Monthly Archives: May 2014

Sunday sermon 1 June 2014 – time waiting on God

nectamen

Readings:  Acts 1:6-14: 1 Peter 4:12 – 14;  5:6-11:  John 17:1-11:

MESSAGE: TIME WAITING ON GOD 

This is a challenging day. It’s the 1st of June. That in itself is not remarkable.

But it is that one Sunday – symbolically – when we are in-between Ascension Day and Pentecost.

As if we were in the upper room.

The in-between times of life are challenging generally.

The times between being a member and citizen of one country and having full rights and acceptance in another.

Immigrants know all about this. The in-between – ness of it all. Being born in one country and growing up in another can make you uncertain – betwixt and between as the English idiom says.

The times waiting in other horrid situations.

  • Between the ward and the hospital theatre.
  • Between life and death when the end comes.
  • Between a death and a funeral – for a family
  • Between jobs – for the unemployed.
  • Between doctors with half-suspected diagnoses – wanting yet not wanting the truth because of what it many mean for our lives.
  • Between homes – knowing we have to move out and down size – and not really knowing where we will land up.

You may know some of these times. As a church you will know this.

  • In a church – between ministers (the so-called vacancy)
  • In a church – between Session Clerk’s and Administrators. We seem to be in between them all at the moment.
  • In-between leaders in mainly music and messy church – no one stepping up. And mission support. And in time pastoral concerns.

These things can make you insecure. Scared. Uncertain. Worried. Vulnerable. Especially if you’re in my shoes – when you’re the minister.

They are times of waiting – and especially waiting on the Lord. What do you want us to do Lord?

We’re not good at that really. Even our “best at prayer” (Presbyterians – anagram) rush in with their requests each week in our prayer meetings – asking God to bless our busy lives and our many activities. And we sit a little worried by the silence – and tend to want to scurry off and do something practical.

When he calls us to be still and wait.

Not enough waiting. Not enough surrender.

I asked more than a year ago – in the context of our leadership (probably two years ago) whether we would be prepared to stop it all – and only do the things we really knew we should.

I don’t think anyone took me too seriously. And now we may have to let some of them go.

And now we have to seriously ask Him what we should do – and some things may end. We can’t do it all – we don’t have the resources – financial or people.

And the test is probably whether the things are getting the good news to people who need to hear it! Whether they are part of the great commission.

Well on this symbolic Sunday between the Ascension of Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit – almost a vacuum in history – let’s think about waiting on God some more.

Those disciples waited – and then the power came.

It was never their power of course – it was Jesus’ power (we sang that old song again – all power is given in Jesus’ name – and in Jesus’ name I come to you to share his power as he told me to – He said freely freely).

And so in the reading from Acts we heard today:

Act 1:6  So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

Act 1:7  He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.

Act 1:8  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

It’s okay not to know. It’s okay to trust.

But in the in-between times – in the age in which we live between his ascension and his return – we are empowered to witness.

Not complicated. It’s not all about us! It’s about the mission we have.

Luke tells us after he left them – this is what happened in Jerusalem:

Act 1:14  They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

The lines we heard from the last chapters of 1 Peter – were written to a church that was waiting desperately for His return – as they were persecuted and suffering.

They are exhorted to stand firm in their suffering – to rejoice when suffering for doing good.

And to be discerning:

1Pe 5:8  Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

1Pe 5:9  Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

Of course the favourite passage is this one:

1Pe 5:6  Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.

1Pe 5:7  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

We listened to Simon Ponsonby again this week in home group – speaking about desert or wilderness experiences.

He starts with Jesus being led by the spirit into the desert to be tempted by the desert in Matthew 4. And of course we too have those desert times too.

In fact he quotes Selwyn Hughes who lists a number of experiences in life where we as Christians are tested: failure, suffering, humiliation, bereavement, estrangement, doubt and dereliction.

God allows these things because they are good for us – they make us really wait on him and depend on him – so that we don’t become self-sufficient.

On Ascension Day we stopped to say – you Lord Jesus are the Head of the church! And we are your body!

How scary that you should want to use us!

We’re so helpless and weak really. Vulnerable. And that is probably where we are meant to be.

So when we come to the Gospel reading today – we are still in the zone of suspension.

Left hanging.

It’s not an easy passage.

There is some clarity again about His authority:

Joh 17:2  For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him.

There is one clear-ish Johannine verse that I like to quote:

Joh 17:3  Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.

The passage – the prayer – goes on and is not easy to fathom.

But the simple bits jump out:

Joh 17:9  I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. 

And then another glimpse pf hope and encouragement:

Joh 17:11  I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name—the name you gave me—so that they may be one as we are one. 

What a huge relief – that the Father has given us to the Son – and that he prays for us.

He recognises we are still in this messed-up and complicated world.

Thankfully he prays that the Father will protect us by the power of His name!

What is the name that the Father gave Jesus – by which we are protected?? I’m not entirely sure what this means. Probably simply this: “I am who I am” – the name given to Moses at the burning bush, which by the way is still the principle logo of the Presbyterian Church – born in the fires of persecution – NEC TAMEN CONSUMEBATUR –  burned but not consumed. Our all sufficient One! Jesus was certainly comfortable using the “I am” part in in his various “I am” sayings.

Why should God protect us?

So that we may be one!

Why?

Because that’s how people will know that we are Jesus’ people.

As you read the rest of John 17 – twice more he prays for our unity.

Why?

Because it’s when we are united – sometimes with our backs to the wall – that we are the most effective witnesses.

It’s a testimony that we can actually be one – because the odds are stacked against us as human beings. Our default settings are I, me mine and myself. Narcissistic obsession – loving ourselves. Our default settings include a propensity to war and violence.

We’re so judgemental of the terrible things people do – especially when people are murdered in our safe little country – forgetting that we all have the same capacity. We are not just children of Adam. We are related to Cain who killed his own brother out of anger and jealousy – in a quarrel about what? Offerings! Religious matters!

When we’re in the in-between times – vulnerable and uncertain – we all too easily lash out, blame, and seek some reason outside of ourselves. When it fact both blame and sin crouch at our own door.

So what’s to be done?

  • Wait.
  • Watch and pray.
  • Seek his face.

Crying out to him in our desperation – that’s what he wants.

He wants to take away our self-sufficiency.

And he sometimes does that pre-eminently – through failure. It could besuffering, humiliation, bereavement, estrangement, doubt and dereliction.

But most commonly its failure.

  • Failure is followed by repentance
  • Repentance has with it new faith and absolute trust
  • And when we walk with a limp forever after that –as Simon Ponsonby rightly says – we limp so that we can’t run ahead of God on the journey.

Wait on him – let him reduce me and you to barely nothing – so that he can be everything.

It’s okay.

It’s not for any other reason than that He allows it to happen for our long term good. And for His glory!

At the end of the day – our FAITHFULNESS is tested more than anything else. Not unlike Job – who says: “though he slay me, yet will I trust him” (Job 13:15 KJV).

Amen.

 

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Thursday 29 May – Ascension Day – the eyes of your heart

Readings:   Ephesians 1: 15– 23; Luke 24: 44– 53; Acts 1: 1– 11

THE EYES OF YOUR HEART

There’s a great song we used to sing – open the eyes of my heart Lord, I want to see you.

We’ve shared about the hear in the last two weeks.

  • About where we hang our hearts – the God we trust in and have faith in.
  • About setting apart or sanctifying Christ as Lord in our hearts – out of which comes this ability to give a reason for the hope that we have

Paul’s prayer in the Ephesians reading is this:

  • He prays that we may know Jesus better
  • And he prays  this – Eph 1:18  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 greatpower for us who believe

If the eyes of our hearts to be enlightened – then Paul prays these things will be real:

  •  the hope we’ve been called to – is the transformation of ourselves and our lives in Christ – becoming a new creation and participating in a new creation
  • our inheritance as the saints (the list is long – but when we get it we understand that we are the adopted sons of God with Jesus as our elder brother – the right to call God Father and be his children – the experience of forgiveness and eternal life – and all the privileges of his children seen as an example in the prodigal son and his brother – the younger prodigal is taken back – the older brother reminded that it was all his for the taking anyway.

What a wonderful inheritance. Co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17)

  • his incomparably great power for us who believe.

What’s the power like, asks Paul?

It’s the same as this – he says:

That power is like the working of his mighty strength,

Eph 1:20  which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms,

Eph 1:21  far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 

This power conquers death – raises Jesus to a place of great authority seated at the right hand of God.

The resurrection and ascension are one major event here for Paul. The one is the natural extension of the other.

And his prayer is that we may have the eyes of our hearts opened to know this power too.

We need that power!

Simon Ponsonby – an amazing vicar and Bible teacher puts it like this when talking about the surpassing greatness of his power – he asks:

Is there power in your life?

Power that breaks curses – turns back time and history – power to be a better man (like many who wish they could turn back time) 

Power of God – needed to control thoughts and speech – set you free from patterns of addiction –

There is something amazing about the power of God that rests on us and transforms us

Paul prays for more for the church!

As we come to the 10 days between Ascension and Pentecost in the church’s calendar – this is a reminder that we too need this power.

The Holy Spirit came in power – the logical extension of Jesus’ promise not to leave them as orphans, but to be with them always.

In Philippians 3:10 Paul says:

Php 3:10  I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection.

Actually it’s the only way to know him.

Ascension marks the beginning of this new time when the resurrection power becomes a reality for us.

We look to Jesus differently now:

He is no longer the man from Galilee.

He is the exalted Christ who is the giver of life.

He is the one to be worshipped every moment of our lives.

The Ephesians passage ends here:

Eph 1:22  And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church,

Eph 1:23  which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

HE is the one!

And we are the extension of Him! The body – the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

It’s no wonder the Reformers made much of this day – Ascension Day.

Christ is Head of the church.

The church is the extension of his fullness!

It’s through his power that it’s possible for us to be Christ in the world!

  • 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 greatpower for us who believe

How tragic that many don’t actually appropriate the power at all!

May that not be so for us.

Amen.

Sunday sermon 25 May 2014 – The reason for the hope that you have

Readings:  Acts 17:22-31; 1 Peter 3:13-22; John 14:15-21

Message

Fifty years in church.

50 sermons a year.

A possible 2500 sermons.

What possible difference will this one make today?

That’s a fair question. It will make no difference to those who’re not here. It will make little difference to those who are asleep in the sermon slot.

It will make little difference to those who have pre-read the text and get frustrated because I don’t say the things they think I should say.

Well I’ve said this before. You don’t remember every meal you’ve had, but the food did keep you going somehow. God does use preaching as a way of reaching people with the Gospel.

Trouble is the people who need to hear the Gospel are not here either.

They’re out there in the community.

I love the passage from Acts set for today. The verse before (verse 21) says this:

Act 17:21  All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.

It’s a lovely comment. The point is Paul was there – and after walking around he speaks into their situation like this:

Act 17:23  For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.

And off he goes with his sermon.

I suppose the culture and context allowed that. Today the same thing happens when people are actually on the lookout for opportunities to engage the society we live in.

It’s in the pubs and clubs that the conversations take place. For some of you it’s in the dining halls of your retirement home – or in the supermarkets.

For some more IT savvy it’s on the internet on web pages and chat forums.

Paul talks to them of course about an altar to an UNKOWN GOD.

Now we could have a great theological debate about that today. We could talk about “other gods” and other faiths – whether there are really other gods- or just skewed views of them.

MIssiologists do this. They study Mission and how the gospel connects with other people’s faiths and world views.

We talked about Missional church too – and debated it in leadership – about how the church would reach this generation.

The truth is more than two years of debate about how relevant the church is to younger people has actually worn me out. So much blame was thrown around that what I offered here on Sundays was not relevant or modern enough.

Hours and hours I spent on power points which for some of you were merely a distraction.

Lucky for you I’m on the 40 hour famine of food and technology this weekend.

So you just get my voice today.

My point is this – in all this time how many people have we actually led to Christ?

How many people have we actually witnessed to?

Some of you are good witnesses – keep going. Well done!

But most of us are pretty average or less than average.

In the readings today Paul preached a great sermon. The gospel went out. It matters not how they responded. Some believed – others tried to kill the messenger on his preaching trips. Some said they wanted to talk to him again about the message he brought.

Paul’s missionary journeys were full of adventure risk and pain. In a discussion in 2 Corinthians he writes this:

2Co 11:24  Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.

2Co 11:25  Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea,

2Co 11:26  I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers.

2Co 11:27  I have laboured and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.

Last week we read of the martyrdom of Stephen. His was such a bad sermon that they stoned him. Perhaps you’ll want to throw something at me today. Go right ahead.

God used the people who were scattered after the persecution that followed Stephen’s death to plant one of the most important churches – the one in Antioch. If you came to Tuesday church this month you would have heard that message.

God honours his Word.

Stephen never saw the fruit of his labours. He saw rocks fall on his head. Then he saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God! Standing note! Not sitting. Chances are Jesus was putting in a word for this faithful spirit-filled deacon who also was a teaching elder.

SO WHAT ABOUT US?

A couple of essential things about our mission and witness jump out of the readings today. The first one does more than jump out. It screams at us.

1Pe 3:15  But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,

1Pe 3:16  keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

This only works if the first part applies.

Remember what we talked about last week? Where are you hanging yourheart? Remember my story of the hat and coat stand it took me two hours to assemble?

Your God is where your heart hangs – said Luther.

Peter says: But in your heart set apart Christ as Lord.(v 15)

Αγιασατεis the word. Honour Christ in your heart. Sanctify him as Lord. Set apart comes from the word for holy – which does not mean perfect but “set apart” or even dedicated.

If you haven’t done that – the rest won’t happen.

Here’s the outflow of this:

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.

Listen to it again!

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.

Well do you have hope?

Does it ooze from your lips and shine out of your eyes and roll of your tongue – hope – hope – hopeful –hopeful – hopefulness and more hopefulness!

Does it?

Are people saying to you? WHY WHY WHY can you be so positive when things are so bad! It’s soooooooooo bad after all. I’m soooooooo blue.

The church – the economy – my marriage – my spouse, you may say – if only you knew how blue it all makes me!

No – says Peter (writing to a persecuted church – I hasten to add).

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.

AND OF COURSE:

But do this with gentleness and respect,

1Pe 3:16  keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

There’s no need to be arrogant. Or rough with people with different views. In fact we should respect them.

All we should do is be is:

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.

Challenging isn’t it?

And if Jesus were speaking to us this morning – once Peter has unnerved us with his reminder of how we should be a witness to Christ – who is the reason for our hope, is He not?

Jesus would say – as He did in John 14:

Joh 14:15  “If you love me, you will obey what I command.

That creates a few problems does it not? No – it’s not another attempt to make us wither away in shame.

John 14 is the most amazing passage.

It started with “Do not let your hearts be troubled”.

And here it speaks words of such power and encouragement again:

Joh 14:16  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever—

Joh 14:17  the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.

Joh 14:18  I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.

It’s this last verse that gets to me.

It’s this last verse that gets to me. I was lying in bed the other night with tears in my eyes as I thought of children I know who have lost both parents – and the kids without parents because of AIDS and war – and so many other horrible things that happen – and this scripture was in my head:

Joh 14:18  I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.

Jesus’ promise to us that we will have the spirit of truth in us and with us is profound.

There’s no need to pray for God to be with us. He is!

We’re just not always with it. Our eyes and hearts are not always open.

Even in witnessing – especially in witnessing – He promises to lead us. Did Jesus not say in Luke 12:

Luk 12:11  “When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say,

Luk 12:12  for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”

As we are nearing the end of the Easter Season – the finality of Jesus’ departure becomes more pressing.

We’ll be here on Ascension Day on Thursday night – a very special day in our calendar – because Jesus leaves them to be the exalted King of kings and Lord of Lords.

That in itself speaks volumes about where we hang out hearts.

But of course the waiting follows – and His promise not to leave them as orphans is fulfilled at Pentecost.

Here’s the key. It’s the presence and power and person of the Holy Spirit working in us.

When He has his way – then there is no fretting “O dear I am not a good witness”. Rather there is a natural (supernatural) boldness in us.

Then we will need more than two services if people come in here seeking what we have – that which gives us hope.

I’m not sure that we actually believe it to be possible. It’s called revival.

If requires faith to walk down that road. And even Jesus was hamstrung by people in places where they had no faith.

So the challenge remains for us. When we come alive to these things by His Spirit – then the world is somehow changed as we walk out of the door! Not that people become victims of potential bible bashing.

But that the people of hope begin to shine – and these portable light houses cause a commotion as others say –“tell me why you’re so different?”

Amen.

Sunday Sermon 18 May 2014 – about your heart

Readings: Acts 7:55-60; 1 Peter 2:2-10; John 14:1-14

MESSAGE

John 14:1  “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me

I built a coat and hat stand last week. While the ladies were arranging flowers, I spent the day catching up on unfinished things at home.

The coat and hat stand had been sitting sadly in a box for many many months. A present that required serious action – no one had dared open it as it meant “doing it yourself” with the certainty that the instructions would be in Chinese. They were – and my daughter would have been able to read them had she kept up her Chinese!

Ok I didn’t really build it. I tried to assemble it – many times – and after much assembling and un-assembling – there it was – complete and standing tall in the hall way!

Now you may think that a random story. And on its own it could merely be the application of the verse in James in which we are told “Confess your sins to each another, (and pray for each other) so that you may be healed!” (James 5:16) With our wedding anniversary approaching, it was a good project to complete.

But here’s the thing. We talked at length last week in church about the heart (in the sermon I preached anyway for Mothers’ day) – how it needed some serious healing – almost a transplant – for us to love one another deeply – from the heart – with a sincere love. Remember? What a waste if you forget these gems – just as well you can read it on the web page again.

Today’s Gospel carries on about the same thing – the same heart – not the organ (so that the demise of poached eggs and the provision of fried eggs should bring about such cheers at a men’s breakfast and people might fret about cholesterol again and heart problems – not that heart)

–          No, not the seat of health issues but the centre of one’s passion, love, commitment, and spiritual verve, energy – life – the heart that we are to love God with – ALL OF IT and so forth…

–          It’s the heart which causes us untold anxiety and stress – that emotional base which drives us to do great things, or on the other hand if wounded – makes us retreat into our own safe world of isolation and self-absorption. Or if broken – may cause us to want to blot ourselves out completely.

 “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” Says Jesus.  “Trust in God; trust also in me.”

Martin Luther helps us link this passage to my coat stand!

In response to the First Commandment, Luther asks what it means to have a God and answers that God is what you hang your heart upon.1

[See Paul Lehmann’s discussion in The Decalogue and a Human Future (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995).] As in  Bartlett, David L.; Barbara Brown Bartlett (2011-05-31). Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 2, Lent through Eastertide (Kindle Locations 17078-17079). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.

Cynthia Jarvis put it like this:

The heart that is troubled is a heart not hung upon God but hung rather on all the things the world peddles to soothe a troubled heart. Jesus tells the disciples in their time of deep uncertainty, Hang your hearts on God; hang your hearts on me.

 Bartlett, David L.; Barbara Brown Bartlett (2011-05-31). Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 2, Lent through Eastertide (Kindle Locations 17012-17024). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.

Luther speaks for God in these words: “I myself will give you enough and help you out of trouble; just do not let your heart rest or hang on any other.” He goes on to talk about those for whom their God is money – or mammon (wealth).

So the message is really simple today.

Where are you hanging your heart?

John 14 speaks to the whole of life – and is not just a passage for funerals – it certainly does speak to the promises of God after death – but it is about life!

It surely would have mattered to Stephen – had he known these words of Jesus – when those stones came crashing down crushing his skull. He certainly knew the attitude of Jesus on the cross when he cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” – and fell asleep (died). (Acts 7:60).

It certainly would have mattered to Peter –who was also destined to surrender his life up in a troublesome way. (Remember John 21: after Jesus restored Peter He says this:

Joh 21:18  I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”

Joh 21:19  Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

Peter, writing to the early church which also faced trials and persecution – had a very clear sense of their identity – because their hearts would have been hanging in the right place:

It comes through clearly when he writes:

1Pe 2:9  But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

1Pe 2:10  Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

This is a description of people who had had a change of heart – and a complete makeover in the fullest way.

Earlier in the same letter he wrote about their new birth – remember? – and said this:

1Pe 1:6  In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.

1Pe 1:7  These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

Some of you are having your faith tested here – to see whether it is genuine!

Of course he was writing about the promise of God – that the new birth was into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead (vs3) and that it was

 1Pe 1:4  (and) into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you….

I suspect that a lot of the stuff that causes us to fret – worry – live in stress and strain – and wallow in anxiety – is not worth the trouble we allow it to cause us!

Joh 14:1  “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.

Hang your heart here!

And then this great truth comes:  (Joh 14:6  Jesus answered,) “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Here you find reality and relationship. This is certainty real promise – not a vague or conditional hope:

Joh 14:7  If you really knew me, (and implied in the original language structure, YOU SURELY DO KNOW ME) you would know my Father as well.

From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

This is really the logical consequence of John 1:18 right at the beginning of John’s gospel:

Joh 1:18 No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.

Luther was able to talk about hanging your heart on God because of the certainty of his Fatherly love – which he himself found through Jesus. Luther started in a relationship of fear of judgement and hell – and ended with this absolute trust so that he could great hymns of the faith like this one:

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;

The hymn ends with these words:

 Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;

The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

He knew where his heart was hanging.

How about you? God knows. And I suspect you do to – if you’re honest.

Amen.

Tuesday Church 13 May 2014 @ 10.00 – First called Christians

The first reading today is Acts 11:19-26

 Act 11:19  Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews.

Act 11:20  Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus.

Act 11:21  The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.

Act 11:22  News of this reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch.

Act 11:23  When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.

Act 11:24  He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.

Act 11:25  Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul,

Act 11:26  and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.

The gospel reading today is  John 10:22-30

Joh 10:22  Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter,

Joh 10:23  and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon’s Colonnade.

Joh 10:24  The Jews gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”

Joh 10:25  Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me,

Joh 10:26  but you do not believe because you are not my sheep.

Joh 10:27  My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.

Joh 10:28  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.

Joh 10:29  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.

Joh 10:30  I and the Father are one.”

  

Message

I wonder if you would call yourself a Christian? I remember this debate years ago when I was about 15 – at school – in the classroom. I guess I started being a witness quite early. I tried to explain what it really meant to be a Christian. “But of course we’re Christian” said the teacher. “We’re not Jewish, Hindu or Muslim – we must be Christian!”

There is a big difference between being “Christian” in our views of life and being a “Christian”.

The first followers of Jesus were only called Christians in the city of Antioch in Turkey around 44 AD. Before this they were Jewish people who followed Jesus, and at one point called “people of the Way”.

The Antioch church was a Gentile church – made up of many different cultures.

Act 13:1  In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul.

The Lord had called into the fellowship and into leadership positions people from several nations. A fellowship from the then-known world could be led to the decision of wanting to reach the world. This could never have happened in the Jerusalem church.

The commentator Lloyd Ogilvie, A Presbyterian, writes of this church:

The Lord knew what He was doing! Note the magnificent mixture:

Barnabas, who had the rich background of the infant church in Jerusalem from Pentecost or shortly thereafter; Simeon, also called Niger, a Latin name showing two strong cultures in one person; Lucius of Cyrene, also a Latin name, clearly identified as coming from North Africa; Manaen, who had been raised (súntrophos) in the court of Herod the tetrarch (that is, the court of Herod Antipas, father of Agrippa); and Saul, the converted Pharisee. It was a world fellowship to start a world movement. Even Mark, brought from Jerusalem, would add his own contribution later.

Two Africans so early in the story. At least they were from North Africa – so that the South Africans aren’t in trouble again for showing up everywhere.

When you have gentiles from so many countries and parts of society together in a worshipping community – what would you call them?

Of course – Christians – because it is Christ who is their focus and centre. It is Christ who they are following – they are still a movement in some senses – “people of the Way”.

It is Jesus who tells us in next Sunday’s reading: “I am the way”. In today’s gospel passage from John 10, Jesus is speaking about shepherding again. And the key identifier of the sheep is clear in the debate which takes place. Listen again:

Joh 10:24  The Jews gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”

Joh 10:25  Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me,

Joh 10:26  but you do not believe because you are not my sheep.

Joh 10:27  My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.

Joh 10:27  My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.

Are you a follower of Jesus? Not just a Christian by association because you are not a Hindu or something else. A real follower?

If you are then the most exciting thing is learning to hear his voice and following in the way he shows you.

It does not necessarily mean travelling across the world on a mission. It means following his leading in terms of the kind of person you should be – and the way you see things in life in general.

He does guide us – through the Bible and the collective wisdom of others. Often through a small voice prompting – a nudge or an intuitive sense of knowing what to do.

Like the shepherd of Psalm 23 – he leads us to places that restore us – green pastures and quiet waters.

Learning to spend time in his presence is probably the most important challenge.

Prayer – that great gift to us – connects us to eternity – to God’s heart.

And so often we need to get up closer to God our Father – to be reminded how much he loves us!

Listen to how the passage ends today in the Gospel reading. It’s one of the most powerful statements from Jesus that makes it very clear that this is not just a wise man or a prophet as some people will try to tell you:

This is the one who gives us eternal life:

Joh 10:28  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.

Joh 10:29  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.

Joh 10:30  I and the Father are one.”

This is the One who is one with the Father.

We are His sheep and the people of His pasture.

May we learn to feed on the words he speaks.

Amen.

 

 

11 May 2014 – Mothers’ Day message

Readings:

 1 Peter 1:17-23;  John 15:9-12

Message

I thought we could start today with a job advert. You may enjoy this – especially if you have had some difficult job interviews like me.

Interview

Yes we need to salute mothers. Especially because of the laws that operate in the world of mothering or parenting in general. Here they are:

“Murphy’s Laws of Parenting.” See if you can identify with any of these:

1. The later you stay up, the earlier your child will wake up the next morning.

2. The gooier the food, the more likely it is to end up on the carpet.

3. The longer it takes you to make a meal, the less your child will like it.

4. A sure way to get something done is to tell a child not to do it.

5. For a child to become clean, something else must become dirty.

6. Toys multiply to fill any space available.

7. Yours is always the only child who doesn’t behave.

8. If the shoe fits . . . it’s expensive.

9. Backing the car out of the driveway causes your child to have to go to the bathroom.

A story then to bring us back to biblical truth:

I came across the story of Mary Jane Kurtz. Mary Jane says that when she was a young, single mom with four children, it was difficult to get them all ready for church on Sunday. One particular Sunday morning as the children started to complain and squabble, Mary Jane stomped from one room to the other, saying out loud why it was important they go to church as a family and have a good attitude. Suddenly, she noticed all four children huddled together and laughing.

“What’s so funny?” Mary Jane asked.

“Mom,” they said, “every time you slam down your foot, smoke comes out. It must be the wrath of God!”

In reality, it was the powder Mary Jane had sprinkled in her shoes. But it worked. She says they made it to church on time that morning and practically every Sunday thereafter.

Edward K. Rowell, 1001 Quotes, Illustrations, and Humorous Stories (Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing, 2008), p. 330.)

We know that ordinarily stamping your feet does not get the results you want in any part of life. Certainly not at work – not in the church – and especially not in family relationships.

In fact the standard for relationships in the Christian community is quite high.  Today’s reading from Peter is a case in point:

1Pe 1:17  Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.

1Pe 1:18  For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers,

1Pe 1:19  but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.

1Pe 1:20  He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.

1Pe 1:21  Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.

 1Pe 1:22  Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart.

1Pe 1:23  For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. 

Love one another deeply, from the heart – is a challenging requirement.   And Jesus lays it on thick too in the Gospel reading we heard: 

Joh 15:12  My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.

The Jesus’ love thing is simple – it’s the servant thing – the foot washing at the last supper being a model for this attitude. We know what it entails – but are not that great at it.

These are huge expectations to love has he loves – (Jesus) – and to love one another deeply – from the heart.

This stretches us – often making us feel rather guilty! The downside is that people don’t want to talk about the reality of their family life. It’s too messy and often worlds apart from the standard. Our matters of the heart – our deepest emotions – are sometimes rather painful!

“If you just knew my heart” you hear people saying. And rightly so. The prophet Jeremiah ominously noted many, many years ago:

(ESV)  The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?  (Jeremiah 17:9)

(ANV)  Die hart is bedriegliker as enigiets anders, hy is ongeneeslik; wie kan hom verstaan? 

ASV)  The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is exceedingly corrupt: who can know it? 

(MSG)  “The heart is hopelessly dark and deceitful, a puzzle that no one can figure out. 

(NRSV)  The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse–who can understand it? 

You can see from the various translations that the prognosis is grim. How on earth is it possible for us to love one another deeply, from this kind of heart?

Well the context of this requirement gives us some insight into the process:

1Pe 1:22  Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart.

1Pe 1:23  For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.

You can’t really have sincere love for your brothers in the Christian family, or love one another deeply – from the heart – without the process of purifying yourself by obeying the truth.

1Pe 1:22  Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. 

Verse 22 can also be translated as:

(ESV)  Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for asincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart,

Sincere love here is very specific. The word is ἀνυπόκριτος –  anupokritos (without hypocrisy). Unfeigned is the old word. Authentic.

It’s the one quality people seek today. And yes there are people seeking truth. They want down to earth genuine people to tell them. No bulldust.

And they can spot love that is pretence. Feigned, phoney.

And it fits with Jesus’ command in John 15: Love each other as I have loved you.

Jesus was clearly authentic – listen to these words written by an unknown author:

Jesus was the personification of love. He loved everyone whom He met. He reached out to the sick, the blind, the crippled, the lonely, the widows, the poor, the dishonest tax collector, the Roman officer, the children—everyone whom He encountered, He loved!

In my words now – He had huge issues with hypocrisy – warning against sounding your trumpet when you do a good dead, praying in public, fasting and showing off about it. You know the teaching – don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing – pray in secret – fast without looking miserable and so forth… 

In order to have this unfeigned or authentic love – Peter outlines two things that are needed:

  1. Purify our souls

The purification that Peter speaks of is in the context of the biblical understanding of holiness. In Levitical law purification the killing of a sacrificial animal and the sprinkling of blood on all that was to be cleansed (Lev 8:15) all that was holy (1Ch 23:28) the priests and Levite and even the people of God (Neh 12:30)

Peter is obviously referring us to the cleansing that we can experience through the precious blood of the Lamb without blemish and without spot who was foreordained before the foundation of the world (1Pe 1:19-20). That lamb is Jesus Christ.

He is very clear that the saviour is a sacrifice for our sins. His letter begins with these words:

1Pe 1:1  Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia,

1Pe 1:2  who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.

And of course in this passage:

1Pe 1:18  For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers,

1Pe 1:19  but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.

We need the cleansing – sprinkling of his blood to cleanse us! And then…

It’s interesting of course that we are to purify our souls – purify our lives through obedience to the truth! That means openness to do it God’s way. Because, Peter says: 

  1. You have been born again

1Pe 1:23  For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.

People always think of Jesus’ words in John’s gospel when they think of being “born again”.

Here it is in Peter as well. We are born again through the living and enduringword (logos) of God.

So when it comes to this matter of getting our hearts right.

The purification – the new birth – come from Him.

Without Him – we are in trouble.

With divine intervention – we can be changed.

If we let Him in – the Word of God, Jesus, and if we let His words cut into those deep places – things happen. The writer to the Hebrews puts it like this:

Heb_4:12  For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

THE SINCERE LOVE

The love without hypocrisy is a possibility. Through lives shaped by the Word of God – changed through the Word and the Spirit. God’s love becomes real in us and our communities.

  • It is unconditional love – without strings attached.
  • It is serving love – always there for you.
  • It sounds very much to me like a mother’s love is like this!
  • Maybe mothers have a foretaste of this love.
  • Maybe that’s why there are always more mums in church than dads.

But mums also need to stamp their feet like the mum with powder in her shoes!

The wrath of God in view!

Thank God for mothers who have guided us and prayed for us – and helped us to discover the grace of Jesus and His great love – the love that works out its purpose in us!

Praise God for mums!

Amen!

11 May 2014 – On sheep and shepherding

Readings: Psalm 23; 1 Peter 2:19-25;  John 10:1-10

The shepherd.

So why shepherds and sheep?

Is this some kind of Middle Eastern religious scheme?

Or does Christianity only make sense for rural people?

In all three readings today the shepherd is mentioned.

In the Old Testament Psalm. In Peter’s letter. And most famously the words of Jesus in John’s gospel

Of course the gospel reading mixes metaphors happily. Jesus is the gate too.

What are the main issues – the key things that we need to take for ourselves?

  1. We start with Peter.

Quite appropriate this week as the bishop of Rome recently made two new saints of previous bishops of Rome. And there was a retired bishop of Rome there.

The Pope is the bishop of Rome. Peter was given the job first (Catholics would agree on this) when Jesus reinstated him after his betrayal. Remember the words so powerful?

Joh 21:13  Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.

Joh 21:14  This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.

Joh 21:15  When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

Joh 21:16  Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

Joh 21:17  The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.

Joh 21:18  I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”

Feed my lambs, take care of my sheep, fed my sheep.

This is Jesus after the resurrection still using that shepherding picture.

He would have learned it from his parents – who would have been his faith teachers. Maybe they recited Psalm 23:

Psa 23:1  מזמור לדוד-   יהוה רעי לא אחסר

A Psalm of David. The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.

Psa 23:2  בנאות דשׁא ירביצני על־מי מנחות ינהלני׃

Psa 23:2  He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;

Psa 23:3  נפשׁי ישׁובב –   ינחני במעגלי־צדק למען שׁמו׃

Psa 23:3  he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.

The shepherding touch of the LORD Yahweh that David knew as a relatively young boy.

  • Lacking nothing,
  • being refreshed and
  • rested in green pastures and quiet waters – comes out of faith that is a real trust and dependency.

It certainly is a kind of nurturing – which comes through in Jesus’ commission to Peter.

The result is PASTORAL CARE – and pastoral comes from the word for shepherd.

It’s crept into society in all kinds of places – especially schools – since the British started using it in the 1960s in their education systems. Google pastoral care and you will get information of the NZQA’s code of conduct for pastoral care of international students, apart from usage in other organisations. For example on the website of the British Law Society you find this:

Pastoral care – for solicitors – 020 7320 5795

Solicitors can call us for information on personal, financial, professional and employment problems. We will refer you to the most suitable helpline for your needs.

We’re here to help solicitors – 09:00 to 17:00 weekdays.

– See more at: http://www.lawsociety.org.uk/advice/helplines/#sthash.2pmNJZcU.dpuf

I think that lawyers definitely need pastoral care!

The church’s view developed of course through history.

The bishops (or overseers) had a shepherd’s crook symbolically. This morphed into crown like tiaras (as in the triple crown) as they become more influential in worldly politics. So much so that the Bishop of Rome is a head of state today.

 

  1. What about the Presbyterians?

So what makes us different?

It’s the “presbyter” in Presbyterian that defines us.

A “presbyter” is an elder. So we are an elderian church.

Never mind Peter the shepherd for a while. Let’s look at Paul:

1Ti_4:14  Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you.

1Ti_5:17  The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honour, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.

Tit_1:5  The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.

Peter and James do refer to them off course:

 Jas_5:14  Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.

 Of course Peter does make the link.

 1Pe_5:1  To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed:

1Pe 5:2  Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve;

1Pe 5:3  not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.

In fact Peter uses all three words as an explanation of the role of Christian leaders:

Elders – shepherds – overseers

Πρεσβυτερους– ποιμανατε– πισκοπουντες

In fact “elders” is a noun here. The other two are verbs or actions – shepherding and overseeing!

1Pe 5:1  πρεσβυτερουςAουν TSBτους εν υμιν παρακαλω ο συμπρεσβυτερος και μαρτυς των του χριστου παθηματων ο και της μελλουσης αποκαλυπτεσθαι δοξης κοινωνος

1Pe 5:2  ποιμανατε το εν υμιν ποιμνιον του θεου AεπισκοπουντεςTSBεπισκοπουντες μη αναγκαστως Aαλλα TSBαλλ εκουσιως Aκατα Aθεον μηδε αισχροκερδως αλλα προθυμως

1Pe 5:3  Bμηδε TSAμηδ ως κατακυριευοντες των κληρων αλλα τυποι γινομενοι του ποιμνιου

The word “bishop” of course is episcopos (hence Episcopalian church in America).

And of course the book of Acts – where there is a switch from talking about the Jewish elders who were in conflict with the early Christians – to Christian elders who looked after the church:

Act_11:30  This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.

Act_14:23  Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.

Act_15:2  This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question.

Act_15:4  When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them.

Act_15:6  The apostles and elders met to consider this question.

Act_15:22  Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, two men who were leaders among the brothers.

Act_15:23  With them they sent the following letter: The apostles and elders, your brothers, To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia: Greetings.

Act_16:4  As they traveled from town to town, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for the people to obey.

Act_20:17  From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church.

Act_21:18  The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James, and all the elders were present.

Later in Acts “elders” once again refers to Jewish elders:

 Act_23:14  They went to the chief priests and elders and said, “We have taken a solemn oath not to eat anything until we have killed Paul.

Act_24:1  Five days later the high priest Ananias went down to Caesarea with some of the elders and a lawyer named Tertullus, and they brought their charges against Paul before the governor.

Act_25:15  When I went to Jerusalem, the chief priests and elders of the Jews brought charges against him and asked that he be condemned.

  1. So what does this mean:

The cure or care of souls – pastoral care – is the task of the ministry of the church. In the late 7th century Pope Gregory the first wrote a manual effectively on pastoral care, which influenced the church throughout history.

This “cure of souls” is closely linked to healing.

By implication – salvation and healing go together. In fact the word in the New Testament is the same.

So healing was more holistic before modern western medicine took control of it. When you were sick before this – you were more likely to be cared for by Christian ministers of some sort.

“Pastoral Care” is about shepherding.

About teaching, nurturing, admonishing and protecting Christians so that they grow closer to God and more like Jesus.

And in the elderian / Presbyterian church – the elders do this together.

Isn’t that good news.

You can receive ministry from a number of people – and not just the Minister.

In other words you can receive pastoral care from a number of people – not just the Pastor.

In the last line of the reading from Peter today the apostle – the catholic bishop of Rome or first pope (in their view anyway) says this:

1Pe 2:25  For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

Jesus remains the main shepherd – after all only he lays down his life for his sheep/friends – and overseer of our souls!

The word “overseer” there is “bishop”.

Yes he is Bishop Jesus!

And unlike other bishops – he is crowned! He can carry a sceptre and rule as King!

Confession time:

We don’t always do this stuff well. Our fault entirely. You can hang around here for quite a while and still not know who the elders are.

We will be making the names and some useful information about our elders to you in due course.

  • Some of you have an allocated elder who is supposed to care for you.
  • Others are in home groups – and they are all led by elders.

So there are options.

What we don’t do:

We don’t live in a parish any more.

Since the 4th century priests were allocated a section of the diocese called a parish. The word parish comes from the greek word παρоικία meaning district.

In that system if you lived in the district – a geographically defined area – you were in that Parish. Parish records were kept about people in the parish – and if you moved out of the area – you ended up in another parish.

The world has changed:

Consumer driven issues drive peoples’ church attendance. They travel long distances to go to the church of choice.

I don’t blame them really. And we don’t all live in the same area – people do travel. And we’re not going to draw a line on a map and send you to another church – like they do with school zoning.

But there is a different approach. It can be like this: I belong where I can be part of a community that really cures and cares for my soul.

Where I put roots down and build genuine relationships.

No more pretence. No more sweet smiles and “fine thank yous” when in fact I am suffering greatly.

  • Where I can know people and be known in a little flock of some sort – where we live out this Christian life with integrity. Honesty. And real care.
  • Where I grow in faith and knowledge – and can be strong and safe from the attacks of the enemy and of false shepherds who are wolves dressed up in some other outfit.

The home group remains the best place for this. And the wider church family forms the extended family for this.

So that when it happens as in Psalm 23: I walk through the valley of the shadow of death – I will know that Jesus is with me because his co-shepherds and other sheep are there for me too – helping me to care for my soul until the end.

And if you translate that verse 4 in another valid way –and I walk through the valley of deep darkness (in depression, grief or pain of any sort) – I can know the reality of the Good Shepherd with me not in isolation but in community where co-shepherds sustain me in love and prayer and acceptance – where the church is a hospital for the sick seeking to get better – and not a rah-rah party for people who think they have solved everything in their lives. Because they haven’t.

So there it is. We don’t have saints we pray to. Or reformer fathers railed against that. We do have saints we pray with – the people of this little flock.

Come out – people – from the isolation of thinking you have to go it alone – stiff upper-lip and all that – and be yourself in this family.

We all need feeding, care, and nurture. We are in regular need of forgiveness! We do behave as goats – even if it’s just because of our but-but-but arguing with God or the truth.

Please – I can’t offer you a new-fangled formula or super-cure and solution in life.

I’m not called to.

I’m called as the teaching-elder to lead you in the process of equipping a nurturing – building up the body of Christ in every way.

I rail against those who offer three easy steps in paper-back form.

I can only offer you a community where you can take some risks together – as we step by step get closer to the goal.

Under the headship of Bishop Jesus.

Amen.

4 May 2014 – Emmaus Road Reflection

Eyes opened and hearts burning 

Reading: Luke 24:13-35

Luke 24:31  Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. Luke 24:32  They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

In a small Catholic seminary, the dean asked a first year student to preach one day in chapel. This novice worked all night on a sermon, but still came up empty. At the appropriate time, he stood in the pulpit, looked out over his brothers and said “Do you know what I’m going to say?” They all shook their heads “no” and he said “neither do I, the service has ended, go in peace.”

Well, the dean was angry, and told the student, “You will preach again tomorrow, and you had better have a sermon.” Again, the novitiate stayed up all night, but still no sermon. When he stood in the pulpit, he asked “Do you know what I am going to say?” All the students nodded “yes” so the preacher said “Then there is no need for me to tell you. The service has ended, to in peace.” 

Now, the dean was livid. “Son, you have one more chance. Preach the gospel tomorrow or you will be expelled from the seminary.” Again he worked all night, and the next morning stood before his classmates and asked “Do you know what I am going to say?” Half of them nodded “yes” while the other half shook their heads “no.” The novitiate said “Those who know, tell those who don’t know. The service has ended, go in peace.” 

This time, the dean just smiled. He walked up to the novice preacher, put his arm around his shoulders and said “Hmmm…those who know, tell those who don’t know? Today, the gospel has been proclaimed. The service has ended, go in peace.”

Those who know, tell those who don’t know…

That is the gospel in a nutshell. The problem is that on the road to Emmaus it is Jesus who appears not to know, while the two disciples are the ones who do!

He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” They stood still, their faces downcast.  One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?” (vv17-18)

There is this ironic twist. The disciples claim to be “in the know” and seem amazed by this stranger’s ignorance!

The problem was that they only had half the story!

When you pass on the news with only half the story, that’s more like gossip.

The stranger is the one who puts them right of course. It is Jesus who unpacks the whole story. It’s rather nice really.

And the crunch comes when their eyes are opened in the breaking of the break.

They see.

And they acknowledge that their hearts were burning when he spoke to him and opened the Scriptures to them.

Remember Jeremiah writing about this? (Jer 20:9)  But if I say, “I will not mention him or speak any more in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.

Eyes opened and hearts burning.

It doesn’t matter what order that happens in really.

For John Wesley – it was after some years of religious discipline that his heart was “strangely warmed” – there was this inner experience or reality which arose really out of a searching and his leadership of what was called “The Holy Club”

Listen to this account:

In 1729 he joined with a small group of students at Lincoln College who met on Sunday evenings to talk about religious books and engage in prayer together. John became the natural leader of this group which expanded: it became known as ‘The Holy Club’, and they extended their activities to pastoral care including prison visiting.
John began to set down rules for himself. When dining in hall he would only drink one glass of wine or ale and he would never taste more than three dishes of food. For the Holy Club he laid emphasis on (1) the central importance of Holy Communion; (2) the responsibility of doing good to all, and (3) the importance of the written word for developing the faith.

On 24 May 1738,  (frustrated and) depressed, he opened his bible at random and read ‘ Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.’ Later that day he heard Luther’s anthem ‘Out of the Deep have I called unto thee, 0 Lord,’ And during a society meeting in the evening, where Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans was being read, he records:  ‘while he was describing the change in the heart through faith in Christ I felt my heart strangely warmed … I felt an assurance was given to me that He had taken away my sins … and saved me from the law of sin and death.’

DIFFERENT JOURNEYS

There are different journeys. The Emmaus road was the journey that those two disciples took while pretty depressed too. They only knew half the story. The death of Jesus was the precursor to the real event that was to change the world – his resurrection!

Wesley’s journey was as a religious person – a missionary working in America – who read hundreds of books and tried to follow a religious life. His heart was warmed when he HEARED a reading from Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans.

I don’t think that the two disciples or Wesley were actually expecting such a revelation! They were in a bad space emotionally when it happened.

HOW ABOUT YOU?

When our eyes are opened and our hearts warmed, it all fits into place.

Those who know tell those who don’t know – that the resurrection of Jesus changes things in a remarkable way.

And there is no resurrection to share with others without the amazing story of Jesus’ death.

It’s that death and resurrection that we remember at the table. We do this in remembrance of Him. We partake in His life! We accept the privilege of his grace – forgiveness, and the promise of new life.

AND we enjoy the power of the resurrection NOW. The same spirit which raised Jesus from the dead lives in us!

Our lives are transformed now!

LET’S TALK ABOUT THESE PEOPLE FROM THIS POINT OF VIEW: They are standing there with downcast faces. Gloomy. In the darkness of loss and depression. And there is John’s Wesley – depressed after all his religious discipline and his missionary years.

Jesus is the one who opens our eyes to the whole truth – and warms our hearts.

His light shines.

Those who know tell those who don’t know. Sometimes we’re like those who have forgotten. The gloom of our lives has blocked out the light of the Son of God who shines in our hearts.

I’ve been there. Some of my darkest days have been in the past five years. It has been impossible to claw back – except for the grace and love and warmth of God.

May our eyes be opened and our hearts burn within us – may there be a quickening of our spirits as we remember again the whole story.