Jesus looked up.
“After saying all these things, Jesus looked up to heaven and said…” (John 17:1).
It wasn’t the first time John noticed that He did this. There was the time when a multitude of people were gathered on the grassy slopes around Him. They had been mesmerized by his teaching, listening intently, hanging on his every word. So enthralled, they had not noticed the sun slipping through the sky, and mealtime missed. Now they were tired and hungry and Jesus’s disciples were anxious about a large agitated crowd. Jesus had a handful of loaves and a few fish – small boy’s lunch. He took the bread and looked toward heaven… Continue reading
Reminiscing on Riet, remembering Dallas, and reviewing ‘Soul Keeping’.
If you’re a Vineyard Pastor in South Africa, one of the guaranteed highlights of our calendar is the annual retreat to Riet River in the Eastern Cape. Each year we get to spend time connecting and reflecting near the dunes of what could possibly be some of the most scenic and unspoilt beaches in the world.
At this year’s retreat, one of our colleagues, Brett Nixon-James led a devotional time on the topic of the Soul. He shared from his own ministry and experience, as well as from the book ‘Soul Keeping’ by John Ortberg. As I had previously downloaded this book to my Kindle, Brett’s sharing convinced me to finally get stuck into it. I am a voracious collector of books, electronic or otherwise. The challenge is always to read them all.
A computer device crashing in these times seems on a par with an international incident in the Cold War. Nukes could be launched.
Thus it was last weekend when my wife’s iPad crashed that I knew we were in for trouble. Not only have smart phones and portable devices become essential to stay connected through email and social media, but now it seems church cannot function without them. Our worship team has made the transition to software and music that can now be shared between the team’s devices. Gone are the days of pages of chords lying around the house, or scattered at the base of the music stand. Even the Church has entered the paperless world. Except now the paperless world has crashed and we no longer have the paper. Hence the crisis – no iPad, no worship. Well, that was the Cold War threat anyway.
I now recall that our relationship has always been intrinsically linked through worship. As a young youth leader, one Friday night I noticed that the vivacious worship leader had left her file of music behind. That old lever arch file was bursting with pages of chords and choruses. As we checked the hall before locking up, in my busyness I so nearly asked someone else to keep it for her. Fortunately hormones prevailed over pragmatism and I opted for delivering the file myself. In my mind it was the responsible thing to do, convincing myself I had the church’s interests at heart. The visits became more regular as that file was now left behind on a weekly basis – like crumbs leading to Gretel’s house.
I must say I have all kinds of problems with this metaphor. Jesus as the Good Shepherd could well be one of the most popular and celebrated images in the Christian Church. From early childhood we are accustomed to pastoral themes and pictures, Bible stories and church pageants of Jesus carrying little lambs in his arms. This theme has been celebrated in art and liturgy throughout Christendom since Jesus’ disciples first recalled his words. It is a powerful portrait and full of symbolism, but it still doesn’t sit well with me.
I grew up in a big city – Johannesburg. Since birth the city has been my home, the busyness, the traffic, the noise. Like everyone we enjoy our getaways, to the mountains or to a seaside destination. The problem is that as a family we seldom chose a Karoo farm as a holiday spot. All of that to say, I am not familiar with sheep. From what I know they are stupid, often dirty and then there’s the sayings – ‘Don’t be like a sheep’. We have friends that farm sheep in the Karoo but like most city dwellers I prefer my sheep in front of me – on a plate.
The annual ‘Feast of the Tabernacles’ is a highlight in any Jewish calendar. It was one of the three main festivals celebrated by Israel annually. The nation would gather for a week in Jerusalem with families and tribes travelling from far and wide to attend the festivities. This festival particularly is characterised by joyful celebration. Extravagant worship, shared meals with the community, children laughing and playing together. But above all, from times past even until today, when nations gather at the Feast of the Tabernacles there is an expectation for the Messiah.
The ceremonies and the symbolism of this festival are rich and meaningful. Jesus’ interaction on this particular occasion, his teaching and the remarks that he makes are massive. There is so much to focus on but perhaps that is for a follow-on post. For now let’s hone in on one feature of this festival – the centrality of light.
“That’s the title for our series, right there!”, Willem exclaims. This is the moment when it all comes together.
The build up to this extraordinary journey begins with the usual suspects. Five ministers from as different congregations and backgrounds as you could imagine in the Northcliff/Linden area. We gather every Wednesday, as each week the pressure mounts to deliver a sermon in our respective congregations. Despite the common perception, it is hard work but this is what we do, it’s our calling. We have discovered the joy and companionship of preparing together and it has become a highlight of the week.
The task is made harder as our usual practice is to start with translating the text. Well that is not entirely accurate. The weekly ritual begins with the host making coffee. Translating is a rigorous discipline and there is always so much to distract us: personal and family news, feedback from the past week’s services, a particularly demanding congregant, or most often just far too many ideas about next weeks topic. Translating takes time but it keeps us focused on the text and most often yields rich rewards. But what text? That is the perennial question that haunts the pastor who preaches each week.
“What are we preaching on next?” Gavin asks the group at the outset of the year. He galvanises us with our unspoken preference, to preach on a common theme. Jurie confesses he has been contemplating a series on John’s gospel. This intrigues me as I recall a week or so earlier having a similar thought. We left it there, hanging, as we dispersed to our next appointment or engagement. Perhaps it was another week later when we heard from Willem that Jacob, who was away on Sabbatical, had spent his time memorising the gospel of John in it’s entirety. Our interest piqued – was this just us, too much caffeine, or were we on to something?
People are astounded, the disciples stand aghast. Thousands have sat on the banks alongside the lake, listening to his teachings, hanging on to his every word. They have been fed – literally fed. Not just by his message but by a small boy’s lunch. A couple of fish and a handful of loaves. As they stand around amazed, questions began to arise. They whisper amongst themselves and as their confidence swells they look around for this strange Rabbi to find answers. But he is no longer with them. So mesmerised with their meal they had failed to notice him slipping away.
The next day they track him down, not far away, but on the other side of the lake. If you would like to know how he got there, you can read the rest of the story in John Chapter 6.