Friday, 25 April 2014

What Is Your Purpose For Church

Peter and the Church

Matthew 16:13-19

            Joseph F. Girzone’s “Joshua: A Parable for Today” is the story
of woodcarver who moves to a small cabin on the edge of a small town. The local people wonder about this man who supports himself by carpentry and woodworking and yet his work is exquisite. As an artisan, his carvings inspire and even haunt those who view them. He enjoys community and people and makes effort to meet as many people as possible by attending church services of different denominations and synagogue gatherings. He becomes verbal about his observations about how the people are separated in their faithfulness to God and questions the role of the Church in this community. And for this, church and community leaders question him and even as he makes his way to see the Holy Father in Rome inexplicable stories emerge causing those who know Joshua to question whether they really know him at all.
            Girzone’s parable is a delightful reading yet it also challenges the faithful believer to wonder what God is doing in our churches and should we even suggest what the purpose of our churches are today and whether it is important to keep the established church as status quo.
            But what is the status quo for Christianity?  Depending upon the era of church history in which you were raised, and even today one might wonder what the purpose of the church might be other than to maintain the building. Yet this is not what Jesus taught.
The church is a place where relationships are formed, strengthened and in turn where disciples of Christ grow in faith and to trust in God.
            But do we modern day Christians believe this? What exactly are we really saying and thinking about the purpose of the church and is it the same as it was even five years ago? Is what we do within the walls of the church relevant to people who still come? What entices people to return? People return because there is a relationship that grows with Christ but only if there is a willingness for this to happen.
            How willing are you to have a relationship with God? And is this worth your time to share and spend with others who think similarly?
            We will explore these ideas as we look at Diana Butler-Bass’ “Christianity After Religion- The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening”.  Butler-Bass has completed extensive research and looked at statistics for churches across denominational lines finding trends about who is and not attending church and why. And it is these why responses which might cause us to wonder if what we do in church is based on relationships with God, other people or the maintenance of a building for our comfort and care.
            The question to ask is simply, What was Jesus thinking as he told Peter, “on this rock I will build the church and the gates of hell will not overcome it.”  What is the church today and how do we define and redefine it?


Loving Christ you told Peter that it was upon him as the Rock that you would establish the church. As we see many older church buildings closing for many reasons, we pray for a renewed vision of what church may be. Help us to understand how to live and grow in community which is established in understanding of Christ’s love. Enable us to know what this vision is and may be through faith. Amen.

Diana Butler-Bass Christianity after Religion: the end of church and the birth of a new spiritual awakening. .New York Harper2012

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Would it make a difference to your faith if in time someone discovered bones that belonged to Jesus?

Speaking Christian in our Journey

John 20-21

Easter is the most important and most ancient Christian festival and with our celebrating the “Lord’s Day” on Sundays it is a reflection of its importance. It is not just one day but Easter refers to the time when we understand Jesus to have risen from death and then as we hear stories of Jesus appearing to his followers in physical ways.
Many people understand that Easter is the physical event in which God raised Jesus body from death to life. The tomb where his body laid was empty when the women went to mourn and when the disciples went to see as well. The tomb was empty because God raised Jesus to life. Jesus is the Son of God and this signifies Easter as the defining time when death was defeated not only for Jesus, but for all who believe in him.
“Christ has died, Christ is risen. Christ will come again.” This is the Memorial Affirmation referring to Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. But what does this mean for us today? Jesus was also reported to have appeared in ways that transcend the physical. He appears to the disciples in a locked room, as a stranger to two of his followers who do not recognize and then he disappears.  The question we need to ask is what did it mean for Jesus followers in the first century to say that God raised Jesus from the dead? And what does it mean for us? Jesus lives. Jesus is Lord
Jesus lives. Many Christians have had experiences of Jesus- in visions, and mystical experiences others in quieter ways. Jesus is Lord and is a divine reality that is one with God. This feature distinguishes experiences for the Post Easter Jesus from other experiences of somebody who has died because Jesus’ presence is continuous in those who believe.
Luke 24:5 “The angels at the tomb ask the women who have come to anoint his body, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” Jesus is not in the land of the dead—but alive for evermore. The key question for us as we continue to observe Holy Week is whether we believe in Jesus and whether he is alive for you.
Do you believe that Christ is risen? Physically? Would it make a difference to your faith if in time someone discovered bones that belonged to Jesus? Why and How? What does it mean to believe that Christ is present with us now?
May the grace of God be with you as you celebrate new life in Jesus this Easter!

Please reflect and respond to these questions as you share pray for your understanding.

God of  hope and everlasting life, we praise you for Jesus’ life, death and resurrection for through Jesus we have been gifted with hope and love. We thank you for prophecy fulfilled and the joy that comes through the symbols of Easter- an empty tomb, eggs for new life and the hope of eternal life. Be with us as we worship you now and always. Amen

Borg’s book invites us to explore Christian terms and phrases which help us to define our faith in Jesus Christ. He presents different perspectives of Christians through history as he describes the words the phrases that for many of us have a special meaning yet we cannot always articulate. This is the last in this series of Reflections on Borg’s book at this time. Watch for a new series on Christianity and Religion beginning next week.

Marcus J. Borg, Speaking Christian: Why Christian Words Have Lost Their Meaning and Power- and how they can be restored, Detroit: Gale Cengage Learning, 2012.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Believing and Faith

Speaking Christian in our Lenten Journey

Believing and Faith

Matthew 14:25-31

Definitions of believing vary dependent upon your specific context and as Borg suggests, when we determine what believing and beloving God means. Believing is what you turn to when knowledge runs out. Believing reflects uncertainty and tentativeness. Believing is what you do when you think someone is telling you statements that are true. Believing not knowing for sure but thinking that the probability is good.
            In a Christian context  saying I believe in you means having confidence in God and Jesus trusting them. To belove someone also means to hold someone dear. Until the 1600├Ęs, to believe in God and Jesus meant to belove them- to hold them dear with love,
Believing that a set of statements about God Jesus and the bible are true. Beloving God means beloving God as known especially in Jesus.
            The question we need to ask is does believing that a set of statements are true save us, transform us or is it beloving God as known in Jesus that saves us by transforming us?  Do we really believe in God or belove God?
            What is faith? We say we are faithful to a spouse by not straying, but do we understand what faith in God is? It is more than commitment, even as it is not less.  Faithfulness leads us to pay attention to our relationship to God- through such attention, we become even more deeply centered in God. Trust is the fruit of that deeper centering. It grows as we focus more and more in God.  Kierekegaard states that faith is like floating in 70000 fathoms of water. If we are fearful and struggles as we float in an immeasurably deep body of water,we sink and drown.But if we trust that the water will keep us up, we float.
            Beliefs matter but faith is a much deeper movement of the heart. Christian faith is allegiance to and trust in God as known in Jesus. (Borg, 177)           
            Jesus calls us to believe in the one who sent him and have faith that God will provide all our needs. Borg offers this old/new word which takes us from belief to a term of endearment not used very often today. Beloved.. We might sing that “I am my beloved’s and He is mine, His banner over me is love, “ but do we sing these words based on belief, faith and commitment to God?
            How committed to your statements of faith are you? What about your faith commitment and your beloved God? Are you being transformed in understanding and love?


God of grace and love, we thank you that we may believe in you and call you our beloved as we are transformed by your Spirit. We believe, but it is our unbelief which seems to take over in times of uncertainty. Show us how to love you and grow in you.

Call us to be faithful and fill us with the hope and knowledge of your unconditional love. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

 Please reflect and respond to these questions as you share pray for your understanding.

Marcus J. Borg, Speaking Christian: Why Christian Words Have Lost Their Meaning and Power- and how they can be restored, Detroit: Gale Cengage Learning, 2012.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Why is the Death of Jesus so Significant?

Speaking Christian in our Lenten Journey
Why is the Death of Jesus so Significant?

Jesus’ death is foundational to Christianity in a way that the death of a central
figure in a religion like no other. Jesus’ death is crucial as Paul writes that the Christian message is to be “Christ crucified”. All the gospels tell this story and it is of major importance for Christians today.

Why is it important? Because Jesus’ death paid the price for our sins by dying in our place. Substitutionary sacrifice or atonement means that Jesus is the substitute who satisfied God’s wrath by undergoing the punishment that we all deserve for sin.

But this is not biblically based- but written in 1097 by Anselm of Canterbury who asked, “Why did God become human incarnate in Jesus? His answer- God required that the penalty for our sins must be paid from the human side. But we are all sinners and thus cannot adequately make the payment. Only a perfect human can. But a human cannot be perfect unless also divine. So God became human in Jesus in order to pay the price for our sins.

Yet this has problems and raises further questions. Jesus was killed- a very public and prolonged form of execution.  Jesus’ death obscures the fact that he was killed by the powers that ruled his world.  Did God really need someone to die for our sins? Isn’t Christianity and salvation about transformation of ourselves and of the world?

Jesus’ Death brought different meanings to the early followers and still does to Christians today.
a) Jesus was crucified on a cross- a public way and by authorities beyond the community in which he lived.
b) Death and resurrection are dying and rising with Christ. This is a metaphor for the personal and yet communal transformation at the centre of Christians. Galatians 2:19-20—I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it Christ who lives in me.”
c) Jesus’ death is the revelation of the love of God.  In Jesus we see what God is like. In Jesus’ passion for the kingdom of God and his challenge to the powers at the risk of his own life, we see the depth of God’s love for us.

Loving God as we read about Jesus’ death and why he died, we pray that you would touch our hearts to understand and know it was for us and because of us. Clear our confusion, enable us to ask questions and call us to you in praise and love. Amen.

As Lent leads us towards Holy Week and we hear the Passion Story of Jesus- from triumph to tragedy what does Jesus’ death mean to you? Do you believe he did for you and because of you? What does ‘we shall also rise with him” mean in anticipation of Easter?
Please reflect and respond to these questions as you share pray for your understanding.

Marcus J. Borg, Speaking Christian: Why Christian Words Have Lost Their Meaning and Power- and how they can be restored, Detroit: Gale Cengage Learning, 2012.