Monthly Archives: November 2014

Sunday sermon 23 November – prophets, preachers and predictions

Readings: Jeremiah 1:4-10; 7:1-11, Matt 21:12-13  (Following the Narrative Lectionary).

(Note: these sermon notes include various quotations from Scripture in the narrative).

SERMON on Christ the King Sunday

I wonder whether you’ve ever considered that God may be calling you to some unique ministry?

The prophets of the First Testament – those of huge influence like Moses, Isaiah and Jeremiah, for example, record their story of God’s call.

For Moses – it was the voice of God at the burning bush. A holy place where he takes of his sandals.

Exo 3:1  Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.

Exo 3:2  There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up.

Exo 3:3  So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”

Exo 3:4  When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.”

Exo 3:5  “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”

Exo 3:6  Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

 

For Isaiah – a vision of angels crying Holy, Holy, Holy and a hot coal touching his mouth.

Isa 6:1  In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.

Isa 6:2  Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.

Isa 6:3  And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”

Isa 6:4  At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.

Isa 6:5  “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”

Isa 6:6  Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar.

Isa 6:7  With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

Isa 6:8  Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

 

For Jeremiah – well we heard that read earlier:

Jer 1:4  The word of the LORD came to me, saying,

Jer 1:5  “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

Jer 1:6  “Ah, Sovereign LORD,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.”

Jer 1:7  But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a child.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you.

Jer 1:8  Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the LORD.

Jer 1:9  Then the LORD reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “Now, I have put my words in your mouth.

Jer 1:10  See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”

Both Major Prophets had their mouth touched – one was a cleansing touch, and one an empowering touch. Jeremiah is the one who is consecrated. The NIV is unhelpful – I prefer the ESV – the English Standard Version:

Jer 1:5  “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

(het Ek jou geheilig; AOV) (sanctified KJV)

  • They were called – no doubt – just as ministers today are still called. And missionaries too.
  • The thing is – whatever you do, you can’t shake that call off.
  • The Holy Spirit keeps at you – with this ongoing stirring in your heart.

Moses had a stutter. Isaiah was inadequate and needed cleansing – because, in his words, “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”

I identify with all three of these great prophets.

  • Like Moses – I don’t feel adequate. And many times I am fearful.
  • Like Isaiah – I feel unworthy and sinful.
  • Like Jeremiah – it started in my life as a child. (he may have been early 20s)

This sense of knowing that God has a hold on you. My childhood years in the Methodist church came with a sense of stirring, and yielding.

It was a hymn that summed it up – I had to sing it as a solo somewhere along the line:

It’s by John Burton (about 1850).

Saviour, while my heart is tender, I would yield that heart to Thee;  All my powers to Thee surrender,Thine and only Thine to be.

Take me now, Lord Jesus, take me; Let my youthful heart be Thine; Thy devoted servant make me; Fill my soul with love divine.

Send me, Lord, where Thou wilt send me, Only do Thou guide my way; May Thy grace through life attend me, Gladly then shall I obey.

Let me do Thy will or bear it; I would know no will but Thine;  Shouldst Thou take my life or spare it, I that life to Thee resign.

May this solemn consecration, Never once forgotten be; Let it know no revocation, Registered and confirmed by Thee.

Thine I am, O Lord, for ever, To Thy service set apart; Suffer me to leave Thee never, Seal Thine image on my heart.

It’s a powerful hymn.

  • Jeremiah could just as well have sung it.
  • He is the most human. He wrestles with God. He fails. His life is threatened.
  • Jeremiah himself was attacked by his own brothers, beaten by priests, and thrown into a cistern. (Jeremiah 38)

Jer 38:6  So they took Jeremiah and put him into the cistern of Malkijah, the king’s son, which was in the courtyard of the guard. They lowered Jeremiah by ropes into the cistern; it had no water in it, only mud, and Jeremiah sank down into the mud.

I think he would have been a good minister’s elder or supervisor. He gets it – the struggling, the wrestling with God. For example in chapter 20:

Jer 20:7  O LORD, you deceived me, and I was deceived; you overpowered me and prevailed. I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me.

Jer 20:8  Whenever I speak, I cry out proclaiming violence and destruction. So the word of the LORD has brought me insult and reproach all day long.

The power of the call follows again in the next verse:

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.

Being a prophet is a challenging thing really. Jeremiah speaks to the national situation – and also to the church people of the day.

Chapter 7 is classic – his so called “temple sermon”. 

Jer 7:1  This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD:

Jer 7:2  “Stand at the gate of the LORD’s house and there proclaim this message: “‘Hear the word of the LORD, all you people of Judah who come through these gates to worship the LORD.

Jer 7:3  This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place.

Jer 7:4  Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD!”

Do you get it? He is standing at the door – at the church door really – challenging people.

It’s provocative but it fits with these words from later in chapter 1:

Jer 1:17  “Get yourself ready! Stand up and say to them whatever I command you. Do not be terrified by them, or I will terrify you before them.

Jer 1:18  Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land—against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land.

Jer 1:19  They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the LORD.

  • How can I describe this situation? In the time of King Josiah there was a major “church growth” kind of movement. Spiritual things had been neglected for about 250 years.
  • And King Josiah, who came to the throne in Judah at the age of 8, had brought huge change. (Grandfather 55 years – Manasseh; Father Amon 2 years. Killed. Josiah 8 year old. Seeks God at 16. Reforms at 20 (628BC).
  • Jeremiah probably started his prophetic years under Josiah. (2 Kings 22:1ff).
  • In 2 Kings we read about the rediscovery of the Book of the Law in the temple.

2Ki 22:8  Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the secretary, “I have found the Book of the Law in the temple of the LORD.” He gave it to Shaphan, who read it.

2Ki 22:9  Then Shaphan the secretary went to the king and reported to him: “Your officials have paid out the money that was in the temple of the LORD and have entrusted it to the workers and supervisors at the temple.”

2Ki 22:10  Then Shaphan the secretary informed the king, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” And Shaphan read from it in the presence of the king.

2Ki 22:11  When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his robes.  

There were major reforms that followed. Passover was reinstituted. Idols were smashed. But, as one commentator puts it:

“Josiah had gotten the idols out of the temple, but he had not gotten idolatry out of the people. No one knew that better than Jeremiah.” (John Guest).

Listen to these words again – God speaking to Jeremiah:

Jer 1:18  Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land—against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land.

Jer 1:19  They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the LORD.

John Wesley once said, “Give me one hundred men who fear nothing but God, and who hate nothing but sin and we will take over the world for Christ.”

  • Jeremiah was that kind of man.
  • He preaches his message at the gate of the temple – where people were probably quite pleased with themselves that they had actually shown up.
  • The sermon extract we read today ends with these classic lines: 

Jer 7:9  “‘Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known,

Jer 7:10  and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”—safe to do all these detestable things?

Jer 7:11  Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the LORD.  

Jesus picks up on this when he cleanses the temple:

Mat 21:12  Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves.

Mat 21:13  “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it a ‘den of robbers.’”

THE APPLICATION TODAY

You know – you can have a wonderful time at church – and miss the point.

If there is no evidence of change – we have a problem too.

God sees all.

That’s Jeremiah’s message.

And Jesus’ message seems to follow in the same prophetic tradition.

In fact – when Jesus asks his followers: (Matthew 16:13)  “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

Mat 16:14  They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

Mat 16:15  “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Mat 16:16  Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

The people in Josiah’s day destroyed their idols, and conformed to the rediscovered Law. But it was all a public display – being seen to be doing the right things.

Jesus had issues with that too.

Remember this verse?

Mat 23:27  “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.

Mat 23:28  In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

This is Christ the King Sunday. He knows whether we have really let him take his rightful place in our lives.

That’s my job and calling. To make sure that we are doing church in such a way that we live lives faithful to the Gospel and the Scriptures as a whole.

There are those who fancy themselves as church police – wanting to check the preacher out for heresy.

In fact that’s my job! Those who are called to speak – they speak for God. That makes it a very scary calling. I don’t take it lightly.

In a sense – preaching comes closest to prophecy – because the word means to “speak forth”.  The older more mature Peter says this of ministry:

1Pe 4:8  Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.

1Pe 4:9  Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.

1Pe 4:10  Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.

1Pe 4:11  If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen

ESV again:

1Pe 4:11  whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Hebrews 5 says this:

Heb 5:12  For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food,

Heb 5:13  for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child.

Heb 5:14  But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

Paul says this of preaching:

1Co 9:16  Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!

To get back to Jeremiah 7 – Jeremiah’s temple sermon (his church sermon if you like):

Jeremiah 7:11 is a sober warning, re-enforced by the words and actions of Jesus:

Jer 7:9  “‘Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known,

Jer 7:10  and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”—safe to do all these detestable things?

Jer 7:11  Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the LORD.

Mat 21:12  Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves.

Mat 21:13  “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it a ‘den of robbers.’”

You know – you can have a wonderful time here each week.

Just don’t miss the point!

So be it.

Amen.

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Sunday sermon 9 November – Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly with your God

Readings:  Micah 5:2-4;  6:6-8 Matthew 9:3 (Following the Narrative Lectionary)

Sermon.

There are two things I’d like to share with you today. Nothing complicated. Very simple. But also challenging! You know the saying about preachers – we are tasked to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

ONE

We are reading prophets today. Even the New Testament verse refers back to Hosea the prophet (prophesying in the northern kingdom).

Mat 9:13  But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.

(Hos 6:4  “What can I do with you, Ephraim? What can I do with you, Judah? Your love is like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears.

Hos 6:5  Therefore I cut you in pieces with my prophets, I killed you with the words of my mouth; my judgments flashed like lightning upon you.

Hos 6:6  For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.

You can’t really read the prophets at all without getting a sense of when these words were spoken – context is everything.

I spoke about David, if you recall, who ruled for 40 years, as did Saul before him. Actually Saul reigned for 42 years.

And then Solomon – daughter of David and Bathsheba – reigned 40 years too.

So some 122 years of kingship. Unity ends in 931 BC.

And of course the kingdom divides in two after that. Israel (10 tribes) in the north and Judah (two tribes in the south). Israel – the northern kingdom – has 19 kings through this period ending in 722 with the fall of Samaria to the Assyrians.

And in Judah in the south 20 kings through to 586 BC when the Babylonians conquer the southern kingdom.

So Micah is a prophet in the southern kingdom, and a contemporary of Isaiah.

And his prophecy about Bethlehem is profound. Bethlehem is David’s city by birth (an overstatement in the Christmas carol – it’s a village or small town). We get all gooey when we read about Bethlehem as “O little town of Bethlehem” leaps out of our musical memories.

The issue is that Bethlehem is rather insignificant as a town. The Messiah comes from this small place – this little “house of bread!”  Listen to verse 2 again:

Mic 5:2  “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”

Oh by the way Ephrathah means fruitfulness.

Hold onto this thought – Christmas is just around the corner – and these verses whet our appetites if we have a penchant for Christmas.

Verse 4 is also lovely:

Mic 5:4 He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth.

There is a sense of something great – someone great – who will come from this insignificant town.

Small does not mean insignificant in the eyes of God. And the same applies to you – if you think you are insignificant in the greater scheme of things – stick around and see how God can use you as well! To be fruitful.

Just as Bethlehem was chosen to be the place – our small church in this smallish suburb is part of God’s plan to be fruitful.

That’s enough about

TWO

The real treat this week is Micah 6:8. It’s one of those famous verses that people love. In fact – apart from the reference to the Messianic ruler coming out of Bethlehem, Micah 6:8 is the only really famous verse in the book. I listened to a discussion of this passage between a New Testament professor and an Old Testament professor. The Old Testament man referred to the book of the prophet Micah, to which the NT guy responded – “Oh yes – that’s a nice yerse!”

What is the context here?

Pretty much the same as today – listen to the first 5 verses of Micah 6:

Mic 6:1  Listen to what the LORD says: “Stand up, plead your case before the mountains; let the hills hear what you have to say.

Mic 6:2  Hear, O mountains, the LORD’s accusation; listen, you everlasting foundations of the earth. For the LORD has a case against his people; he is lodging a charge against Israel.

Mic 6:3  “My people, what have I done to you? How have I burdened you? Answer me.

Mic 6:4  I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam.

In other words – God is reminding them through the prophet – of how he had led them in the past! There is almost a mocking tone:

Mic 6:6  With what shall I come before the LORD and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?

Mic 6:7  Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

It’s pretty direct really. What’s real worship? What really matters? Is it sacrifices (for us would it mean more offerings?).

Someone quipped that we don’t really have the problem of over-generosity today. It is hyperbole after all. Imagine ten thousand rivers of oil? There’s even an oblique reference to offering of one’s first born. “Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”

Trouble is people did offer their children. Of course we would be aghast at that idea. Mind you – I recall a faithful and generous woman in our church years back who had a lot of kids – who told us once that when they were small she wished she could hang them up on a coat-hanger for a while.

Of course – Jesus is exactly that – if we become squeamish. Micah continues:

Mic 6:8  He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God

What’s it all about? Not whether you exceedingly generous with your sacrifices – as if you could impress God or buy his favour like a politician in many places around the world.

No – it’s simple. Micah 6:8 it is:

  • Act justly
  • Love mercy
  • Walk humbly with your God.

I loved the humility of Frank who spoke last week. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve heard of him before. There is a big world out there of course! You’re not meant to understand the intricacies of South African history and life.

What I liked was his honesty – how he felt that he had ticked all the boxes on God’s list – church, giving etc. and somehow he felt that God owed him something!

Someone penned this thought: “Moral indignation has never led anyone to Christ, but mercy has.”  Mixed with acting justly and walking humbly before God.

I want that in my life! At Messy Church Friday we talked about being saintly – which actually means holy. Of course we talked about the fruits of the spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. Catholic tradition lists 12 fruits: charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, chastity. There’s a thought – adding generosity, modesty and chastity.

Micah gives us – Act justly, Love mercy, Walk humbly with your God. Good start if you are interested in being the light of Christ in this generation. This too is part of God’s plan for us as a church – to be fruitful.

Tuesday church sermon 11 November – Remembrance Day and Peacemakers

Readings:  Psalm 23:1-6; Matthew 5:1-12

MATTHEW 5.1– 12 – The Beatitudes (Translated by Tom Wright)

1 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the hillside, and sat down. His disciples came to him.

2 He took a deep breath, and began his teaching:

3 ‘Wonderful news for the poor in spirit! The kingdom of heaven is yours.

4 ‘Wonderful news for the mourners! You’re going to be comforted.

5 ‘Wonderful news for the meek! You’re going to inherit the earth.

6 ‘Wonderful news for people who hunger and thirst for God’s justice! You’re going to be satisfied.

7 ‘Wonderful news for the merciful! You’ll receive mercy yourselves.

8 ‘Wonderful news for the pure in heart! You will see God.

9 ‘Wonderful news for the peacemakers! You’ll be called God’s children.

10 ‘Wonderful news for people who are persecuted because of God’s way! The kingdom of heaven belongs to you.

11 ‘Wonderful news for you, when people slander you and persecute you, and say all kinds of wicked things about you falsely because of me!

12 Celebrate and rejoice: there’s a great reward for you in heaven. That’s how they persecuted the prophets who went before you.’

Wright, Tom (2014-03-20). Matthew for Everyone: Chapter 1-15, Part 1 (Kindle Locations 702-718). SPCK. Kindle Edition.

 

Message at Tuesday church

Bull story: Two men were walking through a field one day when they spotted an enraged bull. Immediately they ran toward the nearest fence. The storming bull ran after them in hot pursuit, and they realized that they were not going to make it. Terrified, one man shouted to his friend, “Say a prayer, John. We’re in trouble” John said, “I’ve never prayed out loud before. I don’t know what to say. “But you have to” yelled his companion; “The bull is catching up to us.” “All right,” said John, as he ran with all his might; “I’ll say the only prayer I know. My father used to say it at the table: Oh Lord, for what we are about to receive, make us truly thankful.”

There are some things in life that come along that you can do absolutely nothing about. Like an enraged bull charging at you.

Well you can run! True.

But you can’t stop an angry bull. But you can find a different field to cross.

And you can pray!

It’s said that there are no atheists when bombs are falling.

The 1st World War was supposed to be the war to end all wars. The writer H G Wells published some articles in August 1914 which appeared in a book called “The war that will end war”. It became a common catch phrase.

In fact people believed that it would be over by Christmas. It was eventually over by Christmas 5 Christmases later.

Quick facts and figures

  • The total population of New Zealand in 1914 was just over one million.
  • In all, more than 120,000 New Zealanders enlisted, and around 103,000 served overseas. (That’s one in ten.)
  • More than 2200 Maori and around 460 Pacific Islanders served overseas with the New Zealand forces.
  • 11 Victoria Crosses were won by soldiers serving with New Zealand forces.
  • At least 3370 New Zealanders served in the Australian or British imperial forces, winning a further five Victoria Crosses.
  • In all, 550 nurses served with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, and many others enlisted in the United Kingdom.
  • Around 18,500 New Zealanders died in or because of the war, and about 41,000 were wounded or fell ill. More than 2700 died at Gallipoli and 12,500 on the Western Front.
  • The names of those who died are recorded on approximately 500 civic war memorials throughout New Zealand.

The total number of military and civilian casualties in World War I was over 37 million. There were over 16 million deaths and 20 million wounded ranking it among the deadliest conflicts in human history.

Jesus – at his first major “sermon” on the mount includes this line:

Mat 5:9  Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.

 “Blessings on the peace makers. For you will be called God’s children.” (Kingdom NT)

Matthew for everyone (Tom Wright):

Wonderful news for the peacemakers! You’ll be called God’s children.

It’s the nature of God’s children to be peacemakers.

So today – while we remember those who gave their lives in all wars that we know of – let’s also give thanks for the peacemakers of the world.

Those who live in hard places – where there are many raging bulls chasing them with the intention of doing serious damage.

We can’t stop the carnage.

But we too can pray for them – each day. While we are generally very blessed – while our lives are wonderful news most days compared to the millions of refugees who have had to run from their homes – who live in tents far from home – and who have lost loved ones and all they have worked for – let us use our time to ask God to be with them.

And let us pray for the peacemakers – for leaders and organisations – who try to bring war to an end. It’s not that easy.  They need our prayers.

And let us do our bit to be peacemakers where we live.

Most of all let us not forget those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice of giving up their lives to make the world a safer place for others.

Amen.

 

Sunday sermon 12 October – Joshua and his household – what about you?

Readings (Narrative Lectionary): Joshua 24:1-15; Matthew 4:8-10

PRAYER OF THE DAY
God of deliverance, you saved the people of Israel and chose Joshua to lead your people to the Promised Land. Choose us, and equip us to live with faith and peace. We pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord. Amen.

Sermon

It’s been a busy week. For those who don’t know I was at St Kentigern College from Friday to Tuesday. Friday was inspirational – we had the first national training day for ministers of the Presby church in NZ.
It was about resilience in ministry– and I need that. This ministry thing is a spiritual war. The afternoon session was also helpful – about leadership.

And the rest of the General Assembly week was a blessing – a great key note speaker, wonderful worship – and stories of how God is using Presbyterian Christians to be a blessing in this nation. The networking with fellow pastors and elders was a blessing. Hundreds of leaders in the Presbyterian church together.
Leadership is the key. And Joshua, who features in the narrative lectionary today, is not a bad person to look at for leadership!

Moses’ successor has the unenviable task of leading the people into battle to conquer the land. And God is with Him.

The book of Joshua starts with great courage:
Jos 1:1 After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, the LORD said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide:
Jos 1:2 “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites.
Jos 1:3 I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses.
Jos 1:5 No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.
Jos 1:6 “Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them.
Jos 1:7 Be strong and very courageous.

He was! And they crossed the Jordan! And got to Jericho.

One of the great highlights of Messy Church this year was when we marched around the walls of Jericho. Brilliant. Ok – they were just boxes – but the story is so inspiring!

This man knew how to hear God. Such an inspiration!

The battles are fierce. He gets the job done.
This passage today is towards the end of his life.
And toward the end when they have conquered the land, Joshua reaches the end of his mission:
Jos 23:1 After a long time had passed and the LORD had given Israel rest from all their enemies around them, Joshua, by then old and well advanced in years,
Jos 23:2 summoned all Israel—their elders, leaders, judges and officials—and said to them: “I am old and well advanced in years.

He calls an Assembly as well. There were decisions to be made – as we did last weekend at our General Assembly.
Joshua reminds them of God’s faithfulness.

He says:
Jos 23:14 “Now I am about to go the way of all the earth. You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the LORD your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed.

What a brilliant thing to say about the faithfulness of God when you reach the end.
I wonder what we will say when our end comes? What will our testimony be?

THE COVENANT RENEWED
At the end he calls all of them together – the whole nation – to renew the covenant.

Chapter 24 doesn’t just talk about Joshua’s triumphs. It goes much further back to Abraham! It’s a vast sweep of their history – showing that the agent – the active one in all of this – is God.

The whole passage is a prophetic word – God speaking through Joshua – it begins with this:
Jos 24:2 Joshua said to all the people, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: verses 2-13 are a broad sweep of the story of God acting for his people.

Well done to the readers today for getting around those names! And yes it’s Perrizites (not Pizza-ites).
At the end of this narrative – this prophetic voice of God reminding them of all that he brought them through – it switches from the prophetic voice of God – to Joshua the leader:
Jos 24:14 “Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD.
Jos 24:15 But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”

Choices – again choices. They are challenged to renew the covenant – the agreement which is rooted in the heritage from Abraham to Isaac – to Jacob – and Joseph – then Moses – and finally Joshua.
Who are these people? God’s people with this heritage. God’s people who respond to his word and believe.
Not just in their heads.

With their whole heart and life.

They are people of His word. They are the ones of whom Moses wrote:
Deu 6:5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.
Deu 6:6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.
Deu 6:7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.
Deu 6:8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.
Deu 6:9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
Deu 6:10 When the LORD your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you—a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build,
Deu 6:11 houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied,
Deu 6:12 be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

So what’s it to be in your household?

• Are you part of this great story – this heritage – are you children of the promise too? People of the Word – listening to God?
• And loving Him with all your heart and soul and strength?
• Impressing God’s commands on your children?

For many of us – who impressed them on our children through their childhood – our hearts ache because they have wandered of this path.

We have to claim them back – wrestle with God in prayer – plead with Him to shake them down – somehow – get their attention.

The temptation is there for every generation. Just like Jesus – it’s about whom you serve – who you really worship – who you actually live for!
The short New Testament verse for today sums it up from a Jesus point of view. Listen again:

Mat 4:8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour.

Mat 4:9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
Mat 4:10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'”

There are always choices – in fact we make this choice daily – to stick to our side of the covenant as God’s people! To serve Him – to worship Him – to obey Him.
And of course Jesus’ nails it because He’s grounded in the Word. “It is written” is probably the most dynamic phrase in this passage of His temptations.

Listen again:
Mat 4:10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'”

For our children – well if you have a wife like I do – you follow her example. Directly and regularly reminding them of the right way. I may be a preacher by day – I think she’s one by night and by weekend!
When they become adults – our kids often wander off the path. They serve Satan – or other gods.
But we need to keep it up ourselves – more importantly be faithful in our witness to them and others. Don’t neglect worship because it’s inconvenient for your family.

And the choices we make are subtle really. We’re not facing the kind of choices that the persecuted church has to today. I urge you to come to the combined service at 9.00am next week as we hear about the persecuted church today.

I am alarmed at some of the things that can take up our time and energy here – when there are people – our brothers and sisters in Christ – whose lives are on the line because they have said: But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”

They are at risk of being martyred daily. They are being martyred daily.
And here we are complaining about rosters and newsletters because we don’t like the formatting – or because someone got muddled up about who is due to make tea after church.

It’s rather alarming, isn’t it?

Choices.

But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”

… it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'”