Monthly Archives: December 2012

Some thoughts for 2013

This is worth revisiting as we consider the year ahead and God’s call on our lives as Christians…

Robin Palmer's space

Readings: Jonah 3:1-5 and Mark 1:14-20

Message

The Gospel of Mark is like a freight train flying through the country on a long straight track. It seems to be in an awful hurry in its account of events.

There is no nice story of angels announcing things to barren or untouched maidens. No census and journey to Bethlehem. No shepherds washing their socks by night all seated by the tub. (You know that ancient version of the carol – a bar of sunlight soap came down and they began to scrub. It’s the English soap makers’ carol from the west coast. Lever brothers’ version!).

There is a divine urgency and the power of the short story writer who doesn’t spend 20 pages telling you about the setting of events and the deepest thoughts of the characters like Charles Dickens.

It’s Mark’s gospel. It’s shorter. And it is fast moving –…

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Christmas Day Sermon – 25 December 2012

Readings: Isaiah 7:10-16      Matthew 1:18-25

Children’s message

So here’s the test for today. What’s the most popular Christmas song people sing?

Rudolf the red nosed reindeer? Santa Clause is coming to town? I’m dreaming of a white Christmas? (In your dreams in NZ!!)

Here it is then – “WE WISH YOU A MERRY CHRISTMAS” (and a happy new year!).

So what makes a Merry Christmas? (Kids around the world)

I think the clue is in the rest of the song. What are the other verses? (Let’s look on the screen).

We wish you a Merry Christmas;

We wish you a Merry Christmas;

We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Good tidings we bring to you and your kin;

Good tidings for Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Oh, bring us a figgy pudding;

Oh, bring us a figgy pudding;

Oh, bring us a figgy pudding and a cup of good cheer

We won’t go until we get some;

We won’t go until we get some;

We won’t go until we get some, so bring some out here

We Wish You a Merry Christmas it seems dates back to England in the sixteenth century. Carol singers we are told were often poor and at the end of their singing would add this song in order to perhaps get Christmas treats from wealthy members of the community. So they probably ended with this song! “We won’t go until we get some!” It was pretty yummy pudding not unlike modern day Christmas Puddings (Figgy pudding it seems had rum and not brandy!)

Now this does not mean that you should sing demanding songs to you parents. If you stand outside their door and sing “o bring/give us a hundred dollars – we won’t go until we get some” they will probably get a little fed up! It won’t work!

It does remind us that some people do have to almost beg to get things we take for granted. Like food. That’s why Boxing Day (tomorrow) has always been important! No silly – not for the sales! It’s for putting things in boxes for the poor! I hope you finished your Advent calendar which will help the poor!

And there is one way which we can persist? What does persist mean? Keep on asking! With God – he loves us when we keep on asking him in prayer to help us – and not give up!

The most Merry Christmas is the one where we ask Jesus into our hearts!

MESSAGE

There are two lovely things about this passage. Matthew’s matter of fact account begins:

Mat 1:18  This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about:

He tells the story. Haven’t we heard it so often before.  Nice Mary. Noble and obedient Joseph. O my. Life is much more complex and stressful than that.

This lovely romanticised story has the elements of intrigue, doubt and disaster.  And in the midst of the potential for disgrace, danger and death (they are soon running for their lives) two words from God shout out to us.

The first – via an angelic messenger:

“… you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (verse 21)

The second – the Word of God recorded by Matthew himself quoting the prophecy:

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.”

He roots the story in the Old Testament – as he gives his gospel account aimed at Jewish readers:

Isa 7:14  Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

1. His name Jesus

2. His other name – Immanuel

1.     His name Jesus

The real name of Jesus is YESHUA- or Joshua. It means God saves, our Yahweh (The Lord) saves.

That’s the whole point of his coming – to rescue us from ourselves and our sins. And our mess and troubles.

If you’ve ever met someone who has been rescued – from a dangerous place – you know the sense of gratitude they have!

We should be grateful – thankful – and always praising Him for what he did to save us!

2.   His other name – Immanuel

Again it’s not English – or Afrikaans – or Korean or Chinese! It’s a Hebrew name or title.

Literally “with us is God”.

God with us is the best news of all!

He is still with us!

He didn’t just come in like a superhero and then jet off into space like superman! When he left earth as a human being – He promised to be with us always! And then He came back through His Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ.

He is with us all the time! That’s what keeps us going!

And even when we die we will be with Him because he will be with us then too!

King David reminds us in Psalm 23 reminds us:

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me… (verse 4)

If He is not real for you – this Jesus Immanuel – God saves and God with us – what can you do about it today?

Keep on talking to Him – asking Him to become real to you – persist – like the carollers singing about the Figgy pudding – “we won’t go until we’ve got some!”

Hang around with God – spend time with him and his people – read his book which tells us all about him –  and we will understand Jeshua – Immanu – el – the one who makes it all worth living!

I had a conversation recently with someone about this reality of God – the person felt that God did not answer his prayers – that there was no reality. He was knock knock knocking on heaven’s door and not getting an answer!

The bible verse that came to mind immediately and which I shared with him was this onein Jeremiah 29:

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

And guess what the verses are before this one: For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. (11-13)

So I want to leave with you today the Figgy pudding solution.

You can really get to know this God – if you hang around – not give up – but seek him with all your heart.

Like those carol singers who sang:

We won’t go until we get some; We won’t go until we get some;We won’t go until we get some, so bring some out here

Figgy pudding persistence

Figgy pudding prayers

Figgy pudding power – is not in the rum and lovely yummy ingredients. I love Christmas and the food is yummy and it is a Merry time. The real power is in knowing God.

My wish for you is more than a Merry Christmas – it’s the Christ Jesus and knowing him in reality that is my wish for you.

Amen.

Sunday sermon 23 December – Life and Light

Reading  –  John 1:1-14

1:1  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

1:2  He was with God in the beginning.

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

1:4  In him was life, and that life was the light of men.

1:5  The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

1:6  There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John.

1:7  He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe.

1:8  He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

1:9  The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.

1:10  He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.

1:11  He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.

1:12  Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—

1:13  children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

1:14  The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Reflection (Following the Nine Lessons and Carols today)

So we’ve heard the story. How people turned from God and the world went haywire. Wrong. Bad. How God called a man called Abraham to be his man and how he had a plan. How God planned to rescue the world and foretold of the coming of a child. How the baby Jesus was born in Bethlehem.  How heaven opened – through messages, angels and dreams – and God got the attention of shepherds and stargazers. How King Herod was rattled by this coming King – whom the three magi came to worship and give gifts to. It’s a broad sweep of God’s story of his dealings with people.

And finally we heard this amazing passage from John called the prologue to John’s Gospel.

Both St Augustine and the great preacher Chrysostom are reported as having said: “It is beyond the power of man to speak as John does in his prologue.” John Calvin also wrote of this passage – the prologue or beginning of John’s Gospel, “… it says much more than our minds can take in.” So we look at this passage with some trepidation today.

The story of the Incarnate Word is presented  in simple and powerful phrases—” The light shines in the darkness,” “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us ,” “full of grace and truth,” “We have seen his glory”,  and most significantly: some “did not receive Him,” but others were “born of God.”

John explains that this is all about the WORD of God. Who is this Word of God? No we are not referring to the Bible here, but to Jesus. How Jesus was God – creating all things with God – and how he came bring two things really:

  1. Light
  2. Life

The opposites are

  1. Darkness
  2. Death

The coming of Jesus is all about counteracting darkness and death with light and life. About the antidote.

And the choice is simple.

  • Walk in the light!
  • Choose life!

At one level people don’t get it. John writes:

John 1:5  The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. (NIV84)

They could not see it! The also could not recognize him – perhaps because they were looking for the wrong thing. Although this verse can also be translated like this:

(NIV)  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it, which is encouraging when the darkness of evil and sin seems to have an upper hand!

Sadly many rejected what God did. Listen again to verses 10 and 11:

John 1:10  He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.  John 1:11  He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.

ON THE PLUS SIDE LISTEN TO THIS

John 1:12  Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—John 1:13  children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

The new family of God begins through faith in Jesus

  • Believing in Him
  • Receiving Him

There is no better time than this time – Christmas – to welcome Jesus into our lives.

“No room in the inn” is not the best response.

“Come Lord – and live in us” – is better.

In me. I receive you and I believe you are who you claim to be. The one though whom we become children of God – born of the spirit – born of God!

Jesus came to introduce us to God again! To help us begin again.

And to bring us into His family! Are you part of the family? Would you like to be?

Someone once said “the benefits are out of this world”. They are also right now!

Amen.

Sunday Sermon 16 December – Tidings of comfort and joy

Readings: Phil 4:4-7; Luke 3:7-18

Here we are in the middle of Advent – on the Sunday where the theme is JOY – and we have enjoyed an amazing modern yet traditional children’s pageant.They told the Christmas story using borrowed adults from the congregation as actors and had angels prompting four different parts of the audience to call out at key moments in the tale. What a wonderful time. Every time we heard the word “angel” our sector leapt up and cried out “glory to God”. You get the idea! Great to see everyone having so much fun in celebrating this old old story.

And then the story “Annie’s Treasure” followed – for our little ones and oldies to enjoy together. The Gospel of Jesus the baby in the nativity scene with scarred marked hands. Jesus the boy whose birth we celebrate with joy – who was Jesus the crucified suffering God.

The candle for this Sunday in Lent is pink – while all the others are purple. Pink represents joy and reminds of times when people were more austere during Lent and not very festive. The pink candle let them off the hook, if you like.

Tidings of comfort and joy are desperately needed by so many at this time. For the families of those tragically killed in Connecticut, the happiness of the season is horribly marred with terrible shock, horror and grief. Such depth of comfort is needed.

Of course each day tragedies unfold around the globe, especially where little ones and innocent mums suffer from the ravages of war and terror. Perhaps we are immune to the endless bad news that we see on TV each day.

One has to say again that JOY is a far cry from the Happy Christmas that so many seek. Joy and the biblical idea of rejoicing is really deeper, richer and wider. It is so profound that Paul captures some of this sense when he writes in Philippians 4:4-7:

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

For those in the depths of despair and grief at this time, the Lord is at hand too and only He in time can help them to deal with their pain. They may, in time, find the peace of God through prayer and petition. So too we in our anxiety need to look to Him for peace. So many people face illness, loneliness through bereavement, and real need at Christmas. We continue to love them and pray for them. I encourage you to take some time to visit them or give them a call.

John the Baptizer features again in the Gospel today, in a continuation of last week’s reading.  He continues to spell out the implications of his message calling for repentance in order to prepare the way for God to act. If people were to heed his message (in its practical applications of justice and sharing) there would be joy for many millions rather than the ongoing suffering we see. In verse 8 John bluntly declairs: Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.

And he continues in verses 10 and 11 of chapter 3: “What should we do then?” the crowd asked. John answered, “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.”

That would bring great joy to many if it were applied today. And John continues with clear instructions to tax collectors and soldiers that involve fair play and justice. For many that would bring great joy were such acts real in their lives.

Christian joy was something that came a lot later in the story. Yes there was rejoicing at His birth. But soon afterwards there was the “slaughter of the innocents” as the political ramifications of the birth of this King were played out by the paranoid King Herod the Great. There were weeping mothers on that day too. And years later after three years of powerful teaching with signs and wonders, Jesus’ confrontation of the truth in the lives of the rich and powerful culmunated in his execution on Calvary (the hill of the skull). And of course John – this powerful preacher and prophet – had been executed by another of those in the Herod dynasty – Herod Antipas.

It is some time later – after Jesus’ resurrection and Ascension – that this passage in Luke 3 begins to become a reality. In verses 15 and 16 we read these words: The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ. John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”

The ultimate source of transforming power was the outpouring of the Holy Spirit – God in action in people making the life of Jesus real to them. It is no coincidence that the fruits of the spirit listed by Paul in Galatians 5 read, “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control…” (5:22). Joy is something that God works in us by His transforming Spirit. It seems clear that we can’t “cook these things up” on our own. The fruit of the Spirit makes real transformation possible. A few of these fruits of character in the mix and the world again would be a better place.

Last year around this time I wrote these words on a related theme. I would like to revisit these thoughts as they take us further:

During the week ahead I would ask you to read Luke 1:1-25. It’s the story of the conception of John who features so much in these Advent readings as the one who prepares the way for Jesus. The anointing of the Holy Spirit on the infant John in his mother’s womb – before his birth – interests me. This man is anointed early on for his unique prophetic role in history. (Actually read the whole of Luke 1 as it explores the relationship between Elizabeth and Mary).

John lived a reclusive life and preached a tough message in a challenging context of an occupying force and religious leaders who had lost the plot. He was the last great prophet in that tradition. God raised him up in power and people repented of their sins.

Here’s a thought for you. You can sing the right songs – whatever that means for you – you can modernize or traditionalize your worship and church life. You can get it all right, so to speak, and have great sermons. You can run great programmes and do amazing things that bring delight to those who listen.

But there is no joy in what you do without the work of the Holy Spirit. The true joy is much wider and deeper – born out of a relationship of transformation by Jesus through the Spirit. It was through the Holy Spirit that John was empowered from the beginning. And despite his destiny he persistently pointed to Jesus the greater one. He made it clear that he was not the light – Jesus was. How much more we as ministers, elders, youth leaders, children’s workers, and members of the church and all its organisations. We are not here for our own pleasure. We are called to point to Jesus, and to minister to the world – showing the light of Jesus with joy and integrity. We are to reflect his light and shine in our world – in the power and joy of the Holy Spirit. Without His anointing we may miss God and miss the point of it all.

May the joy of Jesus become yours again! May we seek and experience the true anointing of the Holy Spirit in all we do.

Amen!

Sunday sermon 9 December 2012 – Ready or not? Prepared?

Gospel reading: Luke 3:1-6

Reflection

In the midst of all these world events and powerful people – Luke mentions leaders from Caesar to Pilate – to Herod and his brother Phillip, Lysanias – and the high priests in the temple at Jerusalem – with all their power and influences in their various sectors – there’s John the son of Zachariah hanging out in the wilderness. The desert. A typical prophet. Alternate. Different views and different diet. Weird – in fact. Dressed in camel skins and eating wild locusts and honey. Locusts are very tricky – those little bits stick in your teeth…

The focus is not on this unusual man, however. After the sweeping statement locating this story in historical time and its politicians and priests – the focus is not on the man.

The subject of Luke’s pronouncement is very specific:

“.. the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert.” The Word of God comes! The focus is not on the man  – but on the message God gives him. Wonderful. Awesome! God’s word came to John after hundreds of years of prophetic silence. And God – through John – declares that they are to get ready.

There are different kinds of readiness and different levels of seriousness in our preparation in life.

I meet so many people really who when I mention Christmas get a pale frightened look on their faces and bleat out an apology: “I’m not ready”.

Last week we talked about being ready for Jesus’ return – or at least for our death and journey to eternity.

READY OR NOT – is a game children play. ‘Coming – ready or not!’

Death comes our way.  In the secular world people who are dying are often encouraged to sort things out – to focus on preparations for their stuff and family – not wanting to leave a trail of mess and unfinished business, and wanting to provide for their loved ones. Funeral insurance is sold on this basis – don’t leave them with a huge debt, and so forth.

On a daily basis people get ready each day for work (many struggle to get this right too!).

And there are other preparations we make. On a more spiritual note people used to get ready for church each week.

READY EVERY SUNDAY

There was a time when the one really important readiness ritual we went through was on a Sunday. Churches were quiet places to enter into. And for the newcomer it seemed odd and boring. Nevertheless there was a sense of getting ready (in dress) and preparing (in heart and mind) to come into God’s presence. Of repentance and making right – confession and new beginnings. Stillness. (Very different now as we are a rowdy bunch really).

PREPARING THE WAY TODAY

In the midst of our Christmassy busyness today we hear God’s Word in the words John the Baptizer (he was never a Baptist!)

John’s task is to get people geared up for the salvation that comes from Jesus! Listen again:

“A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.

TODAY IT’S ABOUT READINESS FOR WORKING WITH GOD IN THE HERE AND NOW

Or God working in us.

The desert – the wilderness – was not an unusual place God to speak to people. In fact people today are quite keen on those desolate yet beautiful places for retreats and reflection. They are less distracting.

But for most of us – if we don’t take the time and open our hearts and minds – our daily routine in the city or at home – can be like a desert. Dry. Dusty. No water of life. No energy. No word from the Lord.

The Essential Jesus 20 weeks and 100 readings have given many of us a new discipline and a new commitment to read the Bible. The point is – in our deserts – God speaks to us today – through the Bible and through His Holy Spirit.

THE CHALLENGE OF JOHN’S MESSAGE AT ADVENT

In the midst of the tinsel and Christmas expectation – all that wrapping paper and exotic food – it’s a very challenging thing for preachers to be true to this passage.

The candle we lit was for peace. It’s a lovely idea and all our hearts are softened when we think of the conflict of the world and the need for peace. We admire peacekeepers and pray for peace.

But true preparation for the coming of the Messiah – required repentance. Peace came at a cost. Changing direction and changing one’s mind – these actions are associated with repentance in the Bible.

I am sure that John – in his time of preparation in that lonely place we call God’s calling – the calling of prophets and preachers alike (in fact preaching is prophecy in the literal sense of speaking God’s word – “speaking forth”) – would have some straightening out of the paths in himself – smoothing out the rough places in his heart. He would have had his own repenting to do.

This repentance – if you are looking up – means you have to look down at the world from God’s point of view (imagine being able to see all the rage, anger and abuse going on with a view from heaven). If you are going north, it would mean changing direction to south. You get my point.

It’s a spiritual 180 degree turn which inevitably leads to a physical change in direction as well.

The truth is we need so much turning that we can easily become disorientated and dizzy. And our world can be like a desert, or a steep hill, or even a deep valley to claw out of. I remember a serious road crash we had some years back – where we went over a steep hill – and only a sand trap by a tree prevented us from disaster. We had to crawl out of there.

As we hear God’s word – and if we are serious – we have to make some moves. Our interior landscape can be quite bumpy.

And we do struggle sometimes because we want instant results and answers. The truth is a lot of the change that happens in us is slow and painful.

It takes time to clean things up in our lives. Like those bits of locusts that get stuck in your teeth. It needs some digging around.

So it makes sense that we are told to keep our eyes on Jesus. (Hebrews 12:2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.)

We need to set our compass with Jesus as our true North.

Wesley understood the challenge of true conversion and ongoing repentance and transformation when he wrote his hymn Love Divine. Listen again:

Love divine, all loves excelling, joy of heaven, to earth come down;
Fix in us thy humble dwelling; all thy faithful mercies crown!
Jesus thou art all compassion, pure, unbounded love thou art;
Visit us with thy salvation; enter every trembling heart.

Finish, then, thy new creation; pure and spotless let us be.
Let us see thy great salvation perfectly restored in thee;
Changed from glory into glory, till in heaven we take our place,
Till we cast our crowns before thee, lost in wonder, love, and praise.
– Charles Wesley

You can’t get that movement towards a new creation if you’re stuck somewhere in the wrong place or going in the wrong direction.

And changing the landscape of our lives takes time. Like changing the course of a river there is a lot of stuff to be shifted.

May you work on your spiritual preparation this Advent as we prepare to celebrate the coming of Jesus to the world.

May we make the right moves and let him change us – bit by bit – on our journey.

Amen.

 

Sunday Evening 2 December – Hope

Readings:  Psalm 25:1-6; Romans 5: 1-5; Matthew 12:9-21

Message

Over the years I have often spent time with people who have been nearing the end of their lives. Thankfully there have not been too many children. It’s hard to explain to little children what we believe about time and eternity. I remember when teaching year 2s how one little boy asked me one day during the lesson: “Is David dead?” speaking of King David in the Bible.  “O yes” I replied, “a long time ago!” Then the questions came: “When was he alive?” “Did he die as long ago as when I was small? How long is a thousand years?”

With adults – when you’ve lived a long life – dying seems easier to face, although it can still be a fearful thing. And HOPE is always factored in – the HOPE of life after death. For Christians, it’s the certainty.

Hope isn’t just a concept when we’re dying. It’s something we have when the stuff we are facing each day feels like death! Like a long lesson for young people at school – or a boring sermon in church (I recall seeing a whole book about things you can do during a boring sermon) – or a difficult task at work, or the prospect of the day being long and uninspiring, or lonely. The HOPE of Friday and the weekend seem to keep many people going. And also those who are hopeful as they look forward to Christmas and the holidays!

In the readings tonight – we read David’s words in Psalm 25: No one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame, but they will be put to shame who are treacherous without excuse. Hope here is closer to trust. His enemies were real and his war a real war. His faith in God’s presence with him extends to the hope that God would give him success.

For St Paul, there are troubles too. The Christian life is not a simple life – listen to the progression of ideas which include hope:

And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.

Rom 5:3  Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;

Rom 5:4  perseverance, character; and character, hope.

Rom 5:5  And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

It sounds like a challenging ride. Sufferings – Perseverance – Character are aspects of a life of faith and adventure. They produce HOPE – not just because we hope for things to get better (i.e. no more trials and tribulations) but, for Paul, this HOPE does not disappoint us! It’s not a vain hope. Why? Because we are not alone – because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom he has given us! God’s love keeps us through these trials!

Love is a powerful thing! Think of your grandchildren today – who seem to plod along. When teenagers fall in love – especially the boys – it’s amazing what can change in their lives!

God’s love is a different kind of love – not romantic, although the prophets complained that when people turned their backs on God that they were being unfaithful and adulterous– not physical, although the relationship between Jesus and the Church is described as that of a Bridegroom and a bride!

God’s love is POWERFUL and strengthening. His presence gives us confidence and courage – whether we are facing challenges in life or death at the end of life – we are full of hope which does not disappoint.

I love hopeful people!

* They are optimistic!

* They look for solutions.

* They are open minded and good listeners – because they see the best in people, even when they may have made mistakes.

And you can’t get a more hopeful person than Jesus. He chooses people for his leadership team who you would not have on your short list.

* He takes the rough and risky ones like Peter – knowing that the impulsiveness was not always a weakness, but a sign of strength in the long term. He knew that Peter – even though he would fail – would be strengthened in character to the extent that he could face anything.

* He models hope in his life and death as well. At Christmas, Easter is never far from our thoughts as this was God’s whole plan – and we are consistently reminded again – that the worst possible scenario – DEATH – was overcome by resurrection. That gives us hope.

And so as you face your week ahead, remember

–  That Sunrise follows the darkness of the night

–  That Spring brings new growth after the desperation of a bad winter

– That a new beginning follows every failure or disappointment.

As we close tonight there is a challenge for us to pray as we are reminded of a verse from the readings in Matthew 12:21: “In his name the nations will put their hope.”

It’s a great prophecy quoted by Matthew from Isaiah 42. While we don’t see countries putting their hope in Him, nations here is not necessarily governments. It more than likely refers to the variety of people on the earth. Ethnoi is the word, from which we get the word ethnic. Our city is very cosmopolitan – and the great news is that many nations are coming to find Jesus as their hope.

May you be encouraged in your prayers to continue to pray for all without hope, and especially for those who are desperate in this city – that they may be drawn to a Christian fellowship where they can meet this hope of nations, Jesus.

Amen.

Sunday Sermon 2 December – Be alert and ready

Readings: Jer 33:14 – 16   1 Thess 3:9-13 Luke 21:25-36

Message

So it’s the beginning of Advent. The season of silliness for some – but for Christians a time of serious reflection and preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. Advent means “arrival”.

Today we look at the second coming of Jesus as we prepare for the celebration of his first coming.

The reading today from Luke 21 is scary apolcalyptic stuff. Followed by

  • A parable
  • Some warnings
  • Some great encouragement.

THE PARABLE

The bonus parable of the fig tree is not very exciting or profound like other parables which are rich in meaning.

It’s really a warning.  Jesus really is telling his listeners in this Luke passage to read the signs. They were signs of the Kingdom. He goes on in verse 31:  Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.

Remember last week – Christ the King Sunday? The Kingdom concept his central again. The Kingdom had come and was still coming

The Gospel reading is full of interesting bits today of course: Like the next verses.

Luk 21:32  “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.

Some of this is fulfilled already. Some things did happen in that generation – like the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple by the Romans. (See verses 20-21). Most Bible scholars believe that these passages have prophetic parts that are already fulfilled and major apocalyptic parts that point us to the future.

For both the people of that day and for us and followers in the future there is encouragement and hope.  Take for example that most encouraging and Presbyterian verse focusing on the words of Jesus (Presbyterians place the Bible at the centre of life and faith):

Luk 21:33  Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

The power of the word of God – the word of Christ – its unchanging nature and truth. This in itself is a sermon brewing away. For now – what Jesus says remains true forever! So don’t give up on him! Trust and believe!

THE WARNINGS

And especially for today and our generation – with patience and watchfulness, I think that God does have a word for us. It’s verse 34. Listen and look carefully:

Luk 21:34  “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap.

We always think of Lent as a solemn time of reflection as we prepare to face the terrible truth that it was for our miserable skins and sins that Jesus died.

Advent is also a time of reflection and a stark reminder that people were supposed to get ready when Jesus came. In fact the Eastern Orthodox Church treats it just like Lent. Very seriously and not in the Christmassy kind of tinselly way that we do.

Of course at that first Christmas there were people who were ready and open to God and did respond – the Marys and Josephs listen to the Spirit speaking through dreams and the clear voice of angels, the shepherds who had heaps of singing angels getting their attention, and later the wise men who were carefully studying signs as well.

We could be enjoying those nice stories today but no – we are faced with the prospect of his second coming – and the piercing question about our lack of readiness.

Listen again to verse 34:  “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap”.

This is another one of those sermons where we think “if only so and so were here to listen to this!).

Warning 1: Don’t let your hearts be weighed down with Dissipation (gluttony, self-indulgence and wastefulness).

Our hearts may not be weighed down with dissipation (which is self-indulgence and wasteful living) but there is something for all here – ESPECIALLY at Christmas where people do overdo things. And of course in the wealthy parts of the world we do waste so much!

Warning 2: Don’t let your hearts be weighed down by drunkenness. That needs little explanation.

There is a local problem in our nation of too much alcohol – and especially binge drinking. It’s a scourge – an affliction.

If this does not really involve us – look at Petersen’s translation The Message here which goes like this: “But be on your guard. Don’t let the sharp edge of your expectation get dulled by parties and drinking and shopping.”

Sound familiar?

The third one is for the purists and tea totallers here who are not often gluttonous and don’t drink:

Warning 3: Don’t let your hearts be weighed down by the the anxieties of life.

The anxieties of life do weigh down our hearts.

Anxious about so much, we forget Paul’s injunction in Philippians 4:6-7:  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

So again: Luke 21:34  “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap.

You will be caught unawares. The day will come.

AVOID SPECULATION

Here’s the thing. I don’t believe in speculating about when the day will come. After all Mark in a similar passage adds this reminder to stop speculation:  “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Mark 13:32)

It seems to me, however, that if it does not come in our lifetime, there’s this amazing leveller called death that will come. Remember John 14 from the funeral this week (for those who were here)? I go to prepare a place for you…

We need to be just as ready. We never know when our lives will end in any case.

Jesus carries on in verses 35 and 36: For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth.

It’s about being ready

About the right perspective: Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”

IT IS A SERIOUS MATTER.

I remember well one of the brothers  in our lives – from years ago –  who was so excited about the return of Jesus that he would jump for joy at the announcement on the news of every earthquake. His wife was far more pastoral, and prayed for the poor souls stuck under the rubble. He just wanted Jesus to come back!

For the early church – ravaged by persecution and destruction – the coming was also longed for. MARANATHA was their prayer. Come Lord! (1 Cor 16:22)

The word to them was really about patience. They needed courage. Verse 28 was for them a great verse:  When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

O my. What a powerful verse – and how good for us too! Stand up and lift up your heads – for your redemption is drawing near!

Redemption is at the heart of this whole story. Like Christ the King ushering in his Kingdom, it’s a word that crops up a lot.

This is not “redemption” as in the letters of Paul – a theology of the cross.

This redemption means rescue. And rescue from the mess they would find themselves in.

Holding on for God to come

He is coming

Maranatha!

For us today – we can combine verse 28 and verse 36 in a simple recipe for life:

Stand up and lift your heads – and watch and pray.

For us this also means:

  • He is our redeemer It’s about perspective and confidence – that God is the one who makes our lives different and that he will come through for us.
  • He will do it! (Psalm 37:5-6) – whatever it is we are hoping for him to do he will come through for us.
  • Don’t be distracted and weighed down! And for most of us it’s the anxieties of life (v34) that can weigh our hearts down! Be careful, says Jesus! “That day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap.”
  • Be alert and ready! The trap imagery is a little different from the other simile “like a thief in the night” which we find in Paul’s writings in 1 Thessalonians 5:2
  • Trust Him even if your world is shaken. You get the idea. It’s about watchfulness and readiness. However our lives are shaken – we are to be alert.

But mainly it’s about Hope!

The first candle of Advent which we lit today is the candle of Hope.

As we Stand up and lift (y)our heads – and watch and pray – we will be  focussed on the King who came in Jesus and who will come again.

May the glory always go to him!

Amen.