17 March 2019 Sunday message: Our citizenship is in heaven.

Reading: Philippians 3:17-4:1

Overview: In the reading today Paul talks about citizenship. Earlier in chapter 3 and in other epistles he shares the complexities of his many identities. Paul was a Jew, a Pharisee and a Roman citizen. He values these identities. But he finds a new one IN CHRIST.

Message:

There is a great story of a wealthy businessman who went tramping and got lost. While making his way through the thick growth of the forest he came across a local man who was quite protective of his patch. The local man called out to him: “who are you and where are you going?”. After getting help from this man, and reaching the end of the clearing he said, “would you like to come and live in the city?” The man replied – “no thanks I’m fine here. In any case how would I live there? I have no work.” The wealthy man replied: “I’ll give you a job. I’ll put you in an office next to mine.” The local was surprised at that. “What would I do there?” he asked.

“Every day” said the wealthy man “your job will be to come into my office and ask me that question: ‘who are you, and where are you going?’”

It’s a great question. It’s about identity and it’s about destiny.

In our reading today we see the shaping of Paul’s new identity. The Christian identity is firstly:

  1. A CLEAR IDENTITY

Who are you? asks the woodsman, the local in the story. It helps to be sure. Certain.

The Christian identity is described in a number of foundational ways including the new birth (John 3) and adoption by God as children (Romans 815; Ephesians 1:5). A key one is this:

  • 2 Cor 5:17: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
  • Rom_8:1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,

It’s a significant term because “in Christ” we participate in his act of salvation. We die with him (he dies in our place) and we are raised with him (the same spirit that raised Jesus from the dead dwells in us).

With this in mind, let’s look at what Paul writes in the first verse of our reading from Philippians today:

Php 3:17  Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.

If we are copy or imitate Paul’s example here as he suggests, everything else becomes secondary to this one thing of being “in Christ” and of knowing this Jesus.

“in Christ” we find ourselves safe too in our Christian identity.

Paul’s other identities are surrendered to this single identity as a Christian. We see this as  we read earlier in chapter 3: Php 3:7  “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.” Includes his Jewish pedigree. And then there’s the next verse: Php 3:8  What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ

The Philippian context us useful here. The people who lived in Philippi were Roman citizens. They valued that but did not want to go back to Rome. They stayed in the colony called Philippi -and wanted it to be like Rome. They liked the security and stability, the infrastructure etc.  There were SAFE in Caesar’s province. He was in charge of their world and they were safe in that knowledge.

But now the Philippians were becoming believers. Just as the peace of Rome and its privileges extended to the Roman citizens in Philippi (many of whom were the equivalent of today’s army veterans) God’s Kingdom on earth is the peace – the shalom of God on earth lining us up with the perfection of heaven.

This is supported by the Lord’s prayer where this realignment is reflected in the key part of the prayer: Mat 6:9  “This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, Mat 6:10  your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Paul’s new and clear Christian identity is such an all-consuming thing that he describes it like this: We are in Christ, and Christ is in us (Colossians 1:27).

So to summarise: Heaven sends Christ – Christ calls us and commissions us to work on his behalf. We are as his body an extension of Jesus who ushered in the Kingdom.  It happens through us when we are  in him and he in us as the will of God becomes a reality on earth. Elsewhere in 1 Corinthians 5 where we are “in Christ” and therefore a new creation we are also called his “ambassadors.”

All of this is part of our identity.

We know who we are and where we are going. Our identity and our destiny.

  1. A CLEAR DESTINY

It’s clear from the whole of his letter to the Philippians that Paul had a passion for doing Jesus’ will on earth AND a desire to be with the Lord.

After writing that for Him to live was Christ and to die gain, he has more to say. Look at  the whole passage:

Php 1:21  For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. Php 1:22  If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! Php 1:23  I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; Php 1:24  but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.

Also remember what he says in 2 Corinthians 5: 2Co 5:6  Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. 2Co 5:7  We live by faith, not by sight. 2Co 5:8  We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.

Clearly Paul understands his identity and his ultimate destiny. In fact there is a tension between the present and the better future to come in all these passages. There is a longing for what is better.

But it is dangerous to have our priorities reversed. When Paul admonishes those who don’t follow his example, he is quite concerned about this failure. If we return to Philippians 3 we read:

Php 3:18  For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.

Php 3:19  Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things.

He shares this often and with tears, mourning the fact that these people are missing the boat as it were. Instead of a longing for a better destiny, seeking God’s kingdom, being ambassadors of this new creation in Christ, some of his readers are like this:

  • They are enemies of the cross of Christ.
  • Their god is the stomach, or their belly
  • Their glory is in their shame (GNB …proud of what they should be ashamed of)
  • Their mind is on earthly (or worldly) things.

The description Paul gives here is that of pagan behaviour focusing on physical pleasure and appetites. This is a warning to the Philippians of the day and to us that our lives should not be conditioned by the world of the senses. These are people who seem self obsessed and whose priorities are inverted.

More than that, to live as an “enemy of the cross” is to deny God’s sacrificial way of rescuing his people. The cross involves self-denial as Philippians 2 reminds us.  We too should be like  Jesus who gives up power. Terror and violence and the use of power to prove  a point is the exact opposite of jesus’ way.

The consequence of living like this is clear in verse 19:

Php 3:19  Their destiny is destruction

It’s a sober warning. But for those who don’t go that route, there are great benefits.

They have a clear identity and a clear destiny.

And we like them live in this in-between time and state where we shouldn’t want to escape the world because we are called to be ambassadors in it, extending his will and his Kingdom.

Our destiny does of course includes the certain hope of eternal life.

  1. A CERTAIN DESTINY (A CERTAIN HOPE ON EARTH AND IN “HEAVEN”)

Returning to the passage in Philippians 3 we read: Php 3:20  But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, Php 3:21  who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

This is not an escapist approach wanting to get to heaven ASAP. For now, we pray and act to bring God’s Kingdom into reality on earth. With the hope of the future in mind – the hope of the new heaven and new earth – the recreation of all things, we work NOW to bring God’s love to bear on the world.

As we do this it follows naturally that we have a solidarity and bond with our earthly citizens like the people of those mosques in Christchurch who were so tragically gunned down this week –  not only because we abhor violence and hatred, but because love and compassion are essential to our Christian DNA. They are signs of God’s Kingdom coming on earth. And the Christian community is and was from its inception a multinational family, which goes against views that make any particularly ethnicity better than another. I love it that the followers of jesus were first called Christians in the very multi-ethnic church in Antioch (Acts 13:1).

(See previous post on bbpsermons about the Chistchurch shootings on 15 February 2019) https://bbpsermons.wordpress.com/2019/03/16/reflections-on-the-christchurch-shootings-15-february-2019/?fbclid=IwAR2ig1yzAF4So7eQdKSTkV788sMiPI6vo9no03T04-C2VRSx6QJzjSI0Eno 

In fact being the body of Christ – his hands and feet and voice who are his ambassadors urging people to be reconciled with God, we show compassion and care as an expression of his Kingdom and God’s character seen in Jesus and duplicated in us as his followers. After all Jesus’ new commandment is this: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. (John 13:34).

But what about this heavenly citizenship? What do we make of this? Is Paul wanting to get out of here to a better place? A kind of Christian “beam me up Scotty”  if you remember the Star Trek transporter.

No – he is IN CHRIST. His desire is also to be WITH THE LORD fully. Remember: Php 1:23  I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; Php 1:24  but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.

He recognises that he is needed for ministry to them and others.

In the meantime – like us –  he is Heaven’s citizen living on earth. The only really important dual citizenship.

He is like the Roman colonists in Philippi who remain Roman citizens but stay in the colony rather than going back to Rome.

And so are we. We are like colonials from heaven.

So he can declare:  But our citizenship is in heaven

And I love the promise of what that means that follows in these verses

And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, Php 3:21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

What a glorious day it will be! For the frail, the infirm, the amputee and the disabled. More than that, it will be glorious for the able-bodied too. I am so looking forward to my body being transformed! And being with the Lord.

In the meantime, we are citizens of heaven representing the Kingdom coming on earth. There is much work to be done:

Showing compassion in the face of terror and tragic deaths, modelling Jesus’ way by imitating Paul as he imitates Christ; praying that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven, and modelling his will and way of life for others to witness.

This is our identity and our destiny.

As a lovely end to this passage, Phil 4:1 records why Paul tells them these things: – they need this certainty to stand firm in difficult times:

Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!

Our identity and destiny certainly keep us steady in troubled times too.

Amen.

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REFLECTIONS ON THE CHRISTCHURCH SHOOTINGS – 15 FEBRUARY 2019

Can you imagine what it must be like when the place you hold dear – a place of worship – becomes a killing field? It’s hard to get your head around it – imagine it happening here in our church.

It’s happened in other countries. In the country of my birth – in the St James Church massacre in 1993 (25 July) 11 people were killed and 58 wounded. The perpetrators were eventually granted amnesty by the truth and reconciliation commission in 1998. Families  of victims and survivors of that shooting have suffered  a lot and still do. It makes my recent talk on trauma very relevant.

It’s happened more recently in Christian churches in Egypt and other North African countries. We don’t think too much about them – it seems too far away.

But here? In this country? It would be like something happening on the South Island far from us – and something down the road if we lived in Christchurch. Unlike the earthquake which shook everyone again and again, a shooting down the road would have sounded like fireworks and maybe someone else’s problem.

Except that wounded people were running through the neighborhood. A young man asleep – not unusual of course for young people at lunch times some days – was more than slightly surprised to find a wounded man running through his home. He and his friend helped him and applied pressure on the wound and so forth, as you do when a man with a rifle shot wound walks through your house. He called for an ambulance. None came. So the friends took the man to hospital themselves.

You would have heard the stories as the world has – of a 66-year-old woman driving down the road being shot at and helping one wounded man and watching another die – feeling helpless and yet helping a great deal indeed. Other amazing stories abound.

You will hear the concerns about slow response time – about poor intelligence services, about innocence and complacency. About who should be held responsible for not picking up on extremists who can post things in advance on social media and not be picked up. You probably now know what a GoPro camera is – so that a shooter can broadcast live what he is doing – like a personal dash camera. You will also probably wonder about people who posted and shared video footage on line of old people, women, children, in a place of worship, being wounded and killed. And you may rightfully wonder if the world has finally gone mad and if people are actually totally depraved after all.

This kind of violence is not new, however. New Zealand has simply been spared it at home thus far. Sadly, we will have to rethink our lax attitudes about all kinds of things from now on.

We extend our love and prayers to all who have lost loved ones or have been injured. And we stand in solidarity with all kiwis who reject violence, hatred and prejudice of any form.

A lot of kiwis may well be reflecting on their identity today. Many are certainly standing together with the communities of those two Christchurch mosques in a powerful witness of unity as a people. They may well be thinking more about Muslim citizens of this country and the world. Maybe we all will begin to appreciate more that God loves the whole world.

Let’s hope that people who are often prejudiced toward those who are different will pray for them all, and especially pray that those who have been bereaved in Christchurch may be comforted. I pray that they may be drawn to Isa’s love at this time. Isa – Jesus – is after all referred to a number of times in the Quran as the Messiah (Isa al Masih).

May the God who is the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3) richly bless those who grieve and this nation with his love.

PRAYER

God of compassion Hear the cry of those who mourn; where terror and violence have robbed them of their loved ones and shattered communities in our country; God of compassion, hear our prayer

God of peace hear the cry of those who yearn for peace; in battle zones and broken states, frightened, fearful, anxious; God of peace, hear our prayer

God of love hear the cry of those who yearn for love; fractured families, broken homes neglected, unwanted, alone. God of love, hear our prayer

God of justice hear the cry of those who yearn for justice; persecuted and oppressed, exploited, ill-treated, broken. God of justice, hear our prayer

God of healing hear the cry of those who yearn for healing; physical and spiritual hurting, weakened, depressed; God of healing, hear our prayer

Journey with us, O holy God,  as we continue our way to the cross. Sharpen our focus, that our attention may center more on you than ourselves. Lead us through the shadows of darkness and prepare our hearts, that we might be a people of prayer, ready to perceive and respond to your Son and our Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Amen.

24 February 2019 – Sunday Message: My Peace I give you.

Readings: Psalm 139:1-12; 23-4; Phil 4:4-8; John 14:15-27

SERMON

Once of my favourite movies is “Keeping the Faith” – where a rabbi and a priest fall in love with the same girl. The rabbi is fired for doing different and unusual things in his attempt to modernize. This scene is his farewell sermon:

I often think about that sermon.

How much of yourself do you share with your congregation? It’s a great challenge if you are a minister.

After all, preaching is about the Word of God – and should always lead people to Jesus, and not to the preacher.

That’s one of the reasons why Presbyterian ministers wore black – it was meant to not draw attention to themselves. I think these days if you wore black all the time people might think you’re an alien who was supposed to land in Wellington. After all they wear black there. A lot.

Sometimes I’m probably a bit too transparent. But today I don’t have a choice.

If we’re talking about anxiety and peace – they are very personal things.

Anxiety by definition is individual first. Human beings get anxious. We worry. And we don’t have peace of mind in a personal sense.

Peace on the other hand could be looked at from a broader worldwide point of view – peace between nations, tribes, families, gangs and so on.

God’s SHALOM is a social and personal idea – we area meant to find peace together. We make peace with each other. We pray for peace between nations and rightly so. And we seek and have internal peace.

Did you notice the rabbi’s first word in his sermon? SHALOM. Peace.

They didn’t respond. I’m not sure if they were supposed to, like churches passing the peace. It reminds me of the minister who was trying to get his laptop working at the beginning of the service and forgot that his radio mike was on. He muttered to himself “there’s something wrong with this mouse” – to which the congregation replied without thinking: “and also with you!”

Peace can be contrasted with anxiety therefore.Let’s look at anxiety first. The verse I want us to look at from the readings today is this one: Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  (Psalm 139:23)

It’s found a famous song by J Edwin Orr written to the well known Maori tune after a mission at Ngaruawahia in 1936 – Search me oh God – when young Maori girls sang farewell to him. We know it as “now is the hour”

Pö atarau
E moea iho nei
E haere ana
Koe ki pämamao

Haere rä
Ka hoki mai anö
Ki i te tau
E tangi atu nei

(On a moonlit night
I see in a dream
You going away
To a distant land

Farewell,
But return again
To your loved one,
Weeping here)

I love the Hebrew language. It’s so rich.

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. 

“Anxious thoughts” is one word in Hebrew. Some translations just say: “test me and know my thoughts”. Thoughts here is not just a little bit of thinking about something.

The mind is a mine field isn’t it. Our thought life. Worry worry. Sleepless nights thinking thinking thinking.

Rene Descartes in his “Discourse on method” introduced us to that famous line:

COGITO ERGO SUM – I think, therefor I am – a philosophical statement which led him ultimately to postulate a view of humanity or human beings.

I think it was the Moody Blues in the song “In the beginning – lovely to see you” who used the line and added some doubt to it: “I think am, therefore I am… I think.”. It’s a creation image with a crescendo – and then these thoughts:

I think, I think I am, therefore I am, I think.

The song includes the words about people who: Face piles – And piles –  Of trials – With smiles.

“Anxious thoughts” could also translated be as “cogitations” from that same Latin word Cogito.

Cogitate means: think deeply about something; meditate or reflect. Synonyms include: think (about), contemplate, consider, give thought to, give consideration to, mull over, meditate (on), muse (on), ponder (on/over), reflect (on), deliberate (about/on), ruminate (about/on/over), dwell on, brood (on/over), agonize (over), worry (about), chew over, puzzle (over), speculate about, weigh up, revolve, turn over in one’s mind

Ruminate, dwell on, brood over, chew over – is only one small step to grinding your teeth and being restless and anxious. Mr. worry pot.

The new translation of Psalm 139:23  in Afrikaans captures it beautifully:

“… ondersoek my, sien tog my onrus raak.” – examine me, see my unease.

Onrus – unrest – back in the day, meant political upheaval with violence. Really disturbing things.

Like the rabbi in that Yom Kippur sermon, its hard for me to know where to start when it comes to sharing my life with people in the area of anxiety and stress. I’ve suffered from some post-traumatic stress symptoms including anxiety attacks. Panic attacks. They still lurk when I hear an ambulance siren.

Many times these verses have applied to me: Psa 139:23  Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Psa 139:24  See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Sometimes my anxious thoughts are linked to some offensive way in me. I am sometimes feeling off because I need to sort myself out. The problem can be with me.

But many times serious anxiety is beyond our control due to outside circumstances and events that are traumatic or challenging.

I can’t tell you the whole story in my journey today. But I can testify to the peace of God that passes all understanding. It’s as real as the chair you’re sitting on.

Paul in our second reading in Phil 4:7 speaks of this peace of God, which transcends all understanding”, which will “guard (y)our hearts and (y)our minds in Christ Jesus”

It’s worth memorizing this verse 7 – seven is a perfect number – you may remember it as it rhymes with heaven. What leads us to this “seven – heaven” state of peace?

Why verse 6 of course: Php 4:6  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

Don’t be anxious about “anything”.

Easier said than done of course. Post-traumatic stress disorder is an automatic response from the  brain designed to protect you from danger.

What I had to do was to pray through the anxiety and after some years it eased – together with the transformation of my thinking to realize after some years that it could have been much worse.

So when someone close to me experienced real anxiety this this week I said  the same thing that the counsellor said at the time – which I didn’t receive easily. It was too early. The counsellor said this to me – you’re going to be okay and nobody died.

I don’t agonize over a lot of things any more. No more serious cogitating.

Paul tells us not be anxious about stuff and events – anything. Writing from jail (he wasn’t a prison chaplain but an inmate) he says: Php 4:6  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

“with thanksgiving” means that thanksgiving is a foundational attitude in prayer.

Some people battle to pray out loud initially. You can. Say thank you for something and you will have the foundation for other prayers – petitions and requests.

Yes, there are times for silence.

But when we pray together we need to really pray.

Prayer and petition. “gebed en smeking” again using the Afrikaans; “prayer and supplication”. There is as begging almost, a pleading, and a passion that seems to be involved.

It’s captured in some of the Psalms. These two are good ones from David and the sons of Korah:

Psalm 61:1 Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer. Psa 61:2  From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I. Psa 61:3  For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe. Psa 61:4  I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wingsPsa 84:1 How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD Almighty!

Psa 84:2  My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. (Psa 84:3  Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young— a place near your altar, O LORD Almighty, my King and my God. Psa 84:4  Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you.)

My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.

You can see the parallels with passages that talk about thirst.

This is a longing for his presence. We shared last week about living water welling up from within the depths of our being – that he is with us and in us.

Listen again to verses 16 and 17 of our final reading in John 14: Joh 14:16  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever— Joh 14:17  the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.

The gospel reading goes on to say that the peace is linked again to the presence of God through His Holy Spirit:

Joh 14:26  But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Joh 14:27  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

We need to focus and listen and not be distracted as we pray and plead, bringing our prayers and petitions to our Father. He is here.

At Presbytery we had some workshops yesterday. I went to one about expecting more from God.…

The teaching was brilliant. It was really a series of bible passages reminding us of his presence with stories about God being in situations and really working in people’s lives in power – that’s when the peace he offers becomes tangible.

The neat thing is that the presenter spoke last year at the New Wine retreat I went to in August up at Coatesville. As she shared yesterday, you could sense something happening in the room – as people’s faith began to increase. At the end she asked people individually what they were expecting from God. It was good to hear. And inspiring.

You have to know this peace to be effective in any kind of ministry.

You can’t give what you don’t have really effectively.

I believe he wants you to have his peace today

Jesus’ peace is not as the world gives.

  • Not total tranquility, or the absence of troubles or challenges… – but peace in the storms
  • Not a perfect life or complete healing (though some are fully healed)… but courage to face what comes our way (I’m happy to talk to you on another occasion about my health – for now be at peace about it as I am doing very well.)
  • Not an exemption from thinking through issues – remember “I think, therefore I am” – but at least peace of heart AND MIND. Remember the heaven in verse seven of Phil 4: Php 4:7  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
  • Not a life where everything is for free or without cost. Have a look at this sign: “I pay, therefore I am…” The notice said: PLEASE PAY YOUR PARKING FEE BEFORE EXISTING. Jesus’ peace involves knowing he provides as well.
  • Not a life dominated by trauma and anxiety – post traumatic recovery is possible. He really can heal us from damaging experiences.

In conclusion remember Jesus words about anxiety in Matthew:

Mat 6:34  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (NIV)

Or in another good translation: “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (ESV)

Amen

17th February 2019 Sermon Living Waters

Psa 1:1  Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.

Psa 1:2  But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.

Psa 1:3  He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.

Jer 17:5  This is what the LORD says: “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the LORD.

Jer 17:6  He will be like a bush in the wastelands; he will not see prosperity when it comes. He will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives.

Jer 17:7  “But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him.

Jer 17:8  He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”

Jer 17:9  The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?

Jer 17:10  “I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.”

Joh 7:37  On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.

Joh 7:38  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.”

Joh 7:39  By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.

Joh 7:40  On hearing his words, some of the people said, “Surely this man is the Prophet.”

Joh 7:41  Others said, “He is the Christ.” Still others asked, “How can the Christ come from Galilee?

Joh 7:42  Does not the Scripture say that the Christ will come from David’s family and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?”

Joh 7:43  Thus the people were divided because of Jesus.

Joh 7:44  Some wanted to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him

SERMON

As a child I wasn’t sure really what a Pentecostal was. As teens we had neighbours below us who went to a Pentecostal church – it was called “Living Waters: church. I should have made the connection.

I do remember once we were making a noise and the dad banged a broom stick on his ceiling so we could hear the knocking below.

  • Living Waters church.
  • It has a nice sound to it.
  • As opposed to stagnant waters church.
  • Or the dead sea fellowship.

(I remember when we had a swimming pool in the last Manse we lived in back in Africa – what is was like when that thing went green. A pool was supposed to be bright and blue. Mind you there was a snake who lived in the pool pump – not everyone got involved in pool maintenance.)

  • We’ve talked this year about covenant and commitment.
  • About transformation of our city
  • About transformation of our nation.
  • About the transformation of our selves through simply loving people – and earning the right to be heard.

That fits in with our current mission statement – always be ready to give a reason for the HOPE YOU HAVE. We are the ones in mission. We’ve talked about the hungry and homeless, and the prisoners. The lonely who need family – and how this family here is part of what we offer. It actually fits with what Jim taught us couple of years ago about being relevant to our demographic – the people who live here ae  our mission field.

By the way the context of our Mission statement in 1 Peter 3 is really significant. Listen to the whole passage; 1Pe 3:15  But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 1Pe 3:16  keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

My personal challenge – in the sense that I am challenged by this – is that often I am too absorbed with my own life and issues. And there are things in my life that are not always helpful or hopeful.

I choose to be on the lookout for the needs of others though. I’m finding that spending Friday morning with the mainly music families is a great start. They’re right here. Listening to their stories and getting to know the names of their children opens doors of all kinds.

I’ll be visiting prisoners on Tuesday again. I told some people about that this week – and their immediate response was almost an incredulous “why do you want to do that?”

Well because of Matthew 25. And John 3:16. And a host of other bible verses.

It’s a choice to connect with people. Sadly, we are actually quite selfish as a default setting. Self-absorbed. Too busy.

I suppose I have a lower view of human kind as it were – theologically speaking. The lectionary readings today include one of those famous Jeremiah passages –

Jer 17:9  The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?

A bit like the Isaiah one that says our righteousness is as filthy rags.

It figures.

  • Jesus didn’t die for nothing. If we could have saved ourselves – why on earth would he come to die?
  • The wonderful thing is that he died for all our sins. (In Colossians 2 Paul says quite directly: “He forgave us all our sins”.)
  • The residue of our sinful nature lurks of course.

I was in a mortuary this week. The smell of presence of death always lurks there in the cold.

In Colossians Paul explains that we die in him, and are raised with him – but he hastens to add in chapter 3 verse 5: Col 3:5  Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.

The heart is beyond cure – says Jeremiah.

It’s not a good prognosis.

Ye in the scriptures there are these glimpses of a source of healing and life.

The very first Psalm alludes to this. Like me with my choices, they had choices too.

Listen again: Psa 1:1  Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. Psa 1:2  But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. Psa 1:3  He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers. אשׁרי־האישׁ אשׁר לא הלך בעצת רשׁעים (v1) כי אם בתורת יהוה חפצו ובתורתו יהגה יומם ולילה׃ (v2)

They had the law – which was God’s word – his revelation to them. Our view of law is tainted by reformation theology.

They delighted in it – meditated on it day and night – and there was life there described in verse 3 – he one who does this is like a tree planted by streams of water. The result – fruitfulness, prosperity – BLESSING.

Jeremiah – just before his prognosis of a sick human heart – says this similar thing to the Psalmist: Jer 17:7  “But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. Jer 17:8  He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”

Again a tree –  a stream – fruitfulness and NO WORRIES this time. This is not just the Law that is delighted in and meditated on – this is what happens when people TRUST IN THE LORD.

(It sounds so like Psalm 37: Psa 37:3  Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Psa 37:4  Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psa 37:5  Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this: Psa 37:6  He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.

This is gospel – good news – in the New Testament – remember that the new is in the old concealed, and the Old is in the new revealed.)

WHAT IS DIFFERENT IN JESUS?

In John 7 today we heard Jesus’ announcement on the last and greatest day of the feast – this is the feast of tabernacles.

Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Joh 7:38  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.”

We’ve already read about this kind of water In John 4 – the famous Samaritan who was a serial polygamist. Remember the story – how they miss each other – he is offering her something spiritual – she is looking for his bucket? There Jesus said:

Joh 4:14  but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

  1. Here in John 7  he says to the thirsty – come to me and drink
  2. This is not the law in Psalm 1- that helps us to be watered and given life.
  3. This is not trusting in God in Jeremiah 17 – that brings life from a river.
  4. People need to come to Jesus. It’s another claim by Jesus to be God. It explains why they try to grab him again later in this passage.

This is not water from outside of us.

Rather he gives us drink when we are thirsty – and the living water – the streams – will flow up within us.

You’ve got/ You’ll get your bottle of water today. The bible verse on it is verse 38.

Don’t say we never give you anything.

  • A few weeks ago, it was an edible Auckland bridge with carrot cake celebrating Auckland anniversary.
  • Today your own kiwi water.
  • Just to remind you that the source is Jesus.
  • He has the cure for everything – including the heart.

And he moves in as it were – taking occupation through His Holy Spirit – who is the source of life and blessing and prosperity and fruitfulness.

Sometimes our hearts are hard and hurting – they become like a hardened sponge or hardened like a rock – and need soaking in his love and power again.

He gives us a new heart.

Some translations of John 7:38 say that the streams of living water will flow out of the believer’s heart – others his belly. The word means a cavity – the abdomen – so it means a number of things. Heart, belly, womb. All nice words as they involve life.

  • You sometimes we can be in church for decades and be bone dry. You see it when people can’t worship – or pray – when they just go through the motions.
  • You need the living water.
  • It’s the Holy Spirit who brings this life.

In John’s gospel so far – Jesus turns water into wine – there is water in the new birth – living water for the woman at the well – and now living water for those who believe in Jesus.

When Jesus cried out this invitation on that last day of the feast – he had to call it out really loudly. It was a major celebration. Very noisy indeed.

We have to call out too – come to Jesus!

We do that in worship each week – declaring that he is the way, the truth and he life.

WHAT TO DO IF YOU ARE DRY

  • You have to be thirsty.
  • You have to really want this.
  • It requires an open heart.

And then ask him for the life – the living water – the fulness of the Spirit – who if you are a believer is already in you.

Let the living water flow.

Christmas Day Message 25 December 2018 – ready for relatives?

Readings: Hebrew 1:1-3; John 1:1-5; 10-14

Do you get relatives coming for Christmas?

I noticed on SKY TV a suggestion from the Mental Health Foundation in Australia to help you get through the season in good shape:

MENTAL HEALTH RECOMMENDATIONS

  • Sleep and relaxation
  • Exercise
  • Eating and drinking in moderation
  • Keeping calm during family gatherings
  • Doing good

Keep calm in family gatherings! A fair call. Just remember those this Christmas who have no family or whose loved ones are in care or in hospital and they can’t be together.

By the way there’s a lovely version of the serenity prayer when it comes to interesting people in our lives:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know its me. 🙂

Yes family descends. It often means a bit of work preparing for their coming.

Some family members inspire you to do a lot of cleaning and sorting. The house has to be tidy – perhaps for granny or your favourite auntie.

And on Christmas day if they all come along – well there’s all kinds of cleaning and cooking. That Christmas meal is heaps of work. Especially preparing things like turkeys or Christmas Ham. My favourite Mr Bean story is where he plays with the nativity set in a shop. But the craziest part of his Christmas adventure is when he gets a turkey stuck on his head. It can’t be that bad for us!

You’ve got to know what you are doing in the kitchen. And you’ve got to get ready for the day.

The truth is that we put a lot of time into preparing for Christmas celebrations – but how much effort goes into preparing for Jesus’ coming?

  • It’s one thing if your gran checks if the house is clean and dusted.
  • But Jesus’ coming means a lot of other things may need inspecting and cleaning up.

Jesus’ first coming as a baby is almost like “coming ready or not”. Very few people actually recognized his coming. And his own people did not receive him.

Mary and Joseph were prepared by angels bringing messages. Those revelations were quite frightening I am sure. The “wise” kings were alert and looking for signs. But there were to be risks for them too. Some like the shepherds got one of those “surprise” moments.  All in all it makes sense that angels should say: “don’t be afraid!’

John’s gospel doesn’t talk about the birth of Jesus like Matthew and Luke. There’s no detail. But there is explanation. especially in these verses:

He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. (John 1:10-12)

We need to make sure that we receive Him. Look what happens when we receive – and believe;

He gives us “the right to become children of God’ Born of God.

So what does that mean?

1. No longer orphans or lost boys

It reminds me of the lost boys in the story of Peter Pan. There are a number of countries in the world where there are many orphaned children in homes due to the disasters of human conflict. And tragedies on our roads take parents away.

Becoming children of God is a wonderful blessing. Like the lost boys we too need to be found. Becoming children of God also means:

2. Having a really good father

Chris Tomlin has written a wonderful song called “Good good Father.”

The words are a good reminder of the Father’s heart:

I’ve heard a thousand stories of what they think you’re like
But I’ve heard the tender whispers of love in the dead of night
And you tell me that you’re pleased
And that I’m never alone

The chorus follows and a brilliant second verse:

You’re a good good father
It’s who you are, it’s who you are, it’s who you are
And I’m loved by you
It’s who I am, it’s who I am, it’s who I am

I’ve seen many searching for answers far and wide
But I know we’re all searching
For answers only you provide
‘Cause you know just what we need
Before we say a word

And finally in this short Christmas day reflection:

3. We also don’t have to be afraid…

Fear and anxiety dominate our lives so much today. The words of the angels still ring in our heads: ‘Do not be afraid”.

Our nation and many others have hundreds of thousands of people on anti-anxiety medication. Keeping calm is not easy even on a normal day, never mind when the relatives descend.

John who writes about us having the right to become children of God through Jesus the word who became flesh and made his home (literally pitched his tent) among us, also writes this in his first letter chapter 4 verse 18:

God’s “perfect love drives out all fear.”

Paul in one of my favourite passages also says this:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6-7.

These are the blessings of receiving this gift – the person of Jesus – whose coming we celebrate today.

A blessed Christmas to you all.

Amen.

 

Sunday message 16 December 2018 – Joy

Readings: Isaiah 9:1-7; Phil 4:4-7; Luke 2:1-11

MESSAGE

STORY:  “Finders keepers.”

My dad had this policy at home – that if you left money around it was his. A kind of finders keepers thing.

I quite like it. People leave all kinds of things around here.

I think I’m going to be the “finders keepers” guy.

Take this little white box for example. It turned up on my birthday. Must be mine. Inside is this amazing mug.

I need a new coffee mug here at work. And it’s got some writing on it. Bible things which fit into the theme for the day and that pink candle which represents joy. It says “The joy of the Lord is my strength” from Nehemiah 8. What joy to find such a treasure.

It reminds me of the parable in Matthew 13 – about the man who found treasure hidden in a field – who hid the treasure and went and sold ALL HE HAD to buy that field. Jesus says of that man “in his joy he went…” The people I witnessed in Greece who had come to faith in Jesus – those refugees – you can imagine their joy too. It’s not about Greece – its about the GOSPEL – the good news of great joy changing lives.

(Hopefully the owner of the mug  will claim it! Better not leave things lying around here in the future!)

So let’s talk about joy today.

So how joyful will your Christmas be?

And what is the right word to describe Christmas anyway?

If you say Happy Christmas, then what do you say for New Year?

Happy Christmas and a Merry New Year sounds strange.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year sounds sensible. And you do want some merriment after all. No one wants to be like Ebenezer Scrooge.

This 1984 version has George C Scott as Scrooge. Here he is at his worst: I mean Scrooge, not George C Scott!

 

Not a Merry person is he. It takes some scary visits from ghosts to change Scrooge.

But what about us?

The answer lies in having Jesus at the centre. In our hearts?

Yes, in that our hearts are the seat of our emotions. Perhaps the centre of our wills too? We are certainly told to love the Lord our God with all our heart at least.

Love and peace which are represented by the first two advent candles are broad concepts with many associated ideas that may or may not be based in spirituality.

Joy on the other hand seems a bit more focused.

In Sunday School we sang songs like ‘Joy Joy Joy with joy my heart is singing” and it seemed criminal not to clap as part of the song’s celebration.

Like “I am H A P P Y”.  You can’t really sing it and be miserable.

Singing, by the way, does improve your mood and generate good brain chemicals.

Research indicates that people feel great after singing together  probably from endorphins (a pleasure hormone) or oxytocin, another hormone. They’ve found that GROUP singing decreases depression and feelings of loneliness.

So it is a good thing to sing! Join a choir! And positive songs area probably more helpful.

The Sunday School songs we sang as kids are about one aspect of joy.

Joy joy joy with joy my heart is singing goes on to say joy joy joy, his love to me is known.  My sins are all forgiven, I’m on my way to heaven, my heart is bubbling over with his joy joy joy.

The New Testament scholar Tom Wright rightly asks the question – what about what happens in the meantime – between this celebration of forgiveness of sins and going to heaven?

The Bible does not just talk about salvation as our destination at the end of life.

It has much to say about how we live in the meantime. It has rich pictures of what joy is in a broader sense.

It involves situations, people, relationships, and especially the work of the Holy Spirit.

For example in Paul’s writings:

  • For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14:7);
  • May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13).
  • But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Gal 5:22 – 23).

Through forgiveness of sins by the cross and the work of the Spirit we have access to God – Paul in Ephesians 2 writes about the consequences of the cross: Eph 2:17  He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. Eph 2:18  For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

The in-between time if you are a person who thinks of salvation as being qualified to go to heaven – is actually the real relational stuff now.

There is JOY in this relationship with God NOW through the work of the Holy Spirit who makes God real to us as Paul says to the Roman readers: May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (ch 15)

JOY IS ALSO SEEN WHERE PEOPLE REACH THEIR POTENTIAL IN CHRIST

Writing about the Thessalonians – in the earliest of his letters to the one church that gets things right he says:

For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy. (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20).

Seeing people reach their full potential in Christ IN COMMUNITY brings joy to Paul – and to me. And to others.

SO WE HAVE JOY IN US THROUGH GOD’S POWER – AND JOY IN US WHEN CHRISTIAN COMMUNITIES REFLECT JESUS FULLY

If we have this joy from the Spirit and are a source of joy because of changed lives, people may be joyful when we come into a room rather than when we leave it! We talk about this church being a lighthouse for people. The fact is we are the church wherever we go -our joy and peace and hope should shine.

CHRISTMAS JOY

So when we hear the message of the angels, joy is right up there as a key sign of the coming of Messiah Jesus: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. (Luke 2:10).

This news of Te Harinui.

They needed it back then – because like all religious groups, you can get so fixated on how you do things – your systems and rules – that you lose the point of why you are there.

When Jesus came his people rejected him (John 1:12) – the very people who had both the law and the prophets available to them.

For example, talking to the Sadducees who did not believe in the resurrection (remember their trick question about the lady who’s husband died and she married the brother – who also died… married the whole lot of them the poor woman…) Jesus says:

Mat 22:29  Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.

And of course to the teachers of the law – well they hardly brought joy into peoples’ lives. So Jesus says to them:

Luke 11:46  Jesus replied, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.

“good news of great joy” was needed.

The religious leaders didn’t bring joy. The Roman occupiers didn’t either.

Jesus’ way of bringing Joy confounded them of course. On the cross. Rather than the obvious hope they had of a Messiah who would defeat their oppressive Roman occupiers.

So to go back to my story of finders keepers at the beginning – and the lovely cup I found here at church.

The writing of the cup reminds us that this joy is not the same as a Merry Christmas or a Happy new year. The joy of the LORD is our strength!

So we end with Paul’s injunction – his command that we be joyful in Philippians 4:

Php 4:4  Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Php 4:5  Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Php 4:6  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. Php 4:7  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

This joy is in the Lord- in the relationship – not in our circumstances – and the peace of God comes along as part of the package.

That is good news of great joy for all of us.

Have you found it? If you haven’t don’t delay – and ask for help to do so.

May the joy of the Lord be your strength. Amen.

A Christmas reflection: Immanuel – God with us

Readings:  Isaiah 7:10-15;  Matthew 1:18-25

CALLING PEOPLE NAMES

What were you called as a child? Yes I know you were named Larry, Peter or Susan.

But you must have had other names. Or called other people names. Children can be horrible. Ok forget the mean names. What about the nicknames?

I was called various names through my school years. They weren’t all nice, but some were a good description of me.

This passage from Matthew is really important when it come to names – and what people are called.

The angel makes it clear – speaking to Joseph about Mary:

Mat 1:21  She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

That in itself would be enough. What a powerful name. Meaning “God saves”.

Hallelujah – what a Saviour – is what we sing at Easter.

Jesus – Joshua – is about Jesus and his mission.

But Matthew goes on. He is writing to Jewish readers and wants them to understand how Jesus fits in to the bible they had – and the prophets’ predictions

So he says: Mat 1:22  All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:Mat 1:23  “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.”

Of course back in Isaiah’s time – they expected someone to come and help them.

But the prophecies often had multiple applications.

Jesus was the ultimate Immanuel.

This is Immanu – el in Hebrew.

El – is the word for God. Immanu – means with us.

You would have heard some of the other names for God in history.

Like Elohim.

El Shaddai.

El Elyon.

El Shammah.

Jesus – is what he would be named on his birth certificate. Immanu-el – is what they would call Jesus. A very powerful name. And “called” name. (You see it on forms today –  the name you like to be called by)

GOD WITH US.

That description changes everything for us.

The loneliness

The sadness

The rejection we face

GOD WITH US.

The sickness

Suffering

Sadness.

GOD WITH US.

Fear

Frustration

Fighting around us

GOD WITH US.

Never to leave us or forsake us – is what he says.

The moment Jesus comes into that manger – in fact from his conception – GOD WITH US.

The world is never the same.

We went to two concerts last Christmas.

  • The Bach Musica Concert in the City hall.
  • And the Morning Melodies at the Bruce Mason.

In both concerts they were singing about IMMANUEL. God with us.

The City Hall concert included Puccini’s Mass – with the whole of the Nicene Creed sung.

These lines got my attention. This amazing bass-baritone was singing in Latin of course;

Passus et sepultus est; Et reurrexit tertia die.

Died and was buried; And rose again on the third day.

But this was the line that got me before those \wo. I thought – if only I could talk to him afterwards – and say, ‘do you know the one of whom you were singing?”

Because it says; ET HOMO FACTUS EST – AND BECAME A MAN.

All those people were hearing about Jesus -Immanuel – God with us.

And at the Mason theatre – we sang another Charles Wesley hymn:

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, Hail the incarnate Deity

Pleased as man with man to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel

Those hundreds of people were signing about Emmanuel.

I was praying – Lord – show them who you are in reality.

Now we know this already.

And we know Him as God with us.

Or at least we are discovering Him as God with us.

My prayer for you this Advent and Christmas season is that you discover fully what it means to know Him RIGHT IN THE CENTRE of your life – whether things are tough or easy sailing – may you know Him and his hope, peace, joy and love.

Amen.

23 September 2018 – Sunday message:Servants of all

Readings: James 3:13-4:3; 7-8a;  Mark 9:30-35

MESSAGE:

It’s been great visiting churches through my study leave. They’re all so different.

They all had a Presbyterian familiarity really. Not just because we knew some of the people. But because there are certain things that remind you of what Presbys do. And staying for tea and eating something and talking a lot together is one obvious one.

A talk on the predictors of long life I watched recently had two interesting things at the top of the list for the people studied who lived for a long long time. 100 or beyond. These things reduced their chances of dying the most, the research indicated.

  • Second to the top was close relationships.
  • Right at the top was social integration. Interestingly enough.

You may be thrilled to hear that exercise was number 7. Diet was lower. Quitting smoking and drinking a little higher, I hasten to add.

They explained the top two like this:

  • CLOSE RELATIONSHIPS. The people you can call on for a loan if you need money – who will take you to the doctor – who will sit with you in a crisis. Usually a small group of trust friends who will do anything for you.
  • SOCIAL INTEGRATION. How many people you interact with every day – good and bad people. People you know well or not. Weak and strong bonds. The postman. The person who makes the tea at work, or cleans the office. The stranger. Being connected with people. As opposed to being lonely and isolated. And greeting them and including them in your day.

They were the top indicators of how long the people lived in the study.

See it pays to join the pastoral care group. And just to be friendly and sociable.

The Christian life is like a diamond with many facets. Its described in many ways. Some people emphasise the intimacy we have with God – especially in communion. It matters a lot to them. Others are passionate about the cross – and what Jesus is done – how we are completely saved by faith through grace. Luther would applaud that. He didn’t like the book of James which we heard from today because James wanted to see proof in works – in good deeds.

Some love worship more than anything else. If the music is off, they feel robbed. They love to sing and celebrate. Others are more the thinking types – they like to debate about ideas about God – we call that theology. They read piles of books. Their faith would be less than meaningful without library membership. Some are totally consumed with Bible knowledge. They’re like walking encyclopedias when it comes to scripture.

For some people fellowship is everything. You hear them talking excitedly and loudly on a Sunday morning. They love morning tea – and lots of coffee and conversations. And having fun together. Others are big on prayer – and would prefer the rowdy ones to tone it down on Sundays when they are praying before the service.

All these things are part of our rich Christian experience. They all matter.

What isn’t helpful is when we make our preference the main thing on the agenda at the expense of others.

So – Jesus’ teaching today is really important.

The disciples were not fighting about ideas or preferences. People do of course.

On this occasion they were arguing about who was the greatest. About power!

Peter had been elevated to leadership when he recognized Jesus as the Christ. He was the rock (in Mark 8) on which Jesus would build the church. He rocked – or so he thought until he tried to stand in the way of God’s plan – and was demoted with a new title “Satan”.

Peter, James and John had been up the mountain of transfiguration and had seen a vision of Moses and Elijah, and Jesus transformed. They were the inner circle. Peter got things wrong up there too. He wanted to built tents and stay up there.

When they came down the mountain they found the other nine in an argument with the teachers of the law over a failed prayer for a boy with an unclean spirit.

Jesus is a bit impatient with them on this one too. He says:

Mar 9:19  “O unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”

So it’s not surprising that in the reading today they are having a disagreement.

Listen again: Mar 9:33  They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” Mar 9:34  But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.

It’s also not surprising that they kept quiet. By this stage they must have realised that Jesus’ way was different.

So he sits down – that’s the way he taught.

Here’s the key to real fellowship and witness – listen again:

Mar 9:35  Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

Later in Mark 10 he spells out the model that he will be:

Mar 10:45  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

In that study about people who live to 100 and beyond, the second on the list was:

  • CLOSE RELATIONSHIPS. The people you can call on for a loan if you need money – who will take you to the doctor – who will sit with you in a crisis. Usually a small group of trust friends who will do anything for you.

Those are the kind of close friends that serve you.

In marriage it’s no different. It’s never a 50/50 relationship. Its 100/100. At some point one partner is on zero strength and the other gives everything.

Jesus challenges us beyond those close friends and marriage partners – to be servant of ALL.

This is the upside-down Kingdom again.

It’s usually the wealthy or the powerful who have servants.

The least, the poor and the oppressed often are the ones who serve.

The Kingdom of God does not involve dominance, but rather it revolutionises the way we relate.

And Jesus’ example is seen in the teaching about his death. In Philippians chapter two, we read about how he empties himself and becomes a servant -ultimately giving himself up to death on a cross.

And just to show how radically different this Christian way is, he shows them in a visible sign.

Mar 9:36  He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, Mar 9:37  “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

When you think of the money that goes into special events to welcome special people – powerful leaders, presidents and popes alike, its all about who is important. It’s honour to receive people into your homes in many cultures and situations.

There used to be a sign in peoples’ homes in the old days: “Christ is the unseen guest and listener to every conversation”.

People still tidy up when guests come. In our case a visit from granny brought about real action.

Jesus turns all this on its head by saying that if you welcome a child, you welcome him – and indirectly you welcome God who sent him.

Because Jesus the king becomes Jesus the servant king – all the power structures on earth are seen differently – people are valued differently from then on. They area no longer valued by what they have accumulated, or achieved, or invented. Rather they are seen from God’s point of view. They are loved by God. They are the people for whom Jesus died.

And if Jesus values them – so should we.

We are called to be servants of all.

In the words of the song we sang:

Verse 4

So let us learn how to serve,  And in our lives enthrone Him;

 Each other’s needs to prefer,  For it is Christ we’re serving

The interesting thing about the servant and the child, is that they both get their identity from someone else.

The servant from the master.

The child from the parents.

We are the children of our Father and bear His identity by the way we live. If power and position drive us, we do not belong to Christ; but if we are the “last of all and servant of all” (Mar_9:35), we are identified with Christ as the sons of God.

So when Jesus talks us about being salt and light, and that a light is meant to be on a stand and not under a bowl, he says this: Mat 5:16  In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

The kind of light that should shine is this servant heart for people.

Our values, our character, our identity and our wisdom come from our heavenly father. So what James says in 3:17 makes sense, and sounds right in this servant mode: we should be peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.

May this be true of us.

Amen.

 

Ministry beyond the parish

There’s more than one way to be a minister. The question is – are we reaching people. It all starts with relationships…

Candour

Parish ministry has lived at the kernel of the Western Church for many centuries. But, with the rise of secularisation in the 1960s, civic religion separated from the institutional Church and citizens had the social freedom not to be part of a church.

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8 April 2018 Sunday Message – Behind that locked door.

Reading: John 20:19-31

Message

I was talking to someone about how short this week was.

It seemed shorter for me. Tuesday was a write-off. I did mindless things like fixing stuff.

I didn’t even have the energy to tidy my desk though. That seemed too much.

I’ve often wondered why they call this Sunday “low Sunday” – this and the one after Christmas I think. Maybe the preachers are just flat from being flat out.

So we had this conversation – what if you just put a video on and watched in instead of a sermon?

Or if the preacher got up and said – “nothing to say today”.

Which reminded me of this story.

In a small Catholic seminary, the dean asked a first year student to preach one day in chapel. This novice worked all night on a sermon, but still came up empty. At the appropriate time, he stood in the pulpit, looked out over his brothers and said “Do you know what I’m going to say?” They all shook their heads “no” and he said “neither do I, the service has ended, go in peace.”

Well, the dean was angry, and told the student, “You will preach again tomorrow, and you had better have a sermon.” Again, the novitiate stayed up all night, but still no sermon. When he stood in the pulpit, he asked “Do you know what I am going to say?” All the students nodded “yes” so the preacher said “Then there is no need for me to tell you. The service has ended, to in peace.”

Now, the dean was livid. “Son, you have one more chance. Preach the gospel tomorrow or you will be expelled from the seminary.” Again he worked all night, and the next morning stood before his classmates and asked “Do you know what I am going to say?” Half of them nodded “yes” while the other half shook their heads “no.” The novitiate said “Those who know, tell those who don’t know. The service has ended, go in peace.”

This time, the dean just smiled. He walked up to the novice preacher, put his arm around his shoulders and said “Hmmm…those who know, tell those who don’t know? Today, the gospel has been proclaimed. The service has ended, go in peace.”

So, another friend and I looked at this passage for today.

There are so many choices. Things we could look at.

  • Like why the door was still locked a week later. When most of them had seen Jesus the first week. And why does one translation say the door was locked the first week and shut the second? (NRSV). Is the same word. Do translators have too much power?
  • What was Jesus doing when he breathed on them? Was this John’s description of Pentecost? (Genesis 2:7)
  • Do we really have the power to forgive peoples’ sins or not to forgive them? Is this where the Catholic idea of absolution comes from?
  • Is this the actual birth of the church?
  • Was Thomas really a doubter? Or was he just someone with Sherlock Holmes kind of talents.
  • Did he have a twin? Was his twin like Thomas? Did he believe or doubt? Or she? Could his twin have been Lydia of Philippi who traded in purple cloth? (Acts 16:19)
  • Why did Jesus keep saying “Peace be with you”?
  • What about verse 30? What were those other signs that are not recorded?
  • Do we have life in his name? Is this the abundant life he spoke about before in John 10:10? Is it abundant – “life to the full?” Or are we actually riding on empty?

(I love the Bishops Bible that preceded the KJV –  “I am come, that they myght haue lyfe, and that they myght haue it more aboundauntly.” (1576)

SOME THOUGHTS THEN

Last week we saw how Jesus called Mary by name – and how that opened her eyes to see he wasn’t the gardener.

This passage records these two visits by Jesus in a locked room a week apart.

In the first visit he breathes on them symbolically. The word for WIND and SPIRIT are the same here.

This is worth looking at a bit more carefully.

It follows their commissioning –  As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.

Before his ascension and before the day of Pentecost – without a fuss – he turns the disciples into apostles – sent ones.

And empowers them.

If you are a reader of the whole of John’s gospel, you would join the dots.

From chapter 14:

Joh 14:15  “If you love me, you will obey what I command. Joh 14:16  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— Joh 14:17  the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. Joh 14:18  I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.

Joh 14:26  But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Joh 14:27  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

In chapter 15:

Joh 15:26  “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me.

And chapter 16:

Joh 16:13  But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.

All of these verses sound a bit more dramatic than just having Jesus breathe on you.

You can understand why some people think this is a first instalment of some sort. Because Pentecost is far more dramatic isn’t it. And life changing.

I mean if you carry on from our Messy Church talk on Friday about Peter – you would have to add that Peter preached that ONE big sermon in Acts 2 that was the launch of a new bold person in every possible way.

TWO OTHER THINGS TO FOCUS ON TODAY:

Firstly:

  1. “Doubting” Thomas.

Was he really a doubter?

Think about John 11. This is the first time Thomas is mentioned and we get some real insight into the kind of person he was.

This is the story of the raising of Lazarus. Mary and Martha had sent Jesus word that their brother Lazarus was close to death. They lived in the small village of Bethany very close to Jerusalem. Look at verse 7. Jesus tells his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”

Look at what the disciples think of this idea in verse 8. “Teacher,” the disciples answered, “just a short time ago the people there wanted to stone you and are you planning to go back?” (We can read about these stoning attempts in chapter 8 and 10 of John).

They thought he was crazy to even consider going back there. Perhaps they were on the verge of deserting Jesus. But then Thomas speaks out in verse 16:

Thomas (called the Twin) said to his fellow disciples, “Let us go along with the Teacher, so that we may die with him!”

Thomas rallied the wavering disciples here, convincing them to go with Jesus to Jerusalem.

Whatever else we may say about Thomas, he was not a coward. He was willing to go with Jesus to Jerusalem knowing full well that it just might cost him his own life

Apart from his track record of courage, one thing gets my attention today:

It’s this – that Jesus was deeply and personally interested in him so much that in the second appearance he speaks to him directly. He recognises Thomas’ need.

And I think translations which say “stop doubting and believe” get it wrong.

It literally means – “do not disbelieve but believe”. Don’t be an unbeliever. That makes him no different from the rest. The rest of the disciples. And us. We all have these journeys as we come to faith.

Secondly:

     2.  Peace be with you.

Do you need His peace?

We’ve talked before about the power of grief.

Jesus repeats this peace greeting because they would have been slow to recover from this terrible and unjust Good Friday death.

Watch the passion of the Christ again – the movie.

You don’t walk away from that kind of event feeling peaceful.

They needed some assurance.  And so do we.

He still speaks to us – don’t live in unbelief. Trust me.

Here – let my peace uphold you.

And we too are sent – commissioned – to go in His name and share his peace.

And at the heart of our mission IS forgiveness.

W receive it. We celebrate it. We model it. We extend it to others through grace.

And we don’t always dish it out too quickly because we have to remind each other that our sins as human beings are actually serious. Deadly serious. Serious enough for Jesus to die for them.

It’s no surprise that ‘repent’ was part of John’s preaching (the baptiser), Jesus’ message, and Peter’s and the other apostles.

We have to turn away from our old ways and turn back to God again and again.

He says to you too today:

Don’t stay in unbelief. Trust in me (Jesus).  

Peace be with you.

Amen.