Author Archives: robinpalmer
A sermon on Anzac Day (From the archives April 2013)
Readings: Ecclesiastes 3:1-8; John 13:31-35
31 When he was gone, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him.32 If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.33 ‘My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: where I am going, you cannot come. 34 ‘A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’
I wonder if you remember this song:
We are One in The Spirit,
We are One in The Lord. (x2)
And we pray that all unity may one day be restored.
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love,
By our Love,
Yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love.
We will work with each other,
We will work side by side. (x2)
And we’ll guard each man’s dignity
And save each man’s pride.
We will walk with each other,
We will walk hand in hand. (x2)
And together we’ll spread the News
that God is in our land.
All praise to the Father from whom all things come…
copyright 1966 Peter Scholte
It was a great song. I’m not sure why songs written in the 1960s needed so many repeats! Maybe it was the 60s. People might have needed reminding of things. Who knows.
Ironically that song fell out of the book Living Praise because the owners withdrew the copyright. Not very loving – the new edition had a blank page with apologies instead of music.
So what has happened to the church after all these years?
So many times we sang this song from John 13.
So many sermons on this passage:
34 ‘A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’
They will know that you are my disciples if you love one another? “Yeah right” is the classic kiwi approach!
WE DO GET IT RIGHT THOUGH
Today we remember those who gave their lives for their country – in whatever war you think of there have been terrible losses and sacrifice.
In the face of such devastation – many have shown the love of Christ in action in the face of terrible risk and threat.
- Like those who stuck up for the persecuted Jewish people – and hid them or rescued them.
- Those who refused to fight as pacifists – but served in amazing ways as peacemakers or medical staff
- Chaplains who were with their people on the front lines praying and ministering to the dying
- And many who nursed the wounded at great risk themselves. And the endless sacrifice of soldiers…
HOW NEW IS NEW?
What is new about this new commandment that Jesus gave?
Loving your neighbour wasn’t new – that was already in the Old Testament or Jewish Bible.
Listen and look again:
As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
AS I HAVE LOVED YOU – is the key.
Love for Jesus was more than words – more than his teaching about love – but an action.
God so loved the world so much that he sent a text or telegram? I don’t think so.
God so Loved the world so much that he GAVE HIS ONLY SON. (John 3:16).
Jesus laid down his life for us. In fact, when he was preparing his followers for his death he said this (in the previous chapter in John):
23 Jesus replied, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honour the one who serves me.
27 ‘Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? “Father, save me from this hour”? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name!’
You find that passage – especially verse 24 – on memorials and cenotaphs throughout the world (κενοτάφιον – empty tomb; kenos – “empty”, and taphos – tomb) – memorials that are empty because the people remembered are elsewhere – on Flanders field or some unknown place of terrible sadness and death.
…unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.
Paul says something very similar to husbands in Ephesians 5:
Eph 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;
Sacrifice! A great reminder!
So as we give thanks for those who have sacrificed today – let’s commit ourselves to really love each other as Jesus loves us!
- It’s a tall order!
- It is possible – by His grace and through the renewing power of the Holy Spirit!
- It is essential for Christian witness – people know we follow Jesus because of our love
- It is not PERFECTION – real love is honest, not pretentious, and knows how to say sorry and move on when things go wrong!
But – you may be thinking – “my life is too hard – this command is too hard”. You say to me, maybe – “you don’t know the people that I have to deal with” or “you don’t know my family, pastor!”
Let’s dig a little deeper into this passage before we go home today. Go back to verse 31 of John 13:
It begins with this innocuous line: 31 When he was gone, Jesus said…
And of course context is everything.
The “he” is Judas. And Jesus loved Judas – he was one of his team.
And prior to that in John 13 Jesus had washed their feet – despite the protestations of Peter.
What is coming – for Jesus – is a betrayal and a denial – a cruel trial, flogging, a crown of thorns and an agonizing crucifixion.
It’s from that cross that Jesus forgives his tormentors.
This Jesus – who will need tremendous courage and strength – is the one who says here:
33 ‘My children, I will be with you only a little longer.
In fact some translations have “Little children” here…
It’s a tender address. No parables here – no mysteries and riddles to crack.
They knew they had to love their neighbour (Leviticus 19:18).
It probably figured that they had to love each other.
Listen to the whole passage preceding the commandment again:
31 When he was gone, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him.32 If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.33 ‘My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: where I am going, you cannot come.
It would not feel like glorification for Jesus or his followers. It would feel like defeat.
Glorification is not about success, but obedience now in the short term – and reward in the long term.
We’re back to sacrifice are we not?
- Back to our soldiers who give up their lives for others.
- Heroes who rescue their friends on the battlefield.
One can understand the feelings of their comrades at this time.
There is a sense of enormous gratitude – when you are rescued, protected, or saved by someone. I’d like to know – we’d all like to know – that there is someone we can depend upon, someone who will defend us if we are attacked or in danger.
So too Jesus – who died for us. He saves us.
So too those tens of thousands of New Zealanders have given their lives in war or have served us and protected us. Love is shown in sacrifice.
We should remember them.
Readings: Acts 10:34-43; Luke 24:1-12
Key verse: Luk 24:11 “But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.” (NIV)
“καὶ ἐφάνησαν ἐνώπιον αὐτῶν ὡσεὶ λῆρος τὰ ῥήματα αὐτῶν, καὶ ἠπίστουν αὐταῖς.” (GNT – TR)
“…but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” (ESV)
I wonder if you’ve ever been “dissed”? It’s an interesting word. It means to be treated with disrespect. I discovered it to be a popular word when working with teenagers. It’s crept into the English language since the 1980s – through hip hop music I am told. Back in the 1920s it meant you were disconnected – like a telephone not working. Something loose in the head. Either way it isn’t a very nice thing – to be disrespected – or dismissed. Or disempowered.
An amazing thing happens in this story of the life of Jesus – through his teachings, death and especially his resurrection. The people who were usually disempowered at the time were taken seriously – lifted above their status in life. Galatians 3:28 sums it up well:
Gal 3:26 You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, Gal 3:27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. Gal 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Gal 3:29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
So – there are women in the group from the beginning. They would have been “dissed” by people in those days:
- Disempowered mainly,
- Dismissed if they had an opinion.
- Discarded in divorce if a man got bored with them.
But they are there in Jesus’ team. From early on.
And on Easter Sunday in Luke’s account they are the first witnesses.
The “dissing” continues sadly. Even though there are at least three women named as witnesses.
The translators are kind to us – keeping things polite. In the NIV we read: Luk 24:11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Nonsense.
The word is LEYROS. It’s used once only in the New Testament. Here.
It’s translated as an idle tale, nonsense, foolishness, and a fairy tale. Its deeper meaning is more crass. Vulgar. “What a load of…”
And that’s the response you get today to when you tell people that a dead man got up again.
Telling the Christian story today in this generation will get you “dissed” too.
People will think you’re nuts. Loony. Weird. Strange. Daft.
But that is okay.
- Seeing the impossible.
- Believing the unlikely.
- Having hope for the hopeless.
- Courage in the face of death because you know that it’s not the last word – well let them think you’re mad.
It’s a mad but glad tale – that someone who was dead was raised up
- That he appeared in locked rooms
- That he cooked a barbeque of fish for them on the beach
- That he restored a man who denied him three times and gave him an amazing and exciting job to do
- That he showed up over 40 days to people – up to 500 at one time, meaning they weren’t all hallucinating
- That he sent them with a message of good news to the world
- That he promised never to leave them
- That they were to wait to for the gift of His Spirit – who would empower them to do the work given
Other writers help us to make sense of the story. Luke records the words of Peter in Acts 10:
Act 10:39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, Act 10:40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. Act 10:41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. Act 10:42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. Act 10:43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
Those who dismiss this story and your testimony of your love for Christ – this risen saviour – will discover that he is judge and the end of all things.
This resurrection account is central in the story of the New testament and the Christian life through the centuries – we speak to, worship, praise, and hear from this Jesus.
Paul writing to the Corinthians prioritises it like this writing to the Corinthians: 1 Co 15:3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 1Co 15:4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,
And later he says:1Co 15:42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 1Co 15:43 it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 1Co 15:44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.
What great news is this for us.
Death is not particularly attractive. We grow cold and begin to decompose quite quickly. Like Lazarus who had been dead four days, well quoting the King James Bible, – in John 11:39, one of those words only used once – the phrase is “he stinketh”
Being raised imperishable, in glory, in power as a spiritual body sounds wonderful.
Going back to Luke 24 – where the women are dismissed, Peter seems to have some redeeming factors. Luk 24:12 Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.
He went to look – and gave it some thought. The penny drops eventually. And Jesus appears to him with three questions about his love – as he restores his failed life – because he had dissed Jesus three times – disowned him. He does it over breakfast – that restorative chat.
Hopefully people today will investigate this amazing story as well. If you haven’t figured it out yet – I encourage you to have a closer look. You should while you can – it’s to late when you die and people will say of you if you hang around too long – “he stinketh’.
Today is a good day to investigate this empty tomb, and to put your faith in Christ the risen Lord. Because the witness of those women was not an idle tale, but a brand new truth to change the world. Death was defeated!
Scripture often says this: now is the hour of salvation. Put your trust in him today. It won’t only guarantee a new resurrection body in the future. It will mean a real relationship with the risen Jesus today. A friend and Saviour, a guide and provider for you to depend on.
John 20:19-22 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.
With Anzac Day coming up – there’s a lot of talk about security and keeping the peace. And at a personal level there are many people who don’t experience peace in their lives. Anxiety tends to crowd peace out in this day and age.
What I like about this Easter account in John 20 is how Jesus greeted these fearful, distressed and confused disciples with a greeting of peace. In this short passage it happens twice.
I wonder what peace means to you?
Here are some of the things that peace does not mean:
- Peace does not mean we can pretend that war or conflict or failure has never happened.
- Peace does not mean that there need be no apology or remorse.
- Peace does not mean there should be no accountability for things that are criminally wrong.
Pretending that something didn’t happen is the worst thing. It makes people feel devalued.
In every part of life people abuse both power and position in very damaging ways. Historians looking back on World War 1 especially can see how foolish the worlds leaders were in taking the world to war. And how often don’t you hear people praying for leaders today to becoming peace makers. Leadership is probably one of the most important areas of life in every arena – good leaders often determine the fate of nations and the world.
At that first Easter it was the leaders who were in trouble. After the terrible execution of Jesus – and the failure of his disciples – particularly Peter – it must have tough when Jesus kept appearing in their lives.
In John 21 the peace making continues. They had gone back to what they knew best – they went fishing.
And Jesus meets them there – in their retreat to the old world they knew before they met him. He takes them back to their better days as disciples by doing the miraculous fish thing again – and he gets their attention. Listen to the tone of this conversation:
Joh 21:5 Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” Joh 21:6 He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. (ESV)
Then he invites them to breakfast. It’s a great example for us – eating together is the best place to sit and really share one’s life with another, and to have those difficult conversations.
- The details are there – the thoughtfulness
- He has the Barbeque going – he has fish and bread already.
- He meets their basic needs –while allowing them to catch an abundance of fish as well.
- And then proceeds to restore Peter. Peter who had denied him three times publicly. Those denials had to be addressed for him to come to a place of peace.
And by the way – if you don’t get how serious this was – imagine your best friend, or loved one being arrested and executed for no good reason. And you denied knowing him or her. ( hymn: Do your friends despise, forsake you?)
Jesus asks Peter – three times –
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Three times – one for each of the three terrible denials. He uses Simon his old name – meaning a reed. And not the new name he’d given him – Peter – the rock. Peter would have understood the implication. At hearing the third question we are told that Peter was hurt. Ironic – considering how he’d treated Jesus.
I do think he understood true remorse and sorrow.
Luke records that he had wept bitterly when he failed.
And Jesus fed him at that breakfast. That act of kindness was part of the restorative process. Three times he responded to Jesus – “I love you”. Three times Jesus gave him the pastoral care job that was to be his – “feed my lambs – tend my sheep – feed my sheep”.
I love reading Peter’s words as an older and wiser person:
In 1Pe_1:2 he says in his greeting: (to God’s elect )who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.
He goes on to say in 1Pe 1:3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 1Pe 1:4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you,
He also writes in his second letter: 2 Pet 1:2 Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.
Later he writes: 2Pe 3:13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. 2Pe_3:14 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.
There is an interesting end to this passage. Jesus gives Peter the good news that he will live until old age – but also predicts his death. Like the other disciples – Peter would give up his life for Jesus at some point. I think Peter would have been at peace about this too.
This peace is something that Jesus gives us. Do you have it? He also said this:
Joh_14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
Joh_16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.
And returning to today’s passage: Joh_20:21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”
We need peace to take the gospel of His peace to others – and to be peacemakers. And we need his peace in abundance.
Receive the peace of Christ today wherever you are.
Reading: John 12:1-8
It’s hard to believe Easter is at hand. I suppose our little ones look forward to it with some obvious enthusiasm. Who can resist those chocolate bunnies and yummy eggs? Mainly music and Messy Church were both quite animated this week by the idea of bunnies and chocolates. At Mainly Music we held off on real chocolate eggs as one of the team managed to find some rubber bouncing ones. The easter egg hunt at Messy Church was a hit I am sure.
For Jesus, the impending suffering he was about to face would have been less than enticing. Thankfully there were people in his life who expressed love and commitment to him in extravagant ways, ways which would have been hugely inspiring and encouraging.
Early on that extravagance was seen in Jesus’ first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. If you don’t know the story, it’s a great one. The wine had run out. Jesus’ supporters were there. Mary his mother for example. Your mum is always your best supporter.
At the wedding her advice to the servants has got to be the most sensible advice for us all: “Do whatever He tells you” (John 2:5).
The surprising extravagance seen in buckets of new wine (transformed bath water!) is a joy and a surprise in every sense. Jesus loved breaking conventions (bringing out the best wine last is an example at the wedding).
That story is in John chapter 2. Jump ten chapters in John’s Gospel and another Mary extravagantly shows her love for Jesus and fills the house with the fragrance of a pint of perfume poured out on his feet.
The story is recorded elsewhere and in the other accounts the perfume or nard is poured on his head. Here it’s on his feet – and there’s this interesting and sensual act by Mary (Lazarus’ sister) of wiping his feet with her hair. Mind you Mary was the one who sat at his feet listening to his teaching. It wasn’t an unfamiliar place for her to be.
This anointing of Jesus is an intimate and generous moment which would have affirmed and emboldened him as he faced a terrifying and tortuous Passover – the event we celebrate with lollies (chocolates and sweets, if you don’t know the kiwi word).
The Passover for him would not be the celebration of liberation from slavery by eating a delicious sacrificial roast lamb.
He would be the sacrifice.
I think I may be slowly understanding the effect of extravagant love like Mary’s for Jesus. I think I love him extravagantly. I hope he understands and knows this. I seek to pour out my life in praise and adoration every moment. And in sacrifice.When we have levels of intense pain and physical struggle in our lives, perhaps we will begin to have a sense of sharing in his suffering and becoming like him in his death (Phil 3:10).
On those days maybe we too will be inspired by those who love us extravagantly.
For me – whatever the fragrance is, and there are many that are beautiful and enriching – from sandalwood to lavender, vanilla, rosemary, cinnamon, or some other lovely aroma – our lives are meant to be a lovely aroma for him and for others.
May the fragrance of Jesus fill our lives. Remember Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 2:14: “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.”
Mary’s beautiful gift which incensed those who saw its dollar value was both incense and myrrh. It foreshadowed his death and enriched his life.
We should also be grateful to those who love us and show it generously. It helps us enormously when we have to face my passovers of pain.
The rather starting and amazing thing about this sacrificial gift of a year’s worth of precious spikenard was that it may well have been all she had – perhaps her inheritance. But she loved him more. Only the characters in Andrew Lloyd Weber’s JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR have to sing “I don’t know how to love him”. We do. We know. Scripture tells us how. Wesley’s hymn reminds us: “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.” We can learn new ways of loving him of course.
What is really beautiful too is that it would not be long between this dinner where he his anointed so sensually and completely and his horrible crucifixion. And while the nails were being slammed into his wrists, while the whip cracked on his back, and while he had to haul himself up for every breath on the cross in such naked and violent agony, he would still have had the residue of the nard on his skin – the aroma would have still been there. The aromatic memory that he was totally loved – that would have been comfort and courage.
This generous sacrifice and most beautiful act of giving all happened at a dinner given in Jesus’ honour. We meet in Jesus’ honour each week.
May our lives be a banquet in honour of this Jesus whose mum would still like to remind us today: “Do whatever he tells you!” And may we pour out our lives and precious ointments at his feet.
Reading: Philippians 3:17-4:1
Overview: In the reading today Paul talks about citizenship. Earlier in chapter 3 and in other epistles he shares the complexities of his many identities. Paul was a Jew, a Pharisee and a Roman citizen. He values these identities. But he finds a new one IN CHRIST.
There is a great story of a wealthy businessman who went tramping and got lost. While making his way through the thick growth of the forest he came across a local man who was quite protective of his patch. The local man called out to him: “who are you and where are you going?”. After getting help from this man, and reaching the end of the clearing he said, “would you like to come and live in the city?” The man replied – “no thanks I’m fine here. In any case how would I live there? I have no work.” The wealthy man replied: “I’ll give you a job. I’ll put you in an office next to mine.” The local was surprised at that. “What would I do there?” he asked.
“Every day” said the wealthy man “your job will be to come into my office and ask me that question: ‘who are you, and where are you going?’”
It’s a great question. It’s about identity and it’s about destiny.
In our reading today we see the shaping of Paul’s new identity. The Christian identity is firstly:
- A CLEAR IDENTITY
Who are you? asks the woodsman, the local in the story. It helps to be sure. Certain.
The Christian identity is described in a number of foundational ways including the new birth (John 3) and adoption by God as children (Romans 815; Ephesians 1:5). A key one is this:
- 2 Cor 5:17: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
- Rom_8:1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,
It’s a significant term because “in Christ” we participate in his act of salvation. We die with him (he dies in our place) and we are raised with him (the same spirit that raised Jesus from the dead dwells in us).
With this in mind, let’s look at what Paul writes in the first verse of our reading from Philippians today:
Php 3:17 Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.
If we are copy or imitate Paul’s example here as he suggests, everything else becomes secondary to this one thing of being “in Christ” and of knowing this Jesus.
“in Christ” we find ourselves safe too in our Christian identity.
Paul’s other identities are surrendered to this single identity as a Christian. We see this as we read earlier in chapter 3: Php 3:7 “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.” Includes his Jewish pedigree. And then there’s the next verse: Php 3:8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ
The Philippian context us useful here. The people who lived in Philippi were Roman citizens. They valued that but did not want to go back to Rome. They stayed in the colony called Philippi -and wanted it to be like Rome. They liked the security and stability, the infrastructure etc. There were SAFE in Caesar’s province. He was in charge of their world and they were safe in that knowledge.
But now the Philippians were becoming believers. Just as the peace of Rome and its privileges extended to the Roman citizens in Philippi (many of whom were the equivalent of today’s army veterans) God’s Kingdom on earth is the peace – the shalom of God on earth lining us up with the perfection of heaven.
This is supported by the Lord’s prayer where this realignment is reflected in the key part of the prayer: Mat 6:9 “This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, Mat 6:10 your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Paul’s new and clear Christian identity is such an all-consuming thing that he describes it like this: We are in Christ, and Christ is in us (Colossians 1:27).
So to summarise: Heaven sends Christ – Christ calls us and commissions us to work on his behalf. We are as his body an extension of Jesus who ushered in the Kingdom. It happens through us when we are in him and he in us as the will of God becomes a reality on earth. Elsewhere in 1 Corinthians 5 where we are “in Christ” and therefore a new creation we are also called his “ambassadors.”
All of this is part of our identity.
We know who we are and where we are going. Our identity and our destiny.
- A CLEAR DESTINY
It’s clear from the whole of his letter to the Philippians that Paul had a passion for doing Jesus’ will on earth AND a desire to be with the Lord.
After writing that for Him to live was Christ and to die gain, he has more to say. Look at the whole passage:
Php 1:21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. Php 1:22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! Php 1:23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; Php 1:24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.
Also remember what he says in 2 Corinthians 5: 2Co 5:6 Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. 2Co 5:7 We live by faith, not by sight. 2Co 5:8 We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.
Clearly Paul understands his identity and his ultimate destiny. In fact there is a tension between the present and the better future to come in all these passages. There is a longing for what is better.
But it is dangerous to have our priorities reversed. When Paul admonishes those who don’t follow his example, he is quite concerned about this failure. If we return to Philippians 3 we read:
Php 3:18 For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.
Php 3:19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things.
He shares this often and with tears, mourning the fact that these people are missing the boat as it were. Instead of a longing for a better destiny, seeking God’s kingdom, being ambassadors of this new creation in Christ, some of his readers are like this:
- They are enemies of the cross of Christ.
- Their god is the stomach, or their belly
- Their glory is in their shame (GNB …proud of what they should be ashamed of)
- Their mind is on earthly (or worldly) things.
The description Paul gives here is that of pagan behaviour focusing on physical pleasure and appetites. This is a warning to the Philippians of the day and to us that our lives should not be conditioned by the world of the senses. These are people who seem self obsessed and whose priorities are inverted.
More than that, to live as an “enemy of the cross” is to deny God’s sacrificial way of rescuing his people. The cross involves self-denial as Philippians 2 reminds us. We too should be like Jesus who gives up power. Terror and violence and the use of power to prove a point is the exact opposite of jesus’ way.
The consequence of living like this is clear in verse 19:
Php 3:19 Their destiny is destruction
It’s a sober warning. But for those who don’t go that route, there are great benefits.
They have a clear identity and a clear destiny.
And we like them live in this in-between time and state where we shouldn’t want to escape the world because we are called to be ambassadors in it, extending his will and his Kingdom.
Our destiny does of course includes the certain hope of eternal life.
- A CERTAIN DESTINY (A CERTAIN HOPE ON EARTH AND IN “HEAVEN”)
Returning to the passage in Philippians 3 we read: Php 3:20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, Php 3:21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
This is not an escapist approach wanting to get to heaven ASAP. For now, we pray and act to bring God’s Kingdom into reality on earth. With the hope of the future in mind – the hope of the new heaven and new earth – the recreation of all things, we work NOW to bring God’s love to bear on the world.
As we do this it follows naturally that we have a solidarity and bond with our earthly citizens like the people of those mosques in Christchurch who were so tragically gunned down this week – not only because we abhor violence and hatred, but because love and compassion are essential to our Christian DNA. They are signs of God’s Kingdom coming on earth. And the Christian community is and was from its inception a multinational family, which goes against views that make any particularly ethnicity better than another. I love it that the followers of jesus were first called Christians in the very multi-ethnic church in Antioch (Acts 13:1).
(See previous post on bbpsermons about the Chistchurch shootings on 15 February 2019) https://bbpsermons.wordpress.com/2019/03/16/reflections-on-the-christchurch-shootings-15-february-2019/?fbclid=IwAR2ig1yzAF4So7eQdKSTkV788sMiPI6vo9no03T04-C2VRSx6QJzjSI0Eno
In fact being the body of Christ – his hands and feet and voice who are his ambassadors urging people to be reconciled with God, we show compassion and care as an expression of his Kingdom and God’s character seen in Jesus and duplicated in us as his followers. After all Jesus’ new commandment is this: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. (John 13:34).
But what about this heavenly citizenship? What do we make of this? Is Paul wanting to get out of here to a better place? A kind of Christian “beam me up Scotty” if you remember the Star Trek transporter.
No – he is IN CHRIST. His desire is also to be WITH THE LORD fully. Remember: Php 1:23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; Php 1:24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.
He recognises that he is needed for ministry to them and others.
In the meantime – like us – he is Heaven’s citizen living on earth. The only really important dual citizenship.
He is like the Roman colonists in Philippi who remain Roman citizens but stay in the colony rather than going back to Rome.
And so are we. We are like colonials from heaven.
So he can declare: But our citizenship is in heaven
And I love the promise of what that means that follows in these verses
And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, Php 3:21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
What a glorious day it will be! For the frail, the infirm, the amputee and the disabled. More than that, it will be glorious for the able-bodied too. I am so looking forward to my body being transformed! And being with the Lord.
In the meantime, we are citizens of heaven representing the Kingdom coming on earth. There is much work to be done:
Showing compassion in the face of terror and tragic deaths, modelling Jesus’ way by imitating Paul as he imitates Christ; praying that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven, and modelling his will and way of life for others to witness.
This is our identity and our destiny.
As a lovely end to this passage, Phil 4:1 records why Paul tells them these things: – they need this certainty to stand firm in difficult times:
Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!
Our identity and destiny certainly keep us steady in troubled times too.
Can you imagine what it must be like when the place you hold dear – a place of worship – becomes a killing field? It’s hard to get your head around it – imagine it happening here in our church.
It’s happened in other countries. In the country of my birth – in the St James Church massacre in 1993 (25 July) 11 people were killed and 58 wounded. The perpetrators were eventually granted amnesty by the truth and reconciliation commission in 1998. Families of victims and survivors of that shooting have suffered a lot and still do. It makes my recent talk on trauma very relevant.
It’s happened more recently in Christian churches in Egypt and other North African countries. We don’t think too much about them – it seems too far away.
But here? In this country? It would be like something happening on the South Island far from us – and something down the road if we lived in Christchurch. Unlike the earthquake which shook everyone again and again, a shooting down the road would have sounded like fireworks and maybe someone else’s problem.
Except that wounded people were running through the neighborhood. A young man asleep – not unusual of course for young people at lunch times some days – was more than slightly surprised to find a wounded man running through his home. He and his friend helped him and applied pressure on the wound and so forth, as you do when a man with a rifle shot wound walks through your house. He called for an ambulance. None came. So the friends took the man to hospital themselves.
You would have heard the stories as the world has – of a 66-year-old woman driving down the road being shot at and helping one wounded man and watching another die – feeling helpless and yet helping a great deal indeed. Other amazing stories abound.
You will hear the concerns about slow response time – about poor intelligence services, about innocence and complacency. About who should be held responsible for not picking up on extremists who can post things in advance on social media and not be picked up. You probably now know what a GoPro camera is – so that a shooter can broadcast live what he is doing – like a personal dash camera. You will also probably wonder about people who posted and shared video footage on line of old people, women, children, in a place of worship, being wounded and killed. And you may rightfully wonder if the world has finally gone mad and if people are actually totally depraved after all.
This kind of violence is not new, however. New Zealand has simply been spared it at home thus far. Sadly, we will have to rethink our lax attitudes about all kinds of things from now on.
We extend our love and prayers to all who have lost loved ones or have been injured. And we stand in solidarity with all kiwis who reject violence, hatred and prejudice of any form.
A lot of kiwis may well be reflecting on their identity today. Many are certainly standing together with the communities of those two Christchurch mosques in a powerful witness of unity as a people. They may well be thinking more about Muslim citizens of this country and the world. Maybe we all will begin to appreciate more that God loves the whole world.
Let’s hope that people who are often prejudiced toward those who are different will pray for them all, and especially pray that those who have been bereaved in Christchurch may be comforted. I pray that they may be drawn to Isa’s (Jesus’) love at this time.
May the God who is the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3) richly bless those who grieve and this nation with his love.
God of compassion Hear the cry of those who mourn; where terror and violence have robbed them of their loved ones and shattered communities in our country; God of compassion, hear our prayer
God of peace hear the cry of those who yearn for peace; in battle zones and broken states, frightened, fearful, anxious; God of peace, hear our prayer
God of love hear the cry of those who yearn for love; fractured families, broken homes neglected, unwanted, alone. God of love, hear our prayer
God of justice hear the cry of those who yearn for justice; persecuted and oppressed, exploited, ill-treated, broken. God of justice, hear our prayer
God of healing hear the cry of those who yearn for healing; physical and spiritual hurting, weakened, depressed; God of healing, hear our prayer
Journey with us, O holy God, as we continue our way to the cross. Sharpen our focus, that our attention may center more on you than ourselves. Lead us through the shadows of darkness and prepare our hearts, that we might be a people of prayer, ready to perceive and respond to your Son and our Saviour, Jesus Christ.
Readings: Psalm 139:1-12; 23-4; Phil 4:4-8; John 14:15-27
Once of my favourite movies is “Keeping the Faith” – where a rabbi and a priest fall in love with the same girl. The rabbi is fired for doing different and unusual things in his attempt to modernize. This scene is his farewell sermon:
I often think about that sermon.
How much of yourself do you share with your congregation? It’s a great challenge if you are a minister.
After all, preaching is about the Word of God – and should always lead people to Jesus, and not to the preacher.
That’s one of the reasons why Presbyterian ministers wore black – it was meant to not draw attention to themselves. I think these days if you wore black all the time people might think you’re an alien who was supposed to land in Wellington. After all they wear black there. A lot.
Sometimes I’m probably a bit too transparent. But today I don’t have a choice.
If we’re talking about anxiety and peace – they are very personal things.
Anxiety by definition is individual first. Human beings get anxious. We worry. And we don’t have peace of mind in a personal sense.
Peace on the other hand could be looked at from a broader worldwide point of view – peace between nations, tribes, families, gangs and so on.
God’s SHALOM is a social and personal idea – we area meant to find peace together. We make peace with each other. We pray for peace between nations and rightly so. And we seek and have internal peace.
Did you notice the rabbi’s first word in his sermon? SHALOM. Peace.
They didn’t respond. I’m not sure if they were supposed to, like churches passing the peace. It reminds me of the minister who was trying to get his laptop working at the beginning of the service and forgot that his radio mike was on. He muttered to himself “there’s something wrong with this mouse” – to which the congregation replied without thinking: “and also with you!”
Peace can be contrasted with anxiety therefore.Let’s look at anxiety first. The verse I want us to look at from the readings today is this one: Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. (Psalm 139:23)
It’s found a famous song by J Edwin Orr written to the well known Maori tune after a mission at Ngaruawahia in 1936 – Search me oh God – when young Maori girls sang farewell to him. We know it as “now is the hour”
E moea iho nei
E haere ana
Koe ki pämamao
Ka hoki mai anö
Ki i te tau
E tangi atu nei
(On a moonlit night
I see in a dream
You going away
To a distant land
But return again
To your loved one,
I love the Hebrew language. It’s so rich.
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.
“Anxious thoughts” is one word in Hebrew. Some translations just say: “test me and know my thoughts”. Thoughts here is not just a little bit of thinking about something.
The mind is a mine field isn’t it. Our thought life. Worry worry. Sleepless nights thinking thinking thinking.
Rene Descartes in his “Discourse on method” introduced us to that famous line:
COGITO ERGO SUM – I think, therefor I am – a philosophical statement which led him ultimately to postulate a view of humanity or human beings.
I think it was the Moody Blues in the song “In the beginning – lovely to see you” who used the line and added some doubt to it: “I think am, therefore I am… I think.”. It’s a creation image with a crescendo – and then these thoughts:
I think, I think I am, therefore I am, I think.
The song includes the words about people who: Face piles – And piles – Of trials – With smiles.
“Anxious thoughts” could also translated be as “cogitations” from that same Latin word Cogito.
Cogitate means: think deeply about something; meditate or reflect. Synonyms include: think (about), contemplate, consider, give thought to, give consideration to, mull over, meditate (on), muse (on), ponder (on/over), reflect (on), deliberate (about/on), ruminate (about/on/over), dwell on, brood (on/over), agonize (over), worry (about), chew over, puzzle (over), speculate about, weigh up, revolve, turn over in one’s mind
Ruminate, dwell on, brood over, chew over – is only one small step to grinding your teeth and being restless and anxious. Mr. worry pot.
The new translation of Psalm 139:23 in Afrikaans captures it beautifully:
“… ondersoek my, sien tog my onrus raak.” – examine me, see my unease.
Onrus – unrest – back in the day, meant political upheaval with violence. Really disturbing things.
Like the rabbi in that Yom Kippur sermon, its hard for me to know where to start when it comes to sharing my life with people in the area of anxiety and stress. I’ve suffered from some post-traumatic stress symptoms including anxiety attacks. Panic attacks. They still lurk when I hear an ambulance siren.
Many times these verses have applied to me: Psa 139:23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Psa 139:24 See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
Sometimes my anxious thoughts are linked to some offensive way in me. I am sometimes feeling off because I need to sort myself out. The problem can be with me.
But many times serious anxiety is beyond our control due to outside circumstances and events that are traumatic or challenging.
I can’t tell you the whole story in my journey today. But I can testify to the peace of God that passes all understanding. It’s as real as the chair you’re sitting on.
Paul in our second reading in Phil 4:7 speaks of this “peace of God, which transcends all understanding”, which will “guard (y)our hearts and (y)our minds in Christ Jesus”
It’s worth memorizing this verse 7 – seven is a perfect number – you may remember it as it rhymes with heaven. What leads us to this “seven – heaven” state of peace?
Why verse 6 of course: Php 4:6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
Don’t be anxious about “anything”.
Easier said than done of course. Post-traumatic stress disorder is an automatic response from the brain designed to protect you from danger.
What I had to do was to pray through the anxiety and after some years it eased – together with the transformation of my thinking to realize after some years that it could have been much worse.
So when someone close to me experienced real anxiety this this week I said the same thing that the counsellor said at the time – which I didn’t receive easily. It was too early. The counsellor said this to me – you’re going to be okay and nobody died.
I don’t agonize over a lot of things any more. No more serious cogitating.
Paul tells us not be anxious about stuff and events – anything. Writing from jail (he wasn’t a prison chaplain but an inmate) he says: Php 4:6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
“with thanksgiving” means that thanksgiving is a foundational attitude in prayer.
Some people battle to pray out loud initially. You can. Say thank you for something and you will have the foundation for other prayers – petitions and requests.
Yes, there are times for silence.
But when we pray together we need to really pray.
Prayer and petition. “gebed en smeking” again using the Afrikaans; “prayer and supplication”. There is as begging almost, a pleading, and a passion that seems to be involved.
It’s captured in some of the Psalms. These two are good ones from David and the sons of Korah:
Psalm 61:1 Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer. Psa 61:2 From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I. Psa 61:3 For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe. Psa 61:4 I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings. Psa 84:1 How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD Almighty!
Psa 84:2 My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. (Psa 84:3 Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young— a place near your altar, O LORD Almighty, my King and my God. Psa 84:4 Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you.)
My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.
You can see the parallels with passages that talk about thirst.
This is a longing for his presence. We shared last week about living water welling up from within the depths of our being – that he is with us and in us.
Listen again to verses 16 and 17 of our final reading in John 14: Joh 14:16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever— Joh 14:17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.
The gospel reading goes on to say that the peace is linked again to the presence of God through His Holy Spirit:
Joh 14:26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Joh 14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
We need to focus and listen and not be distracted as we pray and plead, bringing our prayers and petitions to our Father. He is here.
At Presbytery we had some workshops yesterday. I went to one about expecting more from God.…
The teaching was brilliant. It was really a series of bible passages reminding us of his presence with stories about God being in situations and really working in people’s lives in power – that’s when the peace he offers becomes tangible.
The neat thing is that the presenter spoke last year at the New Wine retreat I went to in August up at Coatesville. As she shared yesterday, you could sense something happening in the room – as people’s faith began to increase. At the end she asked people individually what they were expecting from God. It was good to hear. And inspiring.
You have to know this peace to be effective in any kind of ministry.
You can’t give what you don’t have really effectively.
I believe he wants you to have his peace today
Jesus’ peace is not as the world gives.
- Not total tranquility, or the absence of troubles or challenges… – but peace in the storms
- Not a perfect life or complete healing (though some are fully healed)… but courage to face what comes our way (I’m happy to talk to you on another occasion about my health – for now be at peace about it as I am doing very well.)
- Not an exemption from thinking through issues – remember “I think, therefore I am” – but at least peace of heart AND MIND. Remember the heaven in verse seven of Phil 4: Php 4:7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
- Not a life where everything is for free or without cost. Have a look at this sign: “I pay, therefore I am…” The notice said: PLEASE PAY YOUR PARKING FEE BEFORE EXISTING. Jesus’ peace involves knowing he provides as well.
- Not a life dominated by trauma and anxiety – post traumatic recovery is possible. He really can heal us from damaging experiences.
In conclusion remember Jesus words about anxiety in Matthew:
Mat 6:34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (NIV)
Or in another good translation: “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (ESV)
Readings: Hebrew 1:1-3; John 1:1-5; 10-14
Do you get relatives coming for Christmas?
I noticed on SKY TV a suggestion from the Mental Health Foundation in Australia to help you get through the season in good shape:
MENTAL HEALTH RECOMMENDATIONS
- Sleep and relaxation
- Eating and drinking in moderation
- Keeping calm during family gatherings
- Doing good
Keep calm in family gatherings! A fair call. Just remember those this Christmas who have no family or whose loved ones are in care or in hospital and they can’t be together.
By the way there’s a lovely version of the serenity prayer when it comes to interesting people in our lives:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know its me. 🙂
Yes family descends. It often means a bit of work preparing for their coming.
Some family members inspire you to do a lot of cleaning and sorting. The house has to be tidy – perhaps for granny or your favourite auntie.
And on Christmas day if they all come along – well there’s all kinds of cleaning and cooking. That Christmas meal is heaps of work. Especially preparing things like turkeys or Christmas Ham. My favourite Mr Bean story is where he plays with the nativity set in a shop. But the craziest part of his Christmas adventure is when he gets a turkey stuck on his head. It can’t be that bad for us!
You’ve got to know what you are doing in the kitchen. And you’ve got to get ready for the day.
The truth is that we put a lot of time into preparing for Christmas celebrations – but how much effort goes into preparing for Jesus’ coming?
- It’s one thing if your gran checks if the house is clean and dusted.
- But Jesus’ coming means a lot of other things may need inspecting and cleaning up.
Jesus’ first coming as a baby is almost like “coming ready or not”. Very few people actually recognized his coming. And his own people did not receive him.
Mary and Joseph were prepared by angels bringing messages. Those revelations were quite frightening I am sure. The “wise” kings were alert and looking for signs. But there were to be risks for them too. Some like the shepherds got one of those “surprise” moments. All in all it makes sense that angels should say: “don’t be afraid!’
John’s gospel doesn’t talk about the birth of Jesus like Matthew and Luke. There’s no detail. But there is explanation. especially in these verses:
He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. (John 1:10-12)
We need to make sure that we receive Him. Look what happens when we receive – and believe;
He gives us “the right to become children of God’ Born of God.
So what does that mean?
1. No longer orphans or lost boys
It reminds me of the lost boys in the story of Peter Pan. There are a number of countries in the world where there are many orphaned children in homes due to the disasters of human conflict. And tragedies on our roads take parents away.
Becoming children of God is a wonderful blessing. Like the lost boys we too need to be found. Becoming children of God also means:
2. Having a really good father
Chris Tomlin has written a wonderful song called “Good good Father.”
The words are a good reminder of the Father’s heart:
I’ve heard a thousand stories of what they think you’re like
But I’ve heard the tender whispers of love in the dead of night
And you tell me that you’re pleased
And that I’m never alone
The chorus follows and a brilliant second verse:
You’re a good good father
It’s who you are, it’s who you are, it’s who you are
And I’m loved by you
It’s who I am, it’s who I am, it’s who I am
I’ve seen many searching for answers far and wide
But I know we’re all searching
For answers only you provide
‘Cause you know just what we need
Before we say a word
3. We also don’t have to be afraid…
Fear and anxiety dominate our lives so much today. The words of the angels still ring in our heads: ‘Do not be afraid”.
Our nation and many others have hundreds of thousands of people on anti-anxiety medication. Keeping calm is not easy even on a normal day, never mind when the relatives descend.
John who writes about us having the right to become children of God through Jesus the word who became flesh and made his home (literally pitched his tent) among us, also writes this in his first letter chapter 4 verse 18:
God’s “perfect love drives out all fear.”
Paul in one of my favourite passages also says this:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6-7.
These are the blessings of receiving this gift – the person of Jesus – whose coming we celebrate today.
A blessed Christmas to you all.
Readings: Isaiah 9:1-7; Phil 4:4-7; Luke 2:1-11
STORY: “Finders keepers.”
My dad had this policy at home – that if you left money around it was his. A kind of finders keepers thing.
I quite like it. People leave all kinds of things around here.
I think I’m going to be the “finders keepers” guy.
Take this little white box for example. It turned up on my birthday. Must be mine. Inside is this amazing mug.
I need a new coffee mug here at work. And it’s got some writing on it. Bible things which fit into the theme for the day and that pink candle which represents joy. It says “The joy of the Lord is my strength” from Nehemiah 8. What joy to find such a treasure.
It reminds me of the parable in Matthew 13 – about the man who found treasure hidden in a field – who hid the treasure and went and sold ALL HE HAD to buy that field. Jesus says of that man “in his joy he went…” The people I witnessed in Greece who had come to faith in Jesus – those refugees – you can imagine their joy too. It’s not about Greece – its about the GOSPEL – the good news of great joy changing lives.
(Hopefully the owner of the mug will claim it! Better not leave things lying around here in the future!)
So let’s talk about joy today.
So how joyful will your Christmas be?
And what is the right word to describe Christmas anyway?
If you say Happy Christmas, then what do you say for New Year?
Happy Christmas and a Merry New Year sounds strange.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year sounds sensible. And you do want some merriment after all. No one wants to be like Ebenezer Scrooge.
This 1984 version has George C Scott as Scrooge. Here he is at his worst: I mean Scrooge, not George C Scott!
Not a Merry person is he. It takes some scary visits from ghosts to change Scrooge.
But what about us?
The answer lies in having Jesus at the centre. In our hearts?
Yes, in that our hearts are the seat of our emotions. Perhaps the centre of our wills too? We are certainly told to love the Lord our God with all our heart at least.
Love and peace which are represented by the first two advent candles are broad concepts with many associated ideas that may or may not be based in spirituality.
Joy on the other hand seems a bit more focused.
In Sunday School we sang songs like ‘Joy Joy Joy with joy my heart is singing” and it seemed criminal not to clap as part of the song’s celebration.
Like “I am H A P P Y”. You can’t really sing it and be miserable.
Singing, by the way, does improve your mood and generate good brain chemicals.
Research indicates that people feel great after singing together probably from endorphins (a pleasure hormone) or oxytocin, another hormone. They’ve found that GROUP singing decreases depression and feelings of loneliness.
So it is a good thing to sing! Join a choir! And positive songs area probably more helpful.
The Sunday School songs we sang as kids are about one aspect of joy.
Joy joy joy with joy my heart is singing goes on to say joy joy joy, his love to me is known. My sins are all forgiven, I’m on my way to heaven, my heart is bubbling over with his joy joy joy.
The New Testament scholar Tom Wright rightly asks the question – what about what happens in the meantime – between this celebration of forgiveness of sins and going to heaven?
The Bible does not just talk about salvation as our destination at the end of life.
It has much to say about how we live in the meantime. It has rich pictures of what joy is in a broader sense.
It involves situations, people, relationships, and especially the work of the Holy Spirit.
For example in Paul’s writings:
- For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14:7);
- May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13).
- But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Gal 5:22 – 23).
Through forgiveness of sins by the cross and the work of the Spirit we have access to God – Paul in Ephesians 2 writes about the consequences of the cross: Eph 2:17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. Eph 2:18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
The in-between time if you are a person who thinks of salvation as being qualified to go to heaven – is actually the real relational stuff now.
There is JOY in this relationship with God NOW through the work of the Holy Spirit who makes God real to us as Paul says to the Roman readers: May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (ch 15)
JOY IS ALSO SEEN WHERE PEOPLE REACH THEIR POTENTIAL IN CHRIST
Writing about the Thessalonians – in the earliest of his letters to the one church that gets things right he says:
For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy. (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20).
Seeing people reach their full potential in Christ IN COMMUNITY brings joy to Paul – and to me. And to others.
SO WE HAVE JOY IN US THROUGH GOD’S POWER – AND JOY IN US WHEN CHRISTIAN COMMUNITIES REFLECT JESUS FULLY
If we have this joy from the Spirit and are a source of joy because of changed lives, people may be joyful when we come into a room rather than when we leave it! We talk about this church being a lighthouse for people. The fact is we are the church wherever we go -our joy and peace and hope should shine.
So when we hear the message of the angels, joy is right up there as a key sign of the coming of Messiah Jesus: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. (Luke 2:10).
This news of Te Harinui.
They needed it back then – because like all religious groups, you can get so fixated on how you do things – your systems and rules – that you lose the point of why you are there.
When Jesus came his people rejected him (John 1:12) – the very people who had both the law and the prophets available to them.
For example, talking to the Sadducees who did not believe in the resurrection (remember their trick question about the lady who’s husband died and she married the brother – who also died… married the whole lot of them the poor woman…) Jesus says:
Mat 22:29 Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.
And of course to the teachers of the law – well they hardly brought joy into peoples’ lives. So Jesus says to them:
Luke 11:46 Jesus replied, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.
“good news of great joy” was needed.
The religious leaders didn’t bring joy. The Roman occupiers didn’t either.
Jesus’ way of bringing Joy confounded them of course. On the cross. Rather than the obvious hope they had of a Messiah who would defeat their oppressive Roman occupiers.
So to go back to my story of finders keepers at the beginning – and the lovely cup I found here at church.
The writing of the cup reminds us that this joy is not the same as a Merry Christmas or a Happy new year. The joy of the LORD is our strength!
So we end with Paul’s injunction – his command that we be joyful in Philippians 4:
Php 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Php 4:5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Php 4:6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. Php 4:7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
This joy is in the Lord- in the relationship – not in our circumstances – and the peace of God comes along as part of the package.
That is good news of great joy for all of us.
Have you found it? If you haven’t don’t delay – and ask for help to do so.
May the joy of the Lord be your strength. Amen.