READINGS: Galatians 5:13-23; 1 Peter 4:7-11; Mark 10:35-45
SERMON 23 October 2016
I found this comment written about me by an ex-student when I was a school chaplain – it was posted 4 years ago this past Friday.
(student) to Robin E Palmer
21 October 2012 at 14:36 · Wellington ·
robin, aka mr palmer. i liked how you were REV at school when i was there. i liked how you you weren’t high strung like most of the teachers i had. whenever i used to see you in the corridor either going from class to class or to the staffroom no matter how busy you were you always took time to ask me how my day was or just used to smile and greet me wholeheartedly.
At our Jubilee service a year ago I spoke about what people remember about you. I put that sermon in the capsule this week. It’s entitled “Monuments or Footprints”. Here’s the quote about teachers (and adults generally):
“People don’t remember everything you said or taught them. But they do remember how you made them feel.”
I am sure that Jesus made people feel amazing – even though they themselves may have been pretty bad people.
My student remembered that I wasn’t highly-strung like some of my colleagues. That in itself is interesting. But listen again to the rest of his comment:
whenever i used to see you in the corridor either going from class to class or to the staffroom no matter how busy you were you always took time to ask me how my day was or just used to smile and greet me wholeheartedly.
It doesn’t cost much to be like that. And it wasn’t a strategy – like churches sometimes promote – like courses on “how to make friends and influence people.” If you have a heart for people, you take an interest in them. And you’re there for them. They know that if they’re in trouble they can call for help. You are there to serve them.
I love this story in Mark’s gospel about James and John, the sons of thunder.
Boys are very different from girls. I always watch to see which parents get uptight when boys charge around being boys. It’s almost always the ones who raised girls. They have no idea.
These two are always up to something. Poor Zebedee. Listen again:
Mar 10:35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” (Seriously?)
Mar 10:36 “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. (Patient again)
Mar 10:37 They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”
Jesus’s response is interesting: Mar 10:38 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” Mar 10:39 “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, Mar 10:40 but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”
They get full marks for enthusiasm and passion. And being clueless – about status.
But before we get impatient with them, look at how the rest react:
Mar 10:41 When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. What were they thinking? Probably – what about us??
Teaching time. Jesus has to spell it out. Team talk. Huddle up boys.
Mar 10:42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Mar 10:43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, Mar 10:44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. Mar 10:45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Serving others – being there for them – is clearly central in this Christian life.
The Galatians reading has this line: serve one another in love (5:13).
Peter puts it this way, after reminding his readers to offer hospitality to one another without grumbling:
1Pe 4:10 Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms…
The wonderful thing about the local church – when it is healthy – is that people don’t have to tell you what their status is. Their position – not their on-line status!
They simply share the gifts – the graces God gives – with others – in service.
The first 50 years of this congregation had a lot of hard working people who served here. We give thanks for them and remember them with thanksgiving. They weren’t perfect – like James and John. But they showed up and pitched in.
So the next 50 years are there – for us to be part of one way or the other. Remember what I said a couple of weeks ago about planning to leave a bequest to the work here so that the next generation will be blessed – just as we have been by the previous generations giving and sacrifice. That’s one aspect of this.
More importantly – how will we be remembered? As people? When someone opens the capsule in the future and sees your photo or name?
I am remembered at least by my old student as someone who was friendly and smiled – asked how he was. At least he knew he could contact a friendly person in a crisis.
How about you? Jesus, Paul, and Peter all speak about us serving others.
You can only really serve by being involved.
And many of you are – and I commend you for the way in which you do serve.
But it’s not just doing your turn on the tea duty roster. It’s about relationships – you have to really know each other to be there and make a difference!
I encourage those who are yet to get involved – to sign up somewhere.
You can’t serve one another from a distance. Often it’s easier just to go straight out the door here – and remain an observer. Or to serve in an advisory capacity – telling people when things aren’t to our liking.
There are things we can do:
- Join a home group – best place for really growing and making friends.
- Stay for tea and meet some new people. Invite them for coffee through the week.
- Pitch in to help – share the load. We need everyone rowing on this waka. Offer to help in practical ways. When you’re not on the roster.
- Equip yourself to be more effective in your Christian journey. Read. Learn. Ask questions.
- Take on something new which will stretch you. You don’t have to be as crazy as me – learning Mandarin. I really want to be able to greet my neighbours and be friendly in my street.
And when in the new year we have a weekend where we will learn new things about connecting with people out there – we agreed at our AGM to adopt our mission plan which included inviting Jim Wallace along to teach us – come along. Book the 11th of March in the meantime. It’s a Saturday through to after lunch. A time to upskill as Christians.
Jesus calls us to be like him.
- To serve one another in love.
- And to love others with that same love – so that they genuinely want to know why we are different. So engaging, positive, hopeful, and willing to serve. That’s Christian witness.
Then Peter’s recommendation applies again:
1Pe 3:15 But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…
1 Peter 4:11 If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.
Readings: Psalm 121:1-4; Micah 6:6-8; Luke 18:1-8
SERMON (16 October 2016 at Bay of Islands Uniting Church, Paihia).
We’ve just spent 8 weeks looking at the Lord’s Prayer in a series of sermons. Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them how to pray, and he gave them that template. I’ve enjoyed preparing for these and presenting them. Prayer is at the heart of our faith, our lifeline if you like. (The series starts here: https://bbpsermons.wordpress.com/2016/08/07/sunday-7-august-2016-lords-prayer-series-part-1-our-father/ Lord’s Prayer Part 1)
Jesus also models prayer in his own life. He often goes off alone to pray. (Luke 4:42; Luke 5:16 Mark 1:35).
His passion for prayer is seen in the one incident when he looks like a protester. You will remember this startling scene when he clears the temple with a whip in hand, overturning the tables. (Mark 11:17; Matthew 21:13; Luke 19:46 as examples, plus John 2:15 who along recalls the whip being fashioned).
In Luke’s account he declares: “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be a house of prayer’; but you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’ (Luke 19:46).
So Jesus gives a parable. Usually parables leave us thinking – even scratching our heads as we try to figure out what their meaning is (with the exception of the parable of the sower).
In the gospel reading today the parable is unusual in that Luke tells us what it is about before we hear the story. Luke 18:1 says: Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.
The parable is often labelled “The parable of the unjust judge” – which is quite topical here in New Zealand. There have been a number of debates and discussions about judges – in our case people have felt some of them have been too lenient. If so they can appeal to a higher court, we are told. And they do.
The case of Oscar Pistorius in South Africa also hinges on the view that the judge was too lenient. It’s amazing how angry people get when they think that justice has not been done. And what experts they are suddenly in law!
In this case in our reading today the judge is more problematic when you think about the context in which Jesus was speaking: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. (v2)
There’s a recklessness in this description. Here’s a judge who sounds like a loose cannon – it’s possible that he has no restraint at all. In those days one would expect at least some fear of God in a judge.
In this case it’s more serious – the greater crime for a judge would be indifference towards the plight of people treated wrongly.
Especially as in this case when a widow is seeking justice. The Scriptures made it clear that widows and orphans were a priority. They were vulnerable – there was no husband to take up their concerns.
We don’t know what injustice had taken place – we know only that she says repeatedly: ‘Grant me justice against my adversary'(v3). In those days she would have to represent herself, even in a criminal case.
We can assume that the case had implications about her survival. Someone had probably done her in financially. Or maybe she had lost her home.
There’s a curious twist in this parable. It’s the reason the judge gives for surrendering to this persistent and bold lady. I’m not sure what Bible translation you use normally.
The one I have used for over 30 years – the NIV – says this: “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!’” (vs 4-5)
The readers of Luke will make the connection to the purpose given for this parable – it’s about persistence in prayer. Her persistence paid off.
The twist is in the phrase the judge uses to explain why he gives in to her pleas – “That she won’t wear me out with her coming.”
The phrase “wear me out” can also be translated as “give me a black eye’ – it’s a boxing term for pummeling your opponent.
That’s persistence. It’s a word that implies bruising! She beats him black and blue emotionally.
So Jesus’ point is this. If persistence can wear down a bad judge, how much more will persistence pay off in our prayers to a good God – a righteous judge.
Remember when Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them to pray? In Luke 11 and Matthew 6 we have these two accounts where he gives them what we call the Lord’s prayer as a pattern for prayer?
- When you pray say “Our Father.” This is about a relationship. In Luke 11 after the teaching on the prayer he says these important words: 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 the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”(11:13)
- In Matthew’s account we read: 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! (7:11). Again this is about a relationship.
God is not being compared to the unjust judge in terms of similar behaviour – it’s about the contrast – the difference. It’s a classic “how much more” approach which was a standard Jewish argument in those days.
So this is how Jesus explains the parable:
Luk 18:6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. Luk 18:7 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? Luk 18:8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly.
Psalm 121 comes to mind – He neither slumbers nor sleeps (v4).
How quickly will they get justice? That’s a great question. Sometimes we pray for decades before we see a result. I think sometimes that God’s economy is very different from ours. And God’s sense of timing.
It brings to mind that lovely passage in Isaiah 55: Isa 55:8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. Isa 55:9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
There are Christians around the world who are crying out to God because their lives and loved ones are threatened. Clearly those who are martyred may not get justice immediately, but that too will come.
Our prayers, also, are not merely that we be rescued from challenging situations. Even Jesus’s prayer in John 17 touches on this: Joh 17:15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.
The Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6:13 is no different: And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
The persistence for us is not just in pleading for God to hear our prayers because we need a solution – or healing – or help. We need to persist in our prayer life because like any relationship, you can drift away if you don’t keep communicating. It’s the relationship that upholds us, that sustains us.
In a broader sense, persistence for us means practicing consistency. Paul says simply “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17). This does not necessarily mean a 24/7 prayer meeting, although these do take place around the world. Those who hold down jobs can’t be there 24/7, but their relationship with God is 24/7.
Philippians 4:6 & 7 are a powerful help too: Php 4:6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
Php 4:7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Once we have presented our requests to God, we are promised peace, no matter what the outcome actually is. The prayer could be answered with a “yes”, a “no”, or a “wait”. The relationship with this good Father is unchanged. And if the end does come, He has a place prepared for us (John 14).
The last line of the parable is worth looking at too. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”
For us – it’s about faith now – each day – as we trust him on our faith journeys. Many of Jesus’ parables are about readiness, preparedness, alertness and watchfulness.
May you trust him – may you not give up – may you be persistent as you keep praying and never give up.
May you build a 24/7 relationship with Him, constantly listening to Him and remembering His promises, and lifting all people and situations before His throne of grace (including our leaders on the world and national stage.- see 1 Timothy 2:1-2).
When we were first married, my wife and I lived on the 11th floor of a block of flats. She waited often until she heard the bus then jumped in the lift and rushed off to catch it. Economy of time is one of her gifts. She had thirty minutes on the bus to close her eyes and pray. I complained as I had to drive – one cannot pray with one’s eyes closed when driving!
There’s a lesson in this little story. Pray with your eyes open – watch and see what God is doing, especially when you pray for individuals who are sick or have special needs. Pray with your eyes open as you watch the world around you too. There will also be times when your eyes are closed and you enter into another place with the Lord, into intimacy and into a special sanctuary, wherever you are.
Jesus modeled prayer with his requests to, and time out with His Father. Prof James Torrance of King’s College Aberdeen used to say that “the heart of the New Testament is the relationship between the Father and the Son” (C Kruger Baxter: The Great Dance, p21). With His prayers came a cultivated listening ear and a desire only to do the Father’s will.
Our relationship with God means that we too can pray without ceasing. And we too can seek His will and His ways. Every day.
Readings: 1 Chronicles 29:6-13; Psalm 63:1-4; Matthew 6:6-13 (including footnote in NIV).
“For Yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.”
So we’ve reached the end of this series on the Lord’s Prayer. We’re still saying it together. I wonder if these reflections have made any difference to you? As you pray?
Just a question – how many of you heard the whole series? All seven plus today? Well done!
Anyone read the ones you missed on the bbpsermons website? Well done too!
Some highlights as we look back. The line that I enjoyed the most quoted from Tim Keller was this one. It’s about who we pray to. You may remember this. It was part 2 – Hallowed by thy name.
- 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. Amen!
In that same week I said this:
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.
Today we pick this up in a sense – as we look at the doxology at the end of the prayer:
For Yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.(v13)
We’ve looked at the kingdom, and the power.
It’s the glory that jumps out from the page for me. Yours is the glory!
David’s prayer in 1 Chronicles 29 came to mind as soon as I looked at this again. David had just done what many people have done here, and can still do. He provided for the next generation through a bequest. Not only does he dedicate the nation’s wealth for his son Solomon to use in the building of the temple when he is gone – he also gives his personal wealth for the project. He gives it while still alive.
1Ch 29:3 Moreover, in addition to all that I have provided for the holy house, I have a treasure of my own of gold and silver, and because of my devotion to the house of my God I give it to the house of my God:
That’s the context of the other giving of the leaders – and his beautiful prayer.
It struck me that we might not be here were it not for bequests from previous generations. And we have the same choice to leave something for the work here at Browns Bay when we die. That’s by the way. It has to be said. Have you made some provision for the future of the work here when you have gone?
Look how David’s giving releases giving on behalf of all the people.
1Ch 29:6 Then the leaders of ancestral houses made their freewill offerings, as did also the leaders of the tribes, the commanders of the thousands and of the hundreds, and the officers over the king’s work. 1Ch 29:7 They gave for the service of the house of God five thousand talents and ten thousand darics of gold, ten thousand talents of silver, eighteen thousand talents of bronze, and one hundred thousand talents of iron. 1Ch 29:8 Whoever had precious stones gave them to the treasury of the house of the LORD, into the care of Jehiel the Gershonite. 1Ch 29:9 Then the people rejoiced because these had given willingly, for with single mind they had offered freely to the LORD; King David also rejoiced greatly.
And then David prays:
1Ch 29:11 Yours, O LORD, are the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty; for all that is in the heavens and on the earth is yours; yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all.
1Ch 29:12 Riches and honour come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might; and it is in your hand to make great and to give strength to all.
1Ch 29:13 And now, our God, we give thanks to you and praise your glorious name.
I reckon we could use this as an offering prayer. In fact, I remember Durban North Presbyterian singing this during the offering back in the 1970s.
In the reading from the Psalms today the same pattern comes up:
Psa 63:2 So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Psa 63:3 Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. Psa 63:4 So I will bless you as long as I live; I will lift up my hands and call on your name.
Three words. In David’s prayers. And the one we have in Matthew in the Lord’s Prayer.
Kingdom. – we know this. That’s what we are to seek first.
Power. – this helps us in our praying. This father has the power to provide for his children.
Glory. – this is new. We don’t talk much about the glory of God.
- Do we understand this concept?
- Do we seek to give him glory?
- The glory is his. Is this something we can give him? Or is this also something we should seek?
- Let’s explore this word. It has different facets to it.
SO ABOUT GLORY – FIRSTLY.
The Old Testament word is Kabhod.
You may recognise the word in the name of an unfortunate character named Ichabod – in 1 Samuel. That’s a tale in itself. He was the grandson of Eli – when the Ark of the Covenant was captured by the Philistines and Eli’s rebellious sons Hophni and Phineas are killed. Eli hears the bad news and falls of his chair in shock, breaking his neck. Phineas’ wife goes into labour and Ichabod is born. His mother names his this because “the glory has departed from Israel” (1 Sam 4:21-22.)
God’s glory – kabhod – was his presence. The word also means “heavy”.
You get the sense of the weight of his presence. We seek his glory when we seek his presence.
When Solomon’s temple is built later, he prays that God will make his presence real (2 Chronicles 6:41-42). In the next verse 2 Chronicles 7:1 we read:
2Ch 7:1 When Solomon finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the LORD filled the temple. 2Ch 7:2 The priests could not enter the temple of the LORD because the glory of the LORD filled it. 2Ch 7:3 When all the Israelites saw the fire coming down and the glory of the LORD above the temple, they knelt on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and they worshiped and gave thanks to the LORD, saying, “He is good; his love endures forever.”
There are moments in worship for us too, when we are aware of his presence, there’s a weight on us, the presence of his glory.
Glory – in the new Testament – is the word DOXA from which we get the word “doxology” – a short declaration of praise.
The word also means splendour or brightness. So we get for example in Hebrews 1 this powerful statement:
Heb 1:1 In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways,
- Heb 1:2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. Heb 1:3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.
And of course that well known John 1:14 – the culminating verse of the prologue to John’s gospel:
- Joh 1:14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth
I was saying at tea last week that when we see Jesus we are unlikely to come up with the questions we say we’d like to ask him. Like “why did you let me get this disease?” I think we will be silent and prostrate on the ground like John in Revelation 1:
- Rev 1:14 His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. Rev 1:15 His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. Rev 1:16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. Rev 1:17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last.
There’s some glory there – splendour and brightness. His presence.
There’s something about worship that is often not understood. We’ve talked about it before – and in this series – about entering the presence of the King. A Holy God.
When his glory is revealed – that heaviness of his presence, and his splendour and brightness – we stop nattering and yapping to each other – the focus is on God. And often we are silent.
The prophet Habakkuk says this in the context of the people’s worship of idols: Hab 2:20 But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.”
His glory involves his presence and his splendour. And it can silence us when we are in awe of who He is.
THIRDLY we give Him glory in worship – in the songs we sing, and the prayers we pray. We also give Him glory when we we do all these things we have looked at in the last couple of months:
We give Him glory when we live by the tenets of this prayer template called the Lord’s Prayer.
- We hallow his name – honour his name.
- Pray for his kingdom as a priority (elsewhere Jesus says “Seek first the Kingdom of God”.)
- Do his will – bringing heaven to earth.
- Trust him for our daily needs – one day at a time.
- Forgive like him – celebrating our forgiveness.
- Ask for his protection from trials and freedom and deliverance from the evil one.
- Because it’s His Kingdom that matters, his power that makes it possible for us to do this, and his name which receives the glory. Not us. It’s never about us.
Two weeks ago we listen to a song entitled “Hidden”. I gave you the words.
We’ll get to sing it at some point. The last part of the song captures some of this. Listen again:
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|
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|
Are we seeking him first? Loving him more? Giving him the honour he deserves? I encourage you to explore a more intimate relationship with God. And entering into worship with all your heart is part of that.
- Be open. The songs we sing – sing them with all your heart. Both here and on your own. Listen to them at home.
- Focus on God – seek his presence and the fullness of his Spirit.
- Seek his glory both here and in your wider life.
Draw near to him and he will draw near to you. (James 4:8)
Let’s pray David’s prayer as we close:
1Ch 29:11 Yours, O LORD, are the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty; for all that is in the heavens and on the earth is yours; yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all. 1Ch 29:12 Riches and honour come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might; and it is in your hand to make great and to give strength to all. 1Ch 29:13 And now, our God, we give thanks to you and praise your glorious name.
Readings: James 1:12-15; 1 Corinthians 10:9-13; Matthew 6:7-13;
- What’s the greatest temptation you have faced?
- Come on – share with us today. Don’t be shy.
It’s a great question. Naturally we don’t really expect you to share these challenges publicly. But it’s worth giving it some thought.
- Does it relate to the ten commandments?
- Tempted to steal? Covet? Commit adultery?
Adrian Plass tells a great story of a woman who caught a train to work each day and met someone on the train. She could see that this relationship was going places it shouldn’t go. So she told her husband about it. His advice was pretty simple. Change trains.
If you’ve heard that one before – it’s still a good story. We have to make choices that keep us out of trouble.
Most of us are not at risk of being tempted to rob a bank or something equally public and embarrassing for our families.
We probably don’t have the energy for the more hectic sins people commit.
Temptation for us is probably subtler. It could involve one or more of these challenges:
- Like not getting out of bed on Sunday and neglecting worship or prayer. Or bible reading.
- Or giving up on the important things we should be doing in God’s kingdom. We ought to be seeking His Kingdom first, and we often worry more about the things Jesus tells us not to worry about.
- Or indifference to the poor and neglected – the marginalised. We are sometimes overloaded by the huge needs we see in the world, especially on TV. We can switch off and no longer have the compassion God expects us to have.
- Or possibly holding onto anger and resentment.
Or the more common sins listed by Paul as he writes to the Corinthians in his second letter. It’s a great line and an ominous warning to the church:
2Co 12:20 For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there may be quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder.
A lot of these are about how we speak and treat each other – and about relationships.
Our greatest temptations in church are often related to the tongue. James spells out the danger: Jas 3:5 Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. Jas 3:6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
THE MAIN PRINCIPLES about temptation are clear from the readings today:
- God does not tempt us. (James 1). We ourselves are deceived by temptation really.
- He allows us to be tempted – but has promised not to let it be more than we can cope with. (1 Corinthians 10:13).
We still have to be guarded against temptation. Alert. The roaring lion image in 1 Peter is a sobering one. 1Peter 5:8 Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
Deliver us from the evil one – that’s the key prayer. What does this mean for you?
Talk to the person next to you and ask them what comes to mind when they pray that line of the Lord’s prayer.
So what did you discover about your neighbour? What does the evil one get up to and how are we to be saved from this? What are the real dangers when it comes to evil and the evil one?
Here are some of my thoughts:
- We are attacked in line with our strengths often. Self-confidence and pride actually prevent us from really trusting and obeying God.
- The evil one puts doubts in our heads about God’s promises. “Did God really say?” is the classic line from Genesis 3.
- The only offensive weapon in the armoury of God in Ephesians 6 is the word of God. Know your bible and take on those lies with the truth.
- We need to pray to be delivered from the evil one because the attacks are very real.
C.S. Lewis wrote “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors, and hail a materialist or magician with the same delight” (C.S. Lewis. The Screwtape Letter. 1941, p. 3).
THE EVIL ONE IN SCRIPTURE – here are some key verses as we explore this further.
- Job – Job 1:6-12
Job 1:6 One day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them. Job 1:7 The LORD said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the LORD, “From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it.”
The idea that Satan wanders around looking for targets is an old one. We have already mentioned 1 Peter 5:8 – the roaring lion. He’s on the prowl!
Often though he is more subtle.
- He is a thief of the truth. In the parable of the sower he steals the seed:
Luk 8:12 Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.
- He is a liar. Jesus in his very direct conversation with the Jews in John 8 says this: Joh_8:44 You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
- The evil one holds people in his power. Peter in Acts 10 when preaching says this:
Act 10:37 You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached—Act 10:38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him
Jesus liberates people from his hold.
- Jesus describes the evil one’s tactics when talking about himself as the good shepherd:
Joh 10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
- The more risky one for us – one of our greatest temptations – is to do with our emotions, especially anger:
Eph 4:26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, Eph 4:27 and do not give the devil a foothold.
The word foothold there is “topos” from which we get the word “topography” – it’s a place where we let him have authority. Stay angry, and you are giving him space in your life.
- Not only does he want to camp in our lives when we allow sin to take root in anger that is not dealt with, there’s a constant barrage that he sends our way:
Eph 6:16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
Those arrows can include doubt, depression, illness and persecution.
- He can also appear in disguise:
2Co 11:13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. 2Co 11:14 And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. 2Co 11:15 It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.
False teachers abound. We need to be careful what we watch when it comes to Christian TV programmes.
- We also need to be encouraged because Jesus prayed this in his great high priestly prayer in John 17:
Joh 17:15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.
Clearly we should not be surprised at the onslaught.
10. Finally, He prays for us. Be encouraged.
Heb 7:23 Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; Heb 7:24 but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Heb 7:25 Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. Heb 7:26 Such a high priest meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.
We’re not alone in praying for safety and freedom from Satan’s evil tricks.
“Thy will be done” here means God’s desire is for us to be victorious! May you be victorious!
Note: As this is the last in this series on the Lord’s Prayer, you may like to listen to the prayer here, as sung by Jackie Evancho. (If you are getting this by email go to the webpage to click on the link.) Albert Hay Malotte is the composer.
Readings: Colossians 3:12-14; Matthew 6:9-12
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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?
READINGS: Proverbs 30:7-9; Phil 4:10-13; Matthew 6:9-11
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.
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.
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.
Readings: 1 Corinthians 15:16-28; Matthew 6:9-10; 31-33
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 –
- 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 –
- 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 –
- 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?
READINGS: Exodus 20:1-6; Isaiah 6:1-5; Matthew 6:5-9;
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!”
Readings: Isaiah 64:1-8; Galatians 4:6-7; Matthew 6:5-9;
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.
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.
- 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)
- 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”.
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.