Reflection Sunday 7 November 2021 Clemton Park
Let’s imagine that we are there at the Temple in Jerusalem with Jesus and his disciples watching all that is going on. We are not participating, just looking on and Jesus brings some things to our awareness, things that we just had not noticed before. There are a lot of cattle, sheep, goats wandering around, tether to ropes and there are wooden cages full of doves stacked against a wall. It is looks like and sounds like and smells like an animal saleyard. Lots of money is being exchanged. Everything is expensive and smoke billows continually upwards from the temple altar. It smells like the biggest barbeque ever. Then Jesus has a conversation with a scribe and you become aware that religion is about loving the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength and loving one’s neighbour is much more important than all these sacrifices.
Then your attention is drawn to the scribes walking around in long robes, with everyone bowing and greeting them with respect. You see that when they sit they always have the most important seats at the table. They draw attention to themselves as they pray, and they pray for hours, pacing up and down, rocking backwards and forwards. Jesus says, “beware of the scribes, they like to be seen, and respected and say long prayers but is it all a cover, a sham, they pretend to be holy, but they are exploiting the pilgrims and exploit widows by taking their houses from the.
Then you hear the sound of large amounts of coins tumbling down the sides of the large offering bowl. Wow, you think, what a generous person that is giving all that money to the Temple and then a woman comes up and you hear nothing as she throws in a couple of very small coper coins. Again Jesus draws your attention to what is really going on. Jesus says, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on." And you realise that she has been far more generous that the rich person whose money made such a noise. Or maybe it is not about generosity. Maybe she is totally committed to loving God whereas the others only appear to be.
Looks can be deceptive. Sometimes we just don’t see what is really going on. Imagine now that you are sitting on the stage with Jesus this morning watching what is going on. What do you see? What do you hear? What does Jesus draw your attention to? What do you become aware of?
In worship, God is seeking us to worship with the totality of our being, to orient ourselves fully towards God in body, heart, mind and soul. How does our worship compare?
When we gather for worship are we fully here? Our bodies may be here but where are our minds? Where are our hearts? Where are our souls? Sometimes our minds are so full of our own worries and plans and the future that we do not bring ourselves fully to God’s presence. When we have young children or are busy preparing for a service, providing morning tea or preparing Holy Communion, organising the choir etc., we do not have time before the service to prepare our hearts, minds and souls to worship God together. But let’s not let that put us off.
When we gather in worship, it is important to bring our whole being into God’s presence, for above all in corporate worship, we want to listen for God’s voice together. We want to hear the Spirit speak to us. Sometimes our worship is just words after words, saying all the right things, but without listening in return. Praying is not really about saying long prayers, but it is about communing with God, waiting, listening, being open, humble, willing to respond.
The Lord’s supper reminds us of the cost it has taken for God to commune with us. We celebrate Christ’s body and blood, the giving of his life that we might enter life in all its fulness. This is a very special time for us together communing with God. As we gather around the table today let us seek God’s life in all its fullness and let us give ourselves fully to God in body, heart, mind and soul, so that our worship is in spirit and in truth. In John 4:23,24 Jesus says, “But a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father is seeking such as these to worship him. God is Spirit, and God’s worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”
To worship in truth is to be aware of our falsehood and pretence, to put it aside and to be honest with God and with one another. To worship in Spirit is to open ourselves to the flow of the Spirit from God. The Spirit whispers the word of life in our ears. The Spirit carries the word of God to our hearts.
So, worship involves opening our hearts to God’s Spirit, that we might receive the word of life. God’s living Word Christ. We cannot do anything to influence the Spirit just like we cannot make the wind blow in certain directions, we can but wait for the Spirit to blow on us: the Holy Spirit connecting with our spirit. Come, Holy Spirit.
Reflection Sunday 31st October 2021
‘You are not far from the Kingdom of God’
Do you ever wonder what your life’s purpose is? Do you wonder why you are here?
There are people who go through their whole lives wondering what their life’s purpose is. They wonder what God wants them to do? They go here, there and everywhere searching, seeking, hoping to find the purpose of their life. What if there is no specific plan or purpose for most of us? What if there is no specific thing God want us to do? What if God wants us to simply be rather than do something? What clues can we find in our Gospel reading this morning?
I wonder if the Scribe who had a conversation with Jesus about the most important commandment was looking for the purpose of his life. Perhaps he recognised in Jesus something that he could not quite put his finger on. What was it?
The Scribe asked Jesus, “Which commandment is the first of all?" Jesus answered, "The first is, 'Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' The second is this, 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these."
The scribe agreed totally with Jesus - Then the scribe said to him, "You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that 'he is one, and besides him there is no other'; and 'to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,' and 'to love one's neighbour as oneself,' and then the scribe added --this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices. When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God."
When Jesus heard the Scribe’s reply Jesus realised that the scribe had a great insight into what was most important in life and the meaning of life. All the sacrifices of animals, all the burnt offerings, reminded people of their sins and all that separates us from God, from creation and from each other, but loving God and loving one another does something about that separation sin causes. All the sacrifices in the world are not going to bring about a change but change will come from the simple act of loving.
People wonder what great sacrifice they must make, what great thing they must do for God to make their life feel worthwhile but the scribe’s reply to Jesus shows us that in the act of loving, we may already be engaged fully in our life’s purpose without even knowing it.
Now if we hear that, we might think ok if I go out and love my neighbour, if I do good then I will have found my purpose, then I will feel good about myself. But as soon as we start thinking that we will lose it. Do you remember the last time I preached on this text? I got us to play a game called hunt the thimble. A thimble is a small metal shield that you put over your finger to stop a pin pricking you when sowing. A thimble is hidden in a room and children try to find it. It is very small so can be very hard to find. When a child gets close to where the thimble is hidden the adult says getting warmer, meaning the child is getting close to where the thimble is Then if the child moves away from the thimble the adult might say getting colder. When the child is very close to the thimble the adult might say you are red hot, meaning it is under your nose.
I think that Jesus was saying this to the scribe. Jesus could see that the scribe had an awareness about the kingdom that few other religious leaders had grasped. Like the child who can flit between being warmer and cooler in relation to the thimble, I think we can be warmer and cooler in relation to the kingdom of God. When our actions are in line with loving God and loving our neighbour, perhaps then we may be close to the kingdom.
Eckhart Tolle says our inner purpose is to awaken. It is not to do things, although doing things flows out of our awakening, our being. If our outer purpose is to love our neighbour as ourselves perhaps our inner purpose is to love God with all our heart and souls and mind and strength. If we cannot love in that way how can we love our neighbour that way, if that is our purpose.
I remember years ago, just after I had committed my life to following Jesus, that I used to pray God I don’t love anyone, help me to love as you love. I have found over my life that when I pray for particular people, especially people who want to hurt me, my enemies, that when I pray for people, it is hard to hate them.
So what I mean is that our loving our neighbour is connected to our loving God. Our outer purpose is connected to our inner purpose. If we don’t nurture our inner purpose of connecting with the divine our outer purpose will just become another law, a chore, a duty but without real love, divine love.
What is going on when we are praying, when we are sitting in silence and being still before God?
When we are connecting with God we are connecting with the divine nature, with the kingdom of God, with eternal life and while we are connecting with that, the divine life cannot help but flow out of us into our neighbours. But we can be hot and cold, warm and cool, perhaps our purpose is to remain plugged in to the divine so that the divine nature can always flow through us.
Minister of Campsie Earlwood Clemton Park Uniting Church Congregation