Giftedness and Grace
Richard Dawson, 29 October 2019
I am amazed at the talent we have in this church from old to young,
professional to artistic, women and men, recognised and retiring – we have some incredibly gifted people in this community of faith. Some of you are using your gifts in your career, others exhibit them in a less formal way and some just bring them out occasionally when asked, to the delight and amazement of we lesser mortals. Giftedness at once lifts an individual above the crowd. They can do things we can’t. They can see things we can’t. They can think and perform in ways which we find hard to imagine. This age is the age of the gifted individual – we make movies about heroes and heroines who are essentially gifted individuals – this is why the Marvel series has such attraction. It seems, at times, as if there’s nothing a gifted person cannot do and yet… this is not the case. I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that giftedness hides all the normal (and sometimes abnormal) human weaknesses we are all familiar with. Self-doubt, fear, obsessiveness, addiction, jealousy, envy, lust and worse. And while we may see the ‘shiny side’ of these people, those who perform for us, whatever they do, often struggle to find the honesty and the safe place they need to confess their human failings. One of the key functions of a Church is to be a safe place to confess before God who we really are; to bring to God all of the failings and mistakes we make week by week. This is perhaps one of the more difficult things for us to do and yet do it we must for if we don’t, then all we have to rely on us is ourselves and when this is the case we know from history that no form of human giftedness can save us.
Let's be the best we can be
Kristin Jack, 23 February 2017
As we move into 2017, there is a real sense that God's Spirit is wanting to do something special here at Leith. It's a newness that will build on the many gifts, passions & dreams he has already planted in our hearts & that are just waiting to be fanned into flame. One of the things I love about our community here is the breadth & diversity of perspectives we have. We have folk from all kinds of theological & church backgrounds worshipping side by side, & learning what it means to simply follow Jesus - & help each other follow Jesus. I want us to keep building on this beautiful glimpse of they Kingdom among us, this pulling together of so many strands & creative ideas. Let's be the best & richest community we can be, drawing on our smorgasbord of traditions! Let's draw on our Word-centred tradition that honours & studies the Scriptures, seeking to apply it to all of life. Let's tap into the charismatic stream running through our community, & draw the best from it's love of worship, & Spiritual gifts; let's draw on the contemplative stream in our community, learning to be more prayerful & better listeners; let's draw on the passion for Social Justice & Peacemaking that's among us, & be propelled into action 'for the least'; let's draw too from our incarnational stream that sees God's presence & sacredness in all creation, & that responds to that with awe & a commitment to greater creation care. Let's be the best, most whole community we can be, drawing from the streams of every tradition that we have amongst us - all of which ultimately flow from Jesus himself. As Jesus said: "Whoever believes in me, streams of Living Water will flow out from deep within them" (John 7:38)
Kristin Jack, 14 December 2016
December - how did that get here so quick?! So often this is a month not so much about frankincense as franticness; not so much about myrrh, but about blur. It can be a frenetic month as we try to get work stuff ‘sorted’ before the year ends, while at the same time wrestling with plans for Christmas & for the summer break (if we can afford one.) For many people December is the most stressful month of the year. For many others, Christmas is the saddest and loneliest time.
And so we need the message of Advent - that Christ has come and is coming again - to really sink into our hearts. More than that, we need to continually invite Jesus in to be Lord of our hearts, our lives - and our schedules. Now more than ever, we need Jesus to be the core, the centre from which we operate. Psalm 46:9-10 says: God makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow, shatters the spear, and burns the shield. God says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Jesus says: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you….don’t let your hearts be troubled, & don’t be afraid” (John 14:27)
Make a conscious decision not to be overwhelmed by either busyness or loneliness this season, but to make Christmas a time when your relationship with Jesus is reborn. If you need to talk with someone, or pray with someone to help you get to that place - myself and Nancy and all the other dozens of ‘ministers’ we have at Leith are totally available.
Richard Dawson, 16 September 2016
The other day I ran up against one of those chaotic moments in life which makes you wonder where God is. A person turned in front of me at an intersection without looking and seemingly not understanding that straight through traffic had the right-of-way. I jammed on the brakes and just managed to stop in time but the dipping of my suspension meant that I touched her left hand bumper and did significant damage to it whilst leaving a little scratch on my bumper. She was suitably contrite and apologetic and I was left with her business card and that weird feeling that this shouldn’t have happened.
Later I was watching the Rio Paralympics which I’ve really enjoyed and heard a wonderful interview with our hero of the day, Sophie Pascoe. She said a remarkable thing. Referring to the accident which left her without the lower part of her left leg she said that she now felt that this accident was a blessing because it had lead to so many good things in her life! Amazing really. I’m sure she and her family didn’t feel that way for a long while but in the fullness of time something good has come of it.
I wonder if you’re in that place of regret right now? I wonder if you’re facing the fallout from one of those chaotic moments which has left you or a loved one damaged, maybe even permanently? I wonder if your life is full of regrets and ‘what-ifs?’ If that is the case can I say to you that God has not forgotten your suffering. Our God is a God who brings blessing out of chaos and loss. As with Sophie Pascoe it perhaps takes considerable time to see this come to fruition but it does, because we have a faithful God who is aware of the chaotic world we live in. Today, know that God does not leave us in this state of grief and shock but will work, in His time, to help us realise the triumph in the tragedy.
Richard Dawson, 5 August 2016
I don’t know about you but more and more these days I find that I simply have to turn away from the news because the state of the world and the amount of conflict I hear about is just overwhelming to the point that it leaves me disturbed and upset. And it’s not just the news. I find that programmes where people are given a chance to ‘speak their mind’ about subjects can degenerate into an opinionated rant against, more often than not, a public figure who has no chance to defend themselves. Worse still, we hear people declaring that they're going to take matters into their own hands and to act in ways which are, if not violent, designed to enact some sort of revenge on the object of their anger.
We live in violent times where violence, if not the first recourse, is almost certainly the second in almost every conflict. It is the Christian duty I believe to stand against this tide and to advocate with everything we can a peacemaking path for all peoples. Nothing but greater damage is caused by a recourse to violence as a means of solving conflict whether it be verbal, emotional, social or physical. Violence has a way of spreading hate by affecting a much greater group of people than those directly involved in the conflict just as war takes a terrible toll on civilians.
Even here in New Zealand, violence costs us all. Our tax dollars are funding medical and legal help for an increasing number of citizens who have been directly affected by violent crime or domestic violence. This is to say nothing of the long road to recovery for families who have suffered the death of a loved one in an outbreak of violence.
The question is, how can we raise the flag of peace in our lives and in the life of our church?
Richard Dawson, 7 June 2016
A surprising amount of human behaviour is, I believe, motivated by failure. Whether it be fear of failure, or wisdom gained through failure our actions often have failure in the background. We often think of this in pretty negative terms but the story of Peter’s redemption from his incredible betrayal of Jesus three times during His trial, shows that God uses failure in some amazing ways and it also shows that He is not fazed by our failure. Perhaps the biggest failure of humankind began with Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the Garden, an event that led to the whole of humankind being trapped in the cycle of sin. Yet God has redeemed us through Christ and continues to show that He can work through and with our failures if we will admit them, face them and not be afraid of them. As Dave Smith of the Kingsgate community Church says ‘The call is greater than the fall!’ Fear of failure is, however, a real issue for it can cause us either to over-perform or to under-perform. Over-performers tend to look to their own strengths to overcome a perceived or real failure which would be fine if it weren’t for the fact that the strength they are relying on is the same one that caused their failure—in other words, themselves. Under-performers do the opposite. Frightened of ever making a mistake again they do their best not to have to perform again. They hide away hoping they can avoid any situation where they might be put to the test. This is precisely what the disciples were doing locked away in the upper room after Jesus’ death. They had decided that they could not risk failure again so they were better to hide from the world. Jesus’ answer to both over and under-performers is the same… ‘Come to me all you who are weary… and I will give you rest.’ The only performance God is interested in is relationship with Him.
Richard Dawson, 18 May 2016
What can really change a person? What has changed you? Have you been changed by an experience—perhaps a bad experience—a betrayal, an insult, a loss, an injury? Many things appear to change us but do they really? Or do they simply reveal what is in us already? Many people believe that once the ’die is cast’ humans do not change. They stay good or bad, honest or dishonest, sad or glad, lazy or hard working. This kind of prejudice is as prevalent today as it was in Jesus’ times when, children, women, the poor, Samaritans and Gentiles in general were all considered highly suspicious and devoid of character by Jesus’ own people. Do we look at people with such an attitude? I suspect we do. I suspect many in our society look with great suspicion on refugees, people of a different race or religion, the poor and those who’ve been in trouble with the law. The Bible is convinced people can change but the ‘change-agent’ is not something within them. Rather it is the work of the Holy Spirit when we give ourselves to Jesus. In Christ we find the greatest change-agent of them all for He is the one who can give us new life. Malcolm Muggeridge the former left wing journalist who found Jesus later in life came to understand this because he was turned from a Christian-hating writer to a Christ-honouring one after a significant meeting with Christ. Of this he said ‘I can say that I never knew what joy was like until I gave up pursuing happiness, or cared to live until I chose to die. For these two discoveries I am beholden to Jesus.’ When we truly meet Jesus we cannot help but be changed and, indeed, one of the best descriptions of the Christian life is that it is the desire and attempt to live all life in the company of Christ—to be continually meeting Him. And this is possible not as we try to do it but as we cry out to God for this privilege.
Richard Dawson, 9 May 2016
After Jesus was killed came the silence of the Sabbath and then Mary’s encounter which was the beginning of a 40 day period during which the risen Christ was seen by literally hundreds of people. Some recognised Him immediately. Others, including Mary herself, didn’t at first. Many things about Him were the same; he retained the wounds from his time on the Cross; he could eat; he did look something like he had before but He was also different. Mary mistook Him for a gardener. In Luke 24 though He appears ‘in the flesh’ the disciples doubt that it is He and are frightened to the extent that He must appeal to them saying “Why are you frightened and why do doubts arise in your hearts?” On the road to Emmaus two disciples who knew him well walked several miles with Him and still didn’t recognise him. What’s going on!?
One answer comes from the realisation that in these very special encounters the people who meet Jesus are seeing something more than just a body. Rather they are seeing Jesus partly transfigured again into His eternal self and that very aspect of Him hides something of his nature as a human being. Not that He has lost anything human. Rather He is gaining an eternal frame which like the light which is God—is so bright that we cannot fully comprehend it. We are so used to seeing things that make sense that when we see something that is slightly different it confuses our minds severely. God is not the same as anything or everything else. He is significantly and radically other to the extent that we always need to keep an open mind about what God might do and what and whom God might work through. This is both a concern and a joy. We need to be concerned not to confine God to our ‘normal’ and to realise that God can use anything in Creation to reveal and glorify Himself.
Richard Dawson, 2 May 2016
There can be absolutely no question that we must welcome those who have been refugees into this city. Our own faith is a faith of the refugee and for the refugee. In God’s sight we are all refugees from His love and grace and only because of God’s love and grace do we find a new home back with the God who is our true home. We arrive before God with nothing of any value and we are accepted not as vagrants or interlopers but as daughters and sons of His love. We who were so poor are made rich by God’s love and grace. So the question cannot be one of whether or not we should welcome these people but what real welcome means. Jesus was once welcomed by an important man—Simon the Pharisee, into his house. Jesus was given a place at the table which was certainly a sign of honour and it must have been a considerable risk for Simon to have Jesus there since the Pharisees were already implacably opposed to Him. However, before the meal, a woman of ill repute enters the house and begins to tend to Jesus and wash his feet with her tears and apply an expensive soothing balm to them. The others at the meal are offended that Jesus would even allow this woman to touch him. But Jesus defends her saying that her welcome has been more significant and more real that anything Simon offered. He also explains that because she understood her need and came in the humility of that need, her prayers have been answered. One key learned from this story is that some welcomes can convey more of an “unwelcome.” A hand shake and a hearty “hello” cannot convey anything but the most formal of welcomes. A true welcome requires skin! It requires commitment, time, friendship and resource for if a welcome is not these things then it conveys more an unwelcome than a true welcome. Are we prepared to put skin to our welcome to the Refugees?
An Empty Space
Richard Dawson, 25 April 2016
The post Easter space in the Christian calendar is perhaps the most potent empty space in all Creation. Anyone who has been to sea for some time or who has been in a real desert will have some idea of just how powerful an empty space can be. When there is nothing but the horizon for days on end we not only begin to sense something of the majesty of Creation but we also begin to sense something of the true place we have it in. When what is before us is too big for us to fill in any way we begin to realise the true boundaries of our humanity. This is one reason why God has always lead His followers into deserts of one kind or another. In these places we must give up the prideful imaginings of our heart and begin to comprehend our limits and our needs. Furthermore, in the empty places we find it much easier to focus on one thing—the one thing, as Jesus said to Martha, “that is needful.” I wonder if you’ve been led to a desert recently? I wonder if you’ve found the usual joys of life suddenly gone because opening before you is a huge empty place—a place devoid of a loved one or close friend; a place robbed of health and vigour because of sickness or injury; a place deserted by hope because someone or something has let you down terribly or because you see a madness in the world which seems unstoppable. If so know this one thing—in this space, in this terrible emptiness, in this barren landscape—God is there! This is the one key message we find in the Bible about empty places—they are not empty of God. Indeed, God is especially present there because in that place our hearts can be especially open to God. The disciples went into their empty space after Jesus finally ascended to heaven with a mixture of joy and apprehension. We too need to realise that with every desert—God will make a way though there seems to be no way!
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