Monthly Archives: May 2017

Sunday 28 May Ascension Sunday – the anxieties of the age

READINGS: 1 Peter 5:6-11;  Acts 4:1-14;  John 17:1-3

MESSAGE

I’ve been working on this for a couple of days now. That sense of wrestling with God – what do you REALLY want to say to us today Lord?

It’s easy to follow the texts for the day – and get enthusiastic about something that arises from those readings.

Or a theme – like today is Ascension Day Sunday. It’s the in-between period we remember – 40 days after Easter the resurrection appearances end – and He’s gone.

I think what also grabbed me is what I’ve written about already in the newsletter. It’s about waiting. They were told to wait. Act 1:4  On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.

We’re not good at that really. The waiting.

And then there’s the constant prayer theme. That nibbled – asking for a bite. You know the verse I mean? Act 1:14  They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers. There have been plenty of sermons on the power of praying together. There’s also a redemptive line there too about his family – who though he was mad. Are these the actual brothers?

AND THEN OUR PERSONAL STORY SPEAKS

We had a great weekend away. There are some funny stories attached to the weekend. And the fact that I slept better when away speaks volumes. The truth is that a lot of people don’t sleep. In a world characterized by terror and fear, anxiety is a dominant power that controls or at least shapes our lives.

Peter’s line speaks to us today in the light of this human condition: 1Pe 5:7  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

How do we get that message across?

When Ascension day comes and goes, even though we would like it to be a public holiday like the good old days (and it was in parts of Europe and more close to us in Vanuatu – where they still call people to prayer at 4.00am during the week just in case you missed Sunday) – most people don’t have a clue who Jesus is anyway.

And if they have heard about him, they certainly find the idea of him taking off like the latest rocket that Rocket Lab has launched from Mahia Peninsula in Hawke’s Bay quite strange – as this cartoon shows us from the revised comic lectionary:

ascension RCOMICL

Although I have to say that my favourite cartoon on the Ascension is this one:

ascension

Those of us with experience of attention deficit disorder will immediately sympathize.

The point is – are we really noticing the real issues that people are facing? Or are we inattentive to what is happening.

I was reading something I wrote just over 30 years ago this week. When you go back you wonder if it really was you – it all seems so far away. It was a study of the thinking of Viktor Frankl, who developed logotherapy.  (If you are interested in reading about it see the link below).

The key question is about the meaning of our lives. What holds us together?

If you look at the things that dominate the news today – people’s lives are shaped by that search for meaning. And where do they find it? Often in unhelpful places or movements. Here are some possibilities:

Totalitarianism – people are becoming more nationalistic and following strong right-wing leaders. Political trends around the world bear this out. The group becomes more important than the individual. Frankl certainly experienced that in Nazy Germany, beinge a survivor of the holocaust. Nothing has changed.

Terrorism – the extreme violence of individuals and groups trying to force their world view or ideology on people through terror and threat and fear. Fanaticism makes the views of a cause more important than the value of the individual. The Manchester massacre this week is a clear example of this. The Queen said it was “wicked” – and good for her. It was.

And those who can afford to – although you can do this at home too –

To avoid Totalitarianism and Terrorism – and all the other kinds of troubles of the age – what’s the biggest source of foreign exchange income in our economy?

Tourism.

It’s a kind of escapism for the wealthy –  you can get away from it all. Although you have to check the travel advisories about countries where there is totalitarianism (some kind of nationalistic uprising) or terrorism. When you are on the way home you are planning the next trip!

Those who can’t afford to travel can watch it all on TV. It’s called armchair travel! It’s all an escape from the anxieties of the age.

Other trajectories.

And there are other routes people take in their quest for meaning or purpose in this generation.

  • The millennials and others say “whatever” in the face of too much authoritarianism or fanaticism – they bounce from job to job with a shruggy look if they find bosses that are too dictatorial.
  • The artists and creative people escape in the confusion of bizarre creativity (for us non-artistic mortals) – just look at what passes as modern art today. A classic case was just over a year ago when a teenager who clearly did go to Spec Savers left his specs on the floor in San Francisco’s Museum of Modern art as a prank with a friend. The oohs and aahs were prolific.

glasses art in gallery

On Twitter on 26 May last year one person tweeted: “it’s really just an exacerbated metaphor of society’s perpetual blindness to those cognitive of us #art”

People are looking for meaning in interesting places.

  • And then there are the Christians!

How do you and Ideal with the challenges of this age?

Jesus offers us a lot really. Today’s readings had some gems.

  • The power of His presence – the Holy Spirit Act 1:4  On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.

Act 1:5  For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

The permanent presence and power of God through his Spirit would be there for all.

  • The power of prayer – 1Pe 5:7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

There’s another brilliant passage on prayer (from the Message) here:

Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns.
Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. (Phil 4:7-8).

  • The power of a relationship that outlasts the chaos of this life – Joh 17:3  Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.

In our song before communion – which is the place where we find our identity (not in totalitarian nationalism) and our security (in the face of terror and fear) – we find the words of David in Psalm 23 which are expressed powerfully by Stuart Townend:

The Lord’s my shepherd, I’ll not want; He makes me lie in pastures green. He leads me by the still, still waters, His goodness restores my soul.

And I will trust in You alone, And I will trust in You alone, For Your endless mercy follows me, Your goodness will lead me home.

He guides my ways in righteousness, And He anoints my head with oil, And my cup, it overflows with joy, I feast on His pure delights.

And I will trust in You alone, And I will trust in You alone, For Your endless mercy follows me, Your goodness will lead me home.

And though I walk the darkest path, I will not fear the evil one, For You are with me, and Your rod and staff ,Are the comfort I need to know.

And I will trust in You alone, And I will trust in You alone, For Your endless mercy follows me, Your goodness will lead me home

Well do you trust in Him alone?

Can people see that you trust in Him alone through the week? At home? At work?

Great question to ponder on this week.

Amen.

Footnote: The link to my very old bit of research on Viktor Frankl is here:

http://researchspace.ukzn.ac.za/bitstream/handle/10413/6828/Palmer_Robin_Ernest_1987.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s sing that song now.

 

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Sunday message 14 May 2017 – “Meanwhile… lights and voices…”

READINGS:  Galatians 1:11-24;  Acts 9:1-31

SERMON

So we’ve been through 12 disciples, 13 apostles and 7 deacons.

Two of the deacons – Stephen and Philip – are key to the expansion of the gospel.

But the Acts of the Holy Spirit (better name than the Acts of the apostles) suddenly has a key character.

Philip is whisked off to a new place to tell the story, and chapter 9 of Acts begins with an enticing “Meanwhile, ….”

This Jewish Pharisee who approved of Stephen’s stoning, is on the war path wanting to lock up the Christians – “breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples…”

He’s on the road to Damascus in Syria, that same beautiful country that has been so badly bombed in this generation.

His name is Saul of course. Saul is his Hebrew name. Paul his Greek name. Like immigrants today have an original name from their home country and a New Zealand English name.

By the way – there is no evidence in the Bible that God gave him a new Christian name “Paul”. Luke begins to use that name when he is talking about ministry to Greeks. And as the apostle to the Gentiles (i.e. Greeks mainly) it makes sense that he used his Greek name. He seems to have done this on his 1st Missionary journey when on Cyprus (Acts 13:9).

So when he sees the light – on the Damascus road – the Lord addresses him as Saul, This is how Luke describes it:

Act 9:4  He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

That certainly got his attention. It was probably the only way. You may have heard the expression “being knocked off his high horse”. One has to say that there is no mention of a horse in the text – artists have contributed to this idea. At noon Paul was more likely praying – that being a set prayer time in the day.

It’s the “Damascus road experience” that interests me… People talk about their “Damascus road experience.”

As if it were a template for everyone.

Well maybe if you were pharisaical persecutor of Christians. Or highly intelligent. Or brainwashed.

Nothing compares to this encounter. You can see it in the special arrangement lined up. Ananias is given instructions to go to a specific house and ask for Saul of Tarsus.

He response is classic: Act 9:13  “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. Act 9:14  And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.

One can only imagine what he was thinking. Seriously God? Saul of Tarsus?

The Lord spells out the gravity of this mission: Act 9:15  But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. Act 9:16  I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

The narrative is brilliant. Ananias, like Stephen and Philip – does what He is instructed to do. Act 9:17  Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Act 9:18  Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, Act 9:19  and after taking some food, he regained his strength. Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus.

Once again baptism is immediate and almost incidental to the events. The next thing Saul is preaching in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God.

Is that your experience? Damascus road – lights and voices – straight into action – after being blinded for three days? Probably not.

In Paul’s own words in Galatians 2 we heard how he saw things. A lot happens for him to become apostle number 13 – especially since to be an apostle you had to have been a witness to the physical resurrection of Jesus.

There’s always an exception. Like Stephen and Philip not conforming to the expectation they would be food bearers. They are open – God uses them in his own divine and sovereign way.

And Saul is the one who will swing this whole thing. This fledgling group of Jewish followers of Jesus will find that the “Way” is open to all people – the whole world.

It’s no coincidence that Paul writes the bulk of the New Testament epistles.

That his amazing intellect and heart for God blesses us with so much today.

BUT – and here’s my simple message for today.

Does Paul look for people just like him? Do they have to follow his template for salvation – a major conversion experience –  the “Damascus road” people? Certainly many come to faith through his preaching – sometimes through conviction, sometimes after a time of reflection and re-engagement with Paul.

But his team does not have to be the same in terms of their conversion.

Who would you say is Paul’s main disciple? Or at least his favourite?

Well perhaps his letters to Timothy give that away. Listen to the opening verses: 1Ti 1:1  Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope, 1Ti 1:2  To Timothy my true son in the faith: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

One of the most beautiful passages – showing a side of Paul that we might not appreciate – is found in 2 Timothy 1: Ti 1:3  I thank God, whom I serve, as my forefathers did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers.

2Ti 1:4  Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. 2Ti 1:5  I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.

But look at this:  2Ti 1:6  For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. 2Ti 1:7  For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.

Yes Timothy’s faith was something that shaped his whole life. v5  I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also…

This is a man who has learned about faith from two generations in his family. What a heritage.

And you meet people like this today all over the place. If you ask them whether they had a Damascus road experience – or when they first met Jesus –  they might say something like this: “You know, I can’t remember a time when he wasn’t in my life – when I didn’t pray and know his presence”.

Ring any bells? There is no one formula. And what matters is that they land up in that place of completely  trusting Jesus. The Holy Spirit of course gives us that certainly of who we are as God’s children. Paul writes this in Romans 8: Rom 8:15 For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”  Rom 8:16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 

But there’s more.

Verse 6 in 2 Timothy that we have looked at already is instructive too: 2Ti 1:6  For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.

Even for those who can’t remember when they didn’t know the Lord – if you want to really be used by God – an impartation of his gifts and power is more than useful… It’s essential. (Paul too received ministry from Ananias through the laying on of hands.)

Elsewhere Paul writes:  Do not put out the Spirit’s fire. (1 Thess 5:19)

And for many of us – although we know about his gifts – we don’t actually appropriate them.

God has hopes and dreams for us –  to be really effective through His power.

It’s up to you whether you seek him with all your heart. (That book by Simon Ponsonby on holiness is still on the library table outside. It’s a challenge for you to take up.)

There are other books today by Bill Johnson that are worth reading. And more to come. About appropriating the gifts God has given us.

It’s challenge for all of us to really be open to God’s leading – to be a Stephen, a Philip, a Paul or a Timothy…  They were all filled with the Spirit.

Our challenge is to continue the acts of the Holy Spirit in this generation…

How about it then?

At the end of Acts 9 there is this welcomed pause:

Act 9:31  Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord.

It didn’t happen by chance. Nor did it happen without cost. Or risk taking.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday 7 May 2017 – Unless someone explains it to me…

READINGS: Isaiah 56:1-8; Acts 8:4-8; 26-40

MESSAGE

We talked about ministry last week. How pastor/teacher is the primary ministry in our church in line with the people gifts of Ephesians 4.

And we saw in Acts 6 that the apostles wanted to focus their attention on preaching and prayer, so the set apart 7 spiritual men – deacons – to wait on tables – to attend to the distribution of food in the church.

When you look at the first of these – Stephen – and you read Acts 7 – he was an amazing man of God and a preacher. He didn’t get to do the things they thought he should – he has a power ministry and get killed for his preaching.

The early fathers wrote that the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the church.

Persecution followed Stephen’s death – and remember Saul was there and approved of this death.  The believers are scattered to Judea and Samaria. It’s part of God’s plan. Amazing.

But wait there’s more. There’s more in Acts 8 because deacon number 2 is also not doing what they thought he should be doing.

You see you can’t stop the Holy Spirit using people who are open. And that includes you and me.

Acts 8: 4 tells us:

Act 8:4  Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. Act 8:5  Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there. Act 8:6  When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said. Act 8:7  With shrieks, evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and cripples were healed. Act 8:8  So there was great joy in that city.

There are signs and wonders that get people’s attention. And they listen to the message – and there is success.

So Philip buys a house and settles there and caries on a lovely ministry until his retirement. Hardly!

This city in Samaria is not the only part of the plan.

We skip the bit about Simon the magician –  that’s for reading through the week for you.

We pick up Phillip in verse 26. Look carefully at what happens to this deacon who was supposed to be helping feed the widows back home – the deacons today are the equivalent of our board – charged with so called practical things.

Act 8:26  Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” Act 8:27  So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, Act 8:28  and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet. Act 8:29  The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”

If you don’t know this story, you’ve missed something very special.

This Ethiopian we are told would not be from modern Ethiopia but the land of Cush, in central Sudan today.

He is reading from Isaiah 53, the great servant song. The servant in the passage would not have been understood as referring to a Messiah in those days, but possibly a new Elijah figure. They would not have expected a suffering Messiah.

The journey from Jerusalem where he would have been back to the Sudan would have taken 5 months. Gaza would have been the last place to stop for water before the road turned south into the Egyptian desert.

I love the idea of Philip running alongside the chariot.

This deacon – ordained to feed widows in the daily food bank programme, like Stephen, finds that you can’t be constrained by one role when the Holy Spirit is at work. When you’re open.

And God was at work in this Eunuch’s life. Philip has to intersect with him. For the sake of the Gospel. Which he would take back to Africa.

The church in Africa is very old. It makes sense that the word would have reached Egypt too. The Coptic church is very old there too.

As an aside, the Palm Sunday massacres have had an amazing witness and testimony to other Egyptians. I think I mentioned that last week. Here is one example released by the Bible Society in Egypt of a TV interview which is very powerful:

https://vimeo.com/212755977

The impact of this story is profound. Just three chapters after the bit that the man was reading in his chariot is the amazing bit we read today from Isaiah 56 – and when Jesus was cleansing the temple THIS was the bible passage he had in mind.

Jesus did not shy away from these issues and the place of eunuchs. In a discussion on marriage in Matthew 19 he talks about them. Listen to this:

Mat 19:8  Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. Mat 19:9  I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

Mat 19:10  The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”  Mat 19:11  Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given.

Mat 19:12  For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”

It actually hints at a preferred life of celibacy that Jesus seems to favour. Like Paul.

Jesus would have known Isaiah 56 which included all in a prophetic statement of a new acceptance of people who would have been rejected before.

Isa 56:3  Let no foreigner who has bound himself to the LORD say, “The LORD will surely exclude me from his people.” And let not any eunuch complain, “I am only a dry tree.” Isa 56:4  For this is what the LORD says: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant— Isa 56:5  to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off.

And then Isaiah includes with the eunuchs the foreigners:

Isa 56:6  And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to serve him, to love the name of the LORD, and to worship him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant— Isa 56:7  these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.”

Because all nations were called to come into a relationship with God.

It’s a powerful piece – especially in the light of xenophobia and the modern debates about nationalism in the world – the French presidential election today and the British one in a few weeks.

Philip does his world master’s games job – racing a chariot – and the story ends really well. Listen to verse 36: Act 8:36  As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?”

Like other accounts – the day of Pentecost, the story of Paul and Silas in the Philippian jail, baptism is a pretty normal and immediate thing. And in Peter’s Pentecost sermon when they are cut to the heart and ask; “Brothers, what shall we do?”

he says this: Act 2:38  Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Act 2:39  The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

Act 16:30  He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Act 16:31  They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Act 16:32  Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. Act 16:33  At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized.

That observation about baptism is a bonus.

Philip doesn’t say – “well you’d better go on a course”. The early church clearly wanted him to say that – did you notice there’s a verse missing?

Most manuscripts – the oldest ones – have the man being baptized without any issue. Somewhere along the line this verse crept in: Act 8:37  [Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” The eunuch answered, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”] You find it in the footnotes in the NIV.

Someone wanted it to be more organized and formulaic.

For us the key passage – well what would you say it is?

I think it’s this one:

Act 8:30  Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked. Act 8:31  “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

You can be a someone who explains this whole Christian story to others – if you are open and available. God can use you.

At the end of this account – I have no idea how – Philip is moved on. It doesn’t matter how – the why is that he has fulfilled his purpose and there is more work to do.

For Jesus.

Amen.

Sunday message 30 April 2017 – building up the body of Christ

Ephesians 4:11-16; Acts 6:1-8

WHAT ON EARTH ARE YOU DOING?

A story to begin: We took family to a favourite little restaurant out on the wine route out of Auckland. It’s a great little place just before you turn off on the way to Muriwai – to the gannet colony. We often take friends there too who are on holiday. A lovely young girl served us and when the water was finished (no the wine didn’t run out) we asked for another bottle. She came back with one and apologized that it was not cold. They had run out of cold water in the fridge. The only problem was that English was her second or third language, and she had picked up some kiwi expressions. So, she says to us –“this is all we have, so just suck it up.” We decided using glasses was ok. And we couldn’t help laughing – who could blame her? English is challenging.

Which reminds me of the story of the Norwegian au pere – a kind of a nanny or child minder – who heard these kiwi kids up in their bedroom wrecking the place – so she rushed up stairs and burst into the room and asked them quite loudly: “What are you doing on earth?”

That’s very different from “What on earth are you doing???”

“What are you doing on earth?” is a great question though. It applies to our lives as a whole. There are many people who are desperate these days because they no longer have a clear purpose. Life seems pointless. It’s a different generation from those ANZACS for example who stepped up because they believed in a cause greater than themselves. If we had an option to volunteer for war today, I doubt the young people would be convinced that anything would be worth fighting for and sacrificing their lives.

So when it comes to the church the question applies too.

“What are you doing on earth?”

Paul in Ephesians paints a picture of the point of it all. He uses the word “calling”:

Eph 4:1  As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 

Usually in his letters we can distinguish between theology (Romans 1-11) and practical advice (Romans 12-16). Galatians is the same: chapters 1-4 doctrine and 5-6 practical.

Ephesians is different. You expect chapter 4 to be about living the right life in response to what he has taught in the first three chapters.

But here there is doctrine in chapter 4 too: Eph 4:5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; – is a clear statement of belief and teaching.

As are the verses on ministry. He talks about grace been apportioned to each of us by Jesus (verse 7). Grace means gift. There are other lists of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12. Ephesians 4 is the one that informs what ministry is more than any other.

The risen ascended Jesus – says Paul – is the gift giver: Eph 4:11  It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers. 

Our ministers fit into the pastor/teacher category. It’s a strong Presbyterian tradition to call the minister a “teaching elder”. There’s a lot of emphasis on training these people and equipping them for pastoral ministry. “Nationally ordained” ministers are vetted and trained for the minister of the “word and sacraments”. They are inducted into a “pastoral charge” which means that their function is to be a pastor.

“Pastor” is a shepherding model or picture – this person feeds and cares for the sheep. And elders also have a pastoral role too.

THE GOOD NEWS

Jesus gives people to be gifts to the church.

  • We don’t have official apostles – but the whole church is apostolic. It is founded on the teaching of the apostles, and like them we are SENT into our world to make disciples. Some people are church planters today and have apostolic gifts in that sense.
  • We don’t have “prophets” in an official capacity (with an office with a sign like “Prophet Jim” on the door.) But in preaching we have a prophetic role to speak on behalf or God into people’s lives and sometimes the community or the nation. And there is prophetic gifting (1 Cor 14:1 and especially 3).
  • We do have evangelists who are gifted to preach to people who are not open to the gospel – they are often gifted apologists too. They give answers to peoples’ questions.
  • We do  have pastor/teachers in our ministry.

These people gifts from Jesus are given: Eph 4:12  to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up… 

And a more literal translation is good news because we are all implicated in this:  (NRSV)  to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,

How? In what way will we be built up? Maturity, stability, knowledge, functionality. The building up of each other is done in love.

Eph 4:13  until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Eph 4:14  Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Eph 4:15  Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. Eph 4:16  From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

And that makes a change in a world where people break each other down, tear each other apart, threaten to blow each other up, and actually do that.

And we – as we exercise our ministries or works of service – will grow up into the Head, who is Christ. That means we will be like him – and connected to him – and we won’t only reflect on his goodness, but we will in fact reflect his goodness! His grace, love and mercy. When you have a healthy vibrant church like that where people are equipped, fulfilled, and have a meaningful role, led by a caring pastor/teacher – well it grows! It grows up and it grows outward! Spiritual growth and numerical growth both happen. This is what we are doing on earth!

For the early church, however, there were other ministry forms to come.  What else were they to do back then? How does this speak to us? ACTS 6 is the key. 

In our second reading you see the next level of ministry people appointed by the apostles back in the early church – to solve the problem of feeding people. The 7 deacons appointed are also gifts from God – also to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Many churches have deacons in ministry today,  and this is where it started.

But just to keep us on our toes, as it were, we see that God uses the first deacon Stephen in more than just these practical gifts (as He does today with anyone willing and open). We read:

Act 6:8 Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people.

Stephen was never really to go back to waiting on tables. If you read the rest of Acts 6, his sermon in Acts 7 (most of the chapter) in a human sense it ends badly.

Act 7:55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.
Act 7:56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
Act 7:57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him,
Act 7:58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.
Act 7:59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
Act 7:60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.

The persecution that follows means that the believers are scattered, and as they go the gospel is proclaimed  through Judea and Samaria – which was Jesus’ intention. And the believers knew EXACTLY what they were doing on earth!

The word of God spreads and the church grows. And if this is strange and very far from our comfortable lives here in New Zealand, consider today what the martyrdom of the Coptic Christians is doing in Egypt now – what a witness as their families model forgiveness. So too the Christian Church in Syria. They know their calling too.

May the body of Christ be built up all over the world to His Glory.

In Jesus’ name.

Amen.