Sunday message 14 May 2017 – “Meanwhile… lights and voices…”

READINGS:  Galatians 1:11-24;  Acts 9:1-31

SERMON

So we’ve been through 12 disciples, 13 apostles and 7 deacons.

Two of the deacons – Stephen and Philip – are key to the expansion of the gospel.

But the Acts of the Holy Spirit (better name than the Acts of the apostles) suddenly has a key character.

Philip is whisked off to a new place to tell the story, and chapter 9 of Acts begins with an enticing “Meanwhile, ….”

This Jewish Pharisee who approved of Stephen’s stoning, is on the war path wanting to lock up the Christians – “breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples…”

He’s on the road to Damascus in Syria, that same beautiful country that has been so badly bombed in this generation.

His name is Saul of course. Saul is his Hebrew name. Paul his Greek name. Like immigrants today have an original name from their home country and a New Zealand English name.

By the way – there is no evidence in the Bible that God gave him a new Christian name “Paul”. Luke begins to use that name when he is talking about ministry to Greeks. And as the apostle to the Gentiles (i.e. Greeks mainly) it makes sense that he used his Greek name. He seems to have done this on his 1st Missionary journey when on Cyprus (Acts 13:9).

So when he sees the light – on the Damascus road – the Lord addresses him as Saul, This is how Luke describes it:

Act 9:4  He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

That certainly got his attention. It was probably the only way. You may have heard the expression “being knocked off his high horse”. One has to say that there is no mention of a horse in the text – artists have contributed to this idea. At noon Paul was more likely praying – that being a set prayer time in the day.

It’s the “Damascus road experience” that interests me… People talk about their “Damascus road experience.”

As if it were a template for everyone.

Well maybe if you were pharisaical persecutor of Christians. Or highly intelligent. Or brainwashed.

Nothing compares to this encounter. You can see it in the special arrangement lined up. Ananias is given instructions to go to a specific house and ask for Saul of Tarsus.

He response is classic: Act 9:13  “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. Act 9:14  And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.

One can only imagine what he was thinking. Seriously God? Saul of Tarsus?

The Lord spells out the gravity of this mission: Act 9:15  But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. Act 9:16  I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

The narrative is brilliant. Ananias, like Stephen and Philip – does what He is instructed to do. Act 9:17  Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Act 9:18  Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, Act 9:19  and after taking some food, he regained his strength. Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus.

Once again baptism is immediate and almost incidental to the events. The next thing Saul is preaching in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God.

Is that your experience? Damascus road – lights and voices – straight into action – after being blinded for three days? Probably not.

In Paul’s own words in Galatians 2 we heard how he saw things. A lot happens for him to become apostle number 13 – especially since to be an apostle you had to have been a witness to the physical resurrection of Jesus.

There’s always an exception. Like Stephen and Philip not conforming to the expectation they would be food bearers. They are open – God uses them in his own divine and sovereign way.

And Saul is the one who will swing this whole thing. This fledgling group of Jewish followers of Jesus will find that the “Way” is open to all people – the whole world.

It’s no coincidence that Paul writes the bulk of the New Testament epistles.

That his amazing intellect and heart for God blesses us with so much today.

BUT – and here’s my simple message for today.

Does Paul look for people just like him? Do they have to follow his template for salvation – a major conversion experience –  the “Damascus road” people? Certainly many come to faith through his preaching – sometimes through conviction, sometimes after a time of reflection and re-engagement with Paul.

But his team does not have to be the same in terms of their conversion.

Who would you say is Paul’s main disciple? Or at least his favourite?

Well perhaps his letters to Timothy give that away. Listen to the opening verses: 1Ti 1:1  Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope, 1Ti 1:2  To Timothy my true son in the faith: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

One of the most beautiful passages – showing a side of Paul that we might not appreciate – is found in 2 Timothy 1: Ti 1:3  I thank God, whom I serve, as my forefathers did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers.

2Ti 1:4  Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. 2Ti 1:5  I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.

But look at this:  2Ti 1:6  For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. 2Ti 1:7  For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.

Yes Timothy’s faith was something that shaped his whole life. v5  I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also…

This is a man who has learned about faith from two generations in his family. What a heritage.

And you meet people like this today all over the place. If you ask them whether they had a Damascus road experience – or when they first met Jesus –  they might say something like this: “You know, I can’t remember a time when he wasn’t in my life – when I didn’t pray and know his presence”.

Ring any bells? There is no one formula. And what matters is that they land up in that place of completely  trusting Jesus. The Holy Spirit of course gives us that certainly of who we are as God’s children. Paul writes this in Romans 8: Rom 8:15 For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”  Rom 8:16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 

But there’s more.

Verse 6 in 2 Timothy that we have looked at already is instructive too: 2Ti 1:6  For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.

Even for those who can’t remember when they didn’t know the Lord – if you want to really be used by God – an impartation of his gifts and power is more than useful… It’s essential. (Paul too received ministry from Ananias through the laying on of hands.)

Elsewhere Paul writes:  Do not put out the Spirit’s fire. (1 Thess 5:19)

And for many of us – although we know about his gifts – we don’t actually appropriate them.

God has hopes and dreams for us –  to be really effective through His power.

It’s up to you whether you seek him with all your heart. (That book by Simon Ponsonby on holiness is still on the library table outside. It’s a challenge for you to take up.)

There are other books today by Bill Johnson that are worth reading. And more to come. About appropriating the gifts God has given us.

It’s challenge for all of us to really be open to God’s leading – to be a Stephen, a Philip, a Paul or a Timothy…  They were all filled with the Spirit.

Our challenge is to continue the acts of the Holy Spirit in this generation…

How about it then?

At the end of Acts 9 there is this welcomed pause:

Act 9:31  Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord.

It didn’t happen by chance. Nor did it happen without cost. Or risk taking.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

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Sunday 7 May 2017 – Unless someone explains it to me…

READINGS: Isaiah 56:1-8; Acts 8:4-8; 26-40

MESSAGE

We talked about ministry last week. How pastor/teacher is the primary ministry in our church in line with the people gifts of Ephesians 4.

And we saw in Acts 6 that the apostles wanted to focus their attention on preaching and prayer, so the set apart 7 spiritual men – deacons – to wait on tables – to attend to the distribution of food in the church.

When you look at the first of these – Stephen – and you read Acts 7 – he was an amazing man of God and a preacher. He didn’t get to do the things they thought he should – he has a power ministry and get killed for his preaching.

The early fathers wrote that the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the church.

Persecution followed Stephen’s death – and remember Saul was there and approved of this death.  The believers are scattered to Judea and Samaria. It’s part of God’s plan. Amazing.

But wait there’s more. There’s more in Acts 8 because deacon number 2 is also not doing what they thought he should be doing.

You see you can’t stop the Holy Spirit using people who are open. And that includes you and me.

Acts 8: 4 tells us:

Act 8:4  Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. Act 8:5  Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there. Act 8:6  When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said. Act 8:7  With shrieks, evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and cripples were healed. Act 8:8  So there was great joy in that city.

There are signs and wonders that get people’s attention. And they listen to the message – and there is success.

So Philip buys a house and settles there and caries on a lovely ministry until his retirement. Hardly!

This city in Samaria is not the only part of the plan.

We skip the bit about Simon the magician –  that’s for reading through the week for you.

We pick up Phillip in verse 26. Look carefully at what happens to this deacon who was supposed to be helping feed the widows back home – the deacons today are the equivalent of our board – charged with so called practical things.

Act 8:26  Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” Act 8:27  So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, Act 8:28  and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet. Act 8:29  The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”

If you don’t know this story, you’ve missed something very special.

This Ethiopian we are told would not be from modern Ethiopia but the land of Cush, in central Sudan today.

He is reading from Isaiah 53, the great servant song. The servant in the passage would not have been understood as referring to a Messiah in those days, but possibly a new Elijah figure. They would not have expected a suffering Messiah.

The journey from Jerusalem where he would have been back to the Sudan would have taken 5 months. Gaza would have been the last place to stop for water before the road turned south into the Egyptian desert.

I love the idea of Philip running alongside the chariot.

This deacon – ordained to feed widows in the daily food bank programme, like Stephen, finds that you can’t be constrained by one role when the Holy Spirit is at work. When you’re open.

And God was at work in this Eunuch’s life. Philip has to intersect with him. For the sake of the Gospel. Which he would take back to Africa.

The church in Africa is very old. It makes sense that the word would have reached Egypt too. The Coptic church is very old there too.

As an aside, the Palm Sunday massacres have had an amazing witness and testimony to other Egyptians. I think I mentioned that last week. Here is one example released by the Bible Society in Egypt of a TV interview which is very powerful:

https://vimeo.com/212755977

The impact of this story is profound. Just three chapters after the bit that the man was reading in his chariot is the amazing bit we read today from Isaiah 56 – and when Jesus was cleansing the temple THIS was the bible passage he had in mind.

Jesus did not shy away from these issues and the place of eunuchs. In a discussion on marriage in Matthew 19 he talks about them. Listen to this:

Mat 19:8  Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. Mat 19:9  I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

Mat 19:10  The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”  Mat 19:11  Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given.

Mat 19:12  For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”

It actually hints at a preferred life of celibacy that Jesus seems to favour. Like Paul.

Jesus would have known Isaiah 56 which included all in a prophetic statement of a new acceptance of people who would have been rejected before.

Isa 56:3  Let no foreigner who has bound himself to the LORD say, “The LORD will surely exclude me from his people.” And let not any eunuch complain, “I am only a dry tree.” Isa 56:4  For this is what the LORD says: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant— Isa 56:5  to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off.

And then Isaiah includes with the eunuchs the foreigners:

Isa 56:6  And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to serve him, to love the name of the LORD, and to worship him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant— Isa 56:7  these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.”

Because all nations were called to come into a relationship with God.

It’s a powerful piece – especially in the light of xenophobia and the modern debates about nationalism in the world – the French presidential election today and the British one in a few weeks.

Philip does his world master’s games job – racing a chariot – and the story ends really well. Listen to verse 36: Act 8:36  As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?”

Like other accounts – the day of Pentecost, the story of Paul and Silas in the Philippian jail, baptism is a pretty normal and immediate thing. And in Peter’s Pentecost sermon when they are cut to the heart and ask; “Brothers, what shall we do?”

he says this: Act 2:38  Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Act 2:39  The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

Act 16:30  He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Act 16:31  They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Act 16:32  Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. Act 16:33  At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized.

That observation about baptism is a bonus.

Philip doesn’t say – “well you’d better go on a course”. The early church clearly wanted him to say that – did you notice there’s a verse missing?

Most manuscripts – the oldest ones – have the man being baptized without any issue. Somewhere along the line this verse crept in: Act 8:37  [Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” The eunuch answered, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”] You find it in the footnotes in the NIV.

Someone wanted it to be more organized and formulaic.

For us the key passage – well what would you say it is?

I think it’s this one:

Act 8:30  Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked. Act 8:31  “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

You can be a someone who explains this whole Christian story to others – if you are open and available. God can use you.

At the end of this account – I have no idea how – Philip is moved on. It doesn’t matter how – the why is that he has fulfilled his purpose and there is more work to do.

For Jesus.

Amen.

Sunday message 30 April 2017 – building up the body of Christ

Ephesians 4:11-16; Acts 6:1-8

WHAT ON EARTH ARE YOU DOING?

A story to begin: We took family to a favourite little restaurant out on the wine route out of Auckland. It’s a great little place just before you turn off on the way to Muriwai – to the gannet colony. We often take friends there too who are on holiday. A lovely young girl served us and when the water was finished (no the wine didn’t run out) we asked for another bottle. She came back with one and apologized that it was not cold. They had run out of cold water in the fridge. The only problem was that English was her second or third language, and she had picked up some kiwi expressions. So, she says to us –“this is all we have, so just suck it up.” We decided using glasses was ok. And we couldn’t help laughing – who could blame her? English is challenging.

Which reminds me of the story of the Norwegian au pere – a kind of a nanny or child minder – who heard these kiwi kids up in their bedroom wrecking the place – so she rushed up stairs and burst into the room and asked them quite loudly: “What are you doing on earth?”

That’s very different from “What on earth are you doing???”

“What are you doing on earth?” is a great question though. It applies to our lives as a whole. There are many people who are desperate these days because they no longer have a clear purpose. Life seems pointless. It’s a different generation from those ANZACS for example who stepped up because they believed in a cause greater than themselves. If we had an option to volunteer for war today, I doubt the young people would be convinced that anything would be worth fighting for and sacrificing their lives.

So when it comes to the church the question applies too.

“What are you doing on earth?”

Paul in Ephesians paints a picture of the point of it all. He uses the word “calling”:

Eph 4:1  As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 

Usually in his letters we can distinguish between theology (Romans 1-11) and practical advice (Romans 12-16). Galatians is the same: chapters 1-4 doctrine and 5-6 practical.

Ephesians is different. You expect chapter 4 to be about living the right life in response to what he has taught in the first three chapters.

But here there is doctrine in chapter 4 too: Eph 4:5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; – is a clear statement of belief and teaching.

As are the verses on ministry. He talks about grace been apportioned to each of us by Jesus (verse 7). Grace means gift. There are other lists of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12. Ephesians 4 is the one that informs what ministry is more than any other.

The risen ascended Jesus – says Paul – is the gift giver: Eph 4:11  It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers. 

Our ministers fit into the pastor/teacher category. It’s a strong Presbyterian tradition to call the minister a “teaching elder”. There’s a lot of emphasis on training these people and equipping them for pastoral ministry. “Nationally ordained” ministers are vetted and trained for the minister of the “word and sacraments”. They are inducted into a “pastoral charge” which means that their function is to be a pastor.

“Pastor” is a shepherding model or picture – this person feeds and cares for the sheep. And elders also have a pastoral role too.

THE GOOD NEWS

Jesus gives people to be gifts to the church.

  • We don’t have official apostles – but the whole church is apostolic. It is founded on the teaching of the apostles, and like them we are SENT into our world to make disciples. Some people are church planters today and have apostolic gifts in that sense.
  • We don’t have “prophets” in an official capacity (with an office with a sign like “Prophet Jim” on the door.) But in preaching we have a prophetic role to speak on behalf or God into people’s lives and sometimes the community or the nation. And there is prophetic gifting (1 Cor 14:1 and especially 3).
  • We do have evangelists who are gifted to preach to people who are not open to the gospel – they are often gifted apologists too. They give answers to peoples’ questions.
  • We do  have pastor/teachers in our ministry.

These people gifts from Jesus are given: Eph 4:12  to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up… 

And a more literal translation is good news because we are all implicated in this:  (NRSV)  to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,

How? In what way will we be built up? Maturity, stability, knowledge, functionality. The building up of each other is done in love.

Eph 4:13  until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Eph 4:14  Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Eph 4:15  Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. Eph 4:16  From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

And that makes a change in a world where people break each other down, tear each other apart, threaten to blow each other up, and actually do that.

And we – as we exercise our ministries or works of service – will grow up into the Head, who is Christ. That means we will be like him – and connected to him – and we won’t only reflect on his goodness, but we will in fact reflect his goodness! His grace, love and mercy. When you have a healthy vibrant church like that where people are equipped, fulfilled, and have a meaningful role, led by a caring pastor/teacher – well it grows! It grows up and it grows outward! Spiritual growth and numerical growth both happen. This is what we are doing on earth!

For the early church, however, there were other ministry forms to come.  What else were they to do back then? How does this speak to us? ACTS 6 is the key. 

In our second reading you see the next level of ministry people appointed by the apostles back in the early church – to solve the problem of feeding people. The 7 deacons appointed are also gifts from God – also to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Many churches have deacons in ministry today,  and this is where it started.

But just to keep us on our toes, as it were, we see that God uses the first deacon Stephen in more than just these practical gifts (as He does today with anyone willing and open). We read:

Act 6:8 Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people.

Stephen was never really to go back to waiting on tables. If you read the rest of Acts 6, his sermon in Acts 7 (most of the chapter) in a human sense it ends badly.

Act 7:55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.
Act 7:56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
Act 7:57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him,
Act 7:58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.
Act 7:59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
Act 7:60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.

The persecution that follows means that the believers are scattered, and as they go the gospel is proclaimed  through Judea and Samaria – which was Jesus’ intention. And the believers knew EXACTLY what they were doing on earth!

The word of God spreads and the church grows. And if this is strange and very far from our comfortable lives here in New Zealand, consider today what the martyrdom of the Coptic Christians is doing in Egypt now – what a witness as their families model forgiveness. So too the Christian Church in Syria. They know their calling too.

May the body of Christ be built up all over the world to His Glory.

In Jesus’ name.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

Easter Sunday 16 April 2017: Eyes opened and hearts burning…

READING: Luke 24:1-12; 28-35.

MESSAGE

Friends of ours in Montana have new babies in the family. Seven in all. They are missionaries and have been for years – having once been part of the church family here.

Seven babies. Trying to catch up with a lady in our church who now has 16 great grandchildren? I think not. They are puppies.

I started off as a Methodist and became a Presbyterian along the road when my dad died. Years back I remember a joke about puppies that were born Presbyterian – and when their eyes opened they became Methodists. Or was it the other way around?

These days no-one cares what kind of Christian you are. As long as your eyes are opened – to the truth!

On the Emmaus road, the two followers of Jesus had listened to him explain what had happened in Jerusalem at that time. This is the bit we missed in the reading. It fits best here in the sermon:

15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.  (NRSV)

That’s where we picked it up in verse 28. It’s a powerful moment. It’s a moment that happens in our lives – or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t – then our eyes are still shut tight. Look at verse 28 and 29:

Luk 24:28  As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther.Luk 24:29  But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.

Why does he act as if he were going farther?

Come on – for an Easter egg – answer this one. It’s your test for the day. And that’s a hint for the answer. Yes – he’s testing them. How?

Think about it. What is their response when he pretends he is moving on into the night?

Yes! Hospitality! I think he was testing them to see if they had got the right idea from all his teachings and example. Listen again:

But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.

If our eyes are still shut, it may well me that Jesus has given us that opportunity too. He’s been right there. And we’ve not invited him into our lives to carry on the conversation.

You see you don’t have to understand it all. You’ve just got to open the door of your life – your family – your world. Not just your heart. We limit Jesus if we only talk about him coming into our hearts. It’s very individualistic.

In fact the only scripture that makes sense when it come to having Jesus in our hearts is this one. It’s part of a prayer:

I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. (Ephesians 2:16-19)

If your eyes are to be opened –  then it’s pretty close to having the eyes of your heart enlightened! The lights come on or at least shine brighter!

The one bible verse that people use when encouraging people to invite Jesus into their hearts is this one from Revelation 3 – written to the church in Laodicea who are being chastised for being lukewarm. Jesus says this to them:

Rev 3:19  Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Rev 3:20  Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.

 Open which door? Great question. It’s not their hearts – because when they open the door he says he will come in and eat with him and he with me.

That sounds like Jesus in the centre of their lives – at a meal table – like the two on the road to Emmaus who “strongly urge” Jesus to stay with them because of the approaching perils of the night.

The implications of the death and resurrection of Jesus for us far exceed our individual inner life – the matters of the heart.

Like Zacchaeus (in Luke 19:11-10) – he wants to get us off our tree branch (our perch if you like) and come talk with us about life.

The gift of Easter through the cross and resurrection of Jesus is not just a ticket into heaven or Jesus in my heart. It’s a new community of reconciliation and unity in Christ – even though we are so very different from one another (Jews, Gentiles and the rest).

It’s a new family and community seeking first the Kingdom – because Jesus is king – he has defeated the dark side, and rescued us from its consequences – bringing us into a kingdom of light. When you read the rest of Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 2 it suddenly makes sense:

I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. (Ephesians 1:18-21)

When our eyes are opened, we find ourselves in a new relationship and power source.

It’s like changing electricity supplier from one which fails most days to the most reliable and consistent one.

Resurrection life – like eternal life – begins now. (Remember Jesus’ prayer 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.”)

Paul says this in Romans 8:

You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you. (Romans 8:9-11)

HAVE YOUR EYES BEEN OPENED THIS EASTER?

  • Yes – you saw the yummy Easter eggs on the shelves.
  • Yes you knew about Jesus dying on the cross, and what happened on the 3rd day.

What matters most is that you have discovered the reality of the cross and resurrection’s power in your life now.

I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,  and his incomparably great power for us who believe

For the two on the road- they recognised him when he broke the bread. This wasn’t the institutionalised communion service we celebrate today.

It was the evening meal – in the context of hospitality – when despite their own disappointment and confusion they still urged this stranger to stay with them at the end of that long day.

He did for a bit. And was gone. But they were not to be the same. They realised that He was the one who through word and spirit transformed lives. Listen to what they said afterwards:

…”Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

The reading today ends with this:

Luk 24:35  Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

May you recognise him and have your heart burning within you as speaks into your life.

Amen.

 

 

14 April 2017 – Good Friday: Windows on the cross of Jesus.

READING: Luke 23:32-47

MESSAGE 

We’re going to carry that cross after we’re done here today. It’s a fair weight, but not full size.

We had a volunteer up on it last Friday. A young girl. It was about her size.

No nails. No ropes. She was just standing on the top of her chair with her hands in the right place and her feet where they would be resting on a platform – so that she could push herself up to breathe.

I asked her how she was feeling at the end of the reflection on the cross – and she said – “tired”.

Jesus’ cross would have been a bit bigger. About 7 to 9 feet tall (2,1m to 2,7m), and would have weighed up to 300 pounds (136kg)

  • It had to bear his full weight – which would pull on those nails. (And you thought a thorn in your foot was bad.)
  • His thorns were pressed down into his head.

What is your response to seeing Jesus on the cross?

  • We heard a creative narrative describing Jesus’ Mother’s response.
  • And the thoughts of the centurion.

What about us?

The cross was a horrible symbol of Roman power and control. if you had a relative or friend nailed on one, it would have acted as a warning to you and your family to behave and submit.

It would have been enough to give you nightmares and probably post-traumatic stress disorder.

  • That horrible symbol of torture – we wear in shiny gold or silver.
  • And as Christians we look at it with gratitude and hope, praise and thanksgiving.

Why? What happened with this one crucifixion amongst many thousands more – that made this possible? That this Friday should be called “Good”?

There are many ways to see the cross.

Like an orchestra with many parts, they all combine together in an amazing declaration of the love of God. Perhaps today a quintet is enough – just five of them:

  • Perhaps foremost in our thinking is punishment for our sins. That Jesus did this in our place. Although this is understood better in cultures that favour crime and punishment. We sing songs these days about the wrath of God being satisfied. Some people struggle with this – trying to balance it with His love in John 3:16 and 17. Believing that His son being sent motivated by love and not vengeance. That he was sent to save the world (which means the people), and not to condemn them. Of course, we should not be surprised at God’s righteous anger. We share some of that at times, although our motives are not always clear.

Related to that is the broader question of justice. The difference in our human justice system is that the people who have been wronged are often angry about the outcome and often want convicted criminals to pay more. Whereas the judges are not emotional at all. They are all about the balance and proportion of justice. Parents have to be careful here that they don’t punish children out of anger. Our emotional anger is very different from God’s righteous anger.

  • Shame and honour are another window on the cross. For some cultures, shame and honour are a bigger issue than punishment and wrath. When it comes to concepts like honour, many of us don’t understand honour cultures at all. Sin brings dishonour on us. And only Jesus can pay that debt. It’s an old theory of satisfaction for sin developed by an archbishop of Canterbury a thousand years ago. Jesus took our shame – it was a shameful business being pinned up there, and often naked too.

He was shamed for us – he takes our shame – and he removes our shame. The scripture speaks of our cleansing from sin and with that shame is removed.  For example 1Peter 2:6 – For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” 

  • Forgiveness is part of the package. It goes without saying. Our sins are dealt with because he dies for them. We are reconciled with God – the blood of Jesus cleansing us from our sins – and we experience this amazing mercy through faith in Jesus. We don’t have to feel guilty any longer. With forgiveness, we become friends of God. Paul reminds in his important summary in 1 Corinthians 15:

1Co 15:3  For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scripture…

What scripture is he referring to here? Not just some proof texts, but the huge expectation in the Old Testament of someone coming who would deal with sin and bring forgiveness once and for all. Isaiah 53 gives us a glimpse of this:

Isa 53:5  But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. Isa 53:6  We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

  •  Then there is simply the change that happenswe are transformed. Paul talks about this whole process in Romans – our sin has consequences – how Jesus has dealt with those – how we are justified by faith – how there is no condemnation for us who are in Christ Jesus– and then in chapter 12 he uses that important word “therefore”

Rom 12:1  Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Rom 12:2  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

We are transformed – changed to be like Jesus. And that is not just about us as individuals – it influences our community life.

  • And so amongst other benefits of the cross and resurrection of Jesus is the creation of a new people. Last but not least. This is about us being here together today.

 Most of us who are not Jewish, says Paul in Ephesians 2, were… without hope and without God in the world. Eph 2:13  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.

He goes on:

Eph 2:14  For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, Eph 2:15  by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, Eph 2:16  and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 

When we live out all these benefits in a community of reconciliation, that community includes people that would have normally been separated from each other.

Paul also reminds us in Galatians 3:28 Gal 3:28  There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

And Jesus’ prayer for unity reinforces this: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message,  that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:2–21)

This is an essential part our witness today when we gather as one people.

OUR RESPONSE TODAY

There are many more consequences to this death on the cross. So many books written – so many aspects and angles. Like that huge pink diamond sold earlier this month in Hong Kong which took nearly two years to cut, it has many facets and surfaces.

Like Mary, the centurion, any other characters in that Easter event, and people through the ages – we all have to respond one way or the other.

There is no escaping the demands the cross of Christ makes on us – to take note and react – and to take action ourselves.

How amazing that this one death does all this.

What has made the difference?

Do we have to wait until Sunday to find out?

Well no. Had this been any other death, then we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Unless we were tracing our family tree and found a relative who had been crucified, or some DNA connection that would make us think about our forefathers.

This is different – because of Sunday. The third day. The empty tomb.

The many appearances of Jesus to people. His eating food.

The fish barbeque on the beach.

The appearance of Jesus in locked rooms.

The holes in his hands and feet.

This is different – because of His unique position as the very first person to genuinely be resurrected. Yes, Lazarus and others were raised from the dead. They would have died from natural causes – probably in old age.

This Jesus – the author and finisher of our faith – is the first in the family – and we will follow. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (1Co 15:20) 

  • We can’t speak about the cross without rejoicing in the resurrection.
  • And we can’t think of new life, resurrection life, without marveling at the amazing love of Christ – shown on the cross.

Paul’s words in Romans 5 help us end today:  Rom 5:7  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. Rom 5:8  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (NIV84)

We thank Him for the cross today. Words can barely express our gratitude for His love.

Amen.

 

Sunday Sermon 9 April 2017 – Coat Sunday, or the day of the King’s visitation

READING: Luke 19:28-44

CHILDREN’S MESSAGE:

Did you bring a coat today? What kind, you say. It doesn’t matter. Rain coat. Warm coat. Wind breaker coat. Trench coat. Detective’s coat.

If you read the bible reading today – people had coats when Jesus came riding in to Jerusalem on a donkey. O wait – let’s watch the little guys’ story about the donkey. Then we’ll go back to the coats.

Cool story. Three famous donkey’s hey. Yes. Dave. Dave’s grandad. And the other one. What? Two? Okay but the third one could really speak. (verse Numbers 22:28-31  Balaam’s donkey)

Okay no Palms. A donkey and coats. Coats are good. You could put them on the donkey of you didn’t have a saddle. You could lay them on the floor – if you didn’t have a red carpet. Like that famous man, Sir Walter Raleigh. He put his cloak over a puddle so that Queen Elizabeth I didn’t get her feet wet. Cool hey!

I reckon you have to do that for Kings and queens. And Jesus was and is a King. Best listen to him when he speaks!

Or just be a donkey carrying Jesus around. So people can see how great he is.

(Prayer for children as they leave)

ADULT MESSAGE:

Talking about coats, I remember very clearly the picture of Sir Walter Raleigh laying his cloak down over a puddle so that Queen Elizabeth I didn’t get her feet wet. There it was in our history notes – that picture has stuck with me.

Trouble is it probably never happened. Blame Historian Thomas Fuller who liked to embellish facts. Walter Raleigh did get his head chopped off after his second holiday in the tower of London. During his first stay in the tower he wrote his first volume of his “History of the world” which was 776 pages long. On the grisly side, his head was embalmed and his widow carried it around with her for the rest of her life.

Now you’re wondering if that’s true. The coat and puddle story sounds more believable.

So, if we didn’t have John’s gospel, we wouldn’t have Palm Sunday. Only coat Sunday at best.

The point is that the genuineness of the accounts of Easter by the four gospel writers supports the historicity of the event. There is no attempt like witnesses protecting each other to line up their versions of the story with each other.

Only Matthew mentions the fulfilment of the prophecy from Zechariah: This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: “Say to the Daughter of Zion, “See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ (Matthew 21:4-5)

Only Matthew has this dramatic line like a Greek chorus calling out:

When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?” The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” (21:10-11)

Only Luke seems to hint that there were Pharisees in the crowd of disciples. It changes we see the way they try to tone things down. Perhaps they were really concerned that this procession declaring Jesus as King could have dangerous repercussions. Remember in Acts 15:5 that there were Pharisees who became Christians. (It would have been like Christians today belonging to the Green Party or New Zealand first!)

The two things that really stand out in the reading from Luke today are FIRSTLY the words of those calling out:

“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (v38)

And then the warning to Jerusalem that Jesus gives after weeping over the city:

They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” (v44)

  1. The first one links the proclamation on Palm Sunday with the words of the angels at Jesus’ birth. We are reminded that this is all the same story of Jesus (God Saves) Emmanuel (God with us) Messiah (anointed one) who comes to rescue us. Luke alone spells it out here:

“Blessed is the KING who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.”

His readers would make the connection. Remember how Herod the Great responded to the wise men’s news about the birth of a king?

Infanticide. The murder of the innocents. Boys up to two years of age.

This time round, we can’t expect anything different. Herod’s descendants are ruling a carved up holy land. Pilate has replaced one of them in Judea.

The power play will unfold. The authorities do not approve. Like Walter Raleigh in the tower of London waiting for his execution for treason, Jesus would be a threat to the rulers of the day once more.

A new king could only mean civil unrest, and Pilate could not allow it if he wanted to keep his job. Yes, he sends Jesus to Herod Antipas, but Antipas has his own agenda. This encounter is portrayed very simply in the film “Jesus”. And in the Passion of the Christ we see a better portrayal of Antipas in my view. You’ll have to read the subtitles as they are speaking in Aramaic. Or Latin.

Perhaps you’d like to watch this extract. It’s actually quite well done.

The Passion of Christ – the events of holy week – are deeply political.

  1. The second unique passage in Luke about this Coat Day is his response to the city of Jerusalem and his prophetic word about its destruction:

We pick it up in verse 43:

The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side.

They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” (v44)

Again, its deeply political. The Romans would always put down revolts. You only had the peace of Rome as a privilege – safety, good roads, aqueducts, protection – if you towed the line.

It’s the rejection of the visitation that is fascinating. (v44) Jesus says this:

They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”

The original text does not have the word “God” in it. It’s simply a visitation.

Of course, its Jesus who is visiting. Messiah has come.

And they reject him.

The Jewish historian Josephus blamed the nationalists, the Zealots for the demise of the Jewish nation.

Jesus gives another reason of course. By rejecting him, Israel has chosen the way of judgment. It has missed the day and the moment.

What was true of the Jewish nation can also be true of individuals. To miss Jesus is to miss the time of visitation and face accountability before God.

So – consider this. Jesus comes marching into your life today.

  • Riding on a donkey.
  • Or on a bus for that matter. He visits you either way.

What are you going to do?

  • Shout Hosanna?
  • Hail Him as king?
  • Try to go for a softer option – don’t shout too loudly, you might upset the authorities. Hush!
  • Or will you miss his visitation altogether?

The consequences of ignoring who he is and what that means for our lives, our priorities, our decisions, our relationships, our finances, are all challenging. This is a great time to reflect on where Jesus is in our list of priorities.

There are a whole series of opportunities this Holy Week to gather and reflect on what it means for us now, and in eternity.

  • We call it holy week. It must grab our attention.
  • Our Korean friends who pray every morning up in the lounge have asked to move to the church at 5.30am each morning this Easter week. They take it seriously.
  • We have options to reflect on Jesus’ coming on Tuesday morning, Thursday night, Friday morning, and Sunday at Sunrise.

I’m not a prophet, but each year I can predict who will be at which service.

His is my 7th Easter. Go on. Surprise me. Come to something different.

This is about Jesus’ visitation – riding into our lives and being welcomed as King.

How about it? How do we welcome Him? Or are we just not too fussed about it all.

Amen.

Sunday message 2 April 2017 – To see or not to see

Readings: Psalm 130;  Luke 18:31 – 19:10

MESSAGE

I love it that we are all so different. I’ve always remembered what my mum used to say – it would be terrible if everyone looked like me. She meant herself – not me of course.

The disciples are a mixed bag. So too are the different people Jesus encountered in his travels.

In the passage we heard today, he is still on his journey to Jerusalem. For the third time, he tells the disciples what would happen when they get to the city.

He speaks of himself in third person: “the Son of Man will be handed over to the Gentiles. He will be mocked, insulted, spat upon, and flogged. They will kill him, and on the third day he will rise again” (18:31-33 NRSV)

They understand none of it. Even though God the Son is speaking.

Contrast this with the openness of the two people Jesus encounters along the way. Both are outcastes in one way or another. A blind beggar and a rich tax collector.

People who teach on the church and its mission today often say this – we need to go out there and join in with what God is already doing in the community. To be honest, I used to find that a bit odd. My take on the world out there was that people are often totally disinterested in God – and more than likely will be hostile.

When Jim Wallace was here, and listening to his stories – I think I began to understand this better. Remember how he spoke about “loitering with intent” so that he could connect with people in the community?

I’ve been doing that. It’s fascinating. More about that some other time. God is at work in peoples’ lives and we need to be available to interact with those workings. Those events and stories.

What I realised when reading this passage through the week is that God was in fact working in the community there too before Jesus came along the road.

The blind man had to ask what the commotion was – after all he was dependant on the sight of others. They tell him its Jesus of Nazareth passing by – and he starts calling out to Him:

Luk 18:38  He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Luk 18:39  Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Jesus son of David. He uses another of his titles. Why? And why would he ask Jesus to have mercy on him in such a persistent way? What did he know about this man from Nazareth. The word had got out –  the news had travelled and had got his attention to the extent that he sees Jesus as a solution, someone who can change things.

And of course Zacchaeus would have heard something too about this man. Why else does he do the undignified thing and climb a tree to see him?

The scene is prepared. And then there’s Jesus. What can we learn from him today? Perhaps for men – who when they are on the road travelling tend to get irritated when the family wants to stop along the way. You know how we are – focussed on the destination. (Apparently I have improved in this department.)

Jesus doesn’t seem to mind stopping. He sees the interruptions as central ministry times.

It’s a bit like working here at the church through the week. Don’t plan too much – something will come along that takes its place. Because people matter more than programs and schedules.

So have a look at this:

Zacchaues_0000_Three-Sections

Divide this passage into three sections. The disciples, the blind man, and Zaccheus:

Zacchaues_0001_the-disciples

The disciples – despite being told three times – don’t understand what Jesus is saying.

On the other hand, the blind man does understand that Jesus is more than just a rabbi – a teacher. He asks for more than others would.

Zacchaues_0002_the-blind-man

He is saved – healed literally – by his faith in Jesus.

And Zacchaeus wants to see Jesus. He makes the effort because he knows that this is more than just a teacher.

Zacchaues_0003_he-was-trying-to-see

And the encounter with Zacchaeus also compares peoples’ ability to see or not to see what is happening.

I love Steve Thomason’s artwork. And that he is happy for anyone to use his drawings:

Zacchaues_0004_opening-scene-in-Jericho

The religious people are shown here as having no eyes at all. And I love Zacchaeus – we used to sing about him as a wee little man. He really is tiny in this picture.

But tax collectors – they really did not like them at all. And a chief tax collector would have made money out of the other tax collectors.

Zacchaues_0005_DANGER

Jesus sees more in Zacchaeus than the others do. People in the crowd had tried to silence the blind man. Here they can’t stop this little guy going ahead to get a good viewing spot to see Jesus. And Jesus sees him too! And does the unthinkable.

Zacchaues_0006_i-must-stay-at-your-house

Here the crowds would be muttering and murmuring about the scandal:

Zacchaues_0007_guest-of-a-sinner

The idea that Jesus would go to his home cuts across everything that their religion stood for – it stood for separation. Purity. Holiness. And tax collectors stood for the opposite.

You heard the rest of the story. This little man becomes big hearted.

Zacchaues_0009_zacchaeus-defense

Okay it doesn’t happen in the tree – it happens over a meal.

There’s something to be said for hospitality – whether we extend it or whether we invite ourselves into peoples’ lives. When we take the risk to get to know the marginalised and rejected ones.

The disciples in their inability to see are holding on to Jesus. Their minds could not get around the idea that he may deliberately go on a journey to this holy city only to be killed.

The blind man is calling out to Jesus. For mercy. He gets to see. Literally.

The little tax collector wants to see Jesus. Probably because he knew deep down that he needed whatever this Jesus offered.

And importantly – God was at work before Jesus came down the road to Jericho.

And he is at work before we go down our roads and paths to encounter people. The Mission people teach this:

Zacchaues_0014_A-Missional-Vision

As you go out this week – remember this. That God prepares the way before you bump into people – or meet them as you loiter with intent.

I found hanging around in the carpark and on the pavement that all kinds of people pass by.

And they are surprised when I greet them and ask them how they are – or direct them to a car park if they are coming in here for mainly music for example. The next time they come they are all smiles.

I discovered some who were German speaking, one who only knows Spanish. I’ve tried both languages – maybe there’s a reason for that – at least I can greet people in their mother tongue.

If we are to build bridges into peoples’ lives – so that it becomes easy to share with them – it helps to know that we are part of a bigger plan.

In the meantime, the story carries on. Jesus is happy to interrupt the journey on the way to His ultimate mission.

We will journey with him next week as we remember Palm Sunday – the crowds welcoming Him into Jerusalem – as he moves inevitably to his death.

I wonder what we will see – perhaps something new or different this Easter.

2 April seeing or not

Amen.

Sunday Message 25 March 2017 – The name of Jesus

Readings: Philippians 2:1-11; Acts 4:23-37

MESSAGE (What’s in a name then?)

Names are interesting. They reveal culture and the generation in which people were born. My aunts and uncles were from the generation of Enid, Eunice, Phyllis, Eileen and Violet, with Bertram, Herbert, and a couple of Stanleys. In many cultures names have clear meanings and are chosen specifically because of the circumstances of the child’s birth.

The names and titles of Jesus are also interesting and loaded with meaning. Jesus (Joshua/Jeshua), Christ (Messiah), Emmanuel (God with us), Son of God and Son of Man are the most obvious. So when we pray, his names and titles feature.

  • In the name of Jesus or In Jesus’ name.
  • Through Jesus Christ our Lord.
  • In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

We hear so many variants of this in people’s prayers and in prayers especially for others who are sick. Clearly the New Testament church prayed for people in the name of Jesus.

We sang that powerful song today – what a beautiful name it is, what a powerful name it is.

The reading from Philippians makes it clear that this is about a name that requires bowing down in worship, in acknowledgement of his kingship.

Paul writes about Jesus’ humility and his kenosis (a self-emptying), that as a consequence (look out for the “therefores” in Scripture):

Php 2:9  Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, Php 2:10  that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  Php 2:11  and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father

This is not just Jesus aka Joshua – meaning God saves.

Not Just Jesus the Christ – the anointed one (not necessarily a divine character but set apart to rescue and save God’s people)

This is Jesus who is LORD meaning GOD.

  • He has the name above every other name!
  • At his name all bow
  • At his name all confess – agree – declare out loud – that he is LORD to the glory of God the Father.

“All hail King Jesus!” We used to sing that in the song “Majesty”.

This name – when used in prayer – was not and is not a magic formula, but a statement of authority – so that the ones sent in His name carry with that name all the powers of the Kingdom it represents.

That’s why we pray as Jesus tells us to in the Lord’s prayer: “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done” – here on earth as in heaven.

“Heaven” here  represents alignment with the will of God – not in a slavish autocratic sense, but in terms of a release of wholeness seen in the healings, the signs and wonders – and the values of love, joy and peace in the Holy Spirit that come with ministry in His name.

So we need to learn more about how we pray the kingdom in – in our prayers of “intercession” – as we stand in the gap and pray for others and various human situations.

And we pray this kingdom in in the face of another kingdom.

Col 1:9  For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.

 

Col 1:12 … giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. Col 1:13  For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves,

The dominion of darkeness is dominated by the enemy, who is described as the “god of this age” – remember – who blinds unbelievers. (2Co 4:4  The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God)

IN OUR PRAYING –

We are not merely to ask for things. We are the little flock to whom he gives the kingdom:

Luk 12:31  But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. Luk 12:32  “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.

INTERCESSION means standing in the gap between this King Jesus and the people whom we really want to experience the wholeness and restoration of the Kingdom. We seek the Kingdom in our life goals, in our praying, and trust God to meet our other practical needs.

FIRSTLY JESUS STANDS IN THE GAP

Jesus stands in the gap in more than one way:

  1. Just as Jesus intercedes before the father on our behalf, He “owns us” before the father and we are to “own him” before people. (Note the warning if we disown him – Mat 10:32 “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. Mat 10:33  But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.)

He acknowledges us as his – working for the coming Kingdom. How is this possible? Because of his position of importance and authority. Listen to Hebrews 1:

  1. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.

Paul says something similar: Col 3:1  Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.

       We are to set our hearts on things above. Not that we are thinking about heaven all the time – like an escape route. Rather that we align our thinking to God’s will. As in heaven – so we desire things on the earth.

And he stands in the gap as he intercedes for us as we find more specifically in Hebrews 7:

  1. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.

WHAT ABOUT OTHER BIBLE PEOPLE STANDING IN THE GAP?

  1. Moses is an example – in Exodus 32. He is remembered by the Psalmist here:

Psalm 106:23  So he said he would destroy them— had not Moses, his chosen one, stood in the breach before him to keep his wrath from destroying them.

  1. Daniel in Daniel 9 – comes before God on behalf of the nation with identificational repentance and confession.

 

Dan 9:4  I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed: “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands, Dan 9:5  we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. Dan 9:6  We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes and our fathers, and to all the people of the land. Dan 9:19  O Lord, listen! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, hear and act! For your sake, O my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.”

AND LAST BUT NOT LEAST – the prayers of the early church in the New Testament.

The example today draws things together.

After Pentecost, the church grew as people ministered in the power of the name of Jesus.

The account we picked up is a continuation of Acts 3. If you think of your Sunday school days, I’m sure you may have known the story and the song that went with it. It went something like this:

” Peter and John went to pray, they met a lamb man on the way, la la la la la la la la (I have forgotten this bit of the song)  and this is what they had to say:  “silver and gold have I none, but such as I have give I you in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk. (From Acts 3:6)”

The song continues: “He went walking and leaping and praising God…”

There’s a commotion of course. The people realize that this was the beggar who sat at the gate called Beautiful. (Acts 3:10) Leaping and jumping and praising God! Walking! A man disabled from birth.

Peter preaches in Solomon’s Portico. It does not go down well. In Acts 4 they are thrown into jail. But people still believe because of the message. (v4) 3000 increases to 5000.

And the elders and chief priests gather. And they don’t rejoice in the miracle of jumping Jack. The “big guns” gather: Act 4:6  Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and the other men of the high priest’s family. Act 4:7  They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them:

 And what do they ask:  “By what power or what name did you do this?”

Peter’s reply is direct: Act 4:10  then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.

When we pick up the story in our reading today – Peter and John have been released. AND when you read the response in prayer – it’s not about them!

  • It’s all about this bigger picture.
  • Creation
  • The nations
  • The kings of the earth taking their stand against the Lod and his anointed one! Who IS that? Jesus – Jeshua – Messiah.
  • Herod is mentioned – Pontius Pilate – all these powerful people who react against this Carpenter from Nazareth. Because of who He is.

 Act 4:24  When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. Act 4:25  You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David: “‘Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? Act 4:26  The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One.’ Act 4:27  Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. Act 4:28  They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.

 They have a clear picture of what goes on behind the scenes.

There’s a conflict of Kingdoms.

And they end with another great prayer of intercession:

  • Lord – they are a threat to what you are doing!
  • Act Lord!
  • Do something!

Empower us more to do these things THROUGH THE NAME OF YOUR HOLY SERVANT JESUS. (Act 4:29  Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Act 4:30  Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”)

And what happens?

 Act 4:31  After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.

We used to sing “in the name of Jesus…. We have the victory!” Because we do! There are some things we need to learn I think about praying in this name of Jesus – and standing in the gap in intercession.

The final questions to consider are these:

  • Are we fully aware of the power and authority of the name of Jesus?
  •  Would we like to grow in intercession and stand in the gap for others?
  •  Not just for a few – we can learn to be intercessors
  •  Perhaps we need to grow in discernment as we see the bigger picture as a conflict of two Kingdoms

Amen.

Sunday’s PowerPoint is available below:

26 March 2017 The name of Jesus

 

Sunday message 19 March 2017 – “The kind of worshippers the Father seeks”

Readings: Psalm 95:-17; John 4:5-24

MESSAGE

I hope you enjoyed the Star Wars video. It was a suitable contrast I imagine to the “total devotion” of the song from Grease a couple of weeks ago. Even Darth Vader can fall in love. There is hope for all. The truth is that Rob kindly edited out the sad bits of course. It turns out that the lovely lady in pink already had a boyfriend called Chris.

A bit like our lady in John 4 – the woman at the well – relationships are not always simple.

She had been through a series of husbands – and Jesus knows about them all. And the current partner she is living with who is not her husband. It explains why she is fetching water at midday – no one else would normally be there. She might have been a social pariah – an exile.

Jesus has a way of getting people’s attention.

And it’s not surprising that the conversation turns to worship.

After all Jesus is really after her heart.

Did you notice that the Psalm today neatly covers all the aspects of this relationship with God we call worship.

The Psalmist calls us to

  • sing for joy
  • shout aloud (v1)

 come before him with thanksgiving

  • extol him with music and song (v2)

and

  • bow down in worship,
  • kneel before the LORD our Maker (v6)

It’s all there.

We call it praise and worship.

It’s all part of a relationship of worship – living our lives daily in the realisation that he is WORTHY of recognition for all He is and all he does.

CS Lewis put it like this:

I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. If it were possible for a created soul fully to ‘appreciate,’ that is, to love and delight in, the worthiest object of all, and simultaneously at every moment to give this delight perfect expression, then that soul would be in supreme blessedness. To praise God fully we must suppose ourselves to be in perfect love with God, drowned in, dissolved by that delight which, far from remaining pent up within ourselves as incommunicable bliss, flows out from us incessantly again in effortless and perfect expression. Our joy is no more separable from the praise in which it liberates and utters itself than the brightness a mirror receives is separable from the brightness it sheds.

The woman at the well discusses theory – that kind of conversation is theological. We study and discuss how our lives intersect with God, and look at what is acceptable and what is not.

After his surprising revelation that he knows all about her, she puts out a theological proposition which should have stimulated theological discussion:

Joh 4:19  “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Joh 4:20  Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

His response is to the point:

Joh 4:21  Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. Joh 4:22  You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Joh 4:23  Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. Joh 4:24  God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”

Listen again: the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.

So often we read in scripture that we are the seekers.

For example these well known passages:

  • Deu 4:29 But if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul.

Or David’s song in 2 Chronicles:

  • 1Ch 16:8 Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done. 1Ch 16:9  Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts. 1Ch 16:10  Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.

Or the beautiful Isaiah 55:

  • Isa 55:6 Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Isa 55:7  Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

Or the rich imagery of Hosea 10:

  • Hos 10:12 Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD, until he comes and showers righteousness on you.

Or Jeremiah’s promise to the exiles that God has plans for them – not to prosper them or harm them, but to give them a hope and a future. He goes on to say:

  • 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. 

We seek Him – and he seeks worshippers. The two must intersect. They do – in the person of Jesus Christ.

It’s not about the place – says Jesus to the bucket lady at the well. It’s about me. This is Jesus the way, the truth and the life. Worship is in spirit – in God who is spirit – and in truth – in Messiah Jesus.

Read the rest of John 4 at home. It’s a remarkable meeting and transformation. Would be great to know what happens at home as she talks to the man who is not her husband about Jesus.

There would have been a conversation about the man who “… told me everything I ever did.” (verse 39).

And about living water:

Joh 4:13  Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, Joh 4:14  but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.

There must have been a conversation about what it means to have your thirst for love and life really quenched. Real satisfaction.

And about this God who seeks our hearts and devotion.

Who changes our hearts.

Whom we love with all our hearts… and everything else we are.

Amen.

Sunday 18 December 2016: Reflection – “Jesus” – God saves. “Emmanuel”- God with us.

Reading: Matthew 1:18-25

REFLECTION

We’ve looked at three things today as we moved around the three stations in church. One we touched on last week – about the 65 million refugees in the world today – and that Jesus and his family also had to run away from their home country because it was dangerous. I hope you had a look at the world map to see where these people are from. That you pray for refugees and the persecuted church. And include them in your lives.

We were able to write prayers on an angel and hang them on the tree. For those refugees, their countries or persecuted Christians – and for our own needs and those of our loved ones and friends both here and around the world.

In the past we’ve had doves remembering people who are no longer with us or those who are far away. They’re still with us. I have them in a basket from last year.

This time we are hanging angels on the tree – because they are involved anyway – I mean real ones. Watching over our kids and grandchildren – actually the context of the “guardian” angel is that if someone hurts the little ones, their angels are going to tell God. They had close proximity to God. (Matthew 18:10 – “See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.).

  • Angels are also involved in watching over us adults and keeping us safe (Psalm 91:11 – For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways;) And Psalm 34:7  The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them. (Joshua 5:14-15; Isaiah 63:9).
  • And they are tied up in worship and honouring God (Isaiah 6:2-3 – Isa 6:2 Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.  Isa 6:3  And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”)
  • And they are involved in helping our prayers reach God (Daniel 10 is worth a read sometime).

The main thing is that we pray. We are to ask, seek and knock (Matthew 7:7). And agree in prayer (read Matthew 18:19 – agreeing about anything you ask for. Read verse 20 as well – it is well used and quoted).

And then last but not least the we placed little people at the cradle of baby Jesus. with our Christmas gift to Him written or drawn on them. Okay it’s not really baby Jesus. He’s on loan from Glamorgan school.

But the idea that we should be giving something to Jesus on his birthday is fair enough. Last year at our Pyjama service – the 6.00pm service on Christmas Eve – when I asked the children what they would like to give Jesus for his birthday, one girl very quickly suggested she would give Jesus her big sister. I’m sure you may have some relatives you would like to give to Jesus.

The thing is you can give them to Jesus – in prayer too. Every day we can hold them up to God and pray for His hope, peace, love and joy to flow over them and through them and into them. That God may watch over them and draw them to himself.

If you look at the reading from Matthew today, there are two things about Jesus that really do give us hope, peace, love and joy as we get closer to him.

Jesus  or J’shua (modern Joshua) – means God saves or rescues us from our mess. Including our sins which separate us from God

Emmanuel – means God is with us in our mess. And in our joys and hopes. He has promised never to leave us or forsake us.

Keep praying – keeping asking – keep trusting Jesus. Keep praying with eyes wide open to see what is happening around you. Pray for our lives, the lives of the refugees, the persecuted church, the poor, the wealthy, the lonely, the depressed, the frail and the suffering – all those who need Him! You’ll discover that we have a lot to be grateful for. We will be spending more time in prayers of thanksgiving I should think.

Amen.