1517 and the urgency of now

For the most part it feels as if our lives move at warp speed these days.

Everything is urgent, instant and measured out in Mbps, likes and strategic plans. Perhaps we’ve bought into the latest mindfulness trends (useful) – though mostly they’re considered techniques to better face the impending busyness of tomorrow. With precious little ability to pause in the presence of the present, our past is confined to minutes and old facebook memories.

Which makes it odd for the Church to spend time marking 500 years since Martin Luther sparked the Protestant Reformation in October 1517 by nailing his 95 Theses to the door of a church in Wittenberg, Germany. Can it mean anything of importance to us today?

 

We are heirs of this remarkable moment whether we know it or not. Though predominantly about the sale of indulgences and the corruption of the Medieval church; this moment is a snapshot of the Church remembering that it is by grace alone that we are saved and brought into communion with God. Not through the actions of any priest, or the authority of any Minister, not through our best progressive politics or justice campaigning. Not through the quality of our worship or the intensity of our prayers.

 

Sola gratis – by grace alone.

 

However broken we feel because our past;

However harried by the perceived urgency of now;

However numb we have become to deluge of news and information…

 

God’s grace is for us. Gently, persistently and faithfully turning our eyes towards Jesus – the Crucified and Risen One. And there we will find again and again and again, that God brings us to life; and that God has and will reconcile the whole Creation.

 

Every last Mb of it.

 

What’s love got to do with it?

We’re about to embark upon a new worship series at Hope entitled “What’s love got to do with it?”. Apart from the cheesy goodness of using 80’s pop song titles each week, we’ll be looking to explore what we might mean when we say that “God is love.” Here’s an intro to the theme from Matt Anslow…
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What’s Love Got to do with It?

Nowadays it’s common to hear Christians—particularly Christians in our Uniting Church tribe—boil Christian faith down to the requirement to love one another.

“God is love,” we say, as if this resolves any disagreement we might have.

And so, for some, Christianity is really just our way of learning to be more loving, and its core message is not that dissimilar from that of many other religious (and non-religious) traditions. We’re all just working towards a more just society characterised by love, right?

But if we just need to be more loving, why do we need Jesus to tell us that? And if Jesus’ message was simply that we need to be more loving, then why was he rejected and killed? Why would anyone bother executing him for telling people something they already knew?

Stanley Hauerwas, in writing about Jesus and love, sarcastically asks us to “consider how the temptation narrative of Jesus in the fourth chapter of Luke must be read if Jesus is all about love.”

Returning from this desert, the disciples note he looks as if he has been through a very rough time. “Man, you look like you have been to hell and back,” they might say. (No doubt they must have said something like this, for otherwise how do we explain the language of being tempted by the devil?) In response Jesus can be imagined to say, “You are right, I have had a rough forty days, but I have come to recognize what God wants from us. So I feel compelled to lay this big insight on you. I have come to realize that God, or whatever we call that we cannot explain, wants us to love one another. There, I have said it and I am glad I did.”

If this alternative version were true, then we would expect Jesus to return to Galilee and simply go around telling everyone to love one another. But of course it isn’t true, and Jesus does not do that—in Luke’s version he returns from the wilderness and preaches from Isaiah 61, and this results in his neighbours attempting to throw him off a cliff. I guess they didn’t feel loved. Matthew’s version is less dramatic, but no less serious—Jesus returns from the wilderness and begins to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

None of this is to say that Christianity is not interested in love. Of course it is! But Christians assume that, apart from Jesus, we don’t actually know what love is. Good thing too, because love can easily become distorted. We look around us and see love portrayed in our culture, and it amounts to little more than strong, passionate feelings for people, things, ideas, and so forth.

These feelings are not bad in themselves, but they hardly amount to the kind of love to which we are commanded in the Scriptures. This is because the love we seek to embody—the love meant when John says “God is love”—is most clearly seen in the cross. It has little to do with how we feel and everything to do with the kind of people and the kind of community we are becoming.

And, frankly, the love we see in Jesus—love that, among other things, calls the world to repent—will not always be viewed as being very loving by the world. This love confronts the powers, challenges sin, forgives enemies, and requires a complete reorientation of our lives.

No wonder this kind of love led to Jesus’ hearers wanting to throw him off a cliff.


Prayer Practice #5: Handwriting Scripture/Prayers

During this fortnight, Matt will be posting about some different prayer practices to help us continue our exploration of prayer and fasting. The posts will be short and, for the most part, practically-focused.


Handwriting Scripture/Prayers

Just as we tend to absorb more from lectures or sermons when we take notes, so too do we absorb more of the Scriptures and of God’s word to us in prayer when we handwrite them.

The process is simple, even obvious: Read more

Prayer Practice #4: The Active Prayer Practice

During this fortnight, Matt will be posting about some different prayer practices to help us continue our exploration of prayer and fasting. The posts will be short and, for the most part, practically-focused.


The Active Prayer Practice

The active prayer involves a phrase drawn from Scripture, comprised of five to twelve syllables. The pray-er says this phrase aloud or silently in sync with their heartbeat. Examples include “O Lord, come to my assistance,” “Abide in my love,” “I belong to you, O Lord,” and “Jesus, my light and my love.”[1] Read more

Prayer Practices #3: Centring Prayer

During this fortnight, Matt will be posting about some different prayer practices to help us continue our exploration of prayer and fasting. The posts will be short and, for the most part, practically-focused.


Centring Prayer

Credit: http://centeringprayer.tumblr.com/

Centring Prayer was simplified into a method in the 1970s by three Trappist monks at St. Joseph’s Abbey in Massachusetts, but it is based on more ancient practices, including Lectio Divina.

The source of Centering Prayer … is the indwelling Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The focus of Centering Prayer is the deepening of our relationship with the living Christ.[1]

Like Lectio Divina, the root of Centring Prayer is listening to the Word of God in Scripture. Centring Prayer is a way of going beyond conversation with Christ to communion with Christ. The guidelines for Centring Prayer are:[2] Read more

Prayer Practices #2: Lectio Divina

During this fortnight, Matt will be posting about some different prayer practices to help us continue our exploration of prayer and fasting. The posts will be short and, for the most part, practically-focused.


Lectio Divina

This ancient practice has enjoyed a resurgence in recent times, including amongst Protestants. Lectio Divina literally means “divine reading,” and is the practice of praying the Scriptures. It is a helpful practice that centres on listening to a small portion of text with the “ears of our heart.” It can be done individually or in a group.

There are four steps in Lectio Divina, although they are not rules so much as guidelines: Read more