2 April 2020 – Coping with a different world at war

Some thoughts on coping with the new normal in lock down day 8 – in New Zealand.

A short reflection for today on dealing with anxiety and change.

Read: Philippians 4:4-7

 

 

1 April 2020 – So you’re not planning on dying then?

So you’re not planning on dying then?
(Some thoughts written before lock down and limitations on funeral services.)

“Everybody does it – nobody talks about it.” Sounds like a taboo, doesn’t it? In the Victorian Age this would have described sex. Now it describes dying. We have come a long way in dealing with death since the early part of the twentieth century. Since the 1970s the medical profession has begun to deal with death as a part of medicine – rather than focusing on healing and recovery alone. Although one has to day that some hospital staff don’t always handle terminally illness in the best possible way. They’d much rather see their patients go home alive!

We still have a taboo in general society – people don’t talk about death. Everybody will die and nobody likes to talk about it. Death on the other hand is accepted on TV and at the movies.. We watch movies in which people agonise over the loss of loved ones, and even have TV programs about undertakers, although the series I have in mind is rather off the wall!

We have to accept death as a reality in order really to become fully human beings. At the same time we don’t want to focus on sad and depressing things. So what do we do? Here’s one way of facing our immortality. We have a facility for people in our local church to plan their own Funeral or Memorial service. Sounds odd for some, but it makes absolute sense. The point is – what would you want people to do when your time comes? Mourn or dance? Weep or celebrate?

Planning your Funeral is not as macabre as it sounds. It helps your family to know what YOU really would like at that service. And there should be a service of remembrance or celebration of some kind. All too often undertakers are being requested to have “non-attendance” cremations, where no one stops to remember or give thanks. They pretend to move on and leave granny or dad for someone else to dispose of. In the long run that is not a good move.

In years gone by when people didn’t talk about sex (but clearly “did it”, otherwise there might have been a problem with the human population), they had to “undertake” for themselves – laying out the bodies of their loved ones in a room in a house and preparing it themselves for burial. Clearly they faced death and mourned. In Africa many cultures have more elaborate funerals – mourning for some days and bringing the bodies of loved ones home for a vigil the day before the Funeral. They MOURN because they need to.

So do we all. The grief process is a journey –nothing happens overnight. And you should not try to forget someone too soon. The process of mourning is the journey of ADJUSTMENT to a new life without that person, parent, spouse or child. Support groups really help. Having a friend who has been there also helps, because we need to talk and work through the trauma of loss. Our friends should not be afraid of mentioning our loved one’s name – they too should break the silence and remember them regularly.

It is foolish to prepare everything else (finances, wills, and disposal of property and possessions) without preparing one’s family and one’s self. And of course planning your Funeral service helps your family not to worry about what is important from your point of view – hymns and songs, special readings and poems, and even a letter to be read to them on your behalf. You could remind them how much you love them! Even better, say those things when people are alive! Fix those broken relationships – before you become one of those people who have to talk to a coffin to make things right.

Christians are not afraid of death. We may fear dying – that it may be painful or very difficult. We do fear leaving those we love behind, and we are often afraid of the unknown. Our Faith, however, has this to say about this ultimate journey: Paul writes in Philippians 1:21: For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. Jesus reminds us of His amazing plan for us in John 14:2: In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. Many people retire to the some lovely place. They plan for years for that moment when they don’t have to work – when they can enjoy doing what they really want to do. But do they prepare for this ultimate reality? One thing is for sure – we don’t always see it coming. We do know that our destiny as humans is sealed and certain.

The Christian Faith talks about ASSURANCE (remember the hymn Blessed Assurance?). In a sense this involves a promise, a guarantee, a pledge that those who have trusted in Jesus have the promise of eternal life. Eternal Life for the Christian starts now – in a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Paul sums it up like this in Romans 8:38 to 39: For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. And then look at these words of Jesus in John 17:3: Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.

Remember His promise – that makes all the difference! Believe in Him and give your life to Him. He has dealt with the power of death through His own death and resurrection. Thinking about dying puts our living into perspective. Not only can we plan well – we can also live well and love well.

Message 29 March 2020 – Jesus’ compassion and the hope we have in Him

Readings: Psalm 130; John 11:1-45

Message

Click on this link to watch this message

People are sometimes fascinated by bible statistics. Like the longest and shortest verses.

If I were to ask you what the shortest one is you may say 1Thess 5:17  “pray continually”. Or the verse before that verse 16: “Rejoice always”.

In the Old Testament NIV its Job 3:2 – “He said”. It’s a grim passage. I think the translators who did the verses were having an off day really. Although in that chapter he says quit a lot of bad stuff.

Most people would go for “Jesus wept” in John 11:35. It certainly is powerful in its brevity.

Here’s the passage where you find it: Joh 11:33  When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.  Joh 11:34  “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied. Joh 11:35  Jesus wept. It’s interesting how “come and see” keeps cropping up in John’s gospel.

In the current crisis the world finds itself in – and our version of it in New Zealand, one of the burning questions is this: how long will it be like this?” Hope is dashed for many – jobs have been lost – plans wrecked – and loved ones taken too soon. And it’s a waiting game in many ways – wait and see. And so the first thing to consider in our readings today, and especially in this story in Bethany –  is this:

  1. How do people deal with losing hope and waiting, waiting, waiting.

It’s an interesting scenario really. Up to this point waiting for Jesus to come would have been tough for Mary and Martha. Jesus – when first told about Lazarus being sick (v3) we are told that he “loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus” (v5). Intriguingly he stays on there another two days. You get another classic kind of double talk. Nicodemus and the two births. The woman at the well and two kinds of water. Here Jesus says:

“Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.” Joh 11:12  His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.”

There it is – the mystery of two different realms – that fourth dimension. John goes on:

Joh 11:13  Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep. Joh 11:14  So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, Joh 11:15  and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

Mary and Martha must have struggled. Like we do – when we are holding on to hope – praying desperately. There are hundreds of thousands facing that kind of waiting for news of critically ill patients around the world.

Psalm 130 we heard read today speaks about waiting for the Lord. It starts off quite desperately too: Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD;  O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy. (verses 1-2)

And in the hoping and waiting there is often impatience. When Jesus gets to Bethany three times people have a go at him – if you’d just got here quicker.

Jesus always knew the bigger picture of Lazarus being raised to life again.

  1. He still wept

Jesus’ compassion is always a help for us. His humanity means he knows and feels it all as we do. He still does when you are facing troubled or challenging times. Twice in the John passage it says Jesus was “deeply moved”.

There is of course another angle on this as well. Jesus weeps elsewhere over Jerusalem and their lack of faith. But the translations hide an angle on his response. “Deeply moved” is also translated as terribly upset, groaning in himself and very sad. The NLT and the message pick up the other meaning of this emotion:

Verse 33: (NIV84)  When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.

 (NLT)  When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him, and he was deeply troubled.

(MSG)  When Jesus saw her sobbing and the Jews with her sobbing, a deep anger welled up within him.

Verse 38: (NIV84)  Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance.

 (NLT)  Jesus was still angry as he arrived at the tomb, a cave with a stone rolled across its entrance.

(MSG)  Then Jesus, the anger again welling up within him, arrived at the tomb. It was a simple cave in the hillside with a slab of stone laid against it.

There’s a great debate about why Jesus would be angry – their unbelief, the power of death, a realisation that he would face it too. This pandemic with rows and rows of coffins also shoves death in your face doesn’t it.

But he refocuses on what he’s there for and gets them to role away the stone.

There’s another short phrase here- yes its not a whole verse – but basically the people there say (in the King James Bible) “he stinketh”. This is  real earthy stuff – that’s why when they’re use an ice rink to store the dead, its grim and surreal. This is the wage of sin – death. From Adam to today. BUT – as Paul reminds us – the gift of God is eternal life. Lazarus will rise – but he will die later and eventually be raised again forever. Like Jesus.

  1. Resurrection is the bigger picture

Jesus uses every opportunity to teach his followers the bigger picture. In every sign he performs in John’s gospel, profound teaching follows. Think of Nathanael, Nicodemus, the woman at the well, and later “doubting” Thomas. In this case

interacting with Martha he says this:  “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26). It’s a great question for us to consider as well today.

If people start dying here in New Zealand – we must share our hope for the life to come with people.

Later in John 14:1 he says “Trust in God, trust also in me.”

That’s all we can do. And of course he tells them about those many mansions – rooms – baches – that he will prepare for us, and  then come back for us so we can be with him.

Don’t lose hope. Remember Jesus’ compassion. And his victory over the last enemy -death. Wait on him. Wait for him to work in every situation which promotes death – let’s be  ready to give a reason for the hope we have and tell others about the eternal life that is given to those who believe in God’s one and only Son given for the world he loves.

Amen.

 

22 March 2020 message – Pursued by the love of God

Readings: Psalm 23; John 5:1-17 (read and acted out by the children)

MESSAGE

We were going to talk about healing today and look at John 9 – where the man born blind is healed. Remember – the mud and spit in the eye healing method of Jesus?

I think with the current social distancing no touch protocols acting that out in a play might have been tricky.

We chose John 5 – another healing of a person sick for 38 years.

Interesting that Jesus asks the guy – do you want to get well?

They used to doubt that this pool called Bethesda was a real place – until archeologists discovered it in the late 19th century. It was a place where people waited for the waters to be moved by an angel, and the first one in the pool after that would ge well.

Do you want to get well?  It’s a good question for people who have been sick for so long that they can’t be separated from their condition. It defines them.

Like the spies who went into the promised land – their sickness is an unconquered giant. And they are a bit too happy to be grasshoppers.

The man’s answer to Jesus’ question: I can’t do it!

Joh 5:7  “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”

Jesus responds immediately: “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” (5:8). IN the next verse we read: Joh 5:9  At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. The day on which this took place was a Sabbath.

I was at a prison chaplains’ training day Thursday. We had to do this exercise – they read out something and you had to move to a section of the room to show if you strongly agreed, or strongly disagreed, or were somewhere in the middle.

Guess what – I was often on my own.  You’re probably not surprised.

I especially could not say easily that I was a religious person.

I’ve never felt religious. I used to say to the kids I worked with in three schools – I’m not very religious. They often were left scratching their heads. There I was in a dog collar and sometimes wearing a robe a chapel.

The “religious” people in this Gospel passage in john 5 are some of the reasons why I don’t feel comfortable being called religious.

Here’s a man healed after 38 years as an invalid, and they are objecting to the day of the week it happens on? The text continues:

Joh 5:16  So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him.Joh 5:17  Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.”

When it comes to helping people – you can’t stop because of the day of the week. Or  a crisis. Or risk. Yes, you have to take all reasonable precautions.

Jesus kept healing and speaking the truth. He engaged the untouchables. The people living on the margins. The bad people of his generation. And they changed.

A good shepherd doesn’t leave the sheep on a Sabbath – so that they are easy supper for the wolves.

Today fortunately we have Psalm 23 in the readings, which my new friend Tim who heads up the bile reading group I belong to (operating in Russia) -says “is the perfect antidote to the current worldwide panic.”

He points to the final verse: “Surely goodness and covenant-faithfulness (traditionally mercy) will follow (pursue) me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for length of days.” (Ps. 23:6) Goodness and mercy.

We were studying Proverbs 3 in our Bible Study on Wednesday. Pro 3:5  Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; Pro 3:6  in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

The previous verse sprung up from the pages Pro 3:3  Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.

Love and faithfulness – loving kindness and truth. Goodness and mercy. We can’t stop caring because God’s goodness and loving kindness don’t just follow us. They are the hounds of heaven. They pursue us!

Tim says: “The word “pursue” is used outside of its normal context in an ironic manner and creates a unique, but pleasant word picture of God’s favour (or a kind God) “chasing down” the one whom he loves.”

Jesus compassion for those who suffered long and tough was there – he healed them.

He sought hem out. He listened. At the pool he discovered this man’s predicament. And intervened effectively. Do we want to be healed?

Do we know that he is pursuing us?

  • Let’s not be afraid at this time in our lives.
  • The Lord is our shepherd. We won’t want  for anything.
  • He restores our soul – heals our hears- and feeds us.
  • We are never alone.

We learnt a song recently and the words really spoke to me:

I’ve heard a thousand stories of what they think you’re like
But I’ve heard the tender whispers of love in the dead of night
And you tell me that you’re pleased
And that I’m never alone

You’re a good good father
It’s who you are, it’s who you are, it’s who you are
And I’m loved by you
It’s who I am, it’s who I am, it’s who I am

In the face of global fear, may you have faith in the pursuing goodness of God.

Amen.

15 March 2020 Message – Living Water

Readings:  Exodus 17:1-7; John 4:5-10; 39-42

MESSAGE – where is your bucket?

If Nicodemus struggled to understand the new birth, even though he was a teacher and trained in his faith, its not surprising that a Samaritan woman with a fairly muddled life couldn’t get around Jesus’ offer of living water.

Jesus starts the conversation by asking for a drink at this well.

The woman is perplexed, to say the least.

Joh 4:9  The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) Joh 4:10  Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” Joh 4:11  “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water?

  • Where’s your bucket?
  • How do you get this water out of a deep well?
  • But she is keen at least – even if to save on the daily chore.

Joh 4:15  The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

Jesus must have been an interesting person to have a casual conversation with. He always managed to take people in another direction.

If you don’t know the story, well Jesus reply is certainly not what she would have expected. He gives her a curious instruction.

Joh 4:16  He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.” Joh 4:17  “I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. Joh 4:18  The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.” Joh 4:19  “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet.

You’d think this woman was a contemporary Christian. When it gets personal, talk theology. Have a debate. She avoids the discussion about here failed love life or relationships.

Aa a Samaritan she would have been familiar with the differences between her people and the Jewish religious traditions. They had their own Bible in their script. Their own temple. And they didn’t get on.

Which makes the whole encounter quite unique. In addition as we see when the disciples come back from their shopping trip, they are surprised to find him talking to a woman. It just wasn’t done.

It’s to this woman – who comes alone at the heat of the day – probably avoiding the critical eyes of others because of her failures – to who Jesus reveals the most profound truths. Especially this statement: Joh 4:24  God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth.”

She responds with some insight here: Joh 4:25  The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” Joh 4:26 

But Jesus responds: “I who speak to you am he.” What an amazing revelation.

The disciples come back from the shops at this point. The woman is so challenged and perplexed by this that she leaves here water jar and goes back to her people. We read on: Joh 4:28  Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, Joh 4:29  “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?”

The result is startling in the next verse: Joh 4:30  They came out of the town and made their way toward him. A whole entourage of Samaritans come out to meet this man.

There’s another message within this passage that follows as we see the conversation between Jesus as his disciples. This time it’s about food. Listen to this: Joh 4:31  Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.” Joh 4:32  But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” Joh 4:33  Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?” Joh 4:34  “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.

Like the new birth –  the water in the well – the food – another teaching session flows out of this about their work reaping the harvest. And again – it’s not about agriculture, but about reaching people.

I love the outcome of this story: Joh 4:39  Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” Joh 4:40  So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days.

She models our responsibility doesn’ t she –  tell people about Jesus – and let them come and see. These Samaritans persuade Jesus to stay for couple of days. And despite the fact his was  just a stop over, he agrees.

It ends really well: Joh 4:41  And because of his words many more became believers. Joh 4:42  They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”

Isn’t that our desire too? To help people get to that point?

We can do it.

If we share our story about how Jesus has touched our lives. “Come and see” remains a key part of the Christian’s witness in the world.

Amen.

 

Sunday message 8 March 2020 – Eternal Life

Readings: Psalm 121:1-8;  John 3:1-17

MESSAGE

 Do you have nice neighbours?

In our first home as a ministry family I decided to connect with my neighbours. The first neighbour was cautiously hospitable, but at the end of the visit mentioned that they didn’t really have much to do with neighbours.

Point taken. I didn’t persist after that.

Some people have terrible neighbours.

I sometimes muse that if we land up in a mansion in our Father’s house, what kind of neighbours will be land up with?

After all, we will be stuck with them for eternity!

Isn’t that what eternal life seems to mean?

Maybe the idea is simple terrible for you!

I mean they may be people in this building today that you might consider as potential eternal neighbours and then think “Nah!”

And if pets get to heaven what if that dog just keeps on barking for thousands of years?

When you look at the idea, eternal life is an interesting concept.

And its right there in probably the most famous verse in the Bible:

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.

So what it? What does Jesus say? John 17 in his prayer spells it out:

Joh 17:1  After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. Joh 17:2  For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Joh 17:3  Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.

How do we get to that point – to know God and Jesus who was sent by God?

And what is it in John’s Gospel that got people interested enough to get to know Jesus the giver of eternal life?

I’m not sure that they started with the idea that we have about eternal life as an ongoing existence forever in heaven.

If we go back to John 1 – you may remember a man we encountered called Nathaniel.

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.

Th first idea we have in John about heaven is not to do with life after death, but heaven open in the present – in the life of his disciples.

If you were here when we looked at this, you may remember that we linked it to Jacob’s ladder in Genesis – where Jacob encounters God at Bethel – the name meaning house of God.

Jacob’s declaration after that dream was – surely God was in this place, and I didn’t know it.

The encounter with God is really the start of a relationship which Jesus calls “eternal life” – he says its not a future state but an experience in the present.

Now why do I start with that encounter with Nathaniel?

Well here’s my secret reason.

25 times in John Jesus introduces what he is about o say with this key statement:

In the NIV – it reads “I tell you the truth.” No it doesn’t mean he is misleading them on other occasions. It’s a bit like the Old testament prophets who when they say “Thus says the Lord” they were getting people’s attention because God was speaking through them.

Those of you who grew up with the King James bible will remember it as “Verily verily I say unto you” Or “truly truly”. Literally “Amen Amen”.

The first of those 25 times he uses the double amen –  truly truly – is to Nathanael – alerting him and others to a breakthrough from heaven to earth like Jacob’s dream at Bethel.

Follow Jesus – and heaven is going to break through.

People will know God again as they were meant to. And know Jesus too because he is God.

The next three of the 25 “amen amens” appear in our reading today.

And they’re pretty important.

Here we go:

John 3:3; John 3;5; John 3:11 –

  • Joh 3:3 In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”
  • Joh 3:5 Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.
  • Joh 3:11 I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony.

In the first two of these – there’s a clue you may miss.

If you’re not born again (or from above – it means both) you can’t see the kingdom of God.

If you’re not born of water and the Spirit (explaining being born again) you can’t enter the Kingdom of God.

The clue? The term “kingdom of God”. Matthew uses the other version of this – the “kingdom of heaven” – because of his Jewish readers or recipients of his gospel.

The water refers to baptism in water and the spirit refers to baptism in the spirit. Both are part of entering the Christian community – water baptism symbolizes the entrance into the physical body of Christ here on earth (the organization if you like). Spirit baptism is about being incorporated into the spiritual organism of the body of Christ everywhere.

I think we get the water baptism bit. The symbol of going under and coming up out of the water represents our dying to our old life and being raised up to a new life – participating in Christ’s death and resurrection. The water has various symbolic associations including cleansing and washing.

The spiritual baptism is referred to by Paul I a Corinthians 12:12

1Co 12:12  The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 1Co 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.

There are various other places where we are told that there is a spiritual life that we experience in Christ. Not the least of which is this in John 7:

Joh 7:37  On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Joh 7:38  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” Joh 7:39  By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.

So when Jesus says: Joh 3:5  Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Joh 3:6  Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. Joh 3:7  You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ Joh 3:8  The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

it’s not surprising that Nicodemus is still stumped. He’s already tried to think of the new birth as going back into your mother’s womb – he clearly missed that one too. This time he says:

Joh 3:9  “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked. Joh 3:10  “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things?

Here comes the next “Amen Amen” – which in this case is a bit of a lecture to one of the most clued up influential people of the Jewish religious establishment:

Joh 3:11  I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. Joh 3:12  I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?

And just to lay it on the line even more – Jesus goes on to say:

Joh 3:13  No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. 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.

It’s not just the angels at Bethel going up and down the ladder into heaven – or Nathaniel being told that he would see “heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

It’s the son of Man who is he prototype – the forerunner – who has come down from heaven and will go back to heaven – he will be the first to rise from the dead and live forever in a new resurrected body – and all of this ends with us looking up – not a Moses’ snake on a pole in the desert – but on Jesus on his cross.

If you don’t know that story – it’s in Numbers 21.

Num 21:4  They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; Num 21:5  they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!” Num 21:6  Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. Num 21:7  The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. Num 21:8  The LORD said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” Num 21:9  So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.

They would have known the story.

Just as Moses lifted up that snake – a bronze one which they kept in the tabernacle as a sacred object -which Hezekiah later destroyed (2 Kings 18:4) because it became like an idol to them rather than a reminder that it was God who saved them.

Just as that snake was lifted up -says Jesus – so the Son of Man must be lifted up, Joh 3:15  that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. (v15).

And its here that we find the famous verse 16: 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.

To believe in Him you have to look to the cross – Jesus through his cross has become the new ladder opening up heavenly life to us now and keeping heaven open for us at he end. Eternal life says Jesus – is knowing God.

You can only know god through the access of Jesus on the cross. Tom Wright puts it like this:

Humankind as a whole has been smitten with a deadly disease. The only cure is to look at the son of man dying on the cross, and find life through believing in him. 

The cross is at the heart of John’s amazing new picture of who God is. He is now to be known as the God who is both father and son, and the son is revealed, ‘lifted up’, when he dies under the weight of the world’s evil. The cross is the ultimate ladder set up between heaven and earth. (Wright, Tom. John for Everyone Part 1: Chapters 1-10 Pt. 1 (New Testament for Everyone) (p. 33). SPCK. Kindle Edition.)

So poor old Nicodemus in that “amen amen” saying is roundly chastised really.

Joh 3:11  I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. Joh 3:12  I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?

“You people” is one way of getting people’s backs up – or taking on the whole lot of them. Its translated like his because it’s in the plural – it’s not just Nicodemus but all of his colleagues in the Jewish religious establishment that Jesus is addressing. Which is what he does again and again. If you don’t believe me look at John 8:

Joh 8:43  Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. Joh 8:44  You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. They plot to kill him quite early on.

People always oppose things that upset their religious organisations which make things tidy, clear cut, organizing and labelling things in nice little piles.

Nicodemus represented that kind of religious world of rules and categories.

Inconveniently Jesus comes along and talks about a new kind of life – eternal life – which is an experience of a kingdom where the spirit is on the move. Like a wind or a gale (the word for spirit and wind is the same) – things can be blown over or blown away.

In a similar way the earthquake in Christchurch did that when the church buildings were destroyed. The churches had to sit down and say -well what is it really about – who are we really?

They had no buildings to sit comfortably in.

So they had to look up.

It always helps to look up. To pray and seek God’s direction.

The Psalm today reminds us that people were looking up to the hills – of course there were high places – altars to false God’s on those hills.

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.

This is not greenie Psalm for us to go cavorting around the countryside and climbing up the hills like Maria in the Sound of Music.

The help comes from the Lord the maker of heaven and earth.

  • He is a God who creates and recreates.
  • And to know him is eternal life.

So when Paul says that noting separates us from the love of God – he lists all the troubles of life, spiritual powers, and of course he adds DEATH in there because it is still eternal life – we will still know God and be known by Him who knows his sheep by name.

  • Have you seen the Kingdom of God?
  • Entered it?
  • Been born of water and the spirit?
  • Received eternal life?

Amen.

Sunday Message 23 February 2020 – Mountain tops and valleys

Readings: Exodus 3:1-15; Mark 8:27 – 9:8

What does it take for God to get your attention?

How are you with hearing voices?

We had this interesting conversation in home group this week as we looked at the boy Samuel in the temple hearing a voice but not knowing who it was calling him. You remember the story in 1 Sam 3? Three times he goes to the priest Eli thinking that he was the one calling.

  • Do we need a quiet time to hear God?
  • A retreat?
  • Do you need to be in a temple or church like Samuel?
  • Or at a conference (like yesterday’s?)
  • A mountain top experience?

In both readings today the voice of God is heard when they are up on a mountain.

  • In Moses’ case he hears a voice from a bush that appears to be on fire but doesn’t burn up. (Here in this church the congregation looks at a picture of that burning bush every week when they look at the person reading and speaking from here. It’s the visual motto or logo of the Presbyterian  Church – here on this lectern.)
  • For Peter, James and John, the mountain top experience is pretty unique. They see dead guys talking to Jesus and he looks like he’s been plugged into a power source. Whiter than white he is.

The old KJV in Mark 9:3 has this fascinating language:

  • And his raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them. The fuller there of course is a launderer.
  • The ESV has: and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. This is the “whiter than white” washing powder advert kind of thinking.
  • The NIV has: His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them.

It’s not surprising they were terrified.

Seeing dead people does that anyway. I’ve only had that happen once – and it was prescription medication that caused the hallucination. I wasn’t fun.

  • The voice on Mount Horeb to Moses becomes a conversation as he is commissioned to liberate his people from slavery.
  • The voice on the mountain of transfiguration – is a one liner that should have helped assure the three key disciples.

“This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him.”

It must have been quite amazing. A real high. But they came down to earth pretty quickly.

YOU CAN’T LIVE ON A HIGH

Life is full of contrasts.

  • You can have a brilliant day and it can end badly.
  • Terrible circumstances can still have good outcomes.

If you follow the characters we have been looking at so far – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and sons, Joseph, Moses and today Peter, James and John – you get enormous contrasts – great successes and serious failures.

One would hope that when certainty is reached in the way that we would sometimes like it – a voice from heaven telling us what’s going on (e.g. Peter) or a voice telling us what to do (e.g. Moses) – that things would be steady and stable.

But no – there’s always a shaking. Something that brings you down to earth.

Take the various scenarios where there are voices from heaven in the Bible:

  • At Jesus baptism where he is anointed by the spirit and his ministry is launched – where a voice from heaven affirms him. In the next verse he is propelled into the desert to be tested by the devil. (from baptism to battle ground)
  • Moses – From the encounter with God in the burning bush to the conflict with a stubborn hard hearted king. (from bush to battle ground)
  • Peter – Confession that he is Messiah (revelation) to rebuke of his devil like behaviour – it’s like going from saint to Satanist. (from revelation to rebuke)
  • Peter James and John – Mountain top camping to a real life-threatening road to the cross (glory to gory if you like.)

The danger of wanting to stay on a high – spiritually emotionally or “conferencially” – is that it can be disappointing. And while you are on the mountain top is not always easy to think straight anyway.

Peter may well have been so overwhelmed to make sense of the vision of seeing Moses and Elijah talking to Jesus that he wanted them to camp out there – what else could he have thought of?

Most of us would have probably wanted to capture the moment. Stay with that buzz of affirmation. (Think of your childhood holidays, when you had to leave a regular holiday destination to go back home – and you may get a glimpse of the feeling.)

But as a good colleague and friend pointed out in our discussion on Friday – self-gratification – our sinful nature – sometimes leads to sensual selfish spiritual experiences – wanting a high all the time. We are at risk of depending on those highs – it  can become all about me – about us. Like those who at the end of a conference say “when’s the next one?” Feelings can drive our train, rather than facts and faith. We need another spiritual fix!

It’s no coincidence that Transfiguration is followed by Lent in the Church Calendar – a sobering 40 days.

And when Peter is less than thrilled by the idea of Jesus being killed, it’s not really surprising that he would try to stop it.

  • This is Jesus the Messiah who has been revealed. There was an expectation of success from messianic figures – they are supposed to win the battle and overthrow the bad guys!
  • Jesus lights up whiter than white on the mountain. Moses and Elijah are seen – the representatives of the key sections of the Hebrew Scriptures, the law and the prophets.
  • And then this: Mar 9:9  As they came down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has risen from death.” 

I am sure they felt – death should not be on this list. Imagine a presidential candidate or political leader saying to his or her followers – vote for me. I’ll be killed and you’ll all run away. It was less than thrilling.

During Lent there is time for us to reflect on the challenges. Jesus calls people to a cross.

Great expectations – followed by this amazing declaration: the voice of clarity: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him.”

And this gloomy prediction: Mar 9:30  Jesus and his disciples left that place and went on through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where he was, Mar 9:31  because he was teaching his disciples: “The Son of Man will be handed over to those who will kill him. Three days later, however, he will rise to life.” Mar 9:32  But they did not understand what this teaching meant, and they were afraid to ask him. 

How do you stay in the centre? I don’t mean like the grand old Duke of York and his 10 000 men where the song goes “and when they were only half way up they were neither up or down.”

I mean not like an emotional yo-yo. Crazy highs and lows.

Mind you. it’s not that easy if you get flicked from one thing to another like a ball in a pin ball machine. We will have highs and lows.

  1. We need the highs, like the conference we went on yesterday. They embolden us for the lows and the long slow obedience of level ground.
  2. We need the lows – the challenges – because they strengthen us in a different way. Building resilience and character and faith. Resistance is required to build core strength (just look in on a Gym).
  3. MOST IMPORTANTLY – we need the relationship – all of these people sought God’s direction or adopted it in the context of a daily relationship of some sort with God.
  4. We also need the sense of calling and purpose. Without that we will not really want to get out of bed in the morning.
  5. And like them we need to be seekers. Again and again in the bible is the ones who diligently and seriously seek God that are rewarded. (See Deut 4:29; 1 Chron 16:10-11; 2 Chron 7:14; Psalm 9:10; Psalm 27:8; Psalm 63:1; Psalm 105:4; Prov 8:17; Isaiah 55:6;  Jeremiah 29:13. Hebrews 11:6;)

When Jesus rebukes Peter he lays it out clearly to the crowds. this was for all who were listening too, not just his close disciples:

Mar 8:34 – 38.  Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.  What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?  Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

It is a call to risk and faith after all.

  • And at the end, Jesus would have remembered those affirming voices at his baptism and on the mountain of transfiguration – when hanging in agony on the cross.
  • Peter would have remembered his great confession of faith at Caesarea Philippi when he hung upside down on his cross. That confession made at a place named after a Roman Emperor – he confessed his faith in the Christ –  for whom he would die too. Peter didn’t falter then.
  • God willing, on our deathbeds I pray that his words of affirmation to us will be in our minds and on our lips. After all we are brother and sisters of Christ our elder brother the beloved. We too are dearly loved children of God (See John 1:12; 2 Cor 5:17; Romans 8:16: John 3:16).

Amen.

 

 

 

Sunday Message 16 February 2020 – No ordinary child.

Readings: Exodus 1:8; 2:1-4; Hebrews 11:22-29

MESSAGE

In my Jewish studies module years ago, we had a lovely Rabbi who taught us. He’s the one who gave me a lift home once and offered me a job. There was a shortage of rabbis at the time. His words were something like this: “it only requires a small operation”. As you can see I stayed with the Presbyterians.

I remember him very distinctly referring to this line in Exodus 1 as a key shift in the story and drama of his people. I’ll say it the way he said it because it’s much more authentic. And to see if you can pick it up. I’ll give you a clue – list for the last word which is a name.

וַיָּ֥קָם מֶֽלֶךְ־חָדָ֖שׁ עַל־מִצְרָ֑יִם אֲשֶׁ֥ר לֹֽא־יָדַ֖ע אֶת־יוֹסֵֽף

“There arose a new king over Egypt who did not know Joseph.”

Genesis 50 ends with Joseph being embalmed in Egypt. Surely people would remember the one who saved them from famine in such an amazing way. The one who dreamed a dream.

The one who was at Pharaoh’s right hand and had all that power. They must have told the story in Egypt. That cup bearer surely remembered Joseph, or did he forget again like he did the first-time causing Joseph to spend an extra two years in prison?

That’s if you take the word “know” as “know about”. There are people who have no idea about their history – or the history of a nation and its heritage. It happens here – the Christian heritage is blotted out from peoples’ memories because the stories are not passed down. It makes it all the more urgent to tell them – teach them – remind people – giving them reasons for the hope that we have – because God is still at work in this country. And of course families have to pass on the story of faith to children and grandchildren.

But there’s another possible layer to that word “know”. It can also mean that he did not look with approval, or did not want to acknowledge his contribution. You know how we say that someone just doesn’t want to know something.

Either way this is about change. This is life. You have agreements – the next generation disregards them. You have a boss and a new one comes and everything changes.

Change is constant everywhere. That’s why the essence of the Christian faith is trust, and hope and not certainty or predictability.

You get changes at work, or move from work to no work. Changes in life when someone dies. Changes in health. Changes in marital status, things that shake your world and can shatter your confidence or self-esteem.

We have to hold on to God’s promises, just has Joseph did when he was dying held to the promises – remember from last week? Gen 50:24  Then Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”

Things can change suddenly –  our white island volcano may erupt any day when we’re not expecting it. And especially when change happens, God raises up a new way through the wilderness or the flood or the fire – whatever the challenge is.

He always steps in.

This new king has a plan to kill the Hebrews babies. God raises up brave midwives who save so many of them.

We can’t read this whole story in one day. I just know that losing babies for any reason is one of the most appalling traumas and engenders huge deep grinding grief.

In the midst of terrible treatment of the slaves and this treacherous plan to kill babies, you get these verses of hope at the end of Exodus 1.

Listen as the story continues:

Exo 1:15  The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, Exo 1:16  “When you help the Hebrew women in childbirth and observe them on the delivery stool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.” Exo 1:17  The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. Exo 1:18  Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?” Exo 1:19  The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.” Exo 1:20  So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous. Exo 1:21  And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.

Of course, there have to be more than two midwives. Otherwise it would be a bit hectic like places in New Zealand where there aren’t enough of them. But this story records these two specifically.  I love their answer about the Hebrew women being more vigorous than the Egyptian ones.

I love that they fear God and take risks in the face of tyranny.

But it gets worse in verse 22 as all people are ordered to kill these baby boys:

Exo 1:22  Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: “Every boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.”

You can imagine families listening to this being read to them as Jewish families passed on the story. How awful to imagine such cruelty.

But as the kids take a breather and go for a quick drink of water, they can come back to listen to the ongoing story.

Chapter 2: (says the reader/dad)

Exo 2:1  Now a man of the house of Levi married a Levite woman, Exo 2:2  and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months. Exo 2:3  But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. Exo 2:4  His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.

This unnamed couple have a son. Of course he was a fine child. Every baby is beautiful! This is their third baby, and he must have looked really special.

The writer to the Hebrews backs this up in 11:23: (ESV) Heb 11:23  By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.

The NIV has this: Heb_11:23  By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.

The child was exceptional, elegant, well formed (in the Latin).

I love this passage. There is a sense of expectancy in the midst of their crisis here:

  • There is this unusual child, as some of the translations say.
  • Jochebed – the mother whose name we hear of later, hides him for three months. How do you do that. Did he never bleep?
  • Miriam – the sister, well listen to the message’s version:

The baby’s older sister found herself a vantage point a little way off and watched to see what would happen to him. She was probably about 15.

Such anticipation. Mum sticks your brother in a basket in a river probably with crocodiles in it and you cross your fingers.

They would have no idea what the outcome would be. Or did they?

Sometimes things can be overwhelming and we wonder – what difference can I really make? It’s all too much. This world has crazy things happening right now.

There are heroes in this story who would have also felt their world was going nuts.

  • Midwives are not supposed to kill babies.
  • Mums are not supposed to put your baby in a basket in a river and let him float away.
  • Men are not supposed to be treated so ruthlessly as those Hebrew slaves were treated.

Let’s hear the end of this chapter of the story as we end today and come to the table which symbolizes God saving people in hopeless situations through the cross of Christ.

This is the point of it all. God does work in impossible situations.

The outcome is neat. Precious really. Listen. Here’s the last reading for today:
Miriam is watching on tippy toes (v4). Imagine dad reading this to the kids before bed. They might have said “what happened next?”

Here it is.

Exo 2:5  The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her attendants walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to bring it. Exo 2:6  When she opened it, she saw the child. He was crying, and she took pity on him. “This must be one of the Hebrews’ children,” she said. Exo 2:7  Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” Exo 2:8  Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Yes.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. Exo 2:9  Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed it. Exo 2:10  When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and she took him as her son. She named him Moses, “because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.”

Perfect. What a great ending.

The baby killer’s daughter takes him out the river.

Young Miriam bravely offers to get a nurse for him – Moses’ mother– and there it is. The baby killer’s daughter even pays Moses’ mum a wage to nurse him. By about the end of his second year or maybe even the third she would give her son back to a princess.

God was at work. Using whoever he chooses for his purposes.

There’s a South African saying that goes like this: “Moenie worry nie, watch net.” Don’t worry, just watch this.

Be like Miriam at the river side watching on tip does to see what will happen to a three month old boy in a river at a time when he had a death sentence on him.

We used to sing this song by “Living Sound” years ago: “God can do it again and again and again, He’s he same God today as he ever has been, yesterday and today, now forever ever the same, God can do it again and again and again.”

What did I say earlier? There is no certainty in life that we can depend on –  only faith. The centre of the Christian faith is not certainty or predictability, but faith – trust and hope. As Hebrews 11:1 reminds us: “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not yet seen” (KJV) or “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (NIV)

  • Kings that don’t “know Joseph” are always rising up in the land.
  • People in power will always manipulate the truth to get what they want (the Hebrews weren’t really getting to be more numerous than the Egyptians. It’s almost as if they become reclassified by today’s political standards as terrorists.
  • Change is certain, and what does that call us to? It calls us to trust, to trust the Lord of the covenant who is constant in His love and in His self-giving in the midst of change.
  • And the people in this story must speak to us about our capacity to make a difference whoever we are and however humble our position in life. There are five great women in this account who have no great power but yet have great influence (our Famous Five if you like).

Moses’ mother Jochebed, (named later in Exo 6:20) Shiphrah and Puah the midwives. Miriam the 15-year-old big sister. And The Egyptian princess.

it’s been described been described as  a “cross-cultural intergenerational alliance of these women”.  Shiphrah and Puah, Jochebed, Miriam and the Pharaoh’s daughter who all disobey the king. Our famous five live out faith with genius and courage.

A commentator writes this: “God uses what the patriarchal and power-hungry Pharaohs of the world consider as low and despised in their eyes (Hebrew women) as instruments to shame and overthrow the arrogant and the strong.”  (Dennis Olson)

You get a similar theme of the lowly over throwing the strong in the prayers of two other famous women – Hannah and Mary. (Our famous five become the super seven!)

Hannah (1 Sam 2:1-10) – 1Sa 2:7  The LORD sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts. 1Sa 2:8  He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor. “For the foundations of the earth are the LORD’s; upon them he has set the world. 1Sa 2:9  He will guard the feet of his saints, but the wicked will be silenced in darkness. “It is not by strength that one prevails;

MaryLuk 1:46  And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord Luk 1:47  and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, Luk 1:48  for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, Luk 1:52  He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.

Paul continues along the same lines in 1 Corinthians 1. –  1Co 1:26  Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 1Co 1:27  But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 1Co 1:28  He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 1Co 1:29  so that no one may boast before him.

And there’s this lovely connection with the bigger story. The word for boat/basket for baby Moses is only used one other time – and it’s the word for the ark (Noah’s ark).

And Moses’ is named by the princess (traditionally his parent name for him is said to have been Joachim.)  And Moses (Mashah – Moshe) – means “one who draws out” – pointing forward as he will draw them out of Egypt. The Exodus story is that rescue.

More about Moses next time. The plot will thicken!

For today let’s remind ourselves of the one greater than Moses who is our rescuer as we come to the Lord’s table. We meet here with Jesus who also modelled humility before victory is totally trustworthy and he empowers us too.

Watch and see what God can do in our generation.

Through ordinary people like us.

Amen.

 

Sunday message 9 February 2020 -Intended for Good

Readings: Genesis 37:3-8;  Genesis 50: 15-21;  Romans 8:28

INTENDED FOR GOOD

We look for a couple of words – a sermon title or thought – to put on the notice board outside every week.. I suggested “Happy Families”. We opted for something else eventually. “Intended for Good:.

Do you remember playing happy families?

I had to google the rules: The player whose turn it is asks another player for a specific card. If the asked player has the card, he gives it to the requester and the requester can then ask any player for another card. If the asked player does not have the card, it becomes his turn and he asks another player for a specific card. Play continues in this way until no families are separated among different players. The player with the most cards wins. (Clear as mud).

One of the rules states that a player cannot ask for a certain card to deceive any player if he does not have a card in the set he is asking for.

No deception.

How funny is that.

We’ve looked a bit at the life of Jacob. His dream of a staircase to heaven at Bethel. His wrestling with God at Peniel. His limp. Like a thorn in the flesh it was a constant reminder of his vulnerability. We looked at Paul’s saying – “when I am weak then I am strong.”

Jacob is renamed Israel. The one who struggled with God and prevailed? Although we said that the name actually meant that God prevailed.

Well he does doesn’t he? Ultimately. We were joking this week about the idea that some people have that when we get to see God we will have it out with him about all the things he could have done better. Moses, Jonah, Job – all found out that God ultimately prevails.

It’s in the family that some of the toughest things are handed out.

It makes sense really. Family is our main place of operation for care, nurture, education and training, passing on of the faith, shaping society – the list goes on.

It’s the obligation we can’t shake off. Parenting especially, or being a parent. You know my favourite story of the lady who turned 100 who when asked said the best year of her life was when she turned 90 – because all her children in that year were safely in a rest home.

You can’t divorce your parents or kids. As much as you may like to.

The irony of “no deception” allowed in the card game “happy families’ is of course that the family of Isaac – Jacob, Esau, and then Jacob’s 12 sons – they all seemed to specialize in deception.

It started with Abraham passing off his wife as his sister. More than once (Gen 12 and 20).

It is seen in Jacob’s and his mum Rebekah scheming – in the stealing of Esau’s birthright and blessing.

Jacob’s return to face the music – to face Esau – is also tainted with subterfuge. Remember he splits the family and people into two groups – probably so that if one gets destroyed at least the other will survive. He sends gifts to curry favour with his brother who you will remember wanted to kill him.

Jacob’s family is a real muddle.

It has all the classic signs of a modern family.

  • Favoritism
  • Jealousy
  • Irritatingly arrogant teenagers

It gets worse with the brothers plan to kill the irritating favourite brat. Never mind the fancy coat, those dreams just were too much.

Gen 37:8  His brothers said to him, “Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?” And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said.

We had readings from each end of the story of course. There are 12 chapters between our two readings (although you can leave out chapter 38). It’s the longest saga in Genesis and the whole bible. It must be there for a reason.

What major themes can we consider?

Human unfaithfulness or disloyalty is one. It runs through the story. His brothers are less than loyal selling him. Potiphar’s wife is hardly honest. Even the chief cupbearer who didn’t get his head lopped off forgets Joseph which means he spends an extra two years in jail. The lies of the brother to their father must be the low point in that whole story. Interesting how a goat features both in the deception of Jacob’s father (the skin of the goat is used to trick him into thinking he is touching Esau’s hairy arm) – and a goat is killed so that Joseph’s coat can be dipped in blood to support the lie that he has been taken and devoured by wild animals.

A stronger theme in the whole story is that God is present and active even in the midst of suffering.

God is clearly with Joseph from the beginning. He is singled out for some kind of destiny and gifted. His dreams are sent from God (Gen 27:5-11).

In Genesis 39-40, we see again and again that God is with him and has chosen him.

  • “The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man” (Genesis 39:2a),
  • “His master saw that the Lord was with him, and that the Lord caused all that he did to succeed in his hands.” (Genesis 39:3)
  • “But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love” (Genesis 39:21a)
  • “The keeper of the prison paid no attention to anything that was in Joseph’s charge, because the LORD was with him. And whatever he did, the LORD made it succeed.” (Genesis 39:23)

In chapter 40-41, God is especially with him during his tough times and suffering. He can interpret the dreams of two fellow prisoners, although there is some irony as both have their heads lifted up, one to success and the other to execution. Finally, he can interpret the Pharaoh’s dreams.

This gift, too, is a sign of God’s presence with Joseph, as Joseph himself declares: “Do not interpretation belong to God?” (40:8).

The repeated point is clear for the reader – God was with him, especially in his suffering.

We often pray that God will be with people in need or a crisis – which is a bit odd as he already is with us as believers. I think what we intend really is that God will be with them to help them make sense of the struggles and get through with a sense of purpose and a dose of courage.

The key thing is that the Lord takes Joseph to a better place through this. His presence is transformative. It makes a difference.

God meets Joseph in his suffering, but God does not leave Joseph there. God enters into the situation to bring Joseph out of it, to another and better place. And most importantly – along the way God blesses others through Joseph. It’s a “blessed to be a blessing” thing. It’s central to our whole faith.

He survives and he thrives – the presence of God has great influence and effect.

First Potiphar and his household, later the chief jailer and all those in prison, and finally Pharaoh and all of Egypt.

It’s all part of his family’s identity and covenant promise – to Abraham and Sarah – that they and their descendants would be blessed and that through them, all the nations of the earth would also be blessed.

And for our “happy families” theme today, Joseph’s brothers especially receive blessing through him. Especially since they don’t deserve it.

THE PATH IS DIFFICULT

The challenges Joseph faces are still pretty awful. Being sold into slavery. Separated from those he loved and in a foreign country. False charges of unfaithfulness and prison.

The deception is there right at the end though after Jacob dies – the brothers are still scheming in their fear that now that dad is gone Joseph may actually take revenge.

So they make up a lie – with a story of what their dead father was supposed to have said. Joseph wept – is one of those lines that display another side of this very smart and powerful man.

In fact it’s surprising how often he weeps – privately, publicly, and in this case in front of his family. I remember seeing my dad cry – for different reasons. I must have been about 10. We were listening to a radio program and it was the unjust suffering of an innocent man that brought on his tears. I’ll never forget it. (My passion for justice and fairness must have come from somewhere.)

The climax of this tale is verse 20 of chapter 50: Gen 50:20  You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.

OUR SUFFERING

One American commentator writing on this story said this – even a jerk doesn’t deserve to be thrown into a pit to die. There is no justification for the violence in this family. There are brief redeeming factors – like Reuben who wants to rescue Joseph and bring him back to his father – but he is not a hero for long. He slips into the deception.

But it is pretty extreme.

I don’t know what challenges you face in your life and especially in your family life. But I do know this. As God used sinful human intentions and actions for good ultimately in Joseph’s life, he is also with us in our worst situations.

  • In the pit.
  • Trapped in our prisons.
  • Facing betrayal and cruelty.

Maybe you’ve got this amazingly perfect family. I don’t know.

I remember one year after getting too many family Christmas letters from friends extolling the virtues of their children and their incredible achievements, I wrote a very short one saying that only my dog deserved mention as being well behaved and fulfilling her dogness that year.

I do know some of your stories though.

After almost nine years you do get to know peoples’ pain. The complexities of adoption (there are many of us in that category). Children who reject what we teach them and what we stand for – especially in their turning away from God. Who reject us sometimes.

Physical pain and suffering – we’ve shared a lot together. Nearly losing people in medical crises. Loved ones dying of cancer. Failed businesses, being retrenched, depression, financial struggles, unfaithfulness and divorce that we don’t really want. Having children far away whom we love and don’t see.  Strokes, accidents, grandchildren having to have limbs amputated, medical diagnoses that are both daunting and shocking, and some who have lost more than one sibling for various reasons. Plus rejection and people who won’t reconcile. And people who are toxic and dangerous who harass us.

God is in the midst. I can’t promise that he will fix the things we would love to see fixed, or when he may do that.

But I won’t be moved – in the sense of being thrown off course – by those who seek to harm us whether deliberately, or those who are probably too stupid and selfish to know how hurtful they can be.

But if we learn anything from Joseph – it’s about God with us and using what others intend for evil for good.

He doesn’t cause these troubles or want them for us.

But just as he was with his son on the cross, he is with us.

He will have his way and he will work things for good.

  • Be encouraged. And don’t give up as you trust him.
  • Don’t let anyone rob you of the strength and joy, the peace and security, that is ours in Christ.
  • Don’t let people steal your hope.
  • Dig into your bibles – into the promises of God.

Joseph never let go of them. Even at the end this is what we read:

Gen 50:24  Then Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”

Amen.

Prayer of the day: God of dreams and hope, You spoke to Joseph in his dreams, and those dreams led him to great danger. Yet you used the challenges in his life to save the lives of others. In you, no good thing is accidental. You work in us and through us, even when we are not aware of your presence. Help us to know that you are with us, and that only you are capable of turning all evil to good. We pray all these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our Redeemer. Amen.

Advent 1 2019 – Coming, ready or not!

READING: Matthew 24:36-44

SERMON

I WONDER IF YOU EVER PLAYED “HIDE AND SEEK”?

Most kids seem to have.

You see it in movies too – the seeker counts to 20 and the hiders scramble for cover.

The key line is supposed to come after the counting to 20 – or whatever period is agreed upon by the players.

Do you remember what it is? “Coming, ready or not!”

Tom Wright tells the story of when he was a bishop living in this historical house. And one Saturday when the family were all at home having a lazy day – reading and snoozing, with lunch bits and pieces not yet put in the kitchen and a general muddle everywhere, the doorbell rang. He answered the door and found a delegation of 30 people from overseas who had arranged to visit the place for a tour.

He’d forgotten all about them.

He hastily took them to the garden to have a look around, and the family quickly charged around and tidied up.

You see it in adverts. Young people shoving all their things in a cupboard because the parents have arrived. And then of course the whole lot comes tumbling out on the floor.

Coming, ready or not?

Are we ever really ready for the Christmas visit by the interesting relatives we seldom see or cope with?

Jesus says in the last verse of today’s Gospel reading:

Mat 24:44  So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

Matthew 24 is all about readiness. So is Matthew 25. Because stuff is going to happen.

  • The destruction of the temple is foretold.
  • Signs of the end of the age are spelt out.
  • The abomination of desolation is discussed. The desecration of the temple foretold in Daniel 9, 11 and 12.
  • The coming of the son of man is explained.

Then comes a simple warning – learn from the fig tree. When its twigs get tender and its leaves come out – says Jesus – you know that summer is here.

Read the signs!

He continues: Mat 24:33  Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door.

People get very excited about this business of the end of the world or the day of Jesus’ return.

We had a couple years ago called in our parish. He was a tough old bloke. And every time there was another earthquake, he would get so excited because the end was nearer – he would say. And she would say – but what about all those poor people!

We get excited too sometimes. Occasionally I hear it in peoples’ prayers. And there have been a whole lot of dramatic things recently haven’t there – earthquakes and rioting, unrest and chaos. Its not helped by the fires and floods too – and the climate change debate.

People would have got excited reading Matthew’s gospel too.

The prediction of Jesus about the temple was fulfilled. This happens within Matthew’s lifetime and probably before he writes his gospel when Titus and his legions destroy the temple. They separate stone from stone – because the gold from the roof melted in the fire seeped into the walls. As a matter of interest, the western wall that Jews pray at today was not part of the actual temple but an outer kind of retaining wall

Readers of Matthew 24 might still get excited about all the other things Jesus lists. All that apocalyptic stuff. BUT – then comes verse 36 – it’s so close, but no one knows!

Mat 24:36  “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

We’re in between the “right at the door” warning with all the signs – and this unknowing.

In between his first and second coming.

  • And that’s Advent in a nutshell.
  • It’s about coming. Celebrating a past coming and looking out for another coming.

We think mainly of Christmas preparation really. “Are we ready for Christmas?”

On the first Sunday of Advent when we’re all really thinking Christmas – there’s always a reading about getting ready for Jesus’ second coming.

  • We already know that he will come again. After all he tells us so.
  • Should we worry about when?

Verse 36 makes it clear: Mat 24:36  “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

Jesus before his ascension in Acts 1 makes it clear again: 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.

Like knowing the date of your death, this knowledge would not be helpful.

The best illustration is one Mark and I talked about this week. Take for example a deadline that you have. And exam or an assignment due. So often we put things off.

Cramming is not on.  You don’t have to cram to be ready for Jesus’ coming. You can’t.

Tom Wright reflecting on that day when the 30 visitors turned up writes:

You can tidy a house in a few minutes, if you put your mind to it. But you can’t reverse the direction of a whole life, a whole culture. By the time the ring on the doorbell happens it’s too late. That’s what this passage, and the next one, are about.

To quote Mark – that’s our St Mark, you don’t have to be burdened if you haven’t done enough.

  • You can finish an assignment just before the deadline.
  • When you know when the end comes – like an assignment date – you can fall behind early and try to catch up later.
  • You can cram for an exam. But not for his coming.

Our interesting old man in our parish who loved earthquakes didn’t see the second coming. He did die however. As Jesus said in John 14: Joh 14:2  In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.

Joh 14:3  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. Jesus came for him.

Did he have to wait on edge? Afraid? No. Neither should we.

Just don’t be caught out oblivious of the real issues in life. As in the days of Noah – says Jesus.

Jesus continues: Mat 24:37  As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Mat 24:38  For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; Mat 24:39  and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Mat 24:40  Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Mat 24:41  Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.

I don’t know if you remember the Left Behind series? I remember the movie “A thief in the night” years back.

Larry Norman had a song which is unforgettable:
“Life was filled with guns and war… I wish we’d all been ready.” Remember it?

The verses included “two men walking up a hill – the one disappears and the other’s left standing still…” Teenage kids ran out the hall when we watched the movie. People wanted to know whether it was helpful to have Christian pilots flying the planes they were in. In case they were taken and they were still on the plane.

The interesting thing about this passage is Jesus’ line: “As it was in the days of Noah”

And in Noah’s case – the flood took the unsuspecting sinners away?

It seems to be saying that when the son of Man comes, people will be taken away too.

Question: Are the good ones or the bad ones going to be taken away here? Commentators are divided on this. The context seems to hint at the good ones (cf. Math 24:31). But in Noah’s day the ones left behind are Noah’s team. That the bad guys were taken out by the flood. Others reverse it – and say that Jesus will take us away – like the Ark rescued those few families. Whicher it is, it sounds pretty serious.

We need to live in readiness – which is not a paranoia that we might die tomorrow so we’d better somehow cram – do last minute prep. Or be like Constantine who waited until just before his death in May 337 before he got baptized – as he didn’t want to be polluted by last minute sins and not get to heaven.

When you know when the end comes – like an assignment date or exam – the danger is you can fall behind early and try to catch up later.

When you don’t know – you have to be ready at all times. Like some of our spot tests in Hellenistic Greek or Biblical Hebrew.

HOW DO WE GET READY THEN?

Our Advent readiness is one part of this.

  • For me it’s getting ready for various services.
  • For many of you its shopping and gifts and sorting the house out BEFORE the 30 guests are at the door.
  • Pastors should be intentional in figuring out what our response to the traditional way of doing Christmas should be. How we should do things this time.

You have to be ready and watchful daily – not cramming for the exam.

It’s all about how you wait – especially when it gets hard. It’s not about perfection, but about attitude and relationship. About living in a way that honors God’s character and purpose. Abiding in him.

And don’t try to predict. V36 – is key – no one knows except the father.

As we wait the solution is to be intentional – choose to be different even if it’s just between now and Christmas as a starter. And beyond of course.

Call it Advent intentionality for now.

V42 is a second reminder to 36: Mat 24:44  So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

– you don’t know! Therefore keep watch!

  • Be ready for Christmas – sure
  • Be ready to move house – ask people moving house about that
  • Be ready for your wedding day – talk to those planning way ahead of time.
  • Be ready for exams (probably too late now – better luck next time)
  • Be ready to die because it’s only a matter of time. But do it without fear – Jesus said “in my father’s house are many rooms, chalets, mansions, baches…” – you choose the term.

The readiness is about being ready for what?  Good question!

Ready for the final accountability which we will face.

It’s not necessarily hell, fire and damnation – but a sense that we want to honour God in our lives in response to his love.

When we come to Jesus and are yoked to him, he walks with us through the challenges. And gives us rest when we need it (See Matthew 11).

But the preparedness is still our responsibility.

For homework (being prepared takes effort) – read the rest of Matthew 24 about the faithful and wise servant which follows. When the master comes, he needs to find him doing his job.The wicked servant is in trouble because “The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of.”. His fate is pretty grim in verse 51.

Read Matthew 25 to see what preparedness means.

Preparedness involves oil for your lamps – using your talents he gives – and caring for the people listed in the judgement scene where the goats and sheep are separated.

  • The foolish maidens are locked out. There too Jesus reminds his listeners: Mat 25:13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour
  • The man who doesn’t use what God has given him is sorted out in verse 30: – Mat 25:30  And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth
  • The goats hear these words: ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

Read the warning labels or face the dangers listed. Be alert. Be awake. Be ready.

No paranoia please. Just prayer, praise and preparedness.

Happy Advent.