Readings: Exodus 1:8; 2:1-4; Hebrews 11:22-29
In my Jewish studies module years ago, we had a lovely Rabbi who taught us. He’s the one who gave me a lift home once and offered me a job. There was a shortage of rabbis at the time. His words were something like this: “it only requires a small operation”. As you can see I stayed with the Presbyterians.
I remember him very distinctly referring to this line in Exodus 1 as a key shift in the story and drama of his people. I’ll say it the way he said it because it’s much more authentic. And to see if you can pick it up. I’ll give you a clue – list for the last word which is a name.
וַיָּ֥קָם מֶֽלֶךְ־חָדָ֖שׁ עַל־מִצְרָ֑יִם אֲשֶׁ֥ר לֹֽא־יָדַ֖ע אֶת־יוֹסֵֽף
“There arose a new king over Egypt who did not know Joseph.”
Genesis 50 ends with Joseph being embalmed in Egypt. Surely people would remember the one who saved them from famine in such an amazing way. The one who dreamed a dream.
The one who was at Pharaoh’s right hand and had all that power. They must have told the story in Egypt. That cup bearer surely remembered Joseph, or did he forget again like he did the first-time causing Joseph to spend an extra two years in prison?
That’s if you take the word “know” as “know about”. There are people who have no idea about their history – or the history of a nation and its heritage. It happens here – the Christian heritage is blotted out from peoples’ memories because the stories are not passed down. It makes it all the more urgent to tell them – teach them – remind people – giving them reasons for the hope that we have – because God is still at work in this country. And of course families have to pass on the story of faith to children and grandchildren.
But there’s another possible layer to that word “know”. It can also mean that he did not look with approval, or did not want to acknowledge his contribution. You know how we say that someone just doesn’t want to know something.
Either way this is about change. This is life. You have agreements – the next generation disregards them. You have a boss and a new one comes and everything changes.
Change is constant everywhere. That’s why the essence of the Christian faith is trust, and hope and not certainty or predictability.
You get changes at work, or move from work to no work. Changes in life when someone dies. Changes in health. Changes in marital status, things that shake your world and can shatter your confidence or self-esteem.
We have to hold on to God’s promises, just has Joseph did when he was dying held to the promises – remember from last week? Gen 50:24 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”
Things can change suddenly – our white island volcano may erupt any day when we’re not expecting it. And especially when change happens, God raises up a new way through the wilderness or the flood or the fire – whatever the challenge is.
He always steps in.
This new king has a plan to kill the Hebrews babies. God raises up brave midwives who save so many of them.
We can’t read this whole story in one day. I just know that losing babies for any reason is one of the most appalling traumas and engenders huge deep grinding grief.
In the midst of terrible treatment of the slaves and this treacherous plan to kill babies, you get these verses of hope at the end of Exodus 1.
Listen as the story continues:
Exo 1:15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, Exo 1:16 “When you help the Hebrew women in childbirth and observe them on the delivery stool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.” Exo 1:17 The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. Exo 1:18 Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?” Exo 1:19 The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.” Exo 1:20 So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous. Exo 1:21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.
Of course, there have to be more than two midwives. Otherwise it would be a bit hectic like places in New Zealand where there aren’t enough of them. But this story records these two specifically. I love their answer about the Hebrew women being more vigorous than the Egyptian ones.
I love that they fear God and take risks in the face of tyranny.
But it gets worse in verse 22 as all people are ordered to kill these baby boys:
Exo 1:22 Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: “Every boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.”
You can imagine families listening to this being read to them as Jewish families passed on the story. How awful to imagine such cruelty.
But as the kids take a breather and go for a quick drink of water, they can come back to listen to the ongoing story.
Chapter 2: (says the reader/dad)
Exo 2:1 Now a man of the house of Levi married a Levite woman, Exo 2:2 and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months. Exo 2:3 But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. Exo 2:4 His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.
This unnamed couple have a son. Of course he was a fine child. Every baby is beautiful! This is their third baby, and he must have looked really special.
The writer to the Hebrews backs this up in 11:23: (ESV) Heb 11:23 By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.
The NIV has this: Heb_11:23 By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.
The child was exceptional, elegant, well formed (in the Latin).
I love this passage. There is a sense of expectancy in the midst of their crisis here:
- There is this unusual child, as some of the translations say.
- Jochebed – the mother whose name we hear of later, hides him for three months. How do you do that. Did he never bleep?
- Miriam – the sister, well listen to the message’s version:
The baby’s older sister found herself a vantage point a little way off and watched to see what would happen to him. She was probably about 15.
Such anticipation. Mum sticks your brother in a basket in a river probably with crocodiles in it and you cross your fingers.
They would have no idea what the outcome would be. Or did they?
Sometimes things can be overwhelming and we wonder – what difference can I really make? It’s all too much. This world has crazy things happening right now.
There are heroes in this story who would have also felt their world was going nuts.
- Midwives are not supposed to kill babies.
- Mums are not supposed to put your baby in a basket in a river and let him float away.
- Men are not supposed to be treated so ruthlessly as those Hebrew slaves were treated.
Let’s hear the end of this chapter of the story as we end today and come to the table which symbolizes God saving people in hopeless situations through the cross of Christ.
This is the point of it all. God does work in impossible situations.
The outcome is neat. Precious really. Listen. Here’s the last reading for today:
Miriam is watching on tippy toes (v4). Imagine dad reading this to the kids before bed. They might have said “what happened next?”
Here it is.
Exo 2:5 The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her attendants walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to bring it. Exo 2:6 When she opened it, she saw the child. He was crying, and she took pity on him. “This must be one of the Hebrews’ children,” she said. Exo 2:7 Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” Exo 2:8 Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Yes.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. Exo 2:9 Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed it. Exo 2:10 When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and she took him as her son. She named him Moses, “because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.”
Perfect. What a great ending.
The baby killer’s daughter takes him out the river.
Young Miriam bravely offers to get a nurse for him – Moses’ mother– and there it is. The baby killer’s daughter even pays Moses’ mum a wage to nurse him. By about the end of his second year or maybe even the third she would give her son back to a princess.
God was at work. Using whoever he chooses for his purposes.
There’s a South African saying that goes like this: “Moenie worry nie, watch net.” Don’t worry, just watch this.
Be like Miriam at the river side watching on tip does to see what will happen to a three month old boy in a river at a time when he had a death sentence on him.
We used to sing this song by “Living Sound” years ago: “God can do it again and again and again, He’s he same God today as he ever has been, yesterday and today, now forever ever the same, God can do it again and again and again.”
What did I say earlier? There is no certainty in life that we can depend on – only faith. The centre of the Christian faith is not certainty or predictability, but faith – trust and hope. As Hebrews 11:1 reminds us: “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not yet seen” (KJV) or “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (NIV)
- Kings that don’t “know Joseph” are always rising up in the land.
- People in power will always manipulate the truth to get what they want (the Hebrews weren’t really getting to be more numerous than the Egyptians. It’s almost as if they become reclassified by today’s political standards as terrorists.
- Change is certain, and what does that call us to? It calls us to trust, to trust the Lord of the covenant who is constant in His love and in His self-giving in the midst of change.
- And the people in this story must speak to us about our capacity to make a difference whoever we are and however humble our position in life. There are five great women in this account who have no great power but yet have great influence (our Famous Five if you like).
Moses’ mother Jochebed, (named later in Exo 6:20) Shiphrah and Puah the midwives. Miriam the 15-year-old big sister. And The Egyptian princess.
it’s been described been described as a “cross-cultural intergenerational alliance of these women”. Shiphrah and Puah, Jochebed, Miriam and the Pharaoh’s daughter who all disobey the king. Our famous five live out faith with genius and courage.
A commentator writes this: “God uses what the patriarchal and power-hungry Pharaohs of the world consider as low and despised in their eyes (Hebrew women) as instruments to shame and overthrow the arrogant and the strong.” (Dennis Olson)
You get a similar theme of the lowly over throwing the strong in the prayers of two other famous women – Hannah and Mary. (Our famous five become the super seven!)
Hannah (1 Sam 2:1-10) – 1Sa 2:7 The LORD sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts. 1Sa 2:8 He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor. “For the foundations of the earth are the LORD’s; upon them he has set the world. 1Sa 2:9 He will guard the feet of his saints, but the wicked will be silenced in darkness. “It is not by strength that one prevails;
Mary – Luk 1:46 And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord Luk 1:47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, Luk 1:48 for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, Luk 1:52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.
Paul continues along the same lines in 1 Corinthians 1. – 1Co 1:26 Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 1Co 1:27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 1Co 1:28 He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 1Co 1:29 so that no one may boast before him.
And there’s this lovely connection with the bigger story. The word for boat/basket for baby Moses is only used one other time – and it’s the word for the ark (Noah’s ark).
And Moses’ is named by the princess (traditionally his parent name for him is said to have been Joachim.) And Moses (Mashah – Moshe) – means “one who draws out” – pointing forward as he will draw them out of Egypt. The Exodus story is that rescue.
More about Moses next time. The plot will thicken!
For today let’s remind ourselves of the one greater than Moses who is our rescuer as we come to the Lord’s table. We meet here with Jesus who also modelled humility before victory is totally trustworthy and he empowers us too.
Watch and see what God can do in our generation.
Through ordinary people like us.
Readings: Genesis 37:3-8; Genesis 50: 15-21; Romans 8:28
INTENDED FOR GOOD
We look for a couple of words – a sermon title or thought – to put on the notice board outside every week.. I suggested “Happy Families”. We opted for something else eventually. “Intended for Good:.
Do you remember playing happy families?
I had to google the rules: The player whose turn it is asks another player for a specific card. If the asked player has the card, he gives it to the requester and the requester can then ask any player for another card. If the asked player does not have the card, it becomes his turn and he asks another player for a specific card. Play continues in this way until no families are separated among different players. The player with the most cards wins. (Clear as mud).
One of the rules states that a player cannot ask for a certain card to deceive any player if he does not have a card in the set he is asking for.
How funny is that.
We’ve looked a bit at the life of Jacob. His dream of a staircase to heaven at Bethel. His wrestling with God at Peniel. His limp. Like a thorn in the flesh it was a constant reminder of his vulnerability. We looked at Paul’s saying – “when I am weak then I am strong.”
Jacob is renamed Israel. The one who struggled with God and prevailed? Although we said that the name actually meant that God prevailed.
Well he does doesn’t he? Ultimately. We were joking this week about the idea that some people have that when we get to see God we will have it out with him about all the things he could have done better. Moses, Jonah, Job – all found out that God ultimately prevails.
It’s in the family that some of the toughest things are handed out.
It makes sense really. Family is our main place of operation for care, nurture, education and training, passing on of the faith, shaping society – the list goes on.
It’s the obligation we can’t shake off. Parenting especially, or being a parent. You know my favourite story of the lady who turned 100 who when asked said the best year of her life was when she turned 90 – because all her children in that year were safely in a rest home.
You can’t divorce your parents or kids. As much as you may like to.
The irony of “no deception” allowed in the card game “happy families’ is of course that the family of Isaac – Jacob, Esau, and then Jacob’s 12 sons – they all seemed to specialize in deception.
It started with Abraham passing off his wife as his sister. More than once (Gen 12 and 20).
It is seen in Jacob’s and his mum Rebekah scheming – in the stealing of Esau’s birthright and blessing.
Jacob’s return to face the music – to face Esau – is also tainted with subterfuge. Remember he splits the family and people into two groups – probably so that if one gets destroyed at least the other will survive. He sends gifts to curry favour with his brother who you will remember wanted to kill him.
Jacob’s family is a real muddle.
It has all the classic signs of a modern family.
- Irritatingly arrogant teenagers
It gets worse with the brothers plan to kill the irritating favourite brat. Never mind the fancy coat, those dreams just were too much.
Gen 37:8 His brothers said to him, “Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?” And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said.
We had readings from each end of the story of course. There are 12 chapters between our two readings (although you can leave out chapter 38). It’s the longest saga in Genesis and the whole bible. It must be there for a reason.
What major themes can we consider?
Human unfaithfulness or disloyalty is one. It runs through the story. His brothers are less than loyal selling him. Potiphar’s wife is hardly honest. Even the chief cupbearer who didn’t get his head lopped off forgets Joseph which means he spends an extra two years in jail. The lies of the brother to their father must be the low point in that whole story. Interesting how a goat features both in the deception of Jacob’s father (the skin of the goat is used to trick him into thinking he is touching Esau’s hairy arm) – and a goat is killed so that Joseph’s coat can be dipped in blood to support the lie that he has been taken and devoured by wild animals.
A stronger theme in the whole story is that God is present and active even in the midst of suffering.
God is clearly with Joseph from the beginning. He is singled out for some kind of destiny and gifted. His dreams are sent from God (Gen 27:5-11).
In Genesis 39-40, we see again and again that God is with him and has chosen him.
- “The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man” (Genesis 39:2a),
- “His master saw that the Lord was with him, and that the Lord caused all that he did to succeed in his hands.” (Genesis 39:3)
- “But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love” (Genesis 39:21a)
- “The keeper of the prison paid no attention to anything that was in Joseph’s charge, because the LORD was with him. And whatever he did, the LORD made it succeed.” (Genesis 39:23)
In chapter 40-41, God is especially with him during his tough times and suffering. He can interpret the dreams of two fellow prisoners, although there is some irony as both have their heads lifted up, one to success and the other to execution. Finally, he can interpret the Pharaoh’s dreams.
This gift, too, is a sign of God’s presence with Joseph, as Joseph himself declares: “Do not interpretation belong to God?” (40:8).
The repeated point is clear for the reader – God was with him, especially in his suffering.
We often pray that God will be with people in need or a crisis – which is a bit odd as he already is with us as believers. I think what we intend really is that God will be with them to help them make sense of the struggles and get through with a sense of purpose and a dose of courage.
The key thing is that the Lord takes Joseph to a better place through this. His presence is transformative. It makes a difference.
God meets Joseph in his suffering, but God does not leave Joseph there. God enters into the situation to bring Joseph out of it, to another and better place. And most importantly – along the way God blesses others through Joseph. It’s a “blessed to be a blessing” thing. It’s central to our whole faith.
He survives and he thrives – the presence of God has great influence and effect.
First Potiphar and his household, later the chief jailer and all those in prison, and finally Pharaoh and all of Egypt.
It’s all part of his family’s identity and covenant promise – to Abraham and Sarah – that they and their descendants would be blessed and that through them, all the nations of the earth would also be blessed.
And for our “happy families” theme today, Joseph’s brothers especially receive blessing through him. Especially since they don’t deserve it.
THE PATH IS DIFFICULT
The challenges Joseph faces are still pretty awful. Being sold into slavery. Separated from those he loved and in a foreign country. False charges of unfaithfulness and prison.
The deception is there right at the end though after Jacob dies – the brothers are still scheming in their fear that now that dad is gone Joseph may actually take revenge.
So they make up a lie – with a story of what their dead father was supposed to have said. Joseph wept – is one of those lines that display another side of this very smart and powerful man.
In fact it’s surprising how often he weeps – privately, publicly, and in this case in front of his family. I remember seeing my dad cry – for different reasons. I must have been about 10. We were listening to a radio program and it was the unjust suffering of an innocent man that brought on his tears. I’ll never forget it. (My passion for justice and fairness must have come from somewhere.)
The climax of this tale is verse 20 of chapter 50: Gen 50:20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.
One American commentator writing on this story said this – even a jerk doesn’t deserve to be thrown into a pit to die. There is no justification for the violence in this family. There are brief redeeming factors – like Reuben who wants to rescue Joseph and bring him back to his father – but he is not a hero for long. He slips into the deception.
But it is pretty extreme.
I don’t know what challenges you face in your life and especially in your family life. But I do know this. As God used sinful human intentions and actions for good ultimately in Joseph’s life, he is also with us in our worst situations.
- In the pit.
- Trapped in our prisons.
- Facing betrayal and cruelty.
Maybe you’ve got this amazingly perfect family. I don’t know.
I remember one year after getting too many family Christmas letters from friends extolling the virtues of their children and their incredible achievements, I wrote a very short one saying that only my dog deserved mention as being well behaved and fulfilling her dogness that year.
I do know some of your stories though.
After almost nine years you do get to know peoples’ pain. The complexities of adoption (there are many of us in that category). Children who reject what we teach them and what we stand for – especially in their turning away from God. Who reject us sometimes.
Physical pain and suffering – we’ve shared a lot together. Nearly losing people in medical crises. Loved ones dying of cancer. Failed businesses, being retrenched, depression, financial struggles, unfaithfulness and divorce that we don’t really want. Having children far away whom we love and don’t see. Strokes, accidents, grandchildren having to have limbs amputated, medical diagnoses that are both daunting and shocking, and some who have lost more than one sibling for various reasons. Plus rejection and people who won’t reconcile. And people who are toxic and dangerous who harass us.
God is in the midst. I can’t promise that he will fix the things we would love to see fixed, or when he may do that.
But I won’t be moved – in the sense of being thrown off course – by those who seek to harm us whether deliberately, or those who are probably too stupid and selfish to know how hurtful they can be.
But if we learn anything from Joseph – it’s about God with us and using what others intend for evil for good.
He doesn’t cause these troubles or want them for us.
But just as he was with his son on the cross, he is with us.
He will have his way and he will work things for good.
- Be encouraged. And don’t give up as you trust him.
- Don’t let anyone rob you of the strength and joy, the peace and security, that is ours in Christ.
- Don’t let people steal your hope.
- Dig into your bibles – into the promises of God.
Joseph never let go of them. Even at the end this is what we read:
Gen 50:24 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”
Prayer of the day: God of dreams and hope, You spoke to Joseph in his dreams, and those dreams led him to great danger. Yet you used the challenges in his life to save the lives of others. In you, no good thing is accidental. You work in us and through us, even when we are not aware of your presence. Help us to know that you are with us, and that only you are capable of turning all evil to good. We pray all these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our Redeemer. Amen.
READING: Matthew 24:36-44
I WONDER IF YOU EVER PLAYED “HIDE AND SEEK”?
Most kids seem to have.
You see it in movies too – the seeker counts to 20 and the hiders scramble for cover.
The key line is supposed to come after the counting to 20 – or whatever period is agreed upon by the players.
Do you remember what it is? “Coming, ready or not!”
Tom Wright tells the story of when he was a bishop living in this historical house. And one Saturday when the family were all at home having a lazy day – reading and snoozing, with lunch bits and pieces not yet put in the kitchen and a general muddle everywhere, the doorbell rang. He answered the door and found a delegation of 30 people from overseas who had arranged to visit the place for a tour.
He’d forgotten all about them.
He hastily took them to the garden to have a look around, and the family quickly charged around and tidied up.
You see it in adverts. Young people shoving all their things in a cupboard because the parents have arrived. And then of course the whole lot comes tumbling out on the floor.
Coming, ready or not?
Are we ever really ready for the Christmas visit by the interesting relatives we seldom see or cope with?
Jesus says in the last verse of today’s Gospel reading:
Mat 24:44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.
Matthew 24 is all about readiness. So is Matthew 25. Because stuff is going to happen.
- The destruction of the temple is foretold.
- Signs of the end of the age are spelt out.
- The abomination of desolation is discussed. The desecration of the temple foretold in Daniel 9, 11 and 12.
- The coming of the son of man is explained.
Then comes a simple warning – learn from the fig tree. When its twigs get tender and its leaves come out – says Jesus – you know that summer is here.
Read the signs!
He continues: Mat 24:33 Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door.
People get very excited about this business of the end of the world or the day of Jesus’ return.
We had a couple years ago called in our parish. He was a tough old bloke. And every time there was another earthquake, he would get so excited because the end was nearer – he would say. And she would say – but what about all those poor people!
We get excited too sometimes. Occasionally I hear it in peoples’ prayers. And there have been a whole lot of dramatic things recently haven’t there – earthquakes and rioting, unrest and chaos. Its not helped by the fires and floods too – and the climate change debate.
People would have got excited reading Matthew’s gospel too.
The prediction of Jesus about the temple was fulfilled. This happens within Matthew’s lifetime and probably before he writes his gospel when Titus and his legions destroy the temple. They separate stone from stone – because the gold from the roof melted in the fire seeped into the walls. As a matter of interest, the western wall that Jews pray at today was not part of the actual temple but an outer kind of retaining wall
Readers of Matthew 24 might still get excited about all the other things Jesus lists. All that apocalyptic stuff. BUT – then comes verse 36 – it’s so close, but no one knows!
Mat 24:36 “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
We’re in between the “right at the door” warning with all the signs – and this unknowing.
In between his first and second coming.
- And that’s Advent in a nutshell.
- It’s about coming. Celebrating a past coming and looking out for another coming.
We think mainly of Christmas preparation really. “Are we ready for Christmas?”
On the first Sunday of Advent when we’re all really thinking Christmas – there’s always a reading about getting ready for Jesus’ second coming.
- We already know that he will come again. After all he tells us so.
- Should we worry about when?
Verse 36 makes it clear: Mat 24:36 “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
Jesus before his ascension in Acts 1 makes it clear again: Act 1:7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.
Like knowing the date of your death, this knowledge would not be helpful.
The best illustration is one Mark and I talked about this week. Take for example a deadline that you have. And exam or an assignment due. So often we put things off.
Cramming is not on. You don’t have to cram to be ready for Jesus’ coming. You can’t.
Tom Wright reflecting on that day when the 30 visitors turned up writes:
You can tidy a house in a few minutes, if you put your mind to it. But you can’t reverse the direction of a whole life, a whole culture. By the time the ring on the doorbell happens it’s too late. That’s what this passage, and the next one, are about.
To quote Mark – that’s our St Mark, you don’t have to be burdened if you haven’t done enough.
- You can finish an assignment just before the deadline.
- When you know when the end comes – like an assignment date – you can fall behind early and try to catch up later.
- You can cram for an exam. But not for his coming.
Our interesting old man in our parish who loved earthquakes didn’t see the second coming. He did die however. As Jesus said in John 14: 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.
Joh 14:3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. Jesus came for him.
Did he have to wait on edge? Afraid? No. Neither should we.
Just don’t be caught out oblivious of the real issues in life. As in the days of Noah – says Jesus.
Jesus continues: Mat 24:37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Mat 24:38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; Mat 24:39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Mat 24:40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Mat 24:41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.
I don’t know if you remember the Left Behind series? I remember the movie “A thief in the night” years back.
Larry Norman had a song which is unforgettable:
“Life was filled with guns and war… I wish we’d all been ready.” Remember it?
The verses included “two men walking up a hill – the one disappears and the other’s left standing still…” Teenage kids ran out the hall when we watched the movie. People wanted to know whether it was helpful to have Christian pilots flying the planes they were in. In case they were taken and they were still on the plane.
The interesting thing about this passage is Jesus’ line: “As it was in the days of Noah”
And in Noah’s case – the flood took the unsuspecting sinners away?
It seems to be saying that when the son of Man comes, people will be taken away too.
Question: Are the good ones or the bad ones going to be taken away here? Commentators are divided on this. The context seems to hint at the good ones (cf. Math 24:31). But in Noah’s day the ones left behind are Noah’s team. That the bad guys were taken out by the flood. Others reverse it – and say that Jesus will take us away – like the Ark rescued those few families. Whicher it is, it sounds pretty serious.
We need to live in readiness – which is not a paranoia that we might die tomorrow so we’d better somehow cram – do last minute prep. Or be like Constantine who waited until just before his death in May 337 before he got baptized – as he didn’t want to be polluted by last minute sins and not get to heaven.
When you know when the end comes – like an assignment date or exam – the danger is you can fall behind early and try to catch up later.
When you don’t know – you have to be ready at all times. Like some of our spot tests in Hellenistic Greek or Biblical Hebrew.
HOW DO WE GET READY THEN?
Our Advent readiness is one part of this.
- For me it’s getting ready for various services.
- For many of you its shopping and gifts and sorting the house out BEFORE the 30 guests are at the door.
- Pastors should be intentional in figuring out what our response to the traditional way of doing Christmas should be. How we should do things this time.
You have to be ready and watchful daily – not cramming for the exam.
It’s all about how you wait – especially when it gets hard. It’s not about perfection, but about attitude and relationship. About living in a way that honors God’s character and purpose. Abiding in him.
And don’t try to predict. V36 – is key – no one knows except the father.
As we wait the solution is to be intentional – choose to be different even if it’s just between now and Christmas as a starter. And beyond of course.
Call it Advent intentionality for now.
V42 is a second reminder to 36: Mat 24:44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.
– you don’t know! Therefore keep watch!
- Be ready for Christmas – sure
- Be ready to move house – ask people moving house about that
- Be ready for your wedding day – talk to those planning way ahead of time.
- Be ready for exams (probably too late now – better luck next time)
- Be ready to die because it’s only a matter of time. But do it without fear – Jesus said “in my father’s house are many rooms, chalets, mansions, baches…” – you choose the term.
The readiness is about being ready for what? Good question!
Ready for the final accountability which we will face.
It’s not necessarily hell, fire and damnation – but a sense that we want to honour God in our lives in response to his love.
When we come to Jesus and are yoked to him, he walks with us through the challenges. And gives us rest when we need it (See Matthew 11).
But the preparedness is still our responsibility.
For homework (being prepared takes effort) – read the rest of Matthew 24 about the faithful and wise servant which follows. When the master comes, he needs to find him doing his job.The wicked servant is in trouble because “The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of.”. His fate is pretty grim in verse 51.
Read Matthew 25 to see what preparedness means.
Preparedness involves oil for your lamps – using your talents he gives – and caring for the people listed in the judgement scene where the goats and sheep are separated.
- The foolish maidens are locked out. There too Jesus reminds his listeners: Mat 25:13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour
- The man who doesn’t use what God has given him is sorted out in verse 30: – Mat 25:30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth
- The goats hear these words: ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
Read the warning labels or face the dangers listed. Be alert. Be awake. Be ready.
No paranoia please. Just prayer, praise and preparedness.
A sermon on Anzac Day (From the archives April 2013)
Readings: Ecclesiastes 3:1-8; John 13:31-35
31 When he was gone, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him.32 If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.33 ‘My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: where I am going, you cannot come. 34 ‘A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’
I wonder if you remember this song:
We are One in The Spirit,
We are One in The Lord. (x2)
And we pray that all unity may one day be restored.
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love,
By our Love,
Yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love.
We will work with each other,
We will work side by side. (x2)
And we’ll guard each man’s dignity
And save each man’s pride.
We will walk with each other,
We will walk hand in hand. (x2)
And together we’ll spread the News
that God is in our land.
All praise to the Father from whom all things come…
copyright 1966 Peter Scholte
It was a great song. I’m not sure why songs written in the 1960s needed so many repeats! Maybe it was the 60s. People might have needed reminding of things. Who knows.
Ironically that song fell out of the book Living Praise because the owners withdrew the copyright. Not very loving – the new edition had a blank page with apologies instead of music.
So what has happened to the church after all these years?
So many times we sang this song from John 13.
So many sermons on this passage:
34 ‘A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’
They will know that you are my disciples if you love one another? “Yeah right” is the classic kiwi approach!
WE DO GET IT RIGHT THOUGH
Today we remember those who gave their lives for their country – in whatever war you think of there have been terrible losses and sacrifice.
In the face of such devastation – many have shown the love of Christ in action in the face of terrible risk and threat.
- Like those who stuck up for the persecuted Jewish people – and hid them or rescued them.
- Those who refused to fight as pacifists – but served in amazing ways as peacemakers or medical staff
- Chaplains who were with their people on the front lines praying and ministering to the dying
- And many who nursed the wounded at great risk themselves. And the endless sacrifice of soldiers…
HOW NEW IS NEW?
What is new about this new commandment that Jesus gave?
Loving your neighbour wasn’t new – that was already in the Old Testament or Jewish Bible.
Listen and look again:
As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
AS I HAVE LOVED YOU – is the key.
Love for Jesus was more than words – more than his teaching about love – but an action.
God so loved the world so much that he sent a text or telegram? I don’t think so.
God so Loved the world so much that he GAVE HIS ONLY SON. (John 3:16).
Jesus laid down his life for us. In fact, when he was preparing his followers for his death he said this (in the previous chapter in John):
23 Jesus replied, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honour the one who serves me.
27 ‘Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? “Father, save me from this hour”? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name!’
You find that passage – especially verse 24 – on memorials and cenotaphs throughout the world (κενοτάφιον – empty tomb; kenos – “empty”, and taphos – tomb) – memorials that are empty because the people remembered are elsewhere – on Flanders field or some unknown place of terrible sadness and death.
…unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.
Paul says something very similar to husbands in Ephesians 5:
Eph 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;
Sacrifice! A great reminder!
So as we give thanks for those who have sacrificed today – let’s commit ourselves to really love each other as Jesus loves us!
- It’s a tall order!
- It is possible – by His grace and through the renewing power of the Holy Spirit!
- It is essential for Christian witness – people know we follow Jesus because of our love
- It is not PERFECTION – real love is honest, not pretentious, and knows how to say sorry and move on when things go wrong!
But – you may be thinking – “my life is too hard – this command is too hard”. You say to me, maybe – “you don’t know the people that I have to deal with” or “you don’t know my family, pastor!”
Let’s dig a little deeper into this passage before we go home today. Go back to verse 31 of John 13:
It begins with this innocuous line: 31 When he was gone, Jesus said…
And of course context is everything.
The “he” is Judas. And Jesus loved Judas – he was one of his team.
And prior to that in John 13 Jesus had washed their feet – despite the protestations of Peter.
What is coming – for Jesus – is a betrayal and a denial – a cruel trial, flogging, a crown of thorns and an agonizing crucifixion.
It’s from that cross that Jesus forgives his tormentors.
This Jesus – who will need tremendous courage and strength – is the one who says here:
33 ‘My children, I will be with you only a little longer.
In fact some translations have “Little children” here…
It’s a tender address. No parables here – no mysteries and riddles to crack.
They knew they had to love their neighbour (Leviticus 19:18).
It probably figured that they had to love each other.
Listen to the whole passage preceding the commandment again:
31 When he was gone, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him.32 If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.33 ‘My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: where I am going, you cannot come.
It would not feel like glorification for Jesus or his followers. It would feel like defeat.
Glorification is not about success, but obedience now in the short term – and reward in the long term.
We’re back to sacrifice are we not?
- Back to our soldiers who give up their lives for others.
- Heroes who rescue their friends on the battlefield.
One can understand the feelings of their comrades at this time.
There is a sense of enormous gratitude – when you are rescued, protected, or saved by someone. I’d like to know – we’d all like to know – that there is someone we can depend upon, someone who will defend us if we are attacked or in danger.
So too Jesus – who died for us. He saves us.
So too those tens of thousands of New Zealanders have given their lives in war or have served us and protected us. Love is shown in sacrifice.
We should remember them.
Readings: Acts 10:34-43; Luke 24:1-12
Key verse: Luk 24:11 “But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.” (NIV)
“καὶ ἐφάνησαν ἐνώπιον αὐτῶν ὡσεὶ λῆρος τὰ ῥήματα αὐτῶν, καὶ ἠπίστουν αὐταῖς.” (GNT – TR)
“…but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” (ESV)
I wonder if you’ve ever been “dissed”? It’s an interesting word. It means to be treated with disrespect. I discovered it to be a popular word when working with teenagers. It’s crept into the English language since the 1980s – through hip hop music I am told. Back in the 1920s it meant you were disconnected – like a telephone not working. Something loose in the head. Either way it isn’t a very nice thing – to be disrespected – or dismissed. Or disempowered.
An amazing thing happens in this story of the life of Jesus – through his teachings, death and especially his resurrection. The people who were usually disempowered at the time were taken seriously – lifted above their status in life. Galatians 3:28 sums it up well:
Gal 3:26 You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, Gal 3:27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. Gal 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Gal 3:29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
So – there are women in the group from the beginning. They would have been “dissed” by people in those days:
- Disempowered mainly,
- Dismissed if they had an opinion.
- Discarded in divorce if a man got bored with them.
But they are there in Jesus’ team. From early on.
And on Easter Sunday in Luke’s account they are the first witnesses.
The “dissing” continues sadly. Even though there are at least three women named as witnesses.
The translators are kind to us – keeping things polite. In the NIV we read: Luk 24:11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Nonsense.
The word is LEYROS. It’s used once only in the New Testament. Here.
It’s translated as an idle tale, nonsense, foolishness, and a fairy tale. Its deeper meaning is more crass. Vulgar. “What a load of…”
And that’s the response you get today to when you tell people that a dead man got up again.
Telling the Christian story today in this generation will get you “dissed” too.
People will think you’re nuts. Loony. Weird. Strange. Daft.
But that is okay.
- Seeing the impossible.
- Believing the unlikely.
- Having hope for the hopeless.
- Courage in the face of death because you know that it’s not the last word – well let them think you’re mad.
It’s a mad but glad tale – that someone who was dead was raised up
- That he appeared in locked rooms
- That he cooked a barbeque of fish for them on the beach
- That he restored a man who denied him three times and gave him an amazing and exciting job to do
- That he showed up over 40 days to people – up to 500 at one time, meaning they weren’t all hallucinating
- That he sent them with a message of good news to the world
- That he promised never to leave them
- That they were to wait to for the gift of His Spirit – who would empower them to do the work given
Other writers help us to make sense of the story. Luke records the words of Peter in Acts 10:
Act 10:39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, Act 10:40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. Act 10:41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. Act 10:42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. Act 10:43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
Those who dismiss this story and your testimony of your love for Christ – this risen saviour – will discover that he is judge and the end of all things.
This resurrection account is central in the story of the New testament and the Christian life through the centuries – we speak to, worship, praise, and hear from this Jesus.
Paul writing to the Corinthians prioritises it like this writing to the Corinthians: 1 Co 15:3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 1Co 15:4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,
And later he says:1Co 15:42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 1Co 15:43 it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 1Co 15:44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.
What great news is this for us.
Death is not particularly attractive. We grow cold and begin to decompose quite quickly. Like Lazarus who had been dead four days, well quoting the King James Bible, – in John 11:39, one of those words only used once – the phrase is “he stinketh”
Being raised imperishable, in glory, in power as a spiritual body sounds wonderful.
Going back to Luke 24 – where the women are dismissed, Peter seems to have some redeeming factors. Luk 24:12 Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.
He went to look – and gave it some thought. The penny drops eventually. And Jesus appears to him with three questions about his love – as he restores his failed life – because he had dissed Jesus three times – disowned him. He does it over breakfast – that restorative chat.
Hopefully people today will investigate this amazing story as well. If you haven’t figured it out yet – I encourage you to have a closer look. You should while you can – it’s to late when you die and people will say of you if you hang around too long – “he stinketh’.
Today is a good day to investigate this empty tomb, and to put your faith in Christ the risen Lord. Because the witness of those women was not an idle tale, but a brand new truth to change the world. Death was defeated!
Scripture often says this: now is the hour of salvation. Put your trust in him today. It won’t only guarantee a new resurrection body in the future. It will mean a real relationship with the risen Jesus today. A friend and Saviour, a guide and provider for you to depend on.
John 20:19-22 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.
With Anzac Day coming up – there’s a lot of talk about security and keeping the peace. And at a personal level there are many people who don’t experience peace in their lives. Anxiety tends to crowd peace out in this day and age.
What I like about this Easter account in John 20 is how Jesus greeted these fearful, distressed and confused disciples with a greeting of peace. In this short passage it happens twice.
I wonder what peace means to you?
Here are some of the things that peace does not mean:
- Peace does not mean we can pretend that war or conflict or failure has never happened.
- Peace does not mean that there need be no apology or remorse.
- Peace does not mean there should be no accountability for things that are criminally wrong.
Pretending that something didn’t happen is the worst thing. It makes people feel devalued.
In every part of life people abuse both power and position in very damaging ways. Historians looking back on World War 1 especially can see how foolish the worlds leaders were in taking the world to war. And how often don’t you hear people praying for leaders today to becoming peace makers. Leadership is probably one of the most important areas of life in every arena – good leaders often determine the fate of nations and the world.
At that first Easter it was the leaders who were in trouble. After the terrible execution of Jesus – and the failure of his disciples – particularly Peter – it must have tough when Jesus kept appearing in their lives.
In John 21 the peace making continues. They had gone back to what they knew best – they went fishing.
And Jesus meets them there – in their retreat to the old world they knew before they met him. He takes them back to their better days as disciples by doing the miraculous fish thing again – and he gets their attention. Listen to the tone of this conversation:
Joh 21:5 Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” Joh 21:6 He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. (ESV)
Then he invites them to breakfast. It’s a great example for us – eating together is the best place to sit and really share one’s life with another, and to have those difficult conversations.
- The details are there – the thoughtfulness
- He has the Barbeque going – he has fish and bread already.
- He meets their basic needs –while allowing them to catch an abundance of fish as well.
- And then proceeds to restore Peter. Peter who had denied him three times publicly. Those denials had to be addressed for him to come to a place of peace.
And by the way – if you don’t get how serious this was – imagine your best friend, or loved one being arrested and executed for no good reason. And you denied knowing him or her. ( hymn: Do your friends despise, forsake you?)
Jesus asks Peter – three times –
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Three times – one for each of the three terrible denials. He uses Simon his old name – meaning a reed. And not the new name he’d given him – Peter – the rock. Peter would have understood the implication. At hearing the third question we are told that Peter was hurt. Ironic – considering how he’d treated Jesus.
I do think he understood true remorse and sorrow.
Luke records that he had wept bitterly when he failed.
And Jesus fed him at that breakfast. That act of kindness was part of the restorative process. Three times he responded to Jesus – “I love you”. Three times Jesus gave him the pastoral care job that was to be his – “feed my lambs – tend my sheep – feed my sheep”.
I love reading Peter’s words as an older and wiser person:
In 1Pe_1:2 he says in his greeting: (to God’s elect )who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.
He goes on to say in 1Pe 1:3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 1Pe 1:4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you,
He also writes in his second letter: 2 Pet 1:2 Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.
Later he writes: 2Pe 3:13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. 2Pe_3:14 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.
There is an interesting end to this passage. Jesus gives Peter the good news that he will live until old age – but also predicts his death. Like the other disciples – Peter would give up his life for Jesus at some point. I think Peter would have been at peace about this too.
This peace is something that Jesus gives us. Do you have it? He also said this:
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.
Joh_16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.
And returning to today’s passage: Joh_20:21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”
We need peace to take the gospel of His peace to others – and to be peacemakers. And we need his peace in abundance.
Receive the peace of Christ today wherever you are.
Reading: John 12:1-8
It’s hard to believe Easter is at hand. I suppose our little ones look forward to it with some obvious enthusiasm. Who can resist those chocolate bunnies and yummy eggs? Mainly music and Messy Church were both quite animated this week by the idea of bunnies and chocolates. At Mainly Music we held off on real chocolate eggs as one of the team managed to find some rubber bouncing ones. The easter egg hunt at Messy Church was a hit I am sure.
For Jesus, the impending suffering he was about to face would have been less than enticing. Thankfully there were people in his life who expressed love and commitment to him in extravagant ways, ways which would have been hugely inspiring and encouraging.
Early on that extravagance was seen in Jesus’ first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. If you don’t know the story, it’s a great one. The wine had run out. Jesus’ supporters were there. Mary his mother for example. Your mum is always your best supporter.
At the wedding her advice to the servants has got to be the most sensible advice for us all: “Do whatever He tells you” (John 2:5).
The surprising extravagance seen in buckets of new wine (transformed bath water!) is a joy and a surprise in every sense. Jesus loved breaking conventions (bringing out the best wine last is an example at the wedding).
That story is in John chapter 2. Jump ten chapters in John’s Gospel and another Mary extravagantly shows her love for Jesus and fills the house with the fragrance of a pint of perfume poured out on his feet.
The story is recorded elsewhere and in the other accounts the perfume or nard is poured on his head. Here it’s on his feet – and there’s this interesting and sensual act by Mary (Lazarus’ sister) of wiping his feet with her hair. Mind you Mary was the one who sat at his feet listening to his teaching. It wasn’t an unfamiliar place for her to be.
This anointing of Jesus is an intimate and generous moment which would have affirmed and emboldened him as he faced a terrifying and tortuous Passover – the event we celebrate with lollies (chocolates and sweets, if you don’t know the kiwi word).
The Passover for him would not be the celebration of liberation from slavery by eating a delicious sacrificial roast lamb.
He would be the sacrifice.
I think I may be slowly understanding the effect of extravagant love like Mary’s for Jesus. I think I love him extravagantly. I hope he understands and knows this. I seek to pour out my life in praise and adoration every moment. And in sacrifice.When we have levels of intense pain and physical struggle in our lives, perhaps we will begin to have a sense of sharing in his suffering and becoming like him in his death (Phil 3:10).
On those days maybe we too will be inspired by those who love us extravagantly.
For me – whatever the fragrance is, and there are many that are beautiful and enriching – from sandalwood to lavender, vanilla, rosemary, cinnamon, or some other lovely aroma – our lives are meant to be a lovely aroma for him and for others.
May the fragrance of Jesus fill our lives. Remember Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 2:14: “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him.”
Mary’s beautiful gift which incensed those who saw its dollar value was both incense and myrrh. It foreshadowed his death and enriched his life.
We should also be grateful to those who love us and show it generously. It helps us enormously when we have to face my passovers of pain.
The rather starting and amazing thing about this sacrificial gift of a year’s worth of precious spikenard was that it may well have been all she had – perhaps her inheritance. But she loved him more. Only the characters in Andrew Lloyd Weber’s JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR have to sing “I don’t know how to love him”. We do. We know. Scripture tells us how. Wesley’s hymn reminds us: “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.” We can learn new ways of loving him of course.
What is really beautiful too is that it would not be long between this dinner where he his anointed so sensually and completely and his horrible crucifixion. And while the nails were being slammed into his wrists, while the whip cracked on his back, and while he had to haul himself up for every breath on the cross in such naked and violent agony, he would still have had the residue of the nard on his skin – the aroma would have still been there. The aromatic memory that he was totally loved – that would have been comfort and courage.
This generous sacrifice and most beautiful act of giving all happened at a dinner given in Jesus’ honour. We meet in Jesus’ honour each week.
May our lives be a banquet in honour of this Jesus whose mum would still like to remind us today: “Do whatever he tells you!” And may we pour out our lives and precious ointments at his feet.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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 (Jesus’) love at this time.
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.
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.