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Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Genesis 2:4-25 Breath of Life

The last few months I’ve had many conversations about life and death as a pastor, a son and brother. This week an old friend connected again through Facebook and our conversation was about death and life, but this time emotional and spiritual death and life. Her marriage ended and, in this crisis, she gave herself completely to Jesus, finding new life in him. That’s why when I was reflecting on this story, the theme of life jumped out at me. There’s much to this simple story, but this morning let’s think about life: who it comes from and how, who we are, and what it’s all about. 
Life comes from God. Everything in the world has its beginning in God. In Genesis 1, Moses tells us that God spoke and life appeared. But now he gives life differently; in a personal, intimate loving way. God takes dirt, and like a potter, shapes it into a human being. Humanity comes from creation itself, intimately tying us to creation. But after God shapes this human out of dirt, it lies there; still just a clod of earth.
Life doesn’t come from God speaking this time, “the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” God gets close and personal in giving us life, breathing life into us. The word for breath is the same word for spirit. God breathed his spirit into us, helping us understand what it means to be created in the image of God. God’s spirit gives us life. God’s image comes from his life-giving spirit. The form of our bodies is wonderful because God creates masterpieces. Psalm 139 reminds us “we are fearfully and wonderful made.” Your body, whatever its shape or size is beautiful and wonderful, a gift given by God. Our life is God given and this means you are precious to him, a beloved child, a dear friend of Jesus. Meaning and purpose come in being God’s beloved and being made in his image. Developing and taking care of God’s creation is the bonus part. The life we receive from God is eternal, there’s no death in the life we’re given, but a full life in relationship with our creator.
Life isn’t meant to be lived alone. After Adam is given life, God brings all the creatures of creation to Adam to see what Adam will name them. God is getting Adam to show him what he sees in the creatures God created. I wonder what Adam saw in each of the creatures that caused him to create names like crocodile, giraffe, hippopotamus or even snail or worm. After all the creatures come, not a single one is found to be a suitable helper for Adam. He’s alone. God’s there, but it’s not the same as having someone who’s like you, whose life reflects yours, who experiences life like you do.
Loneliness is experienced by so many people today. It’s a chronic problem. I’m certain that there are some of you who wrestle with loneliness, having no one that you feel you can share with, that you are able to experience life deeply with, who understands you, or wants to and tries to understand you. We may be connected to others through our smart phones and social media accounts and still many people struggle with loneliness.  Natalie Shoemaker writes, “More and more adults report feeling lonely. It's not just the elderly, but younger adults 18 to 24 that are reporting these feelings of isolation. John Cacioppo and Stephanie Cacioppo from New Scientist write that loneliness is becoming a modern epidemic, even when we're more connected than ever, these thoughts of being alone together are breaking us down. Humans are social creatures--we thrive in groups and decline when we're alone for too long, often becoming depressed. But the Cacioppos explain that loneliness doesn't just mean being physically alone, it can also mean feeling like you're on the social perimeter of a group.”
This is why so many LGBTQ persons and people from minorities struggle with loneliness and feelings of isolation. Jesus created the church to be a place where people can find community, belonging and acceptance. Churches often have focused on sin and separation from sin, but Jesus challenges us to examine our own lives before judging others. We’re not going to change anyone by judging them, but when we welcome them as persons created in the image of God, given life through God’s breath, the Holy Spirit brings new life. Brennan Manning puts it this way, “Jesus comes for sinners, for those as outcast as tax collectors and for those caught up in squalid choices and failed dreams. He comes for corporate executives, street people, superstars, farmers, hookers, addicts, IRS agents, AIDS victims, and even used-car salesmen. Jesus not only talks with these people but dines with them—fully aware that his table fellowship with sinners will raise the eyebrows of religious bureaucrats….” Jesus loves us as we are as he offers life and his love and acceptance. We are all sinners being offered grace and hope by Jesus.
So, what does God do about Adam’s loneliness? He puts Adam to sleep, takes a rib from his side and creates a woman. She’s a suitable helper, ezer is the word used, a word that God later uses to describe himself. Ezer’s not about position, but about relationship that fits each other. We’re not meant to be lonely. I wrestled with loneliness for a long time even though I have a wonderful wife and many friends. It was only after Jesus' words that he would never leave us alone sunk deep into my heart and soul that the loneliness really left. I enjoy being alone, but I no longer experience loneliness because I've allowed Jesus a place front and center in my life. There are times when being alone is good, but alone is different from loneliness. Relationship is part of the image of God. God is three persons in one, he’s a community that blesses and builds each person up. The church is to be community too; building relationships with the lonely, those on the fringes of society, the people overlooked, unloved and rejected. Jesus was accused of living too closely with the sinners, the drunkards, the impure. This is where we are called to live too.
God breathes into dry dead places, giving life and fullness and hope. The prophet Ezekiel is taken by the Spirit of God to a valley filled with dry bones. Hear what happens next, Ezekiel 37 (NLT) “Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to these bones and say, ‘Dry bones, listen to the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Look! I am going to put breath into you and make you live again! I will put flesh and muscles on you and cover you with skin. I will put breath into you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’” ... Suddenly as I spoke, there was a rattling noise all across the valley. The bones of each body came together and attached themselves as complete skeletons. Then as I watched, muscles and flesh formed over the bones. Then skin formed to cover their bodies, but they still had no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to the winds, son of man… ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, O breath, from the four winds! Breathe into these dead bodies so they may live again.’” So, I spoke the message as he commanded me, and breath came into their bodies.” God breaths new life into his people, he brings hope and transformation, he gives us himself still today.
In John 20, Jesus has risen from the grave after dying on the cross for our sin. He meets his followers who are together in a locked room in fear, John 20 (NLT) “Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said. As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord! Again, he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” Jesus breaths on them, this is how Jesus gives them the Holy Spirit! Through the Holy Spirit comes belonging, new life, hope, the experience of forgiveness and grace, the gift of community and relationship in the community of the church.
If you’re searching for life, hope, and community, Jesus invites you to come to him because he loves you, accepts you. As Jesus followers, we’re here to walk with you so your loneliness can be a thing of the past, so you can experience the full life Jesus offers you. For those of you who are experiencing the blessing of life in Jesus, the call to you this morning is to pay attention to the people Jesus places in your path, be quick to build into those relationships, and even more quick to invite them to come to know Jesus with you so they can experience new life as part of the community of Jesus.

Saturday, 11 August 2018

Genesis 1:1-2:3 Creation: Order out of Chaos

I remember my grandfather telling us this story and including the creation of things like unicorns and dragons into the story. He made it a story of awe and wonder filled with visions of spinning galaxies and incredible creatures, all created by an amazing God who loves diversity and beautiful things. It reminds me that this is an origins story, a story of the God who is behind the existence of this universe and all universes and everything in them. It reveals to us who God is and what kind of a God he is.
In the beginning,” what a great start, it takes us all the way back to when there was nothingness. We read that “the earth was formless and void,” a good translation, but the Hebrew can also be translated that “everything was chaos and the Spirit of God hovered over the chaotic wasteland or wilderness.” When you translate it this way, you get a better picture of what God is all about here; it’s about entering into that chaos and creating order and beauty and wonder out of a wasteland.
How many people do you know whose lives are filled with chaos, who feel as if they are wandering aimlessly in a wasteland, looking for a way out, for a new beginning, new hope, new life? The Bible and the Holy Spirit point us to God and Jesus as the source of new beginnings, new life and hope. We get a picture of this in how God goes about creating everything.
Let there be light.” Light is key for life, a counter to darkness and a symbol of life and hope, a guide in the darkness. Light is good, Jesus calls himself the “light of the world,” the source of hope in the world, shining into our lives and the life if the world. God begins the process of separating: light from darkness, water from water, and water from land. In a chaotic life, separation is important: unhealthy from healthy, brokenness from wholeness, self-desire from Jesus’ desire, old from new. The Spirit that hovers about the chaos at the beginning is given to us by Jesus to lead us into new life be separating us from the unhealthy in our lives, from the brokenness in our lives, from self-desire into embracing Jesus’ desire for our lives filled with health and wholeness.
The next part of creating order and beauty out of chaos in filling the land, air and water with life and light. Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds… Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth… Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky… Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” Can you imagine the amazing sight of empty land, water, and heaves filling with life, teeming with movement and variety and sound? Everywhere you turn there are new creatures to discover, new colours to see, new experiences to wonder at. Life is amazing and full and abundantly delightful.
This is God’s desire for you, this is why Jesus came, so that you might be filled with living water and the bread of life. Jesus came and went to the cross so that you can experience an abundance of hope, love, forgiveness, acceptance and grace; that you might have life, and have it to the full, as Jesus tells us in John 10. It’s not Jesus’ intention that you wander in a spiritual wasteland, he went to the cross to defeat Satan and death and to draw you back to his Father and into his love. The cross leads us to confession and repentance and an abundant life lived in gratitude to Jesus as new creations in Jesus.
Then God does the unimaginable, he creates a new creature in his own image to develop, tame, lead and love this creation into releasing its potential, this amazingly full, abundant, living creation to become all that God has created it to become. God blesses this humanity as he blessed the living beings before; to create new life and bless the life already created. God provides all creation with everything it needs and he looks and is pleased with what he sees, declaring, “It is very good.” God’s very good is magnificent, glorious, a masterpiece without compare.

You are a part of this magnificent, glorious masterpiece. You are the image of God, washed clean, given new life by Jesus, recognizing that image of God in everyone you meet. This is why question and answer 1 of the Heidelberg Catechism rings so powerfully to me: What is your only comfort in life and death? That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit he also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him.
This is why we focus so much on sharing our faith, on inviting others to join us in our journey of life following Jesus because Jesus desires that all people might have life and have it to the full rather than wandering through spiritual wildernesses. We are called to help people to discover this God who has created them in his image, this Jesus who offered up his own life so that they can experience new life in him. Jesus has made it possible for all people to experience new beginnings as he brings order out of chaos so they can experience with us the very good of creation. If you are hungering for beauty and wonder, come to Jesus, get to know God the creator and he will give you eyes to see the wonders all around you, filling your heart and soul with the beauty that lies all around you.