Taking Stock, Spiritual Growth, Where am I at, How am I spending my days

Taking Stock – Spiritual Growth

Before you start any journey, it’s key to know where you are.  It would be hard to travel from London to Paris, if you didn’t know that you were in London!  You might head west, instead of east – and then where would you end up?  

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refugee, refugees, fleeing, hunger, starvation, war, famine, conflict, armed conflict, sojourner, alien, foreigner, immigrant, illegal, resident, resident alien, discrimination, racism, integration, respect, love, God

The alien that resides among you…

As I see here in Panama wave after wave of Venezuelans arriving, running from the disaster in their country, I realise that it is hard for us to welcome them with open arms.  People here feel threatened by the mass migration wave that has hit Panama – “there are too many of them”. Crimes rates have increased over the past three years. Housing has become more expensive. Unemployment has increased.  The cost of living has gone up.

And “the Venezuelans are to blame”…Read More »

justice, Shekinah, practicing presence, glory of the Lord, glory of God, light, shining

A river of justice

Readings:

  • Joshua 24: 1-3; 14-25
  • Amos 5: 18-24

5:24 But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream.

As you walk out of Church today, what will have changed? What difference will it have made to come to church this morning and worshiped God?  What does choosing God, rather other gods, mean today? How does worshiping God change our lives?

Noris read for us this morning Amos, chapter 5, verses 18 to 24. I want to re-read those to you now, from the version “The Message”:

18-20 Woe to all of you who want God’s Judgment Day!
    Why would you want to see God, want him to come?
When God comes, it will be bad news before it’s good news,
    the worst of times, not the best of times.
Here’s what it’s like: A man runs from a lion
    right into the jaws of a bear. …
At God’s coming we face hard reality, not fantasy—
    a black cloud with no silver lining.

21-24 “I can’t stand your religious meetings.
    I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions.
I want nothing to do with your religion projects,
    your pretentious slogans and goals.
I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes,
    your public relations and image making.
I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music.
    When was the last time you sang to me?
Do you know what I want?
    I want justice—oceans of it.
I want fairness—rivers of it.
    That’s what I want.
That’s. All. I. Want.

God’s anger in Amos was because the religious festivals were not followed up by just actions. God gave the means to reverse the people’s systems of injustice, to end inequity and oppression. But the river of people who were supposed to flow out of the temple (like when we all leave this Church this morning) to fulfill God’s promises walked out of the temple and did nothing.

You were given arms that can reach out to those who suffer: who are those arms wrapped around? Yourself? You were given feet to take the first steps towards those who feel alone, afraid, oppressed: where are your feet planted? In your comfortable life? You were given ears to hear the stories of justice denied: are you listening? You were given a mouth to speak Truth: but words are used to harm and tear down, rather than to build, and certainly not to speak Truth!**

Thursday, November 9th many Panamanians waited expectantly for a reveal of names and details regarding the Obredecht corruption cases. A nation waiting and hoping for justice to prevail and corruption to set a food on the proverbial banana skin and the other foot in the grave. It wasn’t enough.

This brings to mind, for me, Proverbs 24: 24

Whoever says to the guilty “You are innocent” will be cursed by peoples and denounced by nations.

All I read on Twitter & Facebook is frustrations and cursing of the lack of action and lack of justice. What more can and should be done? Panama needs to restart and rethink fighting corruption from a grassroots level. It needs to start in the home. Social justice and righteousness are needed from each person and member of society. And for us, it starts as we walk out of Church today. Worshiping God is not just about what we do for one hour on Sunday morning. Worshiping God is in each thought, each word & each deed.

1 John 4: 20 through 5:3  remind us:

20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

5:1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. …

How do we love our brother and sister? Well, let me warn you, it’s not sentimental. It’s not that “feeling” of love. It’s about your actions -and they speak much louder than any words. John warns us about this: “we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fat, this is love for God: to keep his commands.”

Let’s take a quick walk through the Bible and discover the ways we show love to our neighbours – children of God – all created, like you and me, in the image and likeness of God:

Leviticus 19: 9-18 

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God.
You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another. …
… The wages of a hired worker shall not remain with you all night until the morning. …
… You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people. …
You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor… ou shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD”

Proverbs 29: 7 

The righteous care about justice for the poor…

Isaiah 1: 17 

Learn to do right; seek justice.
    Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
    plead the case of the widow.

Isaiah 58: 6-7 

… this is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people.  Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help.

Jeremiah 22: 3 

… Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place.

Matthew 6: 14-15 

For if you forgive others when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Matthew 25: 35-36

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

Romans 14: 13

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.

Galatians 6:2 

Carry each other’s burdens…

1 Thessalonians 5: 11

… encourage one another and build each other up…

1 Peter 3: 8

be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.

I want us to imagine, just for a moment, a world in which all Christians lived according to all these rules and fulfilled these commands. In Joshua 24 we read how the people of Israel chose to follow God and follow his commandments. What would this look like for Christians? Let’s take a moment, just to imagine this:

  • no sexual harassment
  • no hunger
  • everyone paid a fair wage
  • no slander
  • no hate, no vengeance, no grudges
  • justice for the poor
  • oppressed people who are defended vigorously, fatherless children who are protected, widows who have someone standing up for them
  • no one wrongly imprisoned
  • no human trafficking or slavery
  • the homeless living in proper shelters, the hungry given food
  • relatives receiving hep from their families
  • no wrong or violence against the immigrant
  • no innocent blood shed
  • forgiving others graciously when they make mistakes, even if they intentionally act wrongly
  • strangers invited in
  • sick cared for
  • those in prison visited and encouraged
  • no one passing judgement on you

This is justice rolling down like waters. This is an ever-flowing stream of righteousness! This is loving your neighbor and loving God.

As we go out today, let us remember this promise from Psalm 106: 3

Blessed are those who act justly, who always do what is right.

Always. It’s such a big word.

So, as we leave this Church this morning, may we be a small stream of water, a trickle in the giant ocean of injustice… going against the tide and shining our light in this world of darkness.

 

 

 

 

 

**https://www.reformedworship.org/article/june-2014/just-amos

 

Sermon: International Women’s Day

Today, March 8th, is International Women’s Day, and I would like to take this time to celebrate women in the Church!

I realise that throughout Church history, we have had leaders who have said:

“What is the difference whether it is in a wife or a mother, it is still Eve the temptress that we must beware of in any woman… ”

– Saint Augustine of Hippo, Church Father, Bishop of Hippo Regius, 354 – 430

Or even Luther who stated:

“No gown worse becomes a woman than the desire to be wise.”

Throughout the history of the Church, we have found philosophers, scholars and debates about the role of women in society & the Church.  The very idea that women might participate actively in the Church received support in the early years of the Church, but over time, this fell out of favor.  We find the following decision issued by the Synod of Carthage (398 AD).

“A woman, however learned and holy, may not take upon herself to teach in an assembly of men.”

These types of attitudes lead Elizabeth Cady Stanton to comment:

“The Bible and the Church have been the greatest stumbling blocks in the way of women’s emancipation.”

Shirley Williams said:

shirleywilliams

But then there are also celebrations of women in the Church also.

“These people do not know that while Barak trembled, Deborah saved Israel, that Esther delivered from supreme peril the children of God … Is it not to women that our Lord appeared after His Resurrection? Yes, and the men could then blush for not having sought what the women had found.”

–Saint Jerome, (the 2nd most prolific writer after Augustine in ancient Latin Cristianity) after criticism for dedicating his books to women

Most recently, Pope Francis said

“We have to work harder to develop a profound theology of women within the church. The feminine genius is needed wherever we make important decisions.”

We know that some of Jesus’ earliest followers were women – Mary Magdalene, Joanna, & Susanna.  We find women at the foot of Jesus’ cross, and women were the first to see Jesus after his resurrection.

“When [the women] came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven… But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.”

–Luke 24:9-11

We find the importance of women in Paul’s ministry: women were important members of the early christian church movement.  Homes of believers were where groups of Christians met and held meetings.  Those who could offer their homes for meetings were obviously considered to be important in this setting, and often went hand in hand with leadership roles.  We find Lydia of Philippi (a wealthy dealer in purpose cloth).  Acts mentions that “she and her household” were baptised.  (Acts 16: 11-15).

Although we may consider that the 1st century woman’s role was in the home, turning her home into a public religious setting opened up for these women opportunities for religious leadership.  These women were given leadership roles, dignity and status in return for their patronage, receiving a renewed dignity within Paul’s movement.

Even in Titus 2 we find:

Similarly, teach the older women to live in a way that honors God. They must not be malicious gossips… spending their time tearing others apart…  Instead, they should teach others what is good.

The role of women was that of active teachers… But striving for unity, not division.  There was no room in the early church for women who caused division.

Given that Paul is supposed to have said in 1st Corinthians things like:

  • Every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head–it is the same as having her head shaved
  • Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?
  • Women should be silent during the church meetings. It is not proper for them to speak. They should be submissive, just as the law says. Women should be silent during the church meetings. It is not proper for them to speak. They should be submissive, just as the law says.

But, funnily enough, he then finishes this paragraph with

  • So, my dear brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and don’t forbid speaking in tongues.

So… women were to be eager to prophesy, but were not supposed to speak?

Of course, the most quoted scripture regarding the role of women in the Church is probably 2 Timothy 2: 12:

“I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man.”

woman-1197111_1920And yet this appears to conflict directly with so many of Paul’s letters and greetings, and the women that he mentions in his Epistles.  I’m just going to list for you the women that Paul sends his special greetings to, and some of the circumstances in which he greets them:

  • Prisca (or Priscilla) and her husband Aquila, mentioned six times in the Bible, as missionary partners with the Apostle Paul (and in the craft of tent-making). The author of Acts states that they were refugees who came first to Corinth when the Emperor Claudius expelled all Jews from Rome. I’ve always noticed that when Paul referred to this couple, he always mentioned her first – so that some scholars suggest that she was the head of the family unit.
  • Mary and “the beloved Persis” are commended for their hard work.
  • There is then the greeting for Julia, who worked and travelled as a missionary with her husband.  He also sends greetings to Tryphena, Tryphosa and to Rufs’ mother, who “labour for the Lord’s work”.
  • Phoebe, a leader from the church at Cenchreae, a port city near Corinth is commended for her hospitality. Paul attaches to her three titles: diakonos meaning a deacon (lit. “servant”), sister, and prostatis meaning “a woman in a supportive role, patron, benefactor”.There is no difference when the title of deacon is used for Phoebe and Timothy. Diakonos (Gk.) is grammatically a masculine word, the same word that Paul uses in regards to his own ministry. Phoebe is the only woman to be named “deacon”. In Romans Phoebe is seen as acting as Paul’s envoy. Phoebe is named as a Patron of Paul, meaning that she would have been financially contributing to Paul’s mission. Phoebe was especially influential in the early Church seen in Jerusalem from the 4th century inscription: “Here lies the slave and bride of Christ, Sophia, deacon, the second Phoebe, who fell asleep in Christ.”

Paul in his letter to Timothy discusses the criteria for Deacons in the early Church which is explicitly directed to both male and females. Women flourished in the deaconate between the 2nd and 6th centuries. The position required pastoral care to women, instructing female candidates and anoint them at Baptism. They were also required to be present whenever a female would address a bishop.

  • And in Romans 16: 7 we find “Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews, who were in prison with me. They are highly respected among the apostles and became followers of Christ before I did.”  Junia was in prison with Paul – and possibly the only female apostle we will find mentioned in the New Testament.  Junia may have been an evangelist and church-planter, just like Paul.  Some translations made her name into “Junias” – i.e. a man.  But it appears that this has since been corrected into the feminine version.  I can only ask, How inspiring and wise must this woman have been to have been deemed by Paul worthy of the title “apostle”?

We also find

  • Chloe, a prominent woman of Corinth.
  • Euodia & Syntyche, Paul’s fellow workers in the gospel (mentioned in Philippians).

I find it difficult to relate these instances of respect and high esteem to the concept of a Paul that hated women and put them down.  These messages of thanks were to women (and men) who had played a vital role in Paul’s ministry.

But what do we do if two thoughts or passages seem to conflict? This is where the heart of the gender debate begins…  On one hand, we have those who say, “well if the Bible says to do it, then we ought to do it.”

Well, Leviticus 19 says that “You shall not put on a garment made of two kinds of materials.” If you’re wearing a cotton polyester blend or any other blend for that matter, you’re disobeying Biblical command this morning.  Well, you may be saying that’s an obscure Old Testament command. And you’d be right.

But five times, Paul and Peter tell Christians to “Greet one another with holy kisses.” Done any kissing in church lately?

Oh! That verse is historical & cultural…

So what if in Timothy Paul wasn’t talking about women generally, but some particular & specific women that Timothy was having problems with?  We may never fully know or understand the circumstances of this particular verse in Timothy.

I think it’s a fair conclusion that the testimony found in the bulk of Scripture, including the Pauline texts, speak plainly for women to be able to fulfill any ministry or position that the Spirit of God places upon them, whether it be teacher, prophet, pastor, evangelists or apostle.

When we look at the church, more times than not, there will be more women than men in church. Often times this is seen as a failure on the part of the church. In reality it may be the success of women being in MORE tuned with the Spirit of God. If there is to be a great awakening in the church, it will take place because we, the women in the church will see begin to see ourselves as God sees us. Women may hold the key to unleashing the power available in the church.

As we read in this morning’s Epistle, God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength. We may not fully understand the power of Jesus’ sacrifice, but we should whole-heartedly believe and cling to it.

Let us pray:

Creator God,

We give you thanks for the ministries that you have given to each one of us. We give you thanks not only for those women who have served you over the centuries, but also for those who serve you in whatever capacity today.

Today we specifically ask for your protection and peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where over six million people have died in the conflict so far.  We pray for the 40,000 women & children each day that are raped and tortured… asking for your healing hand over their lives.  We pray for justice for them – that even thought their country may not have anything of economic interest to the West, that you enlighten our leaders to see the needs of these people and intervene.

Today we ask that the lines of gender, race, wealth, and status completely disappear as we are transformed by your Spirit to be the “new creatures” in Christ we are called to be. May your church truly become the place where there is “neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female” for we are indeed all one in the grace and mercy of Christ Jesus our Lord.

Amen.