Readings: Psalm 95:-17; John 4:5-24
I hope you enjoyed the Star Wars video. It was a suitable contrast I imagine to the “total devotion” of the song from Grease a couple of weeks ago. Even Darth Vader can fall in love. There is hope for all. The truth is that Rob kindly edited out the sad bits of course. It turns out that the lovely lady in pink already had a boyfriend called Chris.
A bit like our lady in John 4 – the woman at the well – relationships are not always simple.
She had been through a series of husbands – and Jesus knows about them all. And the current partner she is living with who is not her husband. It explains why she is fetching water at midday – no one else would normally be there. She might have been a social pariah – an exile.
Jesus has a way of getting people’s attention.
And it’s not surprising that the conversation turns to worship.
After all Jesus is really after her heart.
Did you notice that the Psalm today neatly covers all the aspects of this relationship with God we call worship.
The Psalmist calls us to
- sing for joy
- shout aloud (v1)
come before him with thanksgiving
- extol him with music and song (v2)
- bow down in worship,
- kneel before the LORD our Maker (v6)
It’s all there.
We call it praise and worship.
It’s all part of a relationship of worship – living our lives daily in the realisation that he is WORTHY of recognition for all He is and all he does.
CS Lewis put it like this:
I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. If it were possible for a created soul fully to ‘appreciate,’ that is, to love and delight in, the worthiest object of all, and simultaneously at every moment to give this delight perfect expression, then that soul would be in supreme blessedness. To praise God fully we must suppose ourselves to be in perfect love with God, drowned in, dissolved by that delight which, far from remaining pent up within ourselves as incommunicable bliss, flows out from us incessantly again in effortless and perfect expression. Our joy is no more separable from the praise in which it liberates and utters itself than the brightness a mirror receives is separable from the brightness it sheds.
The woman at the well discusses theory – that kind of conversation is theological. We study and discuss how our lives intersect with God, and look at what is acceptable and what is not.
After his surprising revelation that he knows all about her, she puts out a theological proposition which should have stimulated theological discussion:
Joh 4:19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Joh 4:20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
His response is to the point:
Joh 4:21 Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. Joh 4:22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Joh 4:23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. Joh 4:24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”
Listen again: the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.
So often we read in scripture that we are the seekers.
For example these well known passages:
- Deu 4:29 But if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul.
Or David’s song in 2 Chronicles:
- 1Ch 16:8 Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done. 1Ch 16:9 Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts. 1Ch 16:10 Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.
Or the beautiful Isaiah 55:
- Isa 55:6 Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Isa 55:7 Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
Or the rich imagery of Hosea 10:
- Hos 10:12 Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD, until he comes and showers righteousness on you.
Or Jeremiah’s promise to the exiles that God has plans for them – not to prosper them or harm them, but to give them a hope and a future. He goes on to say:
- Jer 29:12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. Jer 29:13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
We seek Him – and he seeks worshippers. The two must intersect. They do – in the person of Jesus Christ.
It’s not about the place – says Jesus to the bucket lady at the well. It’s about me. This is Jesus the way, the truth and the life. Worship is in spirit – in God who is spirit – and in truth – in Messiah Jesus.
Read the rest of John 4 at home. It’s a remarkable meeting and transformation. Would be great to know what happens at home as she talks to the man who is not her husband about Jesus.
There would have been a conversation about the man who “… told me everything I ever did.” (verse 39).
And about living water:
Joh 4:13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, Joh 4:14 but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.
There must have been a conversation about what it means to have your thirst for love and life really quenched. Real satisfaction.
And about this God who seeks our hearts and devotion.
Who changes our hearts.
Whom we love with all our hearts… and everything else we are.
Reading: Matthew 1:18-25
We’ve looked at three things today as we moved around the three stations in church. One we touched on last week – about the 65 million refugees in the world today – and that Jesus and his family also had to run away from their home country because it was dangerous. I hope you had a look at the world map to see where these people are from. That you pray for refugees and the persecuted church. And include them in your lives.
We were able to write prayers on an angel and hang them on the tree. For those refugees, their countries or persecuted Christians – and for our own needs and those of our loved ones and friends both here and around the world.
In the past we’ve had doves remembering people who are no longer with us or those who are far away. They’re still with us. I have them in a basket from last year.
This time we are hanging angels on the tree – because they are involved anyway – I mean real ones. Watching over our kids and grandchildren – actually the context of the “guardian” angel is that if someone hurts the little ones, their angels are going to tell God. They had close proximity to God. (Matthew 18:10 – “See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.).
- Angels are also involved in watching over us adults and keeping us safe (Psalm 91:11 – For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways;) And Psalm 34:7 The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them. (Joshua 5:14-15; Isaiah 63:9).
- And they are tied up in worship and honouring God (Isaiah 6:2-3 – Isa 6:2 Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. Isa 6:3 And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”)
- And they are involved in helping our prayers reach God (Daniel 10 is worth a read sometime).
The main thing is that we pray. We are to ask, seek and knock (Matthew 7:7). And agree in prayer (read Matthew 18:19 – agreeing about anything you ask for. Read verse 20 as well – it is well used and quoted).
And then last but not least the we placed little people at the cradle of baby Jesus. with our Christmas gift to Him written or drawn on them. Okay it’s not really baby Jesus. He’s on loan from Glamorgan school.
But the idea that we should be giving something to Jesus on his birthday is fair enough. Last year at our Pyjama service – the 6.00pm service on Christmas Eve – when I asked the children what they would like to give Jesus for his birthday, one girl very quickly suggested she would give Jesus her big sister. I’m sure you may have some relatives you would like to give to Jesus.
The thing is you can give them to Jesus – in prayer too. Every day we can hold them up to God and pray for His hope, peace, love and joy to flow over them and through them and into them. That God may watch over them and draw them to himself.
If you look at the reading from Matthew today, there are two things about Jesus that really do give us hope, peace, love and joy as we get closer to him.
Jesus or J’shua (modern Joshua) – means God saves or rescues us from our mess. Including our sins which separate us from God
Emmanuel – means God is with us in our mess. And in our joys and hopes. He has promised never to leave us or forsake us.
Keep praying – keeping asking – keep trusting Jesus. Keep praying with eyes wide open to see what is happening around you. Pray for our lives, the lives of the refugees, the persecuted church, the poor, the wealthy, the lonely, the depressed, the frail and the suffering – all those who need Him! You’ll discover that we have a lot to be grateful for. We will be spending more time in prayers of thanksgiving I should think.
Reading: Matthew 2:13-23 (following the Christmas play)
(3rd Sunday of Advent when we light the pink Christmas candle of joy on the Advent wreath).
At Messy Church / Messy Christmas this month we had a story which had this key line in it: Keep Calm and Carry On. And the people responded each time: It’s Messy. Christmas.
And it doesn’t get much messier than this today.
- Jesus on a mad King’s hit-list.
- The massacre of the innocents – all those little boys slaughtered.
- Jesus the refugee – anticipating perhaps the 65 million refugees in the world today.
- A dad with international travel plans that appear out of nowhere – virtually overnight (in a dream). (Joseph, you could have given us some warning!)
- Settling in Nazareth! What a strange choice…. Nazareth! Can anything good come out of there? (John 1:46 – the words of Nathanael).
So how much JOY do you think they “enjoyed” in those early years?
Great question really. I’m not sure they were in it for the joy ride. (Like the people in “Jingle Bells” laughing all the way on their sleigh).
It speaks to our lives – when they are not ordered and predictable, when God is at work stirring us up to listen to his voice, open ourselves to dreams, and being willing to be sent where He wants us to go. To speak to the people He wants us to speak to. To be vulnerable. Even ostracised. To live a roller-coaster life – which is the closest it gets to a “joy ride”.
How are you doing when it comes to being flexible for God’s plans?
What kind of Joseph or Mary would you have been? How would your marriage have coped? Would you have gone off in the right direction? Or headed for a port to escape like Jonah did?
And would you children have been obedient like Jesus?
Remember the one thing said about him as a boy.
Two things matter actually – his words about being in his Father’s house, and the gospel writer Luke’s words about the boy Jesus.
Listen to the whole passage – he had been “lost” but not really in the story in Luke 2.
Luke 2 ends with this: Luk 2:49 “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” Luk 2:50 But they did not understand what he was saying to them. Luk 2:51 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart.
Luk 2:52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men.
Will you grow in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and people in your future? Especially you young people who are the age Jesus was when that was written.
If you grow like that – you’ll know real joy.
Christmas joy does include the yummy things and great presents. I “enjoy” the carols too.
But nothing beats the deep joy in our hearts when we are listening to God and going where He wants us for His purposes. Being who he wants us to be.
The Joy of the Lord will be our strength, said the prophet Nehemiah in 8:10.
King David wrote this: God will fill our hearts (lit: You have filled my heart ) with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound in Psalm 4:7.
Knowing the Creator is always far better than knowing even the joys of his creation. God’s gladness invaded David’s heart.
And that happens when obedience is the goal, not the joy itself. When we have a true undivided heart for God.
What is in your heart then?
As C. S. Lewis points out, we will never know joy by seeking it.
Joy or gladness comes as a side-effect of the presence of the living God.
When Lewis became a Christian, he was in his words “surprised by joy.”
May you too be surprised by joy. This Advent and beyond.
May a pink candle be lit in your life every day!
Readings: Romans 15:4-13; Matthew 3:1-12;
I wonder if you’ve figured out the difference between Lent and Advent?
Lent is a time of preparation in which we give up something to focus on our relationship with God (or more recently do something new that does the same thing). It involves cleansing I suppose – and purification. And doing things differently.
Lent ends at the cross.
Advent is about getting prepared for the arrival of someone very special and important. It also requires organisation of sorts – tidying up but in a more celebratory way. The outcome of Advent is not a death – but a birth.
Advent ends at a crib.
This explains the great choirs singing in Luke 2:14 – “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests.” It’s certainly worth singing about!
We were in Wellington this past week – staying with friends. And the debate between them was interesting, with the one saying that none of this is in the Bible – Lent or Advent – while the other persisted in the view that God has given us these things through the Church. You can imagine a person raised in the Church of the Nazarene married to an Anglo-Catholic. The conversations are interesting to say the least.
On Friday night, they invited friends around for a kind of a party and carol singing event. With me on the piano. We did this years ago, and the carol sheets were still in the piano stool from the last time.
And afterwards I played German carols reading the music off another guest’s Ipad as we tried to translate them into English. Her husband was raised in oppressive Romania – although an ethnic German. There was one Samoan. Two South Africans. A Scot and his kiwi wife. The nations were represented there, that’s for sure.
Whatever you believe about these traditions like Lent or Advent, or whether you want to get rid of Christmas completely like some Christians do today, because they believe it is an infected economic swindle where Jesus gets buried under profits and presents, when you sing those carols – there is something that comes alive in people.
People across the world of every nation and tongue. From all the nations. We were able to sing from the same page about the birth of Jesus.
The same thing happened at a visit to a rest home in Tauranga. A lady was sitting alone in the lounge waiting for tea. I asked her if she played the piano that was there. She replied that she used to – but not much these days. She asked if I played – of course I said a bit. She asked me to play – I asked her for her favourite carol – and off we went.
My back was towards her has I played, and slowly the singing got louder and better as residents wandered in. It sounded pretty good. And most of those folk who probably forget a lot of things at their stage in life, could remember all the verses of the carols we sang.
The story and the songs – they ignite something. We ended up with an impromptu carol service. It brings people alive – and research tells us that all kinds of positive chemicals kick into action in our bodies when we sing together anyway – even if we don’t sing well.
The simple hope of Christmas – the peace that Christ brings – to Jews and Gentiles alike, is something to celebrate. For Americans, Romanian born Germans, kiwis, South Africans, Scots, Samoans, English and any others you may think of – this is a time for revisiting what God has done through Jesus.
So it’s good to really reflect through Advent about what God has done. We have to ask – if you want to get organised –
- as you prepare for the celebration of Jesus’ first coming,
- and the certainty of his second coming, (either because the end will come for us in death, or he will come back first)
- – what is really important?
For John the baptiser as we heard – preparing the way for Jesus – there was an expectation that people should clean up their lives. Sounds a bit like Lent.
Repentance here is not the change of direction that the Hebrew Old Testament word indicates – but a transformed mind. A changed mind.
A refocusing of our thoughts on God. So let’s do that. Reflect on:
- Who He is.
- His promises that he will send someone to save the world.
- His coming in Christ.
- His work in us.
THE PROMISE OF A SAVIOUR
There are many prophecies that speak of Jesus. The one in Isaiah chapter 9 is probably the most beautiful: Isa 9:6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
And then this one from Isa 7:14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. Immanuel – meaning God with us. This happens in the incarnation.
A child is born – a son is given. In the words of the Creed: Jesus was –
“… conceived by the Holy Spirit – born of the virgin Mary”
This really messes things up for us – especially if we are people who like to separate the spiritual from the physical and carnal world. Which the Bible does do – but not like we do. We are prone to thinking like Greeks of old who categorised this world as bad, and painted a picture of another spiritual perfect world as a standard or ideal.
God messes up that thinking by becoming a flesh person. In – car-nate. Carnivores? Carnivorous? Ring any bells?
- Jesus who is our hope (for all nations as we see in Rom 15:12 And again, Isaiah says, “The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; the Gentiles will hope in him.”)
- Jesus – who is also the prince of peace – He does this not by making war in his first coming – but by surrender on the cross.
- This Jesus becomes a real human being. He brings both hope to the world and the promise of peace. He gets involved in a peace mission above all others.
Evangelicals are quick to point out that Jesus had to be a human being to pay the price for our sin – only a human could be a substitute for another human (in this case for all humans). We call that substitutionary atonement. The crib is made of wood – so is the cross. This prince of peace does makes peace through his blood on the cross. (Colossians 1:20).
The beauty of this first Advent is the way in which Jesus as a human being affirms our humanity. We see this God becoming human in a stable – in a feeding trough – with the feint or perhaps pungent smell of cattle dung.
The coming of Jesus as a real human being means God affirms the wonder of his creation. He pitches his tent with us (John 1:14). Through this incarnation he also affirms the wonder of creation and what it is to be human.
Have you noticed in the New Testament that Jesus was criticised for being a party enthusiast? Listen to this from Luke 7 to remind you: Luk 7:31 “To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? Luk 7:32 They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other: “‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not cry.’ Luk 7:33 For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ Luk 7:34 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.”‘ Luk 7:35 But wisdom is proved right by all her children.”
It’s okay to celebrate his coming with a real party. He certainly celebrated life fully.
My friends in Wellington were bemoaning the fact that their pastor won’t have a Christmas tree in church. I’m glad we do. It’s good to have some colour and sparkle.
Jesus was born to rescue us – and bring peace. We have a gospel to proclaim about this prince of peace. We have much to celebrate about this promised peace.
We also need to trust in Him that he will keep his promises to us – and that we will really have His peace. That it won’t just be a symbolic candle we light.
While we should party and rejoice, this is a serious matter too. Jesus doesn’t die for nothing. Our sins are not to be celebrated.
There is a warning in the words of John the baptiser who says that while he baptises with water, Jesus will baptise us with the Holy Spirit and with fire. This symbolises purification and judgement.
When you meet this baby grown up to be the prince of peace – he pays the price for peace with his death.
And he gives us his purifying Holy Spirit – who is not only different in the extreme from our evil ways (we are always judged by holiness – see Isaiah 6:5 ) but also indwells us and will change us to be more like Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18).
The last verse of the reading from Romans today sums up my desire for you to know this purifying Jesus more. The outcomes are brilliant:
Rom 15:13 “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope” – how? “…by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
The pink candle of joy is thrown in by Paul as well.
For today: receive His peace.
Readings: Psalm 46:1-5 & 10-11; Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23: 33 – 43
HOW BAD DOES IT GET FOR YOU TO WANT TO GIVE UP?
I didn’t choose today’s readings. I have been doing that for quite a while choosing the readings. But not today. Today’s readings come from the lectionary.
I quite like Psalm 46 – while the ground still shakes on these wobbly islands, we can hear the word of God to us.
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.
I’ve only been in minor earthquakes back in Wellington. The Christchurch one that was at night sounded like a freight train in our bedroom. I watched with amazement on another occasion when the couch started jumping up and down, and the Christmas tree was doing sparrow jumps along the table.
Back in the old country we had bombs going off outside our home and Sheilagh had to dive to the ground waiting for me to pick her up one Saturday when a bomb went off across the road from her in 320 West Street.
Either way you are shaken.
Psalm 46 hits a high point in verse 10 – which we all know well – at least we know the first part: Psa 46:10 “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
People are genuinely seeking stillness.
For us – it’s not just spacing out – or like Leonard Cohen signing up with a zen master to find that equilibrium.
For us – we are to be still and know that He is God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
He will be exalted – praised – honoured – and that’s exactly what we do even when things are shaken up. We exalt and praise his name. AND by worshiping him we recognise we are not alone – Verse 11 states categorically – The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. The last verse of the Psalm goes full circle back to the first which reads: God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
When things seem to fall apart – whether literally, emotionally (you’re on the edge), or physically (your body presents itself as something straight from hell through pain or collapse of key systems) – God Almighty is unchanging and totally faithful – we are to praise him because we are not alone – he is our ever-present help in trouble!
This greatness of God is consistent with what Paul says in Colossians about Jesus.
Paul speaks about Jesus’ centrality: Col 1:16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. Col 1:17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
The writer to the Hebrews captures this same steadiness about Jesus in two ways: The first will be known by anyone ever involved in Boys Brigade. What’s the boys’ brigade hymn? What’s the chorus?
Yes – will your anchor hold – and the chorus – we have an anchor….
Hebrews 6 is where that comes from. I used this to counsel someone recently when things were really troubled. My advice was to chuck up an anchor into heaven and stay steady. Listen to the passage: Heb 6:19 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, Heb 6:20 where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf
The second reminder from Hebrews is simpler and easier to remember: Heb 13:8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
So my question to you is simple – HOW BAD DOES IT GET FOR YOU TO WANT TO GIVE UP?
If we can be still and know that He is God – in the midst of disaster.
If we can know that – in him (Jesus) all things hold together – that he is our anchor, that he is the same yesterday, today, and forever –
I reckon that we can be steady in the storms we face.
Today is the Sunday where we celebrate “Christ the King”.
How bad does it have to get for you to want to give up? When you have such a King – you can hold on!
As the other heroes of the faith in Hebrews chapter 11. I was listening to a sermon on the radio this week where the preacher read this passage out.
Hebrews 11 starts with this statement: Heb 11:1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Heb 11:2 This is what the ancients were commended for.
And then the list comes. It’s long and profound. And it ends with this crescendo that has to speak to your heart:
Heb 11:35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Heb 11:36 Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. Heb 11:37 They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— Heb 11:38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. Heb 11:39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. Heb 11:40 God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.
They were steadfast. Steady. How bad did it have to get for them to give up? They took it all and more – and they remained faithful. As do martyrs today around the world.
So on Christ the King Sunday we read from the gospel the account of Jesus’ crucifixion. How bad does it have to get? That was bad. Being crucified alongside Jesus. What makes this one criminal reach out to Jesus, while the other one hurls insults at Jesus?
Probably nano faith tinier than a mustard seed – some sense that if it said “King” on the sign above his head on the cross, this Jesus must have been able to do something in this tight spot. Nailed to a cross and heaving yourself up in agony to breath rather than suffocate. Listen to the account:
Luk 23:40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? Luk 23:41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Luk 23:42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
King – Kingdom – he grasped something – joined the dots. Maybe he remembered a story doing the rounds about Jesus raising the dead. Who knows. Either way – Luk 23:43 Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Did he go to heaven that day? I don’t think so. Do you? Jesus didn’t – not just then. He descended to the dead (or visited hell depending on your view of 1 Peter 3:18-19).
We’re going to have to figure out what “Paradise” meant then. In those days, it meant the restored creation in which the righteous would dwell – like Eden.
People who take it as “heaven” put a comma in the sentence so it reads: “I tell you the truth today, you will be with me in paradise.” Which is convenient but unhelpful as there were no spaces between the words in the Greek original, never mind commas.
The promise assures his future either way – even if it meant as Tom Wright notes – a place of rest and refreshment before the final gift of eternal life in the resurrection.
If a convicted criminal dying on a cross could see in Jesus – also dying – a King who brought hope, and a blameless man, and who could trust Jesus in a tight spot – I think we’ll be okay. Or shall I speak kiwi and say “she’ll be right”.
Be still friends. Know he is control. He is the one who is our anchor in the presence of God. Our hope even when we breathe our dying breath.
Jesus Christ the King.
He’s the one! Trust Him!
Readings: 1 Corinthians 12:14-27; Galatians 6:1-3; Matthew 18:16-17
Last week we looked at reconciliation – and the implication for living for one another. And we saw that if someone had something against us, we should fix it before we bring our gift to the altar – our worship to God.
I imagine that most skirmishes can be resolved. Differences of opinion mainly. Or perhaps we may speak a careless word against someone – and we hurt them or offend them, perhaps unwillingly. Sometimes we get offended and it’s all just a misunderstanding. I can’t tell you how many times people get upset if you ignore them in the street when your mind is on something else. Or even at church here on Sunday.
Our falling out with each other over insignificant things is silly sinful behaviour really. Like the little children who have a scrap perhaps – we should be able to say sorry and forgive.
Wilful sin is another thing I suspect – when we are deliberately mean or destructive.
But silly differences or big conflicts – reconciliation and peacemaking belong together. The rift between people and God is a big thing – so too the peace of God achieved by Jesus. The cross is a big thing too – which explains all those ways of trying to explain it we looked at last week – propitiation (atonement), justification, redemption and reconciliation – all try to capture the breadth impact of Jesus’ death on the cross that brings peace and a new community.
Flowing out of that peacemaking is our one-another life. Remember some of them from last week? For those who weren’t here, here they are again. Here are the bible references this time too.
- Bear with one another in love – Ephesians 4:2
- Be kind and compassionate to one another – Ephesians 4:32
- Be devoted to one another – Romans 12:10
- Honour one another above yourselves – Romans 12:10
- Accept one another – Romans 15:7
- Agree with one another – 1 Corinthians 1:10
- Encourage one another – 1 Thessalonians 5:11
- Spur one another one towards love and good deeds – Heb 10:24
- Do not slander one another – James 4:11
- Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling – 1 Peter 4:9
- Clothe yourselves with humility towards one another – 1 Peter 5:5
- Submit to one another (specifically in marriage) – Ephesians 5:21
- Live in harmony with one another – 1 Peter 3:8
- And of course –
- confess you sins to one another -James 5:16
- Teach and admonish one another – Colossians 3:16
There are more damaging things though that need attention than our silly misunderstandings. I mentioned last week that we should be cautious about trying to reconcile when a relationship is toxic or a person is abusive. Some sin is endemic and evil is dangerous. Some things require mediation or proper restorative processes.
Jesus seems to speak in a more serious tone about sin in the church. Only Matthew 16 and 18 talk about the church at all – at least coming from Jesus’ mouth. In chapter 18 he says this:
Mat 18:15 “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. Mat 18:16 But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ Mat 18:17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
This has got to be more than a misunderstanding or silly scrap. It’s certainly not the same as last week where we looked at leaving your gift on the altar and going to sort something out. It seems to assume that you can resolve the thing quickly and come back to your gift waiting at the altar.
The implication here in Matthew 18 is that the person does not acknowledge the problem – and probably denies that they are at fault at all. That it will be difficult. A longer process.
Perhaps you can help me here. What kinds of things do you think require this kind of action? Talk among yourselves for two minutes…
I am sure you came up with some interesting scenarios.
The pattern given is a typical Jewish one of the day – a three stage process especially requiring two witnesses.
So you approach the person first. If they don’t respond, you take someone else or two people along. And when that doesn’t work – you tell the whole church. If that fails – separate from them completely. Treat them like nobodies. Hopefully they will come to their senses when they are on the outside – and have to start again figuring out what it means to be a Christ follower and a part of his body – from scratch.
We don’t follow that process much it seems. Sometimes our first step is to tell someone else (gossiping without confronting the person involved at all). Then we sulk. Perhaps become bitter. And finally we ourselves stay away from church in our state of anger or resentment and blame. That’s not quite the same as the pattern Jesus gives!
What kind of things are so damaging that they need a process to get someone to accept responsibility? They are probably horrible things.
You can see how horrible they are potentially if you take that list of one another obligations in the New Testament and change the words from positive to negative. Look what we come up with:
- Bear with one another – don’t put up with each other – be obnoxious towards one another
- Be kind and compassionate to one another – be ugly and indifferent towards one another
- Be devoted to one another – be unfaithful to one another
- Honour one another above yourselves – insult one another and make sure your view dominates
- Accept one another – reject or simply ignore one another
- Agree with one another – have ongoing disputes with one another
- Encourage one another – discourage, dishearten and offend one another
- Spur one another one towards love and good deeds – put people off and tell them to be unkind and selfish, promoting evil
- Do not slander one another – insult and dismiss one another as you spread stories and rumours about each other without checking on the truth
- Offer hospitality to one another – throw one another out of your homes and don’t make people feel welcome, or shun them
- Clothe yourselves with humility towards one another – be brash – arrogant – rude
- Submit to one another (specifically in marriage) – beat each other into submission and bully one another
- Live in harmony with one another – start a riot in church like a pub brawl over the slightest difference
That would be interesting behaviour in church. It certainly goes against the new commandment to love one another as Jesus has loved us – and all the others about love and service.
It’s 1 Corinthians 12 that reinforces the damage this kind of sin causes. Paul compares our life together in Christ – in the body of the church – to the human body. 1Co 12:14 Now the body is not made up of one part but of many.
He then goes on at length to talk about all the parts being important and unique.
He says from verse 24: But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honour to the parts that lacked it, 1Co 12:25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 1Co 12:26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it. 1Co 12:27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
The human body is a great comparison of the joy when it works and the pain when it doesn’t. We all to some extent know when our bodies are in pain. It’s just as bad when our bodies don’t work properly – when parts stop communicating with other parts. It’s not pretty.
It’s not pretty either when the church (or a human family) suffers or can’t communicate between its members – or when one part grows too big like a tumour.
Paul’s plan for the church is a union that means no solo flying. The key verse is this one:
1Co 12:26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it. And he reminds the Corinthians who had become specialists in doing things without love (and very selfishly): 1 Co 12:27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
He then proceeds to talk about different people gifts in the body – and that we’re not all gifted in the same way. But we all matter.
He ends chapter 12 with this: 1Co 12:31 But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way. 1 Corinthians 13 in all its beauty follows. In Chapter 13 – love matters most. We read it the other day – remember? Substituting “We are” for the word “love is”.
The reading from Galatians today is also a healthy warning from Paul in all of this. Listen again: Gal 6:1 Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Gal 6:2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Gal 6:3 If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.
So what is to be done? Most of us are not really horrible are we? So what’s the most common sickness in the body? It’s probably what I would call “independent member disorder”. It’s a bit like a foot that wants to walk off in its own direction.
It really helps when we are moving in the same direction. With the mind of Christ in control – with Jesus as the head. And with all the members coordinated in the effort to listen to the Head.
Being a healthy church does require the parts to function well together.
- Are you a healthy part of Jesus’ body? A source of goodness, life and nutrition?
- Are you using the gifts he gave you?
- You matter!
And we really can only share our burdens, sorrows and joys, when the nervous system works and we are connected well enough to feel each other’s emotions and issues.
This all needs time and effort and communication. Let’s keep doing this. At least start today by learning someone’s name you don’t know! Oh and joining a home group where this can happen And, altogether now, “let’s stay for tea and be friendly”.
It’s a small start! Amen.
READINGS: 2 Corinthians 5:14-21; Matthew 5:21-24; Romans 12:9-18
There’s as great Scripture in Song item from 1977 by a man called Rick Ridings which goes like this:
Little children, Forgive one another, As I have forgiven you;
Cast all your bitterness, In the depths of the sea: Forgive like Me
Little children, Serve one another, As I have served you
Take off the robes of Your rights and your pride; Wash each other’s feet
Little children, Receive one another, As I have received you
Call not unclean, What I have called clean; Come learn of Me
When you look at all the passages in the New Testament which use the phrase “little children” most are Jesus’ words and refer to real little children. You know the ones I mean – like the King James version of “Let the little children come unto me..” which goes like this: Mat 19:14 But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.
Ironically too many children actually do suffer at the hands of adults. We know of course, if English is not your first language, that “suffer” in 17C English meant “allow” or “let”.
You may remember that Jesus also used the phrase for the disciples in John 13 – from last week. And then John uses “little children” quite a bit for Christians to whom he writes his first letter.
Even Paul, not known for sentimentality when he writes, as usually he is ticking off the Christians for their sins or heresies, uses the term in Galatians 4. It comes out in the NIV as “Dear children” but other translations have it like this:
4:19 my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!
Children of course are not meant to get everything right. They’re always learning.
And I think that’s the secret of real discipleship. Being open to correction. And it is the one thing that makes adults very difficult.
We’re not always teachable.
One of my little sayings is that I want FAT people in church.
Faithful, available, and teachable.
I was reading this week that in on particular country children in their early years of school spend a lot more time working on getting on together than learning things.
Getting on is the main thing. Every drama – family violence – gang rumble – civil war – world war – is about people who stop talking and start shooting – one way or the other.
The bible narrative deals with broken relationships early on.
The first family – soon after the couple fall out with God – have kids that fall out with each other in a very dramatic way. Cain kills Abel as you know.
And God’s mission to people after that is a constant attempt to clean up the mess and get His people on track.
Okay it is a bit radical when he drowns most of them in a flood. (Noah)
And of course he saves key people along the way. Like Joseph who was also done in by his brothers – and ended up prince of Egypt.
They are rescued from famine by going to Egypt. And through Moses they are eventually saved from Slavery and given their own land.
(Look along the wall of the Family Centre and you will see the narrative visually in the collages we’ve done through the year at Messy Church as we’ve worked through the Old Testament.)
And it’s into that land that ultimately Jesus comes.
On Friday at Messy Church we focussed on Isaiah the prophet – who foretells the coming of a wonderful counsellor, mighty God, every lasting Father and PRINCE OF PEACE (Isaiah 9:6).
People who are peacekeepers who don’t keep the peace get fired. There was a big commotion this week over UN peacekeepers from Kenya who failed in their job. Their commander got fired and they are offended and all going home.
But Jesus the mighty warrior is the ultimate peacekeeper and the prince of peace. He sees the project though as He dies for us.
The CROSS is at the centre of this.
One of the important terms for what he does is related to his sacrifice. We talked about it last week – he dies in our place – he is the lamb slain and his blood is sprinkled on the eternal mercy seat of God. You may remember the verse: 1Jn 4:10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Atoning sacrifice is also translated as propitiation.
One of the other terms is REDEMPTION which involves a payment of a ransom. And of course Paul talks a lot about JUSTIFICATION. All these terms in the New Testament try to capture what Jesus has done for us.
It’s RECONCILIATION which is repeated a lot in today’s reading from 2 Corinthians. The prince of peace logically brings reconciliation.
It crops up in Ephesians in a peace-making passage too:
Eph 2:14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, Eph 2:15 by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, Eph 2:16 and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.
Who are the “two” he has made one? The two out of which he makes one new man? Gentiles and Jews of course. That’s a major peace project. You see it being worked out in the life of Peter who needs a vision from God to get him to go to the house of Cornelius.
This event is picked up in the last line of the song – “little children” – “call not unclean what I have called clean.” Which means the Jewish Christians could mix with Gentile Christians and the two groups could form one new family in Christ.
And then in Colossians the reconciliation is broader – he speaks about all things needing this reconciliation:
Col 1:19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, Col 1:20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Col 1:21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. Col 1:22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— Col 1:23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.
Reconciliation – made possible through the cross of Christ – is actually the theological foundation of all this “one another” loving, serving and forgiving.
Paul spells it out in our reading from 2 Corinthians 5:
2Co 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 2Co 5:18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 2Co 5:19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.
Reconciliation is central to our faith and we need constantly to make peace and restore relationships. You may remember the old saying “love means never having to say you’re sorry”. “Yeah right” – is our response to that.
So here are two practical outcomes of this.
Jesus speaks about reconciliation as well. We read the passage from Matthew.
- Before you offer your gift to God (Jesus) – get reconciled
Jesus gives us this angle on reconciliation – sort out your relationships before you come to offer yourself and your gifts to God in worship. The thing that needs to be fixed? The same thing that messed up Cain and Abel’s relationship – and caused Joseph’s brothers to sell him into slavery (remember they planned to kill him initially). Anger.
So Jesus says:
Mat 5:22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
Mat 5:23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, Mat 5:24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.
The interesting thing about this verse is who is responsible for fixing the bad relationship – who needs to initiate reconciliation?
Who is it? Yes – the one who is probably wronged – the one who realises that his brother has something against him or her.
If you have any sense of a broken relationship and someone being mad at you or resentful of you – says Jesus – sort it out. It must be asked – why would they be mad at you anyway? Probably because YOU made them mad. 🙂
In other words – it doesn’t matter who started. Fix it. Because you can’t offer true worship to God if you are in a bad relationship with your brother or sister.
John backs this up in his first letter, especially in Chapter 4:19-21:
1Jn 4:19 We love because he first loved us.
1Jn 4:20 If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.
1Jn 4:21 And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.
We are to constantly make peace by walking in the light (see 1 John 1:7-10).
And then, secondly – we are to
- Keep up the one another focus
We’ve talked about serving, loving and forgiving one another.
All of these are the consequence of reconciliation with God and one another.
There are a host of other “one another” commands in the New Testament.
- Bear with one another
- Be kind and compassionate to one another
- Be devoted to one another
- Honour one another above yourselves
- Accept one another
- Agree with one another
- Encourage one another
- Spur one another one towards love and good deeds
- Do not slander one another
- Offer hospitality to one another
- Clothe yourselves with humility towards one another
- Submit to one another (specifically in marriage)
- Live in harmony with one another
And of course –
- confess you sins to one another.
- Teach and admonish one another.
These last two especially require trust in a community.
We have to be open to learning a new way of doing things – to be like little children as we trust God and take the risks of opening our lives to one another.
And we have to give time to relationships for any of this to happen!
So I remind you of my invitation a couple of weeks ago.
How do we achieve these things in our Christian community? We talked about them in the context of serving one another. Here they are again:
- 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.
Most of all – if you need to make peace and be reconciled with someone – just do it. Again -like little children – we too need to get on together.
Do something about those relationships that need fixing. Otherwise none of this will really matter – or happen.
Readings: 1 John 4:7-14; Romans 13:7-10; John 13:1-5; 31-38
I remember listening to an Argentine pastor years ago, Juan Carlos Ortiz was his name. He spoke about preaching on this theme – love one another – as Jesus has loved you.
He preached on the same thing for six months.
In time his elders became concerned. They asked him if he could perhaps choose another theme.
His response was simple. “Until you do it, I will keep preaching it”.
Clearly they had some work to do.
Don’t worry. Six months is not that bad. I heard a story about a preacher on the radio this week – who started a series on Job – and kept going for 24 years. Okay not all the time – just on Sundays – and he did take a break for Easter and Christmas.
In case you thought last week was a challenge – that we should serve one another – here you find the underlying foundation of that service.
Love. This is part two of the message about serving one another. Remember we asked the question: “how will you be remembered” last week. Jesus says they will know we are his followers by our love.
So to the text in John 13.
The Gospel reading is unnerving really. As John begins to unravel Jesus’ teaching on love and the new commandment, Judas whom he also loved, is ominously brought to our attention;
Listen again: Joh 13:1 It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love. (Or – he loved them to the end.) Joh 13:2 The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus.
How sad that this man represents the very opposite of what Jesus models and teaches on love. Jesus clearly took a risk on this Zealot.
How secure are you when it comes to taking the risk of loving others? You have to be very clear about who you are in Christ.
Jesus certainly was very clear about his identity and destiny. Look at the next verse:
Joh 13:3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God;
Knowing this, he was able to show them the full extent of his love in the first act if you like:
Joh 13:4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. Joh 13:5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. We skipped the debate with Peter in the reading today – his resistance to having his feet washed.
Peter was not what you would call an early adopter of new ideas.
It’s the same today. You preach about things for years, and people resist.
They argue, debate and question – and seem to miss the point entirely. And then they hear someone else speak about it and the lights come on.
Often if and when the penny drops – when they actually get it – they’re unstoppable.
Joh 13:8 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” Joh 13:9 “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”
It’s all or nothing Peter.
It’s worth reading the rest of the narrative we missed. Putting it simply, Jesus washed their feet – and they were to do the same. Jesus continues:
Joh 13:16 I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Joh 13:17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
It kind of reinforces what we talked about last week about serving one another. We don’t have to carry a bowl and towel around with us and wash peoples’ feet all day. The point is that the servant did that chore – and we are actually servants.
The power behind that kind of desire to serve one another is the power of love – God’s love which is poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who is given to us (Romans 5:5).
Through John 13 Jesus continues to reveal his plan and it reaches a highlight in verse 33 and 34:
Joh 13:33 “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. Joh 13:34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
One would hope that our late adopter Peter would pick up on this and say – okay this is important. Jesus is giving a NEW commandment. I’d better take note – maybe write this down.
But no – he’s off on his crazy mission again:
He says this: Joh 13:36 Simon Peter asked him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.” Joh 13:37 Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”
Jesus knows better. He says: Joh 13:38 Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!
You’ve got these two men who are really type A men – wanting to get it done. Judas tries to force Jesus’ hand to overthrow the Romans. Peter wants to lay down his life impulsively. On the spot.
In the meantime – Jesus gives this new commandment. Love one another “as I have loved you”.
Not just washing feet. But giving up his life on the cross.
John backs this up in his first letter in chapter 4: 1Jn 4:9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 1Jn 4:10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 1Jn 4:11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
The real challenge is working out what this sacrificial love means in our modern world.
Do we know what this is? This is not about loving your neighbour – meaning wanting the best for them (as yourself).
It’s about loving each other as Jesus loved us. He is the model, the standard, the template. We are to love each other as Jesus loved us:
– here – across the wider church – and reaching the persecuted church.
WHAT DOES LOVING EACH OTHER MEAN TO YOU?
I had fascinating conversations with people through the week about this. We talked about how we need to stop petty arguments becoming big issues. That Jesus’ love is sacrificial. That it means giving time to people to help in practical ways. That it involves honesty – that Jesus took on a parenting role with his disciples. That training was involved in sending them out and then evaluating how they did. That it’s very hard if you want to be honest. That we need to resolve things – and tell people gently when they are out of line. That integrity and discipline is involved.
I found his poem which may speak to you about risk-taking in love:
Fully Alive – by Dawna Markova
I will not die an unlived life.
I will not live in fear
of falling or catching fire.
I choose to inhabit my days,
to allow my living to open me,
to make me less afraid,
to loosen my heart
until it becomes a wing,
a torch, a promise.
I choose to risk my significance;
to live so that which came to me as seed
goes to the next as blossom
and that which came to me as blossom,
goes on as fruit.
THINKING FURTHER ABOUT LOVE – here are some thoughts from my reading:
- This is not romantic love, not just being nice, or only loving those who love you back.
- When Jesus washed his followers’ feet, Judas was there. He loved them all.
- This is not a lofty ideal but a reality.
- Jesus’ cross demonstrates that “God so loved the world.”
- We do do it and can do it.
- Some people are very difficult – it doesn’t change our commitment to love them.
- We also fail – but we are in the forgiveness business – and that includes forgiving ourselves.
- Loving as Jesus loved is high-risk behaviour.
My thoughts include these:
Jesus also confronts people who are wrong. As does Paul after the cross – sin still has to be rooted out.
1 Corinthians 13 has love at the centre of all gifts which operate in the church.
I thought we could read it together: Replacing “love is” with “We are” and so forth.
Let’s say together:
Co 13:4 We are patient, we are kind. We do not envy, we do not boast, we are not proud. 1Co 13:5 We are not rude, we are not self-seeking, we are not easily angered, we keep no record of wrongs. 1Co 13:6 We do not delight in evil but rejoice with the truth. 1Co 13:7 We always protect, always trust, always hope, always persevere. 1Co 13:8 We never fail. (ok that’s a stretch but it makes the point).
The song “One thing remains” by Chris Quilala helps us:
Higher than the mountains that I face, Stronger than the power of the grave; Constant through the trial and the change, One thing remains [x2]
It has this chorus: Your love never fails it never gives up it never runs out on me [x3]
That’s the point. It’s God’s love working through us. From the indwelling Holy Spirit.
When we are mean and selfish, narcissistic, cliquey, uncaring, we are not living according to the Spirit, but the flesh, what the NIV calls the “sinful nature” which is contrary to God.
In fact we are warned after the cross, after the message of grace, by Paul writing to believers, not to grieve the Holy Spirit. (See Ephesians 4:29-32).
Which as an aside means that quite a lot of us have a wrong theology of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit can be grieved. He is a person. Just by the way – if I hear you pray about the Spirit as a force or as an “it” in church from now on I am going to stop you and make you pray that line again. 🙂
The person of the Holy Spirit works in us, changing our hearts and renewing our minds – and pouring out his love in our hearts (Romans 5:5). He is the source of unfailing love.
Let’s love one another, people.
- It’s Jesus’ one command that is new. A new covenant love.
- Loving our neighbour as ourselves is old. It’s still valid though.
- Loving one another as Jesus sacrificially loves us is the sign of the new – the new covenant – new life – new birth – new community – new Israel.
- New hope – new future – new Kingdom in our midst.
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.