Reflections 2013

 

 

A New Year reflection

 

Read: 1 John 1: 8 & 9; 1 John 1: 1-2; 1 Jn. 2: 24 -25; 1 John 3: 1 – 3; 16; 1 John 4: 7-10

 

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth…

16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

 

Before you can teach a subject, you must know it inside out.  I suppose it’s like that with people too.  Unless you know a person – really know them – you can’t really speak of them with any authority, not really…

 

And when you get to know them it stands to reason, doesn’t it, that they get to know you too?

 

In the early days my brother and I were known as sons of thunder.  We liked the nickname. 

Do you want us to call down fire from heaven and destroy them, we asked – hoping that he would say, yes.  He didn’t, of course.  That wasn’t his way.

 He accepted us and loved us as we were when he found us but loved us far too much to let us stay as angry men, as sons of thunder…

 

There was something about him that was like no-one else; something about grace, we will always remember:

 

We were sure that when we were with him we were in the very presence of God and his glory – full of grace and truth. 

It was this mixture that made him great, glorious – different…

 

Something in the way he was; something in his manner and care; something in his well-chosen words; something in the way he moved quietly and softly over the earth that belonged to him, anyway…something extraordinary in his expressions of mercy and kindness…

Something called Grace…

 

We lived in a world that had its shadows and darkness, like yours; the darkness of suffering and evil, of pain and the rest of the things we wrestled with.

 

  Darkness comes in many forms, though.  And we can be part of it, can’t we?

 Sometimes it’s the rules and regulations and requirements – maybe of church, the expectations and the demands of life that are dark.   We had religious leaders who yoked our necks and lives with their millstone demands – they were sons of the dark!

They made God look like some kind of cruel tyrant!

 

But Grace came and served so differently.

 

And this thing he had, this thing he was – he didn’t keep it too himself\;

16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given.

 

He showed us what God was really like.  And he made it possible for us to come to him…

Maybe even to become a little like him…

 

We beheld his glory.  Then we received his fullness…

 

You see, we didn’t know it at the time but James and I were a bit like marked men.  The Word, his grace was catching.  We didn’t know it back then but his style, his ways would become ours – if we got to spend enough time with him – his tolerance, ours; his acceptance of others, ours; his compassion, ours…

Grace changed us: sons of thunder could-would become sons of grace…

 

17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

 

We grew up with the Law – the Law is good in so many ways - but it always reminded us how far we’d fallen and how badly we would all fail; the Law would only keep us from God no matter how hard we tried; the law would sentence us to death…

 

Grace forgave.

Grace gave – a new start…

 

The law “thundered”: stone the adulterous woman!  Grace spoke to us and said, look at yourselves, James, John!  Cast that stone if you’re without sin!

 

Grace said that if you have been saved it is only through grace and this is not down to you.  Grace is a gift.  It is not earned: it is received! By grace….

 

Grace said; John, James - don’t call down fire from heaven…

 

It took us a long time to change, to let the stone of bitterness drop from our clenched hands.

 It took a long time (one year passing into another) for a son of thunder to become a son of grace.

We could have just grown old.  Instead we grew in grace.

 

That could only happen because I wanted to be near to him.

 

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth…

16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

 

Even at the cross, a place where you would not expect to find him, there was grace…

 

Grace - refusing the road of resentment.  Grace - refusing to retaliate. When accused grace hurled nothing back in return – no fire from heaven for him!

Grace - that reduced even angels to disbelief and grace - which exhausted every demon of its power…

 

And all grace demanded was faith – if only the size of a mustard seed, where law made everything impossible, grace gave us a chance -

 

A chance to make us feel better about who we were and who we were becoming,

Not so scared, then, of the coming days – knowing that the one who pitched his tent with us would never be far away in this the coming year or any other year, for that matter

 

This has been a reflection from John, the disciple whom Jesus loved. 

I speak today to others whom Jesus loves!

 

BY MFR December 2013

 

 

 

A soldier’s story: from Mark 15

 

It was war. We were soldiers. We carried out orders.  The powers-that-be rushed this one through. They were at war with this one, for sure – who knows why…

.  But who were we to argue?

It was just another day at the Golgotha office: nail ‘em down & lift them high. I’d done so many, I’d lost count. This business didn’t seem to touch me anymore – no bad dreams, no troubled conscience.  Not any more….

Just another day at the office.  Friday - two bandits and a political. 

 

At least the weather was good!  At least Friday would be an easy day.  This had been a long tour. 

 

They said he was dangerous. He didn’t look it.  We got to him. We laid him down.  We did the fastening, the hoisting…

 

 I’d long since stopped looking too closely at them. It didn’t do to linger too long. This was not a nice way to meet your end or your Maker. I remember thanking the gods of Rome and Caesar himself that no citizen of the empire could go the way of the cross.

 

  They said he was some sort of preacher or teacher; I’d heard he was some sort of wonder-worker, too. Or a blasphemer. Or a messiah.  These people are obsessed by their messiahs.  I didn’t know much about that kind of thing but -  

I have to confess that there was something different about this one.

 

I couldn’t fathom exactly what or why – but he didn’t open his mouth, not to curse God, or curse the day he was born, not to question the parentage of his judges or his executioners; not to scream that he was innocent.  No, not even to beg for mercy; not even to cry for his mother like a baby.  Eventually they all did that. Not this one.

 

They said he was some sort of King…

 

Looking back…

No, he said nothing, not a word under charge or accusation -

 

Yep, he was oppressed and afflicted – yet he did not open his mouth!

 

You name it!  They did it – we did it!  We called it sport. All’s fair in love and war. One of the perks. 

Tied up. Flogged.  Dressed up.  Crowned.  Hailed a phoney king.  Mocked, not just by us.  Struck. Spat on. 

 

We led him like a lamb to the slaughter…

 

When he was up there I offered my spear with a little something on its tip to ease the pain.  He wouldn’t take it. Unheard of!   Even the tough ones took a sip to take the edge off.   The bandits sucked from the sponge. 

 

The boys played cards a little ways off, occasionally looking up to make sure the crowd was in good order.  They could take a break.  They earned it. I saw the purple souvenir flutter as the breeze got up. 

 

Me, I stood guard.  Near the cross, near the one in the middle…

 

They say you can learn a lot about a man when he suffers. 

You find out who your friends are, too. 

 

I always felt a moment’s pity for the women; you feel - especially for the mothers and the families. They’re victims of war, after all.  They’re the ones who stay behind.  You can always make out the sobbing prayers of women over the baying and blaspheming of the wolves in the crowd.  They’d soon get bored.  

 

Yep, he was oppressed and afflicted – yet he did not open his mouth!

 

But when he did open his mouth?  Well…

 

You can tell a lot about a man when he faces death: how he’s lived; what matters most to him

 

“Father, forgive them – for they do not know what they’re doing!”  No, surely not! 

 

Dying men don’t say, Forgive them!”  Dying men use other “F” words! 

 

Forgive the court, the crowd, the crucifiers, his captors – killers…

 

We’d crowned him cruelly as a king, but you know – as I first remember it – to me this “King of the Jews” was a soldier.  He was a good man.  A good soldier.   I had armour, a sword, a spear and other men – an empire - to back me up. 

 

Here was a warrior waging war – but without weapons – with words. 

 

Words to his friend: take my mother, look after her; look after each other!  Dying men don’t waste their breath…

Any tears he cried were not for himself…

 

Words too to one of the bandits – he promises to take a nasty villain, probably a murderer, into a paradise with him - that day. You could almost believe it. 

 

Words of great sadness, bellowed to his God in heaven which spoke of a pain greater than anything we could inflict upon him…

 

And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? (which being translated is, My God, My God, why did You forsake Me?)

 

Words – loud words, near to his last words – it’s finished! These words weren’t the dying whimper of a vanquished foe.  This wasn’t the raised flag of surrender.  No, he was only there because he chose to be there. No, he laid it down!  Nobody took it from him.

He died, I’m sure as he lived – brave. 

Able and willing to die with dignity.  The words of the soldier who refused to abandon his last post. It’s finished!

 

We laughed at the man who came into the city on a peasant’s colt. I remembered all of that (and more) as I plunged the lance to the side of the soldier-king…

 

But it wasn’t finished – not for him and not for me…

 

The storm had raged and died as suddenly as it had come.  They came to take him down. 

 

I remember thinking I’d seen the power of God and the love of God in that face of blood and tears and mud – in the place of godforsakeness and war. 

 

I remember looking back at the day as it closed, wondering what it might be like in Paradise, wondering if the one on his left had made it there after all.  I couldn’t escape the thought that he had got there –

 

And that if I asked soldier-king, he would take me there, too! 

 

That he would remember me…

 

This would not be the last campaign I would fight – but it was the day I’ll never forget….

 

MFR

9/11/13

 

 

Sermon - a first person reflection

 

My mother was 4'11" in her stockinged feet and an intimidating woman; she had many different looks.  I knew when I was in trouble; I knew when she meant business - I didn't have to ask!  They say that "the eyes are the window to the soul" and that is true.

 

This has got to be one of the most poignant and powerful scenes in Scripture.  I know of a man who (many years ago) turned his life to the Lord; he was changed by the look of Christ when he heard the words from Luke 20 v 60-62:

 

The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter.  Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: "Before the cock crows today, you will disown me three times."  And he went outside and wept bitterly.

 

I wonder what Peter saw in Jesus' look?  What would he have seen there, in that crystallized moment caught in time?  Here is a reflection written from Peter's perspective:

 

Peter:

"I remember from the very start just how much I loved him.  I remember too the startling truth that he knew me and that he had always seen straight through me; that I couldn't hide from the Master for all my efforts, no matter how hard I would try!  There was always that "knowing look" on his face.  That is not to say that I could always fathom what he was thinking or what was behind the eyes; I couldn't .  None of us could, not really.....

 

But there was no doubting he was my Lord and Saviour.  I remember the early days when we caught those fish - miraculous and frightening.  I told him to go away from me; I was a sinful man.  I couldn't possibly survive the look of God.  Our ancestors feared the gaze of God - it meant death..... Instead he smiled.  He called us to follow him and told us not to be afraid.  And follow him we did!  Back then I wasn't scared, of anyone or anything.  I felt the swelling of pride when he gave me the name of Peter - the Rock and made me leader over this unlikely crew.  I was so successful, so strong.

 

I was first to know. First in line. In first place.  First to fight, first to weild the sword!  First to say I would never let him down, convinced that I loved him the best - more than the others.

 

Yes I remember just how much I loved him.  (I love him.) I suppose that is why when he looked straight at me across that crowded courtyard, that I couldn't hold his gaze too long, but long enough to know my shame; long enough to know that he was right and I was wrong.  That was always the case.

 

 They say your life can flash across your mind in the twinkling of an eye - or in the time it takes for the one you love to turn and look at you - straight at you.  They say that every memory is buried there - and that one day all things will come to light, the good and the bad in the gaze of God.  I'm not sure how I feel about that but I'm sure that it is true.

 

He warned me, I remember, that the evil one would sift me like wheat from the chaff.  He rebuked me for thinking the thoughts of man not God.  I did a lot of that.  I ignored the word of God. 

 

What was the good of knowing - being the first to know  - that my Jesus was the Christ if I would deny even knowing him?!  If I would slink about in the dark, at a distance from the one I loved?  He told me I would do that too.  And I didn't believe it possible of me, that kind of failure.  I didn't believe him.....

 

He warned me not to fall asleep, only last evening in the olive grove - he warned us we would do well to watch and pray, in case we fell, in case we were blindsided.  In that look he was right.  I know he's right........

 

I would follow him to the prison cell and beyond, to death!  And there I was "following" at a safe distance!  Here I was warming myself at a brazier, cursing with the best of them.

 

And the rooster crowed to herald in the day and the truth of all that he had said about what would happen to him and what would happen to us.  And what would happen to the "rock".

 

He does have the words of eternal life........

 

Let him who thinks he stands take heed, lest he fall, Simon; pride, Simon goeth before destruction; a haughty spirit before stumbling - before failing, Simon!  And by the way Simon, the first shall be last and the last first!

 

Those words came to plague me.

 

But sometimes we don't need words - to know.  Sometimes just a look is enough to feel the smarting smack of stricken conscience - and the heat of God and tears, bitter tears of self recognition that send you scurrying away from public gaze - to weep bitter tears.

 

Perhaps I saw a tear in his eye, too - not a tear for himself.......

 

The Lord turned and looked me full in the eye even as he was jostled and handled and handed over, even as he went to death.  I remembered the wordthe Lord had spoken to me - before the day even dawns you will disown me not once but three times.......

 

The look said not, I told you so - but Simon: I know.  I have always known.  I know you are brash and daring, Simon Peter and that is in your character and that is part of what I admire and love about you - but that is not enough: your strength will take you only so far.......

 

The look that went straight; the look that convicted.  The look that was deliberate - but didn't condemn.......

 

A look that others had missed; others had looked into those very eyes and seen nothing there.

 

It would be days before I looked into those eyes again.  Others, braver by far than I would meet the gaze of the one they loved as he looked at them from the cross.

 

I would cry bitter, unstoppable tears.  Not because I was caught in the act but because I couldn't love the one I loved the way I thought I loved him.......

 

You know I am ashamed to say that even after the Lord was raised from the dead, I couldn't let go of the disappointment and the hurt that I had caused him - until that dawn on the beach.  First again to come to his side.  Another fire burning, the smell of fish hardly noticed over the wood smoke which was a painful reminder of my failure and betrayal.  

 

Again, he turned to me: Simon, son of John, do you truly love me?  Not once, but three times he asked me - if I loved him.  I even got annoyed.  But now I understand.  Love was most important; stronger than my failure or yours; love is stronger than my greatest fears.  Not so rock-like now.......

 

I finally (at last) remembered the word of the Lord: Satan has asked to sift you as wheat; but I've prayed for you Simon - that your faith won't fail; and when (yes, when) you have turned back , strengthen your brothers.  His prayers for me (or you) they don't fail - not in the long run.......

 

A look of love.  A look that says, there is always a way back, Peter.  Your courage failed, Peter - but your love - I never doubted that!  Now that you can accept your failings, you'll be able to accept the failings of others and strengthen them.

 

The look that says, turn to me, I'm already turned to you.

 

I held his gaze this time.

The memory of my recent past was strangely passing.  The eyes were somehow different and yet the same.  The eyes were brighter somehow - if that were possible - heavenly yet human.

 

You ask me what I saw there and I say it was the look of compassion.

A look that none of us deserve, not really.  The look of grace.

 

It was no mere glance: it was the look of grace that restored me - the look that healed me - the look that said life........."

(Peter)

 

MFR 22-9-13

 

Read John 21 & 1Peter 5 v5c-11