Monthly Archives: October 2017

17 September 2017 Sunday Message: Triangles and forgiveness. (Romans series ctd.)

Readings:  Romans 13:8; Matthew 18:15-20

Message:

How were you with triangles? Not the musical instrument you played in the primary school orchestra. That usually meant you had limited musical skills. 😊

I was thinking geometry. Equilateral triangles are the only type I remember off hand.

And then there are the triangles you see in soap operas. They are usually more complicated.

Most of us avoid those.

School kids sometimes have friendship problems that involve triangles. Friend A likes you but then likes friend B more, and the poor kid who is friend C gets ditched by A.

So how are your friendships doing? Hopefully well. We do value friendships that are long-lasting and steadfast.

In this modern generation people have on-line friends too – because people are so mobile the internet helps us to keep connected.

On Facebook, you can unfriend them when you are fed up. Just a click of a button. Mind you, his generation of school kids break up by text anyway. Crazy world. No more Dear John letters.

In my generation, people are more likely to neglect people and just drift away. Or more move away. Usually to another continent.

Communities and families.

In close communities like a family or church there is a good chance that people can fall out over something rather trivial that grows and grows out of all proportion.

Or worse still, something really bad happens and it’s a painful separation or estrangement.

Jesus gives this method in Matt 18 to fix that. It obviously mattered to him when people wronged each other.

We fail in this most times. It’s the triangle that we often slip into.

  • We don’t go to the person directly when things have gone wrong.
  • We tell someone else.

If someone complains about someone, the first question we should ask is simply this: have you spoken to them directly? If not, its gossip.  (I’m sure you’ve NEVER had that happen to you.)

There’s a saying that goes – “don’t allow someone rest their gun on your shoulder.”

If you do:

  • Suddenly there are three people.
  • Your friend – their friend they are fed up with – and you.
  • And your friend drags you into something the two of them need to fix.

Of-course Jesus gives a way to sort it out if the person doesn’t respond.

The real challenge is for us not to get sucked into triangles.

Ironically – whether there are two or three who come together in His name – what does He say in verse 20? He is in the midst – with them. Where Christians are – Jesus is.

And if we took that seriously, we would watch what we said about people in general. We would certainly avoid gossip. Or scandal.

COMING TO THE TABLE

When we come to the Lord’s table it’s a good idea to reflect on relationships and perhaps resolve to make things right.

Paul in the reading from Roman 13 puts it like this:

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.(vs8).

And this is even more important:

Love does no harm to its neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (vs.10)

So what is the way forward? This is what Jesus says:

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.

There is a place for a triangle or a quadrilateral setup. If they don’t respond to you appeal to sort out something that is wrong, you can take one or two others along to show it is serious. If they are unrepentant, you tell the whole community – mainly I think so they can pray about it and realize that it matters. If that doesn’t help -you cut them off. Treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

The wonderful thing is that Jesus always kept the door open for tax collectors.

The hope was always reconciliation and restoration.

Like a family, you’d want the estranged member to come back so when you have those family meals they are at the table.

  • For most things, I reckon we can resolve things.
  • The little foxes that cause trouble are often things we can compromise on. Or at least forgive.

And so – if I hear you mutter about anyone, I will probably not say – “have you applied Matthew 18 sister?” That’s a bit too weird.

I might say “please don’t rest your gun on my shoulder” just to remind you of today.

Paul goes on to say:

Rom 13:11  And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.

Rom 13:12  The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light.

You might think – ah this is not so bad. Probably not considering what he deals with in the next verse: Rom 13:13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery…

Good point.

But he also adds at the end of verse 13: not in dissension and jealousy.

He ends this passage with this: Rom 13:14  Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

That’s quite good really. Jesus becomes our covering. It along with Colossians 3:12:  Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ. After all – whatever you do to the least of his brothers you do unto him (Matthew 25).

That includes taking pot shots at each other.

Best have the right kind of triangles or groups with the right focus: “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”  

Amen.

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10 September 2017 Sunday Message: God and Government. (Romans series ctd.)

Readings: 1 Tim 2:1-8; Romans 13:1-7;  1 Peter 2:13-17

Message:

About this time 40 years ago this was me:

robin army

Hard to believe really. The uniform tells a story too. We were fighting a war that we didn’t believe in. The government of the day was not my preferred choice. I campaigned for the opposition. It didn’t help.

And the choice of being in the army or not was a choice between conscription or jail really. Conscientious objection was a painful third way.

During those two years I am sure I heard more than a few occasions a military chaplain reading Romans 13:1-2 as a reminder.

PW Botha who became president was the then minister of defence. His photo was on the wall in the various military buildings we used. (In fact, we had to entertain people at a party for his wife for her birthday party. At the end of the event, the cabinet ministers’ wives went around the tables collecting the free cameo cigarettes that they used to have on the tables in those days and stuffed them into their handbags. We did find that very funny.)

When PW Botha did become president, he was visited in 1985 by Michael Cassidy who represented the churches trying to broker a peace deal. As this esteemed Christian leader walked into the president’s office, the old crocodile as we called him was reading his bible out aloud in his oval office. From Romans 13.

Rom 13:1  Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Rom 13:2  Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.

When he had finished reading he said to Michael Cassidy: “What can I do for you?” Just a bit of intimidation really.

The president was right. But his government wasn’t necessarily right.

Obviously we have a problem here.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer is a case in point. When Hitler, the elected leader, abused his power, the Lutheran Church struggled with the idea that you should disobey or worse still try to get rid of the Chancellor by any means, let alone by assassination. Bonhoeffer did participate in that movement. His ethics, put simply – were based on these kinds of ideas: “It is better to do evil than to be evil.” The Gestapo hanged him of course.

Martin Luther called on the German princes to crush the peasants when they revolted. The ensuing violence after the peasants’ revolt created a real crisis for him.

Simon Ponsonby writes that “Luther spoke of the Zwei-Reiche-Lehre, the two-kingdoms rule, arguing that God rules through the church as well as through kings and their governments. (Ponsonby, Simon. God Is For Us (p. 364). Monarch Books. Kindle Edition.)

Our decisions may not have the same drastic consequences as Bonhoeffer’s or Luther’s, but as Christians it is getting harder to manage the tension between the State and our faith.

This is not just about voting, but also about our own moral and ethical choices. For example, as a marriage officer, there is obvious tension when the State changes the law about marriage, and the law differs from one’s understanding of Christian marriage.

There are many other ethical issues including abortion, euthanasia, stem cell research and others which create tensions in various ways. Christian doctors, nurses and researchers all have to work through some of these things.

WHAT DOES PAUL REALLY SAY?

Well here’s the thing. Chapter 13 follow chapter 12. And it seems that the 9-21 factor still applies here. Remember that from last week?

12:9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.

12:21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

God gives government. It’s for our good. Anarchy is not good. None of us would be safe without law. (Remember my children’s story about Rob Bell wanting to take revenge with a golf ball – throwing it out of the sunroof of the car to hit the car behind which cut him off? The kids loved that last week. Without law, he could simply drive him off the road or shoot him – so that our highways could look like a mad max movie.)

God gives government. Paul doesn’t specify which kind. That’s not the point. Democracy is a very modern thing anyway.

If we are not to be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good – then we are to be a good example in our behaviour in our wider lives too.

When Paul writes to Timothy he makes it clear that prayer for the authorities is our essential responsibility. And the outcome is good for society – for all us. Government is a gift from God – according to Emil Brunner – God’s involvement in government is called “preserving grace” – it is grace that preserves the good.

We need to add to that good – clinging to it (12:9) and overcoming evil with it (12:21).

The second-century church father Tertullian once declared that “Caesar is more ours than yours, for our God has appointed him” and that, because of their prayers for those in authority, “Christians do more than you [Romans] for his welfare”. (Ponsonby, Simon. God Is For Us (p. 364). Monarch Books. Kindle Edition.)

So Paul says:

Rom 13:1  Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Rom 13:2  Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. Rom 13:4  For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Rom 13:6  This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing.

Look at the repeated words:

  • Authorities and authority (exousisa – powers)
  • Servant and servants (diakonos – minister)
  • God (theos)

It is no coincidence that cabinet ministers are called ministers. The word is translated as servants. Admittedly they get paid a tad more than ministers in our churches. But the idea is the same.

They serve God – even if they don’t believe in God or know this. And they serve people.

And we are to pray for them with some intensity and unity – and give them the honour that is due. Verse 7 ends this passage with these words: Rom 13:7  Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honour, then honour.

So, in short:

  • We submit
  • We pray

And at times

  • we do disobey.

Simon Ponsonby gives great examples when he writes:

Sometimes civil disobedience will be patently obviously required:

  • Daniel refused to obey the edict to pray only to King Darius for thirty days, and was thrown in the lions’ den (Daniel 6).
  • Peter and the apostles were forbidden by the Sanhedrin to preach the gospel, but they refused on the grounds that they should obey God not men (Acts 5: 29).
  • Many Christians in the early centuries of the Roman empire chose martyrdom rather than hand over their sacred scrolls to be burned or blaspheme by declaring Caesar as lord.
  • Some Christians, all too few, hid Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe, rather than comply with the wicked law and hand them over to be exterminated. (Ponsonby, Simon. God Is For Us (p. 368). Monarch Books. Kindle Edition.)

Ponsonby goes on:

The rule of the state is part of God’s economy in this age. God gives, the church lives under good government, and the church sieves government.

Meanwhile we wait expectantly for the coming rule of Christ’s kingdom at his return, as Isaiah prophesied: “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and for evermore” (Isaiah 9: 7). (Ponsonby, Simon. God Is For Us (p. 369). Monarch Books. Kindle Edition.)

So keep praying and obeying in the meantime.

Amen.

3 September 2017 Sunday Message – Hate what is evil, cling to what is good. (Romans series ctd.)

Reading: Romans 12:9-21

Message:

Do you like reading letters?. In the case of the bible’s letters, the people who chose these readings in our Lectionary usually leave the difficult bits out and choose the good bits to be read.

Well they were real letters. And when I look back on some family letters, in some cases there are always some difficult bits.

We’re back in Romans 12 today. We will get to Romans 13 – the first part is left out from the lectionary because it is challenging. It’s about God and government. And yes, my mother also taught me that you didn’t discuss religion and politics at the dinner table. No wonder people avoid Romans 13 when it brings those two together. We will get there before the election. Something to look forward to.

We’ve looked at Romans 12 on leadership. I’ve suggested that if you have gifts, best not leave them in a cupboard somewhere. Use them. And as a church we are listening to Paul who says – let people use them in accordance with their faith. The door is open to you.

There are two key verses today that may well be overlooked by preachers.

Rom 12:9  Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.

Rom 12:21  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

We’ll call them the 921 factor.

In between is a verse you would have heard before which quotes from Proverbs 25:22

Rom 12:19  Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. Rom 12:20  On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

The early church lived under the power of the Roman empire. So in other places the New Testament encourages Christians who are persecuted.

The enemies that Paul refers to are more likely people in individuals lives who did bad things to them.

Paul reminds us: Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

The 921 factor is more interesting. Listen again:

Rom 12:9  Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.

Rom 12:21  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

 Have a chat to the person next to you about the ‘evil’ here that Paul speaks of. What it could be that we should hate it and also overcome it with good.

So what do you think? Let’s make a list.

….

This week the things that have bothered me the most that have been really horrible in the news have been family related things.

The pain in families – those 600 plus in this last year – who have lost someone who has ended their own life.

And the children who have been abused. There was a report about that little guy – Moko – who was killed – a coroner’s report saying how terrible it was – worse than the previously worse case of a little girl called Nia.

The source of evil in Scripture is very clearly the Evil one. He seeks – says Jesus – to steal, kill and destroy. Contrast what Jesus comes to do in John 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.

We need to do everything to help people whose lives are lost or stolen in some way.

How do we hate evil in this context and cling to what is good?  And not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good?

Well we need a lot more time than this sermon slot to talk about that.

To hate the pain and mess that this causes in so many families every year probably means doing something helpful wherever you can to work against the horrible things. It may mean protesting, signing a petition, donating, writing letters to the authorities to get them to improve mental health care. Two brave people spoke on TV he other morning about their own experience of suicide in the family. That took enormous courage.

I must say we are not good at the petition thing. We tried to get people sign a petition about churches being persecuted – the results weren’t fabulous really.

If you know families who have loved ones who struggle with depression and anxiety, and who have kids at school who are going to face bullying which creates huge stress and anxiety (and that’s where the kids are harming themselves – in the face of school or on-line bulling or both) – give those parents support and talk to each other. Get informed. Get involved. And challenge the schools when they don’ get it right.

Family violence also stirs me up – churns away on the inside. There’s a song we’re going to listen to shortly by one of our own ministers – and the closing song about New Zealand is a prayer for this nation eh also wrote.

Am I so invisible 
That my tears can’t catch your eye? 
Am I so unloveable 
No one out there hears my cry 

I have heard the whispering of hope calling 
That I might mind a hand to hold 
And restore me 

Hey stranger, hey neighbour…
Just hear me, just see me 
Let me know that I am truly worthy 

Would you greet and welcome me 
If you found me at your door 
Would you pray that I’ll be free 
And find a life that’s so much more 

I have heard the whispering of hope calling 
That I might mind a hand to hold 
And restore me 

Hey stranger, hey neighbour… 
Just hear me, just see me 
Let me know that I am truly worthy

credits

released October 2, 2014
Music and lyrics by Malcolm Gordon
Produced by Geoff Duncan

If you think you can do nothing – you’re wrong. You can help overcome evil with good.

It’s not about being indignant. Or saying – “that’s sad”.

It’s about starting with the children in your life. On your doorstep. In the church, here on Sundays. Do you ever talk to them? Your grandchildren and kids – how much time are you really giving to listen and be there with them?

And again – getting informed and equipped as you do when something really matters.

We’re not particularly good with kids really. When we agreed years ago to combine our two morning services into one, one of the reasons was that the adults miss out on seeing the children.

But you know – they are not here for our entertainment. They need relationships with significant adults. That’s what makes messy church such a blessing – because there is time and opportunity to sit with kids and share their lives.

These are big matters. This nation has so much – and people are so desperate.

Prayer remains our best weapon. Come along on Wednesday morning and pray with the group here. And our witness as Christians takes us back to a key verse that I often remind you of: 1Pe_3:15  But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have

And if you encounter people who need some help and probably can’t afford to pay for counselling, encourage them to get help here where there is no charge. What we can’t do is do nothing.

Let’s close with Malcolm Gordon’s song for this nation. – Beneath the Southern Cross. He writes: “Held and healed, in Christ we find our place”  The song was written to mark 200 years of the Christian Gospel in Aotearoa NZ.

 

lyrics

Beneath the Southern Cross. (By Cate Burton and Malcolm Gordon)

From the ends of the earth we will sing 
God is here, the Kingdom is near 
In the land of the long white cloud 
Christ to dwell, Emmanuel 

From north and south 
From east and west 
Beneath the Southern Cross we rest 
Found by One 
Who came for all 
In this tale of spacious love we’re born 

This whenua 
on which we stand 
This holy ground made by God’s hand
Marred and scarred 
Yet marked by grace 
Held and healed, in Christ we find our place 

From the ends of the earth we will sing 
God is here, the Kingdom is near 
In the land of the long white cloud 
Christ to dwell, Emmanuel 

God of nations 
At thy feet In the bonds of love we meet 
Strangers once 
Now called as one 
Aotearoa, wake to greet this love 

From the ends of the earth we will sing 
God is here, the Kingdom is near 
In the land of the long white cloud 
Christ to dwell, Emmanuel 

From the ends of the earth we will sing 
God is here, the Kingdom is near 
In the land of the long white cloud 
Christ to dwell, Emmanuel 

From north and south 
From east and west 
Beneath the Southern Cross we rest. 
Found by One 
Who came for all 
In this tale of spacious love we’re born

credits

released October 22, 2014
Written by Malcolm Gordon and Catherine Williams (nee Burton)
Produced by Matt Chapman