Wednesday, March 6, 2013

"Hangers On"

In Australia, when a guest arrives with others, maybe a friend or two who were not invited, but came as a suggestion of the guest, we call them “Hangers on”.

Usual etiquette by the host of a barbecue or get together is to welcome all, including the “hangers on”.

But when you are one of the “hangers on”, you may not feel entitled to partake of all that is offered, in particular, food and drink. There may well be a sense of not really belonging, and other guests may avoid direct contact, we call that “snubbing”.

So what about Jesus, and us, and heaven, and especially judgement day???

Will we be hangers on to Jesus? Or to others that are better known by Jesus? Will we still partake of all that is offered? Will we get through the judgement?

Wouldn’t it be awkward to be in heaven, but to have to stick to the back-rows, in case God notices that we are there, and decides that hangers on are not welcome?

The woman who touched Jesus robe was a hanger-on. She just wanted to touch his robe, but didn’t necessarily want to speak with him.

(Un)fortunately Jesus realized someone had touched his robe, and wouldn’t let that pass.

With authority he enquired who the offender was.

Trembling the woman confessed her action, and the effect of her being healed.

But rather than chastise, Jesus blessed her, commending her faith.

Though she didn’t realize it, her faith made her belong. She wasn’t just a hanger on.

So it is with us, I trust. We who have faith, though weak, though insecure, though undeserving, though we feel like hangers on, we are adopted by God, cleansed by Jesus blood, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and are full members of his family. What grace, what love, what sacrifice!

Going through the motions

This is an interesting topic I think.

There are many things we do in life that are ritualized. I am a doctor, and I can tell you that every procedure has a ritual preparation, especially in the operating theatre. Sometimes we do these things because it is enforced standard procedure, ( eg routine patient name checking when the patient is well known to all involved) other times we know the importance of every step we take, eg sterile washing and gowning before surgery.
 As Christians, of all genres, we have our various routines/rituals, eg thanksgiving prayer before meals, prayer before service, prayer before everything really. Sometimes the family has to temporarily interrupt an argument to hold hands and pray. Then the argument restarts. Is this ritual valid in that circumstance?
What of our many other rituals such as communion (which every denomination does differently) passing of the peace, etc etc. if we are not in the right emotional or intellectual head space are these rituals still worthwhile? Does God still hear us?
Lets briefly look at the alternative.
We gather for prayer before a meal, but Johnny is angry at dad for some reason so he opts out of the prayer time on this occasion, the assumption being that the prayer is invalidated by the anger.

Is this OK?
Not if I'm the dad.
I would prefer we still hold hands and pray together even if Johnny remains deeply angry. The best scenario is to reconcile before the prayer and shared meal, but even if the reconciliation is delayed, I would prefer we still shared the prayer of thanksgiving. I believe there are times and places where we put our differences aside, and get on with the task at hand. As a father I expect all at our table to participate in the prayer. Ideally reconcilliation happens as part of the coming together.

The scriptures actually tell us to reconcile before presenting our gifts at the altar, and to wait for each other and be equitable at the communion table. (Matt 5:24, 1Cor 11:29)
In the particular case of communion, there is a strong warning from Paul, that we should do so carefully, recognizing the body of the Lord. In fact a flippant attitude towards communion brings on Gods judgement.

Still, going back to the original issue, going through the motions in-spite of spiritual/emotional harmony is still worthwhile, in my opinion, but I believe it is important that there be faith in the motions.
What I mean by this, is that, at some point, we have examined, and have decided there is value in the set of Christian rituals we partake of. Finding that they are a meaningful expression of faith which may help us refocus on our Saviour, maybe in-spite of current "out of sync" state of mind.

Anything we do outside of faith is sin.  But going through the motions is actually an act of faith.
Simeon was going through the motions when the angel appeared to him to announce the gift of a son to be called John.
The people in the temple were going through the motions when they listened to Jesus read the famous passage from Isaiah. The high priest was going through the motions when he prophesied that it is better for one man to die for the nation.
It is important to reflect on our routines and rituals. Are they Godly?, Are they a reflection of the faith handed down to us by the Apostles? When we read the scriptures, are we fulfilling the strong instructions given there?
Are we going beyond the teaching of scripture?
Are we putting more faith in the ritual, than in God?

Sometimes simply going to church is a ritual, people do it for years. Maybe we feel it gives us a higher moral standing in society, maybe we are in the habit but not in the Spirit. Satan goes to church, I'm certain of it. He certainly knew where the highest point on the Jewish temple was.

But the reason we go to church is because of Jesus. The church is the gathered children of God. He wants us to meet together and celebrate and witness to the great gift of his Son, Jesus. 

The motions themselves do not have power. They are not a ceremony, that, when performed just right, invoke God's power. God is not like a complicated and touchy computer that needs just the right programme/software version to make it work. God is the Mighty One, The Creator, His actions are determined truly by his own character, and none other. 

But he calls us to fellowship with himself and each other and has given us wise and lasting teachings to guide the way we relate.

If our mindset is not right, sometimes it is good to opt out of things, but it is better to take a litte time, pray for guidance, be reminded of the tsunami of grace that was generated by the death and resurrection of the Holy One, and allow the Spirit to realign our mindset back to reality, the reality being that God is truly good, my sins are truly forgiven, and I am free to serve, and free to resist and turn away from sin, over and over and over again. And yes, do reconcile with your brother, or sister.