Monthly Archives: November 2016
Readings: Psalm 46:1-5 & 10-11; Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23: 33 – 43
HOW BAD DOES IT GET FOR YOU TO WANT TO GIVE UP?
I didn’t choose today’s readings. I have been doing that for quite a while choosing the readings. But not today. Today’s readings come from the lectionary.
I quite like Psalm 46 – while the ground still shakes on these wobbly islands, we can hear the word of God to us.
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.
I’ve only been in minor earthquakes back in Wellington. The Christchurch one that was at night sounded like a freight train in our bedroom. I watched with amazement on another occasion when the couch started jumping up and down, and the Christmas tree was doing sparrow jumps along the table.
Back in the old country we had bombs going off outside our home and Sheilagh had to dive to the ground waiting for me to pick her up one Saturday when a bomb went off across the road from her in 320 West Street.
Either way you are shaken.
Psalm 46 hits a high point in verse 10 – which we all know well – at least we know the first part: Psa 46:10 “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
People are genuinely seeking stillness.
For us – it’s not just spacing out – or like Leonard Cohen signing up with a zen master to find that equilibrium.
For us – we are to be still and know that He is God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
He will be exalted – praised – honoured – and that’s exactly what we do even when things are shaken up. We exalt and praise his name. AND by worshiping him we recognise we are not alone – Verse 11 states categorically – The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. The last verse of the Psalm goes full circle back to the first which reads: God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
When things seem to fall apart – whether literally, emotionally (you’re on the edge), or physically (your body presents itself as something straight from hell through pain or collapse of key systems) – God Almighty is unchanging and totally faithful – we are to praise him because we are not alone – he is our ever-present help in trouble!
This greatness of God is consistent with what Paul says in Colossians about Jesus.
Paul speaks about Jesus’ centrality: Col 1:16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. Col 1:17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
The writer to the Hebrews captures this same steadiness about Jesus in two ways: The first will be known by anyone ever involved in Boys Brigade. What’s the boys’ brigade hymn? What’s the chorus?
Yes – will your anchor hold – and the chorus – we have an anchor….
Hebrews 6 is where that comes from. I used this to counsel someone recently when things were really troubled. My advice was to chuck up an anchor into heaven and stay steady. Listen to the passage: Heb 6:19 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, Heb 6:20 where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf
The second reminder from Hebrews is simpler and easier to remember: Heb 13:8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
So my question to you is simple – HOW BAD DOES IT GET FOR YOU TO WANT TO GIVE UP?
If we can be still and know that He is God – in the midst of disaster.
If we can know that – in him (Jesus) all things hold together – that he is our anchor, that he is the same yesterday, today, and forever –
I reckon that we can be steady in the storms we face.
Today is the Sunday where we celebrate “Christ the King”.
How bad does it have to get for you to want to give up? When you have such a King – you can hold on!
As the other heroes of the faith in Hebrews chapter 11. I was listening to a sermon on the radio this week where the preacher read this passage out.
Hebrews 11 starts with this statement: Heb 11:1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Heb 11:2 This is what the ancients were commended for.
And then the list comes. It’s long and profound. And it ends with this crescendo that has to speak to your heart:
Heb 11:35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Heb 11:36 Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. Heb 11:37 They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— Heb 11:38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. Heb 11:39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. Heb 11:40 God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.
They were steadfast. Steady. How bad did it have to get for them to give up? They took it all and more – and they remained faithful. As do martyrs today around the world.
So on Christ the King Sunday we read from the gospel the account of Jesus’ crucifixion. How bad does it have to get? That was bad. Being crucified alongside Jesus. What makes this one criminal reach out to Jesus, while the other one hurls insults at Jesus?
Probably nano faith tinier than a mustard seed – some sense that if it said “King” on the sign above his head on the cross, this Jesus must have been able to do something in this tight spot. Nailed to a cross and heaving yourself up in agony to breath rather than suffocate. Listen to the account:
Luk 23:40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? Luk 23:41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Luk 23:42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
King – Kingdom – he grasped something – joined the dots. Maybe he remembered a story doing the rounds about Jesus raising the dead. Who knows. Either way – Luk 23:43 Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Did he go to heaven that day? I don’t think so. Do you? Jesus didn’t – not just then. He descended to the dead (or visited hell depending on your view of 1 Peter 3:18-19).
We’re going to have to figure out what “Paradise” meant then. In those days, it meant the restored creation in which the righteous would dwell – like Eden.
People who take it as “heaven” put a comma in the sentence so it reads: “I tell you the truth today, you will be with me in paradise.” Which is convenient but unhelpful as there were no spaces between the words in the Greek original, never mind commas.
The promise assures his future either way – even if it meant as Tom Wright notes – a place of rest and refreshment before the final gift of eternal life in the resurrection.
If a convicted criminal dying on a cross could see in Jesus – also dying – a King who brought hope, and a blameless man, and who could trust Jesus in a tight spot – I think we’ll be okay. Or shall I speak kiwi and say “she’ll be right”.
Be still friends. Know he is control. He is the one who is our anchor in the presence of God. Our hope even when we breathe our dying breath.
Jesus Christ the King.
He’s the one! Trust Him!
Readings: 1 Corinthians 12:14-27; Galatians 6:1-3; Matthew 18:16-17
Last week we looked at reconciliation – and the implication for living for one another. And we saw that if someone had something against us, we should fix it before we bring our gift to the altar – our worship to God.
I imagine that most skirmishes can be resolved. Differences of opinion mainly. Or perhaps we may speak a careless word against someone – and we hurt them or offend them, perhaps unwillingly. Sometimes we get offended and it’s all just a misunderstanding. I can’t tell you how many times people get upset if you ignore them in the street when your mind is on something else. Or even at church here on Sunday.
Our falling out with each other over insignificant things is silly sinful behaviour really. Like the little children who have a scrap perhaps – we should be able to say sorry and forgive.
Wilful sin is another thing I suspect – when we are deliberately mean or destructive.
But silly differences or big conflicts – reconciliation and peacemaking belong together. The rift between people and God is a big thing – so too the peace of God achieved by Jesus. The cross is a big thing too – which explains all those ways of trying to explain it we looked at last week – propitiation (atonement), justification, redemption and reconciliation – all try to capture the breadth impact of Jesus’ death on the cross that brings peace and a new community.
Flowing out of that peacemaking is our one-another life. Remember some of them from last week? For those who weren’t here, here they are again. Here are the bible references this time too.
- Bear with one another in love – Ephesians 4:2
- Be kind and compassionate to one another – Ephesians 4:32
- Be devoted to one another – Romans 12:10
- Honour one another above yourselves – Romans 12:10
- Accept one another – Romans 15:7
- Agree with one another – 1 Corinthians 1:10
- Encourage one another – 1 Thessalonians 5:11
- Spur one another one towards love and good deeds – Heb 10:24
- Do not slander one another – James 4:11
- Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling – 1 Peter 4:9
- Clothe yourselves with humility towards one another – 1 Peter 5:5
- Submit to one another (specifically in marriage) – Ephesians 5:21
- Live in harmony with one another – 1 Peter 3:8
- And of course –
- confess you sins to one another -James 5:16
- Teach and admonish one another – Colossians 3:16
There are more damaging things though that need attention than our silly misunderstandings. I mentioned last week that we should be cautious about trying to reconcile when a relationship is toxic or a person is abusive. Some sin is endemic and evil is dangerous. Some things require mediation or proper restorative processes.
Jesus seems to speak in a more serious tone about sin in the church. Only Matthew 16 and 18 talk about the church at all – at least coming from Jesus’ mouth. In chapter 18 he says this:
Mat 18:15 “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. Mat 18:16 But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ Mat 18:17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
This has got to be more than a misunderstanding or silly scrap. It’s certainly not the same as last week where we looked at leaving your gift on the altar and going to sort something out. It seems to assume that you can resolve the thing quickly and come back to your gift waiting at the altar.
The implication here in Matthew 18 is that the person does not acknowledge the problem – and probably denies that they are at fault at all. That it will be difficult. A longer process.
Perhaps you can help me here. What kinds of things do you think require this kind of action? Talk among yourselves for two minutes…
I am sure you came up with some interesting scenarios.
The pattern given is a typical Jewish one of the day – a three stage process especially requiring two witnesses.
So you approach the person first. If they don’t respond, you take someone else or two people along. And when that doesn’t work – you tell the whole church. If that fails – separate from them completely. Treat them like nobodies. Hopefully they will come to their senses when they are on the outside – and have to start again figuring out what it means to be a Christ follower and a part of his body – from scratch.
We don’t follow that process much it seems. Sometimes our first step is to tell someone else (gossiping without confronting the person involved at all). Then we sulk. Perhaps become bitter. And finally we ourselves stay away from church in our state of anger or resentment and blame. That’s not quite the same as the pattern Jesus gives!
What kind of things are so damaging that they need a process to get someone to accept responsibility? They are probably horrible things.
You can see how horrible they are potentially if you take that list of one another obligations in the New Testament and change the words from positive to negative. Look what we come up with:
- Bear with one another – don’t put up with each other – be obnoxious towards one another
- Be kind and compassionate to one another – be ugly and indifferent towards one another
- Be devoted to one another – be unfaithful to one another
- Honour one another above yourselves – insult one another and make sure your view dominates
- Accept one another – reject or simply ignore one another
- Agree with one another – have ongoing disputes with one another
- Encourage one another – discourage, dishearten and offend one another
- Spur one another one towards love and good deeds – put people off and tell them to be unkind and selfish, promoting evil
- Do not slander one another – insult and dismiss one another as you spread stories and rumours about each other without checking on the truth
- Offer hospitality to one another – throw one another out of your homes and don’t make people feel welcome, or shun them
- Clothe yourselves with humility towards one another – be brash – arrogant – rude
- Submit to one another (specifically in marriage) – beat each other into submission and bully one another
- Live in harmony with one another – start a riot in church like a pub brawl over the slightest difference
That would be interesting behaviour in church. It certainly goes against the new commandment to love one another as Jesus has loved us – and all the others about love and service.
It’s 1 Corinthians 12 that reinforces the damage this kind of sin causes. Paul compares our life together in Christ – in the body of the church – to the human body. 1Co 12:14 Now the body is not made up of one part but of many.
He then goes on at length to talk about all the parts being important and unique.
He says from verse 24: But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honour to the parts that lacked it, 1Co 12:25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 1Co 12:26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it. 1Co 12:27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
The human body is a great comparison of the joy when it works and the pain when it doesn’t. We all to some extent know when our bodies are in pain. It’s just as bad when our bodies don’t work properly – when parts stop communicating with other parts. It’s not pretty.
It’s not pretty either when the church (or a human family) suffers or can’t communicate between its members – or when one part grows too big like a tumour.
Paul’s plan for the church is a union that means no solo flying. The key verse is this one:
1Co 12:26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it. And he reminds the Corinthians who had become specialists in doing things without love (and very selfishly): 1 Co 12:27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
He then proceeds to talk about different people gifts in the body – and that we’re not all gifted in the same way. But we all matter.
He ends chapter 12 with this: 1Co 12:31 But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way. 1 Corinthians 13 in all its beauty follows. In Chapter 13 – love matters most. We read it the other day – remember? Substituting “We are” for the word “love is”.
The reading from Galatians today is also a healthy warning from Paul in all of this. Listen again: 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. Gal 6:2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Gal 6:3 If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.
So what is to be done? Most of us are not really horrible are we? So what’s the most common sickness in the body? It’s probably what I would call “independent member disorder”. It’s a bit like a foot that wants to walk off in its own direction.
It really helps when we are moving in the same direction. With the mind of Christ in control – with Jesus as the head. And with all the members coordinated in the effort to listen to the Head.
Being a healthy church does require the parts to function well together.
- Are you a healthy part of Jesus’ body? A source of goodness, life and nutrition?
- Are you using the gifts he gave you?
- You matter!
And we really can only share our burdens, sorrows and joys, when the nervous system works and we are connected well enough to feel each other’s emotions and issues.
This all needs time and effort and communication. Let’s keep doing this. At least start today by learning someone’s name you don’t know! Oh and joining a home group where this can happen And, altogether now, “let’s stay for tea and be friendly”.
It’s a small start! Amen.
READINGS: 2 Corinthians 5:14-21; Matthew 5:21-24; Romans 12:9-18
There’s as great Scripture in Song item from 1977 by a man called Rick Ridings which goes like this:
Little children, Forgive one another, As I have forgiven you;
Cast all your bitterness, In the depths of the sea: Forgive like Me
Little children, Serve one another, As I have served you
Take off the robes of Your rights and your pride; Wash each other’s feet
Little children, Receive one another, As I have received you
Call not unclean, What I have called clean; Come learn of Me
When you look at all the passages in the New Testament which use the phrase “little children” most are Jesus’ words and refer to real little children. You know the ones I mean – like the King James version of “Let the little children come unto me..” which goes like this: Mat 19:14 But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.
Ironically too many children actually do suffer at the hands of adults. We know of course, if English is not your first language, that “suffer” in 17C English meant “allow” or “let”.
You may remember that Jesus also used the phrase for the disciples in John 13 – from last week. And then John uses “little children” quite a bit for Christians to whom he writes his first letter.
Even Paul, not known for sentimentality when he writes, as usually he is ticking off the Christians for their sins or heresies, uses the term in Galatians 4. It comes out in the NIV as “Dear children” but other translations have it like this:
4:19 my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!
Children of course are not meant to get everything right. They’re always learning.
And I think that’s the secret of real discipleship. Being open to correction. And it is the one thing that makes adults very difficult.
We’re not always teachable.
One of my little sayings is that I want FAT people in church.
Faithful, available, and teachable.
I was reading this week that in on particular country children in their early years of school spend a lot more time working on getting on together than learning things.
Getting on is the main thing. Every drama – family violence – gang rumble – civil war – world war – is about people who stop talking and start shooting – one way or the other.
The bible narrative deals with broken relationships early on.
The first family – soon after the couple fall out with God – have kids that fall out with each other in a very dramatic way. Cain kills Abel as you know.
And God’s mission to people after that is a constant attempt to clean up the mess and get His people on track.
Okay it is a bit radical when he drowns most of them in a flood. (Noah)
And of course he saves key people along the way. Like Joseph who was also done in by his brothers – and ended up prince of Egypt.
They are rescued from famine by going to Egypt. And through Moses they are eventually saved from Slavery and given their own land.
(Look along the wall of the Family Centre and you will see the narrative visually in the collages we’ve done through the year at Messy Church as we’ve worked through the Old Testament.)
And it’s into that land that ultimately Jesus comes.
On Friday at Messy Church we focussed on Isaiah the prophet – who foretells the coming of a wonderful counsellor, mighty God, every lasting Father and PRINCE OF PEACE (Isaiah 9:6).
People who are peacekeepers who don’t keep the peace get fired. There was a big commotion this week over UN peacekeepers from Kenya who failed in their job. Their commander got fired and they are offended and all going home.
But Jesus the mighty warrior is the ultimate peacekeeper and the prince of peace. He sees the project though as He dies for us.
The CROSS is at the centre of this.
One of the important terms for what he does is related to his sacrifice. We talked about it last week – he dies in our place – he is the lamb slain and his blood is sprinkled on the eternal mercy seat of God. You may remember the verse: 1Jn 4:10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Atoning sacrifice is also translated as propitiation.
One of the other terms is REDEMPTION which involves a payment of a ransom. And of course Paul talks a lot about JUSTIFICATION. All these terms in the New Testament try to capture what Jesus has done for us.
It’s RECONCILIATION which is repeated a lot in today’s reading from 2 Corinthians. The prince of peace logically brings reconciliation.
It crops up in Ephesians in a peace-making passage too:
Eph 2:14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, Eph 2:15 by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, Eph 2:16 and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.
Who are the “two” he has made one? The two out of which he makes one new man? Gentiles and Jews of course. That’s a major peace project. You see it being worked out in the life of Peter who needs a vision from God to get him to go to the house of Cornelius.
This event is picked up in the last line of the song – “little children” – “call not unclean what I have called clean.” Which means the Jewish Christians could mix with Gentile Christians and the two groups could form one new family in Christ.
And then in Colossians the reconciliation is broader – he speaks about all things needing this reconciliation:
Col 1:19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, Col 1:20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Col 1:21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. Col 1:22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— Col 1:23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.
Reconciliation – made possible through the cross of Christ – is actually the theological foundation of all this “one another” loving, serving and forgiving.
Paul spells it out in our reading from 2 Corinthians 5:
2Co 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 2Co 5:18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 2Co 5:19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.
Reconciliation is central to our faith and we need constantly to make peace and restore relationships. You may remember the old saying “love means never having to say you’re sorry”. “Yeah right” – is our response to that.
So here are two practical outcomes of this.
Jesus speaks about reconciliation as well. We read the passage from Matthew.
- Before you offer your gift to God (Jesus) – get reconciled
Jesus gives us this angle on reconciliation – sort out your relationships before you come to offer yourself and your gifts to God in worship. The thing that needs to be fixed? The same thing that messed up Cain and Abel’s relationship – and caused Joseph’s brothers to sell him into slavery (remember they planned to kill him initially). Anger.
So Jesus says:
Mat 5:22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
Mat 5:23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, Mat 5:24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.
The interesting thing about this verse is who is responsible for fixing the bad relationship – who needs to initiate reconciliation?
Who is it? Yes – the one who is probably wronged – the one who realises that his brother has something against him or her.
If you have any sense of a broken relationship and someone being mad at you or resentful of you – says Jesus – sort it out. It must be asked – why would they be mad at you anyway? Probably because YOU made them mad. 🙂
In other words – it doesn’t matter who started. Fix it. Because you can’t offer true worship to God if you are in a bad relationship with your brother or sister.
John backs this up in his first letter, especially in Chapter 4:19-21:
1Jn 4:19 We love because he first loved us.
1Jn 4:20 If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.
1Jn 4:21 And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.
We are to constantly make peace by walking in the light (see 1 John 1:7-10).
And then, secondly – we are to
- Keep up the one another focus
We’ve talked about serving, loving and forgiving one another.
All of these are the consequence of reconciliation with God and one another.
There are a host of other “one another” commands in the New Testament.
- Bear with one another
- Be kind and compassionate to one another
- Be devoted to one another
- Honour one another above yourselves
- Accept one another
- Agree with one another
- Encourage one another
- Spur one another one towards love and good deeds
- Do not slander one another
- Offer hospitality to one another
- Clothe yourselves with humility towards one another
- Submit to one another (specifically in marriage)
- Live in harmony with one another
And of course –
- confess you sins to one another.
- Teach and admonish one another.
These last two especially require trust in a community.
We have to be open to learning a new way of doing things – to be like little children as we trust God and take the risks of opening our lives to one another.
And we have to give time to relationships for any of this to happen!
So I remind you of my invitation a couple of weeks ago.
How do we achieve these things in our Christian community? We talked about them in the context of serving one another. Here they are again:
- Join a home group – best place for really growing and making friends.
- Stay for tea and meet some new people. Invite them for coffee through the week.
- Pitch in to help – share the load. We need everyone rowing on this waka. Offer to help in practical ways. When you’re not on the roster.
Most of all – if you need to make peace and be reconciled with someone – just do it. Again -like little children – we too need to get on together.
Do something about those relationships that need fixing. Otherwise none of this will really matter – or happen.