Category Archives: Archive sermons

Sunday sermon 1 May 2016, (archive) – Seeking the reality of the power, presence, and peace of God.

Reading: John 14:23 – 29

(Archive sermon – from Sunday 5 May 2013. We had a visitor today and our focus was on CAP – Christians against poverty. This sermon may be of interest to those who did not make it. Sermons from the archives are sometimes dated because of their context but the truths are still there.)

Message

It’s Pentecost in two weeks’ time. Pente is not just the name of a board game. It means 50 (Pentagon and Pentagram – you know all those words).

Fifty days after Passover was this Jewish Feast – also known as the feast of weeks. On that day the Holy Spirit was poured out on the church – and the disciples empowered to preach the gospel and heal the sick. Celebrated in some churches as Whitsunday. Why?

There’s a real danger that we mark the day in our calendars and say – WOW look at that – and nothing actually happens to make the experience real for us.

The truth is that the work of the Holy Spirit is not a one-off experience. A day on the calendar. It is a central part of our Christian lives.

Reminds me of the story Nicky Gumble tells of the Religious Education teacher at school who asked his class one day: “How many people believe in God the Father?” and most put up their hands. “And how many believe in God the Son?” Quite a lot responded. And then finally he asked: “How many people believe in God the Holy Spirit?” And there was silence. Eventually a child responded: “sir, the boy who believes in the Holy Spirit is absent today!”

The Holy Spirit has often been a side-lined person in the Trinity.

One can understand the fears of people who look at the word “Spirit” and think of strange and spooky things. But we must remember that all we have of God is only possible through the Spirit.

  • Our regeneration – we are born of the spirit (John 3 – the Nicodemus passage)
  • Our sanctification – we are transformed by the spirit (2Co 3:17  Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. 2Co 3:18  But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. KJV)
  • Our experience of the presence of God – Jesus is with us through the spirit  (Matt 28:20 – “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
  • Our development of Christian character – we have the fruits of the Spirit – which we should know by now – recite together…  (Gal 5:19  The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; Gal 5:20  idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions Gal 5:21  and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. Gal 5:22  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, Gal 5:23  gentleness and self-control.)
  • Our appropriation of the gifts of God – the charismata are the gifts of the spirit and include the gift of healing which is a gift of the spirit (and by the way the gifts are not for our benefit alone but are there to bless others). 1Co 12:3  Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. 1Co 12:4  There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. 1Co 12:5  There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 1Co 12:6  There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. 1Co 12:7  Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. And then they are listed…
  • The peace of God – which is made real by the Holy Spirit. This peace is more than just one of the fruits of the spirit. It is a special gift of Jesus as we see in today’s passage.

And so we come to our first verse of the reading today – a most remarkable line which should get our attention immediately:

Jesus replied (to Judas whose question arises in this different discussion): (John 14:19  Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. John 14:20  On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. John 14:21  Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”)

John 14:22  Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”

It’s quite a complicated discussion and one of the few references to the other Judas in the team (not Judas Iscariot). It’s a question about Jesus revealing himself to his followers and not to the general public or the greater world stage. The reply is interesting in that context. What do we need? Listen: John 14:23  Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.

The Father and the Son will make their home in those who love and obey. Love Jesus and take his teachings seriously.

They will MAKE THEIR HOME in those people who are committed to love and obedience.

Now I know you like the hymn “Trust and obey” but this is “love and obey.”

HOW?

By the Spirit who makes this possible!

To seal this Jesus continues in verse 24: John 14:24  He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.

This is serious business! This is Jesus transmitting the words of the Father to the disciples!

GETTING SERIOUS WITH GOD

Getting serious with God is the only way to really experience all he has for us!  And so we read on to understand more: John 14:25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. John 14:26  But the Counsellor, 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. 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.

John 14:28  “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. John 14:29  I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe.

Not only do we have the presence of the Father and the Son who make their home in us through the Spirit (verse 26 re-enforces this – it is the counsellor – the Holy Spirit – who will become their on-going teacher, who will remind them of Jesus’ words), we have with this experience the PEACE OF GOD – NOT THE PEACE OF THIS WORLD.

So many people want the peace – but they don’t want a bit of this God business!

The world that Jesus speaks of is the world of people who are outside of God’s influence – by their own choice. In Jesus day they were around – in the crowds – in the towns where he visited. They would have heard but not believed.

Hence Judas’ question in verse 22 – John 14:22  Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”

Well God may have loved the world so much that he sent Jesus – but the truth is the world in general did not open its arms to the Gospel and still does not!  The world is made up of people who are spiritually dead in their sins. So they would not discern spiritual things. And today it seems that nothing has changed – in fact it seems that peoples’ hearts are more firmly set against the things of God!

If you go back in John 14 to earlier verses you will read this: John 14:15  “If you love me, you will obey what I command. John 14:16  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever— John 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.

SO WHAT DO WE DO WITH ALL THIS TODAY?

“Very interesting” you may say – or “very confusing” – yes John’s gospel is not simple because it records the words of Jesus who clearly saw the need to repeat some key things. Like preachers often have to. For years sometimes!

The words that keep coming to us are these:

  • Love
  • Obedience
  • A presence that gives us peace.

How serious are you about seeking the reality of the power of God?

While the presence and power of God is really a gift of grace – the bible constantly reminds us that we appropriate the fullness of the Lord’s power when we actively seek him!

Reminds me of one of my favourite passages from Jeremiah 29: Jer 29:11  For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jer 29:12  Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. Jer 29:13  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

So I ask again: How serious are you about seeking the reality of the power and presence of God?

And that begins with LOVE. Our love for Him! The greatest commandment is about loving God!  Jesus re-enforced the Deuteronomy 6 teaching of Moses in these words in Mark: Mark 12:30  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’

And when you really love someone – you want to please them – not out of duty – not to earn their love – but because you delight in the relationship!

Christians who are serious about God the Father and the Son making their home in us (through the Holy Spirit) – have some housekeeping to do! (read Psalm 24!  Psa 24:3  Who may ascend the hill of the LORD? Who may stand in his holy place? Psa 24:4  He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false. Psa 24:5  He will receive blessing from the LORD and vindication from God his Saviour. Psa 24:6  Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek your face, O God of Jacob )

Just like the old days when you tidied up when the pastor came to visit and got rid of the dodgy things lying around – perhaps you tidy your place when you have visitors in general – the idea of a Holy God making your life His dwelling is quite challenging. Or you clean up when the landlord is coming to check on the house! 🙂

I’m not sure if we can biblically call this place the house of God – because it isn’t according to the Bible. We probably need to get out of that habit. Let’s be biblical: Paul in Athens talking in the context of an altar built to an unknown God says this: Acts 17:24  “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. Acts 17:25  And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.

So back to –

  • Love
  • Obedience
  • A presence that gives us peace.

Too many people want to go straight to the peace! We want the feel good factor – our problems to end – the world to be a place of harmony – and cats and dogs to get on well. Sorry to pop the bubble – it’s not like that. You can’t get this happening in your life if you do it the world’s way. Let me try to explain.

PERSONAL REFLECTION

I’ve been here just over five years. Jesus ministered for three years. Paul was in Ephesus for two, and Corinth for 18 months. They seemed to get a lot more done in shorter amounts of time! It’s a lot harder today it seems – wherever you go ministering in the church.

I think this – this is my personal reflection – that the world has crept into the church.

When you bring the world into church you can easily quench the Holy Spirit – you can put out the light and stamp out the life.

We sometimes make it about us. And it is not about us. If you get caught up with trying to please people then we miss God. It’s a distraction.

It is – according to what we read about Jesus’ teaching to his disciples in John 14 – about love, obedience and God’s presence that gives us peace – not as the world gives! That changes us so that we can make a difference in our families, our places of work, and the world where we live.

John 14:15  “If you love me, you will obey what I command. John 14:16  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever—John 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.

We can be like the world when we focus on the wrong things, and then we can’t discern what God the Holy Spirit is saying or doing in our midst. Paul speaks about this again to the Corinthian church when talks about his preaching which was – in his words – “not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power” (1 Cor 2:4). He goes on to say in that most amazing passage in verses 9 and 10: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him”— 1Cor 2:10  but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. And then he says this: 1Cor 2:14  The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them..

All this church stuff we do – has no buying power, no currency – without the Spirit leading and directing. In fact – scary thing – churches can carry on doing the same thing for years – without necessarily being led by the Holy Spirit.

I read this amazing account about Judson Cornwall  (15 August 1924 – 11 February 2005) – a great preacher and prolific writer who started preaching at the age of 7 in the depression who went back to a church where he had ministered. Twenty years before he had taught them to seek more of God – and they had not listened. In fact he’d had a dream which he shared with them at the time – where the church members were in a large store and told to take anything they wanted – it was all free. They did – stuffing their pockets with cheap trinkets. Higher up were shelves with really valuable things for free too. Cornwall, in the dream, told them: “look up! look up!” But they didn’t. He resigned some time after that. (p94 – “More” by Simon Ponsonby). At the reunion dinner a lady said: “Oh pastor isn’t it wonderful? We still have all those gifts which God gave us in that renewal when you were here twenty years ago.” He excused himself from the party, returned to his hotel and fell on his bed weeping.

I wouldn’t mind if we shut up shop and just met for 6 months to really seek the face of God. No programs. Just prayer – Just cultivating a deep love for God, real obedience to God, and the presence, power and peace of God. Seeking to be the people of God who have Him with us and working through us. Fully. Totally. Completely.

Total surrender.

John 14:23  Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. John 14:24  He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.

May the Holy Spirit speak to us today. May He speak to you! Don’t be like the people in the department store getting the cheap trinkets. Imitation.

Look up! Look higher!

Amen.

 

 

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Sunday 24 April, archived sermon – A New Commandment I give unto you

A sermon on Anzac weekend. (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.’

Message

I wonder if you remember this song:

-1-
We are One in The Spirit,
We are One in The Lord. (x2)
And we pray that all unity may one day be restored.

Chorus
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love,
By our Love,
Yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

-2-
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.

Chorus

-3-

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!

sermon outline 28 April

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 31of 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 probable 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 battle field.

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 who gave their lives in war or protecting others in some way.

Love is shown in sacrifice.

Amen.

Sunday sermon 6 November 2011 – Ready or not?

(A sermon from the 2011 archives following the Revised Common Lectionary on the same passage as that of 8 March 2015. This passage is placed in a different position in the Narrative Lectionary).

Reading: Matthew 25:1-13

Mat 25:1 “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.
Mat 25:2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise.
Mat 25:3 The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them.
Mat 25:4 The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps.
Mat 25:5 The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
Mat 25:6 “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’
Mat 25:7 “Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps.
Mat 25:8 The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’
Mat 25:9 “‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’
Mat 25:10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.
Mat 25:11 “Later the others also came. ‘Sir! Sir!’ they said. ‘Open the door for us!’
Mat 25:12 “But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’
Mat 25:13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.

Sermon
We are a rechargeable generation! Everything we used can be recharged and carried around with us! Even laptops have portable chargers which you can pre-prepare and have with you to top up your batteries when you work out on the road or in the bush – or even better on the beach!

As an aside – one of my predecessors in my last African parish used to prepare his sermons on the beach and then come back to the church and have a shower – they put a shower off his study! I never did know whether he wrote anything down. These days you could write the sermon on a portable device.

The 10 maidens – also translated as virgins – were all out on the road, so to speak. They were waiting for the bridegroom to arrive – and this was a normal procedure for a wedding in those days! The wedding was not a one hour business – but took place over a couple of days and was a great celebration (remember that Jesus did his first miracle at Cana in Galilee – at a wedding.)

And when the bridegroom came back – presumably after negotiating matters with the bride’s parents – the bridesmaids would be waiting with torches lining the path.
At least that’s how I think it happened! There seem to be conflicting views as to who would go where! It seems that once the groom arrived the whole lot would process back to his house for the ceremony!

Either way it was a big occasion described by William Barclay as “the gladdest week in all their lives” – and of course with no other entertainment in their fairly ordinary lives the people knew how to party! (Remember the astonishment of the people at the wedding in Cana of Galilee – that the best wine was produced last – as usually you would start with the best wine and people wouldn’t care later in the feast!)

PREPAREDNESS
This was the key issue – half of the team were not organised and prepared.
They assumed things would be fine just with the oil in their lamps.
They were foolish. Literally – morons – in the New Testament language.
The problem was that five of them did not bring their chargers with them – no spare batteries either! No oil for their lamps.

They weren’t properly prepared! (Maybe Baden Powell would have helped them – seeing that BE PREPARED is the motto of the Cub-Scout movement!)

Are you prepared for ANYTHING? It’s a great question.
Are you ready for anything?

Matthew 25:2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise.

All ten are appropriate people for the task. People of integrity – ten virgins. Sadly you would battle to find suitable candidates today in our overly free society.

There is no question of their qualifications – their standing. But five are literally morons (in the bible language) – foolish, and five are wise.

Reminds me of another time Jesus taught on wise and foolish people. Do you remember that one? It was about what they built their lives on! Yes – they were to build their lives on the words of Jesus.

The houses built on foundations – sand versus rock: Matthew 7:24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.

Now when it comes to weddings there are no short cuts. Well there is always the option to elope. I saw a picture of drive-up weddings – like driving through a restaurant!
We would love some (cheaper) short cuts to weddings. THAT SELDOM HAPPENS!
Unless you run away – your particular culture will determine what kind of wedding you have (and your in-laws!)

I thought of talking about the key issues – in one of those rhyming sermons that slick preachers produce. Like these: the KEY ISSUES are:
1. Wedding gear
2. Watchfulness
3. Waiting
4. Weady for anything…  🙂
Clearly that didn’t work!

So I thought of the KEY PEOPLE: So who are the key people in the story?
Bride
Groom
10 maidens
That’s probably enough! The key people and who they represent (there are few debates about this in the interpretation of the parable).

Bride – the church as the bride of Christ
Groom – Jesus
10 maidens – we who are waiting for his second coming.
Or are we? I sometimes wonder whether we really believe He will return?
Do we really live each day as if it were our last? How prepared are we?

And is this just about being prepared for death – or the second coming of Jesus?
Or is there an added layer of expectation that we are missing here?

The delay is in THE FULLNESS OF THE COMING KINGDOM OF GOD.

It’s about preparedness – yes
It’s about patience – although they were all waiting!
It’s about alertness – although they were all pretty sleepy and in fact fell asleep!

So what made the wise ones wise and the foolish ones headed for disaster?

What made them foolish?
Not being prepared essentially
The wise ones?
Thinking ahead
In it for the long haul
They had THE OIL

I love the song we did with the kids today – “Give me oil in my lamp keep me burning” – it’s a great song but like many songs its theology is a bit dodgy.

Why? Because while we are dependent upon God for our energy – like your supplier of electricity and gas at home – you have to get it connected and pay for it!

No we can’t earn salvation.
But we are responsible for our discipleship – our learning and getting equipped.

The 5 foolish lasses could not blame anyone else but themselves for not being organised – not thinking ahead – and not being in it for the long haul.

I only found one person who made a strong link between the symbol of the oil in this parable and the Holy Spirit!

What I did find is a lot of people referring to the need for preparedness and spiritual discipline – of living our lives with the right kind of orientation
– The wisdom that comes from building your house on the rock – on the words of Jesus
– Of hanging your door on the right hinges (loving God and neighbour)
– And faith IS linked to the oil –and there is good evidence for that as the foolish ones cannot get into the wedding banquet on the strength of someone else’s oil!
– Some link FAITHFULNESS to the oil – that while waiting for the Kingdom to be fulfilled – while waiting for Christ’s return – we should faithfully listen to his words and do the works that he prepared for us to do (Ephesians 2).

And of course SERVICE which we talked about last week is part of faithfulness. It is the sign of the Kingdom that Jesus seeks – that we be great by serving and being there for others.

– And living HOPEFULLY is a good thing too – because the expectation of the wedding feast – means that we are prepared for the long haul KNOWING that its worth it!

THE TRAGEDY OF THIS PARABLE
Mat 25:10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut. PP9-1
Mat 25:11 “Later the others also came. ‘Sir! Sir!’ they said. ‘Open the door for us!’ PP9-2
Mat 25:12 “But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’ PP9-3
Mat 25:13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour. PP10
How do we do as a church – when it comes to keeping watch?

What do you think we as a church should do to be be watchful? (3 MINUTES DISCUSSION)

My thoughts to conclude:
1. Being watchful does not mean being obsessed with predicting the end of the world. Too many people have tried that.
2. Being watchful means appreciating each moment and each day with gratitude. Note what Paul writes to the Thessalonians. After telling them this:

1Th 5:1 Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you,
1Th 5:2 for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.
1Th 5:3 While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.
1Th 5:4 But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief.
1Th 5:5 You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.
1Th 5:6 So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled.

He says this – some very practical things as they were watchful:
1Th 5:16 Be joyful always;
1Th 5:17 pray continually;
1Th 5:18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

And in addition: 1Th 5:19 Do not put out the Spirit’s fire;
1Th 5:20 do not treat prophecies with contempt.
1Th 5:21 Test everything. Hold on to the good.
1Th 5:22 Avoid every kind of evil.

It’s about living a close relationship with the Lord – trying to hear from him – and doing the other things like serving him with faith and faithfulness in the power of the Holy Spirit!

We need to have enough oil to keep going! And when the end comes – whether we are here when Jesus returns – or whether we die in our sleep tonight – or some other interesting experience ends our life – we will be ready! That’s being wise!

It’s foolish to run around looking for oil when it’s too late!

Amen.

4 May 2014 – Emmaus Road Reflection

Eyes opened and hearts burning 

Reading: Luke 24:13-35

Luke 24:31  Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. Luke 24:32  They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

In a small Catholic seminary, the dean asked a first year student to preach one day in chapel. This novice worked all night on a sermon, but still came up empty. At the appropriate time, he stood in the pulpit, looked out over his brothers and said “Do you know what I’m going to say?” They all shook their heads “no” and he said “neither do I, the service has ended, go in peace.”

Well, the dean was angry, and told the student, “You will preach again tomorrow, and you had better have a sermon.” Again, the novitiate stayed up all night, but still no sermon. When he stood in the pulpit, he asked “Do you know what I am going to say?” All the students nodded “yes” so the preacher said “Then there is no need for me to tell you. The service has ended, to in peace.” 

Now, the dean was livid. “Son, you have one more chance. Preach the gospel tomorrow or you will be expelled from the seminary.” Again he worked all night, and the next morning stood before his classmates and asked “Do you know what I am going to say?” Half of them nodded “yes” while the other half shook their heads “no.” The novitiate said “Those who know, tell those who don’t know. The service has ended, go in peace.” 

This time, the dean just smiled. He walked up to the novice preacher, put his arm around his shoulders and said “Hmmm…those who know, tell those who don’t know? Today, the gospel has been proclaimed. The service has ended, go in peace.”

Those who know, tell those who don’t know…

That is the gospel in a nutshell. The problem is that on the road to Emmaus it is Jesus who appears not to know, while the two disciples are the ones who do!

He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” They stood still, their faces downcast.  One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?” (vv17-18)

There is this ironic twist. The disciples claim to be “in the know” and seem amazed by this stranger’s ignorance!

The problem was that they only had half the story!

When you pass on the news with only half the story, that’s more like gossip.

The stranger is the one who puts them right of course. It is Jesus who unpacks the whole story. It’s rather nice really.

And the crunch comes when their eyes are opened in the breaking of the break.

They see.

And they acknowledge that their hearts were burning when he spoke to him and opened the Scriptures to them.

Remember Jeremiah writing about this? (Jer 20:9)  But if I say, “I will not mention him or speak any more in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.

Eyes opened and hearts burning.

It doesn’t matter what order that happens in really.

For John Wesley – it was after some years of religious discipline that his heart was “strangely warmed” – there was this inner experience or reality which arose really out of a searching and his leadership of what was called “The Holy Club”

Listen to this account:

In 1729 he joined with a small group of students at Lincoln College who met on Sunday evenings to talk about religious books and engage in prayer together. John became the natural leader of this group which expanded: it became known as ‘The Holy Club’, and they extended their activities to pastoral care including prison visiting.
John began to set down rules for himself. When dining in hall he would only drink one glass of wine or ale and he would never taste more than three dishes of food. For the Holy Club he laid emphasis on (1) the central importance of Holy Communion; (2) the responsibility of doing good to all, and (3) the importance of the written word for developing the faith.

On 24 May 1738,  (frustrated and) depressed, he opened his bible at random and read ‘ Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.’ Later that day he heard Luther’s anthem ‘Out of the Deep have I called unto thee, 0 Lord,’ And during a society meeting in the evening, where Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans was being read, he records:  ‘while he was describing the change in the heart through faith in Christ I felt my heart strangely warmed … I felt an assurance was given to me that He had taken away my sins … and saved me from the law of sin and death.’

DIFFERENT JOURNEYS

There are different journeys. The Emmaus road was the journey that those two disciples took while pretty depressed too. They only knew half the story. The death of Jesus was the precursor to the real event that was to change the world – his resurrection!

Wesley’s journey was as a religious person – a missionary working in America – who read hundreds of books and tried to follow a religious life. His heart was warmed when he HEARED a reading from Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans.

I don’t think that the two disciples or Wesley were actually expecting such a revelation! They were in a bad space emotionally when it happened.

HOW ABOUT YOU?

When our eyes are opened and our hearts warmed, it all fits into place.

Those who know tell those who don’t know – that the resurrection of Jesus changes things in a remarkable way.

And there is no resurrection to share with others without the amazing story of Jesus’ death.

It’s that death and resurrection that we remember at the table. We do this in remembrance of Him. We partake in His life! We accept the privilege of his grace – forgiveness, and the promise of new life.

AND we enjoy the power of the resurrection NOW. The same spirit which raised Jesus from the dead lives in us!

Our lives are transformed now!

LET’S TALK ABOUT THESE PEOPLE FROM THIS POINT OF VIEW: They are standing there with downcast faces. Gloomy. In the darkness of loss and depression. And there is John’s Wesley – depressed after all his religious discipline and his missionary years.

Jesus is the one who opens our eyes to the whole truth – and warms our hearts.

His light shines.

Those who know tell those who don’t know. Sometimes we’re like those who have forgotten. The gloom of our lives has blocked out the light of the Son of God who shines in our hearts.

I’ve been there. Some of my darkest days have been in the past five years. It has been impossible to claw back – except for the grace and love and warmth of God.

May our eyes be opened and our hearts burn within us – may there be a quickening of our spirits as we remember again the whole story.

Sunday 27 April 2014 – Doubting and believing Thomas

Text: John 20:19‑31

Sermon

Children aren’t afraid to ask questions or even to express some doubts.

David Heller in his little book, DEAR GOD: CHILDREN’S LETTERS TO GOD, has some questions children have asked…

 Dear God, What do you think about all those movies made about you around Easter time? I think they’re kind of corny, myself. Your buddy, Charles (age 9)

 Dear God, When Jonah was in the whale, was it a he whale or a she whale? Mike (age 7)

 Dear God, What do you do with families that don’t have much faith? There’s a family on the next block like that. I don’t want to get them in trouble, so I can’t so who. See you in church, Alexis (age 10)

 Dear God, When I grow up will I have to fight in the army? Will there be a war? I’m not chicken or anything. I just want to know in advance. Terry (age 10)

 Dear God, I have doubts about you sometimes. Sometimes I really believe. Like when I was four and I hurt my arm and you healed it up fast. But my question is ‑ if you could do this why don’t you stop all the bad in the world? Like war. Like diseases. Like famine. Like drugs. And there are problems in other people’s neighborhoods too. I’ll try to believe more, Ian (age 10)

 Dear God, Want to hear a joke? What is red, very long, and you hear it right before you go to sleep? Give up? A sermon. Your friend, Frank (age 11)

Today’s Gospel reading  is about a man who was like a child when it came to questions. If he had one, he asked it. If he had a doubt, he expressed it. His name was Thomas. Most of us know him as “Thomas ‑ the Doubter” or “Doubting Thomas.”

I want us to take a little closer look at Thomas, for I think he’s not always been treated fairly. In fact, I think we who live in an age that questions everything can learn something from Thomas about how to handle our questions and doubts. And we have them. It’s not always easy for us to believe. We are more like Thomas than we know or care to admit. And I suggest to you that that’s not so bad. For if we can use our doubts and questions like Thomas did ‑ to help strengthen our faith ‑ then we will be better disciples of Jesus Christ.

If we had only the first three Gospels, the only thing we would know about Thomas is his name ‑ for that’s all they tell us.  Thomas is often paired with Matthew as one of the twelve disciples Jesus chose. “Thomas” is the Hebrew word for “twin.” He is also called “Didymus,” which is the Greek word for “twin.” Obviously Thomas had a twin brother or sister who is never named. (One tradition says his twin was Lydia of Philippi, the seller of purple cloth who was converted by Paul).

So we have to look at the Gospel of John to get real insights into just who Thomas was.

Turn with me to John 11. This is the first time Thomas is mentioned and we get some real insight into the kind of person he was.

This is the story of the raising of Lazarus. Mary and Martha had sent Jesus word that their brother Lazarus was close to death. They lived in the small village of Bethany very close to Jerusalem. Look at verse 7. Jesus tells his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”

Look at what the disciples think of this idea in verse 8. “Teacher,” the disciples answered, “just a short time ago the people there wanted to stone you and are you planning to go back?” (We can read about these stoning attempts in chapter 8 and 10 of John).

They thought he was crazy to even consider going back there. Perhaps they were on the verge of deserting Jesus. But then Thomas speaks out in verse 16:

Thomas (called the Twin) said to his fellow disciples, “Let us go along with the Teacher, so that we may die  with him!”

Thomas rallied the wavering disciples here, convincing them to go with Jesus to Jerusalem.

Whatever else we may say about Thomas, he was not a coward. He was willing to go with Jesus to Jerusalem knowing full well that it just might cost him his own life. Thomas loved Jesus and was ferociously loyal to him. How many of us have been willing to follow Jesus, to let it be known that we are one of his disciples even if it might cost us greatly?

We also see here that Thomas leaned toward pessimism. “Let us go along with him, so that we can die too!” Thomas tended to expect the worst.

Someone said: pessimist is someone “who can look at the land of milk and honey and see only calories and cholesterol.”

Thomas instructs us even in this. It was difficult for him to follow Jesus for he was a natural born pessimist. It’s easier for an optimist for he always expects the best. But for Thomas, certain as he was that disaster awaited them, this was a tremendous act of faith and loyalty. Just because he was pessimistic, that was no reason to stop following where Jesus led. We, too, must not let a pessimistic attitude keep us from following Christ’s lead, even if we have grave doubts about just where we’re gonna end up.

Now turn to John 14.

Jesus tells his disciples that he’s going away to prepare them a room in the Father’s house. “You know the way that leads to the place where I am going,” he says. But notice what Thomas says in verse 5: “Lord, we do not know where you are going; so how can we know the way to get there?”

Thomas  wasn’t afraid to ask questions, even to Jesus, when he didn’t understand something. And I’ll tell you this, Jesus never put him down for it or anyone who came to him with an honest doubt or question. For such a person is seeking to believe. The honest doubters and questioners did not bother Jesus as much as the know‑it‑alls, those like the Pharisees who would not open their hearts and minds to the truth he taught.

Thomas had questions. He asked them because he wanted to understand. I can identify with that. All my life I have been full of questions and even some doubts from time to time..

Doubts, questions does not have to be the enemies of faith, but can be an allies. And I tell you something else, if someone has never had any doubts or questions, I wonder if they have ever really thought about their faith or know what they believe. Often we do not really understand what we believe until some question, some doubt arises that makes us pray, study, talk, search for answers.

And I’ll tell you something else. A person who asks questions and even doubts doesn’t mean he or she has no faith. To the contrary, I think it shows that they take their faith seriously, so seriously that they want to understand and grow ‑ just like Thomas.

Now turn with me to John 20.

It’s the first Easter evening. The disciples had gathered behind locked doors out of fear of the authorities. Suddenly, Jesus is with them in the room. They see his hands and side. And they are filled with unspeakable joy. But look at verse 24. It reads,

One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (called the Twin),  was not with them when Jesus came.

I think Thomas wasn’t with them because his heart was broken. He was in deep pain. Just as he thought ‑ it had ended in a disaster even worse than he had imagined. Jesus had been arrest, tried, crucified and been dead three days. It was over. The man he had followed for three years, the man who he loved more than his own life, was dead. To gather with the others was just too painful a reminder of all this. So Thomas chose to withdraw and suffer alone.

Seems to me, my friends, that when we are hurt or in deep distress like Thomas, we have a tendency to do one of two things ‑ withdraw and suffer in silence, cut ourselves off from others, or reach out and embrace our family, friends.

Thomas chose to withdraw. And because he did, he missed out on the one thing that would have turned his sorrow into joy ‑ the presence of the Risen Christ!

In Matthew 18:20, Jesus says, “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

To withdraw from the fellowship of the Christian family is to miss out on that special sense of the presence of Christ that gives us tremendous peace and joy. And, I think, as Thomas discovered, it is only within that fellowship that we begin to have our questions and doubts resolved.

The disciples, so excited, rush out and find Thomas. They use the very same words that Mary and the other women had used, “We have seen the Lord!” And Thomas makes that reply for which he has become famous or infamous, “Unless I see the scars of the nails in his hands and put my finger on those scars and my hand in his side, I will not believe” (verse 25).

Thomas gets a bad rap because we think he’s the only one who felt this way. Wrong! Luke 24:11 says that when the women came to them and said, “We have seen the Lord!” that no one one believed them. The disciples thought it was nonsense! And here in John 20 we see that they did not believe until they had seen the Risen Lord, his hands and his side. THEN they believed. Thomas was acting no differently than they had. In fact, he’s just more upfront and honest about his doubts.

A week later the disciples gather again and this time Thomas is with them. Like before, Jesus appears to them, “Peace be with you,” he says. Then Jesus turns to Thomas and offers to allow him to touch his hands and his side. We’re not told if Thomas did this. I personally do not think he did. He fell on his knees and said, “My Lord and my God!” Thomas openly admitted his doubts, he faced them, and worked through them to the greatest confession of faith in Christ in the whole New Testament!

Tradition says that after the ascension of Jesus, the disciples divided up the world for evangelism. Thomas got India. There is a church in India that traces its roots back to Thomas. And I understand there’s a Saint Thomas Mount where, I believe, tradition says Thomas was killed while praying. We don’t know if any of this is true, but such faith, loyalty, courage and love for Christ would certainly be in keeping with what we know about Thomas.

So don’t let anyone tell you to stop asking questions or to suppress all your doubts. Ask them. Talk about them with those you trust. Don’t let them drive you away from the Christian fellowship but to it, for chances are the Risen Lord will help answers your doubts and questions as you gather with his people to worship, share, pray and serve. Make your questions and doubts lead you, like Thomas, to a greater faith.

Amen.

Easter reflection – the Jesus we present

Readings: Acts 4:32-35; John 20:19-31

 Act 4:32  All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.

Act 4:33  With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all

Act 4:34  that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales

Act 4:35  and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.

Joh 20:19  On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

Joh 20:20  After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

Joh 20:21  Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

Joh 20:22  And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

Joh 20:23  If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Joh 20:24  Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.

Joh 20:25  So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

Joh 20:26  A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

Joh 20:27  Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

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

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.”

Joh 20:30  Jesus performed many other 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 Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

 MESSAGE

So we’re building loving communities that help people find and follow Jesus!

We saw a “Where’s Wally” puzzle this week. I’m glad I didn’t have to attempt it – or to find Wally!

Finding Jesus is an interesting idea. It assumes one of two things (or both I guess)

  • People are looking for Jesus
  • Jesus is lost!

Are people really on a search today? For fame maybe – or fortune. Money or meaning in life. Or meaning in money or mammon (the Bible’s term for worldly wealth) – the power of consumerism is still a major challenge. I suspect they are looking for something really – although many are not cognitively searching (using their minds) but rather surviving. Most families should not be vilified, though – they are working hard and providing for their children in an admirable way. Making ends meet, is the common term used.

The early church is sometimes set up as a model or paradigm for us today – on the assumption that there are enough similarities between people then and this generation to cause us to aim to be like the early church in every way.

Whether we aspire to be like the early church or not – we are very different. For example:

  • Few of us are Jewish (as in Acts 4)
  •  – verse 32 is challenging: “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.”

We are not there yet. Put a bunch of Presbyterians together and it’s more like a fruit salad – often in the same bowl but not much agreement!

  • Few of us liquidate our assets and lay the funds at the feet of their spiritual leaders. There were no needs in the community because of this giving
  • Few of us can have this said of us: “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all.”

The story of Easter and the resurrection had clearly galvanised them into a powerful little group who were counter-cultural in a lot of ways. I think we are challenged by this passage from Acts – if we want community we need to broaden our thinking.

The Gospel reading today gives us a clue about how people connect to Jesus and Jesus to people. There are two things that spoke to me as I read this passage again:

  1. Jesus offered peace to the people he encountered. As the Prince of peace that makes sense. I’m not sure that we reflect that – we are often like people on the warpath with our opinions and views.

 Jesus declares “peace be with you” and shows them his hands and side. Why? He’s pointing them to the reality of the resurrection.  It was to this startling fact that the early church in the book of Acts pointed too. Listen again to what we heard:

Act 4:33  With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all

  1. Jesus offered a personal relationship to those who struggled to believe. Like Thomas – who unfortunately is remembered as “doubting Thomas” rather than “Honest Thomas”.

 So what was Thomas battling with? The resurrection I should think. He wanted evidence – he wanted to see for himself and touch those wounds.

 Thomas wasn’t there the first time. A week later Jesus does one of those Houdini acts – not escaping from a locked room but getting into one again. And he speaks to Thomas:

“Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

 Even the men on the A team had things they had to work through!

 I wonder if it’s too big a step to take to say that Jesus still wants to speak peaceinto our lives and to speak to our individual needs and doubts – and our fears.

 We may well be in some locked rooms too – and we may be surprised that Jesus might want to join us and engage us in a conversation. Make a connection.

 I don’t think faith comes easily for some people. It’s possible that more of us are like Thomas than we are honest enough to admit.

 So we hide our thoughts and feelings – afraid of our own authorities – our leaders perhaps who we think will pounce on us if we are uncertain – or at least if we don’t exhibit their great faith.

That’s why it’s really important that we don’t preach at each other – forcing our particular way of seeing things on others.

There’s nothing more discouraging than a simplistic “well if you would only obey Jesus – He will sort it all out and everything will be fine”.

 “Trust and obey” is a lot easier to sing than to do when things are tough.

 If I was going to sing a song in times of trouble – I would rather see Jesus as a “bridge over troubled waters” or I would prefer “what a friend we have in Jesus” praying – “bear my griefs Lord”.  Or I would sing “Still” which is one of my favourites right now:

 Hide me now

Under Your wings
Cover me
Within Your mighty hand

When the oceans rise and thunders roar
I will soar with You above the storm
Father you are King over the flood
I will be still and know You are God

Find rest my soul
In Christ alone
Know His power
In quietness and trust

When the oceans rise and thunders roar
I will soar with You above the storm
Father You are king over the flood
I will be still and know You are God

 The Jesus we present to the world – and the Jesus that should be seen in our communities (and I am thinking of small groups mostly where community really works (Someone once said there is no such thing as a congregation – it’s just a collection of small groups) – the Jesus we present and should see:

 IS the Jesus who causes there to be no needs – where people liquidate assets to make sure others have what they need – because of compassion and kindness and sacrificial living – and of course the clear idea from His teaching that treasure on earth is not the main thing – rather eternal treasure in heaven!

 The Jesus we present and should see:

 IS the Jesus therefore that makes it possible for our communities to be truly loving – honest – sorting out things – caring enough to face the truths of our messy lives in a safe place. How do you think they managed to get to that place where there were no needs among them? Simple – they talked about their needs! SO different from us who put our private use of money in a “private” basket.  Funny thing is that Jesus spoke of what we do with our money a lot!

 The Jesus we present and should see:

 IS the Jesus who shows up in the rooms we try to hide in and says PEACE BE WITH YOU. You can’t really open your life to this peace unless you acknowledge the storm! The moment people say to me (of something really messy) – Ah it’s all sorted – then I know they’re probably hiding it away – that pride is probably winning the war!

The Jesus we present and should see:

  • IS the Jesus who knows exactly what your doubts and fears are and will meet you at your point of need.
  • IS the Jesus who is so fascinating and attractive – so intriguing and so loving – that people will be drawn to Him when they see Him in us!

 What an enormous challenge! Are we remotely like Jesus?

 Are you? Do want to be? Is it worth the cost?

 And is the Jesus we present this Jesus? Or some other kind of person cut out from a few verses of the Bible?

 What amazing love – what sacrifice – the Son – the One Son of God – given for me! Taking my deepest pains and fears and anxieties to himself!

 So that I can be free!

 When we break the bread today – when you take some bread – if you dare to take it – you may well be taking the risk of becoming like that body – broken!

This Lord of all says he calls us friends.

The Creator of all becomes a servant – and calls us to serve too.

This greatest Lover of the world – calls us to love others too – no matter what we think about their theology or worship – their faith or lack of faith – their beliefs or their doubts.

When they find and follow Jesus – the most amazing things can happen.

 When we find this Jesus – and discover what He is really like – and follow Him – who knows how exciting that can be!

 Joh 20:19  On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

Joh 20:20  After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

Joh 20:21  Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

(Republished from 15 April 2012)

Sunday sermon 7 April 2013 – “Doubting Thomas”

Text: John 20:19‑31

Sermon

Children aren’t afraid to ask questions or even to express some doubts.

David Heller in his little book, DEAR GOD: CHILDREN’S LETTERS TO GOD, has some questions children have asked…

 Dear God, What do you think about all those movies made about you around Easter time? I think they’re kind of corny, myself. Your buddy, Charles (age 9)

 Dear God, When Jonah was in the whale, was it a he whale or a she whale? Mike (age 7)

 Dear God, What do you do with families that don’t have much faith? There’s a family on the next block like that. I don’t want to get them in trouble, so I can’t so who. See you in church, Alexis (age 10)

 Dear God, When I grow up will I have to fight in the army? Will there be a war? I’m not chicken or anything. I just want to know in advance. Terry (age 10)

 Dear God, I have doubts about you sometimes. Sometimes I really believe. Like when I was four and I hurt my arm and you healed it up fast. But my question is ‑ if you could do this why don’t you stop all the bad in the world? Like war. Like diseases. Like famine. Like drugs. And there are problems in other people’s neighborhoods too. I’ll try to believe more, Ian (age 10)

 Dear God, Want to hear a joke? What is red, very long, and you hear it right before you go to sleep? Give up? A sermon. Your friend, Frank (age 11)

Today’s Gospel reading  is about a man who was like a child when it came to questions. If he had one, he asked it. If he had a doubt, he expressed it. His name was Thomas. Most of us know him as “Thomas ‑ the Doubter” or “Doubting Thomas.”

I want us to take a little closer look at Thomas, for I think he’s not always been treated fairly. In fact, I think we who live in an age that questions everything can learn something from Thomas about how to handle our questions and doubts. And we have them. It’s not always easy for us to believe. We are more like Thomas than we know or care to admit. And I suggest to you that that’s not so bad. For if we can use our doubts and questions like Thomas did ‑ to help strengthen our faith ‑ then we will be better disciples of Jesus Christ.

If we had only the first three Gospels, the only thing we would know about Thomas is his name ‑ for that’s all they tell us.  Thomas is often paired with Matthew as one of the twelve disciples Jesus chose. “Thomas” is the Hebrew word for “twin.” He is also called “Didymus,” which is the Greek word for “twin.” Obviously Thomas had a twin brother or sister who is never named. (One tradition says his twin was Lydia of Philippi, the seller of purple cloth who was converted by Paul).

So we have to look at the Gospel of John to get real insights into just who Thomas was.

Turn with me to John 11. This is the first time Thomas is mentioned and we get some real insight into the kind of person he was.

This is the story of the raising of Lazarus. Mary and Martha had sent Jesus word that their brother Lazarus was close to death. They lived in the small village of Bethany very close to Jerusalem. Look at verse 7. Jesus tells his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”

Look at what the disciples think of this idea in verse 8. “Teacher,” the disciples answered, “just a short time ago the people there wanted to stone you and are you planning to go back?” (We can read about these stoning attempts in chapter 8 and 10 of John).

They thought he was crazy to even consider going back there. Perhaps they were on the verge of deserting Jesus. But then Thomas speaks out in verse 16:

Thomas (called the Twin) said to his fellow disciples, “Let us go along with the Teacher, so that we may die  with him!”

Thomas rallied the wavering disciples here, convincing them to go with Jesus to Jerusalem.

Whatever else we may say about Thomas, he was not a coward. He was willing to go with Jesus to Jerusalem knowing full well that it just might cost him his own life. Thomas loved Jesus and was ferociously loyal to him. How many of us have been willing to follow Jesus, to let it be known that we are one of his disciples even if it might cost us greatly?

We also see here that Thomas leaned toward pessimism. “Let us go along with him, so that we can die too!” Thomas tended to expect the worst.

Someone said: pessimist is someone “who can look at the land of milk and honey and see only calories and cholesterol.”

Thomas instructs us even in this. It was difficult for him to follow Jesus for he was a natural born pessimist. It’s easier for an optimist for he always expects the best. But for Thomas, certain as he was that disaster awaited them, this was a tremendous act of faith and loyalty. Just because he was pessimistic, that was no reason to stop following where Jesus led. We, too, must not let a pessimistic attitude keep us from following Christ’s lead, even if we have grave doubts about just where we’re gonna end up.

Now turn to John 14.

Jesus tells his disciples that he’s going away to prepare them a room in the Father’s house. “You know the way that leads to the place where I am going,” he says. But notice what Thomas says in verse 5: “Lord, we do not know where you are going; so how can we know the way to get there?”

Thomas  wasn’t afraid to ask questions, even to Jesus, when he didn’t understand something. And I’ll tell you this, Jesus never put him down for it or anyone who came to him with an honest doubt or question. For such a person is seeking to believe. The honest doubters and questioners did not bother Jesus as much as the know‑it‑alls, those like the Pharisees who would not open their hearts and minds to the truth he taught.

Thomas had questions. He asked them because he wanted to understand. I can identify with that. All my life I have been full of questions and even some doubts from time to time..

Doubts, questions does not have to be the enemies of faith, but can be an allies. And I tell you something else, if someone has never had any doubts or questions, I wonder if they have ever really thought about their faith or know what they believe. Often we do not really understand what we believe until some question, some doubt arises that makes us pray, study, talk, search for answers.

And I’ll tell you something else. A person who asks questions and even doubts doesn’t mean he or she has no faith. To the contrary, I think it shows that they take their faith seriously, so seriously that they want to understand and grow ‑ just like Thomas.

Now turn with me to John 20.

It’s the first Easter evening. The disciples had gathered behind locked doors out of fear of the authorities. Suddenly, Jesus is with them in the room. They see his hands and side. And they are filled with unspeakable joy. But look at verse 24. It reads,

One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (called the Twin),  was not with them when Jesus came.

I think Thomas wasn’t with them because his heart was broken. He was in deep pain. Just as he thought ‑ it had ended in a disaster even worse than he had imagined. Jesus had been arrest, tried, crucified and been dead three days. It was over. The man he had followed for three years, the man who he loved more than his own life, was dead. To gather with the others was just too painful a reminder of all this. So Thomas chose to withdraw and suffer alone.

Seems to me, my friends, that when we are hurt or in deep distress like Thomas, we have a tendency to do one of two things ‑ withdraw and suffer in silence, cut ourselves off from others, or reach out and embrace our family, friends.

Thomas chose to withdraw. And because he did, he missed out on the one thing that would have turned his sorrow into joy ‑ the presence of the Risen Christ!

In Matthew 18:20, Jesus says, “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

To withdraw from the fellowship of the Christian family is to miss out on that special sense of the presence of Christ that gives us tremendous peace and joy. And, I think, as Thomas discovered, it is only within that fellowship that we begin to have our questions and doubts resolved.

The disciples, so excited, rush out and find Thomas. They use the very same words that Mary and the other women had used, “We have seen the Lord!” And Thomas makes that reply for which he has become famous or infamous, “Unless I see the scars of the nails in his hands and put my finger on those scars and my hand in his side, I will not believe” (verse 25).

Thomas gets a bad rap because we think he’s the only one who felt this way. Wrong! Luke 24:11 says that when the women came to them and said, “We have seen the Lord!” that no one one believed them. The disciples thought it was nonsense! And here in John 20 we see that they did not believe until they had seen the Risen Lord, his hands and his side. THEN they believed. Thomas was acting no differently than they had. In fact, he’s just more upfront and honest about his doubts.

A week later the disciples gather again and this time Thomas is with them. Like before, Jesus appears to them, “Peace be with you,” he says. Then Jesus turns to Thomas and offers to allow him to touch his hands and his side. We’re not told if Thomas did this. I personally do not think he did. He fell on his knees and said, “My Lord and my God!” Thomas openly admitted his doubts, he faced them, and worked through them to the greatest confession of faith in Christ in the whole New Testament!

Tradition says that after the ascension of Jesus, the disciples divided up the world for evangelism. Thomas got India. There is a church in India that traces its roots back to Thomas. And I understand there’s a Saint Thomas Mount where, I believe, tradition says Thomas was killed while praying. We don’t know if any of this is true, but such faith, loyalty, courage and love for Christ would certainly be in keeping with what we know about Thomas.

So don’t let anyone tell you to stop asking questions or to suppress all your doubts. Ask them. Talk about them with those you trust. Don’t let them drive you away from the Christian fellowship but to it, for chances are the Risen Lord will help answers your doubts and questions as you gather with his people to worship, share, pray and serve. Make your questions and doubts lead you, like Thomas, to a greater faith.

Amen.

(From the archives)

New Year sermon – A balm in Gilead

NEW YEAR

Readings: Jeremiah 8: 4-22  Revelation 22:1-21

Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people.

 And the leaves of the tree (of life) are for the healing of the nations.

Here we stand in the first month of a new year. Perhaps you’ve already stopped reflecting on it – seeing that some of us only make resolutions on the 31st December and forget them by the 2nd January.

Perhaps you may be asking yourself the question – what is in store for me? What is in store for us? You probably would like a year of relative peace in your family, your community, and the world in general.

You know of course that there are always going to be problems when it comes to human relationships. Peace comes often only at a price – swallowing the lump of pride that can choke you, and realising that you can’t always blame others – you are the problem in most situations.

Jeremiah had to deal with a stubborn people in Israel as well.  That was his work as a prophet – calling a proud people to turn away from their selfish desires and stubborn ways.

The prophet asks this embarrassing question:

Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?

Its like asking the question in a room full of doctors – is there a doctor amongst you?

Gilead was a region across the Jordan from which a famous ointment from a certain tree was obtained. The balm of Gilead was known far and wide.

Is there a Balm in Gilead? Yes there was. This was the place for healing and it was within easy reach.

And so why were the people not healed? What was the wound of the people of Israel that could not be healed?

Perhaps you can guess the answer. Jeremiah diagnoses this ailment elsewhere in his writings when he says:

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.  Who can understand it? (17:9)

The sickness is that of the human heart – separated from God – embroiled in its own stony concerns – hard hearts.

Friends – there is a balm in Gilead – Jesus is our healing. He is the source of life for the nations, as recorded in Revelation 22:

And the leaves of the tree (of life) are for the healing of the nations.

Jesus is the tree of life for the nations – yes for the whole world. But the hardness of the human heart is a stumbling block to faith and acceptance of the healing in Gilead.

He is the balm of Gilead – the ointment for our healing and restoration.

But we resist Him.

And we too – like Israel – have had Gilead within our reach. We have heard the gospel so often about Jesus the healer.

  • He restores our relationship with the Creator – so that we have peace with God.
  • He restores our relationship with others – so there is true peace on earth.
  • He restores our relationship with our own souls – so that we have true inner peace of heart and mind.

It is we who keep our distance from the God of love. It is we who hold grudges against friends and family – keeping rocks in our hearts rather than our heads, although I suspect there are rocks in our heads as well.

It is we who have hard hearts in every area – especially in our generosity. We are so selfish – so afraid that we may lose our little securities in life that we cling to our wealth, our abilities, and our time, rather than investing it in the things that really matter.

We love ourselves and the things of this world too much – and much more than God. And we love ourselves much more than we love our neighbour.

And so – living in the cramped boxes of our own making – boxes that are no different from coffins just as rut is no different from a grave if you get stuck in it – we live and yet we are dead.

Dead to the real life that could be ours. Dead to the goodness that is potentially ours – dead to the things of the spirit and alive to the things of the world.

And God says to us today – is there a balm in Gilead? Is there a solution to this mess?

The answer is yes – Jesus, and total trust in Him for the woes of the world. He is the true peace in our nations, in our homes, our places of work and even in the Church where human pride and indifference cause havoc and deception.

Is there a physician here? Yes – Jesus. He cures the sickness of the human heart and soul – his name is as ointment poured forth – Jesus, Jesus.

But we don’t love Him – not much, not enough. If we did, we would do what He commands – to love, to give, to serve, to tell, to minister His grace with zeal and joy. We would love Him so that we worship Him on every given opportunity – and we would give to Him all that is rightfully His. Our time, talents, and our wealth. And yet we choose to rob God of all these things.

Rob Him if we like – but we are robbing ourselves of the healing balm. Until we do what He commands there will be no peace and no blessing.

For if we really believed we would pray as if everything depended on it – and give as if everything depended on it – and work hard for Him as if everything depended on our effort.

Is there a balm in Gilead? Yes there is – but His people do not believe. What will it take to make them believe?

Its as a bad as a sick man with an easy cure – yet he resists the medicine, spitting it our on the floor like a petulant child or a cantankerous old man throwing a fit of rage in a hospital bed. “I will not take this medicine – I’m not sick” you hear Him scream, as he goes into eternity with a heart of stone, unwilling to change his mind.

God says – repent. Change your ways. Stop complaining about the world – you’re not making in any better. Start believing that Jesus is the balm of Gilead – He can put our lives together again, take away the bitterness and loneliness – and make all things new.

Amen.

(A message from the archives of 1994)

From the archives – Is your life a ferry ride on a calm day?

A sermon from the archives from my Chaplaincy days – Secondary Chapel  – April 2008

Readings: Jonah 1:1-4,  2 Corinthians 11:24-27

Jonah 1:1-4

Jon 1:1  A message from the LORD came to Jonah. He was the son of Amittai. The LORD said,

Jon 1:2  “Go to the great city of Nineveh. Preach against it. The sins of its people have come to my attention.”

Jon 1:3  But Jonah ran away from the LORD. He headed for Tarshish. So he went down to the port of Joppa. There he found a ship that was going to Tarshish. He paid the fare and went on board. Then he sailed for Tarshish. He was running away from the LORD.

Jon 1:4  But the LORD sent a strong wind over the Mediterranean Sea. A wild storm came up. It was so wild that the ship was in danger of breaking apart.

Second Corinthians 11: 24-27

2Co 11:24  Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.

2Co 11:25  Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea,

2Co 11:26  I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers.

2Co 11:27  I have laboured and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.

 

Message:

High performance. Are you a high performer?  Are you an “achieved with excellence” person?

Do you have great exploits and conquests – do you win all the time?

There are some real dangers in the ethos of our school – because in our obsession with image, success, and achievement, we sometimes forget that there is a world out there of lots of failure, struggle and disaster.

And if failure and disaster never hits us, we probably never learn the skills required to cope in the real world. Something has to give eventually.

Ever been really hungry? Slept on the street? Been unemployed and walked the streets looking for work? Been thrown out by your parents, beaten, abused, and rejected? Ever faced murder of a friend, war that’s taken your family members away from you?

If you life has been a smooth road and a bed of roses, then you may well not be concerned by the 40 hour famine – the plight of others may not be your concern.

Or the beggar in the streets of the cities of the world.

Or the people who remember anniversaries of tragedies and deaths. Like the Wahine disaster.

I’m very nervous of ships really. We planned to go on the Oceanos some years back. A few weeks after visiting the ship at Durban harbour it sank off the wild coast. All 571 people onboard were saved. The weather was much kinder.

Then there was the Achille Lauro. It was high jacked by terrorists and later also sank after a fire. Cruise two cancelled.

The last ship we planned to sail on was arrested by the Sheriff of the City of Durban because its owners had not paid their bills.

I was pleased that my first Ferry ride to the South Island was on a calm day.

If your life is life a ferry ride on a calm day, then you may have some shocks coming your way. Listening to the stories of the survivors of the Wahine tragedy this week reminded me of the trauma of such events. Reflecting on the Anzac day history is a stark reminder of real failure.

What we need is resilience to cope with failures, and not just the buzz of each weekend’s highs and the endless accolades for our achievements.

An international resilience project indicated that the following challenges were experienced the most in students lives, in order of frequency:

  • death of parents or grandparents
  • divorce
  • separation
  • illness of parent or siblings
  • poverty
  • moving, family or friends
  • accident causing personal injuries
  • abuse, including sexual abuse
  • abandonment
  • suicide
  • remarriage
  • homelessness
  • poor health and hospitalizations
  • fires causing personal injury
  • forced repatriation of family
  • disabled family member
  • parent’s loss of a job or income
  • murder of a family member

Parents report on these challenges:

  • robberies
  • war
  • fire
  • earthquake
  • flood
  • car accident
  • adverse economic conditions
  • illegal, refugee status
  • migrant status
  • property damage from storms, floods, cold
  • political detention
  • famine
  • abuse by a non-relative
  • murders in neighbourhood
  • unstable government
  • drought

And then I listen to conversations of children here at school who are always “annoyed” by some inconvenience, some responsibility, and some person who is a bit different and challenges their thinking. Someone tells them they have done wrong, and they wangle their way out of responsibility with such aplomb.

Life is not just high performance, fame and fortune! I apologise to you on behalf of your world. We have done you a disfavour by helping you want to win all the time.

The bulk of the world lacks the basics. They lose. Ask the people of Zimbabwe – especially the 4 million plus who have become refugees in the streets and cities of South Africa.

And how we grumble. Shame on us all.

In the readings today there were two characters in danger on the sea. One was Jonah – running away from his responsibilities that God had given him. There were reasons for the disaster that followed him. God was getting his attention.

Paul was the other – and we have a litany of disasters. Beatings, stonings, shipwrecks, bandits, hunger, cold and nakedness. Add in a couple of stints in jail like my fellow ministers in Zimbabwe and you get a most colourful life.

Some people’s tragedies are because of the tasks they take up. Others seem must more random and without obvious reason.

What really matters is how we choose to respond. Our ultimate freedom is the freedom not to give up, not to despair, not to try again.

I will spare you the lecture about how you can redeem your time to study. That’s not my job.

But I will suggest that you use your time to get out of your selfish world and look at what is really happening out there.

Draw alongside someone who is in the midst of the muck – the excrement of life – and ask yourself if you have any reason to really complain.

Listen to the stories of immigrants – of those who have been abused – of those who lived through tragedy and disaster.

Resilience is about overcoming adversity. Most people around the world understand the idea of overcoming adversity with courage, skills and faith.

You can sail through your education and make your millions, grab your stake of fame and fortune.

Or you could use your real tests in life – those tests of adversity – to grow into a better person, developing real strength of character.

You could grow your faith, in stead of being dismissive about the things of faith and paranoid about offending other people’s sensibilities.

The people who caught the Wahine on that 9th of April 1968 had no idea what would happen. The young men who went to war were excited about seeing the world. They saw blood and guts, and shattered bodies, and many saw the lights go out on their future.

Unaware. Unprepared.

May you sail your ship of life far more alert, far more wise, and filled with passion to make a difference even if you face the worst.

Amen.

Sunday 13 May – love one another how?

Readings: Psalm 51, verses 10 – 13; 15 – 17   and John 15, verses 10 – 17
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51:16-17)

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:12-13)

I often wonder what it would have been like if we had lived in bible times. The sacrificial system that the Old Testament believers had was fascinating.

There was a lot of focus on justice – on things being fair. Fair scales, fair wages, fair treatment of strangers and aliens (the human type of course).

And fair punishment for people who did things wrong.

The concept of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is not to create some kind of barbaric tit-for-tat competition, but to ensure justice. To use the metaphor literally, it would be unfair for you to lose both eyes as a punishment for blinding someone in one eye.

Sacrifices were part of the deal – and here one has to say that it seems unfair that an animal or bird should lose its life to pay for human sins. But it was part of their lives. In the Jewish Passover – it was the blood of a lamb painted on the doorways and lintels of the houses that saved them. A scapegoat was also used – and the sins of the nation symbolically transferred to the animal before it was sent out into the wilderness.

I just would have had issues with all the slaughter and blood. I’m no vegetarian, but I am happy not to have to chase the chicken around the back yard and kill it before cooking it for tea.

I watched a great scene once on the weekend programme involving a detective called Barnaby – Midsomer Murders. I always wonder if there’ll be anyone left in Midsomer as they all seem to get bumped off.

This cook is sitting next to the rabbit hutch with a rabbit on her lap – and she’s stroking it lovingly. Sweet scene for little children. And suddenly without warning she rings its neck – and takes it to the kitchen to skin. Here bunny bunny bunny….

And so David – in Psalm 51 – after being caught out in the act of adultery – confronted by the prophet Nathan – and showing real sorrow for his bad decisions, has this to add:

You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (16-17)

I don’t think that a payment in money – even to buy an animal to sacrifice – is helpful. It’s almost a token. It’s like breaking something at school and mum gets the bill. No – if you deliberately break something you should pay for it! Of course there are grey areas – sometimes we just do idiotic things and accidents happen.

David recognised – after serious self examination which is entirely appropriate at any time of the year – that it wasn’t enough to make reparation with a sacrifice. It didn’t really impress God, he says in his prayer addressing the Lord:

You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

The inner attitude is the key. And even when the prophet Samuel chose David as King from eight brothers, the requirement was that people look on outward appearances, but God looks at the heart.  God knew David’s heart then – and valued his passion and commitment. David when he messed up knew that the attitude of the heart is the key thing.

A broken and contrite heart is more important than writing out a cheque in compensation. That’s why community service is good for many – because they have to get involved and get connected with real people. And in restorative justice they have to face victims or their families and fess up!

Sacrifice is central to Christian life. Ultimately God himself provides the sacrifice – and ultimate test of generosity and what we call GRACE – undeserved favour. List to Jesus’ words again from the Gospel reading:

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:12-23)

As Easter draws to a close we should reflect on people who have sacrificed much for us. And on mother’s day especially we think of mums who served us and nurtured us, giving their all for us.

Most of all we think still of  Jesus who laid down his life for us.

In response to these sacrifices, let us live lives that are sacrificial too. The world will be a much better place for it.

We can become people who have a heart for God and in doing so have a heart for others – loving each other as He has loved us – with a sacrificial love.

(From the College archives, 2010)