Sunday message 16 December 2018 – Joy

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

MESSAGE

STORY:  “Finders keepers.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So let’s talk about joy today.

So how joyful will your Christmas be?

And what is the right word to describe Christmas anyway?

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

Happy Christmas and a Merry New Year sounds strange.

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

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

 

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

But what about us?

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

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

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

Joy on the other hand seems a bit more focused.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For example in Paul’s writings:

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

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

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

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

JOY IS ALSO SEEN WHERE PEOPLE REACH THEIR POTENTIAL IN CHRIST

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

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

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

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

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

CHRISTMAS JOY

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

This news of Te Harinui.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“good news of great joy” was needed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Christmas reflection: Immanuel – God with us

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

CALLING PEOPLE NAMES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus – Joshua – is about Jesus and his mission.

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

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

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

But the prophecies often had multiple applications.

Jesus was the ultimate Immanuel.

This is Immanu – el in Hebrew.

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

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

Like Elohim.

El Shaddai.

El Elyon.

El Shammah.

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

GOD WITH US.

That description changes everything for us.

The loneliness

The sadness

The rejection we face

GOD WITH US.

The sickness

Suffering

Sadness.

GOD WITH US.

Fear

Frustration

Fighting around us

GOD WITH US.

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

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

The world is never the same.

We went to two concerts last Christmas.

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

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

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

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

Passus et sepultus est; Et reurrexit tertia die.

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

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

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

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

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

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, Hail the incarnate Deity

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

Those hundreds of people were signing about Emmanuel.

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

Now we know this already.

And we know Him as God with us.

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

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

Amen.

23 September 2018 – Sunday message:Servants of all

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

MESSAGE:

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

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

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

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

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

They explained the top two like this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So – Jesus’ teaching today is really important.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those are the kind of close friends that serve you.

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

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

This is the upside-down Kingdom again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And if Jesus values them – so should we.

We are called to be servants of all.

In the words of the song we sang:

Verse 4

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

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

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

The servant from the master.

The child from the parents.

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

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

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

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

May this be true of us.

Amen.

 

Ministry beyond the parish

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

Candour

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

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8 April 2018 Sunday Message – Behind that locked door.

Reading: John 20:19-31

Message

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which reminded me of this story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SOME THOUGHTS THEN

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

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

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

This is worth looking at a bit more carefully.

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

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

And empowers them.

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

From chapter 14:

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

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

In chapter 15:

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

And chapter 16:

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

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

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

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

TWO OTHER THINGS TO FOCUS ON TODAY:

Firstly:

  1. “Doubting” Thomas.

Was he really a doubter?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Secondly:

     2.  Peace be with you.

Do you need His peace?

We’ve talked before about the power of grief.

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

Watch the passion of the Christ again – the movie.

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

They needed some assurance.  And so do we.

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

Here – let my peace uphold you.

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

And at the heart of our mission IS forgiveness.

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

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

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

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

He says to you too today:

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

Peace be with you.

Amen.

 

1 April 2018 Sunday Message – MARY AND THE GARDENER

Reading: John 20: 1-18

Message.

We went to a memorial service recently. On Waitangi Day actually. We were able to take some of our friend’s ashes and scatter them in the garden of the church in the city.

The interesting experience for me happened when we first arrived. We were walking around the grounds and I passed the gardener who was on his haunches digging away in one of the beds. Amazing – I thought – on a public holiday too. He had an old floppy hat on, and typical non-descript gardening gear. Not your Sunday best.

When I walked past him a second him he got up – and I discovered I knew him very well. And had done so for over ten years.

I couldn’t help at that moment thinking of Mary at the tomb.

“Thinking he was the gardener…” (v15) – she asks Jesus where his body was.

It raises questions for the curious mind. What was Jesus wearing?

His burial gear was in the tomb.

She doesn’t recognize him at all.

Did he look like a gardener?

Or is this the stuff that happens when you’ve lost a loved one and your mind plays tricks on you.

Grief does strange things. I remember a good friend who died at 19. I was his youth leader. Yes, I know you find that strange – I was young enough once to be a youth leader.

I’d seen Duncan after he died. I went with his parents to support them at the viewing.

So, I knew my mind was playing tricks when I thought I saw him a couple of times in a crowd. Or in public place.

It’s like a fog when you grieve.

The responses of all the disciples are understandable over that weekend.

They knew he was dead.

It would have torn their hearts in two.

Sometimes we live in that kind of fog – of protracted grief and sorrow – not only because we mourn our loved ones – because we have all kinds of losses we still mourn.

  • For immigrants – the country of our birth.
  • For those of us who feel the weariness of aging – we mourn our youth.
  • For those whose marriage had died – there is mourning for lost love.
  • For those who feel alone – there is grieving for the years when we really enjoyed intimate close friends.
  • For those who suffer – we mourn the loss of those care free days when getting out of bed was pain free and worry free.
  • For children changing school or moving home there are real losses too.

They all have their own kind of fog – those emotions.

Which makes the Easter story even more powerful. Even when people in their pain cry out that God is unfair and that if he were so loving he would understand our agony and do something about it – Easter tells us that he does and that he did.

He does understand, and he did do something.

Jesus took all this mess and agony on the cross.

He really does understand our pain.

And like Mary in the garden – our focus can be wrong.

Mary didn’t need to go to Specsavers.

You often see what you expect to see. Or you don’t see what you have ruled out as a possibility.

What changes this?

He calls her name.   

Joh 20:16  Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).

It is one of the most beautiful moments in the whole of Scripture.

In her complicated life hearing Jesus speak her name before was a sacramental moment of grace – she was drawn into a new life and community by this amazing appealing attractive man who drew all kinds of people to himself – the ones needing healing, the ones who made holes in the roof – those Greeks who were wanting to see him – tax collectors, outcastes, rejects.

Many heard him speak their name.

“Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” (Luke 19:5)

“Mary”.

She knew that voice. No wax in those ears.

This is that intimate voice and a personal address.

Not a distant cosmic Lord but a close, loving address from someone who knows our deepest needs, our histories, our dreams and our losses.

It sounds a bit like John 10 – that passage about the Good Shepherd:

“The sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (John 10:3). Thereafter the Good Shepherd says, “I know my own and my own know me” (John 10:14).

It’s not surprising that Mary recognizes the risen Christ when this Good Shepherd’s voice is heard calling her name.

Let Jesus call your own name, and the name of whoever you’ve brought with you, whoever needs his love and healing today.

Maybe for the first time – or maybe if it’s a long time since you heard his voice.

He really is alive and speaks today.

For Easter to be real we all need to hear the good shepherd speak our name.

Personally. Intimately.

We become part of this Easter community. That is what church really is.

A people of the resurrection who know Jesus now. And who know His voice.

A people whose grief is healed, whose fog is lifted, and who know what their purpose is – glorifying God, enjoying Him forever, and sharing the good news of Easter every day.

  • That Christ has died.
  • Christ is risen
  • Christ will come again.

For now, we live in that waiting zone, living for him until he comes. –

Amen.

 

25 March 2018 message – Palm Sunday and the King

Reading: John 12:12-19

MESSAGE

So –  its Easter morning. You would have expected a service at sunrise. When you were small you might have had an Easter egg hunt in the garden.

You climb out of bed and go downstairs.

And you see a Christmas tree and Christmas presents, with Easter eggs hiding behind them.

You rub your eyes, scratch your head – and go back to bed thinking this is a dream.

Try again 10 minutes later – and yes, it’s true. Someone’s got Easter and Christmas muddled.

You wonder why. What does this mean? What are they trying to tell you?

That’s exactly what makes Jesus’ triumphal entry so interesting.

It was the spring – it was Passover time. There were things you did at Passover – remembering the rescue from slavery and the blood of the lamb on the doorpost which saved people from death – and you celebrate their rescue from bondage.

And Jesus rides into the city on a donkey and people are waving palms.

This is a mid-winter thing happening in the spring. Like Christmas and Easter together.

Although it’s the wrong time of the year, the symbols of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem go with Hanukkah– which John has already mentioned in 10.22. (Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter)

When Judas Maccabaeus defeated the pagan invaders and cleansed the Temple in 164 BC, his followers entered the city waving palm branches in celebration (1 Maccabees 13.51; 2 Maccabees 10.7). (Tom Wright)

We were talking about these extra books called the apocrypha just recently – a whole series of them you don’t find in the Protestant bible.

Here’s the passage from the second book of Maccabees chapter 10, reading from verse 7:

2Ma 10:7  Therefore, carrying ivy-wreathed wands and beautiful branches and also fronds of palm, they offered hymns of thanksgiving to him who had given success to the purifying of his own holy place. 2Ma 10:8  They decreed by public edict, ratified by vote, that the whole nation of the Jews should observe these days every year.

After the temple was cleansed in 164 BC, Judas Maccabeus and his family became kings of Israel.

Jesus and his followers were combining Hanukkah and Passover – declaring that Jesus was the true King coming to claim his throne AND at the same time he would really set people free. He is the new Passover lamb as well –  they just didn’t know it yet.

And the final sign that sealed the matter was the raising of Lazarus. He was set free from death!

That’s why the two verses before this passage and the last three verses of today’s passage are so important:

Joh 12:10  So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, Joh 12:11  for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in him.

And:

Joh 12:17  Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. Joh 12:18  Many people, because they had heard that he had given this miraculous sign, went out to meet him. Joh 12:19  So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!”

The raising of Lazarus was the last sign and the hour had come. We talked about that last week.

Palm Sunday seals the destiny of Jesus.

People connected the dots because of the palms. Not just the Jewish community who would have remembered Hanukkah, but the Romans and Greeks would have all recognised the significance of the Palms as a sign of a victory parade.

Like a flag raising parade when the battle is won – it has huge significance. The enemy’s flag is lowered, and the conquering army’s flag is raised.

It’s a powerful provocative statement. And on a donkey – not a huge white horse. They would have remembered the prophecy in Zechariah 9:

Zec 9:9  Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Palm Sunday is the triumph of the love the God – yes.

But the means of victory – we know looking back the way of achieving victory would be painful to say the least.

FOCAL POINT TODAY

I’d like us to focus on one verse today:

Joh 12:17  Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word.

Witnessing is a central part of discipleship – of following this amazing man called Jesus of Nazareth.

Giving testimony to what he has done.

Spreading the word.

  • Have you testified this week?
  • Given testimony?
  • Have you been a witness?

V17 – they bore witness to Lazarus’ raising –

Do we talk about the resurrection?

It is the separating point between us and other religions– the dividing line – the ultimate sign of Jesus’ power and authority, his divinity, his supremacy – and of course it leads to his ascension when he is enthroned again on high.

It’s the greatest story worth telling.

Because it brings the greatest sense of hope.

Are we ready always to give a reason for the hope we have?

HOPE?

Our Mission in the newsletter these past weeks has been this; “Always prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks us to give the reason for the hope that we have”

Hope – in the face of the greatest enemy – death.

WE DO THIS IN WORSHIP EACH WEEK

  • We wave Palms every week!
  • We cry Hosanna!
  • Worship is exactly that – celebrating King Jesus

–           Celebrating the triumph of the cross

–           Celebrating the power of the resurrection

–           Celebrating the glory of the ascension.

–         Celebrating the love of the Father

–           Celebrating the promises that apply to us – our inheritance that will outlast all the other shiny things that fascinate us.

Peter puts it like this (we shared this in our call to worship today):

1Pe 1:3  Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 1Pe 1:4  and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, 1Pe 1:5  who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.

Palm Sunday takes us into this week called holy week.

I’ve asked today how we can make this a different week.

I don’t know how you’re going to do that.

But you can’t ignore the power of the events.

I hope that you take the time to remember at the various opportunities we have to remember what God has done for us to establish this inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.

I pray that we can really discover for ourselves that he was and is the true king, the true rescuer, the bringer of true freedom.

As we watch his progression into Jerusalem, and on to meet his fate, we must ourselves be drawn into the action, and the passion, that awaits him.

And we must ourselves become part of the means by which his message goes out to the world. (Tom Wright)

The victory was won for us by a young man nearly 2000 years ago.

Our closing hymn captures the profound nature of this day.

1 Ride on, ride on in majesty
as all the crowds ‘Hosanna!’ cry:
through waving branches slowly ride,
O Saviour, to be crucified.

2 Ride on, ride on in majesty,
in lowly pomp ride on to die:
O Christ, your triumph now begin
with captured death, and conquered sin!

3 Ride on, ride on in majesty
the angel armies of the sky
look down with sad and wondering eyes
to see the approaching sacrifice.

4 Ride on, ride on in majesty,
the last and fiercest foe defy:
the Father on his sapphire throne
awaits his own anointed Son.

5 Ride on, ride on in majesty,
in lowly pomp ride on to die:
bow your meek head to mortal pain,
then take, O God, your power and reign!

Robin Mark has a song that helps us anticipate and appreciate what he has done as we close:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5PiH3Tv9gLY&feature=share

17 September 2017 Sunday Message: Triangles and forgiveness. (Romans series ctd.)

Readings:  Romans 13:8; Matthew 18:15-20

Message:

How were you with triangles? Not the musical instrument you played in the primary school orchestra. That usually meant you had limited musical skills. 😊

I was thinking geometry. Equilateral triangles are the only type I remember off hand.

And then there are the triangles you see in soap operas. They are usually more complicated.

Most of us avoid those.

School kids sometimes have friendship problems that involve triangles. Friend A likes you but then likes friend B more, and the poor kid who is friend C gets ditched by A.

So how are your friendships doing? Hopefully well. We do value friendships that are long-lasting and steadfast.

In this modern generation people have on-line friends too – because people are so mobile the internet helps us to keep connected.

On Facebook, you can unfriend them when you are fed up. Just a click of a button. Mind you, his generation of school kids break up by text anyway. Crazy world. No more Dear John letters.

In my generation, people are more likely to neglect people and just drift away. Or more move away. Usually to another continent.

Communities and families.

In close communities like a family or church there is a good chance that people can fall out over something rather trivial that grows and grows out of all proportion.

Or worse still, something really bad happens and it’s a painful separation or estrangement.

Jesus gives this method in Matt 18 to fix that. It obviously mattered to him when people wronged each other.

We fail in this most times. It’s the triangle that we often slip into.

  • We don’t go to the person directly when things have gone wrong.
  • We tell someone else.

If someone complains about someone, the first question we should ask is simply this: have you spoken to them directly? If not, its gossip.  (I’m sure you’ve NEVER had that happen to you.)

There’s a saying that goes – “don’t allow someone rest their gun on your shoulder.”

If you do:

  • Suddenly there are three people.
  • Your friend – their friend they are fed up with – and you.
  • And your friend drags you into something the two of them need to fix.

Of-course Jesus gives a way to sort it out if the person doesn’t respond.

The real challenge is for us not to get sucked into triangles.

Ironically – whether there are two or three who come together in His name – what does He say in verse 20? He is in the midst – with them. Where Christians are – Jesus is.

And if we took that seriously, we would watch what we said about people in general. We would certainly avoid gossip. Or scandal.

COMING TO THE TABLE

When we come to the Lord’s table it’s a good idea to reflect on relationships and perhaps resolve to make things right.

Paul in the reading from Roman 13 puts it like this:

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.(vs8).

And this is even more important:

Love does no harm to its neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (vs.10)

So what is the way forward? This is what Jesus says:

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.

There is a place for a triangle or a quadrilateral setup. If they don’t respond to you appeal to sort out something that is wrong, you can take one or two others along to show it is serious. If they are unrepentant, you tell the whole community – mainly I think so they can pray about it and realize that it matters. If that doesn’t help -you cut them off. Treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

The wonderful thing is that Jesus always kept the door open for tax collectors.

The hope was always reconciliation and restoration.

Like a family, you’d want the estranged member to come back so when you have those family meals they are at the table.

  • For most things, I reckon we can resolve things.
  • The little foxes that cause trouble are often things we can compromise on. Or at least forgive.

And so – if I hear you mutter about anyone, I will probably not say – “have you applied Matthew 18 sister?” That’s a bit too weird.

I might say “please don’t rest your gun on my shoulder” just to remind you of today.

Paul goes on to say:

Rom 13:11  And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.

Rom 13:12  The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light.

You might think – ah this is not so bad. Probably not considering what he deals with in the next verse: Rom 13:13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery…

Good point.

But he also adds at the end of verse 13: not in dissension and jealousy.

He ends this passage with this: Rom 13:14  Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

That’s quite good really. Jesus becomes our covering. It along with Colossians 3:12:  Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ. After all – whatever you do to the least of his brothers you do unto him (Matthew 25).

That includes taking pot shots at each other.

Best have the right kind of triangles or groups with the right focus: “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”  

Amen.

10 September 2017 Sunday Message: God and Government. (Romans series ctd.)

Readings: 1 Tim 2:1-8; Romans 13:1-7;  1 Peter 2:13-17

Message:

About this time 40 years ago this was me:

robin army

Hard to believe really. The uniform tells a story too. We were fighting a war that we didn’t believe in. The government of the day was not my preferred choice. I campaigned for the opposition. It didn’t help.

And the choice of being in the army or not was a choice between conscription or jail really. Conscientious objection was a painful third way.

During those two years I am sure I heard more than a few occasions a military chaplain reading Romans 13:1-2 as a reminder.

PW Botha who became president was the then minister of defence. His photo was on the wall in the various military buildings we used. (In fact, we had to entertain people at a party for his wife for her birthday party. At the end of the event, the cabinet ministers’ wives went around the tables collecting the free cameo cigarettes that they used to have on the tables in those days and stuffed them into their handbags. We did find that very funny.)

When PW Botha did become president, he was visited in 1985 by Michael Cassidy who represented the churches trying to broker a peace deal. As this esteemed Christian leader walked into the president’s office, the old crocodile as we called him was reading his bible out aloud in his oval office. From Romans 13.

Rom 13:1  Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Rom 13:2  Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.

When he had finished reading he said to Michael Cassidy: “What can I do for you?” Just a bit of intimidation really.

The president was right. But his government wasn’t necessarily right.

Obviously we have a problem here.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer is a case in point. When Hitler, the elected leader, abused his power, the Lutheran Church struggled with the idea that you should disobey or worse still try to get rid of the Chancellor by any means, let alone by assassination. Bonhoeffer did participate in that movement. His ethics, put simply – were based on these kinds of ideas: “It is better to do evil than to be evil.” The Gestapo hanged him of course.

Martin Luther called on the German princes to crush the peasants when they revolted. The ensuing violence after the peasants’ revolt created a real crisis for him.

Simon Ponsonby writes that “Luther spoke of the Zwei-Reiche-Lehre, the two-kingdoms rule, arguing that God rules through the church as well as through kings and their governments. (Ponsonby, Simon. God Is For Us (p. 364). Monarch Books. Kindle Edition.)

Our decisions may not have the same drastic consequences as Bonhoeffer’s or Luther’s, but as Christians it is getting harder to manage the tension between the State and our faith.

This is not just about voting, but also about our own moral and ethical choices. For example, as a marriage officer, there is obvious tension when the State changes the law about marriage, and the law differs from one’s understanding of Christian marriage.

There are many other ethical issues including abortion, euthanasia, stem cell research and others which create tensions in various ways. Christian doctors, nurses and researchers all have to work through some of these things.

WHAT DOES PAUL REALLY SAY?

Well here’s the thing. Chapter 13 follow chapter 12. And it seems that the 9-21 factor still applies here. Remember that from last week?

12:9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.

12:21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

God gives government. It’s for our good. Anarchy is not good. None of us would be safe without law. (Remember my children’s story about Rob Bell wanting to take revenge with a golf ball – throwing it out of the sunroof of the car to hit the car behind which cut him off? The kids loved that last week. Without law, he could simply drive him off the road or shoot him – so that our highways could look like a mad max movie.)

God gives government. Paul doesn’t specify which kind. That’s not the point. Democracy is a very modern thing anyway.

If we are not to be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good – then we are to be a good example in our behaviour in our wider lives too.

When Paul writes to Timothy he makes it clear that prayer for the authorities is our essential responsibility. And the outcome is good for society – for all us. Government is a gift from God – according to Emil Brunner – God’s involvement in government is called “preserving grace” – it is grace that preserves the good.

We need to add to that good – clinging to it (12:9) and overcoming evil with it (12:21).

The second-century church father Tertullian once declared that “Caesar is more ours than yours, for our God has appointed him” and that, because of their prayers for those in authority, “Christians do more than you [Romans] for his welfare”. (Ponsonby, Simon. God Is For Us (p. 364). Monarch Books. Kindle Edition.)

So Paul says:

Rom 13:1  Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Rom 13:2  Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. Rom 13:4  For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Rom 13:6  This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing.

Look at the repeated words:

  • Authorities and authority (exousisa – powers)
  • Servant and servants (diakonos – minister)
  • God (theos)

It is no coincidence that cabinet ministers are called ministers. The word is translated as servants. Admittedly they get paid a tad more than ministers in our churches. But the idea is the same.

They serve God – even if they don’t believe in God or know this. And they serve people.

And we are to pray for them with some intensity and unity – and give them the honour that is due. Verse 7 ends this passage with these words: Rom 13:7  Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honour, then honour.

So, in short:

  • We submit
  • We pray

And at times

  • we do disobey.

Simon Ponsonby gives great examples when he writes:

Sometimes civil disobedience will be patently obviously required:

  • Daniel refused to obey the edict to pray only to King Darius for thirty days, and was thrown in the lions’ den (Daniel 6).
  • Peter and the apostles were forbidden by the Sanhedrin to preach the gospel, but they refused on the grounds that they should obey God not men (Acts 5: 29).
  • Many Christians in the early centuries of the Roman empire chose martyrdom rather than hand over their sacred scrolls to be burned or blaspheme by declaring Caesar as lord.
  • Some Christians, all too few, hid Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe, rather than comply with the wicked law and hand them over to be exterminated. (Ponsonby, Simon. God Is For Us (p. 368). Monarch Books. Kindle Edition.)

Ponsonby goes on:

The rule of the state is part of God’s economy in this age. God gives, the church lives under good government, and the church sieves government.

Meanwhile we wait expectantly for the coming rule of Christ’s kingdom at his return, as Isaiah prophesied: “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and for evermore” (Isaiah 9: 7). (Ponsonby, Simon. God Is For Us (p. 369). Monarch Books. Kindle Edition.)

So keep praying and obeying in the meantime.

Amen.

3 September 2017 Sunday Message – Hate what is evil, cling to what is good. (Romans series ctd.)

Reading: Romans 12:9-21

Message:

Do you like reading letters?. In the case of the bible’s letters, the people who chose these readings in our Lectionary usually leave the difficult bits out and choose the good bits to be read.

Well they were real letters. And when I look back on some family letters, in some cases there are always some difficult bits.

We’re back in Romans 12 today. We will get to Romans 13 – the first part is left out from the lectionary because it is challenging. It’s about God and government. And yes, my mother also taught me that you didn’t discuss religion and politics at the dinner table. No wonder people avoid Romans 13 when it brings those two together. We will get there before the election. Something to look forward to.

We’ve looked at Romans 12 on leadership. I’ve suggested that if you have gifts, best not leave them in a cupboard somewhere. Use them. And as a church we are listening to Paul who says – let people use them in accordance with their faith. The door is open to you.

There are two key verses today that may well be overlooked by preachers.

Rom 12:9  Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.

Rom 12:21  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

We’ll call them the 921 factor.

In between is a verse you would have heard before which quotes from Proverbs 25:22

Rom 12:19  Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. Rom 12:20  On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

The early church lived under the power of the Roman empire. So in other places the New Testament encourages Christians who are persecuted.

The enemies that Paul refers to are more likely people in individuals lives who did bad things to them.

Paul reminds us: Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

The 921 factor is more interesting. Listen again:

Rom 12:9  Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.

Rom 12:21  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

 Have a chat to the person next to you about the ‘evil’ here that Paul speaks of. What it could be that we should hate it and also overcome it with good.

So what do you think? Let’s make a list.

….

This week the things that have bothered me the most that have been really horrible in the news have been family related things.

The pain in families – those 600 plus in this last year – who have lost someone who has ended their own life.

And the children who have been abused. There was a report about that little guy – Moko – who was killed – a coroner’s report saying how terrible it was – worse than the previously worse case of a little girl called Nia.

The source of evil in Scripture is very clearly the Evil one. He seeks – says Jesus – to steal, kill and destroy. Contrast what Jesus comes to do in John 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.

We need to do everything to help people whose lives are lost or stolen in some way.

How do we hate evil in this context and cling to what is good?  And not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good?

Well we need a lot more time than this sermon slot to talk about that.

To hate the pain and mess that this causes in so many families every year probably means doing something helpful wherever you can to work against the horrible things. It may mean protesting, signing a petition, donating, writing letters to the authorities to get them to improve mental health care. Two brave people spoke on TV he other morning about their own experience of suicide in the family. That took enormous courage.

I must say we are not good at the petition thing. We tried to get people sign a petition about churches being persecuted – the results weren’t fabulous really.

If you know families who have loved ones who struggle with depression and anxiety, and who have kids at school who are going to face bullying which creates huge stress and anxiety (and that’s where the kids are harming themselves – in the face of school or on-line bulling or both) – give those parents support and talk to each other. Get informed. Get involved. And challenge the schools when they don’ get it right.

Family violence also stirs me up – churns away on the inside. There’s a song we’re going to listen to shortly by one of our own ministers – and the closing song about New Zealand is a prayer for this nation eh also wrote.

Am I so invisible 
That my tears can’t catch your eye? 
Am I so unloveable 
No one out there hears my cry 

I have heard the whispering of hope calling 
That I might mind a hand to hold 
And restore me 

Hey stranger, hey neighbour…
Just hear me, just see me 
Let me know that I am truly worthy 

Would you greet and welcome me 
If you found me at your door 
Would you pray that I’ll be free 
And find a life that’s so much more 

I have heard the whispering of hope calling 
That I might mind a hand to hold 
And restore me 

Hey stranger, hey neighbour… 
Just hear me, just see me 
Let me know that I am truly worthy

credits

released October 2, 2014
Music and lyrics by Malcolm Gordon
Produced by Geoff Duncan

If you think you can do nothing – you’re wrong. You can help overcome evil with good.

It’s not about being indignant. Or saying – “that’s sad”.

It’s about starting with the children in your life. On your doorstep. In the church, here on Sundays. Do you ever talk to them? Your grandchildren and kids – how much time are you really giving to listen and be there with them?

And again – getting informed and equipped as you do when something really matters.

We’re not particularly good with kids really. When we agreed years ago to combine our two morning services into one, one of the reasons was that the adults miss out on seeing the children.

But you know – they are not here for our entertainment. They need relationships with significant adults. That’s what makes messy church such a blessing – because there is time and opportunity to sit with kids and share their lives.

These are big matters. This nation has so much – and people are so desperate.

Prayer remains our best weapon. Come along on Wednesday morning and pray with the group here. And our witness as Christians takes us back to a key verse that I often remind you of: 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

And if you encounter people who need some help and probably can’t afford to pay for counselling, encourage them to get help here where there is no charge. What we can’t do is do nothing.

Let’s close with Malcolm Gordon’s song for this nation. – Beneath the Southern Cross. He writes: “Held and healed, in Christ we find our place”  The song was written to mark 200 years of the Christian Gospel in Aotearoa NZ.

 

lyrics

Beneath the Southern Cross. (By Cate Burton and Malcolm Gordon)

From the ends of the earth we will sing 
God is here, the Kingdom is near 
In the land of the long white cloud 
Christ to dwell, Emmanuel 

From north and south 
From east and west 
Beneath the Southern Cross we rest 
Found by One 
Who came for all 
In this tale of spacious love we’re born 

This whenua 
on which we stand 
This holy ground made by God’s hand
Marred and scarred 
Yet marked by grace 
Held and healed, in Christ we find our place 

From the ends of the earth we will sing 
God is here, the Kingdom is near 
In the land of the long white cloud 
Christ to dwell, Emmanuel 

God of nations 
At thy feet In the bonds of love we meet 
Strangers once 
Now called as one 
Aotearoa, wake to greet this love 

From the ends of the earth we will sing 
God is here, the Kingdom is near 
In the land of the long white cloud 
Christ to dwell, Emmanuel 

From the ends of the earth we will sing 
God is here, the Kingdom is near 
In the land of the long white cloud 
Christ to dwell, Emmanuel 

From north and south 
From east and west 
Beneath the Southern Cross we rest. 
Found by One 
Who came for all 
In this tale of spacious love we’re born

credits

released October 22, 2014
Written by Malcolm Gordon and Catherine Williams (nee Burton)
Produced by Matt Chapman