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Sunday 4 September 2022 @ BBP – The New Family

Readings: Philemon 1-25 (whole letter); Luke 14:25-33.

MESSAGE

Jesus’ words in Luke 14 today are addressed to the crowds that followed him. They are uncompromising and challenging. It’s hardly the best way to get a group of followers to sign up to something. Imagine a politician today offering that kind of deal: “Vote for me, to lose homes and families, have the highest taxes in the world, low to no wages, and voluntarily give up your life  at some point”. Hardly worth a heckle or a rotten tomato. People are more likely to be perplexed and shake their heads. When you think about it, Jesus is pretty much doing that. Hate friends, leave your treasured possessions, and don’t be surprised if you have a nasty death.

We’ve talked about this before. It’s a contrast – overstatement – hyperbole if you like fancy terms. Because you’ve really got to be passionate and fired up for the Kingdom of God and King Jesus – if you’re serious about seeking his Kingdom first.

Perhaps here’s a better way to describe this. Supposing, instead of a politician, we think of the leader of a great expedition, forging a way through a high and dangerous mountain pass to bring urgent medical aid to villagers cut off from the rest of the world. ‘If you want to come any further,’ the leader says, ‘you’ll have to leave your packs behind. From here on the path is too steep to carry all that stuff. You probably won’t find it again. And you’d better send your last postcards home; this is a dangerous route and it’s very likely that several of us won’t make it back.’ (Wright, N. T.. Luke for Everyone (The New Testament for Everyone) (p. 180). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.)

You get a taste of this kind of commitment to a cause in armies being geared up for battle. Or volunteers going to the Ukraine to fight against injustice. You don’t tell your mom until you’ve arrived there – and you sent a text or email where you won’t see the look on her face or hear her verbal response.

Taking up your cross was not a figurative thing or a metaphor back then. It was real. And there may be towers that need to be built today – wars to fight for the modern church. It’s a reminder that you can’t be a fence sitter in this Christian walk. You often have to count the cost.

So when we read Paul’s letter to Philemon – we discover that it was true for him. He’s in prison. It cost him dearly – and eventually he gave up his life for this cause. For being a Christ-follower.

People sometimes avoid this letter. I have – I’ve never really focused on the account before. In the back of my mind a story involving a runaway slave somehow never got my attention. Some rightly point out that it’s the only letter from Paul that doesn’t talk specifically about Christ and the cross. They wonder how it actually made it into the canon of scripture.

On closer inspection of the 25 verses – the average length they say of a normal letter at the time – you find a level of language and passion that is also counter-cultural and revealing.

So about this slavery thing. Slaves back then in bible times were nothing like the slaves of the more recent slave trades – by those who took Africans to the Caribbean and America, and the Moors – who took white slaves to serve them (from Ireland and Cornwall, and Iceland as examples.)

In New Testament times Romans enslaved anyone they chose to. It wasn’t an ethnic thing. Up to 40% of the population was enslaved. They were property – animated tools- bought and sold at will. If they ran away, they could be caught and legally executed. If they stole money (they were often entrusted with errands involving financial transactions) that would have to be repaid. They cost money so it made no sense to kill them. Many were often well educated and useful, and could make money to buy their freedom.

For Paul to try to stop slavery would be as challenging as you or me telling people to give up something they used and needed daily. Like your motor car. On the grounds of the ethical issue of what cars do to the environment etc. Or electricity or any other commodities that keeps life going.

So Paul is often maligned by modern writers for his approach to slavery. You can read in Ephesians 6 and 1 Corinthians what his teachings were. In short, be a good slave, and stay where you were when called by Jesus. Although if given an opportunity to get your freedom – then take it, he says.

Paul comes at things from a different angle in this letter to Philemon. Its about the new family – the bond of love between Christians.

Philemon lives in Colossae. He probably goes to Ephesus and hears the gospel through Paul. (Paul talks about Philemon being indebted to him in verse 19 – because of his salvation.)

Onesimus – his slave – gets into some kind of trouble and runs away from Colossae and ends up in Ephesus. Maybe he’d heard Paul speak before when with his master. We don’t know. But he goes to see Paul in prison, and through Paul becomes a follower of Jesus.

So, let’s look for some signs of this new family in the letter:

Phm 1:1  Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker, Phm 1:2  to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier and to the church that meets in your home: Phm 1:3  Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

There’s nothing unusual about that. We sing songs like brother, sister, let me serve you. It’s in our vocabulary at any rate.

Paul clearly loves Philemon -who by the way has a church meeting in his house.

Phm 1:4  I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, Phm 1:5  because I hear about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints. Phm 1:6  I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ. Phm 1:7  Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints.

There is another purpose though in this. He’s genuine about all of this, but the reminder is a prelude to an awkward conversation.

He can’t confront Philemon about this issue of the runaway slave head on. Neither can he afford to ignore it.

Onesimus – whose name ironically means “useful” – he was far from useful to his owner clearly when he ran away – became very useful to Paul. Understand that you needed help when in prison – someone had to feed you and support you. Nothing like our modern jails at all.

Listen to what he says and his playing with the slave’s name:

Phm 1:8  Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, Phm 1:9  yet I appeal to you on the basis of love. I then, as Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— Phm 1:10  I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. Phm 1:11  Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.

V8 – he could exercise authority and tell Philemon what to do as an apostle and his spiritual mentor and father. But no, he appeals on the basis of love – for this slave. Oh and he adds – I’m an old man (probably close to 60!) and I’m in prison.

Here’s the crux: — Phm 1:10  I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains.

Not only is Paul Philemon’s spiritual father (he led him to Christ), but the runaway slave called Useful, is now his spiritual son as he’s led him to faith in Christ too.  While in chains. Nothing stops this great evangelist.

But these are not just word pictures – father and son in a symbolic way.

Phm 1:12  I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. Gosh, this might sound like a soppy Paul that you can’t reconcile with the apostle sorting out the wayward Corinthians in his letters (he says in one place “shall I come to you with a whip, or in love and with a gentle spirit” (1 Cor 4:21), telling their women to hush in worship, telling slaves to be loyal and stay where they are (in Ephesians and 1 Corinthians 7).

People love to hate Paul for all kinds of reasons, especially his apparent attitude to women, forgetting that in his person greetings in Romans 16 there are more than a dozen women mentioned by name.

If you find his declaring that a converted slave is a son and that he is Paul’s “very heart” a bit mushy, you will be pleased to know that heart there is a translation of a stronger gutsier word.

Σπλάγχνον – splagchnon. It’s a great word. Closer to the word spleen. You see Jesus moved in the same inner parts when he cleanses a leper in Mark1:41 –  Filled with compassion (the same word used), Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” This is why we don’t always favour word for word translation out of context. Splagchnon means intestines or bowels. Or the deepest part of your soul. Heart captures that depth. An idiomatic comparison would be something like “bone of my bone”.

Paul really is bonded with this slave in a bond of love. That “sticketh closer than a brother”.

On Fathers’ day – I thought it would give us something to talk about. Or reflect on. We men, who are not that great at expressing emotions sometimes. Paul goes on to say:

Phm 1:13  I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel.

He is like a son to me – and I’d like to keep him as he is doing Philemon what you would have done as my spiritual son too.

Paul then goes on circumspectly: Phm 1:14  But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do will be spontaneous and not forced. Phm 1:15  Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back for good—

This separation God is working for good so that – here comes the crunch:

… that you might have him back for good— Phm 1:16  no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord.

What an amazing family where there is neither Jew nor Greek, male or female, slave or free – all one as children of God our Father with Jesus as the firstborn among many brothers…

And if you think there is no message of the cross in this letter – Jesus giving up himself in our place so that we can be free from sin and indebtedness – here it comes:

Phm 1:17  So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. Phm 1:18  If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. Phm 1:19  I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self.

  • Jesus – if you have seen me, you have seen the Father.
  • When the father looks on us in our sin he sees Jesus and his righteousness.
  • When the Satan (the accuser – it’s a descriptive name or title) accuses us – it is Christ who has taken our blame, our debt he paid, and our death he died – we sing (Amazing love).

Paul is being like Jesus in place of Onesimus: Philemon -if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. (Matthew 25 – what you do to the least of these you do it unto me).

Listen to it again: Phm 1:17  So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me.

Phm 1:18  If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me.

 Phm 1:19  I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self.

I’ll pay this slave’s debt to you, says Paul.

But you have some responsibility too.

Phm 1:20  I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. Phm 1:21  Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask.

Make my day. Just as you refreshed the hearts of the saints (in verse 6) do it for me. And then he says “confidence of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask”

Why obedience? He didn’t use his apostolic authority – the authority of position. Of status. Of being directed by God.

Obedience comes out of love. Not obligation to a rule or power, but conformity to the will of God – the law of love – the gospel of reconciliation.

And Onesimus had the same challenge. He had to face the music. Face his master Philemon.

The cross of Jesus which brings reconciliation between us and God  – does it’s work here in love. Not a mushy love, but a gutsy make the right choice – deal with the consequences – be committed to the partnership we have in the new family – kind of love.

The bond of love unites us in this family – and we are committed to the King in his kingdom of love.

And just in case they are tempted not to reconcile, he makes a step of faith: Phm 1:22  And one thing more: Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your(pl) prayers.

Lightfoot calls this a “gentle compulsion” – I’m coming to visit.

It would be a good conversation – Paul might have thought – when he got there. Maybe by that time Philemon would have reviewed his whole policy on slavery. He might have influenced other slave owners in their house church. Maybe he could have bought other slaves their freedom.

Maybe more slaves would be led to Christ. More new spiritual fathers and sons. The body of Christ built up – to borrow Paul in Ephesians – into maturity:

“so that the body of Christ may be built up Eph 4:13  until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

It’s a powerful story of reconciliation, of the meaning of spiritual fatherhood and sonship, that challenge we have to lead others to faith.

It cost Jesus a lot to win our freedom. Paul was prepared to pay for this relationship to be restored too. Jesus’ way can cost you – and we don’t always count the cost.

Paul ends his letter with his favourite and official signature – about grace. This is all grace.

How often do we extend grace and pay a price for others by saying ”charge it to my account.”

We see this letter to Philemon a beautiful picture of what the Father has done for us in Jesus Christ.

Martin Luther said, “All of us are Onesimuses!” and he was right.

Amen.

Sunday 23 January 2022 at BBP – Now you are the body of Christ

Readings: 1 Corinthians 12:12-30a; Luke 4:14-30

MESSAGE: “You are the body of Christ.”

1Co 12:27 “ Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

So we’re back. Welcome back.  It’s good to be together.

The wonderful thing is that being together physically in a bigger group is only one aspect of being the body of Christ – this New Testament term for the church.

There are quite a number of churches who haven’t yet got together on Sundays.

But the work goes on.

The body is networked and meets in small groups or one on one to encourage one another. Or like our Friday Zoom coffee group meeting online – where they are just there for each other in different ways.

It’s the relationships that matter I suspect. Think of the families that remain separated after these two years. Not at all easy.

This whole MIQ story has created great pain. And more pain when people who live here abuse these terrible kiwis who are trying to come home.

What does it mean to be a Christ-follower – a disciple – in this situation?

And how do we respond to all the complex issues and divided opinions?

There are a couple of things that stand out in the readings today.

The Corinthians are getting a little bit of revving or chastising on this matter of gifts and status only because they were a disunited bunch where people were really badly behaved. The letter doesn’t reach a climax in chapter 13 on love (which Sean will unwrap for us next week) for nothing, Chapter 12 ends with this: “And now I will show you a better way:”

They were getting told off by Paul because people were treating others as inferior – pointing to themselves as superior really. Hence the extended metaphor of the body’s members or parts all being important. Those of you with a troublesome toe or like me an ankle will know how important those individual parts are. (No I can’t blame the ankle for weight gains over lockdown and Christmas! Its those mince pies I think!)

Paul therefore says that “…there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.” (Verse 25).

The theological reason for this appeal is earlier in verse 13: 

1 Co 12:13  For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

Ring any bells? Galatians 3:28? My favourite verse on unity. Especially no male or female. We are all one. (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.)

Or more recently when I spoke from Colossians 3:11:  Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. (He  goes on of course: Col 3:12  Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Col 3:13  Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

Or in Ephesians 4 –  so key to church life:

Eph 4:4  There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; Eph 4:5  one Lord, one faith, one baptism; Eph 4:6  one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

  • When Jesus started his ministry in Luke 4, he reads from the prophet Isaiah in his hometown synagogue:

Luk 4:18  “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed,

Luk 4:19  to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

As much as we try to spiritualize these groups of recipients of the good news, there are implications for the marginalized and excluded or badly treated by people of power (the oppressed) – or those in prison. Jesus is interested in them.

  • In Luke 4 – when the people hear about him at first, Jesus’ reputation has preceded him as they are amazed at his teachings.
  • When he says that the scripture is fulfilled in their hearing, they get a bit more concerned. (Who is this guy then? )
  • When he tells them that a prophet is not welcome in his own hometown, reminding them of God’s blessing on non-Jews in the Old Testament – blessing that widow of Sidon in a famine and the healing of Namaan the Syrian leper  –  well let’s say they’re less than thrilled.

They try to throw him off a cliff. What  a lovely way to end a synagogue service.

Pull these two together – the conflicted Corinthians who had to learn that the least were just as important – and Jesus’ extended circle in his hometown Nazareth who needed to hear about God loving and blessing people whom they had written off and despised (I guess like the Samaritans too – Jesus sorts that out doesn’t he in the parable of that name) – and we discover that the Jesus’ way is somewhat inconvenient.

He kind of wraps this up in his teaching elsewhere that we should love our enemy and pray for those who persecute us.

It’s easy to vilify people and cast aspersions on them, playing the blame game or the indignant kind of scandalous conversations we have about people who are different. Or whose views make us angry. Or whose decisions and attitudes rile us. Like our government. I have to be humbled regularly by the reminder that we are to pray for those in authority.

Yes we can disagree or even walk away from people who are really toxic  – we can put up barriers and boundaries to protect ourselves from dangerous people. But we have to love them like Jesus loved us – at least committed to praying for them to be blessed and to be changed by his love.

Jesus loved us first. Remember these words in 1 John 4?

 1Jn 4:9  This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 1Jn 4:10  This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

And Romans 8?

Rom 5:8  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

He loved us with the desire to bring us to our senses and to repentance and wholeness and ultimately inclusion in the body of Christ, so that we could love others as he loved us.

The wonderful thing about grace is that we are welcomed just as we are.  I come just as I am.

We can find a sense of belonging when a local church family welcomes us – we can then grow in faith and believe – and in time we behave differently.

This pandemic has raised the level of blame and rage against people with different views.

We have to be different. Above that.

Because we are the body of Christ.

Yes, they may be nutters in our view who cause us to mutter under our breath but the really do matter.

No matter how important they think they are or how insignificant they may feel. We can’t say “I don’t need you” says Paul.

Because we are the body of Christ, and especially in the body of Christ.

We are the voice and the feet and the hands of Christ – the example – those who show forth grace and love – and simple human kindness.

Who when the Holy Spirit anoints our lives become more compassionate like Jesus – who wept over the crowds in the cities and towns where he went because people were helpless and harassed – like sheep without a shepherd.

This communion meal we share involves eating symbols of sacrificial love.

We eat and drink things that are symbols of a death born out of hatred and blame, condemnation and rage – and receive new love and life, with power to love.

It’s a radical position to take because we die to ourselves in doing so.

We declare we are a new people who are different.

Paul in Romans 15, puts it like this:

Rom 15:1  We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Rom 15:2  Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. Rom 15:3  For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” Rom 15:4  For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. Rom 15:5  May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, Rom 15:6  so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Rom 15:7  Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

Amen!

Sunday 26 December 2021 – The Peace of Christ.

Readings: Colossians 3:12-17; Luke 2:41-52

MESSAGE

It’s the day after Christmas Day and its Sunday. Which is quite unusual. The last time we had Christmas Day on a Saturday was 11 years ago. This is only the ninth occasion in my lifetime. The pattern is 6-5-6-11 years between occurrences. So the next one is in 2027. Gosh this is pub quiz material, isn’t it?

As a result this is a super Sunday. It’s BOXING day. St Stephen’s day. And Low Sunday – the Sunday after Christmas which people sometimes ignore, especially if they are hardy annuals who have just done their Christmas Day trip to worship and already have their calendar overloaded with an Easter Sunday booking.

All in one day. Plus four congregations zoomed in together too.

We are fortunate that the lectionary we use focuses on Jesus after Christmas on this day. Over the three-year cycle the gospel reading covers the dedication of Jesus at the temple, the flight into Egypt , and we leap forward this week to almost teenage Jesus. Next Sunday we pop back almost to those terrible twos or at least toddler Jesus checking out the gifts that came via camel. Yes, the wise men visit Jesus the child (not a baby) and in a house.

Like our economic Christmas and Easter visitors, Christmas card designers tend to squash the whole lot onto one space – shepherds, sheep, kings, camels and a low flying star and a raft of angels. Only Mr Bean has ever thrown a dinosaur into the mix. Oh and dozens of five or six year old boys, when I taught that age, who always managed to draw a dinosaur or at least a couple of volcanoes behind baby Jesus and the whole gang.

So what do we do with Jesus today?

I’ve chosen the idea of “peace” as a filter or frame as we examine this part of the story. Colossians 3 is there as a reminder I think that as church we are in this together in unity as we take in the Christmas story.

Paul in this letter has pretty much summarized the Christian faith. The passage before our reading ends with one of those all-encompassing statements (a bit like my favourite Galatians 3:28.)

Col 3:11  Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. (In Galatians 3:28 he includes “male and female” in his list of things that are not – not relevant or valid.)

In his letter to the church today I suspect he might add some other categories of separation. You’ll figure those out if you reflect on our current dilemmas. Whether we are certified or not.

Paul in this passage talks about peace like this:

Col 3:15  Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.

Peace is a key part of the Christmas message. Remember these lines:

“Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests.””

On earth, peace or peace on earth.

In fact it is one of those areas where Christians have a bridge with people who are not particularly into this faith story.

They’re pretty keen on peace.

Timothy Keller, in his book “Hidden Christmas” makes the point that the source of light and therefore peace for us is not within us but outside of us.

The prophecy of Isaiah helps:

Before the announcement of the son to be born, this is the context: Isa 9:2  The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.

They are walking in darkness – and the light breaks in. Jesus backs this up when he is identified as the light of the world. Light breaks into darkness.

And the expected one is both wonderful counsellor AND prince of peace.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. (Isaiah 9:6-7).

So what about the gospel reading today? Where does the peace come in there?

Here it is. Put yourself in Mary and Joseph’s shoes.

Quite a huge responsibility really, raising the son of God. No pressure.

Anyone with even a limited understanding of the incarnation- this bit about Jesus pitching his tent – moving in among us – will know that this is real stuff. Real humanity. There is no Marvel-comics “superJESUS” at school sorting out the bullies.

From the outset, it was challenging and scary. Raising and caring for the son of God. Having to pack up and escape like refugees to Egypt – that place of slavery for his people – is quite a rough start. After that, when they settle in Nazareth, it was the normal stuff that parents do, including home schooling I imagine. And modelling faith.

He’s reaching adulthood now.As a Jewish male. Almost 13.

On this family trip to Jerusalem there’s a small problem of losing Jesus.

Losing a child is pretty tough, even if for a short while. We’ve all probably been there as parents. Even when they’re adults we still worry about them. As the story of this older lady of 100 illustrates well: she described the best year of her life as the year in which she turned 90 – because by then all her children were safely in rest homes.

Jesus is found in due time. And the conversation is pretty polite considering.

Luk 2:48  When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”

They must have been pleased where they find Jesus. Could have been some other danger or disaster.

His response is fascinating: Luk 2:49  “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”

Sorry Joseph –  I know who my real dad is?

I think Mary made her peace with this too. From the annunciation onwards, there is this gracious acceptance of her role as a young mother of God’s son. I like her example, because in processing that encounter when with Elizabeth, Mary’s response is praise! “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my saviour…”

It’s a simple lesson for us when things are on the road to custard, if you like mixed metaphors. We too are to praise God even in the storms of life.

  • I think we were privileged to learn that from early on – the writings of a once prisoner then prison chaplain Mervyn Carothers were helpful in our early years of faith. (You may remember the Prison to Praise series). At the beginning of the book he quotes Paul in 1 Thessalonians: Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1Thess 5:16-18).
  • Paul and Silas praising God in Acts while in jail are another pointer. (Acts 16:25).
  • Paul’s antidote to anxiety in Philippians 4 is another reminder. Don’t be anxious, but in everything by prayer and supplication, WITH THANKSGIVING present your requests to God – and the promised peace that passes human understanding will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (well he is the prince of peace, isn’t he?) (Phil 4:6-6).

In Colossians 3 from which we heard today, Paul has another pointer:

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. (Col 3:15-16).

I imagine Mary might have said to Paul (imagine them meeting together and sharing thoughts at a table talk conversation about the things of faith!): “Yes, you’re right. I needed peace that day when we lost Jesus. But I kept praising God and trusting God’s plan, maybe a bit like when you were in prison Paul?”

Imagine you or I at that table saying: well here are the things that keep me up at night….

  • Mary might say – “let me tell you about Golgotha.”
  • Paul might say: “have you perhaps read my letter which talks about those 5 times 39 lashes, beatings and shipwrecks – or that bit where I mentioned we are pressed down but not crushed.” (The passage it goes like this: ”We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…” 2 Cor 4:8-9 NKJV)

Not surprising that Paul also said: ‘”t is no longer I that lives, but Christ that lives in me.” (Gal 2:20).

There is something quite calming about the next few verses of this passage in Luke 2:

But they did not understand what he was saying to them. Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men. (Luke 2:50-52).

Somehow Jesus knew about his mission from early on but doesn’t talk about it again until preaching that first sermon in Nazareth (in Luke 4:16ff) when he read from their lectionary reading for that day: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…” (Isaiah 61:1-2)

For some reason that line about his mother treasuring all those things in her heart speaks to me. There’s a pattern there a discipline. It’s a repeat of verse 2:19 after the shepherds’ visit: But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. You see this sense of inner peace at Jesus’ first miracle in Cana of Galilee – where she says to the servants in John 2:5: “Do whatever he tells you.” It’s a prayerfulness I think – in Acts 1:14 where they are constantly in prayer before they choose Mathias to replace Judas, Mary is there again.

I suspect mothers are like this – they treasure all kinds of things in their hearts and keep praying for their children especially, holding them before God. I think as parents many of us would be thrilled if our children all grew in wisdom and in favour with God and people!

I don’t know what will trouble your hearts in 2022.

I do recommend Paul’s exhortation to the Colossian church though:

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. (Col 3:15-16)

And true to our tradition, which I fear many have ditched too soon, it’s the word of Christ that is part of the stabilising we need.

And with that, singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in our hearts at every stage and challenge in our lives. Our closing song today reinforces this – it’s the song ADORE. (See link below).

This is the Christian life. The peace of Christ dominant in our hearts – the word of Christ richly embedded within us to shape us, the praise of God always on our lips and in the rhythms and cadences of our days, weeks, months, and years of life.

May the peace of Christ reign in your heart at this time, and in the year ahead.

Amen.

Here is the song “Adore” which I commend to you.

22 December 2021 – A Saviour has been born to you. (Rosedale Village Christmas message)

Reading: Luke 2:1-14

Message

Have you ever been rescued? Somewhere along the line I’m sure someone turned up to help when you were in some kind of predicament or crisis over the years.

There have been some amazing stories in the last couple of years – think of that Thai football team rescued from underground caves. You see courageous rescue missions all the time on the news.

I’ve only been rescued once – in the sea that is. My sons had gone out too far – I swam out to tell them and we all got stuck. The African surf where we lived was really rough. It makes Browns Bay beach look like a swimming pool.

It was a good feeling to have someone on a paddle board come out and bring you in when you think you may drown. The embarrassing thing was that I was teaching part time at the local high school at that time. One of my students was the life saver. It was a “hello sir” moment. You don’t mind who the rescuer is really.

On one occasion after driving over the edge of the road on our way to a northern Natal town on a misty rainy night, we had to flag someone down to get help (after crawling up to the road.) The local Irish born Presbyterian minister got some mates from the pub to bring a ute and tow the car back over the edge of the hill onto the road again. What a night. But we were rescued. We were saved.

Sometimes when a rescue takes place, tragedy happens and the rescuer dies while saving children for example. People then talk about the sacrifice that person made of his or her life.

Which reminds me of a sign that went up on a church noticeboard – “breakfast this Saturday – help needed for the ingredients.” This chicken and pig happened to be walking past to go to the beach down the road. “Look at that” said the chicken to the pig. “We could help”. “That’s fine for you” said the pig. “You can give a gift. For me it’s total sacrifice. If I go in there, it’s all over for me.”

Looking at our reading today, the angel said this when Jesus was born:

Luk 2:11  Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.

This angel was living up to his name. Because “angel” means “messenger” or “news”. That was one of their main tasks. (The word “evangelism” meaning “good news” is made up of the prefix EU for good, and the word angel.)

That’s the word used in verse 10:

Luk 2:10  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.

We also know that the name “Jesus” means God saves or rescues. And that “Emmanuel” means God with us. Such a great reminder of who Jesus was, what he did, and who he still is to us today.

In this reading we have all the other titles given to Jesus. This Saviour is Christ and Lord.

God came to the world in Jesus the Saviour, the Christ (the anointed one or Messiah) and the Lord (which means he is God).

And like the poor old pig had it offered to help at the breakfast – it cost him everything.

  • He gave up his authority – became a baby who needed nappies changed just like you and me – was dependant on parents to care for him and raise him. Had to do school (poor guy).
  • And eventually he let go completely of his life on the cross. He died in our place.
  • The beauty of this sacrificial rescue is that he took our punishment on himself – so we could be free from our mess – our sin – and our selfishness. And all the world’s pain and disease too.

And just to stretch us more – this amazing good news of a life-saver above all others – is given to marginalised shepherds out in the fields – people who were not your important people at the time.

Simple. Illiterate. Probably just young kids really. Like KIng David when he was a shepherd boy.

I’m always interested in how God speaks to children and young people. They are so open to things of faith.

God speaks to anyone who is open.

  • He wants to speak to you today.
  • To remind you that his love for you is the reason all this happened.
  • That Jesus is the greatest gift of all.

Don’t be like the person who said ‘no thanks. It’s a lovely gift you gave me this Christmas, but I’d rather struggle along without it. I’d rather leave it inwrapped under the tree. And in any case I don’t deserve it.”

Be like the shepherds – investigate this Jesus. The didn’t just say “well actually we really should stay here and forget all this stuff the angel has told us”. They went to investigate and discovered it was all true. And they went back telling everyone the good news too!

Take hold of this gift – that you may grow closer to Jesus our Saviour, our Messiah, our Lord and God. And really know him.

  • He makes all the difference in this hectic world we live in.
  • He is the gift of Christmas.
  • It’s good news – this Christmas story.
  • It’s worth celebrating!

Have a very blessed and merry Christmas.

Amen.

Sunsday 19 December 2021 – God so loved what? (4th Sunday in Advent – love)

John 3:16 at Christmas. “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.” (The Message)

(Watch part of the service and the message here, or read the text below.)

REFLECTION

I was asked to share a devotional message online yesterday with some friends. What’s new? Being online, or being asked to share something? I think it was the context – my thoughts and wisdom were being sought! (I’m not sure if I qualify as one of the three “wise” men!)

Yesterday then we talked about our future in the light of this muddle we find ourselves in.

I shared my thoughts. That this virus won’t go away. That we will have to learn to live with it. That there have been many other corona viruses. That there will me more.

I asked these wiser friends than me this question: as Christians, what are we really afraid of?

If our message, our witness, out history, our future, if the blood and witness of the martyrs and the testimony of the saints of every age including those who are dying for their faith in this generation means anything at all, it does so because of this Christmas story and the love which brought about the invasion of something far more contagious – the love of God.

Because God SO loved THIS WORLD that he gave his only born Son to live in a dangerous world of men and women – so that before he even learned to walk, his little family had to flee to another country where his people had once been slaves – to escape the tyranny of a cruel puppet king called Herod the “great” who was given the title “the king of the Jews” by the Roman senate.

Herod could not tolerate the remote possibility of a threat even from an infant born in poverty.

(If you think the world is bad now, in every generation there have been maniacs like Herod who bumped off a whole lot of his family members – one of his wives whom he actually loved deeply –  Mariamne, her two sons, her brother, her grandfather, and her mother, and his first born son Antipater)

We know from Matthew that he had all the little boys up to two years of age killed in the area where Jesus was born just to be safe.

When I think of the world and reflect on its mess – the love of God shown in Jesus’ rescue mission is still valid.

It doesn’t expire like a vaccination certificate.

It’s unchanging. Immutable (indisputable). Ineffable (indescribable). Immortal (undying).

Eternal. Fierce. Bold. Courageous.

Powerful. Redeeming. Saving.

The Song of Songs – that great love poem which ultimately tries to describe God’s love describes love in these words: Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot sweep it away (also translated as nor can the floods drown it).(Song 8:7)

For God so loved the world that he gave his best. He became a human being.

He took on the gates of hell and death itself.

He took upon himself all the mess.

The combined atrocities of the maniacs and tyrants of all ages, and all the tragedy of pain and death through all diseases fell upon him that day.

Love means courage. Purpose. Commitment. You see it in Jesus when as we have talked about before he sets his face towards Jerusalem – knowing what was coming.

When I sat and made these notes reflecting on the love of God and how it has empowered the saints through the generations, especially those who faced tyranny and villainy and the fiery darts of the enemy flung at them, I had just put on the third movement of Beethoven’s ninth symphony – the one that ends with that great “Ode to Joy”

I was thinking about those martyrs when the music started. It’s particularly beautiful and moving, but especially so because it’s a recurring theme in the movie about Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It took me back to that courageous saint – I watched the movie so many times as I used it as a teaching tool. (The link to watch the movie “Bonhoeffer – Agent of Grace” – is found at the end of this message below.)

The musical theme reoccurs throughout the movie, but towards the end when he and a motley bunch of prisoners land up in a bombed-out church after their transportation (an old bus with “Freude” painted on the side) had run out of fuel – at that point the first part of the 3rd movement is played fully. Boenhoeffer’s co-prisoners suggest that seeing that it’s a Sunday he should give them a few words. He doesn’t speak about Hitler, the world at war, the concentration camps like Flossenburg to which he is taken from that church and hanged just a few weeks before the end of the war.

He talks about being Christians in the future – how the faith will change to take on and share the suffering of the world in which it finds itself. How we will find a new language and way of living. Something quite different that will shock people because of the peace it brings.

This is a new era already. The post-COVID pandemic era – which will test us and our faith more fully than before.

People won’t necessarily believe us. They may even attack us with more extreme ideas than ever, suggesting that we are compromising their idea of the truth – whether its vaccination or other controversies – there will be division of all kinds.

What matters is that we remain true to Jesus’ rescue mission. He still loved the unlovable whoever they were. Whether they followed him or turned away.

Our weapons are not persuasive words. Only a message and lives lived showing forth the hope, peace, joy and love we have found in Christ. Through the power of the Holy Spirit. That’s why Paul writes:

My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power. (1 Cor 2:4-5).

Love joy and peace are the first three fruits of the spirit.

In a discussion in Romans 14 on arguments over what and what not to eat, Paul says this:

“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Rom 14:17)

And when ending his great chapter on love in first Corinthians he writes:

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor 13:13 ) 

How are we doing on this score? Passing on this amazing powerful love and message of love?

That’s why Christmas’s messages are foundational.

  • The angels breaking into the world to prepare the main characters for action.
  • The expectations of hope in this baby’s birth.
  • The news that he will be called Jesus – God saves
  • And Emmanuel – God with us
  • That through his coming we can be forgiven, healed, saved from fear and death, and transformed by this powerful love and act of love.
  • Because that love ends on a cross.

Both the cradle and the cross are made of wood. And a Jewish carpenter – who probably experienced the pain of a splinter in his finger during his trade – would have those nails he worked with hammered into his hands and feet.

Paul – in that same chapter in 1 Corinthians about persuasive words also says this:

“For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Cor 2:2)

This is all a sign of God’s love.  The cradle, the cross and Christmas.

Don’t miss it amongst the wrapping of presents and the flashing colourful lights.

  • You’ve got to unwrap this present. God’s love. Emmanuel’s presence is more important.
  • Having God’s power, presence and love is all that counts and it counts for everything.

That’s why we are told:

  • not to be afraid. to be strong and courageous.
  • Not to let our hearts be troubled or afraid. Or anxious.
  • That His peace will guard our hearts and minds in Christ – not other solutions offered around us.

That’s why we are told:

  • to always give a reason for the hope we have.
  • Because we do have it.
  • Because he is still Emmanuel – God with us.

This is why we have and can live by the greatest commandments:

  • to love God with every fibre of our being;
  • and to love one another and ourselves.
  • And to love each other as Christ has loved us.
  •  In words and in deeds.

God loved what? They may ask.

The world.

This messy world of complicated difficult people.

He loved us first!

All of us.

John in his first letter reminds us:

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. “(1 John 4:10)

“We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 1:19)

And then Jesus reminds us:

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.” (John 16 9)

Continue in my love.  Abide or live in my love.

Amen.

Here is the link to the movie as promised:

Sunday 5 December 21 – Pandemic Peace

Readings: Luke 1:5-20, 57-64; Luke 3:1-6;   

MESSAGE: Watch the recording of the prayers, readings and message from Sunday, or read the message below.

They were the perfect couple. He a priest serving God. She a faithful wife. Both of them had a good family tree on Ancestry.com. Descendants of Aaron on both sides of the family. They could have sung the Aaronic blessing with some authority.

An historian at the time – one Dr Luke, a reputable scholar of his day – records this: Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly. (1:6).

In their generation they were like Mr. and Mrs. Perfect. The didn’t just have a go at following their religion. They walked blamelessly before God.

You know those families who write Christmas letters about their perfect families? With their perfect kids. And their superlative grandchildren. Angels and saints all of them?

Don’t believe  a word of it. There is no perfect family.

These wonderful faithful obedient people had a terrible problem.

She was barren. An economic and social disaster really. You needed children in your old age to care for you – the effective pension of the day. And barrenness was often socially seen as a sign of sin.

And they were both old. The NIV is kind in its translation: “and they were both well along in years.” Others say “advanced.”  You know as we get older we like to be classified as mature, not in old aged. The KJV says they were “well stricken in years.” (The bad news is that advanced years could just mean over 60 in that context.) 😊

Our eminent historian Dr Luke continues his narrative: Luk 1:8  Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, Luk 1:9  he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense.

Yes indeed, they had duty rosters too!

His division was on duty.

And he drew the right lot – like throwing dice I guess – or drawing straws – to have his once in a lifetime opportunity to burn incense in the temple.

Zechariah served for one week twice a year at the temple, one of perhaps eighteen thousand priests who served in a year. Offering the incense was something a priest could do only once in his career. It was a great moment for Zechariah, all the more so because of the sovereign plan God had for him and his family.

He just didn’t realize it. Maybe he was so burdened by his pension worries or lack thereof, or the seeming indifference of people towards God – that he was going through the motions. Not really expecting God to act.

They didn’t have COVID issues back then. But they did have an oppressive foreign power in charge.

Maybe he was so burdened or just flat that he really didn’t expect anything. I mean they must have prayed for a solution. After all when the time comes the angel says: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John.”

And then the list of what this baby would do and be:

  1. A joy and delight to his parents; 2. Great in the sight of the Lord 3.filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth; 4. He will bring back many people of Israel to their God; 5. He will go before the Lord in the power of Elijah; 6. Turn the hearts of the fathers to their children; 7: make ready a people prepared for the Lord

Because the best was yet to come.

In fact he was so surprised that he doubted the message of an angel. The angel Gabriel. Who gives his name only because Zechariah was a bit dumbfounded. Uncertain. Doubting. (a good biblical tradition there although in Abraham’s case Sarah was the one who laughed when Isaac was promised.)

So instead of being able to tell the story – even of his privileged moment in the holy place –  he is struck dumb.

The life of Mr. and Mrs. Perfect was even more complex now. Pregant wife of advanced years..Dumb husband who finishes his duty and then goes home, only so say nothing.

Some (perhaps a bit cynically) have suggest that it may have been the best nine months of Elizabeth’s life. When she wanted her husband to do something, he couldn’t even argue.

Luke then proceeds to give an account of cousin Mary’s challenging conception. And then returns to Zechariah and Elizabeth again.

After the baby is born, Zechariah is redeemed when is able to name the boy correctly, and is then able to speak again.

Like cousin Jesus, John’s family would have an interesting time.

John ended up quite a character in the desert – fulfilling the vows of a Nazarite. Wearing clothes of camel hair and eating wild locusts and honey. (What did they write about him in their end of year letter? Like teachers writing reports, there are ways to say things: “he has an unusually rustic/earthy fashion sense and is ahead of his time in using insects as food to save the planet from methane/cows.) 

Unusual bloke. Living in the desert and then suddenly emerging onto the religious scene with a serious call to repentance. Jesus later tells the people that they said John had a demon.

We don’t even know if his parents lived to see his adult ministry.

But the outcome would be good.

From a troubled aging couple with a limited future to being part of God’s plan for the world.

Zechariah the dumb then becomes the last prophet of the Old Testament era before Jesus starts his ministry.

That year of silence could only have done him good. His growth is seen in the power of his prophecy over John. We read part of it as our call to worship.

And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.

It’s a stunning declaration. “…to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace” –  Pointing to Jesus the Prince of Peace. Jesus.

John would be arrested quite soon the account in Luke. We heard Luke chapter 3 introduce his ministry:

3:2b … the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert. Luk 3:3  He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Luk 3:4  As is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: “A voice of one calling in the desert, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Luk 3:5  Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. Luk 3:6  And all mankind will see God’s salvation.’

  • By Luke 3:20 (14 verses later) we are told he was to be arrested by Herod and put in prison.
  • By Luke 7:20 John’s disciples are sending a message from him to Jesus Are you he one who was come, or should we expect something else?
  • And then he is beheaded by Herod.

But he did his job. He prepared the way. Softened hearts to repentance in order to  make people open to the One. That was to come. The one.

In the words of his father: … for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.

Jesus said of him:  Luk_7:28  I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; (yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.)

  • Roman occupation and tyranny and taxes.
  • Covid Pandemic and disrupted life and dreams?
  • Worries about the future and your provision in old age?
  • Going through the motions doing your duty and wondering whether the breakthrough will come?

It doesn’t matter what century we live in.

Don’t be like John in prison sending a message to Jesus? Are you the one?

The one of whom Zechariah prophesied: the one “by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

It’s been a long hard and sometimes dark year for many – actually two years of gloom.

Even when  things are supposed to get better, the traffic light is still red.

We live under new tyrannies. It’s no surprise that thinking people are alarmed by the way in which we are categorized, certified, or marginalized and ostracized over our response to civic authorities or our different views on a raft of things.

Who are we if not a people of the Kingdom of God which was prepared for by John and ushered in by Jesus who is THE ONE.

There is Pandemic Peace when we have our hand firmly held by the ONE who brought peace in reconciling us to God and still brings peace no matter what disaster befalls us.

Whose hand are you reaching out to hold onto in these crazy times? Where is your anchor connected?

I think Elvis and Johnny Cash sang a gospel song that went like this: Put your hand in the hand of the man who stilled the waters, calmed the sea. Put your hand in the hand of the man from Galilee. (Written by Gene MacLellan and made famous by Anne Murray – both Canadians)

That’s where we find our peace.

At Advent we light a candle of peace on this Sunday. We have a virtual candle which you can see on our website.

Don’t let anything rob you of the peace He gives.

Receive his word and promise to us again today: John 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.

Amen.

20 June 2021 @ BBP – “Who is this?”

READINGS: Psalm 107:23-30; Mark 4:35-41

MESSAGE

On 3 December 1976 I was with a group of school friends in a cottage on the coast for a weekend celebrating the end of school. It was a lovely summer’s evening, and we went to bed safe and sound that night. At some time that evening looking over the calm ocean I felt led to pray for someone out at sea.

The next morning the paper was delivered, and we read the shocking headlines that a huge storm further down the coast – in an area appropriately termed the wild coast – had caused the sinking of a number of yachts. A friend from school was lost that night. The night I was let to pray. My friend Marc and the Captain of the vessel, Cloud Nine, drowned.

Some 15 years later in 1991, my wife and young son together with a friend went to see a vessel set sail called the Oceanos at our local harbour. A friend’s family had been on the vessel, and we remarked that it would be good to go on some kind of cruise. On the 3rd of August that year the Oceanos set sail from East London up the wild coast towards Durban. The ship headed into a 40-knot wind and 30-foot swells. The storm got worse so that waiters could not carry food without dropping it and things began to slide off tables. A series of freak waves it the ship and a plating of a pipe burst open and began filling a compartment with water. At 9.30pm an explosion was heard, and the ship lost power. It began to list badly.

Passengers went to the bridge and the crew were nowhere to be seen. The ships entertainer called Moss Hills used the radio phone to broadcast a mayday call and another ship responded. Sixteen helicopters were dispatched, and all the passengers taken off the ship, assisted by lifeboats from another vessel. The captain had abandoned ship and left the passengers to sort themselves out.

Mar 4:36  Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. Mar 4:37  A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Mar 4:38  Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

We’ve been through some pretty big storms in our lifetimes.

Not just physical storms, but also emotional, political, international and personal storms.

  • The yacht Cloud Nine went down with her captain.
  • The Oceanos’ captain got off the vessel before most of the crew and passengers.
  • Jesus in this storm is asleep in the stern of the boat – on a cushion. The detail is intriguing.

I love Jesus’ response in this account in Mark 4:

Mar 4:39  He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

  • The disciples didn’t cope well with the storm.
  • They didn’t cope well with the sleeping Jesus either.

Jesus deals with the storm, then he deals with the disciples equally firmly:

  • Mar 4:39  He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!”
  • Mar 4:40  He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

I wonder what he would say to us in our storms?

  • I know this for certain.
  • He’s not asleep.

People have two favourite Psalms. Psalm 23 and Psalm 121. Psalm 121 helps us here:

Psa 121:1  A song of ascents. I lift up my eyes to the hills— where does my help come from? Psa 121:2  My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.

Psa 121:3  He will not let your foot slip— he who watches over you will not slumber; Psa 121:4  indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

God is not asleep on the job.

  • And God doesn’t abandoned ship. Psalm 23 helps us here too:

Psa 23:4  Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me;

Fear not – God says to his people in scripture. The Lord will be with you. So too Jesus – I will be with you always.

  • We need to trust him too. He still says: “don’t be afraid!”

Year’s back we used to teach our children a song about storms that went like this: When its stormy…. I am weak but God is strong, he rows my boat when things go wrong….

We do need to trust God completely.

But there is a deeper question here.

  • It’s all about context.
  • There were fishermen on those boats. They knew storms.
  • This was no ordinary storm.

The passage ends in verse 41:

Mar 4:41  They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!

They were still working things out. (We know who Jesus was and is.)

The context is the rest of Mark’s gospel.

Jesus says to them

  • (4:40):“Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
  • Mar 4:41  They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!

Literally – “they feared a great fear”. About what? The storm? Yes, but probably also about the fact that this teacher rebuked a storm in the same way as he rebuked demons – like the very first act of power in Mark 1.

Unfortunately the NIV is too fuzzy here. The ESV captures it better:

Mar 1:23  And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, Mar 1:24  “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” Mar 1:25  But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!”

Mar 4:39  And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 

Mar 4:41  And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” 

In Mark 1 the response of people to the exorcism is this:

Mar 1:27  And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 

When he exorcises the storm, look at the response:

Mar 4:41  And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

The context of Mark means that all of this is a revelation – even if it is a slow realization – of Jesus as something else altogether.

Go back to Mark 3 – remember last week the different groups:

  • His family- he’s out of his mind.
  • The scribes – he’s demon possessed and he’s doing this by the power of Satan – that he was casting out demons by the power of Beelzebub. The prince of demons.
  • The people – the great crowd following them – he tells them that they would be his mother and brothers – if they did the will of God – which means listen to his words and act on them

The context of Mark has to include this verse:
Mar 3:27  But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house. 

Who is this? That rebukes demons and storms?

This is Jesus –  the only one who can bind the strong man and plunder his house. Who can restrain his works and set the captives free.

1 John 3:8 supports this where John says: For this purpose Christ/the son of God was revealed to destroy the works of the evil one/devil.”

The storm – like the evil spirits he castes out – are powers which are agents of death and destruction. They work against human flourishing and wholeness. They destroy life.

Just look ahead to the next chapter – to Mark 5. This time it’s a man in the country of the Gerasenes with an evil spirit  – and where does he live? In the tombs. In a cemetery. He’s brought back to life too.

And the woman with the issue of blood that bound her for 12 years is set free. All she has to do is touch is cloak. And what does Jesus say to her: Mar 5:34  He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

 And then Jairus’ daughter is raised from the dead. It’s a great passage: They bring a message of death:

Mar 5:35  While Jesus was still speaking, some men came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue ruler. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher any more?”

Look at Jesus’ response:

Mar 5:36  Ignoring what they said, Jesus told the synagogue ruler, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”

  • To Jairus: Don’t be afraid. Just believe!
  • To the jittery nervous wreck (fearing a great fear )disciples in the storm from hell: Mar 4:40  “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
  • To his little flock here. To you and me and our families and concerns. To us and our worries about this community and town and beyond:

Don’t be afraid. Just believe.

The strong man has been bound and his goods plundered.

When we eat this bread and drink this cup that’s what we area declaring!

  • Death is defeated.
  • Light has come to dispel the darkness.
  • Life is ours.

That’s who this man is who calms the storm.

Amen.

Sunday 18 April 2021 @ BBP – YOU ARE WITNESSES OF THESE THINGS

Readings: Luke 24:36-48; Acts 1:1-8

Message:

Did you ever hear any ghost stories in your childhood?

There were family tales of haunted houses, campfire stories, and even on our Sunday School picnics in the Methodist church, we would catch a train to this park for a day trip, and up the hill under the trees was this lonely grave – and there were ghost stories there too. My parents told of places where they saw ghosts. Usually someone had died unnaturally or prematurely in the places which were said  to be haunted. And as kids in the mid 60s we were a tad terrified of the radio program that ran for 45 episodes called “The Creaking Door”. When you look at the titles of those stories, too many ghosts and scary things. Even Ghost busters only had 10 scary seconds in the theme tune, and the rest was quite cheerful. It was labelled as a supernatural comedy though. Our kids used to read “goosebump” stories, and loved terrifying movies as they grew up.

I’ve never seen ghosts. I’ve had a sense of the presence of evil, but never seen incorporeal spooky figures like Casper and his friends. Oh I did see dead people once but that was a side effect of medication after surgery. My only witness of a “ghost” ghost was in a play – watching Hamlet somewhere along the line. But in the real world, it is scary when dead people show up.

And so it’s not surprising that this appearance of Jesus in Luke 24, like the ones in John,  got them spooked. They would have heard the women’s accounts (remember how they called them rubbish – nonsense – leiros is the word.” The two on the Emmaus road had come back with the news of their encounter. So it shouldn’t have been a huge surprise. Yeah right comes to mind.

Jesus materializes, and they’re not ready for it. Startled and frightened is an understatement in v24. (Old Afrikaans is nice – geweldig geskrik – or the Message “scared half to death”)

Fear is a reasonable human response.

You would have heard my cemetery stories –  getting lost in Auckland once when at a meeting and my driver turning into a cemetery in the dark.

Or the old one of a guy who took a short cut through a cemetery and fell into a newly dug grave. He had to wait for sunrise, as you couldn’t really leap out of the thing. The next guy who fell in did leap out again when he heard a voice saying “good evening” in the darkness of the grave. That may be where the saying comes from “in for the high jump.”

The account by Luke goes like this:

Luk 24:36  While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” Luk 24:37  They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. Luk 24:38  He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds?” (literally  hearts).  Perhaps he’d forgotten the bit about him being dead and buried.

Like Mary and Thomas last week, Jesus meets them where they are and gives them the opportunity to touch and see. Asking for something to eat settled the matter.

He quickly moves to the key issue. The fish finished, the teaching starts.

Like Cleopas and Mary on the Emmaus road he gives them this picture in broad strokes of the Messianic story going back to Moses, the prophets and the Psalms. Luke continues:

Luk 24:45  Then he opened their minds (νοῦς)  to understand the Scriptures, Luk 24:46  and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, Luk 24:47  and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

He ends his classroom time with the simple “You are witnesses of these things.” (Luk 24:48) 

Tell the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection – and get people to respond. Why? It’s all done for them to deal with their sins and mess. So with the resurrection story comes the missionary task: “repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”

In his second book, the Acts of the Apostles, the same job is outlined: Act 1:4  On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. Act 1:5  For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”Act 1:6  So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Act 1:7  He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. Act 1:8  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Not only does Jesus turn everything on its head in terms of death, resurrection, the place of the body (in the context of a dominant Platonic culture that focused on the spirit or spiritual as the important, diminishing the body), he turns their world upside down.

Up to now they went to Jerusalem for their festivals. To the temple. It’s a centripetal motion.

At is death the curtain of the temple is torn in two, as heaven breaks through again – God’s people after this take God’s presence with them into the whole world.

To all nations. And from the centre outwards, rather than the other way around. A centrifugal movement.

The truth is, the modern church, whether our kind with its historical roots and story, or the modern no name brand versions, is still doing the centripetal thing – getting people to move towards a place where it all happens. In stead of a Temple it’s a center of entertainment often. We still worry about how to get people in here.

The movement is outward looking. It was that which he opens their minds to: “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, Luk 24:47  and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. Luk 24:48  You are witnesses of these things.

In our Acts reading it goes like this: Act 1:8  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

They weren’t expected to do this from a position of weakness and fear. They would be empowered by the Holy Spirit. “… you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses…”

Our motto as a church is always to be ready to give a reason for the hope that we have. Not because of a government policy, or a vaccination against a pandemic, or the movement to save the planet or whales or dolphins.

Hope comes out of resurrection. And the resurrection of Jesus is the story with a great ending. It’s the victory dealing with the mess of our past and the guarantee of the success of our future.

Resurrection is at the centre.

In fact, it was a requirement of the first apostleship – being a witness to the resurrection. So when Judas is replaced in Acts 1:22 Luke explains “For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.” They elect Matthias.

In Acts we will find that they always focused on the resurrection. Peter’s sermons in Acts,2,3,4 and 5 culminate in the story of the resurrection. As an example, in Acts 5 Peter declares:

Act 5:30  The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead—whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. Act 5:31  God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. Act 5:32  We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.

I love the account in Acts 17 when Paul is in Athens. I’m always excited about  Athens –  you may have noticed. Act_17:18  A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers  began to dispute with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.

It’s the heart of everything. The spirit of God who raised Jesus to life transforms us and empowers us to tell the story and live it out.

  • We’re still in the coming- in mode – agonizing over who we can invite to church.
  • We’re actually people who GO. And people on the GO.
  • We go out of here every week back into the mission field.

In my last parish back in our old country, I put a sign up above the door which you could see as you left the building:  “You are now entering the mission field”. When we went back a couple of years ago, it had been replaced with a more permanent one than my laminated bit of paper.

And we have all we need to share the story. And we need to know the story well too. Our job while we’re in this building is to get to know the story well.

It’s our job. Being witnesses. Together and separately – every day until we are not able to get out there anymore.

Then we can do it on the phone, on-line, by email. We can still pray for those who need the love of Jesus to help them see the point of life.

We are to be witnesses as long as we have breath.

  • And will they end up here on a Sunday? Maybe not. Probably not if we don’t include them in our ordinary lives.
  • And if they come along, they probably wont stay if we’re still cliquey and don’t open our lives and homes to them.
  • And they’ll never get anywhere unless we are witnesses. Someone has to tell the story. There’s a whole generation who don’t have a clue what it’s about.

We’re probably better at sharing ghost stories or the latest gossip or bad news than the story  of Messiah Jesus who overcame death and the grave.

And will ultimately transform everything.

And we’ll never be effective witnesses without the power of the Holy Spirit enabling us. And if it was anything that transformed them from lock-down in their upper room to going all over the world for Jesus and  risking and often giving up their lives, it was the Holy Spirit’s power transforming their fear to faith. Their powerlessness to passion. Amen.

Sunday Easter 2 @BBP 11 April 2011 – Life in His name for Believing Thomas

READING: John 20:19-31

MESSAGE

Joh 20:30  Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.Joh 20:31  But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

It’s been a good Easter. I don’t even know what that means – but people say it’s been good. A friend of mine in the US who is a pastor said is was good because they had record attendances. Well Post CovId – posts lockdown – for some just getting together was good.

For pastors and minister types, you know it’s been good when you are pretty worn out for a few weeks afterwards. Maybe that’s why hey call this Sunday low Sunday.

Was it good for those first followers?

Peter – yes, we saw that he got special mention after his failure. Tell the disciples and Peter, says the angel. He appeared to Peter, says Paul. Jesus the forgiver.

For Mary his mother – well we don’t hear from her but we can assume she was less heart broken than before. And even if he wasn’t going to be around for a long time – he’d organized John his friend to look after her in the long term. Jesus the pastoral planner.

For Mary Magdalene, well she thinks he’s the gardener. He calls her by her name – and that makes the connection. She then calls him Raboni –  which means teacher. It makes her a real woman disciple in a context where women general were left out. Jesus the kind and compassionate one.

And then there’s Thomas. Poor bloke. All those questions he asked. And just his luck he wasn’t there when Jesus first appeared to them I that locked room. I have no  idea where we went. Maybe he was catching up with his twin – if his twin was Lydia or maybe another unknown person. So when he hears their story, you can’t help but sympathise when he is less than convinced.

A week later there’s this lovely detail from Jesus – just as he meets with others where they are, he connects with Thomas. For each demand, one writer puts it, there’s a command from Jesus. The order isn’t perfect, but it’s all there – “precisely and fully” (Hendrikson Baker NT Commentary on John).

The commentary suggests this: “In order to see how precisely and fully the demands of Thomas are met, we must place the words of Thomas and those of Jesus next to each other.”

Have a look:

The Demands of ThomasThe Commands of Jesus
  
1. Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails,
2. And put my finger into the place of the nails,
3. And put my hand into his side,
4. I definitely will not believe
2. See my hands
1. Bring here your finger.
3. And bring your hand, and put it into my side.
4. And no longer be unbelieving but believing.

Jesus’  response to Thomas brings about a confession of faith that is pretty powerful and complete:

Joh 20:28  Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

And here John expands Jesus’ reach to us too:

Joh 20:29  Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

And then he pretty much wraps up his gospel:

Let’s remind ourselves of some of the key passagaes we havea looked at. Look at the references to life and believing.

It starts in John 1:1:

Joh 1:1  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Joh 1:4  In him was life, and that life was the light of men. Joh 1:12  Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…

Remember the conversation with Nathanael: Joh 1:48  “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Joh 1:49  Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” Joh 1:50  Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that.” Joh 1:51  He then added, “I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

And Nicodemus: Joh 3:14  Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, Joh 3:15  that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. For God So Loved the World Joh 3:16  “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.

And the woman at the well: Joh 4:14  but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Joh 8:12  When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Joh 10:10  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (abundant life). (the good shepherd teaching).

Joh 11:25  Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; Joh 11:26  and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this? (To Martha)

Joh 12:32  But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men/people to myself.” (looking to the cross to find life and healing, like the snake in John 3:14).

Joh 14:6  Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (In response to Thomas)

Joh 17:3  Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. (in prayer)

In John’s gospel what follows is the Easter story. If you missed it, read chapters 18-19 again.

Here we are in chapter 20. He is life – he is alive again. Speaking to these followers of his.

And to Thomas.

“Stop doubting and believe.”

Why? The whole point of this whole book John) is summed up:

Joh 20:30  Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. Joh 20:31  But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Jesus – God saves. Believe in his name. He is everything. The I am. Remember Joh 8:58: “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!”

Thomas got the message – I am the man.

Just for a bit of fun – although this is serious – here’ a great song about Thomas “ I am the man Thomas”. by Ralph Stanley. Bob Dylan made it famous, singing it nearly 60 times.

It’s a great way to start guitar  – only needs two chords. Bluegrass is a great country style. Someone said: , “Bluegrass is to country what heavy metal is to rock and roll.”

Art and music capture various aspects of Thomas’ journey to faith.

Here is Ralph Stanley & The Clinch Mountain Boys – live:

And a younger version of the song and a faster tempo: The Petersens:  https://youtu.be/XVDs4N5Avdg

THE LYRICS INCLUDE:

Oh, I am the Man, Thomas, I am the Man

Look at these nail scars here in my hands

They pierced me in the side, Thomas, I am the Man

They made me bear the cross, Thomas, I am the Man

They laid me in the tomb, Thomas, I am the Man

In three days I arose, Thomas, I am the Man

They pierced me in the Side, Thomas, I am the Man

They made me bear the cross, Thomas, I am the Man.

Do you believe he is the man? The one? The “I am”.

It’s a great question.

Don’t be unbelieving, says Jesus. Believe.

Amen.

Tenebrae 2021 @ BBP – the readings and the story as darkness decends.

Tenebrae

The service of Tenebrae, meaning “darkness” or “shadows,” has been observed since medieval times. In a candle-lit church Christ’s suffering is commemorated through Bible readings and songs. Candles are put out one by one as the congregation listens to the story of Jesus’ suffering and death. At the end of the service the Christ candle is lit again, in hope and anticipation of the resurrection on Easter Sunday. We leave in silence after the lighting of the candle, as we reflect on the events and Jesus’ obedience and sacrifice for us.