Friday, 17 July 2009

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Is there more to life than this?


Last Saturday at our men's breakfast, one of the town pastors was telling us about an incident that happened a few weeks ago. A gorgeous girl, with minimal clothing, came out of one of the clubs surrounded by a retinue of male admirers. She lurched drunkenly across the street to where the two town pastors were standing in their bright yellow jackets. She came up to them, and she asked, 'Is this all it is. Is there more to life than this?'

She had the looks, she was clearly popular, she was supposedly out on the town 'for a good time', and she wanted to know if there was more to life than this.

It is not an original question

Song written by Freddie Mercury, with a version sung by Michael Jackson - both people who had so much and yet were desparately mixed up

There must be more to life than this
There must be more to life than this
How do we cope in a world without love
Mending all those broken hearts
And tending to those crying faces

There must be more to life than living
A better way for us to survive
Why should it be just a case of black or white
There must be more to life than this

Why is this world so full of hate
People dying everywhere
And we destroy what we create
People fighting for their human rights
But we just go on saying c'est la vie
So this is life

There must be more to life than killing
There must be more than meets the eye
What good is life, if in the end we all must die
There must be more to life than this

There must be more to life than killing
There must be more to life than this
I live in hope for a world filled with love
Then we can all just live in peace

There must be more to life, much more to life
There must be more to life, more to life than this

Both Freddie Mercury and Michael Jackson, in their different ways, hit the self-destruct button in big big ways.

How do we answer that question?

It would be fantastic if the world was filled with love, and we could just live in peace. But it isn't and we don't. And wishful thinking is never going to change that - because the problem is not other people, but ourselves.

The world will only be changed when I am full of love, and when I am at peace with myself, with others, with creation and with God.


I wonder what you think of Michael Jackson? Jesus in the story that we have just had read looked at the crowd and he had great compassion on them. It says that 'they were like sheep without a shepherd'.

They were looking for something: Many of them were looking for healing, for freedom from the oppression of Roman occupation, for something to eat. But love and peace would have helped! In fact, if the world had been full of love and peace then they would not have been in the dire powerless, helpless situation that they were in.

They were like sheep without a shepherd - in many ways no different from us: running off after the next big thing; following the latest life style guru, celebrity or fashion; seeking satisfaction in wealth, in mysticism, in a career (or maybe today simply a job), in achievement, in the satisfaction of our physical desires, in finding a partner, in children, in fitness, in plastic surgery, in holidays, in status and reputation: the list is endless

The thing is that none of those things in itself needs be wrong. It is just that because we have ripped God from the centre of our society, and from the centre of our lives, society is in a mess, and we are in a mess. We are lost.

We know, or we desparately hope, that there is more to life than this, but God knows - we don't know what.


These verses are a bit of a political swipe. When Jesus describes the crowd 'as sheep without a shepherd' he is remembering verses in the Old Testament, in Ezekiel 34, where the prophet condemns the political and religious leaders of Israel of abusing their leadership. They were in it for themselves. They had their nose stuck in the trough. They were self-obsessed:

"The word of the LORD came to me: "Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord GOD: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them." (Ezekiel 34:1-6)


So when Jesus says that the people are like sheep without a shepherd, he is accusing the current leadership - religious and political - of abusing their leadership.

And we contrast Jesus with those leaders. He is the one who is the faithful shepherd. He is the one who does have compassion on the sheep. He is the one who can show us 'if there is more to life than this'

1. Jesus teaches (at great cost to himself): he points through himself, to the God he has always known as Father, and to the Kingdom of God. He calls people to repent, to repent of our self-centred way of living, to turn back to God, to put God back in the centre of our lives, and to live the values of the Kingdom of God, putting our trust in him. This is not just one option among many. This is the way to life.

2. Jesus feeds the flock. The false shepherds slaughter the sheep so that they can feed themselves. Jesus, in the next few verses, feeds the people who have gathered to him. And that points us forward to the cross and the death of Jesus. He talks about how his body is going to be real food - by real food, he means the food that we really need, that satisfies us in every way possible - not our stomach, but our whole being.

The false shepherds kill the flock to feed themselves. Jesus chooses to give his life in order to feed us. It is because he chooses to die that we can begin to share his life - real LIFE, life as it is meant to be lived.

3. Jesus cares for the flock. We read that in verses 53-56. The false shepherds are accused: 'The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up'. The false shepherds may speak good words, but they do not care about the sheep. The true shepherd cares for the sheep, he cares about their physical situation and he heals the sheep.

4. Jesus gathers the flock: The false shepherds are accused: 'The strayed you have not brought back; the lost you have not sought'.

Jesus told a story about a shepherd who had 100 sheep. He lost 1. So he left the 99 and he went off to seek that 1 lost sheep. That is why the Son of God was born on earth - he came to us in order to rescue us. That is why - however messy or mixed up your life has been in the past - Jesus has spoken to you, and is speaking to you - urging you to come to him, gathering you in

And wherever Jesus is, people gather round him. Notice, they run to him.


So is there more to life?

Yes, yes, yes! I'm not saying that I have got it. But I am saying that there is one person who did have it, and who showed it in his life, in his compassion for people, in his teaching, in his dying for them and in his healing.

And it is by coming to him that our young lady can begin to find out what it is all about; and it is by coming to him that we can begin to find out what it is all about.

Yes, it involves:
repentance: recognising our brokenness before God, and a choosing to submit to the will of God
receiving the forgiveness and love of God
receiving the Holy Spirit, the presence of God to come and to live in us and to change us - to fill us with the compassion of Jesus, with the life of Jesus, with the love of Jesus and with the peace of Jesus.

And like Jesus, it is in the giving of our lives in the service of God, and for others - that we begin to discover true joy, freedom, fruitfulness and glory. We discover LIFE.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Study day on the Resurrection

Resurrection study day: 1 Corinthians 15 for the Christian Arts Society


1. THE FACT OF THE RESURRECTION

(1 Corinthians 15:3-11)


Michael Ramsay: What is the gospel? the story of Jesus
  • Death of Jesus (in accordance with the scripture)
  • Buried
  • Raised on third day (in accordance with the scripture)
  • He appeared: multiple appearances ('most of whom are still alive')

Wolfhart Pannenberg: “The evidence for Jesus’ resurrection is so strong that nobody would question it except for two things: first, it is a very unusual event. And second, if you believe it happened, you have to change the way you live.”

2. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE RESURRECTION (1 Corinthians 15:12-34)
The resurrection is not just an add on, a confirmation of the cross. It is essential.
Some were saying that there is no resurrection from the dead (vv12-34). If that is true:Christ has not been raised

1. Our preaching is in vain - we misrepresent God
2. Your faith is in vain - the God you trust in is powerless
3. There is no forgiveness
4. Death is the end: 'Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die" (v32)
5. We are to be pitied above all (cf vv30-32): why deny ourselves in this world, if this world is all that there is?

But Christ has been raised

1. The firstfruits of all who will be raised
(1 Corinthians 15:20)
Elsewhere, Christ is the first fruits of the new creation: raised on the first day of the week (John 20:1,19)

“This is the Octave day of your new birth. Today is fulfilled in you the sign of faith that was prefigured in the Old Testament by the circumcision of the flesh on the eighth day after birth. When the Lord rose from the dead, he put off the mortality of the flesh; his risen body was still the same body, but it was no longer subject to death. By his resurrection he consecrated Sunday, or the Lord’s day. Though the third day of his passion, this day is the eighth after the sabbath, and thus also the first day of the week.” St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (430)

• makes sense of Jesus' ministry. Note how Peter, James and John are not to tell of the event of the transfiguration (and the raising of Jairus' daughter?) until 'the Son of Man had risen from the dead'. (Mark 9:9)
• has an impact on the whole of creation: Romans 8:18-22

Vision of future Kingdom: solid - we are not talking about some out-of-body experience. Christian hope is not the hope of a disembodied heaven, but of a new heaven and earth (Isaiah 65:17; 66:22; echoed in 2 Peter 3:13 and Revelation 21:1)

Isaiah 2:1-5 People streaming to Zion (presence of God): word and law coming out of Zion. His justice - no need for war.
Isaiah 4:2-6 Glorious and fruitful land; place of belonging; place of purity; presence of God and protection
Isaiah 9:6-7 Prophecy of Messiah: no end to his reign of peace, justice, righteousness
Isaiah 11:1-9 The Messianic ruler: justice: vision (vv6-9) of wolf and lamb, lion and calf, cow and bear, child and snake; child leading. Knowledge of Lord as waters cover the sea
Isaiah 35 Desert bursting into life; Healing for blind, deaf, lame, mute; Water in wilderness; Highway over rough road bringing exiles to Zion.
Isaiah 60 Light over the people of God; Kings coming to the brightness of dawn; Children returning; The ones who destroyed you will rebuild you
Isaiah 65:17-25 Presence of God; no weeping or distress; people live out fullness of days; direct enjoyment of work of hands; echoes of wolf and lamb, lion eating straw

2. He has authority over all things, including death
(1 Corinthians 15:25)



3. WHAT WILL THE RESURRECTION BE LIKE?

(1 Corinthians 15:35-57)
Mystery: not an end to space and time, but an end to space and time as we know it. In imagination, but beyond imagination (1 Corinthians 2:9)

Illustration of seed and full grown plant/ acorn and oak tree.
Sown perishable, raised imperishable
Sown in dishonour, raised in honour
Sown in weakness, raised in power
Sown a natural body (of dust), raised a spiritual body (of heaven)


Can we imagine it in art (images, music, literature)?

Most Christian images of the resurrection depicts the events of the resurrection:
(eg. Carravagio; Stations of the Cross in Lodwar Cathedral, Kenya; walking out of the tomb)

Not much art depicts the new heaven and earth
Notable exceptions: Spencer, Resurrection in Cookham churchyard

The retreat to the abstract ..

Christian tradition of iconography: images of ultimate reality.
Icon of resurrection
Icons of saints: long noses, hazel eyes, large ears, small mouths

I'm not sure that it was an accident that the art of 'socialist realism' developed in the Soviet Union, in a society in which there had been both a tradition of icons and a suppression of those icons. We need to give people images of hope.


From CS Lewis: The Last Battle

"And yet they're not like," said Lucy. "They're different. They have more colours on them and they look further away than I remembered and they're more... more... oh, I don't know..."
"More like the real thing," said the Lord Digory softly.
--When the company realizes that Aslan's country is the real Narnia, and the old Narnia was just a shadow of what was to come

It is as hard to explain how this sunlit land was different from the old Narnia as it would be to tell you how the fruits of that country taste. Perhaps you will get some idea of it if you think like this. You may have been in a room in which there was a window that looked out on a lovely bay of the sea or a green valley that wound away among mountains. And in the wall of that room opposite to the window there may have been a looking-glass. And as you turned away from the window you suddenly caught sight of that sea or that valley, all over again, in the looking glass. And the sea in the mirror, or the valley in the mirror, were in one sense just the same as the real ones: yet at the same time there were somehow different -- deeper, more wonderful, more like places in a story: in a story you have never heard but very much want to know.
The difference between the old Narnia and the new Narnia was like that. The new one was a deeper country: every rock and flower and blade of grass looked as if it meant more. I can't describe it any better than that: if ever you get there you will know what I mean.
It was the Unicorn who summed up what everyone was feeling. He stamped his right fore-hoof on the ground and neighed, and then he cried:
"I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia is that is sometimes looked a little like this. Bree-hee-hee! Come further up, come further in!"


4. LIVING IN THE LIGHT OF THE RESURRECTION

The gospel in which you stand and by which you are being saved (1 Corinthians 15:1 cf. 1 Corinthians 15:58)

• It encourages us to godly living (1 Corinthians 15:33-34)
• It gives us hope:

o death has lost its sting (v55). It is not the end
o we will be changed (v51,52)
o we will put on imperishability and immortality (v54)

• It motivates us in our work - it is not in vain (v58) cf.Guite's and their babies
• It envisions us for our work - not pie in the sky, but vision of future world


Questions:

1. Do you think that faith in the bodily resurrection is central to the Christian faith?
2. What do you think someone means when they say that they find it hard 'to believe' in the resurrection of Jesus?
3. Has your understanding of the resurrection been 'this worldly' or 'other worldly'?
4. What pieces of resurrection art (including literature and music) have most touched/encouraged/envisioned you?
5. Can we/should we begin to imagine the resurrection in art? How?