The Open Life
Three nights ago, I led our first Student Soul service at Oaken Cafe on the theme of “the open life.”
I didn’t call it that, because as is often the case, I didn’t realise that was the theme until afterwards. I also didn’t make clear the main point that I had hoped to present. So I’m just going to try and bring it home a little deeper.
Closed to the ways of God…
So we started with this strange parable that Jesus told:
16 “But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another,
17‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we wailed, and you did not mourn.’
18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; 19 the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated [justified] by her deeds. (Matthew 11:16–19, NRSV)
This is Jesus describing lives that are closed off to God. I shared that through both the ministry of John the Baptist and of Jesus, new life had been springing up in all sorts of different ways.
… despite an abundance of life
“[They] might criticise John for his lonely isolation, but John had moved [people’s] hearts to God as they had not been moved for centuries… [they] might criticise Jesus for mixing too much in ordinary life and with ordinary people, but in Him people were finding a new life and a new goodness and a new power to live as they ought and a new access to God.” (W. Barclay)
I love those words: life… goodness… power… access. So there is an amazing abundance of life that God is bringing forth, and although it’s shown in the parable as a warning about being closed to the ways of God, it’s really a dramatic invitation into openness.
You remain closed to your own detriment, because to be open to God is to be free!
The children in the marketplace (above) are always judgemental, always critical, never happy. “They refused to hear God’s voice in either form, the sombre or the joyful, in judgement or in mercy, if it did not accord with their conventions.” (R.T. France, 197) All this closedness was doing was blinding them to the wonder and beauty of new life.
Understanding the ways of the heart
A few verses forwards, and we find Jesus praying:
25 At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. (Matthew 11:25-27)
This is showing us that walking in the wisdom of God often seems counter-intuitive to the common understanding of freedom in the culture we live in. It is also something that is “revealed” to us from God. It is not some secret knowledge that we master. To receive the rich mysteries and gifts of the life of God, the posture we must take is the radical openness to new learning and trust in God exemplified by “infants”
In this prayer, I see Jesus pointing toward an invitation to a radical openness for God. It’s an invite for us to seek forgiveness for any pride or judgement that we are living with, and to turn to Jesus.
Toiroa – an example of openness
I then shared the story of Toiroa (thanks to Huia Come Home by Jay Ruka and Redemption Songs by Juddith Binney) who prophesied the arrival of the British to the shores of New Zealand and who even “caught a glimpse of a new and special message that these strange cloth-wearers would be carrying,” declaring in 1766:
Te ingoa o to ratou Atua, ko Tama-i-rorokutia, he Atua pai, otira, ka ngaro ano te tangata.
The name of their God will be Tama-i-rorokutia (Son-who-was-killed), a good God, however the people will still be oppressed.
(Judith Binney, Redemption Songs, p.11-12 in Huia Come Home, J. Ruka, pp.29-30)
Toiroa is an example of a life attentive to the ways of God.
There is a certain poise you must hold in your life to cultivate this kind of openness, there is a way of paying attention that can help tune us into an awareness of new life, of the unexpected, of the surprising freedom of Christ.
Toiroa was paying attention and had an open heart toward a goodness that he had not yet known in full.
Open Hands – a prayer practice
I want to invite you into a way of living that nurtures and cultivates this same openness.
The Holy Spirit is at work and active in the world, seeking to exalt the name of Jesus and draw all people into a reconciled relationship with their Creator. That means the Spirit is working in marvelous and mysterious ways all over the world. But despite the breadth of that, the Holy Spirit is calling to you, stirring within you, inviting you into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ, Ihu Karaiti.
To move from head to heart to hands, you can practice this easily.
At the beginning of the day, pause before action. Breathe. Notice. Feel.
Hold your hands out, palms open. This is you emboding an openness to God.
Close your eyes.
God, I’m open to you.
Jesus, I’m open to you.
Spirit, I’m open to you.
Hold that space for 1-minute.
And that is really where I wanted to land things last Sunday night.
I’ll see you next week!