with you

To be recreated new and free, to love and serve

Restoration of sight, and spiritual insight

Knowing we are treasured and loved 

Your abiding presence in the depth and the heights

Merciful God,

We thank you that you dwell with us by your Holy Spirit

You have come alongside to lead and to guide

You speak into our lives, and enable us to witness to our hope

You empower us to show your great love and care

You’ve bought us together as family

Brothers and sister from all over, as one

Called to love and serve one another

To witness, proclaim and live your kingdom here on earth

United with you  in this time and place and our eternal home

Good and gracious God,

It is going to take eternity to thank you for your good news

We stop, and we acknowledge our need for your forgiveness

We’ve done things that are wrong, hurtful and unloving

We’ve left so much undone, that you call us to do, that reflects your love

Forgive us we pray, we have sinned, but we turn again to you

Thank you that because you are faithful and just, we are forgiven

Draw near again to us and fill us afresh with the Holy Spirit

That as we know Christ more, we may show Christ like love more

To the glory of you name, father son and holy spirit


here is a link to the "video clip for the meaning of 'counting every blessing'

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Luke 18:1-8 and the touch tone phone...

this is a revamp of an old talk I did back in 2012. Hopefully well worth the rewrite and repost.

How many people here do not like dealing with electronic operators. I’d much rather deal with a real person on the phone than a taped message telling me which button to push and to hurry up and wait. That really pushes my buttons.

One time I called a spark and got through their electronic operator to the long queue and the recorded music was something like pinks ‘please don’t leave me’ as if the company knew how frustrating it was, waiting for a real customer services representative after being bounced round the machines options and directories.

A while back I wondered what it would be like if God Installed an electronic operator to deal with prayer in a more efficient way...

EO: Hi you’ve reached prayer central

If you are praying a prayer of Adoration Press 1
If you are praying a set/read or liturgical prayer Press 2
If you are praying a prayer of confession Press 3
If you are saying grace please Press 4 and depending on the time of day expect a delay
If you are praying a prayer of intersession Press 5
If you are praying a prayer of thanksgiving Press 6
If you this is your first time praying Press 7
If you are praying “the sinner Prayer” Press 8

Person: Oh OK I’d better press 5

EO: You have chosen ‘Intercessory prayer’

If you are praying for the World Press 1
If you are Praying for a specific country Press 2 And access our Continents directory.
If you are Praying for your city Press 3 And access our city directory.
If you are Praying for your church Press 4 And access our Denominational directory.
If you are Praying about your heath Press 5 and Access our Medical directory.
If you are praying for family members then Press 6
If you are praying an emergency prayer Press 7
If you are Praying for the Lost Press 8
Press 9 if you wish to hear these options again and 0 if you wish to be returned to the operator.

Person: Oh I’ll Press 7 this is a real emergency.

EO: You’ve selected Emergency prayer Hold the line please RINNG RINNG RINNG Click.

You’ve reached the voice mail for “God”. ‘Hi I’m Not in at the moment Please leave your name, phone number, church affiliation and a brief message after the beep and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible. BEEP.

Person: Oh ah It’s Heinrich Morse, 347 0002, St Emma’s at the mall here, Umm I’m Just praying to you about my mum’s health. She’s Ah really sick, the doctors say she doesn’t have that long to live and that it’s only a miracle that can save her now. I tried to get you this morning but well I just got your answer machine again. I really would appreciate an answer”.

EO: Thank you. You are important to us…
Press 1 to end this call.
Press 2 if you want to hear your message played back.
Press 3 to delete your message
Press 4 if you would like to re-record your message.
Press 5 for the soothing music of the heavenly choir
Press 6 If you are going to continue praying and would like to access another department.

Sometimes we pray and the only answer we fell we get is the mocking echo of our voices off the walls and ceiling , or deafening silence as we shout our prayers into the void.
We pray and we feel we are not heard let alone that any answer comes.

That somehow God is otherwise occupied, to busy with world affairs to hear our prayers.

He’s left the phone off the hook or we get his voice mail. It can be easy to get despondent and give up.

It’s as if the gates of heaven we’re closed tightly to us and we are left pounding on the on the doors hoping someone will hear us.

But God Jesus says is not like that at all. He tells us a story of an unjust judge who even though he does not fear God or human makes sure a persistent widow receives Justice, as encouragement for us to pray in all circumstances.

God says Jesus is not like the unjust judge, he is quick to answer, He doesn’t fob us off . He hears our prayers and he answers.

God doesn’t have an Electronic Operator, or voice mail nor an answer machine.
God’s open twenty four hours a day, and you don’t need a touch tone phone to get through.
God’s schedule is never to full that he will tell us to go away and come back another day.
God doesn’t have a guard dog secretary to keep people away. But rather ‘God will see his chosen Get Justice quickly’ (Luke 18)

It is not often that a widow, in Jesus day, totally dependent on either their male children or the charity of others, is the hero of the story. But here Jesus offers her as the model for faith. She is persistent never giving up, willing to hold on and hope and have faith that her call for justice will be answered.   That heavens doors are not closed that God is not distant and disinterested, rather God loves us and hears our prayer and answers.

This is the faith that Jesus is looking for that he hopes to find when he comes again…

Monday, February 26, 2018

missional church definition... a quick quote that i found helpful food for thought

a Gannet catches the wind over stormy seas. Muriwai New Zealand 
It's interesting the word missional has found its way into our vernacular... we are wanting to be missional. we are a missional congregation... or at least we need to become a missional church... But when someone asks for a definition of missional there is a stony long silence, the shrugging of shoulders and a sense that well we should know what we are talking about.

At present I am reading 'Canoeing the Mountains: Christian leadership in uncharted territory' by Tod Bolsinger and it was refreshing and helpful to have the term missional traced back to its origins and a helpful definition given... I leave this quote for those like me who feel drawn to the term missional but still stair off into the great unknown wondering what we are really talking about...

""During the last decade of the last century, Darrell Guder and his colleagues in the Gospel and Our Culture Network (following the work of Leslie Newbigin) used the term missional to differentiate certain congregations from those that were primarily organised around the maintenance  of Christendom Culture and faith practices. Missional churches are those that understand "the church as fundamentally and comprehensively defined by its calling and sending, it's purpose to serve God's healing purposes for all the world as God's witnessing people to all the world." ( Darrell Gruder: working worthily: Missional Leadership after Christendom" 2007). for Gruder the church is sent into the world as the rightful and faithful continuation of Jesus own sending by God (john 20:2) and so each congregation is a witnessing community to its very locale; each particular congregation has itself a unique and apostolic mission to fulfil."