Genesis chapter 2 retells the creation story. Here we learn what it means to be human.
We are here to live. Life is an amazing gift from God to be lived to the full. Somehow the dust of the earth has become a living creature. It's crazy and it's wonderful - and it is us.
We are here for responsibility. We are here to tend the earth. not to exploit or to destroy it but to nurture it.
We are here for relationship. It is not good that we should be alone. Genesis 2 tells us that God solved this problem in an entertaining way. We'll think more about this on Sunday.
It is a privilege and a responsibility to be human.
More on Sunday ....
"I believe that God made the world in six days. If I don't believe that I have no right to say that I believe any of the Bible."
"I tried to believe that God made the world in six days but I'm a scientist and I just couldn't do it. For a while it seemed that my faith was in jeopardy."
These are Just two of the things that people have said to me about the creation story in the first chapter of the Bible.
Sixteen hundred years ago a man called Augustine was concerned that we would put people off faith by talking nonsense about scientific things. He thought that this was dangerous. I agree with him. My scientist friend almost lost her faith, until she discovered that there was another way to read the Bible.
So what about those of us who do hold to a six day creation? Well, let me say this as gently as I can. Many Christian writers across the centuries have disagreed with you. This wasn't because they understood modern science; it was because they looked at Genesis 1 and they thought that it didn't look like a historical account. How, for example, are we meant to understand day and night existing before the sun and moon?
The point of Genesis 1, I believe, is that it raises issues. How should we treat our environment? Should we be vegan? What about gender issues? Why are we so stressed? We will have a look at this chapter in Sunday..
Whatever you want God to do, I suggest you ask him. Right now.
He might say yes. He might say no.
It might also be a good idea:
* to get some wise advice
* to get to know the Bible a bit better
* to ask whether the thing you want is really the best idea
* to wonder if God's plan is bigger than the thing you want
* to think about anything that God might be saying to you
* to be quiet for a while and savour God's presence without asking for anything
But I still suggest that you simply ask God for what you want. Jesus would ask people, 'What do you want me to do for you?' He still says the same to us.
Some people got a big 'yes' from Jesus; others got told off. The important thing is that the conversation happened.
Saul had always been a religious man. It didn't do him much good. In the end he admitted it. His religion had been a disaster, just a cloak for a lot of foolishness and disobedience. Slavery, not freedom.
He then met God for real. It was a new birth. He was still Saul but he was changed. So changed that a change of name seemed appropriate.
He discovered the kindness and love of God. His life became productive. He tuned into God's generosity and gave it away to others.
The people of Crete had come from a very different background but they had the same needs, so Paul decided to stress some things.
1. It was in Jesus that he discovered who God really was.
2. The Holy Spirit had changed him, so much so he calls the experience a rebirth.
3. He was now in a right relationship with God, in a way he never was before.
4. He now wants to live the new life God has given him, and to get others to do so.
The key to it all is that God has in Jesus revealed his love and kindness. The truth, then, leads to real godliness, not the fake sort that Saul used to practice.
Jesus is the source of real productivity. We are not all like the old Saul but there is still one person like no other in whom God has shown his love and kindness. He is the one to follow.
The task of the church is to make God attractive.
If the church is attractive then people will probably think that God is.
I sometimes find it hard to believe that God trusts us with that task, but he does.
That's what Paul is getting at in Titus chapter 2. He tells people to do a lot of things "so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Saviour attractive." (Titus 2: 10 NIV)
He wants the church to behave so that people will have nothing bad to say about us. (verse 8)
He wants us to be eager to do good.
He says that's why Jesus gave himself for us.
Paul wrote almost 2000 years ago. Some things have changed. To my taste this chapter seems rather sexist. I find it uncomfortable that Paul has nothing to say about slavery. I'm pretty sure that Paul would write some things differently today. But not much.
So here's today's big question: what can I do today that will make the faith I represent attractive? The best answers will probably be drawn out of Titus chapter 2.
I guess many of you have already said 'no,' but stay with it ...
Church leadership is about a lot of things, but mostly it is about setting an example. When you become a leader you get an invisible badge that says 'copy me.'
Scary, isn't it? Leaders set themselves up as the people that others should follow.
The good news is that leaders don't need to be perfect. A bit of honest imperfection actually helps.
So here, from Paul's letter to Tutus, are some areas where leaders set an example:
* in their marriages and other relationships
* in parenting, whether that is with their biological family or others they support
* in avoiding any trace of bullying
* in managing their temper
* in not getting drunk
* in not being violent
* in financial integrity
* in hospitality
* in holding fast to the good news
Quite a list, isn't it? There are technical skills too, but they are secondary.
The more you have these qualities the better you will lead. Anyone feeling brave enough to volunteer?
One more thing - if the correct people don't step forward the wrong people will. The second half of Titus 1 will show you what I mean.
I've got a few. I won't say too few to mention, but I will tell you one of mine.
I regret that I didn't work out how to brush my teeth until well into adult life. Don't rush to me with sympathy; my teeth are ok, but there's been a lot of work in mouth that predates the dentist carefully explaining the best way to brush and floss. When my children were young my catchphrase was 'every bit of every tooth,' a lesson I learned the hard way.
This week is our harvest service and we are supporting a project organised by Operation Agri in Nepal. They do a lot of things; one is that they teach children to take care of their teeth. They also teach them what they should do in an earthquake and many other things.
I didn't know that I was brushing my teeth incorrectly, but boy did I notice the difference when I started getting it right.
Jesus tells us to come and learn from him. I wonder what else I'm doing wrong. I wonder what I need to hear from him. Maybe the work of Operation Agri will help me find out.
If you want to pray there are lots of helpful resources. I would especially recommend the 24-7 prayer site: www.24-7prayer.com/helpmepray
I've often heard that prayer is the key to everything, that the secret is to spend a lot of time on our own seeking God. Jesus did it and we need to do the same. It's hard to disagree, but maybe it's not the whole story.
This week I've been reading John 15, where Jesus makes an astonishing promise about prayer: ask whatever you wish and the Father will give it to you.
It sounds great, but how are we meant to get there? Jesus' answer is straight forward and perhaps surprising. He commands that we love one another. Then answered prayer will follow.
Love comes first.
If we want to pray like Jesus prayed we must learn to love as he loved.
We pray alone, but we qualify to pray alone in community.
Why is this so? Because only those who love like Jesus loves will pray the prayers that Jesus prayed. It's when we learn to lay our lives down that we get released from selfish prayer and pray in line with the prayers of Jesus, as his friend.
More on Sunday ...
'OK, Jesus, we know you loved him. But what's the point of all this crying? You could have done something. You opened the eyes of a blind man. Why did you hang around doing nothing? This man was dying. Are you crying because you were too late?'
'It's like Martha said. If you'd been here this man would not be dead.'
'What's that? Take the stone away? Come on. Jesus it's going to stink. Don't you know what a body smells like after it has been dead four days?'
'You want us to see the glory of God? Come on! There's no glory here.'
'And really there is no point in calling a dead man by name. He's not going to get up and walk out of the ...'
The story of Jesus and Lazarus raises as many questions as it answers. The basic point is that Jesus is the resurrection. He is victorious over death. But it's still a story of great pain and confusion. Nobody knows what Jesus means when he says that Lazarus is 'asleep.' Jesus' tears look more like defeat than victory.
I think that the pain of this story matters. It gives us permission to be confused. It gives us permission to cry. It lets us tell Jesus that if he had been there things would be different. It lets us tell Jesus when things stink. And somehow in the end we hear the voice of Jesus, saying that if we believe we will see the glory of God.
A shepherd at the time of Jesus had two roles. The first was to protect the flock from thieves and wild animals, if necessary by putting his own life at risk. The second was to take the flock to pasture so the sheep could eat and drink and live.
So Jesus describes himself as the good shepherd. The 'flock' are God's people. Jesus risks and give his life for them so they will be completely safe. He gives us everything we need for eternal life, having laid his life down and taken it up again.
When Jesus said these things he got two reactions. Some found it strange and difficult and rejected him. Others found it equally strange but they felt that someone who did the things Jesus was doing had to come from God.
People told Jesus it was time to start speaking clearly. Jesus said he already had, and if they looked at things he was doing they would see that he came from the Father.
So it's simple and it's complicated. Jesus died. He rose again. He is God's Son. Anyone can accept this and receive what Jesus has to offer. And it's so wonderfully complicated it takes image after image to explain: the bread of life, the light of the world, the good shepherd etc etc.
More wonderful than we can ever imagine.