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Sunday 28 May Ascension Sunday – the anxieties of the age

READINGS: 1 Peter 5:6-11;  Acts 4:1-14;  John 17:1-3

MESSAGE

I’ve been working on this for a couple of days now. That sense of wrestling with God – what do you REALLY want to say to us today Lord?

It’s easy to follow the texts for the day – and get enthusiastic about something that arises from those readings.

Or a theme – like today is Ascension Day Sunday. It’s the in-between period we remember – 40 days after Easter the resurrection appearances end – and He’s gone.

I think what also grabbed me is what I’ve written about already in the newsletter. It’s about waiting. They were told to wait. Act 1:4  On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.

We’re not good at that really. The waiting.

And then there’s the constant prayer theme. That nibbled – asking for a bite. You know the verse I mean? Act 1:14  They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers. There have been plenty of sermons on the power of praying together. There’s also a redemptive line there too about his family – who though he was mad. Are these the actual brothers?

AND THEN OUR PERSONAL STORY SPEAKS

We had a great weekend away. There are some funny stories attached to the weekend. And the fact that I slept better when away speaks volumes. The truth is that a lot of people don’t sleep. In a world characterized by terror and fear, anxiety is a dominant power that controls or at least shapes our lives.

Peter’s line speaks to us today in the light of this human condition: 1Pe 5:7  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

How do we get that message across?

When Ascension day comes and goes, even though we would like it to be a public holiday like the good old days (and it was in parts of Europe and more close to us in Vanuatu – where they still call people to prayer at 4.00am during the week just in case you missed Sunday) – most people don’t have a clue who Jesus is anyway.

And if they have heard about him, they certainly find the idea of him taking off like the latest rocket that Rocket Lab has launched from Mahia Peninsula in Hawke’s Bay quite strange – as this cartoon shows us from the revised comic lectionary:

ascension RCOMICL

Although I have to say that my favourite cartoon on the Ascension is this one:

ascension

Those of us with experience of attention deficit disorder will immediately sympathize.

The point is – are we really noticing the real issues that people are facing? Or are we inattentive to what is happening.

I was reading something I wrote just over 30 years ago this week. When you go back you wonder if it really was you – it all seems so far away. It was a study of the thinking of Viktor Frankl, who developed logotherapy.  (If you are interested in reading about it see the link below).

The key question is about the meaning of our lives. What holds us together?

If you look at the things that dominate the news today – people’s lives are shaped by that search for meaning. And where do they find it? Often in unhelpful places or movements. Here are some possibilities:

Totalitarianism – people are becoming more nationalistic and following strong right-wing leaders. Political trends around the world bear this out. The group becomes more important than the individual. Frankl certainly experienced that in Nazy Germany, beinge a survivor of the holocaust. Nothing has changed.

Terrorism – the extreme violence of individuals and groups trying to force their world view or ideology on people through terror and threat and fear. Fanaticism makes the views of a cause more important than the value of the individual. The Manchester massacre this week is a clear example of this. The Queen said it was “wicked” – and good for her. It was.

And those who can afford to – although you can do this at home too –

To avoid Totalitarianism and Terrorism – and all the other kinds of troubles of the age – what’s the biggest source of foreign exchange income in our economy?

Tourism.

It’s a kind of escapism for the wealthy –  you can get away from it all. Although you have to check the travel advisories about countries where there is totalitarianism (some kind of nationalistic uprising) or terrorism. When you are on the way home you are planning the next trip!

Those who can’t afford to travel can watch it all on TV. It’s called armchair travel! It’s all an escape from the anxieties of the age.

Other trajectories.

And there are other routes people take in their quest for meaning or purpose in this generation.

  • The millennials and others say “whatever” in the face of too much authoritarianism or fanaticism – they bounce from job to job with a shruggy look if they find bosses that are too dictatorial.
  • The artists and creative people escape in the confusion of bizarre creativity (for us non-artistic mortals) – just look at what passes as modern art today. A classic case was just over a year ago when a teenager who clearly did go to Spec Savers left his specs on the floor in San Francisco’s Museum of Modern art as a prank with a friend. The oohs and aahs were prolific.

glasses art in gallery

On Twitter on 26 May last year one person tweeted: “it’s really just an exacerbated metaphor of society’s perpetual blindness to those cognitive of us #art”

People are looking for meaning in interesting places.

  • And then there are the Christians!

How do you and Ideal with the challenges of this age?

Jesus offers us a lot really. Today’s readings had some gems.

  • The power of His presence – the Holy Spirit Act 1:4  On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.

Act 1:5  For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

The permanent presence and power of God through his Spirit would be there for all.

  • The power of prayer – 1Pe 5:7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

There’s another brilliant passage on prayer (from the Message) here:

Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns.
Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. (Phil 4:7-8).

  • The power of a relationship that outlasts the chaos of this life – Joh 17:3  Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.

In our song before communion – which is the place where we find our identity (not in totalitarian nationalism) and our security (in the face of terror and fear) – we find the words of David in Psalm 23 which are expressed powerfully by Stuart Townend:

The Lord’s my shepherd, I’ll not want; He makes me lie in pastures green. He leads me by the still, still waters, His goodness restores my soul.

And I will trust in You alone, And I will trust in You alone, For Your endless mercy follows me, Your goodness will lead me home.

He guides my ways in righteousness, And He anoints my head with oil, And my cup, it overflows with joy, I feast on His pure delights.

And I will trust in You alone, And I will trust in You alone, For Your endless mercy follows me, Your goodness will lead me home.

And though I walk the darkest path, I will not fear the evil one, For You are with me, and Your rod and staff ,Are the comfort I need to know.

And I will trust in You alone, And I will trust in You alone, For Your endless mercy follows me, Your goodness will lead me home

Well do you trust in Him alone?

Can people see that you trust in Him alone through the week? At home? At work?

Great question to ponder on this week.

Amen.

Footnote: The link to my very old bit of research on Viktor Frankl is here:

http://researchspace.ukzn.ac.za/bitstream/handle/10413/6828/Palmer_Robin_Ernest_1987.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s sing that song now.

 

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Sunday sermon 2 March 2014 – Don’t worry be happy

Readings: Isaiah 49;8-16  1 Corinthians 4:1-5; Matthew 6:24-34

New International Version – UK (NIVUK) – Matthew 6:24-34

24 ‘No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

Do not worry

25 ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

28 ‘And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

So how are you doing when it comes to getting rid of worry?

In the last two weeks I have asked you about getting rid of anger! There are ways to change your response to situations that make you mad. If you develop the right frame of mind (or mindfulness) where you are not allowing things to get to you – but rather when you step back and reflect on what is happening (being led by the Spirit) – things can be different.

Worry is a tricky one. It’s a word similar to anxiety.

I’m not sure that we should start with worry though!

We need to start with God.

All three readings today are interesting as we look at this theme.

THE OLD TESTAMENT READING – a lovely reminder from the OT

Isaiah 49 is a beautiful passage about restoration and comfort.

The word that is repeated three times (vss 10,13 & 15) is compassion.

It reaches a crescendo with these moving  words:

15 ‘Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
I will not forget you!
16 See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;

(your walls are ever before me.)

If you are worry-pot – God is being described as having compassion – “can a mother forget the baby at her breast? Of course we instinctively say “Nooooooo!”.

The prophet is more down to earth:

Though she may forget,
I will not forget you!

I love that assurance and it goes on to this most precious statement of God the mother’s brag book:

See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands (v16).

This is not a picture drawn on the hand – it is more like a tattoo cut into the flesh.

So the character of God is the point! Trust Him. Don’t worry.

THE GOSPEL READING – a stronger reminder from the Gospel reading today

The Gospel reading reinforces this of course. These comforting and familiar words:

25 ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

We used to sing a song from scripture ( in the day that we only really sang from scripture):

Jehovah Jireh, my provider, his grace is sufficient for me, for me, for me (eek a repetition!!)

My God shall provide all my need, according to his riches in glory, he will give his angels charge over thee,

Jehovah Jireh cares for me….

Can you guess the scriptures? (for a pat on the back – no more chocolates during church!)

Php 4:19  And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.

Providence! God provides!

Of course the context in Philippians is that they provided Paul’s needs! They were generous in giving. Just a few verses before this he says.

Php 4:12  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

Php 4:13  I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

And then the other verse about the angels?

Psa 91:11  For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.

Never mind if you didn’t know that one. It’s about protection.

The key concept is providence!

I love watching sparrows. Any birds. But especially sparrows – because of Jesus’ attention given to them:

Mat 10:29  Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father.

Mat 10:30  And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.

Mat 10:31  So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

No comments please about the numbered hairs on my head!

The sparrows are provided for. The birds don’t have to shop at Countdown (they would boycott it anyway as they are kiwi sparrows!).

So again:

26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

Of course it’s not that easy when you’re unemployed or homeless.

The funny old thing is that he calls us who are provided for to provide for those in need!

“Chip off the old block” is an English idiom that applies when God’s children share his compassion and provision!

Or “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”.

So worry and anxiety are not the characteristics that we should be manifesting.

And yet we do! A lot! We frantically scramble for quick solutions to all kinds of things!

The solution is usually in the stockpile we have. We have enough to help those in need – who need not be afraid of asking!

Are you going to have an answer at the judgement? Listen to the words Jesus uses when he describes that judgement:

Mat 25:35  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,

Mat 25:36  I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

You know how it goes? They say “when Jesus?” And he says – whatever you did not for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did not do for me (verse 45).

Sheep and Goats  are separated in this judgement scene. Sheep and goats featured in our children’s song today – ” I just want to be a sheep” which has the line  “I don’t want to be a goat, no no no no”.  (Will the parents every forgive me for teaching them this??)

Out of the nature of God’s providence, we are called to provide for others.

Hospitality and generousity are key qualities of the Christian.

I don’t have to say more about the gospel reading today. Just read it!

28 ‘And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.

33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

And of course the first verse of the reading – don’t forget the first verse:

24 ‘No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

Speaks volumes.

Seeking first the Kingdom of God involves the dollar. No way around that one friends!

It’s a funny old thing how he provides even more creatively when you are generous to those in need – and faithful in tithes and offerings.

THE EPISTLE READING – Paul and the Corinthians

It would be easy to overlook the reading from Corinthians. We’ve looked at this book over the past couple of weeks.

How they were divided and partisan – one lot following Paul, the other Apollos. And Paul tells them – the only thing that counts is God causing the growth. And how our work will be judged – the building of our lives. Remember?

Did you read the verses left out last week? Here they are JUST IN CASE you forgot:

1Co 3:11  For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.

1Co 3:12  If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw,

1Co 3:13  his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.

1Co 3:14  If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward.

1Co 3:15  If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.

Good stuff. What’s your life built on?

What’s the quality of your work like – Kingdom of God wise?

Now that’s got you worried.

Don’t worry!

Look at how Paul handles this. It’s just another angle on things. These verses from 1 Corinthians 4 are usually ignored – but they are quite profound:

1Co 4:1  So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God.

1Co 4:2  Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.

1Co 4:3  I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself.

1Co 4:4  My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.

1Co 4:5  Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.

So let’s have a look at these in more detail. There are treasures here. Last’s week’s passage (the end of chapter 3) ended like this:

1Co 3:21  So then, no more boasting about men! All things are yours,

1Co 3:22  whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours,

1Co 3:23  and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.

There is this great provision for us in the Kingdom of God – we live in another place in terms of what we value.

Today’s passage goes on in chapter 4:

1Co 4:1  So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God.

Who is he talking about? In Matthew 13 we read this –  a good reminder and support of 1 Corinthians 4”1

Mat 13:52  He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”

Ministers – church (apostles in those days, Paul, Apollos and Cephas) are to be regarded not as treasures themselves (that’s how cults begin) but as stewards of God’s word.

Paul elsewhere says to Timothy:

2Ti 2:15  Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (KJV)

(ESV)  Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

Rightly handling the treasures – like custodians at a museum – or people discovering who they are on TV – they put on white gloves before handling special things.

1Co 4:1  So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God.

1Co 4:1  Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.

So this is a freeing thing. It fits well with the concept of Provision and not worrying in all kinds of fascinating ways.

He provides His word of truth. We are stewards – especially those ordained to preach and teach. The secret things of God – the mysteries of God – are entrusted to me. And countless others. I take it very seriously.

And by the way the steward is the oikonomos – from which we get economics.Oeconomia – Latin.

Good hey! The real economics is not battling the dollar books but the spiritual books in the kingdom! These are the treasures of truth we are custodians of.

But the word before is more important. We are to be regarded as servants

And this is nice. This is not your average word for servant – diakonos – from which we get deacons. Our Board members biblically are deacons. They serve by ministering in the practical ministries of property and finance, and also care for the poor. Read Acts on deacons.

This isn’t even that well-known word.

1Co 4:1  So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ

This word is good!  ὑπηρέτης Huperetes.

Listen to this description:

The word translated “servants” came from the description of a particular Roman slave. On the great galley ships there were slaves whose work was to row the ship. Those slaves who were on the lower bank of oarsmen were called “under-rowers.” They labored only as the master directed. Paul felt that he and the other apostles did only as God directed them as His servants. In a sense, every Christian needs to see himself or herself in this relationship with God, whatever our position in the work.

We – as preachers especially – are accountable to God. Just as we will all give account for any careless word spoken (remember last week from Matthew 12?) – those who teach from God’s word are under scrutiny.

This is the liberating thing for me – when it comes to worry. There’s worry about food, drink and clothes (don’t!). Then there’s the worry of public speaking! And what to preach every week! That’s a lovely challenge.

James understood the responsibility. In chapter 3 he soberly says:

1  Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. (NRSV).

The liberating thing for Paul (and for me) is that while people get all caught up in their heroes (following Paul, Apollos or Cephas) they – we are only servants.

Under-rowers in a boat. Labouring as the master directs as we sail the kingdom journey together.

The rest of the passage makes sense now. Listen again:

1Co 4:2  Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful.

1Co 4:3  But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself.

1Co 4:4  For I know of nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord.

1Co 4:5  Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God.

Don’t judge me – says Paul. I don’t even judge myself! The Lord judges me!

Verse 5 is challenging:

1Co 4:5  Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God.

That’s a liberating thing!

  • Know God’s character – his motherly compassion and brag book – tattoo on his/her palm
  • What is required is gratitude for his provision!
  • Being like Him in sharing what he gives us! Hospitable and generous people he wants!
  • Acknowledging this provision for all the world! That makes it all a treasure which needs to be looked after (since Adam and Eve who were given dominion over creation). So some need to join Greenpeace! Caring for the world and the environment does matter!
  • Realising that the Kingdom that we seek first is the real treasure (you can’t love two masters!) . The gospel of Jesus is the treasure!
  • Coming to terms with the fact that if Paul – amazing as he was and still is today – was okay with being subject to God’s judgment – so should we! We are His stewards and His servants – the under-rowers. He guides the boat as the captain or pilot.

No good worrying about it. About all these things. We have to trust him for physical and spiritual provision!

And we have the spiritual one anyway: All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God. (1 Corinthians 3:21-23)

And we are stewards of the secret things of God – the mysteries that have in fact been revealed to us as the Church. Paul speaks in Colossians about this:

Col 1:24  I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church,

Col 1:25  of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God which was given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God,

Col 1:26  the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints.

Col 1:27  To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

Col 1:28  Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.

Col 1:29  To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily.

This treasure – ultimately – is Christ in us – the hope of Glory!

What amazing provision.

What a great reason not to be a worry-pot.

Amen!