Monthly Archives: August 2015

Sunday sermon 23 August – Midday encounter: Jesus and the woman at the well

Reading: John 4:5-42

Sermon

We were at Rosedale Village on Wednesday for a communion service. Unfortunately they had expected us the week before. Undaunted, one of the ladies who usually comes along went off to round up the troops. And suddenly there was a bigger crowd than usual with a whole lot of new faces. You never know what can happen.

And we had a look at the first part of John 4. About this Samaritan woman.

We know the story of the Good Samaritan – I think. This is a double sided coin – not just a Samaritan talking to Jesus but a woman too, and one with an interesting reputation. I was saying to the Rosedale congregation that our modern Auckland is also very multi-cultured – and Jesus has an interest in the wide range and diversity of people who live here – wanting to draw them into a new family.

His disciples of course were a bit stuck in their prejudices. They had grown up as people of God – Jewish men mainly – who took for granted that God had included them in His plan. There were times that their prejudices were quite obvious – such as wanting to ask God to send fire from heaven on a Samaritan Village where they were not welcomed. (Luke 9:54  When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?”)

Jesus was happy to have them out of the way on this occasion. They has gone to town to buy food – good idea to keep some people busy so they don’t mess up the actual mission here.

The irony is enormous. You read this Gospel and you realise that in the previous chapter one of those chosen Jewish leaders – Nicodemus – is the man who comes to Jesus at night. If you missed last week’s discussion about him – read it on the bbpsermons.wordpress.com page – just look for 16 August three posts ago as the sequence is all muddled.

The contrast is huge. This is in the middle of the day – “encounter at high noon” so to speak. The 6th hour is midday. And it’s not the sensible time to walk to a well to get water. She does though – probably to avoid people – and Jesus starts this conversation. Try to read it as a conversation. We pick it up at verse 6:

Narrative:

Joh 4:6  Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour.  Joh 4:7  When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” Joh 4:8  (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) Joh 4:9  The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

Dialogue:

Jesus: Joh 4:10  Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

 Woman: Joh 4:11  “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water?  Joh 4:12  Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?”

(Jesus – thinking: Yes!)

 Jesus: Joh 4:13  Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again,

Joh 4:14  but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Woman: Joh 4:15  The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

Jesus:    Joh 4:16  He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”

Woman: Joh 4:17  “I have no husband,” she replied.

Jesus: Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband.

Joh 4:18  The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

Lady: Joh 4:19  “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet.  Joh 4:20  Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

Jesus: (loudly and emphatically) Joh 4:21  Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. Joh 4:22  You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Joh 4:23  Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. Joh 4:24  God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” 

Probable dramatic pause… 

Woman: Joh 4:25  The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

Jesus: (loudly and emphatically) Joh 4:26  Then Jesus declared, “I who speak to you am he.”

Our shoppers (disciples) return from the Samaritan shop and the narrative takes almost a comic tone:

Joh 4:27  Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”   (silent looks/staring?)

She is of course somewhere else – off she goes without her bucket: Joh 4:28  Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, Joh 4:29  “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” Joh 4:30  They came out of the town and made their way toward him.

 Here’s the thing. I was listening on Wednesday to the talk at the Alpha course – and wondering whether people who first hear this story about faith and prayer (for example – as they were the topics this week) – whether they actually have any idea what it’s all about.

Did you – when you first heard it all? (Remember how Timothy heard about the gospel from his grandmother – Paul needed a Damascus Road conversion).

I mean some of you sound so certain about everything – even I feel a bit guilty about my doubts.

It takes time for you to figure it out. It’s a journey! Keep working on it!

Nicodemus was smart and shut out the possibility of a new birth. The dialogue which involves Nicodemus is about 8 verses long. He’s got a name, a pedigree, a faith already – but his eyes seem wide shut.

This woman’s dialogue – she is not named, she is socially shamed, she is out of sync with society at high noon – she’s been through a string of failed relationships – but the conversation is about 24 verses of narrative.

And it doesn’t end with certainty – it ends with a question that has possibilities:

Joh 4:28  Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, Joh 4:29  “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?

When Jesus is finished the dialogue with his shoppers about the food that really matters (they are really quite stupid a times aren’t they – eh? What’s he say? What’s he talking about? – verse 31 to 34 is another Fawlty Towers scene – look at verse 33 where they are saying side–stage: could someone have brought him food? Dominos Pizza delivered hey?)

Joh 4:31  Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.” Joh 4:32  But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” Joh 4:33  Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?” Joh 4:34  “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.

The real even happens at the end – she opens the door for two days of ministry to these heretics the Samaritans – half castes who had their own mountain and religious stuff that made the Jews as mad as hell/ mad as hatters!

Joh 4:39  Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” Joh 4:40  So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. Joh 4:41  And because of his words many more became believers. Joh 4:42  They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Saviour of the world.”

I love it!

The thing is – it’s the living water that is the key to all of this. Tom Wright in his commentary tells this story:

A friend of mine described the reaction when he went home, as a young teenager, and announced to his mother that he’d become a Christian. Alarmed, she thought he’d joined some kind of cult. ‘They’ve brainwashed you!’ she said. He was ready with the right answer. ‘If you’d seen what was in my brain,’ he replied, ‘you’d realize it needed washing!’ Of course, he hadn’t been brainwashed. In fact, again and again– and this was certainly the case with my friend– when people bring their lives, their outer lives and inner lives, into the light of Jesus the Messiah, things begin to come clear. If anything, it’s our surrounding culture that brainwashes us, persuading us in a thousand subtle ways that the present world is the only one there is. This is seldom argued. Rather, a mood is created in which it seems so much easier to go with the flow.

That’s what happens in brainwashing. What the gospel does is to administer a sharp jolt, to shine a bright light, to kick-start the brain, and the moral sensibility, into working properly for the first time. Often, when this begins to happen, the reaction is just like it was with the woman of Samaria. Intrigued by Jesus’ offer of ‘living water’, she asks to have some– not realizing that if you want to take Jesus up on his offer of running, pure water, bubbling up inside you, you will have to get rid of the stale, mouldy, stagnant water you’ve been living off all this time. In her case it was her married life– or rather, her unmarried life.

Jesus saw straight to the heart of what was going on. (Remember how he did the same to Nathanael (1.47– 49), with a similar result?) The woman has had a life composed of one emotional upheaval after another, with enough husbands coming and going to keep all the gossips in the village chattering for weeks. We assume that her various marriages ended in divorce, whether legal or informal, and not with the death of the men in question. We don’t know whether she was equally sinned against as sinning. We don’t know what emotional traumas in her background may have made it harder for her to form lasting emotional bonds, though it seems as though the traumas she was at least partly responsible for will have made it harder and harder for her each time.

It’s a great observation. And of course when Jesus hones in on our moral issues, like the woman, we start theological debates of some sort. I’ve had this at many funerals for example – at the “tea” (usually with something stronger) when people have come to tell me about when they used to go to church – and for some reason they stopped. Wright gives some classical examples about peoples’ avoidance as he continues to talk about this woman at the well:

But she knew her life was in a mess, and she knew that Jesus knew. Her reaction to this is a classic example of what every pastor and evangelist knows only too well. Put your finger on the sore spot, and people will at once start talking about something else. And the best subject for distracting attention from morality is, of course, religion. I can hear the voices, again and again. ‘Well, we used to go to the church in town, but then my aunt said we should go with her, and then I didn’t like the minister’s wife, and now we’ve stopped going altogether.’ ‘Of course, my mother was Catholic and my father was Protestant, so I grew up not really knowing who I was.’ ‘Well, I was brought up a Methodist, but then my sister and I used to go to the Baptist youth club, and then when we moved away I never really knew anyone.’

And here, two thousand years ago, the same tone of voice. ‘I was brought up to think that this mountain, here in Samaria, was God’s holy mountain. But you Jews think yours is the right one.’ Implication: we can’t both be right, maybe nobody knows, maybe nothing is that certain, and maybe (the hidden punchline of the argument) the morality we were taught is equally uncertain.

This is a powerful passage. It’s a powerful Gospel account. Remember the quote from Tom Wright last week about John’s Gospel:

 Countless people down the centuries have found that, through reading this gospel, the figure of Jesus becomes real for them, full of warmth and light and promise. It is, in fact, one of the great books in the literature of the world; and part of its greatness is the way it reveals its secrets not just to high-flown learning, but to those who come to it with humility and hope. (So here it is: John for everyone!) Wright, Tom (2002-10-18). John for Everyone Part 1: Chapters 1-10 Pt. 1 (New Testament for Everyone) . SPCK. Kindle Edition.

Amen!

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Sunday sermon 9 August – Paul to the Galatians (final)

Reading: Galatians 6:1-15

Sermon notes (especially indebted to Tom Wright’s commentary)

Galatians is a rough ride – if you are the kind of person who favours peace at all costs. We’ve seen that Paul has serious issues with people who pervert the Gospel in any way. He is direct, explicit, and confrontational in every sense as he takes these Galatian Christians on. Paul the Pharisee is equally zealous as Paul the Christian preacher.

And of course we have as a result some of the most profound passages in the New Testament. Let me remind you of some of them:

Gal 1:3  Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, Gal 1:4  who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, Gal 1:5  to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Gal 1:8  But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! Gal 1:9  As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!

Gal 1:11  I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. Gal 1:12  I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.

Gal 2:20  I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Gal 3:1  You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. Gal 3:2  I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Gal 3:3  Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?

Gal 3:22  But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe. Gal 3:23  Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. Gal 3:24  So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Gal 3:25  Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law. Gal 3:26  You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, Gal 3:27  for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. Gal 3:28  There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Gal 3:29  If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Gal 4:4  But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, Gal 4:5  to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Gal 4:6  Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” Gal 4:7  So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.

Gal 4:19  My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, Gal 4:20  how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you!

 Gal 5:1  It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

Gal 5:5  But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. Gal 5:6  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

Gal 5:11  Brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. Gal 5:12  As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!  (we missed that one!)

Gal 5:13  You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. Gal 5:14  The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.”

Gal 5:16  So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

Gal 5:19  The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; Gal 5:20  idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions Gal 5:21  and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Gal 5:22  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, Gal 5:23  gentleness and self-control. 

Gal 5:24  Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Gal 5:25  Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Gal 5:26  Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

The closing verses – chapter 6

In the last chapter of Galatians, Paul reveals his pastoral heart again. Freedom from sin comes through Christ. But this is not freedom to do anything you like! We are slaves of God – and we are set free to serve another. We are not without obligations – we need to be honest with each other too. We are to correct others who do wrong:

Gal 6:1  Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.

The restoration should be gentle! That is one of the fruits of the spirit – gentleness. And by the way “restoration” here is a word that would have been used to set a broken bone straight so that it can heal with the best possible outcome.Gal 6:2  Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

6:2 – our last week of preaching on Galatians – verse 2 is gold – what is the law of Christ? Transformed Torah? Reformed and Lutherans differ on this. Christ transforms the law to take away its ability to curse (Reformed). Love of neighbour is fulfillment of the law – pun on the Law of Christ (Lutheran). He doesn’t unpack it – just puts it there. No second letter to the Galatians.

Galatians 6:1-6 is about God’s intention for us to ensure the well-being of the neighbour – (and climaxes in v15 – new creation is the key (see below)).

One commentator put it like this: Verses 1-6 allow Paul to say more about what the life of people who live by the Spirit looks like. The list of virtues we saw in 5:22 are really all about relationships and how we manage life together.

Do you remember them from last week? “Love is the key. Joy is love singing. Peace is love resting. Patience is love enduring. Kindness is love’s touch. Generosity is love’s character. Faithfulness is love’s habit. Gentleness is love’s self-forgetfulness. Self-control is love holding the reins.”

The baptized, those brought into ancient people of God in a new way are to fulfill a new law –  that of Christ, by bearing one another’s burdens.

Paul describes the radical mutuality of such a life. Assist one another and evaluate only yourself. Do what is given you to do on behalf of your neighbour, as God on behalf of God’s people did what needed to be done for them.

By exhorting his hearers not to grow tired, Paul reminds us that this is indeed a hard way to live. (Sarah Henrich)

Listen to the next verses 6 to 10: – life in the spirit is practical: and financial!

Gal 6:6  Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor. Gal 6:7  Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Gal 6:8  The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. 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.

Tom Wright translates this passage in a helpful way: 6 If someone is being taught the word, they should share with the teacher all the good things they have. 7 Don’t be misled; God won’t have people turning their noses up at him. What you sow is what you’ll reap. 8 Yes: if you sow in the field of your flesh you will harvest decay from your flesh, but if you sow in the field of the spirit you will harvest eternal life from the spirit. 9 Don’t lose your enthusiasm for behaving properly. You’ll bring in the harvest at the proper time, if you don’t become weary. 10 So, then, while we have the chance, let’s do good to everyone, and particularly to the household of the faith. Wright, Tom (2002-03-22). Paul for Everyone: Galatians and Thessalonians (New Testament for Everyone) (p. 77). SPCK. Kindle Edition.

Another commentator puts it like this: (Elizabeth Johnson) What this means is clear – Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow,” Paul says (6:7). Our way of life will have its natural consequences. If we “sow to the flesh,” led by self-seeking desires, we will reap the only thing the flesh can produce—corruption. If we “sow to the Spirit,” led by the Spirit and investing in what is eternal, we will reap eternal life from the Spirit (6:8).

Tom Wright has this to say about these last verses:  I loved talking to people about the church and what it was doing: its worship, its life, its service to a wide community. People knew it was true, and they respected what we were doing. But when it came to suggesting that they give money, I found myself running out of words. Some people can do that easily, and I’m not one of them.

But I used to console myself by looking at how Paul went about it. The classic passage is 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, but the same thing that is true there is true here too: Paul manages to write about money without ever mentioning the word. Clearly the subject was as delicate in his world as it is in ours.

The result is the present little paragraph. Like the previous one, it has many wider applications, even though its central point is the quite specific one of financing the ministry and life of the church. Paul begins with a clear command, which most churches in the modern world studiously ignore: those who are taught the word should share ‘in all good things’ with their teacher. (By ‘the word’ here Paul probably means something wider than just ‘the Bible’, though the Bible remained at the centre of his message; he meant the whole gospel of Jesus, rooted in the Old Testament and worked out through the apostolic teaching.)

The natural meaning of this is financial, though gifts in kind are quite appropriate as well. It is perhaps because churches have often neglected proper payment of the ministry that the ministry itself, the teaching which could and should be building up the church, has sometimes been thin and unsatisfying.

This gives quite a sharp point to the verses that follow. The picture of ‘sowing’ and ‘harvesting’– a development in Paul’s mind, perhaps, from the fruit trees at the end of chapter 5 – seems to be tied also to the giving of money. We will come to the wider meaning later, but we should pause and reflect on this.

If church members ‘sow’ to the spirit, by giving solid practical support to the church’s ministry, especially in teaching and preaching, they themselves will in due course bring in a harvest.

If, however, they ‘sow to the flesh’, spending their resources on the numerous pleasures of ordinary life, then all they will have to show for it will be the corruption and decay to which everything in the world is ultimately subject.

Fine houses fall down. Splendid clothes wear out. The ministry of the word builds up people and communities, and the life they then have will gloriously outlast death itself.

So Paul is eager that the ordinary Christians in Galatia should ‘do good to everybody’ (general phrases like this were in regular use in Paul’s world, referring to financial contributions in civic and community life), especially to the family marked out by faith.Wright, Tom (2002-03-22). Paul for Everyone: Galatians and Thessalonians (New Testament for Everyone) (pp. 77-79). SPCK. Kindle Edition.

Final greetings in  11-15

After Paul’s personal few words (he would have had a scribe for the rest of the letter as he dictated it) he wraps things up:

Gal 6:11  See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand! Gal 6:12  Those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. Gal 6:13  Not even those who are circumcised obey the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your flesh. Gal 6:14  May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Gal 6:15  Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.

Gal 6:15  Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation. (no verbs)

This reminds us of 5:6 – Gal 5:6  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

Tom Wright’s closing lines on Galatians say this: Grace reaches out and embraces the whole world. The sign of that embrace is not a mark in the flesh, but the presence and joy of the spirit.

So it was in the first century; so it is now, in the church and world that still needs the message of Galatians. So it will be until faith is rewarded with sight, patience with the final harvest, and eager hope with fulfillment. (Wright, Tom (2002-03-22). Paul for Everyone: Galatians and Thessalonians (New Testament for Everyone) (p. 84). SPCK. Kindle Edition.)

Amen.

Sunday sermon 2 August 2015 – Freedom to serve one another in love

Readings: Galatians 5:1; 13 – 26

SERMON

A church secretary spent her vacation at the beach. As she sunned herself, a little boy in his swim suit approached her and politely asked her a series of questions. “Miss, do you believe in God?” The woman was taken aback a little but said she did. Then the little boy asked, “Do you go to church every Sunday?” The woman told the boy that she went to church every Sunday and even worked at the church during the week. The little boy persisted with his interrogation and asked, “Do you read your Bible every day?” The woman told the boy she read her Bible every day. The boy nodded his head, seeming satisfied with her answers and then he said: “It that case, will you hold my dollar for me while I go for a swim?”

That’s a trust issue – isn’t it? How do you really measure the virtues of a stranger? Over the years we’ve often listened to peoples’ stories – loaned them money – and never heard from them again.

What virtues are deemed to be most important in the Christian faith? What are the key signs?

We’re back in Paul’s letter to the Galatians this week. You will remember the background – how other missionary people had gone around the churches in the area trying to persuade them (as Gentiles) to be circumcised and follow the requirements of the first testament or old covenant.

Paul makes it clear that going back to circumcision means going back to the whole old covenant: Gal 5:3  Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law.

Being in Christ takes us to a new level:  Paul wants us all in Christ to be one faith family of the new covenant – with no distinction between Jews and Gentiles, or any other differences, as in Galatians 3:25-29:

Gal 3:25  Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.

Gal 3:26  You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus,

Gal 3:27  for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

Gal 3:28  There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Gal 3:29  If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

In chapter 5 which is a highlight in the letter, Paul unpacks his ideas of freedom:

Gal 5:13  You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.

Gal 5:14  The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.”

Gal 5:15  If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

Love creeps in here in these two key passages. (The first we missed in the reading today).

Gal 5:6  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

Gal 5:13  You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.

Faith – faith in Christ, dying with Christ, and being raised up to new life through the Spirit leads to this sense of belonging to this family by which people know we are Christians by the love shared in the community.

There was a great song in the 70s sung at churches and on church camps, that went like this: We are one in the spirit, we are one in the Lord (x2) and we pray that all unity may one day be restored, and they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, and they’ll know we are Christians by our love. (Ironically the music was taken out of the music book LIVING PRAISE because the owner of the tune had not given permission for it to be published.)

Years ago I preached about this love – quoting William Glasser who said that what our basic need in life is to love and to be loved in a dependable relationship. (Bennie)

To know that you’re loved, that is very freeing. It also constrains us to act. Love constraining – because there is love I help.

I used to teach teenage boys each year about the different kinds of love in Greek and Hebrew – especially that unconditional love of a mother who gets up when children have earache at 2.00am the morning. Or especially when they are sick and there’s heaps of cleaning to do – literally.

A parent would not get their bible out and say – well there’s nothing here in the Bible that says I need to do anything. A parent doesn’t look up the relevant Law from Parliament – to see if you have to get up and help your child. You just do it!

Love constrains us. Listen again to verse 14 to 16:

Gal 5:14  The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” (Lev 19:18; Mark 12)

Gal 5:15  If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

Gal 5:16  So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

It seems that the Galatians were really at odds with each other. Verse 15 hints at even physical conflict. And the default setting from our flesh – translated as “sinful nature” (NIV) – are acts of the flesh:

 Gal 5:19  The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery;

Gal 5:20  idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions

Gal 5:21  and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

The new covenant’s default setting is not as straight forward – because the flesh/sinful nature manifests in acts that are impulsive, and almost automatic – because they are largely all about us and our hedonistic sinful setting. These are vices.

The virtues are more challenging. Someone put it like this: “Love is the key. Joy is love singing. Peace is love resting. Patience is love enduring. Kindness is love’s touch. Generosity is love’s character. Faithfulness is love’s habit. Gentleness is love’s self-forgetfulness. Self-control is love holding the reins.”

 They are fruits. The trees – that’s us – require serious attention and nurture, and large quantities of love that never counts the cost.

Some kids stories to end today:

A group of professional people posed this question to a group of 4 to 8 year-olds, “What does love mean?” The answers they got were broader and deeper than anyone could have imagined.

“Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your French fries without making them give you any of theirs.”

“If you want to learn to love better, you should start with a friend who you hate.”

“When you tell someone something bad about yourself and you’re scared they won’t love you anymore. But then you get surprised because not only do they still love you, they love you even more.”

“There are two kinds of love. Our love. God’s love. But God makes both kinds of them.”

“Love is when your puppy licks your face even after you left him alone all day.”

“You really shouldn’t say ‘I love you’ unless you mean it. But if you mean it, you should say it a lot. People forget.”

“When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You know that your name is safe in their mouth.”

“Love is when someone hurts you. And you get so mad but you don’t yell at them because you know it would hurt their feelings.”

“Love is what makes you smile when you’re tired.”

“Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen.”

And my favourite one of all: “God could have said magic words to make the nails fall off the cross, but He didn’t. That’s love.”

The fruits of the spirit:

Gal 5:22  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,

Gal 5:23  gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Gal 5:24  Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.

Gal 5:25  Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

Let’s cultivate these shall we.

Amen.

Sunday sermon 16 August 2015 – Secret Disciples, and Jewish insomniacs

Sunday 16 August 2015

Readings: John 3:1-21; John 19:38-42

We had a great time here at Tuesday church on Tuesday – and started thinking about this passage from John 3. Nicodemus is the man here – a member of the ruling Jewish Council – who comes to see Jesus at night. Perhaps he has insomnia. Perhaps he doesn’t want to be seen with this controversial preacher from Galilee.

What I love about the interaction they have is the way Jesus gives answers to questions that are not asked. But they are questions that need answering! I think if he showed up here, the same thing could happen. We might think we have relevant questions or comments – but really what matters is what he says. After all, he knows best does he not?

On Wednesday at home group we were talking about which gospel is best recommend for new Christians to read. Rob Harley in his talk suggested John’s gospel. Some of us had different views – preferring Luke for historical accuracy with his sequel in Acts, or Mark’s Gospel for brevity.

John in this gospel account takes us on this amazing journey of signs and responsive teachings by Jesus. Things progress quite quickly at the beginning.  There’s a prologue in chapter 1. Then there’s John the Baptist identifying Jesus. Then Jesus’ encounter with his first followers. Then there was the interesting engagement Jesus has with Nathanael.

In chapter 2 there’s the first major sign Jesus does at a wedding – turning water into wine (with his mum getting involved!). There must have been others. In any case he cleanses the temple in chapter 2 as well – and at the end of the chapter John lays out the difficulty here: Joh 2:23  Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name. Joh 2:24 But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. Joh 2:25 He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man.

And in the very next chapter (chapter 3) John gives an example of a particular man:  Verse 1 reads: Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council.

The water into wine sign, together with whatever else Jesus had done, certainly got this specific man going – this Jewish guy with the Irish sounding name. Listen to what he says (after knocking on the door where Jesus was that evening):

He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.” (John 3:2)

You always wonder what people are up to when they say something nice about you, and follow it by a “but there’s this problem…”. Jesus gets to the heart of things. I love the response – “I tell you the truth”.  Those “verily verily” sayings (as translated by the KJV).

This has to get your attention. Tom Wright translates it like this: ‘Let me tell you the solemn truth,’ Wright, Tom (2002-10-18). John for Everyone Part 1: Chapters 1-10 Pt. 1 (New Testament for Everyone) (p. 27). SPCK. Kindle Edition.

Joh 3:3 In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

The question was – which we talked about on Tuesday – if you were to live your life again, would you do the same things – follow the same career, or do things differently? In the conversation I had with my son – who asked me this very question – I was clear that I would not want to go to school again. He was surprised – he thought I liked school. I didn’t like the bullying. What he didn’t know was that I was always the youngest in my whole grade. That can be tricky.

I reckon the best answer about the decisions you make comes from the wife of Billy Graham when speaking on prayer. She said something like this: “I am glad that God didn’t answer all my prayers. If he did I would have married the wrong man – more than once!”

Nicodemus’ question is reasonable – if you think only in terms of this world and the one shot we have at life. He says this: Joh 3:4 “How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!”

This time he gets a real answer to his question – with an upgrade. Not only will you not see the Kingdom of God (which is the heart of Jesus’ teaching and the first major request in the Lord’s Prayer which shapes what we pray for afterwards too).

You won’t enter it either: Listen again:

Joh 3:5  Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.

Joh 3:6  Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.

Joh 3:7  You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’

Joh 3:8  The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

 This bright lad with all the training is left scratching his head:

Joh 3:9  “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.

And this time he gets a real lecture:

Joh 3:10  “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things?

Joh 3:11  I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony.

Joh 3:12  I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?

The rest is history – as they say. John 3:16 forms part of that lecture that Nicodemus gets. Of course what we don’t know is who told John so that the story of the man who came to Jesus at night turns up in John’s gospel.

Like Thomas later in the gospel, questions get thorough answers in John’s gospel. Great teaching comes out of bad interviews. (Remember Thomas – when Jesus talks about where he is going in John 14:

 Joh 14:4  You know the way to the place where I am going.” Joh 14:5  Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Joh 14:6  Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Thanks Thomas.

We don’t hear much more about Nicodemus. He appears once in John 7 where he sticks up for Jesus on the basis of natural justice. He gets shut down.

Joh 7:43  Thus the people were divided because of Jesus.

Joh 7:44  Some wanted to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him.

Joh 7:45  Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, “Why didn’t you bring him in?”

Joh 7:46  “No one ever spoke the way this man does,” the guards declared.

Joh 7:47  “You mean he has deceived you also?” the Pharisees retorted.

Joh 7:48  “Has any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him?

Joh 7:49  No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them.”

Joh 7:50  Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked,

Joh 7:51  “Does our law condemn anyone without first hearing him to find out what he is doing?”

Joh 7:52  They replied, “Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.”

Joh 7:53  [Then each went to his own home.

And then there is Jesus’ funeral. Listen again to what we heard in the second reading today:

Joh 19:38  Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away.

Joh 19:39  He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds.

One gets the feeling that it’s like sending too many flowers to a funeral – maybe out of regret.

Nicodemus – still recognised as the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night.

Joseph of Arimathea is there: Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. Secret disciples. And the one that came to see Jesus by night.

Was Nicodemus a disciple?

I’m not really sure. Luckily for Joseph John wrote his gospel quite late in the piece. If Galatians was the earliest book in the New Testament to be written – John’s gospel is probably the last. Had it been written early – I guess Joseph of Arimathea would have lost his category of one of the earliest secret disciples!

It is a challenge for others too – for the wrong reasons. Later on in John 12 we read:

Joh 12:42  Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue;

Joh 12:43  for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.

I recommend you read John. Listen to Tom Wright on this book:

The gospel of John has always been a favourite for many. At one level it is the simplest of all the gospels; at another level it is the most profound. It gives the appearance of being written by someone who was a very close friend of Jesus, and who spent the rest of his life mulling over, more and more deeply, what Jesus had done and said and achieved, praying it through from every angle, and helping others to understand it. Countless people down the centuries have found that, through reading this gospel, the figure of Jesus becomes real for them, full of warmth and light and promise. It is, in fact, one of the great books in the literature of the world; and part of its greatness is the way it reveals its secrets not just to high-flown learning, but to those who come to it with humility and hope. (So here it is: John for everyone!). Wright, Tom (2002-10-18). John for Everyone Part 1: Chapters 1-10 Pt. 1 (New Testament for Everyone) . SPCK. Kindle Edition.

Epilogue:

Of course there is this final question. We know that you can’t be a secret disciple in some places. And daily people are being martyred for being Christ followers.

And in some places it is wise not to publicise your faith – especially if you put others at risk.

What about me and you? Are we also lurking in the night or being secret followers of Jesus? Perhaps we are also John 12:43 followers unwilling to confess our faith publicly – as John puts it – “for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.”

Are we going to be remembered like Nicodemus and Joseph? Or would it be better to be remembered like Nathaniel or perhaps Thomas.

Its worth reading John’s gospel to reflect on this.

Amen. Amen.

Sunday Evening 2 August – Mayfair Fellowship – the crowd that loafs and fishes

Reading: John 6:1-15

Message

A little boy was asked what his favourite Bible story was. “Oh, I don’t know,” he said. “I guess it’s the one about the crowd that loafs and fishes.”

What’s your favourite when it comes to bread and fish these days?

Compared to Africa, there seem to be too many kinds of bread to choose from in our shops.  In South Africa it was always easier to buy bread. The government standardised bread was white and brown – it was the cheapest. And there were a couple of well-known fish options too.

Our fish man in Browns Bay has been away for a couple of months – which is a tragedy each Friday!

John’s story of the feeding of the 5000 (and by the way this is the only sign or miracle that appears in all four gospels) has its own interesting account.

Jesus is like a teacher here – setting a question for his followers like we had in Arithmetic at school. So many lollies at 5c each, and you have 1 pound to spend and you need to keep so much money for bread and milk for the next three days and so forth.

Listen again to the problem to be solved here.

Joh 6:5  When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?”

Joh 6:6  He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.

Joh 6:7  Philip answered him, “Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”

John as the narrator tells us that this was a kind of test. Philip obviously did some calculations in his head. Conclusion – it’s not possible.

The other disciples were in ear shot. Andrew is the one who tells Jesus about the boy’s lunch.

Listen again: Joh 6:8  Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, Joh 6:9  “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” It’s the bread and fish calculation.

Jesus is testing the disciples here. In fact the whole of John chapter 6 deals with the theme of bread. But we don’t want to jump the gun here. Jesus is the focus here. He sees the need. He tests his disciples. It’s only in John’s gospel that there is any talk of how much grass there was:

Joh 6:10  Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and the men sat down, about five thousand of them. Plenty of grass? Bells ring for us – the Good Shepherd.

Later in this chapter in Joh 6:35 we read:  Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. This is repeated in John 6:48 – I am the bread of life.

Psalm 23 comes to mind – green pastures. And Jesus, according to John, feeds them himself. And of course John 10:10 is waiting for us in this gospel account:

Joh 10:10 – The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. Joh 10:11 – “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

What can we say about this?

  1. Even though it sounds a bit like an introduction to communion, it’s probably not – there is no precedent in Scripture for breaking loaves and fish at communion. Fish do feature later in John’s Gospel where Jesus restores Peter – the fish breakfast barbeque on the beach: Joh 21:9  When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.   And in Luke 24:42, where Jesus is hungry – They gave him a piece of broiled fish. Both of these are after the resurrection.
  2. It really is about Jesus. This is something that points to Jesus – it’s not about the feeding, it’s about something bigger – what does it mean to call Jesus “bread of life”? “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry… In what way are our desires met – the emptiness filled when Jesus is master of our ship of life?
  3. It’s only in John’s account that the boy is identified – the barley loaves and fish were not produced by adults – but by a boy. There is something inclusive there. Something special really. And barley loaves were really the food of the poor. There’s a humility here too. Like the widow’s mite, Jesus would have seen the sacrifice of this poor youngster.
  4. Providing bread for so many, and having so much more (twelve baskets of bread) was a risky thing to do. It’s about power. Joh 6:15 When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

One can only imagine how the gift of multiplying food could be used for fame and political gain.  And of course in the temptations the devil had already challenged him to turn rocks into bread as a quick road to fame.

Communion:

When we share communion shortly, there will probably be some interesting links in the experience. The taste of bread and grape juice or wine is something that brings back memories of the breaking of bread over the years – especially if we are privileged to have followed Jesus for many years.

The real connection is with Jesus – the bread of life.

From the beginning of Jesus’ signs in John’s gospel – the signs were meant to point to Jesus. There is no institutionalised water into wine liturgy. No order of service for multiplying a boy’s lunch.

The key is in our response to really trust the Lord completely – for daily bread (whatever we need physically each day, which includes employment) and for our spiritual nurture.

There comes from that trust a real belief, a certainty, that following Jesus really does bring abundant life.

  • Life sustained by Jesus
  • God who meets us in Jesus and in Christian community is God who is known in abundance.
  • John’s gospel helps us to get to know this Jesus who provides sustenance and provision, superabundance and grace – living water, bread of life, and a real relationship and fellowship.

May you be encouraged as you follow this Jesus who gave His life for us.

Amen.