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Saturday, 28 April 2018

Genesis 38 Tamar: All Honour Sacrificed

Life can be messy and chaotic. You might wonder why God would be bothered to get involved in the mess our lives can sometimes be. Often the messiness comes because we walk our own journey without really including God in it. Yet God works in our messiness for his own plans. I’ve been blessed to see lives here impacted by hearing of God’s love and acceptance and Jesus’ invitation to follow him.   
Judah walks his own path separate from his family and God. He definitely has many cracks in his life. He marries a pagan woman, walking apart from God. He’s sold his brother into slavery and deceived his father Jacob, letting Jacob believe Joseph is dead. Still God blesses Judah and he has three sons; Er, Onan and Shelah. The problem is that Judah’s sons do the same thing Judah’s done; walking their own paths without paying attention to God. Judah finds his oldest son Er a wife named Tamar. When God kills Er because of his wickedness, Judah tells his second son Onan to have a child with Tamar to keep his brother’s name alive. But Onan uses Tamar like a prostitute, using her for sex while making sure she never gets pregnant. Onan dishonours Tamar; shaming her. So God kills Onan.
Judah’s family life is messy and chaotic, even worse than his father Jacob’s family. Judah’s afraid and wants to protect his youngest son from Tamar who seems to be attracting God’s anger. Judah sends Tamar back to her father until Shelah is old enough to marry; Judah has no intentions to let his last son marry her. Tamar goes home in disgrace, a shamed woman rejected by her husband’s family. Judah neglects his daughter-in-law’s needs as a helpless widow, needs he should be providing for. Rather than turning to God to make sense of what’s happening, Judah continues to walk his own path apart from God.
Judah never stops believing in God, he simply stops letting God guide his life. Judah takes control of his life into his own hands, depending on himself to make decisions on how to live. Judah loses touch with God. This is an echo of our fall into sin, we figure we know better than God on how we should live. We want to be god of our own lives. This is why Jesus comes, to bring order and healing into our chaos and hurt. Jesus comes to bring the kingdom of heaven near again. The cross is Jesus’ way of establishing the kingdom of heaven here, pouring out the Holy Spirit into the world to help us recognize our need to Jesus and to help us become part of bringing healing and hope back into the world. In our story today, a number of years pass and, “Judah’s wife, the daughter of Shua dies.”
Reflecting on this story this week, I came across an article stating that most churches today in North America depend on their own wisdom and skill instead of God’s guidance. It’s not that they don’t believe in God, it’s that they depend on their own wisdom and desires to guide and shape their lives rather than God’s. This has led to churches that are no longer certain of their identity because they are so closely identified with our culture and society.
It’s not that churches in North America don’t believe in God, it’s that they try to tell God what to do instead of allowing themselves to be led and shaped by God. Too often we no longer have regular contact with God. Many don’t talk with him on a daily basis; the idea of praying constantly is completely foreign to most Christians today in our culture. Charles Sheldon's 1896 book, In His Steps is about a church that tries to live by the principle, “What would Jesus do?” Surprisingly, many Christians don’t like this saying. They believe we can’t know what Jesus will really do in different situations, yet if we let the values of love, mercy, grace and forgiveness guide us through prayer and Bible reading, I believe we can know what Jesus would do.
One of the church’s traditions teaches us to pray this prayer all day long, “Lord Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner.” By doing this, you gain a sense of God’s presence all day long reminding you about grace and mercy; great values to guide you through the day. This is why our church leadership is embracing prayer and worship as we look to determine where God is leading us and who he’s shaping us to be as disciples of Jesus. It comes from a desire to be more in tune with God and his will for us as a church.
Tamar’s actions struck me. When Tamar hears that Judah is going to be nearby and recognizes that Judah has no plan to give her as a wife to his youngest son to carry on the family name of Er, she crafts a plan to honour her husband by dishonouring herself. Tamar disguises herself as a prostitute in order to give her dead husband a child and carry on his family name by tempting Judah. Judah, just like Onan his second son, uses Tamar, he gives her a pledge for payment of his personal seal and staff. Tamar recognises she can’t trust Judah. You know the story, God blesses Tamar and she becomes pregnant; Judah condemns her, but she reveals that he is the father of her unborn children by presenting his seal and staff and proof. Judah recognises a truth, “She is more righteous than I,” he says, “Since I wouldn’t give her to my son Shelah.” The theme to seeing, or recognizing truth stands out in this story, as the crossroads where Judah and Tamar meet is called, “opening of the eyes.”  Both Tamar and Judah’s eyes were opened in different ways.
A former mentor said, this sordid story where Judah impregnates his daughter-in-law does not thwart God’s plans to bless the world through Abraham.” Rather, this story gives us an expression of God’s grace when Judah and Tamar’s illegitimate son finds a place in Jesus’ genealogy as Tamar gives birth to twins; Perez and Zerah. Perez, ancestor of Jesus, becomes a term of blessing by the time of the Judges as the elders bless Ruth and Boaz, We are witnesses. May the LORD make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the family of Israel. May you have standing in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem. Through the offspring the LORD gives you by this young woman, may your family be like that of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah.” Ruth and Boaz have a son so that Ruth’s first husband’s line doesn’t end in his death, the same as with Tamar and Judah. Ruth’s son is Obed, grandfather of King David, ancestor of Jesus Christ. Judah goes back to his family and leads them to Egypt, a place of food and safety where they can grow as a family. Perez leads the family into a position of power and authority among the tribes of Israel. God works in and through the messes we create when we walk our own paths first, to move his plan forward. God always works to draw you back to him.
Tamar sacrifices her honour and dignity out of faithfulness to her husband. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Philippians that Jesus also sacrifices his honour and “made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant... and became obedient to death---even death on a cross.” This was a shameful death, there was no dignity in such a death, yet Jesus willingly walks that path out of his faithfulness to God. Jesus comes into the messiness of life and experiences it all; from the love of parents, to the loss of a parent in Joseph, rejection, betrayal, the grace and hurt of friendship, and more. Jesus offers you a path to God to help you work and see through the messiness, and when the messiness is so chaotic and you can’t make sense of it, you still find hope and peace in knowing that God is in control.
We need a revival to rediscover the wonder of Jesus’ way into our hearts. We need our hearts to be impacted and transformed by the gospel message and a high expectation of what Jesus can do and is doing right now. Jesus doesn’t forget you or walk away from you when you don’t pay him much attention; rather he continues to work in and through your messy lives to carry out his plan to restore and redeem all creation. The Holy Spirit’s constantly at work in your hearts, looking to stir a greater desire to know Jesus and experience his presence, guiding, and blessing you through the gift of his word and relationships to bless our community. Listen to the Spirit inside you, calling you to embrace Jesus as your Lord; the one who can lead you through the messiness of your life so you can lead others to Jesus, their Lord. 

Friday, 20 April 2018

1 Kings 19:1-21 Elijah: All Hope Lost

Elijah has just defeated the prophets of Baal in a God vs god competition. Yahweh, Israel’s God, completely humiliates the foreign god Baal. Baal worship came into Israel when Israel’s King Ahab married Jezebel, a cruel vicious princess from a nearby nation and made her his queen. With the arrival of Jezebel came Baal’s prophets and worship. Jezebel has a deep hatred for Israel’s God and is doing everything she can to make Yahweh small and Baal big. But Yahweh is more powerful than she could ever imagine, but that doesn’t stop her from threatening to kill Elijah and Elijah, knowing Jezebel and the power of her anger, is afraid and he runs. Even though he’s just seen Yahweh in action, Jezebel’s threat feels more real than Yahweh’s power right now.
Elijah runs, he falls into a depression. Elijah’s fear now is as deep as the high from his sense of joy and excitement for God was when he defeated and killed the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. It feels as if life has smacked him across the face to wake him up. It’s common after spiritual highs to experience spiritual letdowns which is often deepened by fear and doubt. I’ve seen and experienced this myself after mission trips or emotional times where I’ve experienced God doing something really special. It’s not uncommon that a few weeks afterwards that the pressure to keep your faith private and not get so pushy about sharing our faith begins. On the mountaintop it feels as if Jesus is everywhere, then you get home and the reality is that there are so many who haven’t yet really accepted Jesus, and you can feel alone and different.  
The fall into sin is not just about doing bad things, it’s also about experiencing separation from God, the experience of being thrown out of the Garden to Eden into a world where life has now become harder. This creates emptiness, doubt and fear in people; barriers to experiencing the joy and strength that comes from being close to Jesus. Jesus experiences this separation from God on the cross for us, coming to a place where he cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus goes to the cross for the sin of the world so that we no longer need to experience the feeling of aloneness from him anymore; giving us the gift of his Spirit who makes our hearts his home now. Jesus invites you to accept the presence and strength that comes from the Holy Spirit as we follow him. But the reality is that many of us struggle with loss of hope, with feelings of not measuring up, experiences of rejection and deep hurt and some of us have even wondered, like Elijah if it’s worthwhile to carry on.
Elijah runs into the wilderness, a place the Jews expect to meet God. Elijah is so depressed he sees no reason even to continue on, he sees no future where God is powerful enough to draw Israel back to him. God sends an angel to minister to Elijah twice and Elijah finds the strength to continue on to Mount Horeb, formerly known as Mount Sinai where God met Israel and spoke to Moses so many years earlier. This is God’s mountain, a place to go to meet God, similar to what Jesus calls his church to be today, a place and a people who allow Jesus to shine through them. God comes and asks Elijah, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Elijah answers God, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”  
Elijah’s cracks and nicks in his heart and soul are showing through. Elijah, even having accomplished amazing things for God, is still a jar of clay and he’s being hard pressed now and the pressure is showing through in his depression as he’s overwhelmed emotionally and spiritually. He’s having a hard time seeing forward and so lashes out at God. God invites Elijah to go out and stand on the mountain on the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by. On Mount Carmel, God sends fire to consume the offerings on the altar in a spectacular way. It’s our nature to expect God to show up in big ways, to save us in spectacular ways, giving us a great faith story to share that will amaze everyone. God does things his way; look at Jesus, he’s not the Saviour people were looking for.
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.” In the whisper comes the question, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” It’s the same question asked gently and Elijah gives the same answer, the cracks in his soul are large. I’m not sure what Elijah is expecting here, but I’m sure he’s not expecting God to give him three tasks that are going to lead to a new king in Israel and the downfall of Jezebel and her reign of terror.
God reassures Elijah that he’s not alone, “Go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.” God is going to save his people. In anointing Elisha to succeed Elijah as prophet, God is providing Elijah with someone to walk with him who can understand the pressure of being called by God.
We’re not meant to walk alone, we are created for community so that we can support, encourage and build each other up. One of the most important things I’ve learnt in my own walk following Jesus is the importance of having people who are close to you who understand what you’re going through because they’ve know you. Our perception of what is going on may feel right but it isn’t always so. Elijah feels he’s all alone, he feels that Jezebel is a greater danger than God is able to handle and yet God already has plans in the works to free his people and there are many more who follow God than Elijah ever imagined. Elijah finds the hope and strength he needs in God’s tasks for him.
Jesus comes into the world as a whisper, rejects Satan’s temptation to be bold and noisy in establishing the kingdom of heaven here on earth. Jesus creates community around himself as a source of strength and encouragement, and while preparing for his death for our sin, he promises that he will not abandon us or leave us alone but sends his Spirit to be with us always. Jesus establishes the church, as fragile and cracked as it may be at times, to be a place to find encouragement and strength, community, love and blessing, especially through hard times of depression when life becomes overwhelming. Jesus went to the cross for us so that we can be part of building a better, stronger, healthier kingdom, a kingdom where Jesus is with his people always and we never need feel alone or overwhelmed by life again.