Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Does the observance of Ash Wednesday have special meaning for you?

Speaking Christian- Ash Wednesday

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness;
In your great compassion blot out my offenses.
Wash me through and through from my
wickedness and cleanse me from my sin
Psalm 51:1-2

            Next Wednesday (March 5) will be a day when many Christians
worldwide will take time in prayer to begin the Season of Lent and receive ashes upon their foreheads as a sign of repentance and promise. This day begins the Lenten season which prepares all believers for the paschal celebration of Easter. Ash Wednesday is a particular time for new beginnings in faith and a new time for returning to the Lord. This is a day when people will recall mortality and wait upon God for a renewing Spirit. It is a time to put aside sins and failures of the past and focus in the light of who we are yet to become by God’s grace.
            As part of this prayer service, ashes are placed on the forehead often in the form of a cross and the words, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return” are spoken by the presider. These ashes are traditionally the burnt remains of the palm leaves used in the previous year’s Holy Week gatherings.  These ashes serve to remind all that we too will return to the earth and become dust again in time. Yet it is in this season of Lent that we are called to a time of self -evaluation, penitence, prayer, fasting and almsgiving. It is in reading and meditating on God’s Word that we grow in faith and understanding of the depth of God’s love and the sacrifice Jesus made for us through his death.
            Ash Wednesday calls us to begin the Season of Lent with repentant hearts and to prepare ourselves for what is to come.

A prayer for Ash Wednesday:
Almighty God, you have created us out of the dust of the earth;
Grant that these ashes may be to us a sign of our mortality and penitence, so we may remember that only by your gracious gift are we given everlasting life;
Through Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.

How does the observance of Ash Wednesday have special meaning for you?
If you have not observed and participated in an Ash Wednesday service before what prevents you from sharing in this? Is it difficult for you to think of yourself as mortal, and that yes you will become dust once again? Or it is difficult because of your faith being tested to new possibilities of what Jesus experienced for you?
Ash Wednesday and the Season of Lent offer to you opportunities to evaluate your relationship with God, your understanding of repentance and the gift to pray and share of yourself in new ways as the Spirit leads you.
We often think of ‘giving up’ something for Lent- but what are you really giving to others in this wilderness time of learning about Jesus and you?

Friday, 21 February 2014

Speaking Christian - Lent

Speaking Christian- Lent

Mark 1:12-13

            “Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. As he was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:1-11)
“Soon after this, the Spirit sent him out into the desert and he was in the desert 40 days being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.” (vs.12-13)
It is this time in the wilderness when we as Christians take time to ‘journey’ to be in the wilderness and reflect upon Jesus as the one who was sent to be tempted, as he prepared for his ministry and his ultimate experience in Jerusalem which lead to death.
           We call this 40 days before Easter, Lent, a season when we ‘put aside the sins and failures of the past in the light of who we are yet to become by the grace of God.’ We are to be tested by the Spirit so that our participation in the meaning of the Easter faith will be authentic and a dying and rising with Christ to new life in God. It is also a time of penitence, looking at ourselves our sins and to seek forgiveness. This season has also included a time of prayer, fasting and giving up something for oneself or by including more reading and meditation on the Word of God.
            It is a time of intentional spiritual growth and yet there are few Christians who observe it or observe it only by ‘giving up’ something. It is a holy season of preparation and for many years Lent meant reflective worship. Today we remember Jesus’ experience in the desert and yet we also remember him as he struggled by being human and God’s Son. As we reflect on Christ’s journey to Jerusalem and the cross during this time of preparation just what is it that calls you to reflect, pray and observe this holy season of preparation for new beginnings?

God we praise you for Jesus’ time of preparation. Enable us to be open to your word as we seek to grow spiritually in this season. Show us your way of love and understanding as we share our thoughts and seek your forgiveness on this journey with Jesus. Enable us O God to understand this as we are transformed in faith. Amen.

Jesus was sent by the Spirit into the wilderness after he was baptized. Have you ever felt the Spirit sending you to do something specific? What was it? How did you respond? During Lent, what do you think the Spirit is sending you to do to prepare for Holy Week and Easter? What does this mean for you as you grow in your understanding of Jesus?

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

The Public Execution of Christ

Speaking Christian- The Death of Jesus

I Corinthians 1:23  Christ Crucified

            The death of Jesus is foundational to Christianity and it has been
crucial to what it means to be Christian from its beginning. All of the four gospels include several chapters describing Jesus’ last week, death and resurrection. Jesus’ death continues to be of major importance for Christians today. But why is it so significant to Christians? We all die, but what makes Jesus’ death so significant?
            There are several reasons but the most widespread Christians understanding today is that Jesus paid the price for our sins by dying in our place. That is, Jesus is the substitute for us in order that we might be reconciled with God. There are several problems with this idea because he did not merely die, but was crucified at the hands of Roman rulers with those in authority not liking what they had heard about Jesus. They saw him as challenging the establishment as he drew a crowd who wanted to hear him wherever he spoke. Jesus’ death was also a part of God’s plan as Jesus knew that he would die. And also in Jesus’ death, there is a question of where sin and forgiveness fits in with this.
            Jesus was crucified—on a cross by the authorities of his day. Death and resurrection are dying and rising with Christ.  Jesus’ death and resurrection become a metaphor for the personal and ultimately communal transformation at the centre of the Christian life. Like Paul who says ,”I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me” This means that when we believe we are transformed by Christ. Jesus’ death is the revelation of the love of God Through Jesus we see God. In Jesus’ passion for the kingdom of God and his challenge to powers we see the depth of God’s love.
            Jesus was willing to die because of his love for others. This does not imply that God required his death so that we could be forgiven. Jesus offered up his life as a gift to God because he was filled with God’s passion for the kingdom of God a different kind of world.
            Why do you think Jesus died? Did he die to pay the price for our sins? Was he crucified for your sake? Is this part of your faith and understanding of who Jesus is?
            Sometimes what we think of as certain may no longer be truthful. By reflecting on Jesus’ death as  a means to reveal God’s love we also note that God shows his passion as the world transforms and changes. Why did Jesus die? And did he really have to die?

God as we consider Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection we pray that you would open our minds to be transformed. To think that Jesus  loved us so much that he died a cruel death for our sake is indescribable, unattainable and overwhelming. Yet Jesus did this as a means of showing love and that he is God’s Son. Enable us O God to understand this as we are transformed in faith. Amen.

Jesus died by crucifixion under the authority of Roman rule. He was killed publicly and according to the rule books of the time. What did this public death prove if anything? What if Jesus had said no to God? What do you think might have happened  to Christianity?

For further reading, Marcus J. Borg, Speaking Christian.(Detroit: Gale Cengage Learning, 2011), p. 143-154

Thursday, 6 February 2014

How Do We Interpret Jesus?

Speaking Christian- Jesus

Luke 2: 1-20  The Birth of Jesus

The central claim of Christianity is that Jesus is the decisive revelation of God. Jesus reveals, discloses what can be seen of God in a human life. And it is in the decisive revelation of God in a person which distinguishes Christianity from other religions. Jews find this decisive revelation of God in the Torah; Muslims find this in Qu’ran. But it is Jesus who to Christians is how God reveals himself in a person. The struggle many people have with Jesus is because he is both God and human. He was born of a virgin- literally interpretation?, He performed miracles and he died in our place for our sins but is this is so did God require his death? Was there a resurrection? Many of these questions are answered by faith in this Jesus because his Spirit is still with us as God.
To understand Jesus, we must look to the pre- Easter/ historical Jesus and the post- Easter Jesus, what he became after his death as there is a distinction. Who is the historical Jesus? He was a man raised in Galilee as a Jew and was a flesh and blood human being who had height, weight, ate, drank and was mortal, He had a beginning and an ending.
Post Easter, Jesus was not constrained by time and space, could appear anywhere, pass through wall, be unrecognized and able to disappear. Jesus was not simply a figure of the past dead and gone, but a living reality of the present. He is also divine reality. Thomas spoke in John 20:28  My Lord and my God. Matthew 28:20  I am with you always to the end of the age.”
But who is Jesus to you?  For in our faith and understanding we hold on to the infant born in a stable, the child who was in His Father’s House learning, the young man raised as a carpenter and closed the shop to reveal who he really was and is. He is also the one who healed, preached, taught and performed miracles and signs of wonder. And he is the one who was betrayed, arrested and killed on a cross. But he is also with us now- in spirit and in truth. Jesus is all of these and more—because we may understand only so much, we need to remember that Jesus can be even more than we thought possible.
Who is Jesus to you right now? Do you believe he lived and died for you?
Jesus of many names and titles we pray to you this day that you would reveal yourself once again for our understanding and wonder. You were human and yet came to show us the depth of your Father’s love through dying on a cross. Help us to make clear in our minds who you are today. We believe in you help our unbelief and cause us to understand. Reveal yourself to us we pray. Amen.

What does “Jesus” mean to you? How would you explain the baby born in a stable as a resurrected messiah? Do you believe that this man Jesus lived ?It is historical fact that he died, but the resurrection is now being questioned? Do you believe he rose to teach us post Easter? How does Jesus reveal himself to you today?

For further reading, Marcus J. Borg, Speaking Christian.(Detroit: Gale Cengage Learning, 2011), p. 126-142