Monthly Archives: March 2015

Sunday 29 March 2015 – sermon for Palm Sunday

Readings: Psalm 118:19-29; Matthew 21:1-13

Sermon                                                                                                           Palm Sunday

I wonder what you thought about the cricket world-cup spectacle. Especially during the matches where there is great fanfare and celebration at the end of play. Whoever wins at the end of the day – there are fireworks and loud music plays. All the modern trimmings of a victory parade. A spectacle. Interviews – reports – and assuming that the black caps have won (I am writing this before knowing who will face them in the final – blue or yellow) – great celebration and jubilation!

There have been other spectacles this week. Including the tragic crashing of a plane – where the pilot is alleged to have said: “one day I will do something that will change the system… and everyone will know my name and remember me.” A tragic spectacle and way of being remembered.

And then there is an interesting spectacle in the form of a bye-election result over night in Northland! Say no more! Political grandstanding can also be a spectacle – an event of sorts. With their own victory parades.

So back to the cricket final later today. The headline I saw was this: “Black caps captain Brendon McCullum leads his men into battle against Australia today in a historic cricket world cup final.” The black cap captain put it this way in an interview: it “creates the greatest stage we can ask for.”

These are spectacles – great events involving public statements and celebrations or commiserations.

Palm Sunday was a bit like that. Except there were no fireworks and no TV coverage.

Loyalty and recognition are central in these things. Which brings us to the Palm Sunday crowd. Where would you have been positioned on that day?

THE CROWDS on Palm Sunday

Traditionally we have given them a hard time. Not really a good thing to be cheering for Jesus and then calling for his execution a few days later. Even though it preaches well. I have told children’s stories with this line – “yay for Jesus! Away with Jesus!” Such fickle people! I have preached along those lines many times on Palm Sunday.

But is it true? We gloss over the text (as preachers) – and often miss on the subtleties.

It seems actually that we are dealing with two groups of people   – the crowds who came along with him (likely to be his followers and especially those who were touched by him and healed), and the city – meaning the people of Jerusalem who were kind of perplexed. Who is this and what is this all about?

We see this in verses 10 and 11: When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?”  The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”

I am sure that even those who were healed and obviously over the moon about Jesus would not really understand what it meant when he was received as a King.

But they were happy with the notion of a prophet (who speaks and acts for God) and they seemed okay that he was from Nazareth (not a great pedigree!).

The disciples had other ideas about him being King. Just in the chapter before (Matthew 20) Jesus had to remind them of the nature of his kingship. James and John’s mother is asking for favours for them. Have a look at the chapter before our reading for today:

Mat 20:20  Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him.

Mat 20:21  “What is it you want?” he asked. She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”

Mat 20:22  “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” “We can,” they answered.

Mat 20:23  Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.”

Mat 20:24  When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. Mat 20:25  Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Mat 20:26  Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, Mat 20:27  and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— Mat 20:28  just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” 

The disciples knew – or should have known better – that his kingship was different.

The crowds were moved, however. One way or the other this was a significant moment. They responded!

But a crowd involves individuals making choices. It was still a personal response. We should remember that they would only have had one cloak – which they spread on the road.

They would have known an example of this from their bibles – one hopes – for example when Elisha sent one of his team to anoint Jehu as King in second Kings – this is what happened: 2Ki 9:13 They hurried and took their cloaks and spread them under him on the bare steps. Then they blew the trumpet and shouted, “Jehu is king!”

Tom Wright also says  this: In the long folk-memory of Jerusalem and its surrounding villages, stories were still told, and some of them by this stage were written down, about the famous Judas Maccabaeus who, 200 years before, had arrived in Jerusalem after conquering the pagan armies that had oppressed Israel. He, too, was welcomed into the city by a crowd waving palm branches (2 Maccabees 10.7). And he was the start of a royal dynasty that lasted for over a hundred years. Indeed, the Herod family had intermarried with the Maccabaean family, and the chief priests claimed a similar status.

People who throw down their cloaks like that are actually making a statement about what they think is going on. There is loyalty involved! And royalty! The person welcomed and hailed as king or conqueror would have to be worthy of the honour and sacrificial response – especially of laying down your only cloak in his path. I can’t think of a modern equivalent – except perhaps at a concert when people throw things onto the stage?

Of course there is the more recent (than Jesus) story of Sir Walter Raleigh who threw down his cloak for Queen Elizabeth the first so she didn’t have to walk in the mud!

It doesn’t happen often today for leaders and politicians. They usually have a whole team organizing those kinds of things.

SIGNS OF A KING – albeit a different one.

There were clear signs of a King. The fulfillment of prophesy is there. And the key title that crops up: “Son of David!” Jerusalem had been his capital city a thousand years earlier – and they were hoping for a King like David to rescue them from oppression.

And to be fairer to the crowds who hailed him as King (perhaps some of his actual entourage did run away) – it’s not that easy when your leader is arrested. The Roman armies were pretty savage – and not to be messed with. If you see savage armies at work today (and we do daily on our TV screens), you may get a sense of how frightening it would have been.

But the expectation was there – for Him to be King on their terms – in line with the hope that they would be liberated eventually. They had very different expectations. He was not coming to win a war – but to be killed.

HOW DO WE RESPOND?

I think we sometimes want Jesus to be available on our terms according to our agenda as well. Tom Wright puts it this way: The meaning Jesus attaches to this so-called ‘triumphal entry’ is quite different from the meaning they are wanting to see in it. That, perhaps, is where we can learn most from this story today. People turn to God, notoriously, when there is something they want very badly. Of course, that’s like finally deciding to learn to use a telephone only when you urgently need to call an ambulance; it would have been sensible to find out how to do it earlier, when it wasn’t so important. But that’s how people are.*

* Wright, Tom (2002-03-22). Matthew for Everyone Part 2: Pt. 2 (New Testament for Everyone) (p. 69). SPCK. Kindle Edition.

OUR RESPONSE as individuals and a group – some final thoughts. 

Consider these:

  • What would we need to lay down before Jesus today? (Individual answers will be unique really) – sacrificing in some way? Laying down your only cloak: – sacrificial living and giving?
  • Is there some other way we need to give honour to Jesus? What kind of King is he to us today?
  • Are we afraid too? Referring back to the “fickle” crowd. They would have been afraid when Jesus was arrested.
  • Remember the cry “Hosanna” – Hoshiana (v25 of Psalm 118) – which means “save us!” It has become a praise word. It is a song of Passover, which included the line – blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. What do we need saving from? Only you can answer that.
  • Do we allow him to be a prophet to us? Speaking into our lives and cleansing our temples? Is our church also used as a pious hideout while needy people are outside on the margins.

And then the consequences in the temple are worth noting: Mat 21:14  The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. Mat 21:15  But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple area, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant. Mat 21:16  “Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him. “Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read, “‘From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise’?”

  • He turns the temple into a place of healing (the blind and the lame would have been excluded from the temple). With Jesus in the temple worship becomes truly life giving. Is Jesus’ reign manifested beyond our church – where people are really transformed – by the life giving words?
  • The children cry out – and the authorities are rattled by that. Are we? It’s a threat to the chief priests and the scribes. “Do you hear what they are saying” – he responds with Psalm 8:2 – “From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.” 
  • He is the king who saves instead of oppressing. Heals instead of exploiting! This is a totally different Kingship in every sense. He is the Saviour King.

So do we acknowledge him – wave branches and declare his praises – in our lives? We would do well to go back to Matthew 10:32-3 “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.

He still makes claims on our lives. Let’s listen to Him especially through this Easter week.

Amen.

Advertisements

Sunday sermon 22 March 2015 – sheep and goats

Reading: Matthew 25: 31-46

Sermon

We are reaching the end of Jesus’ ministry in Matthew’s gospel – just before he faces his Passion. Chapter 26 verse 1 says this: When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, “As you know, the Passover is two days away—and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.” (Matthew 26:1-2)

It’s a turning point. And it’s interesting that this last teaching – in Matthew’s gospel anyway – is this parable of the sheep and the goats.

Coming to New Zealand for us was a very interesting experience. I used to joke about it when asked whether I would consider ministering here: “Oh too many sheep” I would reply. “I’ve got my hands full already!”

And when we did arrive in Wellington, it was quite a while before we actually saw sheep. I remember my wife getting quite excited when it happened – on the way up the Hutt River Valley towards Kaitoke Regional Park – one of our favourites and the site of the set of Rivendell in the Lord of the Rings.

Sheep and goats.

This is a parable isn’t it? The comparison is in verse 32: “…he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.”

That’s about as far as the comparison goes. There is no other link – not even the tails up of the goats and tails down of the sheep (or is it the other way round?) give us anything to compare or relate to.

Here’s the fascinating thing. I mean you would want to be a sheep on that day would you not?

It’s time to resurrect my first song I taught the children here:“I just want to be a sheep, baa ba ba baa. I don’t want to be a goat, no no no no, cause goats have got no hope, I don’t want to be a goat.”

Of course we teach the children about following Jesus as good little sheep – but we seldom talk about the eternal punishment awaiting the goats. Eternal punishment! Unlike their time-out in the corner etc.

Some thoughts came to mind this week. Here they are.

  • Okay it’s just a simile about separation.
  • This will happen at the end of things? Yes/no?
  • The sheep and goats will coexist (as they often did grazing together) – which means that the sheep and goats are in the church together? Right?
  • Does that mean that some of you are going to the eternal fire! Right?

Well I don’t know. Have a word with the person next to you and ask them – is it you? Will it be you? What do you think of this parable?

(Pause for discussion.)

(That sounds like the last supper and Jesus trying to root out his betrayer – and they all say “is it I Lord?”)

HOW DO YOU READ YOUR BIBLE THEN?

  • Is this the last judgement?
  • Is the judgement based on ethical behaviour – and not faith or a lack of faith?
  • I thought we were saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2 says after all: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast (vss 8-9).)
  • So do you think Paul wrote Ephesians before Matthew wrote Matthew?
  • Did Paul even know what Jesus taught on this matter?

Well it’s more complex than that really. This parable or story is I mean.

  1. For one thing, the righteous in the account and the goaties have no idea when they did or did not do the right thing by Jesus – or to Jesus, when they were doing these things to the least of his brothers – or in the case of the goaties NOT doing these things. This needs some further thought.

Both reply to the King/Judge – “when did we do this/when did we neglect to do this”. They didn’t have a clue. (See verses 37 and 44)

Mat 25:37  “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?

Mat 25:44  “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

The sentences seem to mean the same – but they don’t of course. The first means that they could not make the connection between the good they did and Jesus. They are “righteous” – and the Son of Man knows this – because they have been doing these important acts.

The second is an excuse. As Bonhoeffer has pointed out – an excuse for doing nothing. It’s almost as if they are saying – “now it’s not our fault if we couldn’t identify you” – a bit like the undercover boss programmes on TV. “I’ve I’d known it was the boss in disguise I would have behaved differently.”

  1. Secondly, who are the intended recipients of these acts of mercy and kindness? The least – Christians only, or the least – all created people. What are the chances of the Christians being hungry, thirsty, a stranger needing hospitality, needing clothes, sick and needing help, and in prison and needing some love and care?

Surely the Christians should be employed, wealthy and self-sufficient? When you listen to first world Christians and how scathing they can be about the unemployed who are on benefits, you would assume that we are all prosperity cult members.

And prisoners – nah Christians stay out of trouble. Yeah Right!

In our western arrogance we often see these people (especially unemployed and in jail – maybe not so much the sick) as those people over THERE!!!! – To whom we can give a few dollars on line. Which I do to of course. If you haven’t given something to the people of Vanuatu, then I reckon you could be in trouble here!

Commentators and New Testament students debate as to whether the people we should be helping here in Matthew 26 are family (church family) or simply all created people who land in trouble.

Calvin says – focus on the church, but remember it also applies to others!

Like Paul in Galatians:

Gal 6:9  Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

Gal 6:10  Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

THE RIGHTEOUS

When Jesus refers to the righteous – he’s talking about people who have responded to faith – chosen to follow him – and do his will!

The trail goes back to the earlier verses in Matthew’s Gospel.

Mat 12:47  Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.”

Mat 12:48  He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?”

Mat 12:49  Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers.

Mat 12:50  For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

He has this family identified by obedience really!

Go back further in the Gospel and you find this:

Mat 7:15  “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.

Mat 7:16  By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?

Mat 7:17  Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.

Mat 7:18  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.

Mat 7:19  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

Mat 7:20  Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

 Mat 7:21  “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

Mat 7:22  Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’

Mat 7:23  Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

Mat 7:24  “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.

And of course we go to another simile (comparison using the word “like” or “as”).

Building your house on the rock is about building your life on the WORDS of Jesus! (I remember preaching on that right here!)

The bottom line in this account is that the king is the Judge.

And we will give account.

And when we follow Jesus we should be doing Jesus stuff.

And the key identifier is probably this one thing: mercy.

Matthew 5:7 reminds us: Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

And Luke 6:36:   Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

It has no meaning – this Christian faith – if we are unchanged. Selfish. Like goats with our tails in the air so proud of ourselves – when we should be like sheep with our tails between our legs (or down anyway) because it’s not about us really.

So there it is.

Don’t end up with the devil and his angels. If you can’t get the idea of fire in your head, then listen to Jesus words to the reprobates: V41 – Depart from me….

Amen.

15 March 2015 – Morning service at Rosedale Village – failure and success

Rosedale Village – Easter Message

The story is told of a learner policeman down in Wellington at the police college who was writing his final exam before graduation.

The last question in the paper described a horrific incident after a major fire caused by a road accident. A tanker had crashed into a house, and the whole thing had exploded. A crowd had gathered, and injured people were lying all over the place. While that was happening, some looters were smashing windows and burning couches in the street. There were bleeding people all over the place.

The question read – “you are the only policeman on duty at the time. What do you do?”

The man’s answer went like this: “you take off your uniform and mingle with the crowd”.

The story of Easter involves people who failed. They had been Jesus’ friends – and when he was captured, they ran away.

  • One – the leader of the group called Peter – told people three times that he didn’t know Jesus at all. He swore and cursed.
  • One – the man in the group who looked after their money called Judas – handed Jesus over to some soldiers – he got him arrested.
  • One – a young man called John Mark – ran away when the soldiers tried to arrest him – and left his clothes behind. Interesting way to become famous – running off naked.
  • Most of them – Jesus’ friends – disappeared. They “took off their uniforms” and mingled in the crowd. The men disappeared. Only the woman hung around. With the exception of the Apostle John, the disciple whom Jesus loved.

We spent a lot of time through life learning, studying, training, competing, and achieving things – especially at school. I am sure you’ve seen your children do this over the years. Or your grandchildren now. You may remember your school years too. Certificates, trophies, awards and reports abound, and a lot of effort is put into doing really well. In New Zealand much money and energy is spent on winning games – rugby, cricket and sailing for example.

The truth is that in the real world – not everyone wins. In fact, a lot of people do badly and fail.

It’s not winning or losing a game that matters. Or not getting good marks in a test. Those things are opportunities to try again and to solve problems or improve strategies. All real learning involves risks and making mistakes – correcting them and winning the battle!

The serious failures are failures in relationships. Where people let their friends and colleagues down, or family members. Where we are hurtful to others, or abuse them through anger or disrespect. Where we are destructive, wasteful, and uncaring. Where we abuse our positions of power and crush others or simple ignore their ideas or feelings. Or when leaders become despots, dictators or tyrants.

The hero in the Easter story is Jesus – who is killed by his enemies, and abandoned by his friends. He offers no violence, does not make apologies, or even try to clear his name.

The bad guys are his friends who take off their uniforms and mingle with the crowd. They lie, run away, and save their own skins.

In short – it’s a bit of a mess.

THE MAN ON THE BEACH

There is a lovely moment in the story where Peter – the leader of the group who denied Jesus three times – is trying to avoid everything by going back to his old job. Perhaps like us he was wishing for the good old days! There he is fishing – his whole life is a mess – and even the fish don’t bite. Jesus – alive again after being dead for three days – is standing on the beach. He tells them to throw their nets over on the other side of the boat. The fish bite like crazy.

They haul them in – and there is Jesus with a barbecue going, cooking fish and toasting bread. These failed depressed men – he feeds them. Fish oil is really good for depression I am told! Maybe it was as simple as that. Giving someone a cup of tea or coffee or something helpful to eat is a good thing in a crisis. He builds them up – strengthens them – models forgiveness – and they become even greater people again.

Over nearly thirty of working with people in crisis – I never lose hope. I’ve seen the worst of them – and lived through some of the worst of it.

Easter reminds me that the worst failures can be turned around. A dead friend is alive again and the world is changed. Men who took off their uniforms and mingled with the crowd – become heroes who go out and give their own lives for what they believe.

There is no darkness that is too dark. No failure too messy. The light will shine again on Easter Sunday and His light can chase your darkness away too.

We all can start again. Thanks be to God for His Word. And for the truth of the Gospel of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Amen.

 Here is the reading from John 21 for your reflection:

Joh 21:1  Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Tiberias. It happened this way:

Joh 21:2  Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together.

Joh 21:3  “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Joh 21:4  Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.

Joh 21:5  He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” “No,” they answered.

Joh 21:6  He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.

Joh 21:7  Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water.

Joh 21:8  The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards.

Joh 21:9  When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.

Joh 21:10  Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.”

Joh 21:11  Simon Peter climbed aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn.

Joh 21:12  Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord.

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.

Sunday sermon 6 November 2011 – Ready or not?

(A sermon from the 2011 archives following the Revised Common Lectionary on the same passage as that of 8 March 2015. This passage is placed in a different position in the Narrative Lectionary).

Reading: Matthew 25:1-13

Mat 25:1 “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.
Mat 25:2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise.
Mat 25:3 The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them.
Mat 25:4 The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps.
Mat 25:5 The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
Mat 25:6 “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’
Mat 25:7 “Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps.
Mat 25:8 The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’
Mat 25:9 “‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’
Mat 25:10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.
Mat 25:11 “Later the others also came. ‘Sir! Sir!’ they said. ‘Open the door for us!’
Mat 25:12 “But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’
Mat 25:13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.

Sermon
We are a rechargeable generation! Everything we used can be recharged and carried around with us! Even laptops have portable chargers which you can pre-prepare and have with you to top up your batteries when you work out on the road or in the bush – or even better on the beach!

As an aside – one of my predecessors in my last African parish used to prepare his sermons on the beach and then come back to the church and have a shower – they put a shower off his study! I never did know whether he wrote anything down. These days you could write the sermon on a portable device.

The 10 maidens – also translated as virgins – were all out on the road, so to speak. They were waiting for the bridegroom to arrive – and this was a normal procedure for a wedding in those days! The wedding was not a one hour business – but took place over a couple of days and was a great celebration (remember that Jesus did his first miracle at Cana in Galilee – at a wedding.)

And when the bridegroom came back – presumably after negotiating matters with the bride’s parents – the bridesmaids would be waiting with torches lining the path.
At least that’s how I think it happened! There seem to be conflicting views as to who would go where! It seems that once the groom arrived the whole lot would process back to his house for the ceremony!

Either way it was a big occasion described by William Barclay as “the gladdest week in all their lives” – and of course with no other entertainment in their fairly ordinary lives the people knew how to party! (Remember the astonishment of the people at the wedding in Cana of Galilee – that the best wine was produced last – as usually you would start with the best wine and people wouldn’t care later in the feast!)

PREPAREDNESS
This was the key issue – half of the team were not organised and prepared.
They assumed things would be fine just with the oil in their lamps.
They were foolish. Literally – morons – in the New Testament language.
The problem was that five of them did not bring their chargers with them – no spare batteries either! No oil for their lamps.

They weren’t properly prepared! (Maybe Baden Powell would have helped them – seeing that BE PREPARED is the motto of the Cub-Scout movement!)

Are you prepared for ANYTHING? It’s a great question.
Are you ready for anything?

Matthew 25:2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise.

All ten are appropriate people for the task. People of integrity – ten virgins. Sadly you would battle to find suitable candidates today in our overly free society.

There is no question of their qualifications – their standing. But five are literally morons (in the bible language) – foolish, and five are wise.

Reminds me of another time Jesus taught on wise and foolish people. Do you remember that one? It was about what they built their lives on! Yes – they were to build their lives on the words of Jesus.

The houses built on foundations – sand versus rock: Matthew 7:24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.

Now when it comes to weddings there are no short cuts. Well there is always the option to elope. I saw a picture of drive-up weddings – like driving through a restaurant!
We would love some (cheaper) short cuts to weddings. THAT SELDOM HAPPENS!
Unless you run away – your particular culture will determine what kind of wedding you have (and your in-laws!)

I thought of talking about the key issues – in one of those rhyming sermons that slick preachers produce. Like these: the KEY ISSUES are:
1. Wedding gear
2. Watchfulness
3. Waiting
4. Weady for anything…  🙂
Clearly that didn’t work!

So I thought of the KEY PEOPLE: So who are the key people in the story?
Bride
Groom
10 maidens
That’s probably enough! The key people and who they represent (there are few debates about this in the interpretation of the parable).

Bride – the church as the bride of Christ
Groom – Jesus
10 maidens – we who are waiting for his second coming.
Or are we? I sometimes wonder whether we really believe He will return?
Do we really live each day as if it were our last? How prepared are we?

And is this just about being prepared for death – or the second coming of Jesus?
Or is there an added layer of expectation that we are missing here?

The delay is in THE FULLNESS OF THE COMING KINGDOM OF GOD.

It’s about preparedness – yes
It’s about patience – although they were all waiting!
It’s about alertness – although they were all pretty sleepy and in fact fell asleep!

So what made the wise ones wise and the foolish ones headed for disaster?

What made them foolish?
Not being prepared essentially
The wise ones?
Thinking ahead
In it for the long haul
They had THE OIL

I love the song we did with the kids today – “Give me oil in my lamp keep me burning” – it’s a great song but like many songs its theology is a bit dodgy.

Why? Because while we are dependent upon God for our energy – like your supplier of electricity and gas at home – you have to get it connected and pay for it!

No we can’t earn salvation.
But we are responsible for our discipleship – our learning and getting equipped.

The 5 foolish lasses could not blame anyone else but themselves for not being organised – not thinking ahead – and not being in it for the long haul.

I only found one person who made a strong link between the symbol of the oil in this parable and the Holy Spirit!

What I did find is a lot of people referring to the need for preparedness and spiritual discipline – of living our lives with the right kind of orientation
– The wisdom that comes from building your house on the rock – on the words of Jesus
– Of hanging your door on the right hinges (loving God and neighbour)
– And faith IS linked to the oil –and there is good evidence for that as the foolish ones cannot get into the wedding banquet on the strength of someone else’s oil!
– Some link FAITHFULNESS to the oil – that while waiting for the Kingdom to be fulfilled – while waiting for Christ’s return – we should faithfully listen to his words and do the works that he prepared for us to do (Ephesians 2).

And of course SERVICE which we talked about last week is part of faithfulness. It is the sign of the Kingdom that Jesus seeks – that we be great by serving and being there for others.

– And living HOPEFULLY is a good thing too – because the expectation of the wedding feast – means that we are prepared for the long haul KNOWING that its worth it!

THE TRAGEDY OF THIS PARABLE
Mat 25:10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut. PP9-1
Mat 25:11 “Later the others also came. ‘Sir! Sir!’ they said. ‘Open the door for us!’ PP9-2
Mat 25:12 “But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’ PP9-3
Mat 25:13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour. PP10
How do we do as a church – when it comes to keeping watch?

What do you think we as a church should do to be be watchful? (3 MINUTES DISCUSSION)

My thoughts to conclude:
1. Being watchful does not mean being obsessed with predicting the end of the world. Too many people have tried that.
2. Being watchful means appreciating each moment and each day with gratitude. Note what Paul writes to the Thessalonians. After telling them this:

1Th 5:1 Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you,
1Th 5:2 for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.
1Th 5:3 While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.
1Th 5:4 But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief.
1Th 5:5 You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.
1Th 5:6 So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled.

He says this – some very practical things as they were watchful:
1Th 5:16 Be joyful always;
1Th 5:17 pray continually;
1Th 5:18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

And in addition: 1Th 5:19 Do not put out the Spirit’s fire;
1Th 5:20 do not treat prophecies with contempt.
1Th 5:21 Test everything. Hold on to the good.
1Th 5:22 Avoid every kind of evil.

It’s about living a close relationship with the Lord – trying to hear from him – and doing the other things like serving him with faith and faithfulness in the power of the Holy Spirit!

We need to have enough oil to keep going! And when the end comes – whether we are here when Jesus returns – or whether we die in our sleep tonight – or some other interesting experience ends our life – we will be ready! That’s being wise!

It’s foolish to run around looking for oil when it’s too late!

Amen.

Sunday sermon 15 March 2015 – the wise and foolish maidens

Reading: Matthew 25:1-15

Message:

Weddings have various cultural peculiarities and traditions. Luckily you don’t have to do them all if you don’t want to – the legal side of getting married is less complicated than the complexities of “what has always been right”. One thing that is unusual in weddings – certainly the ones I have attended – is for the groom to be late. It’s only happened once to me as a marriage officer. The poor bride was left driving around in a car for 40 minutes. One can only imagine the conversation later that day.

THE WEDDING IN MATTHEW 25

The process was very different in bible times. In this incident they are nearing the end of that process. And a torchlight procession late at night was not unusual. In this parable there are ten bridesmaids on duty, as it were. The word translated as “bridesmaids” by some translations really means “virgins” or “maidens”. Either way, they had to go out in the dark with their torches lit – at the right time!

Jesus gets straight into it as he talks about the future and the Kingdom. Listen again:  Mat 25:1  “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Mat 25:2  Five of them were foolish and five were wise.

If the foolish ones had been smart, while their more organised sisters were sleeping, they could have gone off to get oil. They managed later. Cleary this was available at the equivalent of the Four Square late night superette.

Like any group (or church) you get both kinds – wise and foolish. What’s also interesting is that the wise ones don’t lend to the foolish ones. Those torches only burned, we are told, for about 15 minutes. They knew what their responsibilities were and stuck to the task.

Of course we tend to fall back on the well-known song when we read this parable. You may know – “Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning to the bread of day” – with all its verses! (Joy, love, peace in my heart, petrol for my Ford, wax on my board – keep me surfing to the break of day!). We tend to link the oil with strength to cope, or the power of the holy spirit.

The more central issue is being watchful and prepared. And the consequences of not being ready (being unwise therefore) are quite serious. Verse 10 begins to sound disturbing really. “And the door was shut”. Here’s the whole verse: Mat 25:10  “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.

The unprepared girls are locked out later – when they show up “organised” with their oil supply renewed. Jesus is quite matter of fact as he continues: Mat 25:11  “Later the others also came. ‘Sir! Sir!’ they said. ‘Open the door for us!’ Mat 25:12  “But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’

We tend to allegorise these stories. I found one sermon by the famous JC Ryle which was 36 pages long! Okay it was large print, but you can make a lot of these parables. If we do – then we have to talk about the oil. What does this mean for us? If it’s about salvation, you’ve got to get your own.

The more interesting question is this: how should we be wise rather than foolish as we await God’s coming into our lives and world today? And the last verse is the key point: Mat 25:13  “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” 

Of course no one knows it. Remember Jesus’ words in Matthew 24:36   “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” And for a long time people have been waiting and hoping.

SOME THOUGHTS TO CONSIDER

One writer has suggested that waiting involves faithful living and living faith. The whole of Matthew spells out the kind of people we should be – going back to our previous salt and light sermon, through the Sermon on the Mount, and the other parables in part of the gospel – following Jesus requires faithful living and a living faith.

Another commentator writes this: The parable invites us to live our lives in celebratory anticipation, not sleepy apathy. It encourages us to stock up on lamp oil, despite the darkness of the night and the seemingly endless delay of the guest of honour. The parable dares us to be awake, vigilant, and, most importantly, hopeful.

Jarvis, Cynthia A. (2013-12-09). Feasting on the Gospels–Matthew, Volume 2 (Kindle Locations 8932-8934). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.

Perhaps you would like to consider these thoughts as well through the week ahead:

  • It’s not about getting tired – they all fell asleep (like the disciples in Gethsemane). We all run out of steam at some point and need oil in our lamps in that sense!
  • Think about being wise or foolish What is wisdom for us in our generation? Is this alertness and preparedness also about having an eye for the Kingdom? This is a Kingdom parable. Is it about focusing on what really matters?
  • Is the ending harsh? The door is shut on them – He does not know them. You may remember this verse in Matthew as well:  Mat 7:21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Mat 7:22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Mat 7:23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ Is their fate harsh in this parable? Or is this another serious warning – for the people of the day and for us too?

Tom Wright’s comments are worth closing with today. It’s hard to say this any better:

“There is one other aspect to this particular story which has roots deep in the Jewish context and has given rise to a tradition of hymn-writing about the coming of the bridegroom. Already in Matthew’s gospel Jesus has referred to himself as the bridegroom (Matthew 9.15). In a previous parable Jesus spoke of the kingdom as being like a king making a marriage feast for his son (Matthew 22.2). Mention of a bridegroom hints again at Jesus’ messiahship, which was of course a central issue in the previous chapters, ever since Jesus arrived in Jerusalem.

This highlights the fact that the parable isn’t just about the very end of time, the great and terrible day for which the world and the church still wait. Throughout his ministry, Jesus was coming as Messiah to his people, Israel. They were the ones invited to the wedding feast. They, in this story, are divided between the wise, who know Jesus and make sure they keep alert for his ‘coming’, and the foolish, to whom at the end Jesus will say ‘I don’t know you’ (verse 12, echoing 7.23). Just as the Sermon on the Mount summarizes, not Jesus’ teaching to the subsequent church, but Jesus’ challenge to the Israel of his own day, so these parables, towards the close of the final great discourse in Matthew’s gospel, should probably be read in the same way, at least in their most basic meaning.

It is tempting to move away from this conclusion, because saying that parts of Jesus’ teaching related particularly to a unique situation in his own time might make it look as though they are irrelevant for every other time. But that’s not so. It is because what Jesus did was unique and decisive, changing for ever the way the world is and how God relates to it, that we have entered a new era in which his sovereign rule is to be brought to bear on the world. And in this new era, no less than in the unique time of Jesus and his first followers, we need as much as ever the warning that it’s easy to go slack on the job, to stop paying attention to God’s work and its demands, to be unprepared when the moment suddenly arrives.”

 Wright, Tom (2002-03-22). Matthew for Everyone Part 2: Pt. 2 (New Testament for Everyone) (pp. 134-135). SPCK. Kindle Edition.

10 March 2015 Tuesday Church – For all nations…

Reading: Mark 11:15-19

15 On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money-changers and the benches of those selling doves, 16 and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. 17 And as he taught them, he said, ‘Is it not written: “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations”? But you have made it “a den of robbers”.’

18 The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.

19 When evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.

Message – Easter

Easter is just around the corner. It’s been closer than you think for some months – considering how early Easter eggs appear on the shelves in our shops.

In the story as Mark tells it, Jesus had come into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and had gone out again to Bethany. The next day he comes back into the city – it’s a kind of sortie into a dangerous place really. The authorities would be aware of him – considering all the fuss when he road into the city on a donkey. And now he comes to the heart of the nation – the temple. Well listen again:

On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money-changers and the benches of those selling doves, 16 and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. 

We sometimes think it’s just about the money – that they were cheating the poor when they sold animals for sacrifices to them – or exchanging money and giving them a bad rate.

The thing is – He wasn’t really changing the system – the trading would have carried on the next day.

The real challenge was to the heart of the nation. Listen again:

17 And as he taught them, he said, ‘Is it not written: “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations”? But you have made it “a den of robbers”.’

18 The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.

The real issue was that God was not stuck in the temple and fussing over them alone as the chosen people. Even Solomon when he built his temple said this: 1 Kings 8:27  “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built! That was on the day of the consecration of the temple!

It was more the teaching that stirred up the opposition. It was a threat. The house of prayer “for all nations” sounds like a real concern for others outside of the family of Israel. And it wasn’t just about the money tables, as if you can separate money from spiritual things.

The chief priests and teachers of the law begin looking for ways to kill him – because they feared him. They didn’t want the crowd to follow him because they would lose control. It was all about power.

How strange that they “feared him” – this man of compassion and love who healed the sick and taught them about God as Father.

Jesus saw through their hypocrisy of course. Tom Wright says this about Jesus’ cleansing of the temple:

But Jesus’ protest was far deeper, and if we applied it today it wouldn’t just be the churches that ought to tremble, but the lawcourts and legislative assemblies, the royal palaces and banking centres, the places where power is so often wielded to the benefit of the already powerful and the downtreading of the already powerless, the places where people with power or wealth turn in on themselves instead of outwards in generosity towards the world. That’s where Jesus wants to stride today, to turn over tables and drive out traders. *

Amen.

* Wright, N. T. (2004-01-01). Mark for Everyone (The New Testament for Everyone) (p. 153). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.

 

Sunday sermon 8 March 2015 – Invitations, weddings, banquets and burning cities

Reading: Matthew 22:1-14

Mat 22:1 Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying:

Mat 22:2 “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son.
Mat 22:3 He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.
Mat 22:4 “Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’
Mat 22:5 “But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business.
Mat 22:6 The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them.
Mat 22:7 The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.
Mat 22:8 “Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come.
Mat 22:9 Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’
Mat 22:10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.
Mat 22:11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes.
Mat 22:12 “Friend,’ he asked, ‘how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ The man was speechless.
Mat 22:13 “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
Mat 22:14 “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”
Sermon – Invitations, weddings, banquets and burning cities

It’s a long time since we were in that process of planning our wedding. For some of you your wedding invitations are part of the dim and distance past. I had to ask my dear wife this morning about ours – I couldn’t remember how many people were at the reception – our banquet!

I remember the day – what a wonderful bride! And I sang for her! It was 31 years ago…

Very few people turned us down. The one exception was a friend whom I asked to conduct the wedding ceremony.

He wasn’t available on 19 May 1984 as there was an important football game he wanted to watch.

I’m not sure whether my friend remembers that FA cup final. The 1984 FA Cup Final was contested by Everton and Watford at Wembley. Everton won 2–0, with one goal by Graeme Sharp and a particularly memorable goal from Andy Gray. (Maybe that was the link – my friend was James Gray!). Another friend not watching the FA cup was the officiant – and I do remember him talking about marriage and comparing it to baking a chocolate cake!

The excuses people give in this parable for not showing up at the prince’s wedding (the King’s son) are interesting. (Would you have passed up an invitation to Chares and Diana’s wedding, or William and Kate’s?)

It seems that they already knew about the wedding, as the message was “ok we’re ready for you”.

Look at verse 3:

Mat 22:3 He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.

So he has another go.

Mat 22:4 “Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’

Mat 22:5 “But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business.

In Luke’s similar parable (I tell stories and they often turn out different) the excuses were even more interesting. I remember them from the song we sang as kids in church (and adults actually) –

“I cannot come”

Here are the words:

I cannot come,
I cannot come to the banquet,
Don’t trouble me now,
I have married a wife,
I have bought me a cow,
I have fields and commitments,
That cost a pretty sum,
Pray hold me excused


I cannot come.

1- A certain man held a feast
On his fine estate in town.
He laid a festive table,
He wore a wedding gown,
He sent out invitations
To his neighbours far and wide,
But when the meal was ready
Each of them replied:

I cannot come…
2- The master rose up in anger
Called his servants by name, said
Go into town, fetch the blind and the lame
Fetch the peasant and the pauper
For this I have willed:
My banquet must be crowded,
And my table must be filled.

I cannot come…

3- When all the poor had assembled
There was still room to spare,
So the master demanded:
Go search everywhere.
Search the highways and the by ways,
And tell them to come in
My table must be filled
Before the banquet can begin.

I cannot come…

4- Now God has written a lesson
For the rest of mankind:
If we are slow in responding
He may leave us behind.
He is preparing a banquet
For that great and glorious day,
When the Lord and Master calls
Us be certain not to say:

The details of the wife and the cow are from the Luke story. Here is the whole passage, for comparison:

Luk 14:12  Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbours; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. Luk 14:13  But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, Luk 14:14  and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Luk 14:15  When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.” Luk 14:16  Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. Luk 14:17  At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ Luk 14:18  “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’ Luk 14:19  “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’ Luk 14:20  “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.‘ Luk 14:21  “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’   Luk 14:22  “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’ Luk 14:23  “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full. Luk 14:24  I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.'”

Back to Matthew… 

To return to Matthew 22: Mat 22:5 “But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business.”
In fact the NRSV translates this verse like this: But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business…

And Eugene Peterson (The Message paraphrase) translates it like this: “They only shrugged their shoulders and went off, one to weed his garden, another to work in his shop.

The parables from Matthew that precede this one focus mainly on the Jewish leaders and authorities, and the unfruitfulness of the Jewish nation. A similar thread is seen here – because the first lot that refuse and that make light of the invitation is a reference to the Jewish rejection of Jesus again.  Remember that this series of parables are taught after Jesus had entered Jerusalem before that fatal Friday. We’re not talking about teaching the disciples or correcting Peter here – rather this is in the face of the Jewish authorities.

We are reminded of the tenants in the Parable of the vineyard (Matthew 21:33) when in verse 6 we read: The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them.

This has the added angle of consequences here as the judgement in this story is swift. We assume that Matthew would have been aware of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans if the gospel was written after AD 72. If not, we certainly are aware of it now, and those who read this gospel after Jerusalem was destroyed would have made the connection.

Listen to verse 7: Mat 22:7 The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.

THE NEXT ROUND OF INVITATIONS

We are pretty sure that the category of people that are found in the streets and brought in refers to us. Unless you have a Jewish lineage you are a Gentile or an outsider from God’s original plan. We are part of the “anyone you can find” intake.

In this parable the King says this: Mat 22:9 Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ Mat 22:10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.

So it’s all good then. “Sweet as” is what young kiwis and their mates say. “Free party and we weren’t even on the original list of guests.” But no.

There is further judgement – this time of one of the people who are brought in as undeserved attendees is in trouble:

Mat 22:11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes.
Mat 22:12 “Friend,’ he asked, ‘how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ The man was speechless.
Mat 22:13 “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
Mat 22:14 “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

There are suggestions that this is a separate parable. Even if it was, it is part of the whole story line here.

It’s a bit odd really – these people were dragged off the streets. Why would they be expected to be in wedding garments? How could they? There is the suggestion that wedding garments would have been provided in those days by the host. But there is little evidence for such a practice.

SPEECHLESS RECIPIENTS OF GRACE

Maybe this man was so caught up with the benefits of the banquet that he forgets that he is undeserving – a recipient of grace – and as a bit of a glutton focuses on what he can take rather than on his need for gratitude and respect of the king.

I like what a preacher wrote about this (a lady called Sharon Ring- it has a nice ring about it)”

Eschatological insight (vision again! – see last week’s message about the evil eye!)

For Matthew those purposes centre on the issue of the “worthiness” of the guests (verse 8). The criterion apparently is not an ethical one (for both “good and bad” are brought in), but rather a matter of eschatological insight–the ability to recognize the urgency of the invitation and to respond. The real issue is not whether you are of Jewish or Gentile pedigree, or whether you are a deserving Jew or Gentile ethically or morally.

I think our Sharon is onto something here – it’s about discernment of the importance of the event! The Will and Kate wedding was THE wedding of the century –surpassing that of Charles and Diana no doubt. (Am I being unfair to dear Charles?).

I guess if you are a parent with a daughter – then that wedding will be the wedding of the century for you! It’s a matter of who and what matters to you.

The image of a banquet and a wedding has eschatological connotations! Big word which means it is to do with ultimate and end time matters!

Listen to verse 12 again: Mat 22:12 “Friend,’ he asked, ‘how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ The man was speechless.

The man was speechless! The point is that when you stand before the judge of all the earth I suspect you will be speechless!

And so the speechless man gets sorted in verse 13: Mat 22:13 “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

And the parable ends with these fascinating and challenging words: Mat 22:14 “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

Now let me be honest – I’m not sure here. Some of you want everything very clear and black and white, when the Bible is challenging and slippery at times.

For many are called, but few chosen – is a reasonable translation. The invitation – the call – comes to us to be at this wedding banquet – to be part of a great celebration – pointing to a banquet at the end of time – but in the meantime as we experience this grace now – invited or called to be in this new community – by grace alone (dragged off the messy streets of our lives) – the warning is that there is more!

Accountability? Yes. Obedience? Yes. Gratitude and humility? O yes.

What, then, is the symbol of the wedding garment?

John Calvin in his commentary asks whether the wedding garment refers to faith or a holy life?

He goes on to say:

This is a useless controversy; for faith cannot be separated from good works, nor do good works proceed from any other source than from faith. But Christ intended only to state, that the Lord calls us on the express condition of our being renewed by the Spirit after his image; and that, in order to our remaining permanently in his house, we must put off the old man with his pollutions, (Col_3:9; Eph_4:22) and lead a new life, that the garment may correspond to so honourable a calling.

The verses Calvin refers to help us here:

Col 3:9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices
Col 3:10 and have put on the new self
, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.

Eph 4:22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires;

Eph 4:23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds;
Eph 4:24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Calvin goes on to say:

We know also, that there is no other way in which we are formed anew after the image of God, but by putting on Christ, (Rom_13:14; Gal_3:27) It is not, therefore, the declaration of Christ, that the sentence of casting them into outer darkness will be executed on wretched men who did not bring a costly garment taken from their own wardrobe, but on those who shall be found in their pollution, when God shall come to make a scrutiny of his guests.

The verses he refers to are these:

Rom 13:14 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Gal 3:27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

There is an invitation to come to the wedding banquet. There are clothes to be worn. We are to respond. How do we respond today?

Oh it’s just a story, you may say. Don’t take it too literally. The problem is that our biblical literacy is poor and we want easy solutions.

This invitation to put on Christ as your wedding garment is radical – counter-cultural – and morally and ethically challenging. Like the man who said to the preacher: “I don’t like the Bible – it interferes with my work”. It turns out he was a pick pocket.

If you think that once a week will transform your life in this Christian journey – then think again. If you think a cursory daily prayer muttered on the bus will do it – think again.

We don’t put on a wedding garment that is fashionable and expensive. We put on Christ – who died to get us into this relationship and journey with God. There is no cheap grace! It is a radical transformation of our minds, hearts and lives.

Going back to our commentator Sharon Ring again – we find this perspective on this passage: He affirms the boundless generosity and inclusive reach of God’s grace, but he also affirms that for us to be “worthy” of God’s gift requires nothing less than our whole life. There are songs that try to capture that today. But one hymn wins the prize – When I survey the wondrous cross. We’ll sing this one on Tuesday at Tuesday Church.

Listen to this verse of response in the hymn:
Were the whole realm of nature mine, That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine, Demands my soul, my life, my all.

I don’t lie the modern version – it used to say “That were an offering far too small”. Better, don you think?

But look at these verses of the hymn we don’t see often: His dying crimson, like a robe, Spreads o’er His body on the tree; Then I am dead to all the globe, And all the globe is dead to me. Are we dead to the globe – the world?

And our response: To Christ, who won for sinners grace, By bitter grief and anguish sore, Be praise from all the ransomed race, Forever and forevermore.
Amen.

Sunday sermon 1 March 2015 – The upside down Kingdom…

Reading: Matthew 20:1-16

Sermon

It’s no surprise that the parable today is in direct response to our main character through the story. I wonder who that could be, you may be thinking. Why Peter, of course.

In the previous chapter is that challenging saying about the young man who turned away. The rich young ruler. Remember him? Listen again: Mat 19:23  Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Mat 19:24  Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Mat 19:25  When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?” Mat 19:26  Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Mat 19:27  Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”

The bit at the end of Matthew 19 is for you to read at home. Especially verse 28 – I bet you’re surprised by that one.

At the end of Matthew 19 Jesus says to Peter:  Mat 19:29  And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. Mat 19:30  But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.

And then Chapter 20 begins with the word “for”. Remember that there were no chapters at the beginning when the bible was written. Not even spaces between the letters of the early bible. So here we go then:

Mat 20:1  “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard.

It’s addressed to people who have left everything to follow Jesus, and applies to every generation. Things are upside down in terms of this Kingdom. This is a unique parable about the Kingdom and God’s grace in the kingdom. It ends again with Mat 20:16  “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

So let’s consider firstly what’s the parable is not about!

  • It’s not about trade unions and fair wages. Elsewhere in scripture it’s very clear that workers are to be paid properly.
  • It’s not about lazy people. There’s a temptation by those who have never been without anything, especially a job, to look at those standing around doing nothing and say “lazy bunch – why don’t they get a job?”

I don’t know if you’ve lived anywhere where people stand around near a work and income/person power or labour office hoping that someone will hire them for the day. It’s a hand-to-mouth existence. And it’s terribly discouraging. It’s common in big cities.

Looking after workers and the needy is part of the biblical standard given to us. If you want a biblical reference for this read Leviticus 19:

Lev 19:9  “‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Lev 19:10  Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God. Lev 19:11  “‘Do not steal. “‘Do not lie. “‘Do not deceive one another. Lev 19:12  “‘Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the LORD. Lev 19:13  “‘Do not defraud your neighbour or rob him. “‘Do not hold back the wages of a hired man overnight.

And of course Deuteronomy:  Deu 24:14 Do not take advantage of a hired man who is poor and needy, whether he is a brother Israelite or an alien living in one of your towns. Deu 24:15 Pay him his wages each day before sunset, because he is poor and is counting on it. Otherwise he may cry to the LORD against you, and you will be guilty of sin. 

SO WHAT IS IT ABOUT?

Verse 15 gives us a clue: Mat 20:15  Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

If the Landowner in the extended simile is God – then he is both generous and sovereign.

And it’s the labourers who were hired at the beginning of the day that the landowner has issues with. Or the ones that had issues with the Landowner.

And this verse 15 is a fascinating one – which actually says this: (BBE)  Have I not the right to do as seems good to me in my house? or is your eye evil, because I am good? 

The idea of a bad or evil eye takes us back to Matthew 6. Mat 6:22  “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light.Mat 6:23  But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

And of course in this passage the concept of the evil eye is translated  with words like “jealous” or “envious”. And jealousy and envy are aspects or manifestations of the breaking of the last commandment – do not covet. It’s all about what and how you see things. And what we want for ourselves.

A comment in the Life Application Study Bible says this: Spiritual vision is our capacity to see clearly what God wants us to do and to see the world from his point of view. But this spiritual insight can be easily clouded. Self-serving desires, interests, and goals block that vision. Serving God is the best way to restore it. A “good” eye is one that is fixed on God.

It’s about how you see things and how you judge them. About whether you have an eye for the things of the Kingdom or whether your shades have dollar signs on them – or “me, me, me” as a filter – whether you think of your own reward first like Peter. It puts his complaint in context:

Mat 19:27  Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”

His complaint does rather sound like a whining petulant child now. It has this “unfair” kind of feeling implied. Like the people hired at the beginning of the day for a fair wage who are resentful of the Johnny-come-lately people whom the Landowner gets in at the last minute – and pays the same rate for the day.

The Landowner is totally fair and keeps his agreed deal with the workers who worked all day. What they don’t get is how the 11.00th hour people also get that same wage.

This is grace revealed. Generous grace. It’s about the character of the Landowner, who represents God in the parable.

SOME SIMILAR BIBLICAL EXAMPLES MIGHT HELP:

  • Like the penitent thief on the cross. No baptism – no catechism – no chance to serve in endless duties at church. Just grace.

Can you think of others?

  • Perhaps the elder brother in the Prodigal Son story comes to mind – whining that his dad was throwing a party for the prodigal who was so selfish and who squandered everything. One commentator reflecting on this says the words of the elder brother might be like this: There are the sounds of a party in progress. “My brother is receiving a celebration? What is going on here? This is certainly not fair.” Jarvis, Cynthia A. (2013-12-09). Feasting on the Gospels–Matthew, Volume 2 (Kindle Locations 4518-4519). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.

SO WHAT ABOUT US

In every church (certainly in the 6 or more I have served in over the years), you get the workers who have served there for many years, some of whom believe they are entitled to more reward because of years of service. A meritorious kind of status.

The Kingdom of God is not like that. There is no ladder of importance really – we all are recipients of gifts from God. But the moment we treat the church as our club, then there will be a pecking order of some sort.

So is this about the church today? In fact Tom Wright’s thoughts are helpful – he writes with church people in mind – doing church stuff:

God’s grace, in short, is not the sort of thing you can bargain with or try to store up. It isn’t the sort of thing that one person can have a lot of and someone else only a little. The point of the story is that what people get from having served God and his kingdom is not, actually, a ‘wage’ at all. It’s not, strictly, a reward for work done. God doesn’t make contracts with us, as if we could bargain or negotiate for a better deal. He makes covenants, in which he promises us everything and asks of us everything in return. When he keeps his promises, he is not rewarding us for effort, but doing what comes naturally to his overflowingly generous nature.

There is always a danger that we get cross with God over this. People who work in church circles can easily assume that they are the special ones, God’s inner circle. In reality, God is out in the marketplace, looking for the people everybody else tried to ignore, welcoming them on the same terms, surprising them (and everybody else) with his generous grace. The earliest church clearly needed to learn that lesson. Is there anywhere in today’s church that doesn’t need to be reminded of it as well?  Wright, Tom (2002-03-22). Matthew for Everyone Part 2: Pt. 2 (New Testament for Everyone) (pp. 57-58). SPCK. Kindle Edition.

Amazing and generous grace is revealed in the character who portrays the nature of God.

Do you know this God? May you come to discover his amazing grace.

And like the shepherd who leaves the 99 to look for the lost sheep, the Landowner (God) is out in the marketplace seeking those in need and inviting them to participate in a different vineyard in his upside down Kingdom.

Amen.