Monthly Archives: February 2015

Sunday 22 February 2015 – forgiving from the heart?

Readings:

Psalm 32:1-2; Matthew 18:15-35

Message         

This is an amazing passage. If you thought the Sermon on the Mount had challenges, read Matthew 18!

  1. Excommunication

The first few lines where we pick up the narrative in verse 15 are used by some churches as a process of excommunication. Listen to the process. It’s quite simple really:

Mat 18:15  “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.

Mat 18:16  But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’

Mat 18:17  If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

And of course treating them like pagan or gentile or a tax collector is not the end of the road. These people were not beyond redemption. Ask Matthew about his career!

  1. Being forgiven and forgiving

The story of the unforgiving servant is like stand-up comedy really. When you consider the amounts of money involved. Jesus’ listeners would have had a good chuckle! 10 000 talents equals about 100 million days’ wages. It raises some questions thought – as all good stories do. Why did the master let that debt get so big, for example? *

And of course the Master catches up with this man who fails the requirement to forgive as he was forgiven. So the debt is reinstated – all 100 million days’ wages worth. He gets handed over. The idea of a debtors’ prison has always struck me as odd. How do you pay your debts when you are in jail?

Here’s the line that speaks of consequences:

Mat 18:34  In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

This would have got Jesus’ hearers in a tiz/tizzy too – Jews didn’t practice torture, but Romans did!

And of course, the original plan was this: Mat 18:24  As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him.

Mat 18:25  Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

The most expensive slave in those days was worth about 1 talent. Even if he had three kids, the guy would have recouped only 5 talents.

So the grace act begins with the man’s plea:

Mat 18:26  “The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’

Mat 18:27  The servant’s master took pity on him, cancelled the debt and let him go.

So he goes off and demands that the other man pay him. You know the rest of the story. People notice the injustice and tell on him!

The story is in response to Peter’s questioning of course! Who else?

It is told to illustrate the teaching on forgiveness that Jesus gives. It should not have been a surprise to Peter – who starts the conversation. We’ve talked about this before – how Peter thinks that forgiving your brother up to seven times is okay. No, says Jesus – 77 times. Or is it 70 times 7?

It would have been no surprise to them because they would have heard Jesus’ teaching in the Lord’s prayer: Mat 6:12  Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

So what do we do with this?

I think that the first passage from verse 15 is key to making things right. Accountability and truth telling are closely connected to forgiveness. And remember – follow this pattern and you won’t be using the old triangle method – You – person A – are mad with person B – so instead of going to sort things out – you tell person C. (Gossip and scandal – both serious sins). Listen again to the pattern:

Mat 18:15  “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.

Mat 18:16  But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’

Mat 18:17  If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

When we see “church” here we sometimes assume that this is the big organisation of today – and “telling it to the church” means standing up and announcing to the assembled people of God that the person is being kicked out, after due process of course.

That’s probably a mistaken view. Here’s why.

The context is a shepherding or pastoral one. Right before this discussion is this telling passage:

Mat 18:12  “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?

Mat 18:13  And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off.

Mat 18:14  In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.

Anything to do with sheep is what we call today a pastoral matter. And when people are excluded in some way for not responding to correction, the purpose is to bring them to their senses (or to bring them to repentance) so that they will admit that they have wronged and for the sake of the church’s witness and unity they should make right and return. Return to the fold!

And central to this is relationships. When “church” is mentioned in bible times the chances are it’s a small group probably meeting in a home. Not in a church building.

So relationships would matter a lot. You could not hide in a crowd in a small group.

And confronting people is not easy. We are also sinners. Tom Wright puts it beautifully:

Every time you accuse someone else, you accuse yourself. Every time you forgive someone else, though, you pass on a drop of water out of the bucketful that God has already given you. From God’s point of view, the distance between being ordinarily sinful (what we all are) and extremely sinful (what the people we don’t like seem to be) is like the distance between London and Paris seen from the point of view of the sun. And so on. We can all relate to that.

The key thing, as I have already said, is not that one should therefore swallow all resentment and ‘forgive and forget’ as though nothing had happened. The key thing is that one should never, ever give up making forgiveness and reconciliation one’s goal. If confrontation has to happen, as it often does, it must always be with forgiveness in mind, never revenge.

Forgiveness is fundamental to the fabric of who we are as a Christian community.

Wright says “forgiveness is like the air in your lungs.   There’s only room for you to inhale the next lungful when you’ve just breathed out the previous one. If you insist on withholding it, refusing to give someone else the kiss of life they may desperately need, you won’t be able to take any more in yourself, and you will suffocate very quickly.

Whatever the spiritual, moral and emotional equivalent of the lungs may be (we sometimes say ‘the heart’, but that of course is a metaphor as well), it’s either open or closed. If it’s open, able and willing to forgive others, it will also be open to receive God’s love and forgiveness. But if it’s locked up to the one, it will be locked up to the other. This is a hard lesson to learn.

Wright, Tom (2002-03-22). Matthew for Everyone Part 2: Pt. 2 (New Testament for Everyone) (pp. 39-40). SPCK. Kindle Edition.

THE COMMUNITY WE BUILD

So all of this is about community in the Kingdom of God – the kingdom that we pray to come on earth “as it is in heaven”.

Our church Mission statement is printed every week: “Building loving communities that help people find and follow Jesus”.

These communities are more likely to “find” Jesus (although I hasten to add that he is not lost – usually we are) – people are more likely to find and follow Jesus in a community that is open, honest, and walking in the light. (cf 1 John 1).

We put people on committees when in fact they are needing community.

And community is more likely to sort out relationships than a large crowd of people who don’t really know each other anyway.

Which is why the apparent harshness of the final verse is so important.

Mat 18:32  “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I cancelled all that debt of yours because you begged me to.

Mat 18:33  Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’

Mat 18:34  In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

Mat 18:35  “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”

There is a serious warning here. These are matters of the heart.

When someone apologises to you for doing wrong, you know when it’s not from the heart.

I’ve experienced that. And I saw it in action when boys who were fighting were forced to apologise without them actually understanding how damaging their behaviour was. Forcing kids to say sorry (usually to siblings or friends at school where there has been a scrap over something) usually involves body language that is the direct opposite of their words.

Without repentance – confession of sin can also be perfunctory. Unthinking, an obligation, a kind of a duty. Often self-focused – wriggling getting out of trouble without really feeling remorse.

Those kind of apologies usually say something like “if I have offended you or hurt you” when we all know that they did. And they follow with “it wasn’t personal” when you know it was totally!

Let’s learn to fix things!

Amen.

*  Jarvis, Cynthia A. (2013-12-09). Feasting on the Gospels–Matthew, Volume 2 (Kindle Location 3734). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.

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18 February 2015 – Ash Wednesday reflection at Rosedale Village

Ash Wednesday Reflection

  • Mat 18:1  At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
  • Mat 18:2  He called a little child and had him stand among them.
  • Mat 18:3  And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
  • Mat 18:4  Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
  • Mat 18:5  “And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me.
  • Mat 18:6  But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.

REFLECTION

What’s your earliest memory as a child?

I have this picture of an ice cream cake at a 4th or 5th birthday. Apart from a pleasant memory like that I remember my first teacher at school – who wore dingle-dangle earrings and had a cane! Scary lady.

Mostly I remember needing my parents – especially when I was unwell. I needed my mum! She seemed to know what to do. And I trusted her.

Becoming an adult meant you had to take responsibility yourself. And in time – if you were blessed with children – they had to trust you. And you had to care for them!

It’s not surprising that abuse of children makes us feel ill and angry. It shouldn’t be like that.

As we get older still – the hard thing is that we have to trust other people to look after us. Our children start parenting us! And we need care-givers again.

In the frailty of advancing years, we become angry once more when frail and dependent people are abused. It shouldn’t be like that!

In Matthew 18 he disciples asked this question: Mat 18:1  At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

Jesus used a child as an object lesson when he brought a child to them and said: Mat 18:3  And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Mat 18:4  Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Mat 18:5  “And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. Mat 18:6  But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.

 The “little ones” are all those who are dependent upon others.

One commentator (Elizabeth Johnson) says this:

Jesus then continues talking about “little ones” (hoi mikroi) in the figurative sense — those without power or status in the community of faith. With shocking imagery, he states the utter seriousness of causing the downfall (the Greek verb skandalizõ) of any of these “little ones who believe in me.” Indeed, he warns that “it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6).

Johnson goes on to say: This text is well chosen for Ash Wednesday, a day that focuses on self-examination and repentance, remembering that “we are dust, and to dust we shall return.” Indeed, we are all “little ones” before God, completely dependent upon God for the breath of life here and now and for the life to come.

Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent call us to repentance and renewal — to a drowning of the old self in the waters of baptism, with all the old self’s evil deeds and desires and potential for causing others to stumble, in order to be raised to new life from those same baptismal waters. This is dramatic imagery as well, but that which it symbolizes is much better than being drowned with a millstone in the depths of the sea!

The bottom line – for us – for the disciples of Jesus back then – and for those being martyred in this generation – is that we have to depend on God with the absolute trust of a child.

In a healthy family – children trust because they know that their parents are trustworthy. Jesus wants us to know that God is trustworthy too. That’s why he says elsewhere in His teaching on prayer:  Luk 11:9  “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. Luk 11:10  For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Luk 11:11  “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Luk 11:12  Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? Luk 11:13  If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

May we be able to trust Him like little children, in the knowledge that we all have sinned and are undeserving recipients of His love and grace. May we also repent for our part in any way in the hurting and abuse of others through our lives.

Amen.

Sources: Elisabeth Johnson – Professor – Lutheran Institute of Theology, Meiganga, Cameroon

https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2355

 

Sunday sermon 15 February 2015 – Mountains and voices

Reading: Matthew 16:24 – 7:8

MESSAGE

There are three accounts of this Transfiguration in the gospels. Like eye-witness accounts of any event, they differ from each other.

In all three, Moses and Elijah are seen. We’re not always sure what to do with that. Elijah was transported straight to heaven. Moses was buried by God, according to Deuteronomy 34. In Moab – at an unknown site. Of course there is an interesting reference to his death in Jude 1:9. Have a read through the week.

What do we learn from this?

In the context of Matthew, Peter is in the background before we even read this account. He’s the first to recognise Jesus as Messiah. He doesn’t fancy the news that Jesus will die – so becomes Satan in the plot. Then he (with the twins with issues – James and John) are given the encouragement of this amazing vision on a mountain.

And Peter again gets a bit confused – wanting to camp out on the mountain in booths or tabernacles. I don’t think Elijah and Moses were planning a vacation up there. Mark says in his observation – “He did not know what to say, they were so frightened”. Luke is more blunt, noting that Peter “did not know what he was saying” which sounds like a euphemism for losing the plot.

We too like Peter have our ups and downs. The mountain top experiences don’t last. And we too would have been afraid.

Visions can be scary. When I was teaching I used to tell my students about the time I saw dead people. Being boys they loved those stories. And the one about the man who was dead for four days and then raised from his coffin. He came to speak at our local pastor’s association – that was interesting! And the boys loved the story of the funeral I did for a gangster. I digress.

The time I saw dead people walk through the walls is the point. It can be scary. In this case the hallucinations were the side effect of post-operative drugs. That was the time – you may remember – that while wrestling with a fever and hallucinations, the phone rang. I answered it and one of Sheilagh’s business associates was on the line. I told her that we were on a high mountain (the Drakensberg which is the name know to Africans) – and that the phone did not work at that altitude. “Please call her on her mobile” I said, and cut her off.

A different mountain. Tom Wright writes about the mountain in these words:

Mount Tabor is a large, round hill in central Galilee. When you go there today with a party of pilgrims, you have to get out of your bus and take a taxi to the top. They say that God is especially pleased with the Mount Tabor taxi-drivers, because more praying goes on in the few minutes hurtling up or down the narrow mountain road in those cars than in the rest of the day, or possibly the week.

He goes on to say:

Mount Tabor is the traditional site of the transfiguration, the extraordinary incident which Matthew, Mark and Luke all relate about Jesus.  Actually, we don’t know for sure that it took place there. It is just as likely that Jesus would have taken Peter, James and John– his closest associates– up Mount Hermon, which is close to Caesarea Philippi, where the previous conversation took place. Mount Hermon is more remote and inaccessible, which is of course why parties of pilgrims have long favoured Mount Tabor. From both mountains you get a stunning view of Galilee, spread out in front of you. *

They weren’t up there for the view, says Wright. This is one of those key moments – like Jesus’ baptism – where he is affirmed by a voice, and his followers are stunned and also told not to tell the story to anyone. There was obviously something specific for the three key men in Jesus’ team.

Here’s the key:

  • Mark 9:7 – Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”
  •  Matthew 17:4 Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 5  While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
  • Luke 9:34 While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud.
    35  A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.”
    36  When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves, and told no one at that time what they had seen.

There’s a conversation happening between Moses, Elijah and Jesus.

Peter makes a plan to build shelters and starts sharing his ideas.

In two of the three gospel accounts, while Peter is speaking – God interrupts.

Does he? Or is in fact Peter interrupting God’s work. The cloud of the presence descends. Things grow strange, perhaps a little dark – all three gospels talk about them being “enveloped” by the cloud.

  • Then the voice.
  • And the identification of the Son – Jesus – how he is valued, loved, chosen, with whom God is well pleased.
  • And then the command: listen to Him.

APPLICATION

Peter was on the wrong page really. But he got there in the end.

When Jesus was pinned up on the cross on another mountain – Calvary, Peter did badly again. As Lent begins this week and we prepare for 40 days until Easter, we are faced with our own faith response.

Are we sometimes on the wrong page? Think about that for a while. There were voices at our Session meeting this week – as we wrestled with some issues.

It was about when we meet for worship. Since my speech issues, we have been meeting at one combined service. We will ask you for your thoughts.

There was one voice that won’t go away in my head. It was the question about how we reach the people of Browns Bay on a Sunday morning – those down at the market.

That one I think will come around again.

On Mount Tabor – or Hermon, whichever it was, there was a command to the disciples: Listen to Him.

And when all is said and done, the commands of Jesus are crucial.

I suspect that the important ones include:

  • Love one another as I have loved you.
  • Do this in remembrance of me (communion today)
  • Go into all the world
  • Make disciples of all nations

You’ve probably got some that grab your attention too.

The disciples did listen to him. They made mistakes, they got things wrong, but they did follow Jesus! And most of them gave their lives in the service of the gospel.

I want to quote Tom Wright again – I can’t say it better:

Matthew, here as elsewhere, highlights the parallel between Jesus and Moses. Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt and then, before completing his task, went up Mount Sinai to receive the law. He then went up again, after the Israelites had drastically broken the law, to pray for them and to beg for God’s mercy. (Elijah, too, met God in a special way on Mount Sinai; but Matthew’s interest, throughout the gospel, is in the way in which Jesus is like Moses, only more so.) Towards the end of Moses’ life, God promised to send the people a prophet just like him (Deuteronomy 18), and gave the command: you must listen to him. Now, as Moses once again meets God on the mountain, the voice from the cloud draws attention to Jesus, confirming what Peter had said in the previous chapter. Jesus isn’t just a prophet; he is God’s own son, the Messiah, and God is delighted with what he is doing. The word to the disciples then is just as much a word to us today. If you want to find the way– the way to God, the way to the promised land– you must listen to him. *

That’s the gospel we have to tell others about. That’s why we are here.

May we listen to Him.

Amen.

 

* Wright, Tom (2002-03-22). Matthew for Everyone Part 2: Pt. 2 (New Testament for Everyone). SPCK. Kindle Edition.

Sunday 8 February 2015 – Feeding of the Five Thousand

Reading Matthew 14: 13 ― 21

Sermon by Bill Davey ― Elder at B.B.P

Overview of the message today:

We will:

  •  highlight a key principle from the teaching of Jesus;
  •  review the background to this creative miracle ― where and when it  occurred;
  •  seek to learn from this miracle [Feeding the 5,000];
  •  recognise the links between this miracle and the Jewish history [Exodus];
  •  identify some links with other New Testament themes.

A Principle from the teaching of Jesus:

In Matt. 5: 17 ― Jesus taught: “I did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets  but to fulfill them.”  (NIV)

This week The Narrative Lectionary highlights one of the best known miracles of Jesus ― our Messiah ― when He feeds 5,000 people near Lake Galilee.

When Pastor Robin invited me to present this material he tasked me to give real thought to the writings and work of retired Bishop N. T. Wright, renowned New Testament theologian, something which I have done:

Tom Wright recommended that when we read the Gospels we always consider: “….. the activities of Jesus should always be viewed as the climax of the story of God and His dealings with His People Israel [the Jewish people].”(N. T. Wright)

The story so far ….. (Background)

John the Baptist, the cousin of our Lord was executed by king Herod in the fortress prison of Machareus on East side of the river Jordan, after the king was tricked into making a promise to his step-daughter, Salome.

Jesus was grieving and needed time to be alone for prayer.

Timing and the setting to this miracle.

 In the early weeks of April, A.D. 29, the twelve disciples returned to Capernaum; where Jesus was waiting for them. They were in need of a holiday break, after a month of strenuous ministry.

They would take Peter’s boat, and cross to the Eastern shore of the lake, as they had done before.

However the enthusiastic crowd would not let them escape as easily as that. As their boat was headed towards the north-east; the crowd could keep it in sight, and walk along the shore. It was only two miles to the Jordan, from the north end of the lake; another three miles across the plain of Bataiha.

The people gathered in the foot-hills on the Eastern shore. By boat it would be about four miles, direct from Capernaum. Once again, the twelve missed their holiday break.

This is probably the largest crowd ever addressed by our Lord.

Pilgrim groups from northern Galilee, from the Decapolis, and from regions to the north of Palestine usually camped by the lake for a few days before the last lap of their journey down the Jordan valley and up to Jerusalem for the paschal feast.

Our Lord began his teaching, probably before midday, from a hillock a few hundred yards from the lake. About seven hours later, when the sun was sinking behind the Galilean hills, some of the apostles raised the question of feeding the people, with Jesus. The few provisions some had brought had been eaten long since. (Adapted from writings of R. Cox)

Jesus gave priority to the needs of the people.

He taught and ministered to them for many hours. He healed all who were sick or unwell, and He liberated others who were deeply troubled in spirit.

As evening approached one, or two of the disciples, made a helpful suggestion ― “Wouldn’t it be good to send the people away to buy food”. But Jesus responds, “If you care for them ― why don’t you give them something to eat?”

Think of the likely excuses that would have been offered in response to His challenge.

I / we couldn’t feed them ― there are too many people;

I / we don’t have enough energy / know-how / money /

skills / time, etc.

Jesus then rescues the situation by taking what they do have available to them:

[5 loaves of bread and 2 small fish ― a little boy’s lunch.]

We are probably familiar with how the story unfolds:

Jesus gives instructions for the people to sit in orderly groups;

Jesus takes what they do have (the bread and the fish);  and looking up to heaven,  gave thanks, for what they have;  and broke the bread (and divides the fish);  and gave the food to His disciples to distribute.  Everyone has more than enough to eat, and 12 baskets, filled with left-over pieces are collected.

A lesson to be learned from this example:

When we are doing what Jesus requires of us, we can be sure that Jesus will always accept what little we have, and then, giving thanks, He will cause our contribution to be made more than adequate for His purposes.

Our offerings, in this day and age might relate to:

  •  our energy and time;
  •  our art and craft skills;
  •  our other natural skills and talents;
  •  any spiritual gift we have received.

Now returning briefly to our Gospel account:

Jesus had been mindful of the needs of His disciples for a time of rest, and so directed them to go to the other side of the lake.

He then sent the crowds home, and finally, went to a quiet place, for the personal prayer He so desperately needed.

Jesus still needed prayer-time to deal with His own grief ― regarding the death of His  cousin ― John the Baptist.

What happened after that ― Well that’s another story for another day!  

Amen.

 

Sunday Sermon 4 January 2015 – The Way of Humanity versus the Way of God!

Sermon ― Bill Davey ― Elder at BBP

 Reading:  Matthew 2: 13 ― 23 – New International Version

13        When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get  up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

14        So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt,

15        where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had  said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”   (See: Hosea 11:1) 

16        When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.

17        Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:  (See: Jeremiah 31: 15)

18        “A voice is heard in Ramah,  weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children  and refusing to be comforted, because her children are no more.”               

19        After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt

20        and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for              

those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”

21        So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel.

22        But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father              

 Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee,

Our current Lectionary highlights three elements in our text for clarification:

“The flight into Egypt,”   “The Slaughter of the Innocents,” and  “The Return to Israel”

Before we examine the text let us underpin two principles from the teaching of Jesus:

In Matt. 5: 17 ― Jesus taught:

“I did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets

 but to fulfill them   (Law  /  Torah ― the teachings of God) !”  (NIV)

In John 10: 10  ― when talking about a “Good Shepherd, Jesus taught:

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy;  I have come that they may  have life, and have it to the full.” (NIV)

A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”  (NAB)

In our text today, we find Jesus ― the Incarnate Son of God as a new-born totally dependent on his parents, and upon the super-natural care for his nurture, protection and provision, including that of His parents.

What does our text show and teach us?

It compares the Way of Herod ― in his Humanity with the Way of God

King Herod displays a particular example of his way of humanity!

[Pride / Independence / Deceit]

We find King Herod: ― ever promoting self-interest with evil manipulation and deceit:

―        He deceived the Magi with his lies, claiming a wish to worship the God-child;

―        He then arranged the slaughter of the Innocents,

(all boy children under 2 years of age) in Bethlehem.

the “Slaughter of the Innocents” (Matthew 2: Verses 16 to 18)

“A voice is heard in Ramah,                          

weeping and great mourning,           

Rachel weeping for her children            

and refusing to be comforted,                       

because her children are no more.”  (Jeremiah 31: 15)

During the octave of Christmas the Church celebrates the memory of the small children of the neighbourhood of Bethlehem put to death by Herod.

Sacrificed by a wicked monarch these innocent lives bear witness to Christ who was persecuted from the time of His birth by a world which would not receive Him.

Our Christmas joy is tempered by a feeling of sadness. Our thought goes principally to the glory of the children, of those innocent victims, who are now in heaven following the Lamb wherever He goes.

Those children became known as the “infant Martyr flowers”; the Church’s first blossoms, martyred by the frost of persecution during the cold winter of unbelief.(Sermon of St. Augustine)

Question:  Why is the greatest gift of the unconditional love of God set alongside Herod’s [Pride, Independence and Deceit], acts of extreme cruelty and human savagery?    (Comparison? Paradox?)

The Way of God ― (His Divine Plan)

―        Prophetic links to this New Testament passage when referring to the Messiah.

(See: Hosea 11:1) ― Out of Egypt I called my Son!

(See: Isaiah 11: 1  ― The branch of the stump of Jesse!

“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;

from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.

The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him-

The Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,

the Spirit of counsel and of power,

the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD —

and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.”

(and see Micah 5:3) ― when she who is in labour gives birth!

 What can we learn from Joseph and Mary?

―        Two unplanned journeys ― one into Egypt, and then a return from Egypt!

both journeys inspired by God for the protection of His Child (The Son of God),

and marked by super-natural timing in the most testing time of circumstance.

Dreams guided Joseph about the when, where and how to journey to Egypt.        Vv 13-14

Dreams guided Joseph about the when, where and how to return to Israel.          Vv 20-23

Dreams guided Joseph about his decision to go to Nazareth rather than Bethlehem.

―        Joseph ―   Listen to God and pray for guidance even as you obey Him!

―        Mary   ―        Listen to your husband and pray for his guidance!

―        By trusting the faithfulness of God ― We can listen to, and obey God, without question!

Our Church culture traditionally teaches us to:         Know God;   Serve God;  Love God!

Today we have considered how important it is to:    Listen to God;

Obey God; Live ― as if you are in the presence of God ― because you are!

 

To summarize:

We have noted the contrast between the way of King Herod and the way of God:

“Slaughter of the Innocents” and the

“Unconditional love of God ― the Gift of His Son ― Jesus!”

We have identified some key elements of the plans of God:

―        the prophetic aspects of the unfolding truth of the escape to and from Egypt;

―        the detailed dream-inspired decisions of Joseph and Mary;

―        the key examples of Listening to God and Obeying God, without debate.

Important to learn:   How well will I or we listen to, and obey God, in this coming year?

How well do I or we know the way of our Lord?

Let us pray: . . . .

Lord help us to: Listen to you O Lord; Obey you O Lord; and Live ― as if we are ever in your presence ― because we really are!

Amen.

 

Acknowledgement of www.electronicprayerbook.com

Sunday sermon 1 Feb 2015 – Kingdom matters

The Sermon on the Mount (continued)

Reading: Matthew 6:7-21

Last week we looked briefly at the Beatitudes, and then focussed on what it means to be salt and light. In short, we are called to be people of influence. We watched a movie this week about a gifted man who influenced the duration of the Second World War by cracking the German enigma codes. Like Churchill, one man made a huge difference.

I must admit that it left me with more than a lump in my throat. How much influence will I have? What difference will I make?  – These were the thoughts that travelled home with me. The main character in the movie was treated badly and his life ended too early. It made me wonder how much people remember us for at the end of the day. Watch “The Imitation Game” – before or after the Oscars. This man was worth his salt. It is estimated that his work reduced the length of the war by some two years.

The Sermon on the Mount is a challenge to everything that undergirds modern life and society. The beatitudes of Matthew 5 are part of that challenge. The question is – are they a standard set for us to follow? Or all statements of fact? For example, tell me that the meek are inheriting the earth, and I’ll give you plenty of examples of where that is not true.

Tom Wright puts it like this:  In our world, still, most people think that wonderful news consists of success, wealth, long life, victory in battle. Jesus is offering wonderful news for the humble, the poor, the mourners, the peacemakers. Wright, Tom (2014-03-20). Matthew for Everyone: Chapter 1-15, Part 1.

The beatitudes are not about happiness. They are about promises which are real now for Jesus’ followers – not just in “heaven” at the end if our lives. They are a taste of things to come. Jesus ushers in the upside-down Kingdom which is ultimately the right way around. The individual beatitudes require a lot more attention of course. Perhaps during Lent you could go back to them. In time we will investigate more about where and what heaven is and what the future holds (if we dare).

You have to read the rest of Matthew 5 to see how we are to be like Christ, who is ultimate salt and light, and that we all together are the new Israel who by following Jesus influence the nations (ethnicities?) around us with that flavour and light! All kinds of things crop up in chapter 5, especially reconciliation (which comes first before worship), and truth-telling. And turning the other cheek. And love for enemies. When you pray for those who persecute you, guess what? You are being children of God (“of your father in heaven!” vss 44-45). And here we read about being perfect (like that same heavenly father – vs 36). Being salt and light has broad implications indeed.

The key to understanding this business of where and what heaven is, is staring us in the face, or shining at us on a screen each Sunday.  It’s in the Lord’s Prayer which the Narrative Lectionary includes in today’s reading.

Matthew chapter 6 starts with a general discussion on prayer and acts of righteousness (or piety). “When you pray” is about public and private prayer. Private prayer should not be showy. It’s not about impressing people or long repetitive prayers. After all, says Jesus, “your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8). Of course persistence seems okay under certain circumstances, as illustrated in the story of the widow and the unjust judge. (See Luke 18:2-8 – although this too has a twist at the end of the account).

And so we come to the Lord’s Prayer. The key to it all is in this directive in verse 9: “This, then, is how you should pray.” I don’t think it actually says: “this is what you should pray” – although I am totally committed to praying the Lord’s Prayer.  In Luke 11:2-4, on the other hand, Jesus gives the same prayer, with some variations. If it is a matter of accurate repetition, we might have a problem choosing one of the two.

The prayer, then, is like a scaffolding to build on, or a framework (both terms come from Tom Wright). Wright says that Jesus may well have intended us to pray the prayer like the Jews did their prayers – three times a day using “short powerful prayers”. But it’s clearly more than that. It is a powerful outline of key issues in our following of Jesus.

Myron Augsburger writing about Matthew puts it like this: “The beauty of this prayer, called the Lord’s Prayer, has been honoured in both spoken word and in music. Across the lines of culture and language, the Lord’s Prayer has served as the model for Christians to approach God. No liturgy is complete without it and no prayer can surpass the scope of meaning contained in its simplicity.” Augsburger gives these as an outline of the key matters in the prayer:

  1. The honour that worship accords to God.
  2. The humility that recognises our dependence upon God.
  3. The hope that the rule of God creates.

Let us pray…

As we spend some reflective time in prayer today, let’s use this broad structure.

PRAYING – ABOUT GOD

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name (v9).

Prayer time:

  • Honour his name always in prayer before you do anything. Focus on God. To reverence His name is worship.
  • He is our Father. Our relationship to Him is key. If you pray “our father” you are claiming John 1: 12 as yours.
  • He is the living God, not an idol. He dwells “in heaven”. We are not to pray using mindless repetition of this prayer – we are to reach out in prayer to the living God who already knows our needs.
  • Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. (v10)

Here is the key we mentioned earlier. The kingdom comes here as the will of God is done here. Praying this means focussing on Him – seeking His will – and not just asking Him to bless our ideas and programmes.

 

What does it mean for His Kingdom to come?

  1. In my life? In your life?
  2. In your family
  3. In your suburb, your city, your nation
  4. In the world.

This takes us into a time of intercession for all of these people and places. We are to ask God to reign, to break through into each level of our life. What other areas could we include?

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

So much in chapter 6 challenges us about our priorities.  It ends with this well know verse:

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:34)

And so we proceed to the rest of the prayer which involves our needs.

 

PRAYING – ABOUT OURSELVES

The part of the prayer about us comes afterwards:

Give us today our daily bread. (v11) Here are some possibilities. You can add your own:

  • Now we ask for our needs to be met
  • This is bread sufficient for the day
  • It includes money and whatever else we need for the day
  • It reminds us that God provides – all the people in the supply of these things are working on His behalf (even though they may not recognise this)

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. (v12)

Forgiveness is part of our Christian DNA as it were. The verses which follow the Lord’s Prayer spell that out clearly:  For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins (Matthew 6:14-15).

Give some thought this week to the difference between having our debts forgiven by God (as we do the same to others) and having our trespasses forgiven, as we commonly pray (see Matthew 6:12). Whichever translation you prefer or favour, when you pray, asking for forgiveness has got to be there somewhere. It’s not an option. Here are some considerations – again add you own areas which need work when it comes to forgiveness:

  • Have you asked for forgiveness? Or are you usually in the right anyway? (In your view).
  • Have you forgiven all?
  • Have you forgiven yourself?

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. (v13)

There is this clear warning that there is a battle on. (The Kingdom of God at hand – and the enemy reacts quite violently in the Gospel accounts). We need help.

  • What persistent temptations do we need help and protection from?
  • Where is evil/the evil one obviously at work?
  • In what way are we seduced by evil?
  • Remember Jesus prays for us in his regard in John 17:15. Read this at home.
  • Remember Ephesians 6:16: In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Also read 1 John 2:14, and 2 Thessalonians 3:3. And of course read 1 Peter 5:8 – Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Amen