Monthly Archives: February 2013

Sunday sermon 24 February – not derailed – as a hen – but you were not willing

Reading:

Luke 13:31-35

Luk 13:31  At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.”

Luk 13:32  He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’

Luk 13:33  In any case, I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!

Luk 13:34  “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!

Luk 13:35  Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'”

Sermons.

A. “Don’t be derailed”

The first thing that we learn today is about sticking to the plan. Or in other words – don’t let people derail you from your purpose.

I don’t know about these Pharisees and their motives in this interesting story. It only appears in Luke – and I guess we seldom really consider the story.

And Pharisees are often maligned by people. They were in fact like some of our modern fundamentalists. Not the ones who want to kill their opposition – they weren’t extremists.

They were bible-believing people. Just not able to see shades of grey really – but black and white only.  And there were Pharisees who became Christians (Acts 15:5 – believers who still belonged to the party of the Pharisees).

And so we read in Luke 13:31 – At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.”

Some say they wanted to move Jesus from Galilee towards Judea to be more under their control (the Pharisees had more influence there). Others say that they were trying to drive Jesus underground. Other scholars suggest that they were genuinely concerned about Jesus’ welfare. On the other hand in Luke 9:9 we read that Herod Antipas wanted to see Jesus, and not kill him at that point.

Had Jesus been a people pleaser he might have referred the matter to a sub-committee. Or said: “thank you brother I will commit this to prayer”.

But instead he is very clear about things. Listen to what he says, without hesitation:

He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’

In any case, I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem! (Luke 13:32-33)

This is a “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God” man here. When you think about his preaching from the beginning, Jesus was doing this – driving out demons and healing people.

I’m not sure what to make of these two verses

…today, tomorrow, and the third day I will reach my goal…

“… I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day.”

It sounds a lot like commitment to his plan – or His Father’s plan. It sounds like he was determined not to be derailed even by a perceived death threat.

What it does mean is that Jesus is focussing on the cross – the third day is a reference one way or the other to the resurrection. And this passage ends with this ominous line:

“…for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!” (verse 33). A better translation is this: “For it cannot be that a prophet perish outside of Jerusalem”. (Modern KJV). In other words – Herod won’t kill me in his part of the world – because my destiny is Calvary.

Jesus was focussed on his task!

Robert Louis Stevenson wrote: “To know what you prefer instead of humbly saying, ‘Amen’ to what the world tells you you ought to prefer, is to have kept your soul alive.”

But the heart of the matter is the heart of Jesus – which reflects the heart of God. Remember John 3:16 – about why Jesus came:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (3:16-17)

For God so LOVED the world.

B.  We move to our next mini-sermon entitled:

 “as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings”

At mainly music we sing the song – 5 little ducks. I want you to sit back and enjoy this song. Maybe we should have the ducks with us as the kids do – running off (swimming off!) one at a time and then coming back to the call of the mother duck.

Now listen to the passage again from verse 33. Close your eyes and listen.

In any case, I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem! “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'” (Luke13:33-35)

:..how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!”

  • Reminds me of Psalm 17:8-9 – Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings from the wicked who assail me, from my mortal enemies who surround me.
  • Or Psalm 26:7  “… Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings.
  • Then again there is Psalm 57:1b .. .“I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed.
  • And Psalm 63:7 – probably my favourite:  “Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings.”

I think you get the picture.

Now you might have found the duck song trivial. As if we were lessening God in some way. But then chickens are not that far up the ladder of importance. And Jesus was okay with using that simile (which is the comparison with “like” or “as” if you recall from your school days).

So are we re-imagining God here? And can we? Or are we in danger of heresy?

Jesus seemed comfortable to speak of his own feelings in feminine terms.

Now I’m not advocating changing all the pronouns that are masculine to a neutral se (she + he), because I believe that what we have in the revelation of scripture is what it is. You don’t change the text deliberately.

To add to this re-imagining – think of this.  God is also described as a protective mother eagle (Deuteronomy 32:10-11,13), a fierce mother bear (in Hosea 13:8), a mother giving birth (Isaiah 42:14) and breast-feeding her child (Isaiah 49:15).

How lovely these images are. And they contrast nicely with the image of Father God. They are also very strong. Is there anything quite as powerful as the power of a mother’s love?

Maybe it is okay to re-imagine God. We are only imagining – not carving images in rock!

Think about how you perhaps see God in your life. Perhaps there is a picture – a word – a shape or colour you relate well to.

So maybe you can re-imagine God as a best friend. As a strong giant body builder who can cope with all your heavy loads. Or another animal – or a colour or plant – something that works for you. For the ladies –someone who can put all the patches of our lives together in a patchwork of praise.

As you use your imagination – pause and thank God for who or what he is to you today!

Let’s do that now!

And now our final thought:

C.  “But you were not willing”   

This is the last mini-sermon today.

And this is the tragedy and the challenge all at once.

Jesus is speaking of Jerusalem – and sadly unlike the 5 little ducks in our song earlier – they didn’t come back to mum to be taken under her wing.

They were not willing.

Friend – don’t be like that. Don’t resist his call to intimacy. How close are you actually getting? A baby cradled in his arms? A patient allowing a doctor to probe in those awkward places for you own good? Okay that one wasn’t a biblical image – I don’t think so anyway. How about a lover? That picture of God is in the bible. And a groom coming for his bride. At least a friend.

Or just a plain old KFC chicken – safe under his wing. Her wing… Listen to Jesus’ lament:

–          “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!”

And he goes on in other places later:

–          Luke 19:41 As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it…

–          Luke 23:27-29 A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him.

Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children.

For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the barren women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’

Back in Deuteronomy 12:5 there was this command:

But you shall seek the place that the LORD your God will choose out of all your tribes as his habitation to put his name there.

And Jerusalem was that place! How tragic that it becomes the place described in this passage:

Luke 13:34  “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!

Don’t ever let the church become like that!

It can! May he never say to us: “But you were not willing”

Amen.

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Sunday sermon 17 February – The temptations of Jesus

The Temptations of Jesus

Luke 4:1-13

4 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.

The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone.’[a]

The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’[b]

The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. 10 For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you
to guard you carefully;
11 they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’[
c]

12 Jesus answered, “It says: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’[d]

13 When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.

Footnotes:

  1. Luke 4:4 Deut. 8:3
  2. Luke 4:8 Deut. 6:13
  3. Luke 4:11 Psalm 91:11,12
  4. Luke 4:12 Deut. 6:16

 

Sunday Message

There are two Adams in the Bible. And the comparison between the two is a very helpful way of looking at the story of God’s rescue plan of the world. The Christian story.

In Luke’s gospel – in the previous chapter – there is a fascinating verse which gets us thinking again today about the two Adams. Luke outlines the genealogy of Jesus – his family tree – after the account of his baptism, and ends with this verse, verse 38: 38 the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.

  • Adam – the first Adam – the son of God.
  • Jesus – the second or last Adam – the son of God.  (1 Corinthians 15:54)

It doesn’t take much to figure out what the main difference is between these two! It’s in how they respond to the devil’s temptation.

THE TEMPTATIONS

Funny that we don’t always take them seriously – in the sense that we are NOT the son of God so we assume that the temptations Jesus faced were unique to him.

Good news, or bad news if you like – we are sons of Adam by birth and nature. The same stuff comes at us, but in different ways. So let’s look at the passage today.

Temptation 1 – Serving Self.

Luke 4:  Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”

This is very close to home. The first temptation involves food. That pretty much settles things doesn’t it? Standing before the fridge at odd hours we have a new incentive to lock the door (of the fridge I mean). In the country where I came from you could lock your fridge which is not a bad thing if you have midnight raiders!

This temptation comes to Jesus at a time of extreme hunger. And one has to be sympathetic.

On Tuesday at our morning worship (See http://wp.me/p2bTnS-7f ) I shared about the three assumptions Jesus made when he spoke to his followers in Matthew 6 – when you give, when you pray and when you fast! We did not do a survey about who actually fasts as the congregation believes me usually – and the passage told us not to tell anyone!

But I know it’s not common! We hardly skip meals. Can you imagine what Jesus went through?

But this is about more than the food. The temptation to make food from rocks is only a symptom.

At his first day at work, in a sense, Jesus is tempted to use his power to serve his own needs.

Later on the cross he would be tempted in a similar way by the voices who taunted him by saying:   “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.” (Luke 23:35).

Of course it didn’t stop there. The soldiers:  “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” (Luke 25:36). And one of the criminals hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39).

It’s about using your power to serve your own needs.

We have different power available in our lives. Resources, time, money are all forms of empowerment. Perhaps the temptation of Greed is related to this problem that we have – we could easily use our resources not to please ourselves but to be a blessing to the needy and poor.

We have power in the organisations we work in or serve in. The classic adult bully abuses that power in a self- serving way. Positive influence on the other hand is a blessing to others!

Many things we influence in the church are actually not about others but about ourselves. That’s the truth. The temptation is to serve ourselves.

The dialogue in the text today goes like this:

The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone.’[a] 

Of course he was quoting Deuteronomy 8:3

He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

Jesus resists this temptation because he knows his bible – which teaches that life comes from God in the fullest sense. Only the real life we have in God makes us fully alive! (song from NW)

We are fooled in thinking that getting our own way satisfies.

The story continues in the second temptation:

Temptation 2 –  The temptation to take control through compromising true worship.

For Jesus is was a stark choice:

The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendour, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours.”

It would have been so easy to embrace the expectations of the people and become a political Messiah. Military and civil power – the power to rule and control the nations – is a great temptation. It could be achieved by a brief moment of worshipping Satan.

Like the turning of stones into bread – it’s another short cut option.

I’ve already talked a little about our abuse use of power.

So many of our temptations are about short cuts bringing instant gratification.

And of course the Kingdom Jesus was ushering in was quite different from political hopes the locals had. It was about a long hard obedience to a new set of truths and assumptions about life.

  • Is this a real temptation?
  • Was Jesus REALLY tempted to worship the Devil?
  • And are we?

I’m not going to try to answer those questions. I’d rather point you to a key verse in the Bible:

Hebrews 4:15  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.

And behind this saga in the narrative is the same command that applies to all human beings:

Exodus 20:3  “You shall have no other gods before me.

Power and worship are close allies. It’s about the things that capture our hearts! We are dealing here with Jesus who became fully human.

We need to be so very careful here, because we know that the stuff of this world doesn’t really satisfy. Two illustrations help here. The first is by the 17th century French Philosopher Blaise Pascal:

“What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in humanity a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This we try in vain to fill with everything around us, seeking in things that are not there the help we cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God alone.”
Blaise Pascal, Pensee 10.148.

And then more well-known perhaps from Augustine the 4th century African bishop of Hippo, the modern city of Annaba, in Algeria:

“You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you.”
St. Augustine, Confessions 1.1.1

It’s the on-going temptation to seek fulfillment in things and from other sources.

Worship is about what we give worth too – what captures our hearts and imaginations. And we are very vulnerable to this idolatry.

Temptation 3 – The third but not final temptation – a cross-avoiding spectacle

And so we come to the third one. It would have been much easier to perform a stunt. Listen again:

The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. 10 For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you
to guard you carefully;
11 they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’[
c]

12 Jesus answered, “It says: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’[d]

A couple of things come to mind here. The misuse of the Bible – how easy it is to abuse scripture.

  • Again the short cuts of wanting instant results.
  • But especially the avoidance of the cross.

Most real achievement comes with long hard commitment and courage. The cross required that in the extreme.

We too should not test God (I am not sure if we do take huge risks though). It’s probably the most difficult temptation to get our heads around and to apply to our lives.

SOME CONCLUSIONS AND SOLUTIONS

I think in all of them there is a FAITH as TRUST issue here. Jesus had to trust His Father fully. So what about us?

  • Do we really believe that God’s way is best for us?
  • Do WE want to force His hand?
  • Are there things we don’t really trust Him for?

LET’S WATCH THIS PRESENTATION OF THE TEMPTATIONS BY CHILDREN – it will give us some insights into the problem and some solutions. It may make this sermon more memorable.

WATCH VIDEO:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ntnvr5sbl04

I loved the hamburger thrown in. Typical kids. But the “on my knees” theme is the key! The song grabbed my attention – as did the Lord’s prayer reminder.

The chorus in the song: On my knees! I am on my knees! I’m on my knees!

  • Prayer is at the heart of our victory against temptation.
  • We pray better when we know our Bibles!
  • When we’ve been on our knees (literally or not – it means devoting time to prayer) then the decisions when on our feet through the day become so much simpler. The power of the Holy Spirit applying the Word of God to our lives means that like Paul we can say: “But we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 2:16 )

So for your encouragement, read this passage which helps press on and not give up:

Hebrews 4:14-16:  Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Amen.

Ash Wednesday – a step ahead of the pack (service on Tuesday 12 February @10.00am)

Readings:  Matthew 6:1-6;  16-21

The beginning of Lent – is often seen as gloomy time of repentance. The focus on human sin and frailty. Traditional Ash Wednesday liturgies focus on the brevity of life and remind worshipers that they came from dust and will soon enough return back to the earth, dust once more. The Pastor applies ashes in the shape of the cross on the forehead of each person and speaks theses words, “For dust you are and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19).

I’m not sure that we need that reminder – most of us are quite familiar with our frailty and have experienced death in our family and friends circle. (I saw a sign in shop yesterday reminds us – Don’t take life too seriously – nobody gets out of here alive!)

The Gospel reading for tomorrow reminds us of some important things in our Christian disciplines however. There is a focus on the positive.

Mat 6:1  “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

Mat 6:2  “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honoured by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.

Mat 6:3  But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,

Mat 6:4  so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Mat 6:5  “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.

Mat 6:6  But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Mat 6:16  “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.

Mat 6:17  But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face,

Mat 6:18  so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Mat 6:19  “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.

Mat 6:20  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.

Mat 6:21  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Note the assumptions – when you give (v2), when you pray (v5) and when you fast (v17). These are a normal expectation for Christians and an ordinary part of the Christian life.

The text is set out as a serious of contrasts – not dos and don’ts, but don’ts and dos. In fact there is a lovely poetic rhythm to the whole passage.

If we have anything to repent of it’s the fact that we are not good at these things – not all of them at any rate. Giving, praying and fasting.

Our hearts are trapped in other worries. They consume our energy and time.

So after this reminder of the routine spiritual disciplines and how we should do them mainly in the secret place before God, Jesus gets to the heart of things – literally.

He talks about treasure. The things we cherish and value – which are vulnerable to moths, rust and theft. Either way they perish or land up in someone else’s house – only to perish there. They can only go to the op shop a couple of times really.

Investing time in giving, praying and fasting, is investing in heaven – in God’s economy. And he ends with this: Mat 6:21  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

In one of the hymns we will sing today there is the line – take my silver and my gold, not a mite would I behold. The writer of the hymn revisited that verse prayerfully and gave all her jewelry (except for one brooch) to the Church Mission Society of the day. She knew about treasures in heaven.

So where will your heart be over these next 46 days until Easter? (The 40 days excludes the 6 resurrection day Sundays which are not fast days historically).

I’m not even sure that we have to give up things. I think that misses the point as our whole life is meant to be a living sacrifice (Romans 12).

Maybe we can engage life more worshipfully – be more thankful – invest in some things that need attention – like appreciating the beauty around us, being thankful for the good people do even if we get irritated by their bad points. So we can give up grumbling, but not just for 40 days!

Maybe we should die to self more and take more risks – caring for those who are not easy to care for – reconnecting with people we have neglected (pick up the phone) – stopping to notice the good things that we take for granted. Praying more – criticising less. So we can give up criticising – but not just for 40 days!

Make your own list of 40 things – and you may find it’s not all dust and ashes. It’s a remarkable world – and it didn’t happen by chance. The people in your life are not an accident or there by chance either. God has put them there to teach you things!  🙂

There are too many wonderful things to celebrate – we should be much nicer to be with most of the time – with a revived attitude of gratitude.

Treasure the things that are treasure.

Make it a great 40 days – and it won’t matter that you and I will be dust one day. There is too much to be thankful for now and too much to look forward to when we die. Easter has settled that!

Amen.

Sunday teaching 10 February @ 10.30 – Gospel, 3 day and 3 year. Which will it be?

Teaching @ 10.30am service

Readings:

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

15 Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance[a]: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter,[b] and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

Luke 5:1-11

The Calling of the First Disciples

5 One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret,[a] with the people crowding around him and listening to the word of God, he saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down[b] the nets for a catch.”

Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.

Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

Teaching. (Sunday 2 – the second service of the day)

The word “gospel” crops up in our first reading today. And then we had a gospel reading. That sounds odd doesn’t it? There are four “gospels” – the name we give to the first four books of the New Testament. And then there is “the gospel” proclaimed.

Gospel – means good news. In the original NT language it is euangelion  – a “good message” – from which we get the word “evangelism” (telling the story of the Gospel) and “Evangelical” which describes Christians who take this message seriously and preach about it.

And in a sense the Gospel is neatly summed up by Paul in the first reading this morning when he says:

15 Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance[a]: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter,[b] and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

The gospel I preached to you (v15)

This gospel” (v16)

There were probably other gospels being propagated. And of course this isn’t “gospels” like Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, Thomas Peter and Judas – the written accounts of the story which you find in the bible and outside of it – he means here people’s teaching about the most important parts of the story of Good news.

In verse 2 Paul says people are SAVED by this Gospel – if they keep to it!

And then he gives the “first importance” things in verse 3:

Listen carefully:

  1. He died for our sins according to the Scriptures
  2. He was buried
  3. He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures
  4. And that he appeared to Peter and the 12 and then more than 500 at the same tome – then James, then to all the apostles – then to Paul himself (last of all – as to one abnormally born)

People describe this summary as the three day gospel – about the events of Easter, the death and resurrection of Jesus (who was crucified and raised up on the third day). And some people’s faith is fenced in by the three day Gospel.

Now I am not trying to underestimate its importance here. It is the heart of the faith. Without the death of Jesus and his resurrection on the third day there is no Gospel. Read the rest of 1 Corinthians 15 and you will see this clearly.

Our worship makes no sense either if Jesus was not raised from the dead. We worship him – we sing to him – we speak to him in prayer. It makes no sense if he is still dead. Then we are talking to a dead person.

You can see why evangelical Christians  (meaning gospel Christians) are less than thrilled with those Christians who say they are Christians but don’t believe in the resurrection.

What a lot of Christians focus on – more than the 3 day Gospel – is the 3 year gospel of the life and ministry of Jesus. And so do we of course. They focus on Jesus’ teachings – his lifestyle and example – his compassion for the poor and needy – his care of outcasts and sinners – his forgiveness and grace.

In our place we firmly believe in the resurrected Jesus – who ascended into heaven – and gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit through whom he is present with us. (Did He not say he would be with his followers always?). (Read 1 Corinthians 15:12-18 for Paul’s ongoing argument about this). And we seek to follow what Jesus taught in the three years of His ministry.

That theological debate aside, here’s a question. Which Gospel defines your life?

This is reflected in peoples’ prayers often. When people pray and all you ever hear is thanks that Jesus died for them – they are probably 3 day gospel people.

And it sounds as if we are not moving beyond this basic celebration of forgiveness of sins and the great promise that when we die we will go to heaven.

Okay I am overstating this – but for those who want to follow Jesus, they probably have a good question to ask: “What do we do in the meantime? Between believing in Jesus and dying and going to heaven?”

Great question. Three day gospel enthusiasts would say “give thanks, sing about your sins been forgiven a lot – and tell other people about it so they can believe it”. They would refer you to the reading today in which Jesus called his first followers (who were fishermen) and how he told them they would catch people in the future.

We call this “evangelism” – sharing the good news, telling people to believe in Jesus and follow him. Peter is told in the gospel reading today that he would be “catching people” rather than fish in the future.

The truth is we understand it but don’t do it well. Here’s the test – how many people have you brought to this faith in the last year? How many people have you “led to Christ”? – to use that term.

How many of your friends have taken the 3 day gospel story you have shared with them, and turned their lives around! They are fully committed followers of Jesus in your church?

It gets challenging doesn’t it?

At best we try to invite them to a programme or church event and let it happen there. Like Alpha or a healing service or just a Sunday service. We want them to meet Jesus in one of those contexts. (And on the day we get our friends to church there is always the danger that the preacher has a bad day!)

And we also work hard at our witness – or we should to at least – that our lives match up to what we believe and people see our grace and kindness – our poor but valiant attempt at reflecting the life and example of Jesus at work and play. (It’s the ‘practice what you preach’ motto that is often behind this).

The three year gospel.

The 3 year Gospel – the story of Jesus’ teaching – is extremely important.

Matthew 28 records his great commission to the disciples (which we still apply to the whole church). Read his words again:

Mat 28:18  Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
Mat 28:19  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
Mat 28:20  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

“… and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

Jesus seldom spoke of the church and did not teach a lot about his death and resurrection. When he did speak of it he was warning his disciples and preparing them for what was to come (as in John 14:1-6) or comforting his friends (as in John 11:25-26).

In most of his teaching – Jesus was a bearer of the good news of the Kingdom and a man who lived out Kingdom life. When Jesus proclaimed Good News it was usually about the Kingdom of God. Many of his parables are about the Kingdom.

The Kingdom he announced was that God was King – that His Kingdom was close – that people could become part of this Kingdom as they followed Jesus.

He healed the sick and cast out evil spirits – signs of the coming of the Kingdom in power against the darkness of the kingdom and power of the Evil One.

He taught them about the character of God – His love and goodness – His compassion and kindness and patience. That the King in the Kingdom was a Father.

And He modelled the Kingdom by reaching out to the people at the bottom of the pile. Compassion, touching the untouchables, time spent with sinners, were all the signs of the Kingdom breaking into the world of the lost, the lost he came to seek and save that I referred to last week. (Luke 19:10)

And when they asked Him to teach them to pray, He said this:

Mat 6:9  “This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
Mat 6:10  your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

The truth is – if Jesus says to you “follow me” it’s much more than just believing the good news of what he did at Easter. That’s the beginning and the foundation.  We see this in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians in the 1st verse we read today:

15 Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.

On which you have taken your stand” is more than an academic stand – it’s like a foundation on which everything else is built.

The words of Jesus are in fact the foundation as well. Remember this story: The man who built his house on the rock, and the one built on sand? It ends with this:

Mat 7:24  “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.

It’s a long journey in the same direction lining our lives up with the way he intended us to live.

It’s about, in Jesus words, Seeking first His Kingdom and His righteousness.

Mat 6:33  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

The message of believing the 3 day events of the Gospel is central – but the three year gospel – the teaching on the Kingdom and the way our lives change is not negotiable.

Because we realise that what we lived for before becoming Christians changes – we live not for ourselves but for others.

I was at a one day conference on leadership in the church last week. And the speaker said this of our generation here in New Zealand. There are three things that inspire the modern kiwi:

  • A bach
  • Comfort
  • Security
  • I would have added FISHING for some people I know.

We are offering a way of living that can inspire people in a much more radical way.

Following Jesus – making fishers of men – enlarging the team of followers who are committed to the preaching of the good news and the transformation of this world – bringing the will of God on earth as it is in heaven – is a far more exciting thing.

In addition to introducing people to Jesus – who models his own life entirely on others and ultimately dies for the most horrible people (including us) – getting them to follow him is an adventure beyond any other.

We had home group this week and started our study on “Rivers of Justice” which is a about God’s call on us to be lined up with his heart for Justice and righteousness in the world now.

I’d like us to listen to Jim Wallis as an example of this. We used this as an introduction to our theme for home group this week. Take it out of the American context and apply it to our city.

Watch the first nine minutes of this to get a sense of what he is saying – at least watch to the story of Mary Glover at the food kitchen!

That sounds pretty radical and exciting to me!

It’s the natural consequence of following Jesus – it changes what we live for. It’s not just about the poor. It’s about all those who are the “least of” Jesus’ brothers and sisters.

The Gospel of the death and resurrection of Jesus and the Gospel of the Kingdom (together with the call to discipleship – to follow Jesus) leads us to a different set of priorities in life. It changes us!

It changes communities!

And the followers of Jesus who followed him to focus on people changed the world – no doubt about it!

And we are part of that team!

The 3 day gospel about the life and death and resurrection of Jesus – and the 3 year Gospel of the life and teaching and example of Jesus – transform lives.

Amen.

Sunday Sermon 10 February @ 9.00am – Listen to Him

MESSAGE (Sunday 1)                    Reading: Luke 9:28-36

It’s a great passage – I love it.

  • It reminds us that the Law and the Prophets (Moses and Elijah) are fulfilled in Jesus.
  • That Jesus is greater than the prophets (or a prophet) and the greater teacher (than Moses)
  • It’s a foretaste of heaven, and heaven and earth meet here on this mountain
  • It’s a powerful description of the transformation of the face of Jesus – and the brightness of his appearance
  • It reminds us that we have mountain top experiences – and that like Peter we want to stay up there on the mountain with those wonderful experiences! Of course we don’t stay on the mountain tops!
  • And that it was in prayer that Jesus was transfigured (verse 29) – reminding us that we too are transformed in prayer! (Only Luke mentions that this was in the context of prayer. Yay for three gospels!)

But here’s the thing. There’s one of those voice from heaven passages – and it’s a great reminder that God speaks!

That this is all about God revealed to us!

The cloud (verse 34) is about the presence of God! That’s what we need and that’s actually the privilege of access we have (access in Ephesians is referred to in chapter 2, verses 7-8 –  He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. And in Romans 5:1-2 – Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. We have a new place of grace to stand before God! By grace!

And the voice! This is so important! Listen to verse 35 again:

35 A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.”

Are you listening to Him?

That’s the key to all of this really.

I remember being taught – if you haven’t a clue where you are in life and what God’s will is for your next step – go back to the last thing He told you to do! And do it! Listen!

I was reading one of George Whitfield’s sermons on this passage! I love it! This short interesting Anglican of the 18th century who preached to tens of thousands at once in England and America!

I want you to listen to what he said to his hearers:

I can now only mention one thing more, and that is, Did the Father say, “This is my beloved Son, hear him?” then let every one of our hearts echo to this testimony give of Christ, “This is my beloved Saviour.” Did God so love the world, as to send his only begotten Son, his well beloved Son to preach to us?

Then, my dear friends, hear Him.

What God said seventeen hundred years ago, immediately by a voice from heaven, concerning his Son upon the mount, that same thing God says to you immediately by his word, “Hear him.” If ye never heard him before, hear him now. Hear him so as to take him to be your prophet, priest, and your king; hear him, so as to take him to be your God and your all. Hear him today, ye youth, while it is called today; hear him now, lest God should cut you off before you have another invitation to hear him; hear him while he cries, “Come unto me;” hear him while he opens his hand and his heart; hear him while he knocks at the door of your souls, lest you should hear him saying, “Depart, depart, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” Hear him, ye old and gray-headed, hear him, ye that have one foot in the grave; hear him, I say; and if ye are dull of hearing, beg of God to open the ears of your hearts, and your blind eyes; beg of God that you may have an enlarged and a believing heart, and that ye may know what the Lord God saith concerning you.

Must have been great preaching in those revival days. In England and America.

They didn’t listen politely and go off to tea. They fell to their knees and wept in repentance.

Now I know that Presbyterians are not given to too much emotion!

But this preacher didn’t mince his words!

This is good stuff: “If you’ve got one foot in the grave – hear him! If you are dull of hearing – beg of God to open the eyes of your hearts!” Whitfield is preaching scripture here! Where is it from? Ephesians again! He’s preaching these truths: Ephesians 1:18-19  I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, Eph 1:19  and his incomparably great power for us who believe.

And of course he wants his hearers to have enlarged and believing hearts! Again Whitfield is preaching from scripture – as Psalm 119:32 says this: (MKJV)  I will run the way of Your Commandments, when You shall enlarge my heart.

And of course he wants them to know what the Lord was saying concerning them!

We’ve watched a video about the response of some Lutherans in America on this passage – have a look at this:

VIDEO: Bible story jam video Luke 9:28-36    http://vimeo.com/58940441

Interesting how different people read and responded to this text.

I liked the last man’s comment about “this I can do” – listening to his voice. I can do this – if I work on it!

And also my thought was – listening to what he has to say to us and about us.

If the Father says to the Son: “my son whom I have chosen” in Luke’s record. In Matthew the writer says: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5). And then Mark puts it this way: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” (Mark 9:7)

We get three versions – and of course it’s not surprizing as Matthew Mark and Luke were not up there – only Peter James and John.  The passage ends with these words:  “The disciples kept this to themselves, and told no one at that time what they had seen.”

I don’t know about you, but they’re all rather encouraging are they not? Chosen, Loved, well pleased. While they are directed at the disciples (‘This is my son’, not ‘you are my son’) the Father still encourages the Son in this amazing time of prayer! Apart from the reminded of the voice there is the unique  nature of the transfiguration itself. I’m not going to try and figure that out today.

I’m really keen that we listen to the Son!

As an aside – I suspect that the Father also wants to tell us as children (the younger brothers and sisters of this elder brother Jesus) how much he values us too! That’s a different issue of an affirmation of his love for us – especially where we face challenging times.

But here it’s about listening to Jesus – and that’s a life changing habit we need to work on in our prayers.

The conversation about this passage can continue.

  • The Son still speaks!  Please listen to Him!
  • We must not ignore Him!
  • We need to open His book (the Bible) and give Him time so we too can encounter him and He can speak to us!

Let this conversation continue as we reflect on it. Over tea, or better on our knees!

Amen!

Sunday sermon 3 February 2013 – Cliffs and crosses

Sermon

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

Luke 4:21-30

1 Corinthians 13

13 If I speak in the tonguesof men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames,but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. 12 Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Luke 4:

21 and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.

23 Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself! Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’”

24 “I tell you the truth,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 25 I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27 And there were many in Israel with leprosy[a] in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”

28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff. 30 But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.

Message

It would be easy today to talk about love. That ‘nice’ type of reflection that you often hear at weddings about love – being patient and kind. It’s the soft reflective route and the outcome can be a warm fuzzy feeling. The truth is that soon after a wedding the gloves are off as people try to resolve their differences of opinion.

It is a strange combination – this passage on love and the gospel reading where the people of Jesus’ own home town try to murder him by throwing him off a cliff.

The bigger picture is a massive battle – which is reflected in the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness.

It’s a battle for truth.

Last week you would have heard the first part of the reading from Luke 4 – Jesus explaining that the prophetic word from Isaiah referred to him.

The story continues today as Jesus declares: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

They love it! Verse 22 tells us “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.”

After the people rave – why doesn’t he just take the complements and move on! No. He has to get stuck into them.  He has to bring truth out into the open. Listen to his sermon:

23 Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself! Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’”

24 “I tell you the truth,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 25 I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27 And there were many in Israel with leprosy[a] in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”

In short – you are not the most important people in the world. Even in Elijah’s and Elisha’s  time God reached those outside of the family! Outside of Israel! In that time he touched the lives of Gentiles! Those outside the family of God. That did not go down well!

Luke continues:

28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff. 30 But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.

Humanity’s self-righteousness perfectly displayed. And before any of the encounters of faith, the healings, the miracles and all his teachings still to come, Jesus was on the road to the cross.

The gloves were off. Satan tried to derail him from the beginning. And when he resisted the temptations thrown his way, Satan used religious people to try to kill him. Nothing subtle there.

I came back to work on Wednesday after some leave where I stepped out of the rush.

Let me tell you something about the ministry – it’s like a battle field. In fact the battles I face are on-going. In the depths of my toughest moments I am really just being a follower of Jesus. The moment you take him and his message seriously, your own sin and failure looms to the fore. And of course Satan – the accuser – uses people to tell you that you are hopeless and useless. If Satan is at work in the world – he is surely the father of lies (John 8:44) who through adults who should know better and through bullies of all ages tells children especially that they will never amount to anything. Lucky for me as an adult I don’t have to be shaped by what people say about me.

Before I make a claim to be a preacher and a pastor, with all the risks that involves, I am first and foremost just a a follower of Jesus. I’m on the road to the cross.

Are you really a follower of Jesus? The road to the cross is the only one. Jesus was on that road from his baptism – through the temptations in the wilderness, through the attempt to get rid of him by his own people at Nazareth, through every encounter of opposition and every demonic manifestation – every trick questions and the lies that people told about him at his trial – Jesus was always on the road to the cross.

And we are no different. When speak the truth people don’t particularly like it. And truth leads to all kinds of interesting reactions. If they try to throw Jesus – their own boy – off a cliff, anything is possible. There will always be risk and opposition.

Jesus had a temporary victory but they would try again. From a human point of view it was always going to end in disaster on Calvary. But Jesus – still empowered by the Holy Spirit – stands firm. Well it says this: 30 But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.

THE TRUTH TODAY ABOUT THE HEART OF GOD FOR THE LOST

People still don’t like the truth today. We all justify ourselves – defend themselves. We argue about things that challenge our presuppositions.

This truth today – that God is still more interested in people out there than us – is offensive to many! If it’s not true – why did Jesus say this:

Luk 15:4  “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?

Luk 15:5  And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders

Luk 15:6  and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbours together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’

Luk 15:7  I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

Yes you heard it. More rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than the 99 of us today.

Of course it may well be that some of us need to repent too! But you know what I mean! Luke records the words of Jesus elsewhere:

Luk_19:10  “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”

Our mission this year involves this concern – this passion – to find a way to reach out into this community.

There will always be those who say that we need to look after our own first. That’s pastoral care and it’s a very significant part of our work.

Our home groups are part of that strategy – and our pastoral concerns team works really hard to care for many people.

If love does anything – it will drive us to face the truth – and continue the work of Jesus. God’s love that we receive is here to share and give away.

We will not reach the whole world. We won’t reach the whole community.

But we will endeavour to find out where God wants us to work and do that as part of our Mission. That is God’s heart – for those who need His love who are not here in the church.

In the meantime – we too need the full power of the Holy Spirit to keep us from being derailed – or thrown off our own particular cliffs!

It is the Holy Spirit who touches our hearts to give us God’s heart – a heart for those who are like lost sheep today.

It is the Holy Spirit who brings us to that point where we count everything else as loss – where we die to self – where we walk this walk to the cross ourselves. In the words of the song we will close with:

Everything I once held dear, I count it all as loss

Lead me to the cross, where your Love poured out, bring me to my knees, Lord I lay me down, Rid me of myself, I belong to you, Oh lead me, lead me to the cross.

Amen.