Monthly Archives: September 2012

Sunday sermon 23 September – Harvest festival celebration

Spring Harvest Festival Sunday

Readings: Genesis 1:24 – 2:3 and 2:15;  2 Corinthians 9:6-15

STORY –  STONE SOUP.

Once upon a time a stranger rode his tired horse down a back country road on his way home from a long journey.   It was late afternoon and the man was tired and hungry.  Ahead he saw a small village.  “I’ll get something to eat there and find a place for the night,” he thought.

Suddenly the horse tripped, throwing the stranger to the ground. As he brushed himself off, he saw that the horse had stumbled over a rock sticking out of the ground in the middle of the road. He walked over to it and dug it out of the earth so that it would not trip anyone else.  It was a splendid rock, almost perfectly round and smooth.  The stranger liked the rock, so rather than throw it away, he put it in his saddle bag, climbed up on his horse, and continued into the village.

As he road past the first houses the village people stopped their to stare.  He waved to several of them, but no one waved back.  He got off his horse and approached a woman standing in front of a small house.  “Good evening,” he said cheerfully, “Could you spare a bit of food for a hungry man?”

The woman began shaking her head almost before he had finished his sentence.  “We have had a poor harvest here.  We are very worried that there is barely enough food for our family.  I am sorry.”  And she walked into her house and shut the door.

The man continued to the next house where a farmer was working on his wagon.  “Do you have a place at your table for a hungry traveller?” he asked.

“It didn’t rain during the last month before harvest,” the farmer said. “What little we have is needed for our children.”

At every home the stranger heard the same sad story:  The harvest had been poor, there was not enough food to make it through the winter.  Everyone was very worried about themselves and their immediate family.

Completely discouraged and very hungry the man sat down under a tree in the village square.  “Poor people,”: he thought,  “in a few weeks they will be as hungry as I am.”  Suddenly an idea hit him.  He reached into his saddle bag, took out the stone and addressed the villagers.  “Gentle folk of the village”, he shouted, “Your worries are over.  I have in my hand a special stone that will help take you through the long winter.  This is a magic stone.  With it you can make stone soup.”

Stone soup?” an old man repeated.  “I have never heard of stone soup.”

“The wonder of stone soup,” the stranger continued, “is that it not only feeds hungry people, it also brings people together.  Now who has a large empty pot?”

Quickly a huge iron pot was found, and delivered to the stranger in a wheel barrow.  “The kettle is barely large enough, but it will do,” the stranger said.  “Now we must fill the pot with water and start a fire.”

Eager hands carried buckets of water and firewood.  Soon the pot was placed over a roaring fire.  As the water began to boil the stranger dramatically raised the magic stone above his head, and then he gently placed it in the kettle.

“Stone soup needs salt and pepper,” the stranger announced.

Two children ran to find salt and pepper.  After the water had boiled for few minutes the stranger sipped the brew.  “This stone makes an excellent soup, but it would be better if we had a few carrots.”

“We have a few carrots that we’re willing to share,” a farmer replied.  Immediately his daughter ran home and returned with an apron full of carrots.

“It’s too bad the harvest was so bad,” said the stranger.  “Stone soup is always much more tasty when we add a cabbage or two.”

“I think I know where to find a cabbage,” a young mother shouted as she dashed towards her home.  When she returned she was carrying three large cabbages.

The stranger was busy slicing carrots and cabbages with his hunting knife.  “The last time I made stone soup was at the castle of a rich man.  He added a few potatoes and a bit of beef.”

Several people talked quietly, “A bit of beef and we can eat like rich people”, they whispered.  They went home and soon returned not only with beef and potatoes, but some brought milk, onions and barley too.

By the time the soup was ready it was almost dark.  It was the most delicious soup that they had ever smelled and to think, it all came from the magic stone.  The stranger finally declared that it was done and invited everyone to have as much as they could eat.

After everyone had eaten their fill, some folk brought out their fiddles.  Everyone began to sing and dance  and they continued till the wee hours of the morning.  Never had the village people had such a wonderful party.

The next morning the whole village gathered to say goodbye to the stranger.  As he mounted his horse a small child called out, “You forgot to take your magic stone!”

The stranger smiled.  “I am going to leave the stone with you as gift of gratitude for your hospitality,” he said.  “Remember, as long as you make stone soup, you will never have to worry about being hungry.”

As he rode off a grandfather put his arm around the shoulders of his young granddaughter and said, “Do you remember the other bit of magic that the stranger promised when you make stone soup?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said, “the stone brings people closer together.”

MESSAGE

Today we live in a time and place where so many of us have so much more stuff than we need, while there are so many who do not even have enough to eat.

Our view of life is different as Christians – however. We’re not locked into a self-focussed model.

So here are some of the things we can reflect on today and apply in our lives.

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1.      CELEBRATE VARIETY AND BEAUTY  

  • Creation is at the heart of our faith

We see the world not as a product of chance in the dice bowl of the universe – but as a gift from God that he made for us. Genesis 1:31 reminds us that “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good”.

Celebrating in the way that we are today – with the colours of the paintings and the flowers – the variety of the fruit and veges – the foods that we often take for granted – we are saying  “this is God’s gift that he made for us”. It’s worth celebrating!

  • It’s also NOT NEGOTIABLE as a part of our faith.

The whole of the Bible takes this created order for granted. And remember that we believe that Jesus was part of that process – remember John 1 speaking of Jesus: Joh 1:2  He was with God in the beginning.

Joh 1:3  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

  • This is A CHALLENGE AT SCHOOL

and in our other places of learning – where the idea of Creationism is scorned and ridiculed. We need to support our children who face this kind of onslaught – we need to be more informed on how the Bible and Science can fit together in our faith journey.

Today we celebrate the variety and beauty of God’s gifts.

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2.      We CELEBRATE HUMANKIND’S PRE-EMINENCE in creation   

  • ADAM – from ADAMAH

Our call to worship (Sunday 2) was from Psalm 8 – which is a musical and liturgical version of Genesis. Listen again:

Psa 8:3  When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,

Psa 8:4  what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?

Psa 8:5  You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.

Psa 8:6  You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet:

The Genesis version says this: Gen 1:26  Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea    and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

            Gen 1:27  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created  him; male and female he created them.

            Gen 1:28  God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

“man” here is the generic term ADAM for mankind – made in the image and  likeness of God the Trinity (Then  God said – Let us make man – ויאמר אלהים נעשׂה אדם )  Any guesses what ADAMAH is?  Yes – the ground or the earth. Soil. In  Genesis 2  and 3 a different word is used – DUST – hence “from dust to dust”.

How amazing that we are creatures too – from the soil or dust, and we are

  •  MADE IN THE IMAGE AND LIKENESS OF GOD.

This is the subject of a whole sermon one day – what that image and likeness are, and how the fall of mankind causes the image of God in man to be marred (if you are Catholic – still recognisable) or totally shattered (if you are a good Presbyterian believing in the depravity of mankind after sin entered the world).  One can understand how people can see both – the creative gifts we have, for example, are a reflection of God’s creativity. But the terrible evil and wickedness of mankind – such godlessness and violence – reflect His separation from God.

More importantly – we are

  • STEWARDS of this creation.

Mankind is given the task to pro-create (how nice that the first command given is to have babies) – and have dominion over the earth – to rule:

 Gen 1:28  God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

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3.      WE ARE ALSO TO UN-CELEBRATE OUR FAILURES

Our repentance each week should be more than just our remorse and sorrow over the terrible things we do to each other in the world – it INCLUDES –our disobedience to this command – the mandate to care for the world. Dominion does not mean wanton destruction – or neglect – or indifference. We should repent for our

  • ABUSE OF CREATION 
  • ABUSE OF CREATURES   (people and all others in the created order including all resources which are gifts from God
  • ABUSING POWER – generally.

I think you get the point. And this is more than individual accountability – it includes corporate and national sin. It doesn’t make us all Green. Or political activists. It does mean we have to speak up – speak out – and be better examples of those who see the world as theirs by right to waste and abuse.

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4.      A NEW COMMUNITY 

In our celebration today we also need to reflect on how we can be different as a community

  • The “Stone Soup” story speaks of a generosity that is contagious and that negates fear.

The sharing of our common resources is not just magical in that it feels good. It makes common sense. We could be called “the church of the common pot” if you like.

Yesterday the people that gathered here were quickly able to produce something together when they all came and shared their efforts and gifts. How different it felt than many other days when a few of us try to make something look better or different.

It’s called teamwork. And we need more of that in the church. Sometimes we’re a bit like a cart with all the oxen pulling in different directions.

The food in the pot in our STONE SOUP story was described like this:  “It was the most delicious soup that they had ever smelled and to think, it all came from the magic stone.”

And of course there was song and dance afterwards – not the kind of song and dance you get when people can’t agree on things and are all pressing for their own menu or agenda.

That’s just a story. The reality of what Jesus did and who He is for us joins us together in a greater bond and more powerful hope!

  • Generosity is the norm 

in Christian communities. And sometimes it takes bold acts to overcome fear. And I think that many people take those risks – giving more than they can afford.

Some of us are still learning to go this. We are not yet sharing our lives and our stories. It’s risky. But when you put your bit into the pot – the community is richer for it.

  • The Early Church’s model of sharing 

is a healthy reminder of this pattern. Do you remember this verse from Acts?

Act 2:44  All the believers were together and had everything in common.

Act 2:45  Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need

Act 4:32  All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.

Act 4:33  With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all.

Act 4:34  There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 

No need to say any more really.

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5.      SPIRITUAL HARVEST

One other angle on this. The harvest metaphor or picture is in the Bible also refers to a different kind of investment.

We celebrate variety and beauty today – we celebrate humankind’s pre-eminence over creation as a Steward caring for the world on God’s behalf – we un-celebrate our failures and commit ourselves to be a new community of generosity and then we have this reminder from our New Testament reading:

  • Sowing And Reaping 

2Co 9:6  Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.

We act out our faith each week in our giving – because as stewards of all this we know from Scripture that we are NOT owners. Remember Psalm 24:1-2?

The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; Psa 24:2  for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters.

Paul goes on to say to the Corinthians: 2Co 9:10  Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness.

I am still trying to figure this one out. I think that it is about God’s blessing on our generosity.

Many years ago at a National conference of ministers in Southern Africa we had a most wonderful guest speaker from Japan. I will never forget his talk about the nature of God.

“We don’t serve a stingy God!” What a generous God we worship! Even the word “grace” means “gift”.

  • The Best Investment

Then investment is not about the highest rate of interest for me – but the benefit of my giving for others!  To the glory of God! Does he not delight when we are like Him? Generous and giving people?

We invest in things that have eternal consequences as well!

  • And The Ultimate Harvest is about what matters to Him.

 Not just the care of his creation – but the salvation of the people He made! The bible’s use of “harvest” is also about those who belong to God! Did Jesus not also say:

(Mat 9:36  When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.)

Mat 9:37  Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.

Mat 9:38  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

That’s for another day! It does put all this in context – and reinforces the clear pattern of generosity and investment in the needs of others in a practical sense and ALSO the important matter of their salvation.

And so – in response to all this – we are filled with and should be characterised by –

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6.      GRATITUDE AND THANKSGIVING

  • The Hallmark of the Christian 

is gratitude and a sense of being gifted! Life is valued in a richer way – as is creation.

  • We Need An Infectious Attitude – of Gratitude and Thanksgiving. 

Too often we are like the nine lepers who don’t even think to stop and be grateful for   God’s blessings.  Perhaps we need to appreciate that what we have is simply an  opportunity to share, to be brought closer together and to give thanks for all of God’s grace in providing what we need. May we become his alternative generous community. And as we do this becomes

  • A Good Talking Point

This is why we are different! It creates opportunity to share our story about Jesus and the different he makes in our view of life and how we treat the world!

It’s part of our witness! It means you don’t have to only ask people what will happen to them when they die! You can ask them how they are living now – and share your story!

Amen.

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Sunday sermon 16 September – Sacrifice

Readings: Romans 12:1-2;  Mark 8:27-38

MAKING SACRIFICES – who you are determines what you live for

Rom 12:1  So then, my friends, because of God’s great mercy to us I appeal to you: Offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him. This is the true worship that you should offer.

Rom 12:2  Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God—what is good and is pleasing to him and is perfect.

Mar 8:27  Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”

Mar 8:28  They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”

Mar 8:29  “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ.”

Mar 8:30  Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

Mar 8:31  He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.

Mar 8:32  He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

Mar 8:33  But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”

Mar 8:34  Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

Mar 8:35  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.

Mar 8:36  What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?

Mar 8:37  Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?

Mar 8:38  If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

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SERMON

Story of the chicken and the pig.

A chicken and a pig were best of friends. One day, they were looking at a newspaper and read about an orphanage not too far from them that needed food.  The chicken said, “Brother Pig, why don’t we go down to the orphanage and make a donation of food? We could donate a ham and egg breakfast.” But the Pig replied, “Wait a minute, Sister Chicken!  For you, that’s   just a contribution, but for me, it’s a total commitment!  It’s laying down my life.”

Okay. Jokes are meant to make us laugh.

The trouble is that being a disciple of Jesus is no laughing matter. It’s the most adventurous and challenging option we have.

It wasn’t long before the disciples faced this strange anomaly. This Messiah – this anointed one – was not going to be Mr Famous or Dr Success.

The moment his identity is clarified, Jesus’ destiny is sealed. To put it more formally –

Christology (who Jesus was and what he was meant to do and achieve) and

Discipleship (what it means to follow him) are integrated – are two sides of the same coin. If Messiah Jesus is a sacrifice – the followers are to be like Him too.

And so – “Who do people say I am?” is followed immediately by “Get behind me, Satan!”

Why? Because like Peter – we are most likely to try to make Jesus work for our agenda rather than follow His plan or His lifestyle.

Listen again to verse 33:  ‘… he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”’
It could be that many are following a Jesus of their own making!

WE LIVE IN CRITICAL TIMES

We live in critical times. The issues that get people excited – the debate about gay marriage, about euthanasia, about who owns the wind – and about the general mess of the world (ambassadors getting killed and riots about Anti-Muslim movies and the general conflict points that concern us) all sit under one bigger question.

It’s Jesus saying to us (and the world)”Who do people say I am?

And verse 29 follows – when he asks his disciples directly:

“Who do you say I am?” – That question flies down the ages to us. To me and to you. Now. Today!

When you answer this right – you are the Christ who will suffer and die – then within a few milliseconds this follows:

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. (v34)

This is not a tourist industry – where we take people on nostalgic journeys to the Promised Land.

This is a place where we want to help people “find and follow Jesus” and to do that you need a loving supportive community – because it’s a tough journey.

BATTLE OF BRITAIN SUNDAY

Today is Battle of Britain Sunday. It means nothing to this generation. But there is a wealth of wisdom in any study of the sacrifices people made in war – and particularly those who stopped the German Air Force from opening the door to an invasion across the channel.

Listen to this quote:

Many people are unaware that Winston Churchill altered his famous speech on the way to the Commons, following the Battle of Britain in August 1941. It would have read “Never in the history of mankind have so many owed so much to so few”. But in the car leaving RAF Uxbridge, General Ismay commented “What about Jesus and his disciples?” From that reflection the speech turned out to be, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” (From a sermon by Canon Michael St.John-Channell, on Sunday 18th September 2011, Winchester Cathedral.)

“What about Jesus and his disciples?” is a question that has to go beyond the early followers to us.

They didn’t like the idea of sacrifice. Neither do we. Peter can be forgiven for resisting the idea that Jesus would die.

I have yet to meet families and friends who welcome the suggestion of a risky sacrificial death by anyone they love. Look at the sacrifice of our soldiers in Afghanistan. We send them there – and when they die in battle the questions come flying in – what’s the point of this? It’s tough!

If you want to understand the courage of men and women who have sacrificed for others – apart from war – look at the history of mission – those who took the gospel to others – from the early disciples most of whom like Jesus were killed for their efforts – through the ages – to Christians today who are being martyred for their faith.

And on a broader front – with the anniversary of 9/11, think of those who have sacrificed their lives to rescue others. The Christchurch earthquakes give us more current and closer-to-home examples, where amazing risks were taken to rescue others.

And then many of you who have given up so much for family, children, grandchildren and friends over years.

And then those who humbly serve behind the scenes – it’s all sacrificial. It’s all Jesus’ way. His whole life he was simple “a man for others”. re you? Or are you obsessed with your needs, your will and your wants?

I CANNOT GIVE YOU A MAGIC FORMULA

The modern church is heretical when it tries to give magic formulae – and people feed on that heresy when they want the church to be a kind of LIFE COACH Organization helping people to be successful.

We ARE NOT called to success. We are called to obedience. To faithfulness. To follow a sacrificial Jesus.

When people could not do that – could not really follow Jesus – they turned away.

And he never ran after them. He simply kept on loving and teaching those who hung around.

ANOTHER JOKE TO WHICH YOU CAN LAUGH – REALLY – to ease the tension of a serious topic today.

There were 11 people hanging onto a rope dangling from a helicopter.

Ten were men and one was a woman. They all decided that one person should get off because if someone didn’t, the rope would break and everyone would die.

No one could decide who would go, so finally the woman gave a really touching speech, saying she would give up her life to save the others, because women were used to sacrifice for their husbands and children, giving to men, and not receiving anything in return. When she finished speaking all the men applauded. 😦

More seriously – following Jesus is about taking risks and not wanting recognition.

BUT THE RECOGNITION OF GETTING IT RIGHT OR WRONG COMES:

Listen to the last few  sobering verses of the Gospel reading:

Mar 8:38  If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

And of course there is Paul’s insight into this in 2 Timothy 2:

2Ti 2:11  Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him;

2Ti 2:12  if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us;

Paul of course also says in Romans 12:

Rom 12:1  So then, my friends, because of God’s great mercy to us I appeal to you: Offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him. This is the true worship that you should offer.

We are called to be living sacrifices holy and pleasing to God.

In the story of Jesus, sacrifice is a central theme. He’s no martyr dying for a cause. He is the final sacrifice in a sacrificial system – receiving the punishment for the sins of the world. It is justice at work – and at the same time God showing the world that he feels the pain of all those who suffer and are unfairly accused.

We celebrate this at the Lord’s supper today.

We are called to follow Jesus and be like him. To live like Him. To die to self.

Not to die for our sins. He did that. But to live for God – and for others – as living sacrifices.

Do we live sacrificial lives?  The natural consequence of sacrificial living and service is always gratitude.

Are other people filled with gratitude because of us?

John Calvin said gratitude was at the center of the Christian life. G. K. Chesterton called it “the mother of all virtues.”

If we are really followers of Jesus – we too will be defined by the right answer to the question “Who do you say that I am?” Our identity and our destiny will also be sealed on this road to sacrifice. The moment we say he is the Christ – and that we are followers of the Christ – we follow in his footsteps to the cross.

We deny self.   We live for others.

Amen.

I was not the preacher on Sunday. I thought you may like to read something from a while back on prayer.

Robin Palmer's space

PRAYERS OF GREAT PEOPLE

Daniel 2:1-23; Psalm 63; Acts 4: 25-29

How do you cope with struggles and disappointments in life? O so you don’t have any?

Well David – that young man chosen by the Lord through Samuel to be King – he had plenty. God chose him because of his heart – but it wasn’t one of those Valentine Day’s hearts – all perfect and shaped. It had many problems. And not everyone followed David. Even Absolom his Son tried to overthrow him.

Psalm 63 portrays David – not on the throne – or valiantly chopping Goliath’s head off – but in the desert. We are told he was in the desert just after that Absolom incident – where trust and confidence had been broken.

David teaches us the meaning of drawing aside to restore that passion for life and God that we so easily lose when disappointed…

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