Author Archives: Lindy-Ann du Toit

Sunday Sermon, 17 July 2016 – Mary and Martha

Reading: Luke 10:38-42

MESSAGE

So how are you when it comes to balancing your life?

Work and pleasure                     Exercise and rest

Crowds and solitude                 Noise and silence?

Busyness and devotion?          Doing and being?

Being a Martha or being a Mary?

Hospitality has been a big issue in Luke’s gospel as we’ve travelled along through the story.

You will remember the sons of thunder wanting to call down fire on that Samaritan village which was not hospitable to Jesus. They wanted heaven to “nuke” the lot of them.

You may remember the 72 being sent out – and Jesus’ instruction for them to shake the dust off their feet when they did not find children of peace in a place. You only had dust on your feet when people were inhospitable – otherwise they would have washed your feet when you arrived at their place. We have hospitality-lite in New Zealand – people take their shoes off  and we are let off the hook.

And of course the forgiving Samaritan who rescued a half-dead Jewish enemy arranged hospitality and paid for the man’s stay in a local inn – extravagantly caring for him. You can’t always sit by someone’s bedside when you have work to do – but you can sponsor someone else – in our day like a hospital chaplain.

Our team today is helping getting patients to the chapel service at North Shore Hospital.

So perhaps Martha is just as right as Mary in this event. We read in verse 38: As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.

There would have been no place for Mary to sit at the feet of Jesus had Martha not opened her home. And I bet they had yummy food.

So there are some simple lessons today.

1. We’re all different – and that’s okay

We’re different in personalities, in gifting, in strengths and weaknesses.

It’s the nature of the body of Christ that the different parts have different functions. Read 1 Corinthians 12 to remind yourself of that.

And you know – and I know – that our bakers and chefs are critical in church growth – even if we are at risk of the wrong kind of expansive growth.

Hospitality is crucial. Martha was good at that. In fact, she is doing Christian ministry – she is serving. Both the word “preparations” and “work” in verse 40 come from the word diakonia – where we get the word deacon from. That’s the role of our board – it’s real ministry doing the practical caring – and the fixing of things..

There are a couple of verses that commend hospitality – including this one from 1 Peter:

1Pe 4:8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.

1Pe 4:9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.

It reminds me of the family who invited church friends around for a meal, and the mum said to the little girl “please say grace”. The child responded: “I don’t know what to say”. Mum replied: “just say the last prayer you heard your father pray”. She did – and prayed: “o Lord why did we invite this lot over for tea?”.

Having said that:

2. Food and entertaining isn’t everything

I think I understand the Martha thing in this sense – you can really go over the top.

Martha seems to be a bit obsessed with all the detail – and frustrated enough to ask Jesus to take sides. Ah the joys of sibling rivalry. “Tell my brother to do this dad! He won’t listen to me” In Jesus’s words she was “worried and upset about many things”.

There’s a good approach to enable you to be more hospitable – people have to take you as they find you. And if they don’t like your chaos – too bad.

If you saw the movie “Amazing Grace” about William Wilberforce, you would have remembered the hosts of people eating at his place, and the fact he had to remove a pet – I think it was a hare – to find a seat for someone.

Biblically – perhaps the key verse to balance this should be this one uttered by Jesus at his temptation: Mat 4:4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

3. Mary chose the what is better – only one thing is needed. (v42)

The quote Jesus uses is from Deuteronomy chapter 8 – here it is in context:

Deu 8:2 Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.  Deu 8:3 He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.

To get back to Luke 10, this account is not about women essentially – although it was unusual for women to be in a rabbis group of followers. It’s not primarily about siblings or catering either.

It’s about discipleship. Following Christ changes our focus.

And many other things also crowd out our time – time we need to take to be really still and listen to Jesus’ teaching.

Whether here on a Sunday – or in our personal devotions – or in the invitation he extends for us to take longer time out – retreat days and extended periods of quiet.

Too much of everything else can choke out God’s life in us.

We become dry and spiritually barren.

The active life and the contemplative life are both important.

But it’s better when what we do flows out of who we are.

Being has precedent over doing. We are human beings after all – not human doings.

If we don’t attend to this contemplative life, and listen, study and digest the words of Jesus, we burn out. And we’re no good to anyone or ourselves. “This little light of mine” that we are supposed to shine – goes out.

RISKS FOR THE CHURCH

Apart from our individual lives and walks with God, we also get distracted by the details here.

Keep focus people. Remember that lovely song:

“Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace.”

There is a second verse of the song which goes like this: “keep your eyes upon Jesus”. Let’s do that.

Amen.

Advertisements

Sunday Sermon, 10 July 2016 – The Good Samaritan

Reading: Luke 10: 25-37

Sermon

Nearly 20 years ago – on a Saturday night – a car crashed in a tunnel in Paris. The occupants were severely injured. But the photographers who recorded the scene for the world press did nothing to help. Three out of four people died, including Princess Diana.

Ironically, France is one of the few countries which had a law – a Good Samarian Law – that makes it a crime not to help people in need.

Since that accident, the law has been revisited around the world. One state in Australia – the Northern Territory – has such a law. Very few people have been prosecuted under it – so it seems. Some US states have a similar law – but the argument against it, amongst many arguments is that it infringes on individual liberties. And of course people don’t want to be sued if their help harms people inadvertently.

Although in one survey it was found that more people would help someone in need because they were legally obligated than for moral or ethical reasons.

The issue has become much more prominent since then. It turns up in interesting places. For example – have a look at this scene from the final in the series of the American series Seinfeld – which I hasten to add I never did watch. The humour is unpalatable – and as you will see the background knowledge of the writers dodgy. I think it makes the point though.

Have a look.

If you think that’s bad, you should read some of the comments made about this. One person wrote this:

MegaSoldier64 1 month ago – The good Samaritan law is modeled after great Britain’s good Samaritan law, it became law when the queen of England had a heart attack and all those paparazzi just stood there and took pictures instead of helping her…

This lawyer in Luke’s gospel is also an interesting character. “What must I do?” is a great question about obligations. In this case its “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” that gets Jesus into “teaching by story” mode. Jesus’ response is straightforward – it’s one of those “haven’t you read your Bible” kind of responses:

Luk 10:26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

Luk 10:27 He answered: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.'”

Luk 10:28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

The legal eagle is not satisfied. Maybe he wanted controversy – more of a debate – maybe he was trying to trick Jesus.

He certainly opened up a new can of worms for those of us who like to be passive observers along the road of life.

Luke says he wanted to justify himself. I’m glad he did – as we get one of the two greatest stories of the bible – as a result of his probing. The other more famous one they say is the prodigal son. You can decide which is the top one.

It’s not unusual for stories to have three characters. Dig deep into your literary knowledge and you will find some – Goldilocks and the three bears, the three little pigs. I am sure you know what I mean. It’s all about story technique.

Jesus’ listeners would be listening out for the third character in the tale.

They would have wanted the hero to be one of them. Not a fancy Levite or indifferent priest. They are the bad guys in the tale.

They would have been waiting for the third person – a good guy who shows up the others – one of them – ordinary folk with some moral backbone.

They listen carefully – here it comes. “a Samaritan…”

  • “What?”
  • Gasp!
  • “no way Jesus! One of the enemy???”

He’s not mentioned as a “good” Samaritan. That has become a title added on by us.

  • He’s more than good though.
  • He’s extravagant! Remarkably generous.
  • It’s an absurd story.
  • It’s not about who is our neighbour.
  • It’s about who we are neighbours to. It’s about action.

It’s another variant of “love your enemies.” The wounded man is bound to be Jewish. And the hatred was mutual.

LET’S DO THE PLAY NOW

Let’s choose characters to play based on who you identify with the most.

When you ask kids to do this – and probably adults – not many people want to be the half dead guy.

The boys love being the robbers!

Perhaps we don’t want to think about what it’s like to be needy.

I don’t think we can get into those shoes very easily. Unless you’ve been attacked and beaten up perhaps.

How would you do as the lawyer?

Note that he can’t even say the word “Samaritan”. Jesus asks him this question at the end: “Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

He can only say this: “The one who had mercy on him.”

“Go and do likewise” says Jesus.

WHAT IS THE IMPORTANT THING TO TAKE HOME?

This is not a moral or legal story primarily. It’s not that we are to decide to be “good Samaritans” either because it’s the right thing to do or because we might be prosecuted.

It’s really about what motivated the Samaritan in the tale.

What did he have? Pity – is the word in the NIV in verse 33. Most better translations use the word “compassion” – that word we talked about a couple of weeks ago – that involves the inner parts, heart, stomach, the lot. It was the feeling Jesus had in Luke 7 towards the widow of Nain that caused him to stop the funeral procession – and raise the woman’s only son.

It’s the word in Luke 15:20 we are still to get to, that the Father has for the Prodigal son.

Its appears in passages referring to Jesus and God the Father.

And there is a strong argument that the Samaritan here is functioning as God’s agent.

After all, the lawyer identifies the man as showing “mercy” – another word which throughout Luke is associated either with an act of God or God’s agent (Luke 1:47-50, 54, 72, 78; 17:13; 18:38-39; the only exception is when Father Abraham refuses to show the rich man “mercy” [16:24], an exception which ultimately proves the rule that in Luke’s Gospel only God and Jesus show mercy).

That makes the story more startling.

Jesus is seen in the Samaritan. The Samaritan is a Christ figure.

Who is it that stops to help – that binds up our wounds and anoints us with the oil of gladness – that pays for our safe haven – if not Jesus?

This is not an “example” story that we are to be Good Samaritans.

We are younger siblings of our elder brother Jesus in God’s family.

We are the body of Christ – we are Jesus in the world – stopping to help out of compassion and because of his mercy.

MUCH OF THE WORLD MAY WELL BE HALF DEAD AND IN A DITCH

We can relish our own security and purity if we like – or take the chance – the risk – of showing mercy at a cost of our time and money – to reach the broken ones of this generation.

And if we don’t have compassion – then we need some loving ourselves to soften our hearts.

In any case – it was the Samaritans that did not welcome Jesus, that James and John wanted to turn into toast by calling fire down from heaven.

It was one of them who got it right – the enemy models love. Must have been a son of peace – I would say.

Amen.

Sunday sermon, 3 July 2016 – finding children of peace

Reading: Luke 10:1-11; 16-20

Sermon notes:

I visited a dear brother in his early 90s this week. He told me that his grand daughter is going to Southern Africa as a missionary. We had a good laugh together – he thought it funny that she was going there when I had come here to New Zealand as a pastor from South Africa. The question we discussed was simple – can there ever be too many missionaries? God calls and sends people in all directions – and the message is received. Seeds are sown and people come to faith. It should be the norm, but sadly many people struggle to share their faith, or hope that others will do it for them. Here are some points from this passage today.

KEY THINGS IN THIS PASSAGE TODAY

1. Ministry is not limited to the 12. Who are these 70 or 72? They were ordinary people with a Mission. It’s not limited to professionals either today.

Luk 10:1 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go.

2. The agricultural image of the harvest lines up with other passages – for example Luke 8:10-15 the sowing of the seed which is the Word of God (vs.11)

Luk 10:2 He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.

We are not to coerce people into the job of labourers for this mission. Pray for the Lord of the harvest to raise them up! It is His mission.

3. The Lord of the harvest then sends them out – this is not about PR or marketing – this is a divinely appointed task to share the Word and plant the seed. Have a look at the next verses:

Luk 10:3 Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.
Luk 10:4 Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.

They are to travel light, not weighed down by stuff (the church is often weighed down by stuff not central to its mission. For example, I spend a lot of time sorting out things that are not part of my calling). All of us spend a lot of time on non-essentials that don’t really build the kingdom of God.

Not greeting people is not being rude – it’s about not being side-tracked again by non-essential gossip and idle chit chat. It has been suggested that a formal cultural greeting in those days could take a couple of hours. You see this in other cultures – like traditional greetings or votes of thanks at Presbytery meetings to those who do the catering – in some cultures they are very long speeches indeed. (How do we allocate our words?? Word economy is an interesting idea.)

Luk 10:5 “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’
Luk 10:6 If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you.

4. “Peace be with you” is like saying God be with you. At our recent citizenship ceremony, the Kaumata’s karakia – his prayer of blessing – began with “Peace be upon this gathering”).

Luke 10:6 If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you  –  this is key – our mission is to be to and with people who are people of peace – they are open to you and you invest in a relationship with them. Logically – you can’t build with those who don’t seek peace. They are certainly not open to the prince of peace or the Gospel.

If you don’t receive peace back – move on. You’ve got urgent business and only so much time, – don’t waste it with people who are not people of peace. In our lives we have only so many hours in the day and the week for relationships. Missional church people make this their main focus – on the people who are children of peace – who are more likely to open their homes to you.

5. In verses 7 and 8 we read this: Luk 10:7 Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.
Luk 10:8 “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you.

Hospitality is inverted – the 72 are to receive hospitality. If you have to shake the dust off your feet it means that they haven’t done the job of hospitality – which included washing your feet. Otherwise there would be no dust!

Jesus tells them to stay in homes that welcome them (people of peace obviously). Hospitality is important in Mission. A number of key things happen in homes – look at Acts 10 and 11 Peter and Cornelius, Paul in Ananias’ house in Acts 9 – Lydia in Acts 16 – salvation involves belonging – giving of oneself and receiving of another – becoming part of a covenant community where people eat together – and when you eat with people you usually talk and share your lives more.

We are to go out and be guests to their hospitality, which is not easy for some whose kids embarrass them in peoples’ homes, who won’t eat their food and so on. Parents pray the kids will be okay and polite!

6. Luk 10:9 Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God is near you.’
Like last week’s discussion, the key message is the Kingdom, and healing is a normal part of it. Logically enough – God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven means wholeness, healing, restoration, and a new way of living, and a new community.

Not everyone will accept this:
Luk 10:10 But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say,
Luk 10:11 “Even the dust of your town that sticks to our feet we wipe off against you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God is near.’

7. The last passage is a warning that you should not worry about feeling rejected when sharing the gospel of God. It’s God they are rejecting. Listen again: Luk 10:16 “He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”

8. The real battle is spiritual. That’s why we have to guard our unity. Listen again:
Luk 10:17 The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” Luk 10:18 He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Luk 10:19 I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.

9. And of course don’t be to excited when you are successful: Listen to Jesus again: Luk 10:20 However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

I don’t think we are in great danger of getting over excited. But pride is a dangerous thing when we overrate ourselves. The real victory is Jesus over Satan – the cross remains the central place of power and success – paradoxically because it felt like a defeat.

So what about us?

The Missional church movement reminds us of the biblical mandate for Mission. God has a mission. God’s mission has a church.

The Matthew 28 great commission is “Go in to all the world” not “bring the world into the church building to hear the message”.

Perhaps that’s why Messy Church works.

  • It’s not in a church.
  • It is around food.
  • It focusses on doing things together where there are conversations in which we get to know people and are included in their lives.

And still – there is a message – there is prayer – truth is presented which is the seed sown in the lives of the folk that come along.

It’s not just a time to keep kids busy.

Hospitality is shared, – given and received.

You could come along too.

And tomorrow you will be out there – the extension of the mission of the 72 – God’s mission has a church – and that’s you.

Amen.

Sunday Sermon, 26 June 2016 – “I will follow Him”

Reading: Luke 9:51-62

SERMON

This will bring back some memories – the song “I will follow Him” from Sister Act:

Don’t you love that number? For once you are allowed to yell out “whoopee!”

“I will follow him.”

Will you really?

The training of Jesus’ first disciples in Luke 9 and 10 is a fascinating series of successes and blunders. In the gospels overall – it’s your typical training scenario. Ups and downs – moments of success and real stupidity.

You can’t really blame them for wanting to call down fire from heaven on those inhospitable Samaritans. They were the equivalent of various disliked groups for some people today – it seems legitimate to take them out.

I had coffee with an old student this week who joined the army reserve here in NZ and has an Arabic surname that begins with Al. You can imagine some of his army trainers and their attitudes – especially when he filled in a form and said his religion was Muslim/Presbyterian. They had some questions for him. It’s a great story.

We know the whole story of the New Testament which they didn’t have back then – we know that Good Samaritans actually exist. And we are not keen on ethnic cleansing.

So Jesus does have a little word with James and John – who are not called the sons of thunder for nothing.

He basically rebukes them.

That’s the first challenge today.

Perhaps we have attitudes that need rebuking. If you follow Jesus – you really have to tow the party line as it were.

John Wesley’s comment on this passage was this: “‘Ye know not what manner of spirit’ – The spirit of Christianity is. It is not a spirit of wrath and vengeance, but of peace, and gentleness, and love.”

The key word which unlocks the whole passage I suspect is found in verse 51:

Luke 9:51 As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.

Resolutely is the word. It also means to set your face firmly or steadfastly – it’s about a decision on Jesus’ part to go to the place where he will ultimately die. And it’s quite early on really in the narrative.

The followers of Jesus are expected to have the same steadiness of purpose. Single mindedness if you like.

So they move on to another village – and there are three encounters with would-be disciples. Remember that a disciple is essentially two things – a follower and a learner.

Either way it is a costly business – as these examples illustrate.

One he calls to follow him.

Two volunteer.

Like the Sister Act song – the first volunteer says exactly that: – “wherever you go.”

Luk 9:57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

Jesus doesn’t reply in an English accent, “O how lovely” or like a kiwi with a : “Sweet as!”

Luk 9:58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

Warning bells should sound for the reader of the gospel – Jesus is resolutely going to Jerusalem where he will die.

Jesus’ response may seem blunt – but that’s the reality. There can be no expectation of payoff for being a disciple. Rather – you could end up homeless. Despised and rejected.

The second follower Jesus calls.

The man’s response seems reasonable. Let me bury my father first. The commandments made it clear that people were to honour their parents. And many of us do exactly that – we put our plans on hold to care for aging parents.

We don’t know whether the person’s father was ill or had in fact died.

Either way Jesus’ response is a tough one.

Luk 9:60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

Suddenly the lines are drawn. It’s not the church that is central here. In fact, Jesus says very little about the church.

He’s not bothered about the spaces between our chairs and rows here.

He’s interested in whether we buy into the Kingdom values and principles that we pray for in the Lord’s prayer – “thy Kingdom come, thy will be done” – the Kingdom that he spoke about when he said “no worries, be happy by seeking first the Kingdom of God”…

I’m not sure that he was insensitive to the bereaved or those who care for aging parents and put their lives on hold for a season.

I think what he means is that spiritual things are central – let the spiritually dead deal with the other things that are not lasting – that are not important in the bigger scheme of things.

We need to be at peace with what is gone – and embrace what lies before us as we embrace the kingdom.

Different principles, values, morals, ethics, and purpose for living. Passion!

  • People who stand for light and truth in the midst of darkness and deception.
  • Love and grace in the face of hatred and bitterness.
  • Worship and gratitude in the face of grumbling and grabbing – that grasping entitlement of this generation and indeed this nation.

Our third potential customer in this passage is another volunteer. Listen again:

Luk 9:61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.” Luk 9:62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

Here’s the thing. Even Elisha was allowed to go back to his family to say goodbye before he took up his prophetic mantle (1 Kings 19:19-21).

Being a disciple of Christ is a stronger calling, Not everyone endures to the end. People fall by the wayside. They look back. (Lot’s wife comes to mind).

Jesus does us a favour to warn us that we should not start something and give up half way.

If we start ploughing and look back with regret – we’re not fit for service.

Failed WOF basically. We get yellow-stickered – taken off the road.

You have to look ahead – otherwise the field ends up in a mess with a track behind us that is all over the place.

We too have to set our faces towards Jerusalem – the heavenly city. Towards a loftier goal of a new Kingdom and life in Christ.

And on the road we too have to confront all that which contradicts the truths of the kingdom – just as Jesus did – he had to speak out prophetically to the religious establishment more than anything else – he confronts them and eventually turns over their tables – with a desire to reform and rescue them.

So should we. In fact its one of my jobs – to challenge people in their stuckness.

Two out of three of these people in the passage today were volunteers. It seemed good at the time. One Jesus called – and he too was a dubious starter.

How are you doing? How’s your single-mindedness? Not for your pet theory, but for Jesus? “All for Jesus” is the song we sang.

How’s your passion? Passion is caught, not taught. We need some infectious passion for Jesus and His Kingdom.

Amen.

Sunday Sermon 19 June 2016 – liberated!

Readings: Luke 8:26-39

MESSAGE

Luk 8:27 When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. Luk 8:28 When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!”

I wonder how you would have felt doing some pastoral visiting at this man’s place.

It’s not exactly welcoming.

The average church pastoral team would rather call a medical emergency line. Or simply dial 111. Or 999, depending where you live.

It’s a cemetery for one thing.

My first church posting as a pastor alone was in a town where the church met in a national monument made of stone strategically placed between two cemeteries. There was no power – the organ ran on a petrol generator.

In time we moved out to a local school, and after I moved on they built a church building.
We never did have evening services between those two cemeteries.

This man –
• He lived amongst the dead
• He was in chains
• He was naked

And I’m sure people were comfortable that he stayed there – that he didn’t wander into town at night.

Trust Jesus to show up there. He’s had a nap on the boat ride over. Just by the way – the sea of Galilee is an inland lake 166 square kms (for kiwis, Taupo is 616 square kms.) It was a bumpy ride in a fierce storm.

He’s had his followers accusing him of not caring that they might drown.

He’s calmed the squall – we love that story because we’d all like our storms in life stilled – we all want peace.

And now he encounters this! With all its potential for violence and plenty of drama.

This was not Jewish territory. The pigs give that away.

The man was unwell by any standards – and there were no psychiatrists back in the day. In today’s medical terms he would probably be classified as mentally ill. And institutionalized because he was a risk to others and himself. Possibly Psychotic at the least. Not to speak of the terrible loneliness and isolation. And self-harm and ferocity.

The encounter with Jesus is also intriguing. Why is he so afraid of Jesus tormenting him? Okay perhaps it’s the demon voices speaking – if you are a strict literalist. On the other hand, it could also be symptomatic of a real desire of this sick man not to face reality. Perhaps it’s all too hard for him.

Someone has suggested that strangers would be kinder to us if we are seriously ill – because they would have no special concern for us and would try to make us feel good.

Those who love us, on the other hand, would ask the hard questions and want us to face real change.

I take the demonic in scripture very seriously – but not all the people Jesus healed were demonized. It’s more complex than that.

Whatever the cause of this man’s oppression, he would have been terrified of change. His home among the dead was at least predicable in some way. And he would hardly have been welcome in so called normal society. The prejudice is just as real today if we are off the spectrum in terms of our mental health.

The truth is that most of us are at best ambivalent about dealing with radical change in our lives.

Jesus addresses these demons – the Legion. They don’t want to go into the Abyss – a unique word in Luke it seems – the place of the dead perhaps, the deep (Psalm 107:26 cf. Romans 10:7) – or an equivalent of hell or hades (Luke 16:23). (cf. Rev 9:11 and Jude 1:6).

It’s a troubling thing for the locals that the demons ask for permission to go into the pigs.

2000 pigs according to Mark. At $50 each conservatively that’s $100 000 worth of disruption for the locals.

What a story to share with your neighbours. The grapevine would have been red hot.

WHAT ABOUT US?

• There are degrees of brokenness. But we are all broken.
• There are degrees of sickness.
• But we are all vulnerable.

No matter who we are – we are part of this broken world.

And there are plenty of people out there tormented by oppression, mental illnesses, addictions, loneliness and despair.

At a very basic level this story gives hope – and disturbs people all at once.

Luk 8:34 When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, Luk 8:35 and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid.

The naked mad one is doing what we all need to do – sitting at Jesus’ feet. Doing the Mary thing (which Martha struggled with if you remember).

And he’s dressed.

And in his right mind.

And the people are afraid! And rightly so – if Jesus can do this – perhaps they thought – what then could he do in my life? Do I want that?

Do you want that? Radical transformation? or would you prefer respectable Christianity – tamed religion.

The locals didn’t want it. Look at verse 37: Luk 8:37 Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left.

But the story does end with such a positive statement:

Luk 8:38 The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, Luk 8:39 “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him. Note the shift from God to Jesus.

When we meet with Jesus ourselves – we too can’t stay on a high as it were. On the mountain top – or in the boat after the storm.

We have to go home and tell others about it.

He does it: So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.

We missed verse 36: Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured.

There’s the key. The word cured also means healed and saved, liberated. We need that too. How much Jesus had done indeed.

Marvelous. Brilliant. Wonderful. Stunning. Fantastic. Miraculous.

Praise God for His grace. He still sets people free today.

Amen.

Sermon, 5 June 2016 – resurrection; then, and now, and then….

READINGS: 1 Kings 17:17-24; Luke 7:11-17

SERMON  

Last week it was the faith of the centurion we looked at – his faith led to the healing of his servant.

The very next story in Luke – and there is no faith to be seen.

  • It’s a funeral.
  • It’s grim.
  • There’s a widow and her only son has died.

The dead guy can’t have faith – and there is no expectation of faith at a funeral. Just pain and sorrow – deep grief.

The people around would have known about Elijah raising a widow’s son. Once word got out they would have joined the dots – here was another prophet empowered by God.

But put yourself in the story.

This is 5 miles away from Nazareth. 25 miles away from Capernaum where we were last week. Quite  a long walk really.

The death would have been very recent. They buried their dead within 24 hours. Not like our week’s mourning at most here. Or the Swedish custom of a couple of weeks between death and the funeral.

So the grief is still raw – this is a child – an only son of a widow – it’s a disaster from an economic survival point of view.

The professional mourners would have been there. Wailing.

Don’t think that’s a bizarre custom either. They cried loudly so that the real mourners would not be the centre of attention as they genuinely wept.

It was all healthy but raw.

And along comes this prophet like Elijah. Except things are different. Elijah knew the family and he was known to them. In this account Jesus didn’t.

  • Uninvited.
  • A stranger who walks in.
  • A crowd following him intersects with the funeral crowd.
  • Imagine someone doing that at a funeral you’re at. Unusual to say the least.

He touches the funeral bier. The coffin – which would have been an open kind of frame. It certainly brought the procession to a halt.

The key line is verse 13: Luk 7:13 When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”

What a strange thing to say. Of course she would be crying. Grief specialists would say to her: “let it out dear. It’s okay to cry!”

  • It comes from compassion. In fact, a better translation is probably this:

13 When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” (NRSV)

  • It also comes from hope – and knowledge of what was possible.

He knew he could reverse this. He knew his ultimate destiny. He knew that resurrection would ultimately change the way we see the world.

I remember Nicky Gumbel talking about how interesting a person Jesus would have been to have around.

  • At a wedding.
  • At a picnic.
  • When out fishing.
  • During a storm at sea.
  • At a funeral.

The text is very matter of fact. Remember also that only Luke tells us this story. It’s not in the other gospel accounts. Listen again:

Luk 7:14 Then he went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!”
Luk 7:15 The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.
Luk 7:16 They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.”
Luk 7:17 This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.

WHAT ABOUT US

What do you make of this?

At a factual and historical level, it’s Jesus showing his hand to the crowds. The word certainly would have got out, as was the case with the raising of Lazarus. In Lazarus’ case it was a nail in his own coffin as his enemies were provoked to plot his death.

There are two points to take home today really.

1. COMPASSION

For us today it is a reminder of His compassion – shown in so many other gospel accounts.

  • The hungry – he had compassion on them and fed them.
  • The sick – he healed them.
  • Blind beggars who called out to him – in compassion he healed them.
  • And two great stories in the bible – the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal son – are both about compassionate people – the Samaritan and the Father in the stories.

It has to speak to us about compassion – we at least have to be like that – from deep within. The word itself – compassion – in the original New Testament Language encompassed the bowels, heart, lungs, liver or kidneys – all seen in those days as the seat of human emotion.

It gets us here (point to gut).

Are we really compassionate? the Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria, said this: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”

Not a bad motto. To live by – not just to have on the wall or on your facebook page.

2. WOULD THAT JESUS SHOW UP IN ALL KINDS OF PLACES.

I bet no one afterwards at the funeral tea was resentful that this strange rabbi gate-crashed their ceremony.

“Who’s that bloke ‘ey stopping the procession?”

I’ve been watching too much British television I think.

Jesus is really keen to walk into the lives of our families and friends – he brings a whole new perspective on our sickness, pain, griefs and our dying. And our living!

And he really wants to walk into our mess too.

It’s ultimately about resurrection. Not about disembodied souls going to heaven. But about a whole new life at the end of it all.

And the same spirit that raised Jesus from the dead – the Holy Spirit – is at work in us. (Romans 8:11).

That resurrection life begins now – we are made alive spiritually. He still breaks through into our messy world by His Holy Spirit.

Nicky Gumble tells the great story about a man who got really carried away in a very dull staid church. He was lifting his hands and shouting “hallelujah”- whereupon the Church warden came up to him at tapped him on the shoulder saying “we don’t do that here!” The man said excitedly – “but I’ve found religion”. The warden replied – “you didn’t get it here”.

If Jesus can walk into a funeral procession and turn things around, he can surely walk into our situations and change things too – bring new life and hope.

Next week when our guests are here there will be opportunities for us to receive prayer and really hear from the Lord. I encourage you to bring a friend along.

God still shows up in our lives. He changes us to make us compassionate.

He fills us with hope too – which is an infectious and helpful force in a pretty hopeless world. In fact, hope is the basis for our witnessing. Peter writes this:

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. But do this with gentleness and respect…

Hopeful people are joyful! Happy! There would nothing gloomy at that moment when the dead boy was returned to his mother alive and well.

Amen.

Sermon, 29 May 2016 – Amazing Faith

Reading: Luke 7:1-10; Psalm 96

Message:

Do you remember the first place Jesus preached at? That great sermon quoting from Isaiah – “the spirit of the Lord is upon me”

Quiz question 1: Where was that?

Nazareth – where he had been brought up.

Quiz question 2: What happened next?

They chased him out. Like modern hearers of sermons they were less than thrilled. In Luke 4:29 (another reminder on 29th May) – they tried to throw him off a cliff.

I always find that comforting when people are less than thrilled by my sermons. It’s never got as bad as Luke 4:29.

In this case Jesus walks through the crowds and goes on his way.

Quiz question 3: where did he go next?

Capernaum of course. Everybody should know that. Here’s a more recent picture of Capernaum than the ones Jesus took on his Kodak bible-matic camera of the day:

Capernaum

Can you see the Octagonal church there? It’s built over the site of an older church which in turn was built over the site of whose house?

Quiz question 4: whose house? Which disciple and first pope? Why Peter of course. We all know that.

Stuff happened in Capernaum. It was a town of about 1500 and the fishing village where Jesus called Peter, James, John and Andrew to leave their nets and follow him. And it was also the village of Matthew the tax collector.

The man in Luke 4:35 who is cleansed of an evil spirit is set free in the synagogue in Capernaum. That got peoples’ attention. It wasn’t your average Saturday synagogue session.

In 4:36 we read this:
Luk 4:36 All the people were amazed and said to each other, “What is this teaching? With authority and power he gives orders to evil spirits and they come out!” Luk 4:37 And the news about him spread throughout the surrounding area. 

Jesus goes to Peter’s house after this – and heals his mum in law. That got them talking I’m sure. Rebuking fevers and what have you.

It gets so frenetic – well just listen to Luke: Luk 4:40 When the sun was setting, the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying his hands on each one, he healed them.  Luk 4:41 Moreover, demons came out of many people, shouting, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew he was the Christ.
Luk 4:42 At daybreak Jesus went out to a solitary place. The people were looking for him and when they came to where he was, they tried to keep him from leaving them.  Luk 4:43 But he said, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.”

In Luke 5 there’s another commotion. Such a crowd – that these people carrying a paralysed friend break a hole in the roof of a house to let him down so that Jesus can heal him.

Here’s the line that sets a cat among the theological pigeons: Luk 5:20 When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”

The Pharisees are less than thrilled. Knowing what they are thinking, he says:

Luk 5:23 Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?
Luk 5:24 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…” He said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.”
Luk 5:25 Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God.

Now you may wonder – why all these details about Capernaum.

Well – it’s because when we get to Luke 7 which is today’s reading – he’s back in Capernaum. We’ve seen quite a bit of faith in Capernaum. Point well made.

But in Luke 7 – this is not a Jewish setting or a synagogue gathering.

Suddenly out of nowhere there’s a Roman centurion in the mix.

Weird. Fascinating. A man from an oppressive foreign power.

With all those Jews less than thrilled about Jesus forgiving sins and healing on the Sabbath – some Jewish elders come with a request on behalf of a gentile occupier from a foreign army.

There’s a bit of sending going on here.

The centurion sends the Jewish elders to ask for Jesus’ help with this sick servant.

The reason they give is fascinating too: “This man deserves to have you do this, Luk 7:5 because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.”

So Jesus goes along. Game? Curious? Compassionate?

On the way the centurion sends others – this time friends – with a message.

“Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.
Luk 7:7 That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed.
Luk 7:8 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

Up to now people were amazed at Jesus and his works.

This time its Jesus who is amazed. Listen again: Luk 7:9 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.”

We’ve heard and sung about Amazing Grace. This is amazing faith.

At this point – let’s stop for a while and consider this picture. Ask yourself – is this funny? Is it fair? Where are you in this situation? Are we like Eugene?

Eugene Cartoon

DISCUSSION (in small groups or with the person next to you).

Talk about Eugene and his faith in the cartoon on screen. Here are some questions to discuss about our prayer life and our faith:

1. Are there things I am still asking for after 47 years?
2. Should I give up?
3. What are the big things I am trusting Jesus for?
4. How amazing is my faith?
5. How does it compare with the faith of the centurion?
6. What do you find amazing about his faith?

(group time).

SHARING TIME: So what “ponies” are you still praying for? Do you still have amazing faith for some things – for a break through – for a prayer to be answered.

Go back to Luke 7:

Luk 7:9 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.”
Remarkable that Jesus should say this.

The man’s words are remarkable: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.
Luk 7:7 That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed.
Luk 7:8 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

TWO POINTS TO TAKE HOME

1. “I am not worthy” – it’s so like the prayer of humble access in the Communion liturgy of some churches:

We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy:

It’s so like the Canaanite woman of Matthew 15:

Mat 15:25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.
Mat 15:26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”
Mat 15:27 “Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”
Mat 15:28 Then Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.

Sometimes our prayers make us sound presumptuous.

2. It speaks of who Jesus really is. The real stunner is this – that he says that Jesus did not even have to be there physically for the healing to take place.

This cuts across everything people believed and experienced about faith healers. Just say the word. He’s saying something about who Jesus is – as the God who speaks and things come into being – like creation. Remember John 1 – nothing has been made that was not made through Jesus, the Word of God.

WHAT ABOUT US

The troubling things about this whole story is where we fit in.

How amazing is our faith?

Are we a bit like the Jewish people who wanted to debate things? Who had preconceived ideas? Cherished notions we don’t let go of?

Especially on healing and whether God really speaks. In two weeks’ time we will have Tony and Sue Kerr and their team here. Will we really expect God to speak and act?

Are we open to learning how to minister like they do? Because they are willing to come along and equip us to be used to bring God’s restoring power and love into other peoples’ lives.

(Are we on another level? Do we think – I wish we had a centurion who would sponsor our synagogue/church?)

Have we given up? – like Eugene’s friends who tell him – “we’re tired of hearing your prayer request. Go and buy a pony!” in other words – solve it yourself.

As we travel through Luke’s gospel we will find other amazing things that God does.

This one is about Amazing faith.

Maybe we need to ask for “amazing faith” ourselves.

Luk 7:9 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.”

What’s he saying to the angels now about the faith he finds here in Browns Bay?

Amen.

Sunday 15 May 2016, Pentecost Sunday: The inner witness and assurance

Readings: Romans 8:12-17; Acts 2: 1-4; & 14-21; John 14:23-27

Message.

How do you stop yourself on a day like this from trying to present a super bowl kind of grand sermon? The temptation is there – as some see this as the birthday of the church. It certainly was a key day launching the movement.

Others hope for a revival through the Spirit on this day. Some churches have services every day of the week leading up to this day.

The truth is some stay away on Pentecost Sunday – because they are terrified of the label “Pentecostal” and all its connotations. Which is odd really – as the word comes from the Greek word for 50. The real name of the day was the feast of weeks (7 times 7 weeks = 49 – then comes the 50th day). We are only afraid of the number 50 during our 49th year really. As we “age”.

This year I have decided to keep it very simple. A bit like Tuesday’s message and story – which was simply that I like spending time with my children. Quality time. So does God.

The story today is simple.
I heard it from Tim Keller. He heard it from the great Welsh preacher David Martin Lloyd- Jones. Lloyd-Jones heard it from a 17th century preacher named Thomas Goodwin. It’s got to be a good story. It’s been around a lot longer than the stories and gossip you can hear from your friends.

But first a brief overview of the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit’s role we know it is at least fourfold – 1. conviction of sin; 2. conversion; 3. assurance, and 4.sanctification. That should be normal – and revival is really the normal becoming more normal. We all need this renewed life.

It has been said that the average Christian is neither happy or sad. Kind of flat sometimes. That’s why preachers pray for revival. Revival’s story is encouraging for pastors and church leaders, because when revival comes (as suggested by Tim Keller) – sleepy Christians wake up, nominal Christians get converted and liven up, and hard to reach people (non-believers) show up – because they see the change in the sleepy and nominal Christians.

The key verse I want to focus on is this one: Romans 8:16 – The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.  We are looking at the third role of the Holy Spirit – assurance. It’s the assurance that we get and need.

And so to the story. This is  an account of Thomas Goodwin’s story to illustrate this – about what he saw one day. (Thomas Goodwin – 5 October 1600 – 23 February 1680):
A father and son were walking down the street together. They were clearly father and son and affectionate. But at one point the father picks up the son and hugs him and kisses him and loves him and says “I love you” and the son says to the father “I love you too”. In 17th century English I guess. And the Father puts the son down. You can’t live all your whole life in your father’s arms. On they walk.

Lloyd-Jones says this: Objectively the Father and son were legally father and son. When the boy was in his father’s arms he wasn’t legally more of a son. But he was experiencing the Father’s love – he was experiencing his sonship.

Look at Romans 8:16 again. You know it’s true objectively that you are a son or child of God. But when the Spirit bears witness with your spirit you really experience it. That’s what brings sleepy Christians awake. And nominal Christians come alive too – they get converted – they know it’s real and begin to talk about it. It’s the work of the spirit that brings that assurance of sonship – and the inheritance that goes with it by our adoption.

Churches grow when that happens – because the spiritual growth of the sleepy and nominal Christians means they share their story with enthusiasm and hard to reach people see the results – the change in peoples’ lives as they live out their new Kingdom inheritance as sons – and the gospel is shared. It starts with that inner assurance. Spirit (God’s Spirit) and spirit(our spirit) together in us.

Fanny Crosby’s hymn: Blessed assurance Jesus is mine is about this. That inner certainty and conviction empowers and energises us because it is grounded in love.

Read Romans 5:5 again:
Rom 5:5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

  • That’s the work of the Holy Spirit.
  • That’s how Jesus keeps his promise to be with us always. Through the Spirit.
  • And there is a boldness – which is evidenced in Acts 2 and spoken of in Acts 1:8.A passion.

They got up and told the story. They travelled across the known world to share it.
They had come to follow Jesus. They came to understand sin, their need of a Saviour and got converted, and received this assurance all from the same Holy Spirit. The sonship is key. They knew they were sons – Jesus taught them to pray “Abba Father”. But when they really felt it – for real – they became unstoppable and brave. And their embryonic faith grew.

If you have your bible open at Romans 8:16 look at the verse before:
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.”

Martin Lloyd Jones puts it like this:
“A little child has confidence. He does not analyze it… he knows that ‘Abba’ is his father. Grown-ups may be standing back at a distance and being very formal; but the little child comes running in, rushes right in, and holds on to his father’s legs. He has a right that no-one else has…”

Makes sense does it not? Didn’t Jesus talk about receiving the Kingdom of God like a little child? (Mark 10:14-15).

We don’t want to just hold on to his legs though. Hanging on is good for times in our life when our faith is clingy and desperate. The transformation of us to be more like Jesus is described by Paul like this: And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthian 3:18)

We used to sing a song based on this verse – “from glory to glory he’s changing me.” From the KJV. (All those songs were from the King James Bible!)

Well is He? Changing you?

One more story to make this point stick. Tim Keller tells it – about his early years in ministry when he was more idealistic in counselling:

He was counselling a 15-year-old girl who was discouraged and depressed. The conversation went something like this;
You’re a Christian? Many blessings? Yes. So you’re still depressed? Yes. The girl says:
“Yes – I know that Jesus loves me and I know he saved me and I know I will get to heaven. But what good is all that when not a single boy at school will even look at you. In other words – “I’m in 9th grade and not a single boy will ask me out.”
He says this – the great preacher Jonathan Edwards would say – “she had the opinion that God loved her but she had no real knowledge that God loved her.”

Why? Because the love of boys was more real to her heart than the love of God – or she wouldn’t have been that depressed. Edwards would say she needed to be shown the love of God in such a way that it began to get real to her heart and balance out how popular she was or wasn’t.

That’s assurance. Young people today need that real assurance through the reality of the Holy Spirit. We all need it – older ones too 🙂 Continually. I bet the boy liked being embraced again and again by his 17th century father over time.

That’s why Paul talks about being (continually) filled with the spirit. It’s not that the Spirit is like petrol and we run out. It’s that we need to be saturated in his love – because we are like a hardened sponge – or can become like one.

Eph 5:17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.
Eph 5:18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.
Eph 5:19 Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord,
Eph 5:20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

We need more and more pouring out as in Romans 5:5  And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

May you know His presence, power and love again today. Or even for the first time. Open your hearts.

Amen

 

 

 

Anzac Sunday Sermon, 24 April 2016 – Winning the Peace

Speaker: Sean Cloete

Readings: John 13:31-35; Revelation 21:1-6

Message

Good Morning everyone and welcome to Anzac Day Sunday.

This is the day that the Lord has made,We will rejoice and be glad in it.

If you are just visiting this morning you are all most welcome – and thanks for joining us.Thank you also to the residents and staff of the Freeling Holt Home for the wonderful Anzac Day display in the foyer.These folk are part of our Tuesday congregation.

God Bless them for doing this. Please have a look at this after the service – it’s well worth it. Tomorrow, is the 101st anniversary of the landings on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey during WWI. I see many of you are wearing red poppies this morning – just like this one.The red poppy has become a symbol of war remembrance the world over.

People in many countries wear the poppy to remember those who died in war or who still serve. In many countries, the poppy is worn around Armistice Day the date when WW1 came to an end at the 11th Hour on the 11th Day of 11th Month 1918. But here in New Zealand they are more frequently seen around Anzac Day, 25 April.

The Red or Flanders Poppy has been linked with battlefield deaths since the time of the Great War. The Poppy was one of the first to grow and bloom in the mud and soil of Flanders.But it really depends who you speak to.

There are many who still believe that the uniqueness of the colour red of the Poppy has something to do with the amount of blood which was spilt on the Western Front during WW1.Please take time to remember those who fell on that terrible day in 1915.

When I look around the church this morning I see people who would have lived through and may even have served in WW2, Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf Wars.

There are also people who may have served or have family who served in New Zealand Peacekeeping forces in Malaysia, Indonesia, Kashmir, Yugoslavia, East Timor and the Soloman Islands.Also folks from further afield such as the UK, South Africa and Zimbabwe, who have also lived through lengthy periods of conflict.

Please join with me as we acknowledge those brave few who made the ultimate sacrifice down through the centuries.

The Anzac spirit will live on in those who come after. And by that I mean all those who come after – and who make New Zealand and Australia their home.

So, in the words of the Ode – join with me please:

They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old.
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
We will remember them.

Amen.

I remember the first time I went to an RSA – and being very new in NZ I really didn’t know what to expect. When 6pm rolled around, everyone got up and the Ode of Remembrance was recited by all present. At the end I said Amen – but nobody else did.I thought this very strange because we were acknowledging those people who had given the ultimate sacrifice – and therefore I viewed it as a prayer.

What we are really doing when we recite the Ode is remembering the fallen – as you might do at a funeral or a dedication.I have been to funerals before of fellow soldiers who had died in action.I always remember how incredibly sad these occasions were, as all of these men who died were young.When I got home I thought I would try and found out a bit more about the Ode.

I found out that it is taken from a poem called “For The Fallen” – and written by an Englishman named Robert Binyon.It was specifically composed in honour of the casualties of the British Expeditionary Force who fought and died on the Western Front during WW1. Over time only the words of a single verse of the poem have remained – and to this day that one verse remains as a tribute to all casualties of war, regardless of country.

You should have a copy of it in front of you – so when you go home find a quiet place and read it.It’s very moving.But if you ask me say the Amen at the end – because it just sounds right. Amen.

On a day such as this the words from Psalm 91 – which is sometimes called the Soldiers Psalm – come to mind.

Just listen to these words ……

Shall we pray?

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”
A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
If you make the Most High your dwelling refuge no harm will befall you and no disaster will come near your tent.
“Because he loves me,” says the LORD, “I will rescue him;
I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
He will call upon me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble,
I will deliver him and honour him.
With long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation.”
Amen

History shows us that ever since the dawn of time man has always been ready to go to war. War was always the easy way to do things.

Has the world ever been at peace – you may ask. Of the past 3,400 years, humans have been entirely at peace for 268 of them, or just 8 percent of recorded history.

Estimates for the total number killed in wars since the beginning of recorded human history is approaching 1 billion people. Over 100 million people were killed in wars in the twentieth century alone. So, it’s important this Anzac Day that we celebrate Life and not death.

War is not Glorious or Romantic. There is no Honour in War.The first casualty of war is Truth.Often those who are at war forget why they went to war in the first place.War is not worth even one life.

John F. Kennedy said that “Mankind must put an end to war, before war puts an end to Mankind”.

But Sean, you might say, where are you going with this – and how can we link War with our readings this morning – which are all about Love.

In John 13:3-35 Jesus says: A new commandment I give unto you: Love one another.
As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.

It is really a new commandment – the only other commandments that existed at the time were those given to Moses by God. The 10 Commandments.

And in Revelation 21:6 John writes: I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.

Jesus is all about Love and the water of life is the Holy Spirit – and the Holy Spirit is also all about Love. Although war is the last resort and will always be the last resort sometimes it is necessary.

  • In the Defence of one’s country.
  • In the Protection of one’s family.
  • To Stand up to the forces of evil.

Edmund Burke – an Irish Statesman from the 18th Century summed it up like this:”The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Just like soldiers go off to war to fight against the forces of evil, so we as Christians go off to war every day to fight these same forces. But unlike the soldiers in a physical war who were able to see the opposing forces, we, as Christians fight that same fight. But we are fighting an unseen enemy and an enemy infinitely more powerful and terrible than anything we have seen in this world before. Please be aware that our adversary Satan does not play fair.

In 1 Peter 5:8 we read: Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

War is the second best option – the best is Love.

We need to be aware of the horrors of war and the violence that surround us in this world – as a priority we need to remember the Love of Jesus.We are followers of Jesus Christ so we are not citizens of this world.

In John 18:36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders.But now my kingdom is from another place.”

What we sometimes forget is that Jesus also made the ultimate sacrifice but He didn’t die for His mates or His country he died for all of mankind, so we can be saved and be able to share in Everlasting Life.

Someone asked me the other day why does God allow wars to happen? The answer is quite simple. God doesn’t allow wars to happen.

Ask yourself this question – who is the God of this Age?

In 2 Corinthians 4:4 we read: The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

The only reason God gets involved in wars is to protect those whom He loves.Satan does such a good job of deception that even the best of us can be fooled.

Timothy writes in 1 Tim 6:12: Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession.

Note that he uses the word fight. Sometimes we as Christians have to.

In the hymn we sang earlier Stand up, Stand up for Jesus – the writer highlights that we are in a battle. He writes:

Stand up, Stand up for Jesus ye soldiers of the cross –
Lift high His royal banner, it must not suffer loss.
From victory unto victory His army shall He lead,
Till every foe is vanquished, and Christ is Lord indeed.

And goes on to say….

Ye that are brave now serve Him against unnumbered foes;
Let courage rise with danger, and strength to strength oppose.
Put on the Gospel armour, each piece put on with prayer;
To those who vanquish evil a crown of life shall be;
They with the King of Glory shall reign eternally.

This is one of the most stirring hymns in all of Christendom.

But it has come with some challenges over the years. As a result of the images of Christian militarism in the hymn, some people object to the hymn, and some people do not stand to sing it.Some politically correct lobbyists around the world have seen it as too aggressive.

However, in Psalm 100 the Psalmist encourages us to make a joyful noise unto the Lord.

He writes:

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Although the hymn Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus is only about 150 years old I bet that if the Israelites sung this hymn when they were fleeing from Egypt the Red Sea would have parted by itself. And any army who sings this song would be Unbeatable, Bullet-Proof and Indestructible.

Unbelievable isn’t it that this world can have such double standards – even when it comes to powerful hymns – such as this one.Which is really just about Love. The Love our God has for all of us – and the Love we have for Him.

Love is also a powerful weapon. After war Love is the only thing that can heal the wounds.It can infect sinners.It can soften even the hardest of hearts – it humbles the strongest of us. And it can strengthen the very weakest of us.

It can take a boy like David and make him a wise King.It can take a murderer like Saul and turn him into Paul – the greatest and most fearless of all Apostles. And it can work in all of you – and can make you what God wants you to be.

In John 3:16 – possibly the most well-known verse in the Bible – we read:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

If something is holding you back – just let go.Your life will never be the same again.

Try and attend an Anzac Day service tomorrow. It doesn’t have to be a Dawn Service. And say a prayer of thanks for all those who have made our life here in New Zealand easier.

In conclusion I would like to read for you the poem:

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Let us pray:

Lord, Please be with those who do not acknowledge You. Through your Holy Spirit please minister to us all. Have patience with us and please give us Your peace. Guide us we pray as we make our way in the world this week. In Jesus Name. Amen

Sunday message, 13 March 2016 (Lent 5) – Utter abandonment

READINGS: Psalm 126; John 12:1-8

SERMON

We had this conversation again this week about money. Cash flow. Paying the bills to keep the church running, so to speak. It’s been tricky again. (As an aside please consider signing up for automatic payments or the envelope system. It really helps. Especially when you can’t make it or are on holiday.)

It’s funny how it comes up every now and then – the conversation about finances –  just in that week when the reading set is about generosity. Extravagance. The poor. Or some related matter.

It can’t get any more challenging than this gospel reading.

I read about a pastor’s conference on stewardship – which is about how we look after God’s things, including money. Listen to the story:

One presenter spoke about offering a gift directly to God, and the clergy began to yawn. Then he pulled a $100 bill from his wallet, set it on fire in an ashtray, and prayed, “Lord, I offer this gift to you, and you alone.” The reaction was electric. Clergy began to fidget in their chairs, watching that greenback go up in smoke as if it were perfume. One whispered it was illegal to burn currency. Another was heard to murmur, “If he is giving money away, perhaps he has a few more.” There was nervous laughter around the room. “Do you not understand?” asked the speaker. “I am offering it to God, and that means it is going to cease to be useful for the rest of us.” It was an anxious moment. Bartlett, David L.; Barbara Brown Bartlett (2009-10-12). Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 2: Lent through Eastertide (Kindle Locations 5088-5094). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.

That’s the point of this gift. It’s about giving to the one who is worthy. (“Thou art worthy” is the song we used to sing during the offering – it challenges us for our afterthought gifts – when we are scratching around in our purses or wallets.)

“If you offer something to God” suggests the speaker, “it ceases to be useful to you. That’s a challenging idea. Especially since we often have strings attached to our gifts.

The extravagance here in Mary’s gift is not unparalleled in the gospel. The water into wine at the wedding in Cana of Galilee (how much? 180 gallons. 900 litres.)

The 12 baskets left over at the feeding of the 5000?

Jesus after his resurrection telling Peter to cast his net on the other side of the board. 153 fish! And he already had some on his barbeque.

Mind you this is Jesus of whom John 1:3 says casually:  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

Reminds me of the Psalms:

Psalm 24:1 The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it;

Psalm 50:10  For every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. (What I term the ‘hamburger and steak” Psalm.)

How are you with your generosity? Do you love Jesus sacrificially and give to Him extravagantly? With utter abandonment?

GOOD FRIDAY

Good Friday is lurking here though. In contrast to this generous sensual gift of love (the pouring of the perfume, the taboo of Mary wiping his feet with her hair – the same wiping word we find in the next chapter when Jesus washes his disciples’ feet and wipes them with a towel) there is money-bags Judas.

He’s not just out of relationship with Jesus but reacts badly to someone who is extravagantly worshipping and loving Jesus by his criticism. Sounds like Christians I know. Why do we seem to react to people who are in our view too zealous? Mary knew this Jesus – and his feet. She used to sit at his feet – remember? And listen to his teaching! (Luke 10).

Judas pretends to be concerned with the waste – hence his comment that the value of the gift – a year’s wages – could have been spent on the poor. Of course Jesus’ comment about the poor always being with us is no excuse not to help them. He is quoting Deuteronomy 15 – which says that because they will always be there you have to have an open hand.

It’s about Jesus. “You won’t always have me with you” says Jesus. It reminds me of that lovely worship song: “It’s all about you Jesus!”

And death is in the room you see.

Good Friday is near.

The nard – perfume – is a foretaste of his burial. That’s what they used because they didn’t have our modern embalming tricks – sucking out the dead person’s blood and replacing it with preservatives. So they stank quickly after death.

Like Lazarus did after being in the tomb a couple of days. There’s the classic line from the King James Bible when Jesus instructs them to open the tomb.

Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.

By this time he stinketh.

Lovely phrase. There are things in our lives that smell of death too. We stinketh me thinketh.

The perfume is for his burial – but won’t be needed after the 3rd day. It’s still not a waste –  because of who he is.

Death is in the room because Lazarus is in the room.

Lazarus is notoriously silent in this passage. He’s the man of the house. Why am I surprised though? When you’ve been dead and you’re alive again – it is a bit disconcerting. I wonder whether he talked about those couple of days in the tomb?

What is interesting and possibly disconcerting for Jesus at his meal is where Lazarus is positioned in the room. Did you notice?

Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honour. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him.

Reclining at the table – they didn’t sit on chairs – they almost leaned on each other and ate with one hand. I wonder how close death was to Jesus?

Lazarus was more than once described as “Lazarus whom Jesus had raised from the dead” (John 12:1; 12:9 12:17). An interesting way of introducing a person socially!

And then there is Judas. The thief – according to John.

Only on one other occasion (great sentence – five words beginning with o) – is a thief mentioned – in John’s gospel. It’s in chapter 10: 1 & 10 – the thief who climbs into the sheep pen another way, who comes only to kill and destroy – compared to the good shepherd who came that we may have life and have it to the full.

  • Satan – the ultimate thief – did not thwart the purposes of God in the temptations of Jesus.
  • Judas’ schemes did not stop the purpose of God.
  • Neither will we – with our meanness or self obsession.

We have no option to be like Lazarus. We will need to be raised one day. Although of course he will also be raised in the final resurrection like us! We are just as dependant on Jesus for life in the meantime too. I’ve come close to death – any rescue buys me time to make the next choice.

We do have an option to choose between Mary or Judas.

  • To give and love extravagantly. And end up with nothing, and yet everything.
  • Or to be a controlling thief. To end up with 30 pieces of silver, and yet nothing.

Both were equally loved by the “lover of our souls” –  to use Charles Wesley’s term.

You and me too are equally loved. Like the two sons of the extravagant Father last week who killed the best yummy fattened calf for the party.

The smell that is left is what counts. Listen again to verse 3:

John 12:3  Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

Our lives and gifts should be a beautiful fragrance too.

As is the case in Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 2: 14-16 – where he uses the illustration of a Roman victory procession, with the incense of the priests rising up. The aroma symbolized life given by the victors and death to the defeated ones.

Paul uses this image to describe Christians: But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task? Thankfully, says John  Wesley, we are by the power of the Holy Spirit.

May our lives leave a sweet aroma wherever we go.

Amen.