On Sunday Carla Pryne was away and Rev Ralph Carskadden preached a very powerful and compelling sermon about the upside down values of God’s kingdom. Here is a portion of that sermon I thought you might find interesting.
When gazing at the splendid Madonna of the Magnificat by Botticelli, contemporaries of the artist would have seen something very differnt from what we see. They would recognize every figure in the painting as a member of the Piero de’ Medici family. According to Wikipedia the painting portrays the family of Piero de’ Medici, lord of Florence from 1492. His wife Lucrezia Tornabuoni is Mary, Lorenzo de’ Medici is the young man with the ink-pot, flanked by his brother Giuliano de’ Medici who is holding a book. Behind the two boys is Maria, while the two elder sisters are holding the crown in the background: Bianca on the left and Nannina on the right. The newborn is the daughter of Lorenzo, Lucrezia de’ Medici.
However, Bitticelli might not have been the complete sellout to the ruling classes that this appears. The open book near the centre of the picture portrays the Latin text for the canticle of Zechariah of the left and the Magnificat on the right with its wonderful song of praise to our God who “has scattered the proud in their conceit, cast down the mighty from their thrones, lifted up the lowly, filled the hungry with good things and the rich he has sent away empty.” Mary not only sings of revolution but with the quill pen in her hand she is also shown to be a revolutionary women of letters, and the right hand of Jesus, the hand of blessing rests on his mother’s recvolutionary words.
At the heart of the Christian gospel is a message of reversal of worldly values and orders. Often that message is disguised, glossed over or ignored, but it is there. In Bottitcelli’s painting the beauty of the picture, the exquisite use of gold, divert our attentionfrom the message but it is there for all to see. The proud, rich and powerful don’t fair well in the words or actions of Jesus – especially as recorded in the gospel of Luke. In the gospel portion for this Sunday (Luke 14: 7-14) we hear echoes of Mary’s song “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Jesus even told his host that he had invited the wrong guests. Instead of inviting relatives and rich neighbours he told them to invite the poor , the crippled, the lame and the blind who cannot repay.
By the standards of most of the world’s people we are all rich and privileged. We who are baptized into Christ are called to use our wealth and privilege and power for the sake of others, as representatives of a renewed world of justice, mercy, equality and peace. Followers of Jesus have always been called to be different, to be revolutionary, to “revolve” or turn around and go in another direction.
As we gaze at Botticelli’s painting we can see a child extending a hand of blessing to the revolutionary words of his mother. This is the child that invites us this day to dine with him at his banquet feast, who extends his gracious hospitality to all who hunger, all who are least, who are thought unworthy and unacceptable. With lepers, tax collectors, the blind, the lame, the disfigured, the harlots and the outcasts, with the faithful disciples from all ages and with the angelic strangers we may entertain unawares. We too are bidden to come and feast at the Lord’s table.
Each month one of my important responsibilities is to produce the Seed Sampler – MSA’s monthly e-zine. It is always a wonderful feeling to send it out to our readers at the end of the month. I thought that you might be interested in the most recent issue which came out on Friday. It is entitled The New Conspirators: The Emerging Church, and focuses on what is happening worldwide in the emerging church This is the first of four editions that will focus on the streams of renewal that we are aware of in the church. If you are interested you can check out most of the articles on The Mustard Seed Journey blog or you might like to join our mailing list.
The four streams of renewal – the emerging, mosaic, monastic & missional movements will also be the focus of our conference February 28, 29 & March 1, 2008 entitled The New Conspirators: What in the World is God Doing?. One of the rich privileges of our lives is the opportunity to be involved in many aspects of what God is doing in our world. We are looking forward to bringing together some of the most creative innovators and providing an opportunity for all of us to learn, celebrate and create new models of life and ministry.
Last week I was sent a book by Glenn Packiam entitled Butterfly in Brazil. The premise of the book is that small changes in the way we act can have major impact in the world and in the lives of others. As he points out most of us don’t believe that small change can make a difference and often don’t do anything because we feel that we cannot accomplish anything by our actions. I thoroughly enjoyed the book which is filled with a sense of hope and passion. It is an easy and entertaining read.
I particularly loved the human stories that Glenn shared about ordinary people such as Rosa Parks whose small actions literally changed a nation. The story of Nehemiah he refers back to throughout my book also places this in a helpful scriptural context. I also loved the stories he told of ordinary Christians who had gone overseas in missions and accomplished incredible things. I have many friends that I admire greatly who have made missions a life long commitment. They may never be known by more than a few friends but they are slowly transforming the communities in which they work. My friends Rich and Cheryl Mackey are like this. They run a small ministry in Juarez Mexico which has had an incredible impact on the poor in that community. For more information check out the website of Arrow Outreach.
As I read the book I was a little disappointed however at how few stories Glenn shared that showed how ordinary Christians who live in places like Colorado Springs are making a lasting impact in their communities and our world with their changed lives. Maybe I am just a little cynical but I have found that many people use the “I couldn’t do that” rationalization as an excuse to not change their lives.
It is not just those that go to Nepal like his friend Ben and give their lives who make an impact. Ordinary every day Christians living in the suburbs of Seattle or Los Angeles can change their lives and make an impact too. Every time we make a decision based on the values of God’s shalom kingdom rather than on our own self centered values we make an impact. And these decisions are possible for every person that calls themselves a Christian. In fact it is sometimes the small and insignificant things – like when we place a comforting arm around a grieving friend or when we spend an afternoon at a local homeless shelter – that have the greatest impact for God’s kingdom.
I think I may have used this quote from page 134 of Compassion by McNeill, Morrison & Nouwen but it is one of my favourite and so bears repeating. It follows the quoting of Revelation 21: 1-4.
“This is the vision that guides us. This vision makes us share one another’s burdens, carry our crosses together, and unite for a better world. This vision takes the despair out of death and the morbidity out of suffering, and opens new horizons. This vision also gives us the energy to manifest its first realization in the midst of the complexities of life. This vision is indeed of a future world but it is no utopia. The future has already begun and is revealed each time strangers are welcomed, the naked are clothed, the sick and prisoners are visited, and oppression is overcome. Through these grateful actions the first glimpses of a new heaven and a new earth can be seen.
In the new city, God will live among us, but each time two or three gather in the name of Jesus he is already in our midst. In the new city, all tears will be wiped away, but each time people eat bread and drink wine in His memory, smiles appear on strained faces. In the new city, the whole of creation will be made new, but each time prison walls are broken down, poverty is dispelled and wounds are carefully attended, the old earth is already giving way to the new. Through compassionate action, the old is not just old anymore and pain is not just pain any longer. Although we are still waiting in expectation, the first signs of the new earth and the new heaven, which have been promised to us and for which we hope, are already visible in the community of faith where the compassionate God reveals Himself. This is the foundation of our faith, the basis of our hope and the source of our love.”
Well like many of you I have succumbed and become a member of Facebook. I have enjoyed connecting to groups as divergent as Make Poverty History, and Celtic Christianity and am amazed at how many of my friends of all ages are already a part of this social network. I have realized that this is a great way to connect to friends and make new friends in many parts of the world.
However there is a downside to all this technology – it takes time. In order to make it an integral part of the rhythm of my life I have needed to take time out of other commitments. However at this point I think it is worth it, not as a substitute for face to face community but certain as an integral part of it.
Here is a prayer I was given a few years ago by someone from the Rosies organization in Australia. It seemed an appropriate prayer to consider in relation to the confession that I posted yesterday.
Make our hearts so human,
That others may feel at home with us,
So like yours,
That others may feel at home with you
So forgetful of self
That we might simply become the place where you and they meet
In the power of your love and the joy of your friendship
Amen (by Fr. Paul Costello)
I was tagged by Doug a couple of weeks ago for a confession meme. It has taken me this long to get around to it because I did not want to just quickly write something down and forget about it. I really wanted to take this seriously and appreciate Doug suggesting this. I have been thinking and praying a lot since then about my need for confession (not something that is necessarily encouraged on the protestant side of the church) and just wanted to say that these confessions really do come from the depth of my heart.Here are the rules for this procedure.
- 1. Apologize for three things that Christians have often got wrong. Your apologies should be directed towards those who don’t view themselves as part of the Christian community. Alternatively, apologize for things you personally have done wrong towards those outside of the church.
2. Post a comment at the originating post so others can keep track of the apologies.
3. Tag five people to participate in the meme.
4. If desired, send an email with the link to your blog post at the Christians Confess site, giving permission for your apologies to be added to the website.
I confess that I have not always taken seriously God’s mandate to “steward creation and make it flourish”. Care of creation was the first responsibility that God gave to the human race yet we in the church have often polluted rather than cared for God’s world.
I confess that I have not always shared with the poor and the vulnerable out of the abundance that God has given me in spite of the fact that 1 John 3: 16, 17 are scriptures I often quote (This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for one another. If any one of you has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in you?)TNIV.
I confess that I am often more likely to criticize and judge others who are very different that myself rather than looking for how the image of God is revealed in their face and in their life. And yet I strongly believe that the image of God is present in every human being and that part of what it means to be a Christian is not just to look for that image but to deliberately work to enhance that image in places where it is distorted and disfigured.
I tag the following people to participate in this meme
Yesterday I visited the Ten Thousand Villages store near us to buy a wedding present. I was impressed with the rich array of goods available from this wonderful store in which everything is fair traded – from the beautiful plant pots (obviously one of my weaknesses as I am a keen gardener) to the scarves and hand made garments. That started me thinking about the fact that many of the malls and super stores already have Christmas goods out. I know it is still a long time till Christmas but I don’t think it is too early to start strategizing about how to make this a Christmas that doesn’t just benefit us but also benefits those we buy from.
Tom & I are Christmas people as are many of my friends. Maybe it just means that we are too much in the grip of consumerism, but we do love to celebrate and buying gifts does seem to be part of celebration. This does mean that buying no Christmas gifts (or gifts at any time of the year) is just not an option. We are considering going completely fair trade this year and Ten Thousand Villages is obviously a wonderful place to start. However going fair trade does mean goods are more expensive – which just goes to prove that many artisans and crafts people do not receive a living wage for their efforts. That means of course that we may need to buy less gifts, which probably means they will be more treasured by the recipients. And it might also mean that the artisans whose goods we purchase are able to have a happy and abundant Christmas too.
So what is fair trade? Fair Trade is an alternative approach to conventional international trade. It is a trading partnership which aims at sustainable development for excluded and disadvantaged producers. It provides better trading conditions, by awareness raising and campaigning.
Many of us are aware of fair trade coffee but that is often as far as our knowledge goes. There are a growing number of fair trade stores around the world however. If you are interested The Fair Trade Foundation is a good place to start. Or you may like to investigate Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International. Both of these organizations can put you in touch with the broader discussions about fair trade and the organizations in your country that participate. So lay some foundations for a different and good Christmas this year and let me know both what you do and what you think about this.