Monthly Archives: November 2012
Christ the King.
Readings: Daniel 7:9-10, 13-134; Phil 2:8-15; John 18:33-37; Rev 1:4-8
I read an account this week of a Canadian lady who lives in two worlds, so to speak. Not heaven and earth – but in two countries. Her name is Cecille and she visits the United States dozens of times a day – when she makes tea, for example, or goes to the backdoor or the fridge. She reads and sleeps in Canada though. And she eats in Canada – because she sits at the north end of her dining room table.
The reason? Her house was already there in 1842 when politicians decided in London where the official boundary line would be. A citizen of Canada, she spends a lot of her time in another country while staying in the same place. Sound familiar to you?
It’s a great story and a kind of a parable of the Christian life for us.
Paul tells us in Philippians (not read today):
Php 3:18 For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.
Php 3:19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things.
Php 3:20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ,
Php 3:21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
Citizenship in heaven. And yet we live totally absorbed with the things of this world. And when Jesus’ ministry got going He preached about the Kingdom coming! In their midst!
We live in two Kingdoms.
Today’s Gospel reading
In the Gospel reading today Pilate and Jesus are talking about Jesus as King but they are talking about different Kingdoms.
It’s a fascinating conversation that John records for us. Listen again.
Joh 18:33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
Joh 18:34 “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”
Joh 18:35 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”
Joh 18:36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
Joh 18:37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
Pilate would have no issue with the idea of Jesus as King of the Jews. A bit bizarre, that’s all. Not a threat. He’s just a bible teacher from a small town.
Pilate is a pragmatic politician. He tries to figure this out and therefore asks a great question:
“What is it you have done?”
Of course this doesn’t really help him, because Jesus’ answer is couched in language and concepts of the other world – another reality – the other “Kingdom” to which he belongs:
Joh 18:36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
That is troublesome really for Pilate. He can only respond with “You are a king, then!” One can only imagine what he was thinking. You are a king -or not. What on earth are you talking about?
Jesus makes it as clear as he can for this Roman: He answers: “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
I had this great discussion this week with one of our elders about a verse in Matthew which goes like this:
Mat 7:6 “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. (If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.)
Well maybe this is an example of a tremendous truth that simply goes over someone’s head – because they’re not there. There is no way Pilate was going to understand the truth of Jesus and his Kingdom.
We live in these two worlds then. And what people believe about Jesus (in the Christian family) swings between these two worlds in a sense. There are those who believe that it is our job to make Jesus Lord and King of this world – so they fight for truth and justice.
And they are right in a sense – even if they become nutter activists. They plunge into the affairs of this world – or worse still spend all their time debating the affairs of this world – the politicians, the political parties, the social issues of poverty and corruption. Some just talk about the stuff all the time – using the social media or any opportunity to debate causes. They don’t always get involved of course.
One can’t dispute the fact that God calls people to be social reformers. The William Wilberforces of this world are a gift to all – it was he who spent his whole life fighting slavery. Watch “Amazing Grace” sometime and you will get what I mean.
And then on the opposite extreme there are those who spend all their energy and time focussing on spiritual matters – the Kingdom of God and its benefits for us as Christians – with equally unbalanced ways of doing things that are so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly good.
BOTH ARE REAL AND NECESSARY
Both worlds are real and necessary. Don’t we pray each week” Your Kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”?
If our Canadian lady who lives in her house which straddles a national border were to spend all her time at the backdoor or at the fridge (in America), she would not get to sleep at all (which she does in Canada).
It is a pretty strange kind of way to live, but Christians are a peculiar lot anyway. The old KJV calls us a “peculiar people” which is rather nice. (1 Peter 2:9 – meaning his own possession).
We can’t retreat permanently from the world and spend our time “in church” gazing upwards and enjoying being with the Lord all the time. Not normally at any rate (although God does call some people to a permanent retreat at times).
We do need to look past the obvious and life and stare into the eternal – we need to be in relationship with Jesus our King because he is not only the one who gives us our orders, but he is the one who empowers us and gives us all we need to be his people in the world. And he calls us to get involved in the world of pain, suffering, hunger, disease and heartache.
Likewise we can’t spend all our time in the struggles of this world, as that too would mean half the job done. We are to be there with a purpose – and point people to the other Kingdom – to the King who in the most amazing way defines everything that makes sense about Kingship. A Christian who doesn’t point people to Jesus and the gospel becomes a political or social activist and no longer a servant of the Kingdom of God.
WHAT MAKES A GOOD KING?
Since Prince Charles came to visit with his old friend and now wife Camilla, the debate about royalty has started up here again.
And the basic question is this – “what makes for a good king?” What kind of King would this be?
In fact the whole trial and crucifixion is about this issue. Even from his birth it was clear that Jesus was to be a king:
- Mat_2:2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” The wise men present him gold – fit for a king – as one of his gifts.
- Early on he is identified in this way: Joh_1:49 Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.”
- Then they tried to make him king here – when he fed the 5000 with a boy’s lunch (potential to solve world food shortages!): Joh_6:15 Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.
- And of course about Palm Sunday when he road into Jerusalem – John quotes the Old Testament: Joh_12:15 “Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.” (Quoting Zechariah 9:9)
THE TRIAL AND CRUCIFIXION
- And as the trial progresses we hear Pilate saying: Joh_18:39 But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?”
- And then the soldiers: Joh_19:3 and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they struck him in the face.
- And the story continues: Joh_19:12 From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jews kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.”
- Joh_19:14 It was the day of Preparation of Passover Week, about the sixth hour. “Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews.
- Joh_19:15 But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!” “Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked. “We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.
Joh_19:19 Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS.
The question is – what kind of King?
In his human life – a servant king – touching the untouchables, restoring the broken, dying on a tree for our sins.
In his RESURRECTION raised in glorious splendour – the one who is to be worshipped as Lord, the one before whom every knee shall bow.
There is Jesus the human and Jesus the Divine. And His Kingdom had its effect on those around him as the future broke into the present – the sick were healed, the dead raised, and demons – evil spirits – defeated.
We live in between the then and the not yet – our now is a battle as we try to resist the devil who wants to suck us back into his kingdom of darkness.
Peter –who tells us to resist the devil – also writes this (which we have referred to already in regard to the word “peculiar”):
1Pe_2:9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
KINGDOM CHOICES AND CALLING
Let’s not be duped into thinking that this is just a question of choosing to be nice rather than unpleasant. Sometimes we reduce the Christian journey to a matter of ethical choices – like those who make Jesus a good teacher and no more.
This is war. The darkness and the light are at war with each other.
The truth prevails. As it will in every human conflict. Those who try to manipulate the truth will be exposed.
WHICH BRINGS US BACK TO PILATE IN TODAY’S READING
Pilate tried to crucify the Truth!
Putting a crown of thorns on Jesus and a mocking sign “The King of the Jews” would not change that. And in a fascinating twist Pilate was in fact announcing the truth about Jesus.
- Pilate embodies the opposite of Jesus’ Kingdom. He controls and keeps the peace so that he will keep control and therefore keep his job. He lords it over people. He kills Jesus.
- Jesus on the other hand empowers others and washes the feet of those he leads.
- Pilate’s rule brings terror, even in the midst of calm.
- Jesus’ rule brings peace, even in the midst of terror.
- Pilate’s power comes from Caesar and is temporary.
- Jesus’ authority comes from God and is eternal.
And from the cross Jesus is the suffering servant in the complete sense. Forgiving them. And even caring for them by creating a new community – when he appoints John as Mary’s son and Mary as John’s mother, this is more than just a family and friend thing. It’s a whole new community of love that is greater than family ties, gender, race and earthly citizenship. It’s the church that is being born – God’s family on earth – and the people who are showing forth the Kingdom.
So this is “Christ the King” Sunday.
All this information about Jesus and what he did to achieve our salvation and freedom is known to us. Paul reminds us that as a result of his death, he is exalted as Lord of all. Listen again:
Php 2:8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!
Php 2:9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,
Php 2:10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
Php 2:11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
And so much in the New Testament is shaped by this passage from Daniel 7:
Dan 7:9 “As I looked, “thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze.
Dan 7:10 A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him. Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. The court was seated, and the books were opened.
Dan 7:13 “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence.
Dan 7:14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.
IS HE YOUR KING?
The bottom line is this: Is He our King? Or do we serve others? Are we really passionate about His Kingdom? It influences who we are and everything we do. Listen again to John in Revelation 1:5-6:
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.
THE KINGDOM IS ALL ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS
One commentator puts it this way:
We are made a kingdom (RSV). John gives us here a fascinating insight into the kingdom theology of the New Testament. The kingdom of God is not seen in the New Testament in territorial terms, but rather in relationship terms. “It is the Kingly Reign of Jesus Christ” (Bonhoeffer).
Ordinary and garden-variety people who receive the love and freedom from Christ are the ones who, as we are willing to become Christ’s servants (Rev_1:1), thereby become His very kingdom in the world.
The apostle John continues: Rev 1:7 Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen.
Rev 1:8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”
Those who don’t believe will see eventually. In the meantime we live to praise His name and to proclaim His Kingdom – living it out in community here in this place.
May this truth be real for us today.
Readings: 1 Corinthians 5:6-8; 1 Corinthians 10:11-17; Luke 22:14-20
Our Passover Lamb
I wonder if you know who first identified Jesus as the solution for our sins? It was John the Baptist – his cousin. It was John who pointed to Jesus when he came for baptism at the Jordan: “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)
So when it comes to the Christian Lord’s Supper, here are some thoughts today:
1. It replaces the Passover Feast.
Do you remember the Passover – how God spared the Israelites in Egypt – the angel of death passed over and struck down all the first born in the land – but the Israelites sacrificed a lamb and its blood was painted above the door.
The blood was a sign of their belonging to the Lord – as people of the Covenant. It was a sign of obedience.
Jesus is our Passover lamb – the final sacrifice for our sins. And the blood of Jesus applies to our lives. The apostle John reminds us:
1Jn_1:7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
Paul when writing to the Corinthians and dealing with some messy sexual sins writes this:
1Co 5:7 Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast ‑ as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.
1Co 5:8 Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth.
Jesus is the lamb of God – the final sacrifice for the world – his blood is also painted on the door of our lives.
2. The bread matters.
I found some answers from children in a Sunday School Quiz:
1. In the first book of the Bible, Guinessis, God got tired of creating the world, so he took the Sabbath off.
2. Samson slayed the Philistines with the axe of the Apostles.
3. Moses led Hebrews to the Red Sea, where they made unleavened bread which is bread without any ingredients.
The bread matters. Not that we use unleavened bread at Communion.. Presbyterians use ordinary bread.
We ourselves are to be unleavened bread. Bread without leaven – without the yeast. It’s about purification of ourselves. We are to become a new community – based on sincerity and truth. Look at verse 6 again: 1Co 5:6 … Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough? We are to get rid of the old yeast. Our sins that lurk at the door if you like.
In verse 2 of this passage Paul talks about their pride and in verse 6 their boasting. In the church there had been sexual sin – and they seemed oblivious of it. And he gives them the mechanism to discipline the person involved.
It’s the yeast that interests me. Paul was Jewish and would have been faithful to the Passover tradition.
At Passover only unleavened bread was used. The leaven or yeast became a symbol and reminder of how just something very small can spread throughout the whole loaf.
In New Testament times families looked for the leaven – חמץ (Chametz – meaning fermentation) by candlelight and it was gathered together and burned on the Passover eve by the full contingent of priests (24 divisions instead of the usual one).
As the Jews celebrated the Passover Supper through the years, they did several things. One of them being that the wife of the house hold would take a broom and candle and carefully examine the house to be sure the house was rid of “leaven”.
So when they went looking for leaven – they were really talking about purification – getting rid of things that had the effect of spreading like a cancer.
And that’s what happens in Church. One or two people’s attitudes and words can be very damaging.
It’s common in the Christian tradition to reflect on one’s life before communion – to get rid of sin because it is so very harmful to the Church and to us as individuals. We usually quote Paul in the same letter: 1Co 11:27 Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 1Co 11:28 A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.
People usually interpret these verses in terms of our understanding or lack of understanding of the meaning of communion or the Lord’s Supper. That we should not take it lightly. Paul does indeed give a serious warning here: 1Co 11:29 For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.
We should be respectful and thoughtful at this table. And the warning to the Corinthians was there because they got drunk. In fact it would be easier to sort out if people did in fact get drunk on too much communion wine. It would be an obvious public sin. Today’s passage is about things that go deeper than the obvious.
One last time then: Listen to Paul. 1Co 5:7 Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. (1Co 5:8 Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth.)
The bread matters. Tt is to be bread of sincerity and truth. That builds real community. When you get past the phony – you get to the real.
The problem with sin is that often because it is secretive we think no one will ever know. But eventually it comes out. It’s best to confess it – and the blood of the lamb will have its result: 1Jn_1:7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
In fact James in his Epistle says this: Jas 5:16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.
As we sit quietly today let us reflect on our lives.
- Is there something which – like yeast – has infiltrated your life and has caused grief and sin?
- Is there something that has infected others because you have shared that yeast?
- Should you make right?
- At least confess your sins to God today that you may move forward.
Listen to John’s words again: “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
And Paul’s: 1Co 5:7 Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.
Yes, God Cares About Your Relationships
Preacher: Lester Simpson
John 13:1, 12-17, 34-35, 1 Corinthians 13:1-7, Philippians 2:1-5,
According to one story about Adam & Eve, after the honeymoon was over a bit of friction crept into their marriage, and Adam went to God and said:
“Lord, this woman you gave me, she’s very beautiful and all that, but she has some irritating habits that are driving me crazy. Could you take her back, please?”
God agreed, and Adam reverted to the single life. But within two or three weeks the loneliness got to him, and he asked God to bring Eve back.
God complied, and Adam & Eve settled down to married life again.
But after a few weeks Adam returned to God complaining, ‘Lord, this woman is so frustrating. She talks all the time, and wants me to do this and do that. I’d rather be without her.”
And God fulfilled his wish.
But after a week or two of silence, Adam missed Eve so much he asked God to restore her.
This happened several times until finally God said to Adam, “The trouble with you, Adam, is that you can’t live with Eve, and you can’t live without her!”
And that’s the way it’s been ever since!
Relationships – something we can’t avoid unless we go and live on a desert island all alone.
All too often human relationships are brittle and broken, e.g.:
– one in every 3 or 4 marriages ends in divorce, leaving behind a trail of scars, hurts, confusion and broken dreams.
– even within the family, relationships can be difficult. Try living with teenagers!
– what about adult brothers and sisters who haven’t spoken in years?
– to say nothing about those awkward neighbours and the people at work who are hard to get on with.
Henri Nouwen said this: “The main source of suffering in North America has to do with relationships.’
When life is full of anger, hurts, differences and blow-outs, it becomes wearying, negative and depressing – causing us to ask:
Does God care about my situation,
my mediocre existence,
my struggle to hold things together?
Yes! God does care about our relationships. He made us to live in relationship – with Himself and with others.
He made us to love and be loved.
How important are relationships? They are:
- Creation’s goal – we’re made in the image of the Triune God, to relate to Him
- God’s priority – first four commandments are about our relationship to God, and the next six about our relationship to others
- Christ’s passion- “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another as I have loved you”.
- The Apostles’ concern – 30% of the NT letters deal with relationships
This importance is underlined by the frequency in the NT of words like “together” and “one another”.
God shows relationships matter by the fact that the Bible contains so much teaching in this area – from Cain’s rhetorical question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” through to John’s letters:
“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.”
The Bible is not the only place you can find teaching on relationships. There is a plethora of teaching available in books, workshops, counselling sessions and online sources.
Much is sound and good,
but the basic principles are there in the Scriptures, in the Word of God.
We are wise to test all techniques, approaches and methods by the Word of God.
Let me suggest three Basic Principles for Building and Maintaining Stable and Healthy Relationships:
i.e. how to love other people, whether the love is in marriage or in friendship or neighbourly relations:
1. Recognise that to Love is to be Vulnerable:
CS Lewis: “The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and agitation of love is Hell.”
Life involves us in hurting and being hurt.
Once we accept this as true/realistic, we can use our energies learning how to deal with it, rather than trying to avoid it or deny it.
Brian Hathaway wrote this: “The true mark of a Christian community is not the absence of conflict, but the presence of reconciliation.”
No one likes being hurt, and one of the greatest fears in any relationship is the fear of being rejected.
Think of the way a couple at a certain point in their relationship start to hide feelings and information from each other, because they’re afraid it might sabotage their relationship.
But without risking knowing and being known, we cannot build close relationships.
Keith Miller describes in his writings how he struggled with this, and how as he grew in his trust in God and God’s continuing love for him, it helped him to open up and build close relationships.
The other side of the hurting process is forgiveness, forgiving the other person who has hurt us.
To refuse to forgive is to imprison ourselves behind a wall of resentment.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean brushing off the hurt as if it didn’t matter (which is a form of denial) or pretending we can just forget it,
but going to the other person,
speaking the truth in love,
expressing how we feel,
and showing forgiveness.
We read in Proverbs 27:5-6 “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.”
To love is to be vulnerable – just as God, in loving the world through Jesus became vulnerable to the world’s rejection and hatred.
2. Love with Self-Giving Love, Not Acquisitive Love:
i.e. love that seeks to give, rather than to get.
When Paul appealed to the Philippian church to adopt the same attitude as Christ, it was in the context of dealing with (note this) strained relationships:
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition…Look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Have the same attitude as Christ, who although He was God, did not cling to his prerogatives, or claim His rights, but gave up His heavenly glory, and became a servant… going even to the cross” (Phil. 2:3-5)
Self-giving love is servant love, e.g. Jesus washing his disciples’ feet.
Cf. the Servant Song: “Brother, sister let me serve you, let me be as Christ to you.”
In 1 Corinthians 13:4-5 we read: “Love is patient, love is kind, it does not envy, does not boast, is not proud, or rude, or self-seeking”
(Or in JB Phillips’ translation: “Love does not insist on having its own way”)
The love that builds relationships is not expressed in claiming rights or insisting on its own way, but in mutual submission. (See Ephes. 5:21)
Jonathan & David provide a model of self-giving love in their friendship.
Jonathan honoured David above self, he risked his reputation for David, and was faithful to him, no matter the cost.
That cost was considerable – because supporting David meant that David would become king, not Jonathan.
3. Don’t Retaliate:
Peter, in counselling his 1st century readers how to cope with persecution and suffering, reminds them of the example left by Jesus:
“When they hurled their insults at Him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly.” (1 Peter 2:23)
As in the Golden Rule – Jesus practised what he preached, He exemplified what he taught.
The source of this kind of love is God.
1 John 4:7 “Friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God”
If you’ve read “The Shack” (W. Paul Young), you’ll recall there are some wonderful passages about the love of Father, Son and Spirit who dwell in a circle of love and mutual submission in the Godhead. At one point Papa tells Mack they want him to join their circle of love.
God’s love is giving, not manipulative (“God so loved the world that He gave His only Son…”),
constant , not fickle (i.e. covenant love)
In an age when commitment is at a low premium, we need to focus on covenant love, love which is the expression of commitment and loyalty.
That’s the only foundation for the right kind of love, for enduring relationships.
The greatest chapter on love in the Bible is 1 Corinthians 13.
Someone doing a study on this said afterwards they felt like giving up, because the study asked lots of questions that only served to drive home how much the person had failed.
Pity, because the purpose of God’s Word is not to put us down, but to lead us to Him, to experience His forgiving, affirming, liberating love, and to enable us in turn to love others.
Yes, God’s Word does convict us of our failures, for we can’t follow Christ in our own strength. But as we yield our lives more and more to Him, His Spirit will change us into His likeness and we will manifest his love in our relationships.
Readings: Ephesians 4:1-3, 29-32; John 17:20-21; Acts 2:44-47; 1 Cor 12:12, 26-27
One another (or: the glue for true community)
We’ve looked at forgiveness in the last little while. How are we doing with our forgiveness? In our home group this week we were faced with the challenge of one of the hard sayings of Jesus – the consequences of not forgiving are quite severe really.
And last week we talked a bit about the saints – God’s holy people – called out to be His and by implication to be different.
Where does this all happen?
God’s main desire for us is that these things – forgiveness and transformed lives – happen in COMMUNITY.
Community means being together with people that we have things IN COMMON WITH. It’s a close relationship – a building together.
It’s in our home groups and other small groups that this happens best.
A congregation always has things that separate people – rows for example. Aisles. Limited time (how much time is there when we are here only on Sundays and not every Sunday?).
A congregation is a worshipping assembly – the church together.
A COMMUNITY is something much tighter really. Not only do communities have things in common – they are also united and have some kind of geographical location.
In the old days that would have been a parish – which had borders and a sense of identity. And a vicar on a bicycle and probably a community Mr Plod – a policeman on duty. It reminds me of the Noddy stories we read as kids. Except Noddy didn’t have a vicar.
The truth is that those borders don’t exist in our cities. We live in very lonely times where people have no connections. There are thousands that are very lonely out there. Small groups can change that.
Here are some suggestions from children for a world system to end loneliness:
Kalani (8) suggests: People should find lonely people and ask their name and address. They ask people who aren’t lonely their name and address. When you have an even amount of each, assign lonely and not lonely people together in the newspaper.
Max (9) suggests: Make food that talks to you when you eat. For instance it would say, “how are you doing?” and “What happened to you today?”
Matt (aged 8) suggests: We could get people a pet or a husband or a wife and take them places. (Makes you wonder about Matt’s view of marriage).
The last response is the most moving:
Brian (aged 8) says: Sing a song. Stomp your feet. Read a book. (Sometimes I think no one loves me, so I do one of these.)
People go to churches, join bowling clubs, and go on blind dates because of loneliness. They also despair because of loneliness.
The church – is an alternative community
The Bible is full of references to community – usually expressed in terms like “one another” or “brothers and sisters”.
We used to sing a song that went like this:
We are heirs of the Father
We are joint-heirs with the Son
We are children of the Kingdom
We are family – we are one
We are washed, we are sanctified
We are cleansed by the blood
We are born of the Spirit
We are children of the Lord
We are members of his Body
We are objects of his love
We’re partakers of his holiness
We are citizens of heaven above
We are longing for his coming
We are looking to the skies
We are watching, we are waiting
We shall fly with him, we shall rise!
We shall reign with him forever
Men and angels – shout and sing!
All dominion shall be given
To the family of the King!
We have Jimmy & Carol Owens to thank for this.
It was quite the rage at the time – that song – because the Holy Spirit had begun to shake up the church – out if the pews and into real community. And people began to discover what the bible taught about our true identity. About being born of the Spirit. About the church as a family as it was meant to be. And unity was key to this – churches began to work together and lots of new churches that started back then were United Churches.
People probably read Ephesians and the words of Paul: Eph 4:3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
Not that we are meant to keep the unity! It is the natural outcome of becoming a Christian – you became part of the body of Christ.
1 Corinthians 12 became very popular (and still should be): 1Co 12:12 The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.
1Co 12:26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.
1Co 12:27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
Galatians chapter 6 was recognised as a normal expression of Christian faith together:
Gal 6:9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
Gal 6:10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
And of course – the passage that the hippies of the day in their communes would have loved (and probably do in their old age now):
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.
One can understand why community for some people was a real possibility. The renewal in the church was wonderful in those years. But it wasn’t meant to be a phase.
The reality is people need community now more than ever.
They need reality.
They need integrity.
They need authenticity.
And you can’t experience that on your own – or by church attendance!
Being a Christian is a life-changing experience that we do TOGETHER.
THE TRINITY in fact is a model for our unity.
And OUR Unity is based on TRINITY! There’s a hint of this in the passage from John 17 which we can break down like this:
Joh 17:20 “My prayer is not for them alone. (the disciples back in the day)
I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, (that’s us)
Joh 17:21 that all of them may be one, Father, (unity again)
just as you are in me (Father in the Son)
I am in you. (Son in the Father)
May they also be in us (all of us in the Father and the Son).
so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (People will believe because of what they see here!).
This Unity and community is reinforced in other places wherever more than one member of the Trinity is seen in action. Note how the members of the Trinity refer to and defer to one another:
For example: 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. The Holy Spirit would remind them of Jesus’ words.
And then at the Transfiguration:
Mar 9:7 Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!“ The Father points to the Son.
And the words of Jesus about His words: Joh 7:15 The Jews were amazed and asked, “How did this man get such learning without having studied?” Joh 7:16 Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me. Jesus points to His Father.
And here He does something similar: Joh 7:28 Then Jesus, still teaching in the temple courts, cried out, “Yes, you know me, and you know where I am from. I am not here on my own, but he who sent me is true. You do not know him, Joh 7:29 but I know him because I am from him and he sent me.”
And once again: Joh 8:28 So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. Joh 8:29 The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.”
And also here: 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.
If we are to be remotely like God as His children, then the “one another” life has to be foundational to our community.
Paul’s greatest and most profound explanation of this kind of mutual concern is this one:
Php 2:1 If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, Php 2:2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Php 2:3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.
More directly there are a series of “one another” injunctions:
The bottom line, starting with Jesus:: Joh_13:34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
Then all of these from the most important letter in the New Testament, Paul’s Epistle to the Romans: Rom_12:10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honour one another above yourselves.
Rom_12:16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Rom_13:8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.
Rom_14:13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.
Rom_15:7 Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.
Which ends with a practical act at the end that is not always welcomed in our culture: Rom_16:16 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ send greetings.
And of course a series of others from Paul:
1Co_1:10 I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.
Gal_5:13 You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.
Eph_4:2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.
Eph_4:32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Col_3:13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
Col_3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.
1Th_5:11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
And more from the letter to the Hebrews:
Heb_3:13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.
Heb_10:24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.
Heb_10:25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Even James adds: Jas_4:11 Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it.
And Peter: 1Pe_1:22 Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart.
1Pe_3:8 Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.
1Pe_4:9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.
1Pe_5:5 Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.
And inevitably a whole series of “one anothers’ in John’s letters including the statement:
1Jn_1:7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
And then from the Apostle John we have these obligations, commands, and implied conditions and requests :
1Jn_3:11 This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.
1Jn_3:23 And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.
1Jn_4:7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.
1Jn_4:11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
1Jn_4:12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
2Jn_1:5 And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another.
Are you convinced yet?
Are we this kind of community yet?
So many of us don’t really know each other yet!
We need name tags to get past that greeting stage!
Come along people! There’s work to be done!
Many of us – especially the younger ones – don’t actually have the skills to really take chances on the older ones! And many adults can learn more about connecting to strangers.
All of us need prodding to take risks. How often I have to point out to people – “do you see that new person? Do you know them? Would you like to speak to them?
And then I ask “who was that? Who is this person?” And so it goes on and on.
May the Holy Spirit shake us again!
May there be a shaking! How ironic that greater community has come out of the shaking of Christchurch.
May you be stirred in your heart and conscience today – to reach out.
If we can’t get it right here – what then about our need to welcome strangers and make new friends? And how will we do what we are supposed to do GO into all the world with this good news?
It starts with time. Time together. And perhaps a conversation with someone you don’t know that well over tea.
And it could end with your being in a home group – where you really do benefit and are also a blessing to the others in the community we call church.
And beyond that – you going out to connect with people you’ve never met before – in pubs and clubs and wherever they are!
Readings: Matthew 5:1-12 & Revelation 19:6-10
STORY: “For all the saints”
In our last congregation I used to preach occasionally (my main work was as a College Chaplain). Towards the end of the vacancy just before the new priest’s induction I spoke to the congregation and in my sermon suggested that a bad hymn to sing at the new person’s induction was “For all the saints who from their labours rest” – as it might send the wrong signal to the church members who had been involved in ministry through that time that once the new priest was installed they could all stop what they were doing and put their feet up. At his induction they did indeed sing that hymn which he chose (as the congregation was called “All Saints”.) Of course there were some giggles during the hymn. At least some of them had remembered my warning.
The traditional view of saints is great people of God who have now died and are with Him. – thus in some traditions they are seen as mediators – people pray through saints – and various ones are allocated to certain tasks.
Can you think of the most famous? Probably St Christopher – (his name means “bearer of Christ” – he carried the boy Christ as you can see on a St Christopher emblem). I don’t know of too many apart from him. St Andrew maybe – the patron Saint of Scotland. Think of all the Presbyterian churches called “St Andrews” – for those who don’t know most of our Presbyterian churches were started here in New Zealand by and for Scottish emigrants.
I think the fact that there are 10 000 catholic saints means people can be forgiven for not remembering them all. Luckily if you need to know each day there is an app for your Iphone – and the saint of the day will pop up for you.
I do know this – that for some reason there are three saints for Brewers! St. Luke, St. Nicholas and St. Augustine of Hippo.
And only one for Clergy – ministers like me, a saint ominously called St Gabriel of our Lady of sorrows (d. 27 Feb 1862). The poor guy died at age 24. Clearly there is a link to pastors and clergy being worn out entirely! Actually he died of TB and was known to be a nice guy – which is perhaps why they adopted him as the patron saint of clergy. We are told this of him: Ever popular and cheerful, Gabriel quickly was successful in his effort to be faithful in little things. His spirit of prayer, love for the poor, consideration of the feelings of others, exact observance of the Passionist Rule (1741) as well as his bodily penances—always subject to the will of his wise superiors— made a deep impression on everyone.
THE BIBLICAL VIEW:
We are saints – holy ones – justified (made righteous) by faith and holy (set apart) for God and his service, and sanctified in Christ.
We use the word “saints” as Paul does in 1 Corinthians 1:2: “to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (NRSV)
ALL ARE SAINTS THEN.
And curiously Paul says this in his greeting to the Corinthians – and then he outlines their terrible faults! Like getting drunk at communion and sexual sins, and abuse of spiritual gifts.
We are SAINTS in God’s sight – holy – because Jesus has died for us! And his gift of righteousness is given to us. (Romans 3:21-22).
We become children of God through faith in Jesus! And there is clearly an expectation that we should behave like God’s children!
We are therefore to be transformed into his likeness – and the Holy Spirit does this through the application of the Word of God. (And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 2 Cor 3:18)
So when reading the Essential Jesus readings, we should not be fussing about whether we like the commentary that goes with it.
We should be asking God to apply the Word to our lives through His Spirit – so that we become more like Jesus.
That is the call of God on all the saints – on all of us who are Christ-followers.
MY PRIORITIES as a minister are worth a reminder.
How easily we get sidetracked. Meetings and minutes. Parking and preferences. Traditions and timetables – how long the service went over time and all the other issues we have.
All this church stuff!
My job is very simple – is to keep the church on track so that we become like Jesus and do the things Jesus wants us to do!
My job is not YOUR HAPPINESS! Or mine for that matter.
It’s getting us all to really do God’s will.
THE BEATITUDES which we have read often – the foundation of the Sermon on the Mount – describe lives that are different from the rest. They describe God’s will for us. Let’s have a look at what they are about.
There’s this old hymn about the saints in heaven and on earth that goes: O happy ones and holy! Lord, give us grace that we, Like them, the meek and lowly, on high may dwell with thee. (The church’s one foundation.)
Happiness and holiness? Do they go together?
The beatitudes are often translated using the word “happy”. So for example we have the Good News Bible:
Mat 5:3 “Happy are those who know they are spiritually poor; the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them!
Mat 5:4 “Happy are those who mourn; God will comfort them!
Mat 5:5 “Happy are those who are humble; they will receive what God has promised!
Mat 5:6 “Happy are those whose greatest desire is to do what God requires; God will satisfy them fully!
Mat 5:7 “Happy are those who are merciful to others; God will be merciful to them!
Mat 5:8 “Happy are the pure in heart; they will see God!
Mat 5:9 “Happy are those who work for peace; God will call them his children!
Mat 5:10 “Happy are those who are persecuted because they do what God requires; the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them!
Mat 5:11 “Happy are you when people insult you and persecute you and tell all kinds of evil lies against you because you are my followers.
When you read that you can’t help but think – surely that is NOT a happy situation!!
Perhaps blessed, fortunate, privileged would be better.
The word in Matthew 5 is MAKARIOS (blessed) and was used to describe the saints who were often martyed. As one commentator puts it, ‘It is hard to picture a smile on the face of Polycarp or Justin as they were being burned or beheaded. Yet, “blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,” Jesus declares.’
SO WHAT KIND OF SAINTS DO WE WANT TO BE?
Simply obedient ones. Like that nice young man who is the patron saint of clergy – St Gabriel.
What does this all mean for the saints gathered in this church this All Saints Sunday?
Not only do we remember those who faithfully served the Lord and influenced our lives – helping us on the right track – those who are gone before us.
In the words of a writer on this passage: “It also means that we should align ourselves today with the historic chorus of people who have been sanctified by Christ, people who in happiness or difficulty, found their hope in Jesus and made their way as part of the kingdom of God.”
Hebrews puts it this way:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith… (12:1-2a)
And let’s focus on two of Jesus’ Beatitudes and take them for ourselves today:
Many of them are about our lives – mourning, the earth, being peacemakers, being merciful and persecution. They are all good – and challenging.
Two of them stand out:
Mat 5:6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Mat 5:8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
They are matters of priority and our deepest desires, matters of the heart – and they relate to God.
We hunger and thirst for many things. But this is not about physical needs. It’s about our deepest needs and our fundamental orientation. And our hearts – the deepest emotional driver in us.
While we recognise that we are saints because our righteousness (in the legal sense of being made right with God – justified by faith – so that our sins are dealt with) – our orientation – our direction in life – has to be towards what is right and pure.
We spoke about forgiveness last week – and how we need to forgive.
The fact that we have to forgive so often is because our lives are so fettered by sin and disobedience – things that are the opposite of what God wants for us.
We need to be honest that we are often far from God and that our lives don’t really show God’s Kingdom values.
It’s no wonder that the first line of the Sermon on the Mount is this:
Mat 5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
When you know your need of God – then it all happens.
Conversely – when you are self-satisfied – you miss the bus entirely!
THE SAINTS ARE IN OUR MIDST IF WE LOOK HARD ENOUGH
God is at work in this place in ordinary people. If you look hard enough you will see.
And it’s not about all the things we DO for God or the church. We tend to say “what a saint – they DO so much” while we sit back like the saints “who from their labours rest” – a bit too early! The tasks at hand can be shared and should be.
If you look hard enough you see acts of grace and kindness – people of courage who have mourned and are being comforted as they find new ways to live as single people again – people who have been persecuted for righteousness sake – people who don’t try to defend themselves, but simply keep going doing what God shows them to do.
You see these saints in our midst when their hearts are broken when they see people suffer – and especially when they see people so far from God who need to receive his touch. They’d do anything to help them discover the Gospel. They use their time and resources to make things happen here because they know that the local church is where God can really work in a community to reach the lost.
These are signs of the Kingdom of God really – where people are manifestly different in the way they live and behave – not drawing attention to themselves and not harping on about their agendas and rights – but simply serving the Lord and others as they reach out with the love of Christ and good news and share it with others.
They show mercy. They exhibit meekness. But most of all it’s their hungering and thirsting after righteousness that makes them blessed and a blessing – and their purity of heart.
Not only do they see God in the sense of a real relationship they have with Him – you see the Lord in them too.
For these people who impact our lives we are immensely grateful.
May we be like them.
We can be like them.
We can get on the right track.
This orientation of our lives is more important than how long church is, whether the music is too loud, or we have to change the times of our meetings or can’t park in our favourite space. This orientation of our lives is more important than if the preacher lost his way in the sermon, the service was too long, or we didn’t know the songs on a particular Sunday.
It’s about becoming like Jesus. Once again:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith… (Hebrews 12:1-2a)
Your Kingdom come
Your will be done – in our lives, Lord Jesus.