Sunday sermon 25 September 2016 – The Lord’s Prayer Part 6: Forgive

Readings: Colossians 3:12-14;  Matthew 6:9-12

Sermon:

When people ask me for forgiveness if they have done something wrong, my standard response is simple. I usually quip: “it’s just as well. I’m in the forgiveness business.”

If last week’s message was about daily bread, this one is about a bread and butter issue. Forgiveness. God forgives us through Christ, and we forgive others. They belong together.

That’s why both versions of the prayer involve the partnership between God and us:

Mat 6:12  Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

Luk 11:4  Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.

Debts was a way in which people understood what we owe against God’s accounts book.  It represented sins in Jewish teaching. There was a word in Aramaic (Jesus’ mother tongue) that covered debts and sins as a single concept.

Trespasses which we use in the traditional prayer is the word in Matthew 6:15 and means transgressions or offences, or sins again.

Story: Of course the classic case of figuring this out is seen in the notice on the abbey put up by the nuns reading: “Trespassers will be prosecuted”. A tagger wrote on the wall: “what happened to forgive us our trespasses?”

Forgiveness has to be in this pattern for prayer because it is part of the Christian’s DNA. We are forgiven on the cross – not just the Romans and the Jewish authorities who put him there.

  • And the Father in this rescue mission is seen in the story of the prodigal son – running to meet us in a most reckless inappropriate manner driven by love.
  • God so loves the world that he gives Jesus John 3:16). God sends Jesus into the world not to condemn the world (John 3:17) but to rescue us.

We are forgiven – we forgive. It’s not either or – it’s both and.

It plays out beautifully in two stories.

FIRST STORY

One for Peter – who needs heaps of forgiveness when he denies Jesus. Matthew 18 is the context if you would like to turn to it now. It starts with the story of the lost sheep. That’s God’s heart reaching out as He does to the Prodigal son. And then the chapter deals with church discipline – trying to get people restored so they can start again.

Not surprising Peter has a question then about forgiveness. Have a listen:

Mat 18:21  Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Mat 18:22  Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

Peter is feeling magnanimous. Probably please with himself as he is going the extra mile with this up to seven times story.

Jesus pushes him further – 77 or 70 times 7 (a deliberately ambiguous option).

The story rams it home. It’s a kingdom of heaven story in v23 – remember “Thy Kingdom Come” as the tone of the prayer?

Grace upon grace is extended to this man – his debt is forgiven.

But he sends his mate to jail for not paying a paltry amount in comparison.

The King writes off a debt that would take about 200 000 working day’s wages to pay. The forgiven servant throws his friend into prison for the wages of 100 days. The extremes speak volumes.

Who gets offended? The other servants – because injustice is clearly seen and recognised as out of sync with what was happening. They are greatly distressed (v31). When grace is received it is too powerful not to be extended to others.

The man who received grace and did not extend it ends up being tortured.

And the story ends – especially for Peter as leader I suspect – not with a discussion on writing of debts, or even that when people are good to us we should pass it on. It ends with Jesus’ declaration on forgiveness -just for Peter but also for us of course:

Mat 18:35  “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”

Does that mean we should set up torture chambers?

No not at all.

  • We are meant to extend grace.
  • How can we not forgive others when we ourselves have been forgiven?

If God judges anyone based on this story it is not the unbelievers who are in the firing line – but the ones who have been forgiven – that’s us.

Judgement begins with the household of God. (1 Peter 4:17)

We are not to judge the world now (perhaps later we will). We are to hold each other accountable.

Like children we can say to each other – it’s okay to share the sweetness of the lolly jar – look how much you have been given – there’s plenty to go around. Grace has to be extended to others. We forgive.

And note verse 35 – it’s from the heart. It’s not superficial – or given begrudgingly. Like children who roll their eyes and say under instruction to a  sibling “I’m sorry”.

It takes time for us to allow our hearts to be softened and changed.

SECOND STORY

The second story about grace that I want us to consider is the woman in Simon’s house in Luke 7 – Simon the Pharisee that is. Let’s look at it. You might as well read the whole story:

Luk 7:36  Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. Luk 7:37  When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, Luk 7:38  and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

Luk 7:39  When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”  

Luk 7:40  Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.” “Tell me, teacher,” he said. Luk 7:41  “Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Luk 7:42  Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

Luk 7:43  Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.” “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said. Luk 7:44  Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. Luk 7:45  You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. Luk 7:46  You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet.

Luk 7:47  Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” Luk 7:48  Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Luk 7:49  The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”  Luk 7:50  Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace

Powerful isn’t it.

The more mess you have cleaned up and forgiven – the more you love Him.

And He loves us long before we understand how bad our sins are. Yes the prodigal son came to his senses and went home. But he only understood grace when he received the welcome and the blessing. The ring, the robe, the fattened calf, the party, the welcome and acceptance again to the family.

United Pursuit has this song “Hidden”.

I’ve given you the words so you can follow them.

It spoke to me because it could be my testimony. I was drawn to God in bereavement at 12 years old. Well follow the song. So often people say repentance leads to grace and faith. In my experience grace came first. It lead to repentance. Read the words then I want to play for you. It captures for me the powerful grace and love of God which draws us closer and gives us a desire to become purer.

Verse 1

There was One when I was young

Who knew my heart, He knew my sorrow

He held my hand

And He led me to trust Him

 

Chorus

Now I am hidden, in the safety of Your love

I trust Your heart, and Your intentions

Trust You completely, I’m listening intently

You’ll guide me through these many shadows

 

Verse 2

As I grow and as I change

May I love You more deeply

I will lean upon Your grace

I will lean because Your goodness is unending

 

Chorus 2

You are my vision, my reason for living

Your kindness leads me to repentance

I can’t explain it, this sweet assurance

But I’ve never known this kind of friend

I can’t explain it, this sweet assurance

But I’ve never known this kind of friend

 

Verse 3

The sun, moon and stars

Shout Your name, they give you reverence

And I, will do the same

With all my heart I give You glory

|2x|

 

Chorus 3

I want to seek You first

I want to love You more

I want to give You the honour You deserve

So I’ll bow before You, I am overcome

By the beauty of this perfect love

|2x|

Chorus 1

Have a listen:

 

I love that a new generation of young people is serving him like these guys.

You can see how much deeper our love for him grows when we continue to receive grace and kindness we don’t deserve.

Forgiveness comes naturally when we understand how much we are forgiven.

And we need to model this love and forgiveness as we share this greater story of what Jesus has done with others.

No matter how bad it gets – grace is real and possible. Jesus shared it by being friends with the worst of sinners. They repented later when overwhelmed by his love.

He loves you fully and completely too. Are you hidden in the safety of His love?

Do you trust Him completely? You can – and then you can take the risk of forgiving people.

Are you listening to Him intently?

Amen.`

Sunday sermon 18 September 2016 – The Lord’s Prayer part 5: Daily Bread

READINGS:    Proverbs 30:7-9; Phil 4:10-13; Matthew 6:9-11

SERMON

I was reading about an army chaplain who had a question from one of his soldiers about those army rations – we used to call them “rat packs”.

The trooper asked: Padre, should this pack get “grace” or the “last rites”?

Great question. Ex-soldiers would understand the sentiment.

I have a habit at the end of our elders’ meetings when someone says “let’s say the grace together” to begin “for what we are about to receive…” I really have to concentrate as the night grows longer. And perhaps we should call our closing prayer the benediction and not “the grace”.

We need to say grace before meals.  And usually we have food on the table to give thanks for. When you think about it, though, there are few of us who when praying “give us this day our daily bread” really don’t know where our next meal is coming from.

There’s a huge chunk of the world who do have that problem. Their prayer for “daily bread” is literal.

Either way it’s the first part of the prayer that focuses on  our needs.

So what do we learn from this part of the prayer?

Lesson 1 – watch how you pray!

The first thing to learn from this line in the prayer is where it is. It’s not at the beginning.

Too many of our prayer go straight into what we call “petitions” or “supplication” – or asking prayers. Like little children we go bounding in to our Father’s presence with requests, without greeting or address. (Of course children as they grow into their teenage years learn to be more respectful in their approach – before they ask for their latest need, or want, or in time ask to borrow the car!)

If the Lord’s prayer is a model –  a framework – a template – then quite a large prelude to asking is what we talked about in the first four messages in this series.

We should always begin with God – praise, adoration, thanksgiving – because it puts into perspective, apart from many other things, who we are praying too. This generous heavenly Father. This Holy yet loving God. This powerful creator and provider. Our first request is for His Kingdom to come and that means His will to be done in our midst.

Let’s watch how we pray. Don’t leap into requests too soon. Our needs are a couple of lines down in the prayer template.

Secondly:

Lesson 2 – pray regularly – daily!

It’s the regularity that counts. Whether it’s “each day” or “this day” it’s every day. (Remember the differences between Matthew and Luke’s record of this prayer.  Luk 11:3  Give us each day our daily bread. Mat 6:11  Give us today our daily bread.)

There are days that fly buy in our lives where we are too busy and too self-sufficient to think about God’s provision.

In our last hymn today we will sing the chorus “all good gifts around us are sent from heaven above…”

I suspect it originates in James 1:17: Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

And probably also Matthew 7:11: If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

This prayer pattern recognises that every day is good for us – to ask – and to be thankful. It’s good for our perspective.  Self-sufficiency only works while you have a job and an income. Usually we pray less during those times.

When you’ve been unemployed – if you know how that feels – it’s amazing how your prayer life gets busier!

How’s your daily prayer life coming on? He wants us to depend on Him each day.

Then, thirdly:

Lesson 3 – be content with the basics. (It’s bread!)

We are to ask for daily bread. It’s bread. Not caviar or a lavish dinner out. That means being content with the basics.

From the temptations of Jesus – where he could have turned stones into bread – to the last supper – where bread takes on a new significance – we can’t escape bread in the Bible. Even “Bethlehem” where Jesus was born means “house of bread”.

It involves the basics. It’s a staple food. People feel satisfied when they eat their staple food, whether it be bread, rice, or some other sustaining food form.

It involves contentment. And contentment with daily bread as a desired state of being is found early on in scripture – as we heard in the prayer in Proverbs 30:

Pro 30:7  “Two things I ask of you, O LORD; do not refuse me before I die:

Pro 30:8  Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.

Pro 30:9  Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonour the name of my God.

I wonder if the American dream has messed us all up? Listen to these famous words from the declaration of independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. ——

That pursuit of happiness causes heaps of trouble – people need more and more in the pursuit – but they’re often never really content.

Contrast that with Paul writing to Timothy:

1Ti 6:6  But godliness with contentment is great gain.

1Ti 6:7  For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.

1Ti 6:8  But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.

1Ti 6:9  People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.

1Ti 6:10  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

Or the passage from Philippians which is often misquoted:

Php 4:12  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

Php 4:13  I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

It certainly puts that last verse into perspective. It’s clearly NOT about being a great achiever or conquering the world. Context in Bible reading is everything.

Daily bread it is then. Bread is a essential staple food for many. It also represents basic needs – which include food, heath, shelter, clothing, some kind of income, safety, friends, family.

It doesn’t have to be bigger and better – with endless upgrades.

Contentment is the key. Remember this verse in John 6?

Joh 6:35  Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.

Just as Jesus is the bread of life – who meets every spiritual need we have – so too this prayer is a check and balance to us – to focus on the basics physically as well. To ask for daily bread every day.

In the context of the prayer as a whole – it’s the Kingdom coming in our midst, and his will being done that matters more.

Daily bread will give us what we need to do His work.

May we learn anew to be content. Each day. With enough for the day. “One day at a time, sweet Jesus” is what Chris Kristofferson used to sing. (his 6th no 1 hit).

Matthew 6 ends with this – quite logically:

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

May you be content, and fruitful, in the Kingdom of God.

Peace be with you.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

Sunday sermon 4 September 2016: The Lord’s Prayer part 4 – Thy will be done.

Readings: Philippians 2:1-13; Matthew 6:9-10; Matthew 26:27-42

Message:

YOUR WILL BE DONE – On earth as it is in heaven. Another one of those lines we pray without thinking. And we pray about the will of God quite often in other ways.

“If it be your will” is a standard line when praying for difficult things. I am sure you have heard it many times over the years – or prayed it yourself.

When the prayer is not answered – we are let off the hook to some extent.  “It’s not his will to answer this prayer,” we may say, as we watch a loved one die, or someone suffer.

At a basic level – “Your will be done” in my view is really a parallel thought, another way of expressing the previous line “Your Kingdom come” in the prayer.

Your kingdom come, 

your will be done

– where? – on earth of course (as it is in heaven.)

You’ve heard me say that often before – I am sure. But it’s much more than that of course.

Just as the concept of “Kingdom” is much more than the ideas we talked about last week so too the will of God. We could spend weeks looking at the Kingdom through scripture.

Jesus clearly wrestled with the will of God – from his temptations in the wilderness to his prayers in Gethsemane.

At his temptations he keeps the devil in check by quoting scripture – which is what the devil does first – he’s always so deceptive is the evil one. A master of doubt who twists the truth. Knowing our bibles also helps us stay in God’s will.

In Gethsemane Jesus prays for a way out – and look at the progression as he wrestles with the prayer and the issues at hand:

Mat 26:39  Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

If it is possible – may this cup be taken from me. YET not as I will, but as you will.

And then this:

Mat 26:42  He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”

This time – if it is NOT possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it….

May your will be done.

If it was like that for him – we should not be surprised that this is a tough one for us too.

God’s will for Jesus was clearly a painful difficult journey with a good outcome!

What about us?

Firstly:

  1. GOD’S WILL FOR US AS INDIVIDUALS

 So that’s a good place to begin – with God’s will for us as individuals.

And like Jesus –  there is often some wrestling to do.

Paul understood that – he gives us this powerful passage in Philippians 2 – after the most profound hymn about Jesus emptying himself and taking on the form of a servant – humbling himself and going to the cross – and being raised and exalted and given the name that is above every other name (we talked about this last week as we looked at Jesus becoming King in the Kingdom of his Father)

When he has said all that, he gives us this amazing verse: Php 2:12  Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,  Php 2:13  for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

It’s the ultimate paradox – you work it out, because God works in you.

  • It’s that lovely contradiction – an apparent contradiction which is what a paradox is – like we had when I had burn out and needed time off to recover.
  • My dear wife and I were in the doctor’s room and he was saying that I needed to relax more and have time out. Rest etc.
  • Her comment – “he needs to put more effort into relaxing!”

I love it. It’s one of those things I can keep reminding her off – it was very funny at the time and still us.

Paul says: Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,  Php 2:13  for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

You have to put work into it – like the 15 people who came here on  Wednesday night to learn together about hearing God.

And he works in us – how does he work? To WILL and to ACT according to his good purpose.

Now the word WILL which is a noun (we pray for his will be to be done) becomes a VERB – he wills and acts.

He WILLS – he wishes or determines that things will happen in our lives. According to his good purpose. (Like Romans 8:28-30).

It’s a huge debate for people who want to ward off the possibility of faith and believing in God – they say  – WHY DOES GOD ALLOW SUFFERING.

We as Christians say that there are two aspects of God’s will.

His permissive will –  the things he allows.

And his active will – the things he causes.

You can’t understand the theory of this without the relationship. Like a human father when he says “no!” – it’s the relationship that makes a child listen and accept. And not be like the little boy at school told to sit down. He did, but said “I’m sitting down on the outside, but I am standing on the inside!”

Knowing God is everything.

  • He does not cause sickness. He does not tempt us. He does not bring about earthquakes and volcanoes. They are part of the natural world.
  • He does not make crazy suicide bombers blow people up. Or fly planes into buildings. Sin and evil cause that – inspired by the evil one.
  • And he does not cause us to get sick. But he does allow it. Sometimes to make us rest. At other times – I have no idea why he allows it. I have some suspicions. But as in my case at the moment it’s not that easy.

So yes – we wrestle with him on this too: Why do you allow it Lord?

Perhaps we should be saying “what can I learn from this God? You’re at work in me.” And probably this: “how do I work this out? How should I respond? Can I trust you God?”

His WILL to be done in our lives now – while we are between the coming of the Kingdom in Christ and the final consummation of the Kingdom (expressed in Revelation 21:4 where there are no tears and no pain), is no different from the will of God in Jesus life in Gethsemane.

We have to pray it through and face it with faith and courage – knowing that this is only part of the picture. Remember – Keep your fork in your hand – the best is yet to come!

So when we pray “Your will be done” for ourselves, as individuals, we are praying

  • that He will have his way
  • whatever that means
  • whatever he allows for our good – to grow our faith
  • what every he wills for us directly – to teach us
  • whatever he sends us specifically for us to wrestle with in faith

His will is that we remain faithful and say in the words of that great hymn by Adelaide Pollard (from Jeremiah 18:3):

Have thine own way Lord, have thine own way, Thou art the potter, I am the clay.

Mould me and make me, after thy will, While I am waiting, yielded and still.

That’s our individual growth path with God. It helps to know Him well. The relationship is everything.

Then there’s our life together. His will for us as a church family:

Secondly:

  1. GOD’S WILL FOR US AS A CHURCH FAMILY

 Praying for His will to be done on earth “as it is in heaven” has greater implications for us together.

“On earth” is not just about our individual lives – what we suffer, how we succeed or fail, in relation to whether we feel happy or not, successful or not. The individual quest to achieve is not at the centre of God’s will. Listen to Phil 2:3 again: “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit…”.

God’s will is always for us together – to be what He wants us to be together. Christians are by default in the body of Christ. We can’t do it alone.

What is clear about heaven is that God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, are in perfect unity and love. You see it in Jesus’ prayers – he is doing what the Father wants. John’s gospel is rich with these images.

And the Holy Spirit too gives glory to Jesus.

Just two verses to unpack this a bit. You will know others:

Joh 17:1  After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.

And this one: Joh 16:13  But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the 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. Joh 16:14  He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you.

It’s about one another in heaven – and it should be so on earth if God’s will is to be done.

Unity is everything.

Let this be a reminder to those who may be cliquey or divisive in church. Read Psalm 133 again! God bestows his blessing where there is unity.

You can’t just hang out with your mates, folks. As an aside, the whole point of name tags is that you can meet new people and take an interest in their lives.

We are to be united together – that’s the will of God. To be one body, interdependent.

The New Testament is full of “one another” sayings, and suggestions that we care for others and not ourselves.

The reading in Philippians 2 today begins with this – before the hymn about Jesus being given the name that is above every other name:

Php 2:1  If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, Php 2:2  then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Php 2:3  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Php 2:4  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Php 2:5  Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

And off he goes with that powerful hymn about Jesus making himself nothing – you know it already.

That’s the will of God that we pray to be done on earth.

And thirdly:

  1. GOD’S WILL FOR US AS A WORLD

 There are huge implications that apply to the wider community too. They are very obvious and come out of our wider sense of stewardship since Genesis 1 and 2. We are to care for creation. It’s not negotiable. It’s a gift to care for well. And for people in need.

  • God’s will is for peace, not war.
  • Love, not hate.
  • Care for the world he made, and not destruction.
  • Support for the poor, not indifference.

But you know this. These are the easy bits.

It is his will for Christians is to take an interest in community issues, pray for those in authority, and sometimes get involved in local and national politics when he calls us.

Our prayer life together is essential – and if we follow Paul in 1 Timothy 2 – well listen to what he says:

1Ti 2:1  I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— 1Ti 2:2  for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 1Ti 2:3  This is good, and pleases God our Saviour1Ti 2:4  who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

TO CONCLUDE

When we pray for his will to be done – for ourselves, the church family, and the community and world beyond these walls, we often are part of the answer to our prayers. Particularly beyond these walls.

  • His will is for us to be salt and light in the community.
  • Centres of disturbance of hope and joy.
  • People with answers. This time it is Peter who comes to our aid:

1Pe 3:15  But in your hearts revere 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. 1Pe 3:17  It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.

So keep praying “Thy will be done” and listen to God.

  • He will show you what to do when there’s nothing to be done about the situation you find yourself in – he’s there and he will help and guide you. He will work in you if you work out your salvation with fear and trembling – if you put some effort into it.
  • He will work out his will in the unity and well being of the church family.
  • He will work through you if you make a real decision to be a centre of hope and joy where you go each day – as you do his will in the world.

His will be done.

Amen.

Sunday 28 August 2016 – The Lord’s Prayer part 3: Your Kingdom Come

Readings: 1 Corinthians 15:16-28; Matthew 6:9-10; 31-33

Sermon:

Praying for the Kingdom to come.

We’ve talked about God as Father – this heavenly Father – and what it means to make his name holy in our lives.

The focus of the prayer we call the “Lord’s Prayer” thus far is about honouring and adoring this amazing God.

So close to us – yet so different and perfect – holy is the word we use.

The transition to the next concept may seem all too familiar to us. After all we can pray this prayer blindfolded and without really thinking about the words and their meaning.

  • A Father, loving and faithful
  • A holy God before whom we cry like Isaiah “woe is me” because we are unholy
  • And now a KING.

Images of royalty – singing “God save our gracious Queen” – the idea of a King Charles verses a King William – all these come to mind.

And on Wednesday the world will think again of the tragic death of Princess Diana – and at the same time thinking people will wonder why people made so much fuss, when one considers aspects of her lifestyle.

The current Queen has a much greater sense of duty and decorum – of being worthy of the role she has faithfully carried out.

But what about God as King?

  • If it’s his Kingdom we are to pray for – then he is the King.
  • How do you feel about that?

When you wander into this place on Sunday (whether on time or not) – in the presence of the King – do you think our approach is worthy of his Kingly honour?

Or are we more like people in a shopping mall or a market? Just a thought.

And so three thoughts on how we respond to this:

PRAYING FOR THE KINGDOM TO COME –  

Firstly:

  1. positions us differently as his subjects.

John the Baptist, and Jesus, spoke about the Kingdom being near. For John the preparation required that people clean up their act. The axe was at the root of the tree – a symbol of judgement.

For Jesus – his ministry ushered in the Kingdom – which was effectively a declaration of war on the powers of darkness – sin, sickness, and sedition if you like. Sedition or revolution – the usurping of power – symbolised by Satan himself who rebelled and was cast out of heaven because his behaviour was not fitting for that holy place.

And Jesus spoke endlessly about this Kingdom – near us, within us, and described in the many parables as a new force with upside down qualities like the first being last, the last being first, and the greatest being servants of all.

If his Kingdom came in Christ – and we are to pray for it to come – we suddenly find ourselves with a different agenda – to line up our lives with the values and standards of this King.

And since the death and resurrection of Christ – and His exaltation – Jesus is the King – the one with the name that is above every other name – whom we worship and obey.(Philippians 2).

Praying for the Kingdom to come as Christians positions us differently – we are no longer self-serving. We serve Him. We obey Him.

And we do this until the end – whatever generation of Christians is around at the end. Paul gives us a glimpse of how this Kingdom will be wrapped up. Just as there is a succession process in the House of Windsor – there is one in heaven too.

Listen again: 1Co 15:22  For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 1Co 15:23  But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 1Co 15:24  Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.

1Co 15:28 When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.

PRAYING FOR THE KINGDOM TO COME – 

Secondly:

  1. positions us differently in the community of the Church

You have to read Paul’s letters to the Ephesians and the Colossians to understand the implications of Christ being King and head of the church.

We talk about his often – how we are members of His body – that each part matters – that all gifts are valuable – that we are to build each other up in love.

All we do here – the things we reflect on today in the AGM reports and plans for the future – are actually not about a club having a meeting to pat ourselves on the back each year – they are actually because we want to glorify the King, obey Him, and see his Kingdom touch the lives of others.

As we have said before – the church is the only organisation that exists for an invisible head and for it’s not-yet-members – whom we want to see enter into the life of the Kingdom of God.

And Christ is the head of the church. We have to be connected to Him. (And not like a headless chicken running around  – they eventually fall over.)

All we do together and for each other – is to the glory of the King.

  • Our first priority is always WORSHIP. As the shorter Westminster confession says in its very first question: 

           What is the chief end of man? (What is the main purpose of people?)

           Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

  • And we have to listen to what he says. King Jesus commissioned his followers to proclaim the gospel to everyone – here at home and beyond to every nation. PROCLAMATION.
  • King Jesus commissioned us to make disciples and teach them to live by his teachings. DISCIPLESHIP.
  • King Jesus gave us the new commandment to love each other – declaring that people would know we are his followers by our love. That’s what drives our pastoral care in our FELLOWSHIP. It’s not keeping members happy like a club. It’s care that is linked to DIAKONIA – ministry or service of those in need in the community too, the hungry, homeless, lonely and depressed.

PRAYING FOR THE KINGDOM TO COME – 

Thirdly:

  1. positions us differently in terms of our priorities in life.

At a basic level – He says

  • “…seek first his kingdom and his righteousness” (Matt 6:33)
  • When you pray say: “Your Kingdom come” (Matt 6:10)

And then we have the rest of our lives revisiting his teaching on the Kingdom.

He didn’t speak so much about the Kingdom for fun.

Just a couple of his declarations about the Kingdom for today:

  • Joh_3:3  In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” IT’S A SPIRITUAL KINGDOM TRANSCENDING ALL BARRIERS.
  • Mat_18:3  And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. IT’S A KINGDOM THAT IS ENTERED THROUGH FAITH AND TRUST – LIKE THE TRUST OF A CHILD.
  • Mat_19:24  Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”  IT REQUIRES PAYING A PRICE WITH NEW VALUES – WE HAVE TO DECIDE WHETHER STUFF MATTERS OR THESE SPIRITUAL TRUTHS AND VALUES.
  • Luk_9:62  Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”  IT REQUIRES COMMITMENT AND ENDURANCE.

If we get out our bibles each week – and look for one parable or teaching on the Kingdom – perhaps we may begin to grasp the depth and width of what it’s all about.

We will surely see the difference. So will others.

For now – are we really seeking the Kingdom first?

Amen.

 

Sunday 14 August 2016 -The Lord’s Prayer Part 2 – Hallowed be Thy name.

READINGS:  Exodus 20:1-6; Isaiah 6:1-5;  Matthew 6:5-9;

SERMON

We spoke last week about intimacy – that close relationship Jesus had with his Father so that he could call him “Abba” – and how the Holy Spirit works in us so that we too can say “Abba, Father”. We talked about prayer – how important it is – because relationships require communication.

You know my favourite story about communication. A couple before a divorce court – and the judge wanted to know what the problem was. She complained that he seldom told her that he loved her. “Why not” said the judge. “It seems to me you do love your wife”. “Oh I can explain that” said the old codger. “When we were married I told her that I loved her – and I said to her that if I ever changed my mind, I would let her know”.

Women need to hear these things – and men need to say them. That’s free marriage advice today.

Our relationship with God requires communication. But as we made it clear last week, it’s not all about our wants – our shopping list prayers. It is a relationship that involves communication about Him. We need to tell God how much we love Him. How we feel about Him – and praise Him.

  • We are children of a Father.
  • But he is also the Heavenly Holy God.

Matthew emphasizes that – probably because of his Jewish audience. That positioning of God high above us together with the next line of the prayer create the other side of the swinging pendulum – the contrast.

This is a loving intimate Father – yes – but he is a heavenly  – distant – and holy God.

Remember that the first petition of the prayer is “hallowed be thy name”.

You may remember last week that passage from Isaiah where the prophet prays that God would tear open the heavens and come down. In next verse he prays that God would come down and make his name known to his enemies and the nations.

The name of God for people of the Old Testament was revered – as someone pointed out during our discussions on the Lord’s Prayer – it’s held in great esteem as holy.

In itself it was unpronounceable. Too Holy to come out of the human mouth.

That’s why to this day orthodox Judaism uses the term HASHEM for God – meaning “the name” instead of Yahweh or Jehovah, the “I am” name revealed to Moses at the burning bush. Or “Adonai” meaning Lord. (“Jehovah” of course is the result of putting the vowels for Adonai over the word YHWH – the I am name.)

So the Lord’s prayer is in line with Jewish thought. God is above all others and all else – in heaven – and his name is to be hallowed.

Like a human father, there is the contrast.

One the one side there is this love for a child – wanting the very best for them – and on the other there is this disciplinarian who holds up super high standards for the children, and draws lines in the sand – forbids things and warns of consequences. And punishes in the hope that behaviour will change.

  • On the one hand our human father is the dad who says Yes and spoils us. That’s grace and love. He wants us to do well.
  • On the other hand, he is the dad who says No and punishes us. That’s about consequences. Standards. Rules. Values. The family name.

The child who knows how much her dad loves her, knows how angry he will become if she makes bad decisions that damage her.

God the Father is also the Holy God of judgement who loves us but hates evil – it’s a similar contrast.

And so we are to “hallow” God’s name – to honour and revere it.

  • It’s really about adoration and praise.
  • To honour his name is to give him the credit for who he is and what he has done.
  • To focus on God rather than all other things.

Here’s the test question: What preoccupies you when you are in thought – wrestling with the things of life? 

Tim Keller suggests this: what is always on your mind – that’s usually what you adore – what you love the most.

I was listening to a Brazilian Olympic athlete last night talking about her passion for running. How she thinks about it all the time. How it’s on her mind at night when she lies awake. She came from a very poor part of Rio. This is her passion.

The big question to answer today is about your passion – Is it God?

To hallow God’s name is to treat it as sacred and ultimate. There is no other word in English. We still use a very old English word.

This is about the most important, crucial, central thing in your life.

Keller talks about the “supreme beauty” in your life. For me it would be your greatest love.

  • If God is all that to you, then you will be thinking about Him and his glory in your prayer time in your inner chamber.
  • And during your spare time during the day.
  • And when you lie on your bed at night. Reminds me of Psalm 63.

You see it in the life of David – a man after God’s own heart. In Psalm 63 for example:

Psa 63:1  A psalm of David. When he was in the Desert of Judah. O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

Psa 63:2  I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. Psa 63:3  Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. Psa 63:4  I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands. Psa 63:5  My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you.

Psa 63:6  On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night. Psa 63:7  Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings.

  • What you do in secret tells you who your God is. It was William Temple who wrote – your religion is what you do in solitude.
  • The primacy of praising and honouring God frames everything we do.
  • What we day-dream about also speaks about who our God is.

And this loving Father who is also Holy and just is everything to us.

  • Our Father – so merciful – look how low he comes, look at his compassion and love, how he wants my best, and yearns for my happiness.
  • Who art in heaven – look how high he is – look at his glory – his majesty and holiness – his power – and his wrath against evil.

Like a pendulum – it swings as much both ways – the more you see his love – the more you see his greatness!

Tim Keller also says this – listen carefully to this:

  • His fatherliness makes his heavenliness non-intimidating.
  • His heavenliness makes his fatherliness not just comforting but absolutely liberating – he is all powerful to keep his promises.

It puts it all into perspective: Exo 20:3 “You shall have no other gods before me.

And then the idols – those substitutes: Exo 20:4  “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. Exo 20:5  You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, Exo 20:6  but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

And then the honour of His name: Exo 20:7  “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

You can understand Isaiah then facing this vision of angels declaring, worshiping,  honouring this holy, holy, holy God, declaring this in his prophecy:

Isa 6:5  “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”

His life is polluted by the rebellion of God’s people – compared to this holy God he is vile and polluted. But when you read on – he is cleansed and commissioned.

So are we. Not through a live coal but by the cross – the blood of Christ – his taking on himself as the lamb of God – our sins – and giving us the gift of righteousness and the right to be called his beloved children.

  • Let’s really honour His name in our lives.
  • Let’s give him the praise and glory and worship and honour that His due his wonderful name.

 “Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name!”

Amen.

Sunday 7 August 2016 – Lord’s prayer series part 1 – “Our Father”

Readings: Isaiah 64:1-8;  Galatians 4:6-7;  Matthew 6:5-9;

SERMON

How are you when it comes to intimacy? I’ve been reflecting on the word, and how different people see things differently when it  comes to matchmaking. You get these programs on TV where people who don’t know each other are married off – and you wait to see whether the marriage will survive. There’s another program where they try to find the farmer a wife. Reminds me of the kids’ song we used to sing?

“The farmer in the dell.” It has a second verse: “The farmer takes a wife (x2) – Hey-ho the derry-o the farmer takes a wife.” You may remember the verses. Farmer – wife- child – nurse – cow- dog – cat – mouse – cheese –  the cheese stands alone at the end. It originated in Germany for what it’s worth.

It reminds me of the classic story about a farmer who was single and wanted a wife. The farmer put an ad in a newspaper that read: “Man, 35, wants woman about 25 with tractor. Send picture of tractor.”

Problem with intimacy it seems? Rather business like. Cerebral perhaps – all about thinking and planning and rationalising things. If I could just get a new tractor… Let me think…

Presbyterians are historically a rather cerebral lot. Intellect is really important. That’s why ministers are often trained to a level that defies common sense. University faculties sometimes get people thinking right out of their faith. But you can understand the commitment to training and knowledge. And nobody wants to base their faith on feelings.

You can’t base your marriage on feelings either. Yes I’m married, no I’m not… Best get the marriage certificate out as it states a fact!

Feelings and emotions change too much.

Intimacy is a little different though. It’s not necessarily driven by emotion – there is emotion involved but at its heart – I think – there is certainty and trust. A sense of safety and warm connection.

It’s right there in Jesus’ prayer life – in the calling of God “Father” or “Abba” which is almost like daddy. Most of the time its “Father”. Especially in John’s gospel where he uses the phrase repetitively.

And “Abba” – which twice is referred to in relationship to the Holy Spirit by Paul (in Galatians 4:6 which we read and the well-known Romans 8:15) – is used specifically by Jesus in Mark 14:36 when he prays in Gethsemane. At the toughest time of trial – he calls on Abba.

That has to be one of the most intimate prayer moments – facing the cup of suffering.You need to be close to God in a crisis!

When Jesus teaches his disciples to pray – it begins with “Father” or “Our Father”. You saw the differences between Luke and Matthew’s record of this two weeks ago when we looked at the Lord’s prayer.

The idea of God as Father is not entirely new in the New Testament.

It does crop up in the Old Testament occasionally.

Isaiah 64 is a great example which we heard today.

It’s a famous passage used in prayers for revival and sermons about revival. That desire for God to really move in power to stir people up to repentance, faith and spiritual fervour and commitment.

Listen again: Isa 64:1  Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you! Isa 64:2  As when fire sets twigs ablaze and causes water to boil, come down to make your name known to your enemies and cause the nations to quake before you!

What is the prophet seeking? The presence and power of God. He prays that God would tear open the heavens and come down and shake things up on earth.

In verse two he prays that God would come down and make his name known to enemies and nations.

And while Isaiah wrestles with this desire for God to tear open the heavens and make his presence and his name known, he recognises that it had happened before. Look at verse 3:

Isa 64:3  For when you did awesome things that we did not expect, you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.

And then there’s this wonderful expression of faith and hope: Isa 64:4  Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.

Ring any bells? Paul quotes and expands this amazing passage in 1 Corinthians 2 where he writes in verses 9 and 10: 1Co 2:9  However, as it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him”—1Co 2:10  but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.

Again it’s the work of the Holy Spirit who makes these things known to us.

There is a beauty and an intimacy in this expression of God’s love and promise for those who love him. What he has in store for us is beyond expectation entirely.

Paul captures some of this expectation in his doxology in Ephesians 3:

Eph 3:20  Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, Eph 3:21  to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

The stumbling block in Isaiah’s time is the sin that separates people from God. He continues to wrestle with this in the next three verses:

Isa 64:5  You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways. But when we continued to sin against them, you were angry. How then can we be saved? Isa 64:6  All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. Isa 64:7  No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and made us waste away because of our sins.

Sound familiar?

A brother of mine walked into my office the other day – concerned that we might become over-confident in our own righteousness – rather than the imputed righteousness of Christ – and dumped a gift on my desk. Guess what it was? A really filthy rag. I think he had Isaiah 64:6 in mind.

HERE’S A QUESTION:

Are you not troubled today by the excess of sin and shameful behaviour in the world, the flagrant disregard for truth and justice?

Of course the difference is that Isaiah is praying about the people of God – who should have known better. There was a remnant seeking Him of course.

So –  there is always hope. The passage ends with this beautiful line:

Isa 64:8  Yet, O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.

So God as Father is not a new idea that Jesus invents.

But he does own it. And particularly in John’s gospel where there are more than a hundred occurrences.

SO WHAT DO WE DO WITH THIS?

Following Jesus, knowing God as Father is really fundamental to our faith.

Some helpful suggestions.

  1. Don’t get your idea or picture of God muddied by any bad experience you may have had of a human father.

It’s a different thing. This is the Holy Father who is just, and has our best interests at heart.

When we let our image of a failed earthly father cloud our view of our Heavenly Father’s love and faithfulness, it can be a deception of the devil to blind us to the reality of this heavenly Father’s love and care for us. The devil is the father of lies remember. (John 8:44)

  1. Focus on your communication with this Father. Prayer is everything.

The context of Jesus’ teaching on this prayer pattern – which is not really the Lord’s prayer but the believers’ prayer – people praying out loud in the synagogue, and later pagans and their long-winded prayers.

Listen again: Mat 6:5  “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.Mat 6:6  But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

This room – or closet – is really an inner room. The point is that intimacy is not meant for the public eye. And there is a huge difference between public prayer and private prayer. When you lead people in prayer – you take them into the presence of God and help them with key points to focus on.It’s not about you – but it’s all about all of us.

When you pray on your own – while you can’t avoid praying for everyone else – you can spill your guts – open your heart – and really tell your Father how you feel.

  • You can ask God all the hard questions.
  • You can say it like it is.
  • And you can balance the hard questions with counting your blessings and thanksgiving and gratitude.

But don’t stay there – focusing only on the hard questions. Because your loving heavenly Father really wants to embrace you. Wait on God. Be still in His presence.

Let God speak to you. Through intuitive thoughts – through ideas he pops in your mind – and especially through the bible.

And look at the second part of verse 6 again: Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

What an interesting line. We kind of avoid the notion of reward. We are allergic to any idea that suggests we earn salvation or God’s love.

That truth remains. We don’t earn salvation. You can’t buy it through years of service.

But it is God’s nature to want to bless us as His children. He rewards us with a greater sense of faith and certainty, confidence and courage – and an overwhelming sense of being loved and safe in His hands.

Those private times of prayer are important. It has been suggested that you find a place – and have a notebook with your bible. The notebook is to write down thoughts and ideas you get – but also you need a separate column for when you have distractions – like things to do – jot them down separately and put them aside.

Focus on God’s presence. And a prayer book is helpful too. The NZ Anglican prayer book has daily prayers for each morning and evening.

These help us focus. There are other prayer aids. And listening to hymns and worship songs helps us focus on the Lord too.

In Matthew 6 Jesus continues: Mat 6:7  And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.

Mat 6:8  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

You don’t need to go on and on. Don’t babble like pagans! That’s pretty direct isn’t it?

Don’t be like them.

This is your Father who knows what you need before you ask Him.

Watch out for the long shopping list. He knows.

In a close relationship you can also sit in silence.

Sometimes all you have to do is groan. Do you remember that passage from Romans 8 – a few verses after the Abba Father verse (v15)? Listen to it again:

Rom 8:22  We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Rom 8:23  Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

We groan in despair at fallen world and long for the new creation – we experience the firstfruits and long for the completion of the new creation. We have this taste of the perfection to come.

We have our new status now – but the full inheritance as sons is yet to come.

I want to end with an old story – forgive me if you’ve heard it before – but it really is helpful to explain what is yet to come. It’s called “The Fork”.

THE FORK

There was a Christian lady who was diagnosed with a terminal illness and had been given three months to live. So as she was getting her things “in order,” she contacted her pastor and had him come to her house to discuss certain aspects of her final wishes. She told him which songs she wanted sung at the service, what scriptures she would like read, and what outfit she wanted to be buried in. The woman also requested to be buried with her favourite Bible. Everything was in order and the pastor was preparing to leave when the woman suddenly remembered something very important to her.

“There’s one more thing,” she said excitedly.

“What’s that?” came the pastor’s reply.

“This is very important,” the woman continued. “I want to be buried with a fork in my right hand.”

The pastor stood looking at the woman, not knowing quite what to say. “That surprises you, doesn’t it?”, the woman asked.

“Well, to be honest, I’m puzzled by the request,” said the pastor.

The woman explained, “In all my years of attending church socials and potluck dinners, I always remember that when the dishes of the main courses were being cleared, someone would inevitably lean over and say, “Keep your fork.” It was my favourite part because I knew that something better was coming…like velvety chocolate cake or deep-dish apple pie. Something wonderful, and with substance! So, I just want people to see me there in that casket with a fork in my hand and I want them to wonder, “What’s with the fork?” Then I want you to tell them: “Keep your fork. The best is yet to come.”

The pastor’s eyes welled up with tears of joy as he hugged the woman good-bye. He knew this would be one of the last times he would see her before her death. But he also knew that the woman had a better grasp of Heaven than most Christians did.

She KNEW that something better was coming.

At her funeral people were walking by the woman’s casket and they saw the pretty dress she was wearing, her favourite Bible, and the fork placed in her right hand.

Over and over, the pastor heard the question “What’s with the fork?”

And over and over he smiled.

During his message, the pastor told the people of the conversation he had with the woman shortly before she died. He also told them about the fork and about what it symbolized to her. The pastor told the people how he could not stop thinking about the fork and told them that they probably would not be able to stop thinking about it either. He was right.

So the next time you reach down for your fork, let it remind you ever so gently, that the best is yet to come.

IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT NOW

Remember John 14 J Jesus speaking to them before his death: Joh 14:1  “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. Joh 14:2  In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.

We can be really intimate with the Father now – and the place where we will end up is the Father’s house.

When you pray – start with “Father” or “our Father”. And stay with Him. Remain with Him.As a child is safe in His father’s presence.

Hold onto that truth every moment of the day. It defines who we are and what we will become.

Thank you Father.

Amen.

 

Sunday Sermon, 17 July 2016 – Mary and Martha

Reading: Luke 10:38-42

MESSAGE

So how are you when it comes to balancing your life?

Work and pleasure                     Exercise and rest

Crowds and solitude                 Noise and silence?

Busyness and devotion?          Doing and being?

Being a Martha or being a Mary?

Hospitality has been a big issue in Luke’s gospel as we’ve travelled along through the story.

You will remember the sons of thunder wanting to call down fire on that Samaritan village which was not hospitable to Jesus. They wanted heaven to “nuke” the lot of them.

You may remember the 72 being sent out – and Jesus’ instruction for them to shake the dust off their feet when they did not find children of peace in a place. You only had dust on your feet when people were inhospitable – otherwise they would have washed your feet when you arrived at their place. We have hospitality-lite in New Zealand – people take their shoes off  and we are let off the hook.

And of course the forgiving Samaritan who rescued a half-dead Jewish enemy arranged hospitality and paid for the man’s stay in a local inn – extravagantly caring for him. You can’t always sit by someone’s bedside when you have work to do – but you can sponsor someone else – in our day like a hospital chaplain.

Our team today is helping getting patients to the chapel service at North Shore Hospital.

So perhaps Martha is just as right as Mary in this event. We read in verse 38: As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.

There would have been no place for Mary to sit at the feet of Jesus had Martha not opened her home. And I bet they had yummy food.

So there are some simple lessons today.

1. We’re all different – and that’s okay

We’re different in personalities, in gifting, in strengths and weaknesses.

It’s the nature of the body of Christ that the different parts have different functions. Read 1 Corinthians 12 to remind yourself of that.

And you know – and I know – that our bakers and chefs are critical in church growth – even if we are at risk of the wrong kind of expansive growth.

Hospitality is crucial. Martha was good at that. In fact, she is doing Christian ministry – she is serving. Both the word “preparations” and “work” in verse 40 come from the word diakonia – where we get the word deacon from. That’s the role of our board – it’s real ministry doing the practical caring – and the fixing of things..

There are a couple of verses that commend hospitality – including this one from 1 Peter:

1Pe 4:8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.

1Pe 4:9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.

It reminds me of the family who invited church friends around for a meal, and the mum said to the little girl “please say grace”. The child responded: “I don’t know what to say”. Mum replied: “just say the last prayer you heard your father pray”. She did – and prayed: “o Lord why did we invite this lot over for tea?”.

Having said that:

2. Food and entertaining isn’t everything

I think I understand the Martha thing in this sense – you can really go over the top.

Martha seems to be a bit obsessed with all the detail – and frustrated enough to ask Jesus to take sides. Ah the joys of sibling rivalry. “Tell my brother to do this dad! He won’t listen to me” In Jesus’s words she was “worried and upset about many things”.

There’s a good approach to enable you to be more hospitable – people have to take you as they find you. And if they don’t like your chaos – too bad.

If you saw the movie “Amazing Grace” about William Wilberforce, you would have remembered the hosts of people eating at his place, and the fact he had to remove a pet – I think it was a hare – to find a seat for someone.

Biblically – perhaps the key verse to balance this should be this one uttered by Jesus at his temptation: Mat 4:4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

3. Mary chose the what is better – only one thing is needed. (v42)

The quote Jesus uses is from Deuteronomy chapter 8 – here it is in context:

Deu 8:2 Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.  Deu 8:3 He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.

To get back to Luke 10, this account is not about women essentially – although it was unusual for women to be in a rabbis group of followers. It’s not primarily about siblings or catering either.

It’s about discipleship. Following Christ changes our focus.

And many other things also crowd out our time – time we need to take to be really still and listen to Jesus’ teaching.

Whether here on a Sunday – or in our personal devotions – or in the invitation he extends for us to take longer time out – retreat days and extended periods of quiet.

Too much of everything else can choke out God’s life in us.

We become dry and spiritually barren.

The active life and the contemplative life are both important.

But it’s better when what we do flows out of who we are.

Being has precedent over doing. We are human beings after all – not human doings.

If we don’t attend to this contemplative life, and listen, study and digest the words of Jesus, we burn out. And we’re no good to anyone or ourselves. “This little light of mine” that we are supposed to shine – goes out.

RISKS FOR THE CHURCH

Apart from our individual lives and walks with God, we also get distracted by the details here.

Keep focus people. Remember that lovely song:

“Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace.”

There is a second verse of the song which goes like this: “keep your eyes upon Jesus”. Let’s do that.

Amen.

Sunday Sermon, 10 July 2016 – The Good Samaritan

Reading: Luke 10: 25-37

Sermon

Nearly 20 years ago – on a Saturday night – a car crashed in a tunnel in Paris. The occupants were severely injured. But the photographers who recorded the scene for the world press did nothing to help. Three out of four people died, including Princess Diana.

Ironically, France is one of the few countries which had a law – a Good Samarian Law – that makes it a crime not to help people in need.

Since that accident, the law has been revisited around the world. One state in Australia – the Northern Territory – has such a law. Very few people have been prosecuted under it – so it seems. Some US states have a similar law – but the argument against it, amongst many arguments is that it infringes on individual liberties. And of course people don’t want to be sued if their help harms people inadvertently.

Although in one survey it was found that more people would help someone in need because they were legally obligated than for moral or ethical reasons.

The issue has become much more prominent since then. It turns up in interesting places. For example – have a look at this scene from the final in the series of the American series Seinfeld – which I hasten to add I never did watch. The humour is unpalatable – and as you will see the background knowledge of the writers dodgy. I think it makes the point though.

Have a look.

If you think that’s bad, you should read some of the comments made about this. One person wrote this:

MegaSoldier64 1 month ago – The good Samaritan law is modeled after great Britain’s good Samaritan law, it became law when the queen of England had a heart attack and all those paparazzi just stood there and took pictures instead of helping her…

This lawyer in Luke’s gospel is also an interesting character. “What must I do?” is a great question about obligations. In this case its “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” that gets Jesus into “teaching by story” mode. Jesus’ response is straightforward – it’s one of those “haven’t you read your Bible” kind of responses:

Luk 10:26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

Luk 10:27 He answered: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.'”

Luk 10:28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

The legal eagle is not satisfied. Maybe he wanted controversy – more of a debate – maybe he was trying to trick Jesus.

He certainly opened up a new can of worms for those of us who like to be passive observers along the road of life.

Luke says he wanted to justify himself. I’m glad he did – as we get one of the two greatest stories of the bible – as a result of his probing. The other more famous one they say is the prodigal son. You can decide which is the top one.

It’s not unusual for stories to have three characters. Dig deep into your literary knowledge and you will find some – Goldilocks and the three bears, the three little pigs. I am sure you know what I mean. It’s all about story technique.

Jesus’ listeners would be listening out for the third character in the tale.

They would have wanted the hero to be one of them. Not a fancy Levite or indifferent priest. They are the bad guys in the tale.

They would have been waiting for the third person – a good guy who shows up the others – one of them – ordinary folk with some moral backbone.

They listen carefully – here it comes. “a Samaritan…”

  • “What?”
  • Gasp!
  • “no way Jesus! One of the enemy???”

He’s not mentioned as a “good” Samaritan. That has become a title added on by us.

  • He’s more than good though.
  • He’s extravagant! Remarkably generous.
  • It’s an absurd story.
  • It’s not about who is our neighbour.
  • It’s about who we are neighbours to. It’s about action.

It’s another variant of “love your enemies.” The wounded man is bound to be Jewish. And the hatred was mutual.

LET’S DO THE PLAY NOW

Let’s choose characters to play based on who you identify with the most.

When you ask kids to do this – and probably adults – not many people want to be the half dead guy.

The boys love being the robbers!

Perhaps we don’t want to think about what it’s like to be needy.

I don’t think we can get into those shoes very easily. Unless you’ve been attacked and beaten up perhaps.

How would you do as the lawyer?

Note that he can’t even say the word “Samaritan”. Jesus asks him this question at the end: “Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

He can only say this: “The one who had mercy on him.”

“Go and do likewise” says Jesus.

WHAT IS THE IMPORTANT THING TO TAKE HOME?

This is not a moral or legal story primarily. It’s not that we are to decide to be “good Samaritans” either because it’s the right thing to do or because we might be prosecuted.

It’s really about what motivated the Samaritan in the tale.

What did he have? Pity – is the word in the NIV in verse 33. Most better translations use the word “compassion” – that word we talked about a couple of weeks ago – that involves the inner parts, heart, stomach, the lot. It was the feeling Jesus had in Luke 7 towards the widow of Nain that caused him to stop the funeral procession – and raise the woman’s only son.

It’s the word in Luke 15:20 we are still to get to, that the Father has for the Prodigal son.

Its appears in passages referring to Jesus and God the Father.

And there is a strong argument that the Samaritan here is functioning as God’s agent.

After all, the lawyer identifies the man as showing “mercy” – another word which throughout Luke is associated either with an act of God or God’s agent (Luke 1:47-50, 54, 72, 78; 17:13; 18:38-39; the only exception is when Father Abraham refuses to show the rich man “mercy” [16:24], an exception which ultimately proves the rule that in Luke’s Gospel only God and Jesus show mercy).

That makes the story more startling.

Jesus is seen in the Samaritan. The Samaritan is a Christ figure.

Who is it that stops to help – that binds up our wounds and anoints us with the oil of gladness – that pays for our safe haven – if not Jesus?

This is not an “example” story that we are to be Good Samaritans.

We are younger siblings of our elder brother Jesus in God’s family.

We are the body of Christ – we are Jesus in the world – stopping to help out of compassion and because of his mercy.

MUCH OF THE WORLD MAY WELL BE HALF DEAD AND IN A DITCH

We can relish our own security and purity if we like – or take the chance – the risk – of showing mercy at a cost of our time and money – to reach the broken ones of this generation.

And if we don’t have compassion – then we need some loving ourselves to soften our hearts.

In any case – it was the Samaritans that did not welcome Jesus, that James and John wanted to turn into toast by calling fire down from heaven.

It was one of them who got it right – the enemy models love. Must have been a son of peace – I would say.

Amen.

Sunday sermon, 3 July 2016 – finding children of peace

Reading: Luke 10:1-11; 16-20

Sermon notes:

I visited a dear brother in his early 90s this week. He told me that his grand daughter is going to Southern Africa as a missionary. We had a good laugh together – he thought it funny that she was going there when I had come here to New Zealand as a pastor from South Africa. The question we discussed was simple – can there ever be too many missionaries? God calls and sends people in all directions – and the message is received. Seeds are sown and people come to faith. It should be the norm, but sadly many people struggle to share their faith, or hope that others will do it for them. Here are some points from this passage today.

KEY THINGS IN THIS PASSAGE TODAY

1. Ministry is not limited to the 12. Who are these 70 or 72? They were ordinary people with a Mission. It’s not limited to professionals either today.

Luk 10:1 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go.

2. The agricultural image of the harvest lines up with other passages – for example Luke 8:10-15 the sowing of the seed which is the Word of God (vs.11)

Luk 10:2 He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.

We are not to coerce people into the job of labourers for this mission. Pray for the Lord of the harvest to raise them up! It is His mission.

3. The Lord of the harvest then sends them out – this is not about PR or marketing – this is a divinely appointed task to share the Word and plant the seed. Have a look at the next verses:

Luk 10:3 Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.
Luk 10:4 Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.

They are to travel light, not weighed down by stuff (the church is often weighed down by stuff not central to its mission. For example, I spend a lot of time sorting out things that are not part of my calling). All of us spend a lot of time on non-essentials that don’t really build the kingdom of God.

Not greeting people is not being rude – it’s about not being side-tracked again by non-essential gossip and idle chit chat. It has been suggested that a formal cultural greeting in those days could take a couple of hours. You see this in other cultures – like traditional greetings or votes of thanks at Presbytery meetings to those who do the catering – in some cultures they are very long speeches indeed. (How do we allocate our words?? Word economy is an interesting idea.)

Luk 10:5 “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’
Luk 10:6 If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you.

4. “Peace be with you” is like saying God be with you. At our recent citizenship ceremony, the Kaumata’s karakia – his prayer of blessing – began with “Peace be upon this gathering”).

Luke 10:6 If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you  –  this is key – our mission is to be to and with people who are people of peace – they are open to you and you invest in a relationship with them. Logically – you can’t build with those who don’t seek peace. They are certainly not open to the prince of peace or the Gospel.

If you don’t receive peace back – move on. You’ve got urgent business and only so much time, – don’t waste it with people who are not people of peace. In our lives we have only so many hours in the day and the week for relationships. Missional church people make this their main focus – on the people who are children of peace – who are more likely to open their homes to you.

5. In verses 7 and 8 we read this: Luk 10:7 Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.
Luk 10:8 “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you.

Hospitality is inverted – the 72 are to receive hospitality. If you have to shake the dust off your feet it means that they haven’t done the job of hospitality – which included washing your feet. Otherwise there would be no dust!

Jesus tells them to stay in homes that welcome them (people of peace obviously). Hospitality is important in Mission. A number of key things happen in homes – look at Acts 10 and 11 Peter and Cornelius, Paul in Ananias’ house in Acts 9 – Lydia in Acts 16 – salvation involves belonging – giving of oneself and receiving of another – becoming part of a covenant community where people eat together – and when you eat with people you usually talk and share your lives more.

We are to go out and be guests to their hospitality, which is not easy for some whose kids embarrass them in peoples’ homes, who won’t eat their food and so on. Parents pray the kids will be okay and polite!

6. Luk 10:9 Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God is near you.’
Like last week’s discussion, the key message is the Kingdom, and healing is a normal part of it. Logically enough – God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven means wholeness, healing, restoration, and a new way of living, and a new community.

Not everyone will accept this:
Luk 10:10 But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say,
Luk 10:11 “Even the dust of your town that sticks to our feet we wipe off against you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God is near.’

7. The last passage is a warning that you should not worry about feeling rejected when sharing the gospel of God. It’s God they are rejecting. Listen again: Luk 10:16 “He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”

8. The real battle is spiritual. That’s why we have to guard our unity. Listen again:
Luk 10:17 The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” Luk 10:18 He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Luk 10:19 I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.

9. And of course don’t be to excited when you are successful: Listen to Jesus again: Luk 10:20 However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

I don’t think we are in great danger of getting over excited. But pride is a dangerous thing when we overrate ourselves. The real victory is Jesus over Satan – the cross remains the central place of power and success – paradoxically because it felt like a defeat.

So what about us?

The Missional church movement reminds us of the biblical mandate for Mission. God has a mission. God’s mission has a church.

The Matthew 28 great commission is “Go in to all the world” not “bring the world into the church building to hear the message”.

Perhaps that’s why Messy Church works.

  • It’s not in a church.
  • It is around food.
  • It focusses on doing things together where there are conversations in which we get to know people and are included in their lives.

And still – there is a message – there is prayer – truth is presented which is the seed sown in the lives of the folk that come along.

It’s not just a time to keep kids busy.

Hospitality is shared, – given and received.

You could come along too.

And tomorrow you will be out there – the extension of the mission of the 72 – God’s mission has a church – and that’s you.

Amen.

Sunday Sermon, 26 June 2016 – “I will follow Him”

Reading: Luke 9:51-62

SERMON

This will bring back some memories – the song “I will follow Him” from Sister Act:

Don’t you love that number? For once you are allowed to yell out “whoopee!”

“I will follow him.”

Will you really?

The training of Jesus’ first disciples in Luke 9 and 10 is a fascinating series of successes and blunders. In the gospels overall – it’s your typical training scenario. Ups and downs – moments of success and real stupidity.

You can’t really blame them for wanting to call down fire from heaven on those inhospitable Samaritans. They were the equivalent of various disliked groups for some people today – it seems legitimate to take them out.

I had coffee with an old student this week who joined the army reserve here in NZ and has an Arabic surname that begins with Al. You can imagine some of his army trainers and their attitudes – especially when he filled in a form and said his religion was Muslim/Presbyterian. They had some questions for him. It’s a great story.

We know the whole story of the New Testament which they didn’t have back then – we know that Good Samaritans actually exist. And we are not keen on ethnic cleansing.

So Jesus does have a little word with James and John – who are not called the sons of thunder for nothing.

He basically rebukes them.

That’s the first challenge today.

Perhaps we have attitudes that need rebuking. If you follow Jesus – you really have to tow the party line as it were.

John Wesley’s comment on this passage was this: “‘Ye know not what manner of spirit’ – The spirit of Christianity is. It is not a spirit of wrath and vengeance, but of peace, and gentleness, and love.”

The key word which unlocks the whole passage I suspect is found in verse 51:

Luke 9:51 As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.

Resolutely is the word. It also means to set your face firmly or steadfastly – it’s about a decision on Jesus’ part to go to the place where he will ultimately die. And it’s quite early on really in the narrative.

The followers of Jesus are expected to have the same steadiness of purpose. Single mindedness if you like.

So they move on to another village – and there are three encounters with would-be disciples. Remember that a disciple is essentially two things – a follower and a learner.

Either way it is a costly business – as these examples illustrate.

One he calls to follow him.

Two volunteer.

Like the Sister Act song – the first volunteer says exactly that: – “wherever you go.”

Luk 9:57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

Jesus doesn’t reply in an English accent, “O how lovely” or like a kiwi with a : “Sweet as!”

Luk 9:58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

Warning bells should sound for the reader of the gospel – Jesus is resolutely going to Jerusalem where he will die.

Jesus’ response may seem blunt – but that’s the reality. There can be no expectation of payoff for being a disciple. Rather – you could end up homeless. Despised and rejected.

The second follower Jesus calls.

The man’s response seems reasonable. Let me bury my father first. The commandments made it clear that people were to honour their parents. And many of us do exactly that – we put our plans on hold to care for aging parents.

We don’t know whether the person’s father was ill or had in fact died.

Either way Jesus’ response is a tough one.

Luk 9:60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

Suddenly the lines are drawn. It’s not the church that is central here. In fact, Jesus says very little about the church.

He’s not bothered about the spaces between our chairs and rows here.

He’s interested in whether we buy into the Kingdom values and principles that we pray for in the Lord’s prayer – “thy Kingdom come, thy will be done” – the Kingdom that he spoke about when he said “no worries, be happy by seeking first the Kingdom of God”…

I’m not sure that he was insensitive to the bereaved or those who care for aging parents and put their lives on hold for a season.

I think what he means is that spiritual things are central – let the spiritually dead deal with the other things that are not lasting – that are not important in the bigger scheme of things.

We need to be at peace with what is gone – and embrace what lies before us as we embrace the kingdom.

Different principles, values, morals, ethics, and purpose for living. Passion!

  • People who stand for light and truth in the midst of darkness and deception.
  • Love and grace in the face of hatred and bitterness.
  • Worship and gratitude in the face of grumbling and grabbing – that grasping entitlement of this generation and indeed this nation.

Our third potential customer in this passage is another volunteer. Listen again:

Luk 9:61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.” Luk 9:62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

Here’s the thing. Even Elisha was allowed to go back to his family to say goodbye before he took up his prophetic mantle (1 Kings 19:19-21).

Being a disciple of Christ is a stronger calling, Not everyone endures to the end. People fall by the wayside. They look back. (Lot’s wife comes to mind).

Jesus does us a favour to warn us that we should not start something and give up half way.

If we start ploughing and look back with regret – we’re not fit for service.

Failed WOF basically. We get yellow-stickered – taken off the road.

You have to look ahead – otherwise the field ends up in a mess with a track behind us that is all over the place.

We too have to set our faces towards Jerusalem – the heavenly city. Towards a loftier goal of a new Kingdom and life in Christ.

And on the road we too have to confront all that which contradicts the truths of the kingdom – just as Jesus did – he had to speak out prophetically to the religious establishment more than anything else – he confronts them and eventually turns over their tables – with a desire to reform and rescue them.

So should we. In fact its one of my jobs – to challenge people in their stuckness.

Two out of three of these people in the passage today were volunteers. It seemed good at the time. One Jesus called – and he too was a dubious starter.

How are you doing? How’s your single-mindedness? Not for your pet theory, but for Jesus? “All for Jesus” is the song we sang.

How’s your passion? Passion is caught, not taught. We need some infectious passion for Jesus and His Kingdom.

Amen.