Monthly Archives: March 2013

Sunday sermon 31 March – He is risen

Reading: John 20:1-18

Resurrection Sunday

So what do you think of all this Christian stuff?

The catch phrases. The jargon. These interesting terms and concepts that are foreign to so many today.

Like “Are you saved? Converted? Born again? A believer? A disciple?”

Here’s a more important question. Can you say with countless others that you are a child of God, following Paul who some 2000 years ago wrote (in Greek mind you):  

For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. (Romans 8:15-16)

  • Is that real to you?
  • Or have you just been a church member for as long as you remember? Perhaps you can’t actually remember where it all started!
  • Or perhaps you are visiting today – window shopping – or revisiting Easter as you have done before over the years. And Jesus and this Christian story seem very far from you.

The people on that first Easter day would not have used that kind of language. They didn’t have Paul’s letters at that point – or any written copies of gospels recording the words of Jesus.

They didn’t have the modern evangelical doctrines and formulas that we have access to.

No church buildings with steeples. No bibles bound in leather. No Shine TV.

They certainly didn’t have the Reformation concepts that have shaped what people believe today. Like justification by faith. Regeneration. Righteousness. Sanctification. Glorification.

But they knew Jesus. He’d been their friend and teacher.

And it’s bad bad bad when a friend dies. It’s like the bottom falls out of your world. Especially if he’s the one you’ve really depended upon. The one you’ve left your job to follow!

Younger people today – in their modern jargon – would use a different metaphor when a friend dies. They would say: “that sucks!”  (You can tell that they’ve probably never used a vacuum cleaner.)

To see your friend executed really sucks.

My wife and I watched a visual recreation of the holy week events this week. Man it’s bad watching anyone be crucified. It’s horrible.

Imagine that happening to a dear friend. Or in the case of Mary – to your son.

It reminds me of the dreadful feeling I had as a young teenager when I read Alan Paton’s “cry the beloved country” and felt the pain of the dad in the story – the Reverend Stephen Kumalo – facing the truth that his son Absalom was to be hanged

BUT THIS IS EASTER DAY – RESURRECTION DAY

On this day we could talk about all these Christian themes. People may expect it. It could be the kind of SUPERBOWL SERMON. The sermon of all sermons.

Sorry to disappoint you. It’s not. You can’t get it all on one day in the year. We’re here every Sunday and we’re still learning new stuff all the time.

I really want us to get a sense of what it’s like to come to your best friend’s grave and find the body gone.

Grief, pain, confusion and fear follow. The body is all you have now – at it seems to be stolen.

You go into the tomb and see two angels (or unusual looking people anyway) and hear voices (their voices) saying:

‘Woman, why are you crying?’

And you say to them: ‘They have taken my Lord/friend away, and I don’t know where they have put him.’ 

And then you turn around and see someone who asks you:  ‘Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?’

And assuming him to be the gardener – a worker in the area – you ask him:

‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.’

And then – you hear his voice speak your name: , ‘Mary.’ John. Dave. Heather. Joy. Whoever you are. You recognise your friend’s voice when he says your name in the way he always used to say it.

It’s an astounding story. This friend who was butchered by a whip, nailed to a cross, out of whom blood and water flowed when a soldier’s spear pierced his dead side. Who was buried.

You hear his voice – and fall at his feet and cry out to him.

I have a friend who relentlessly debates all kind of theological issues with his colleagues by email. Every day there are these long complex quotes. Often many emails in a day.

I read some. I don’t understand others. I have some view on some of the issues.

How to get his attention? Who knows?

If Jesus could just call him by name.

These early adventurous Christians didn’t all get it straight away. I mean look how odd these two verses are in this morning’s gospel reading?

Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 

Well did they believe – or not? And what?

Faith for most people is not an instant thing at all.

They may move from atheist (not believing that there is a God) to agnostic (not sure but maybe possible) to some kind of belief in God. The writer to the Hebrews puts it this way:

Heb 11:6  And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. NIV (Or them that diligently seek him. KJV)

You have to start somewhere. Take the risk and then seek him! Pursue him!

They did. They believed before they understood it all. Some of them like Thomas were more tactile and concrete – wanting to stick his fingers in the wounds. Did they hurt then? Someone asked if that was the reason why Jesus said to Mary in verse 17. A fair question from someone exploring a brand new story. I mean if they were to read the verse it would be difficult for a new enquirer:

17 Jesus said, ‘Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”’

The average not-yet Christian wouldn’t really know what that’s all about. And the content old hands in the church would say with a tut-tut “what a silly question”. Not really silly. I mean here’s one that boggles the seasoned religious person’s mind: what was Jesus wearing when he was resurrected? Great question. I have no idea – I only know that he got out of his grave clothes and some soldier won his clothes by throwing dice.

We as seasoned Christians are so far removed from people who don’t know this story – I think we’d be surprised by their questions.

I mean resurrected from the dead – pretty different hey!

I’ve only met one guy who was dead and then raised up. He was certified dead and in a mortuary for two days. This Nigerian pastor was fascinating. He apparently couldn’t eat solids after that. His story was so interesting.

The truth is that many people struggle to accept that kind of story.

If you find it all to hard – try this.

Credo ut intelligam is the phrase coined by St Anselm of Canterbury some 1000 years after this event. “I believe so that I may understand”.

Stick your neck out and trust God as you explore a real relationship with Him.

Much later than Anselm of Canterbury I recall Cliff Richard singing a song called QUESTIONS in the movie “Two a Penny”: “If you are real Lord be real to me”.

Have a look at it – it takes you back a few years!

Yep in 1967 he was pretty dishy hey. Apparently I looked pretty good too years back. Here are the words then:

How to start? What to say

I don’t remember ever feeling this way

Can it be true? Does anyone care?

Is it only make-believe or are You really there

Is there a chance I’ve been missing the best?

Could it be life is more than a guess?

I’m afraid to let go, yet I long to see

If You are real, be real to me

If You are real, be real to me

Okay, supposing I were to come to You

Not saying I will, just supposing I do

Would I have to be, just another guy

Two a penny’s not for me, it just won’t satisfy

I’m just confused, by candles and prayers

I just need to know if You are there

Show me the way, for I long to see

If You are real, be real to me

If You are real, be real to me

This Jesus is immensely interested in our lives today. And He IS real. And those who cry out to him can find the reality of his presence and friendship today.

The truth is He’s been sidelined by society. More than one whole generation would find coming into any church a peculiar kind of thing to do.

So when we do this – we are clearly counter-cultural.

How do we get them to meet Jesus and hear him call their name? That’s the trick. The catch. The challenge. The task. It may involve going out to them rather than getting them into our churches.  This is such an exciting message. It’s through Jesus that we do become children of God. So what we read from Paul to the Romans at the beginning becomes real to us:

For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. (Romans 8:15-16)

We know that we know. It’s an inner work of the Holy Spirit. He makes God real to us and the knowledge of who we are. We need the fulness and power of the Holy Spirit!

And from there the rest actually falls into place. This life is not one big mistake – this earth is not something that we need to get off at all costs. We don’t have to give up on it all.

We can embrace life – take it on fully! He can be real by His Holy Spirit!

By the same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead we are made alive in Christ – and we are strengthened and guided in our job on earth – to be people who share this amazing news!

Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again! In the meantime nothing beats knowing him.

This is a great message! He is risen! He is real. He can be real to us. We must pass it on!

Amen.

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Sunday sermon 24 march – Unlike any other king

Reading: Luke 19: 28-40

PALM SUNDAY

What an interesting name – Palm Sunday! Some have suggested PARADE SUNDAY! For good reason – Palms are not even mentioned in the account in Luke. Cloaks are – people lay them on the ground. It’s festive. Crowds shout out!

sermon outline 24 March 1

Today people are not that sure about what it means – hence the  Palm Sundae picture above!

So what’s the most important thing today?

sermon outline 24 March 2

Kids love animals – so donkeys have featured on Palm Sunday services. There are some serious logistical problems about that when you have donkeys in church!

Palms are good – they are mentioned in three accounts! Not in our Luke reading though! Cloaks are also laid down.

Praise is good! Psalm 118 is quoted – a processional Psalm welcoming  the one who comes “in the name of the Lord”.

Stones are referred to. People write whole sermons on the stones

Either way they work up to Easter!

So many options!

So for the sake of the Donkey watch this creative take on Palm Sunday:

Great questions –

  • Why is this day so UNLIKE every other day!
  • Why is Jesus so UNLIKE every other bloke!

Good questions! I loved the donkey’s ability to resist stopping at the burger king!

THE BEST NAME FOR THE EVENT IS THE TRIUMPHAL ENTRY

The name “Triumphal” entry is deceptive – it underscores the challenge of who wins in this story – of who has the real power.

Crowds cheer – in Luke disciples are praising Jesus.  “Deeds of power” or miracles are the reason given for this celebration! His miracles and healings have impressed people. One has to ask – are people still looking for the wrong things (like the food he provided when he fed the 5000?).

The words “Blessed is he who comes” in Psalm 118 – which welcomed pilgrims – become in Luke’s account here: “Blessed is the King who comes…”. Jesus is more than a pilgrim here. He is a humble King fulfilling the prophecies of one riding in like this, on the colt of a donkey (Zechariah 9:9-10). On the other hand Pilate – when he came in to town – would have been on a horse – with soldiers – showing his power as a warning to the masses! Jesus is on a humble donkey’s foal.

One way or other JESUS PLANNED HIS OWN PARADE! He tells them where to go to get the foal. He has no problem with them putting him on it. And the parade begins! The disciples cry “Peace in heaven!” which is fascinating as at his birth the angels sang “peace on earth”! Why is the glory here in the highest heaven? There’s an old song we sing sometimes: “You are the king of glory” which includes the line “glory in the highest heaven – for Jesus the Messiah reigns”.

The focus is on heaven probably because this is not an earthly king or an earthly Kingdom! At an earthly level, from a human political point of view, they kill him! The real power is the power of the Kingdom – seen in the mighty deeds – which were healings and exorcisms mainly, restoring people’s bodies and minds! The real power will be seen on Easter Sunday – when he is raised from death.

So following our English donkey in the Donkey Cam video – he is unlike any other bloke!!  He is unlike any other King!

What kind of king is this? Triumphant? – not really on the day. Certainly not on Good Friday. Definitely victorious on the third day when he is raised.The route he takes to his victory is profoundly challenging. Read Isaiah 53 to get a sense of what he went through as the suffering servant.

He is prince of peace – but his parade is not on a horse and has no soldiers. In fact Luke seems to de-politicise it by not referring to Palms  and not even using the word “Hosanna” – they both had political connotations.

What kind of King do you want? (I’m referring to you today as you read this).  Someone powerful who will vindicate your cause and change your circumstances, like those who wanted him to overthrow the oppressive regime of the Romans?

In the Easter events the efforts of Judas (to force Jesus’ hand?) and the violence of Peter when Jesus is arrested (drawing his sword and attacking someone) speak of the human ways of achieving power.

We get Jesus of Nazareth – someone so different – “Unlike every other bloke” – and we are to become like Him! Strength in weakness and humility are his way of dealing with his enemies.

A King unlike any other!

sermon outline 24 March 7

This King – Jesus of Nazareth – laments over the city.  Read beyond the verses set for today and you will see this.

He does not weep for Himself, even though he knows he faces a certain death. He laments the fact that they miss out again on the opportunity that God gives them to find true peace.

He cleanses the temple! The real issue is not the political power, but the hearts of the people of God who had taken a wrong turn! He stops first at the religious establishment and tries to get them to refocus. Perhaps today he would do the same.

What is God’s word for us today in the light of these events?

There is something about Palm Sunday that warns us about offering Hosannas without counting the cost of the Jesus’ way! It’s easy to deride those same crowds who within a few days would be shouting “crucify”! But would we have been any different? Are we any different?

On that day the Pharisees tried to silence the praise. Jesus’ response to the Pharisees is profound:  We read in Luke 19:38-39 ‘…  saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.”  He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”  (v40).

What was happening had consequences for the whole of creation.

Jesus was content to be declared King on that day. We as Christians should still be declaring him King today.

He rides into Jerusalem courageously. We have to be courageous too as we own him as King in our lives.

That is God’s challenge for us today!

sermon outline 24 March 11

The issue is Jesus is King! We have to say it! Declare it! The early Christians did (rather than Caesar is King) and died for their faith!

Say Jesus is King today and they will try to shut you down! To silence you like the Pharisees on that Palm Sunday.  It’s the most challenging generation in which to really follow Jesus, put him first, and SAY blessed is the King!

Here is something to consider today: Where are the most difficult place for US to declare Jesus as King (and live it out?). Here are some of them I have thought of. You can add your own:

  1. Home
  2. Work
  3. University
  4. School
  5. Bridge club? Sports club?

Who will shut us down there? Who will say “you need to really top talking about this Jesus bloke. It’s not PC you know!” or words to that effect.

So as we end, we go back to our first outline.

sermon outline 24 March 13

What is the main thing today? Donkeys? Palms? Praises? Stones? Working up to Easter? People regard this Sunday as the “official” start of Holy week – which it is! We are however actually still in Lent – the last Sunday of self – reflection or introspection… the period of those “How am I doing” questions.

How am I doing when it comes to declaring Jesus as King in my life? Am I happy to shout “Hosanna” on Sunday and then be silent on Monday and the rest of the week?

Or am I a secret Christian? Self-appointed underground for God – just too deep underground?

Are we brave and courageous like Jesus on that Palm Sunday?  Are we courageous enough to declare ourselves to be followers of Jesus in our lives each day? Or have we worked it all out so that we can remain silent?

May you find grace and strength to make Him Lord of every day. May this Holy week be a time when you discover that you have a story to tell about this Jesus who was “unlike every other bloke”and whose kingship changes our lives today.

Amen.

Sunday sermon 17 March – poured out at his feet

Reading: John 12:1-8

Joh 12:1  Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.

Joh 12:2  Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him.

Joh 12:3  Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

Joh 12:4  But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected,

Joh 12:5  “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.”

Joh 12:6  He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

Joh 12:7  “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial.

Joh 12:8  You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

Message

We are moving rapidly towards Easter.

Jesus is with his closest friends, at a special dinner given in his honour.

In this private place Mary performs and intimate and moving act – pouring this costly perfume on Jesus’ feet, and wiping them with her hair.

I’ve only had my feet washed once by a fellow Christian. It was here in Browns Bay actually, and it was very moving. This act of sacrifice is more intense than foot washing.

This act of sacrifice gives us an insight into the real commitment of discipleship – the commitment of sacrificial service and love for Jesus, manifested in generous and risky giving. It’s an act of following Jesus and surrendering to Jesus.

One writer has suggested this: In this context Mary and the nard perfume become the father in the parable of the prodigal — extravagant love incarnated.

This is merely the extravagant love of the Father in last week’s prodigal son parable – manifest in extravagant love of a follower for Jesus.This act goes way beyond the washing of feet.

It reminds me of the hymn so well loved:

Take my life, and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee;
Take my moments and my days,
Let them flow in ceaseless praise,
Let them flow in ceaseless praise.

The verse which goes like this:

Take my silver and my gold;
Not a mite would I withhold;
Take my intellect, and use
Every power as Thou shalt choose,
Every power as Thou shalt choose.

– is sometimes left out so not as to embarrass people. The truth is the writer of the hymn (Frances Havergal) used to meditate on it each Advent (the season when she wrote it) and came under the conviction of giving her jewellery and treasures to the Church Missionary Society of the day. (The same society that supported Samuel Marsden who brought the gospel to New Zealand on Christmas day 1815).

The hymn ends with

Take my love; my Lord, I pour
At Thy feet its treasure-store.
Take myself, and I will be
Ever, only, all for Thee,
Ever, only, all for Thee.

The value of the gift poured on a rabbi’s feet – is staggering. A year’s wages. The Judas-reaction is quite predicable and we see this kind of reaction sometimes in churches which decide to become gloriously generous in giving money away. People want to see where the money goes! To control their gift – forgetting that when you give a gift it is no longer yours!

Remember that Judas was the treasurer. Of course when you read Mark and Matthew’s account of this it was not just Judas who struggled with the extent of the gift’s value.

MARY’S  MOTIVATION?

1. Perhaps gratitude to the Lord Jesus for raising her brother Lazarus.

At the time her sister Martha was quite grumpy wasn’t she? Remember her saying:

John 11:21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

They go on to talk about the resurrection – a wonderful passage where Martha professes her belief in the resurrection.

Of Mary we read:

John 11:32 –When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

She also was at his feet that time when Martha played the irritated sister. We read:

Luke 10:39  She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.  And in the next verse we read: But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” 

Mary was in the right place. I think all this is about being a disciple of Jesus. Sitting at his feet, having faith in Him, and worshiping him. Her life was poured out at his feet – and so too this sacrificial intimate gift of worship. We forget that the word “worship” in the New Testament means to bow down and kiss the feet of another.

If you want to follow the church’s motto or mission statement here in Browns Bay, which is – building loving communities that help people find and follow Jesus – we too  have to sit at Jesus’ feet, listen to him, and get intimate. Wherever you are and wherever you worship, this is the key for you too!

Yes gratitude for the resurrection of Lazarus is a possibility – but it was also about her devotion and love for her Lord. And there’s more:

2. Lavish generosity is part of this story.

I think Jesus is not just speaking to Judas here. He’s speaking to us too.

Listen to verse 7 again: Joh 12:7  “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial.”

This is not the anointing on the head of a king – rather the anointing for burial. Something beautiful that preempts a more beautiful and yet grotesque sacrifice for us.

How can I make this real today?

Something like this – flowers at a funeral are one thing. But sacrificial love for a person while they are alive – that’s something else altogether.

Verse 7 is challenging. If it was intended for the day of his burial – why then was it poured out on this day?

Perhaps it was a powerful sign – in addition to lavish love and generosity – the cost of discipleship in giving up everything for Jesus – a sign of his impending death. The process had begun. In fact, it began the moment he preached in the synagogue on the day they tried to throw him over a cliff. And – as we heard on Tuesday – when we talked about the day when he healed the man at the Pool of Bethesda – his enemies were always going to be after him. Death was always lurking.

We must not be derailed by the last sentence about the poor. The focus is on the moment on this day – between Mary and Jesus.  Jesus us saying – never mind what could be done with the money Judas (and Robin, Ian, Janet, Susan and George – whoever we are here today).

Listen again to Jesus’ words:  John 12:8 You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

It simply means that there will be plenty of opportunities to help the poor in the future for his disciples. And they did exactly that in the early church – they sold assets to make sure that no one went without in the community. They fasted on certain days so they could make sure others did not go hungry. And we need to do this today as well.

“Leave her alone,” is the word we need to hear. This is a worship moment.

Christians – take heed here. If people worship with the hands in the air or flat on their faces – if they generously give to Jesus and do radical things – stay out of it. It’s a holy moment and has nothing to do with you. Our responsibility is to sort ourselves out before God. 🙂

This woman – Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus – was ministering to Jesus in an intimate way – a profound way – and we can learn from this.

He has not finished with us yet. For some we have not even begun. We started last week as prodigals standing before the Lord admitting we were lost and now found.

Let’s take many more steps closer in our intimate worship of Jesus the resurrected Lord and Christ.

What would you do? What could you give?

He’s not finished with us – in worship and radical devotion, in extravagant generosity, in sacrificial service, in compassion for the poor, in love for Jesus and one another!

Amen.

Tuesday Church 12 March – Grumpy or grateful?

Reading: John 5:1- 16

Joh 5:1  Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews.

Joh 5:2  Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades.

Joh 5:3  Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed [—and they waited for the moving of the waters.]

Joh 5:4  [From time to time an angel of the Lord would come down and stir up the waters. The first one into the pool after each such disturbance would be cured of whatever disease he had.]

Joh 5:5  One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.

Joh 5:6  When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

Joh 5:7  “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”

Joh 5:8  Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”

Joh 5:9  At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. The day on which this took place was a Sabbath,

Joh 5:10  and so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.”

Joh 5:11  But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, “Pick up your mat and walk.'”

Joh 5:12  So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?”

Joh 5:13  The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.

Joh 5:14  Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.”

Joh 5:15  The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.

Joh 5:16  So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him.

Message                                                                                                      Tuesday Church in March

John 5:6  When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

The story is told of a man who had an offensive body odour. He went to the doctor to see if something could be done about it. The doctor examined him and could find nothing physically wrong. He scratched his head and said, “What do you do for a living?” The man sighed and said, “Well, that may be the problem. You see, I work at the airport, and it’s my job to empty the holding tanks from the restrooms aboard the aircraft. It’s all over head, you know, and invariably, some of the spillage ends up getting on me. Try as I may, it’s hard to get it all off.” “Hmmm,” the doctor said, “Sounds like you need to look for a new job.” The man looked at the doctor and said, “What? And get out of aviation?!”

It’s a strange question really – to a man who is effectively at the local hospital.

Jesus asks him: “Do you want to get well?”

By way of background (if your bible seems to have missing verses) this pool with its five porticoes or colonnades was once thought not to have been real – scholars thought this must have been a fictitious story – until archaeologists found it! Neat hey! We are told that the water moved probably due to an underground spring – people believed an angel moved the waters and the first in would be healed.

Repetition is not always a good thing – the man kept coming along (or getting someone to bring him along) although recognised he had no way of getting to the water.

He seems to be one of those “it’s his fault” people. Blaming someone or circumstances. Listen to him again: “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” (5:7)

For 38 years? He seems quite capable of communicating – one wonders whether he could not have asked friends or family to come to his assistance.

In case you think I am being unfair – look what happens when he gets into trouble for carrying his mat on the Sabbath:

… the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.”  But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, “Pick up your mat and walk.'” (verses 10-11)

There must have been sin in his life – otherwise why would Jesus say:  Joh 5:14  Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.”

There are worse things than paralysis? Jesus was onto something here!

Perhaps his sin was to hold on to his circumstances – and not really to want to move forward? Listen to what happens next:

So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?” The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there. Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” (12-14)

Sadly he seems to have missed the point – not heard Jesus’ word to him. The story continues: The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him. (15-16)

How kind Jesus is.

What grace!

How stuck the man is in his thinking. He is physically healed on the spot – but his attitude needs some serious work!

He still seems to try to clear his name for breaking the Sabbath by going BACK to the Jewish authorities and telling on Jesus – shifting the blame.

Lent is a time to examine our attitudes too.

Sometimes we are stuck in a grumpy blame-game. God has blessed us with grace and favour – like the man who was healed.

We too have habits that we need to have changed – in our thinking and outlooks!

Do you want to get well in the fullest sense?

I do.

Amen.

Sunday March 10 – Prodigal sons

READING: Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

SERMON REFLECTION

So what do you feel when you hear this story?  Who do you relate to? Which character? I was thinking – I’m a man who has two sons. Hmm.

Take a moment to become one of the characters. What you would say if you were them? How would you tell the story from their point of view?

So what did you think?

The father – many could relate to him. How challenging parenting is and how different our children turn out to be.

The younger son – I guess many could relate to him too. We have many in our churches who have come home to the Father (God) – some after years of being away. Many who wasted their resources and opportunities. Remember that the word “prodigal” which we use to describe this parable means one who wastes and squandours their wealth and resources!

The older brother – there are plenty older brothers who can easily be resentful.

And there are other points of view in the story – think of the mother (perhaps saying to her husband: “I told you it wasn’t a good idea!”).

Or the servants in the household wondering how this could be.

Think of the neighbours – the local rabbi if there was one – family friends and of course the lawyers of the day who were guardians of the way estates were handled and retirement planned!

MY REACTION TODAY

As a father – I understand completely. As a counsellor and as a pastor – I see so many fascinating dynamics in families. There are so many interesting possibilities. This story resonates with many of our experiences does it not?

There are two issues I want to consider however – to stretch your thinking:

1.    Repentance

I would suggest that the younger brother didn’t repent when he was in the pig pen. Yes he was in a serious mess. People sometimes say that he did repent – but I think it’s more basic than that. Listen again:

17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!

They all come home when they’re hungry. I’m speaking of children of all ages.

And as an aside people come to church for all kinds of reasons too – they walk in here and discover while looking for a meal – a practical solution – support in their new language – songs for their children to learn at mainly music – skills for their boys to develop at ICONZ – while looking for these things they find the extravagant grace and love of God!

And by the way that begins in us – our being extravagantly gracious and generous!

This prodigal was driven by a famine! By circumstances! By his stomach! And he had some bridges to mend! The road to repentance begins here – but its not the whole explanation for what was happening.

What follows is a rehearsed speech – kids do this all the time – when they’ve crashed the car or messed up in some way. Here’s verse 18 again:

 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: And then there’s the speech. He would have had lots of time to practice it on the road: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’

Yes the speech includes “I have sinned against heaven and against you”. So people do argue that he repented. And following what I said last week – there is a change of direction and a change in mind here!

In the context of the other parables – remember the lost sheep and the lost coin before this parable in Luke 15? The shepherd found the lost sheep. Someone has noted that the lost sheep did not repent either!

In Romans 5:8 Paul reminds us: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

And God – way back in Genesis – went LOOKING for Adam who had become the first prodigal!

Luther said that repentance follows forgiveness. In fact the first of his 95 theses that he nailed to the wall so to speak and got the Reformation going reads like this:

When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.

The story of the prodigal son is a story if anything about forgiveness.

I mean the father didn’t even let the younger son finish his speech. And he didn’t do what dad’s do today: bread and water and to your bedroom! We’ll talk about this tomorrow!

He threw an amazing party! They celebrated with the very best! That’s an act of forgiveness. Welcoming him home is an act of forgiveness.

When you realise how generous God is, you repent! When you understand grace and the power of His love – you repent. The woman Jesus stopped from being stoned in John 8:11 would have repented when Jesus said – neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.

Christians who have walked the path a long time are more aware of their sins further down the track. And they repent. Pascal wrote this on the subject: “God is none other than the Saviour of our wretchedness. So we can only know God well by knowing our iniquities… Those who have known God without knowing their wretchedness have not glorified him, but have glorified themselves.” Blaise Pascal

And the fruit of repentance – the evidence of that repentance – for the prodigal son –  would have been seen in the sequel or next story– “The kindness of the prodigal son to his grumpy bitter brother” and then perhaps in the next movie or newspaper article:  “prodigal son puts in amazing hours on dad’s farm” followed by ” Prodigal’s lamb production puts large pig farm out of business”.

Forgiveness and grace – unmerited favour shown in love and kindness – lead us to full repentance as we realise how unworthy we are and that comes from the celebration of our return to God as well! Remember that in the previous parable where the shepherd find the lost sheep and brings them back, Jesus has this to say:  I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.(Luke 15:7)

2.  The other voice in the story.

There is another voice in the story. A second silent narrator if you like – perhaps outside of the story but commenting anyway.

It’s the voice of the accountant/retirement advisor.

It’s the voice of the one who looks at the Father’s high risk behaviour – foolishness – in giving the brother his inheritance in the face of the insult that he presents in the original request. After all, to ask for you money from dad before he dies is as good as saying he is dead. The dad takes the insult on the chin. And he gives the wealth away to his son who ends up squandering it – wasting it – spending it.

How similar that is to the very first story in the Bible that involves two brothers – yes the story of the parents of Cain and Abel. God in His grace gives their parents the right to name the animals and the responsibility to rule and care for the world on His behalf. They too are prodigal – wasting opportunity and resources as they turn to their own devices!

The voice of the account-cum- retirement advisor screams out – I told you so! You should not have done that! It was a bad idea.

But this Father is not into keeping up with the social standards of the day. His love is too extravagant.

He’s the dad that runs down the road! Bad bad bad! No self respecting dad would have done that in those days!

He’s the dad that kills the fatted calf! There’s no discussion about how the prodigal was to pay anything back. No restorative justice here.

One commentator, David Lose writes: Jesus paints a picture of this world in his story of a foolish son and even more foolish father. It is a world of unmerited grace. Counters won’t understand. Pulled down by the weight of their own claims, they can only sputter, “All these years….” “You never….” “This son of yours…”.

Yes the older brother is the spokesperson for the ones who want it to balance on paper – who want it to be fair.

David Lose also writes about this “other country” that the story describes like this: What I’m thinking of really is another country, another land, one that feels, smells, even tastes different. You know right when you’ve stumbled into it, even if you didn’t notice the boundary lines.

What makes this country different is that nobody counts things here. Do you know what I mean?  No tracking billable hours, no counting the days until school lets out, no ringing up debits on the balance sheet, no cries from the backseat of “are we there yet?”

Best yet, no counting old grievances and grudges, no dredging up past wrongs or unsettled scores. For some reason, people in this country have lost track of all that; in fact, they can’t remember why you’d keep count in the first place.

This is the Kingdom of God! The country of God, if you like.

This is Grace land – literally.

This is our place – God took a risk with the human race by putting us in charge here. And we too waste and squander. And he celebrates when we come home too!

So we too can fill in the blanks when we come back to our heavenly father: you can write your name in the spaces below:

______ was dead and is alive again;  _______  was lost and is found.

It’s never too late! He too waits for us to come home!

Amen! May it be so for you today.

Sunday 3 March – Jesus the teacher digs deep

Reading: Luke 13:1-9

Jesus the teacher digs deep

There’s a great story of a teacher who got arrested for a traffic violation and appeared before a judge who said: “Teacher, I’ve been looking forward to this moment for a long time”. “Will you sit down over there and write five hundred times, ‘I will not go through a red light again.’”

There are all kinds of ways of getting your message across. I threatened to take our home groups books in to mark them this week – to see how many people had answered some of the questions. Or any. It’s the teacher in me – it was said in jest of course.

Teachers also get asked interesting questions – some of which it is best not to answer. A great strategy is to ask the students questions in response – because they have to learn to learn through inquiry themselves.

In this case people come to Jesus with bad news. I suppose no TV and internet meant you were the news people.

In verse 1 of chapter 13 people in the crowd tell him that Pilate “mixed the blood” of some Galileans with their sacrifices. They were murdered one assumes when at worship. Various theories exist as to who and why. The point is they were killed.

Jesus – perhaps sensing that people were fishing for his thoughts on the matter – or just seeing a teaching opportunity – creates the questions for himself and gives the answers!

The issue is the age-old problem of suffering – the question of theodicy – the justification of God’s existence or fairness in the face of the suffering of the world. The question about WHY people suffer – why “GOOD” people suffer, and whether this is all a punishment we deserve anyway. Or is it “random?” – another word that is complex because random things are not very random at all.

Here’s a bizarre one this week – that poor man who was killed by a shark (or more than one shark) – the headline at the bottom of the screen on Thursday on TV one said something like this “not to worry about this (talking I assume to would-be swimmers) – it was a case of mistaken identity”.

That is odd! Who was that shark after then?

So in another place (in John 9:2) his disciples asked this question:  “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” That question was settled with this response:

 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. (John 9:3)

Of course we also would like a cause – someone to blame – for the tragedies we see.

They would – in Jesus’ time – still have seen disaster as a punishment for sin. So if it was a great disaster, perhaps it reflected really bad sin or lots of sin in the people’s lives.

And so in this passage Jesus responds with a sobering thought:

To the question he raises about the Galileans murdered by Pilate – “Do you think they were worse sinners? – the answer is No.”

And to the question he poses about the people who had a work accident – with a tower falling on them: “Were they worse sinners? – the answer is No.”

In both cases he is very direct, and even more so in verses 3 and 5 which are identical:

“But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

We are all sinners who need repentance.

As Paul was to say later – in Romans 3:23:  “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…”

We are not really good at this repentance thing. There are mixed views:

  • Some of you love it when I mention the word. I get good feedback.  In every church I have been in there are always those who love the preacher preaching hell fire and brimstone.
  • Others avoid repentance. They’d rather not deal with it – for some it seems a bit too old world perhaps.

Repentance is not a one-off thing. I’ve mentioned before that the word in Hebrew means to turn as in change direction- and in the New Testament Greek it means a change in mind or a change in our thinking. They both apply. Turning and changing.

In my personal readings last week I revisited Jonah and found this amazing passage about the repentant people of Nineveh. Perhaps we will learn more about repentance through example. Listen to the proclamation of the King of that city: “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let any man or beast, herd or flock, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink.

Jon 3:8  But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence.

And it started with him – the King: Jon 3:6  When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust.

They had been given 40 days to sort themselves out. His response seems quite quick – but I’m not sure whether it was immediate. It must have been early on in that 40 day period.

Sackcloth and ashes were the way. It certainly sent a message to those who witness the transformation. It meant a prolonged period of reflection and remorse.

As we have seen in the gospel reading today: Jesus said to his learner audience:

“But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

Sobering. Perish is a strong word. There are sins all around us in our city that lead to death. Like the seven deadly sins.

Even more sobering this week was the study released on the seven deadly sins in New Zealand – showing where the badest (worst!) places are for lust, gluttony, pride, sloth, wrath, greed and envy.

Have a look if you want to see the maps on line:

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10857167

Auckland scores top in 4 of the 7. Like to guess which?

Yes you were right. Lust, pride greed and envy. Repentance in our city may be more urgent that we think.

In this passage Jesus our great teacher doesn’t end it there. The parable that follows is a parable of grace. Here it is again from verse 5:

Luke 13:5  I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

Luke 13:6  Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any.

Luke 13:7  So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’

Luke 13:8  “‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it.

Luke 13:9  If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.'”

1 – The tree

The use of a tree to measure growth and fruitfulness is common in the bible. The very first Psalm goes like this:

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers. (verses 1-3)

In this parable the owner of the tree is unimpressed with it’s performance. Here’s verse 7 again: Luke 13:7  So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’

2 – The axe

is about to swing!

John the Baptist’s message also makes this connection: John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?  Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. (Luke 3:7-8)

John the Baptist continued with this line as well: The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Luke 3:9)

In the parable of the vineyard there is only really one main point. You’ve not producing – you’re wasting the soil.

No pressure – but that is us. So how are you – tree person? Are you rooted right – fed properly – and bearing fruit? Are you growing at all?

The gardener or caretaker– in this allegory – asks for time. One more year.

3 -The gardener of grace

This is the gardener of grace. Grace means that although we don’t deserve it we are being given time. Don’t waste that time!

The gardener of course does not just want time. That would assume that the tree would somehow suddenly grow figs. Why would it if the three previous years were unfruitful?

He says: Luke 13:8  “‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. Luke 13:9  If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.'”

There is the digging and the manure! They are very specific. The translation is a bit understated really. “Fertilize it” is not the application of modern fertilizer, but the application of animal dung.

4 – The dung

Digging and dunging is the term people use. We need God to do that. Some have suggested that the dung – is a sign of humility (Augustine). The digging and dunging means that we are dependent on the gardener.

Repentance is not saying sorry I WILL DO BETTER next time. It’s saying – I can’t do this. It’s about grace – God doing it in me and through me. Despite me!

Some have talked about the dung as something warm in a cold garden bed. They did not have what they needed in bags then. It was pretty fresh and smelly. Humbles us doesn’t it?

As individuals and as a church – perhaps God is speaking to us today!

  • About grace! God giving us time!
  • About getting help through digging around in our hearts and minds (which need changing and renewing)
  • About some manure/dung – how deep and how much for each of us?
  • About fruitfulness!

5. Fruitfulness

God’s grace giving us time and our openness to the Lord’s digging around in our lives and applying what we need for our growth is the key to bearing fruit. And there are various biblical references to fruit bearing – like Galatians 5 in which Paul contrasts the acts of the sinful nature with the fruits of the Spirit: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:23).

John 15:16 is a great reminder though that this all begins with God who works in our lives and brings us to repentance, and chooses us for his purposes. Jesus says: You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last.

Amen. May it be so in your life and in mine.

(Note to on-line readers around the world: I hope you enjoy reading these messages. If you have questions feel free to post them here or contact me via the website http://www.bbp.org.nz/contact.htm. More importantly we believe that you can know the Lord who we write about – that Jesus is alive and at work in our lives. May you trust Him as your Lord and Saviour and find a local church where you can grow in your faith journey. Robin.)