Blog Archives

Sunday 8 May 2016, Easter 7 – Ascension Sunday

Readings: John 17:20-26; Luke 24:44-53

Message:

ascension

I love this cartoon. It shows up every year somewhere.

You’ll only really appreciate it fully if you’ve had a child with ADD grow up in your house.

I suspect the whole church may have Ascension Deficit Disorder.

  • We’re often missing it.
  • Missing the point.
  • Not seeing clearly how significant the Ascension is.

Thursday – Ascension Day – came and went – I mistakenly thought someone might pop in at church to pray sometime through the morning.

We miss the point of Jesus being Messiah King.

We had our Messy Church evening on Friday and looked at the 10 commandments. And we tried to get the kids tell us what mom’s ten big rules were, and what dad’s were. You know the drill for mom – make your bed, clean your teeth, go to the toilet before you go to bed. And dad’s rules – which include switch off that TV and less computer time please.

I suggested that the most important rule for dads to teach their kids is simply this: LOVE YOUR MOM. And of course God’s ten big rules include HONOUR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.

Jesus’ big rule is actually this – I AM MESSIAH KING. He is the “I am”. Look to me!

The whole of the Bible – all of life – everything that we do that has any meaning at all – has to be seen through that lens.

It’s like going to Specsavers. When you get these glasses on – it all makes total sense.

In Luke 24 (and I think you should  read the whole of this chapter) – in all the engagements with the disciples after the resurrection – especially the Emmaus walk – there is an attention deficit problem. That’s why he says to them in verse 25:

“How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Luk 24:26  Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” Luk 24:27  And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (It’s quite direct – and not very pastoral!).

Note that he speaks about himself here as the Christ – the Messiah – which means the King.

Here he says that the whole Bible is really about him.

  • When you start at creation – you have to recognise John 1 – that nothing was made that was not made through Jesus.
  • If you look at Moses – you have to see that Jesus is the perfect law giver.
  • If you look at any of the prophets – Jesus surpasses them all in clarity of message as he speaks God’s word – because he is the Word of God supreme.
  • If you look at any of the Old Testament characters – they are pointing to Jesus. Joshua shares his name but Jesus really brings us to the promised land. Joseph forgives his brothers – but Jesus forgives us all.

In fact, John Calvin’s most profound and moving writing has to be what he pens about “Christ in All the Scriptures, Christ for All Our Needs” in a preface to a translation of the New Testament in 1535. He puts it like this:

For, this is eternal life; to know one, only true God, and Jesus Christ whom he has sent, whom he has established as the beginning, the middle, and the end of our salvation.

He [Christ] is Isaac, the beloved Son of the Father who was offered as a sacrifice, but nevertheless did not succumb to the power of death.

He is Jacob the watchful shepherd, who has such great care for the sheep which he guards.

He is the good and compassionate brother Joseph, who in his glory was not ashamed to acknowledge his brothers, however lowly and abject their condition.

He is the great sacrificer and bishop Melchizedek, who has offered an eternal sacrifice once for all.

He is the sovereign lawgiver Moses, writing his law on the tables of our hearts by his Spirit.

He is the faithful captain and guide Joshua, to lead us to the Promised Land.

He is the victorious and noble king David, bringing by his hand all rebellious power to subjection.

He is the magnificent and triumphant king Solomon, governing his kingdom in peace and prosperity.

He is the strong and powerful Samson, who by his death has overwhelmed all his enemies.

He goes on to say:

If follows that every good thing we could think or desire is to be found in this same Jesus Christ alone. For, he was sold, to buy us back; captive, to deliver us; condemned, to absolve us; he was made a curse for our blessing, sin offering for our righteousness; marred that we may be made fair; he died for Our life; so that by him fury is made gentle, wrath appeased, darkness turned into light, fear reassured, despisal despised, debt cancelled, labour lightened, sadness made merry, misfortune made fortunate, difficulty easy, disorder ordered, division united, ignominy ennobled, rebellion subjected, intimidation intimidated, ambush uncovered, assaults assailed, force forced back, combat combated, war warred against, vengeance avenged, torment tormented, damnation damned, the abyss sunk into the abyss, hell transfixed, death dead, mortality made immortal.

Isn’t that  brilliant!

You have to begin to see the victorious Christ – the Messiah King – at His ascension.

When you see the ascension – you see the resurrection. You see the resurrection – you see the cross. You see the cross – and you see human sin. You see human sin and you see the fall of man. You see that and you understand the mess of the world and the need for hope. See that – and you see the need for a Saviour – one who can rescue us. Then you end up back at Christmas – with the birth of Jeshua – meaning “God saves”. You see that and you see people in relationship with God. You see that – and you see the point of life. You see the relationship people can have with God – and you see a better world where people get on and love like Jesus did.

And when you see that – you give thanks to God and worship the risen ascended Jesus – and not something else. All glory goes to Jesus! Not unto us! And it puts the ten commandments into perspective too – One God only, no idols, keeping His name holy – and keeping His day – this is all for Jesus too.

It’s all about Messiah – King Jesus.

He’s done all this – and he is the One who has to be at the centre of our lives.

Tim Keller – an American preacher in New York – talks about the deficit we have in our thinking about Christ the King in this way.

He tells the story of a British preacher John Guest who ends up living in American and visits Philadelphia and a revolutionary war museum – where he sees a sign that made him realise he really was in a different country.

It was from the time of the American revolution and on the wall in a pub or tavern. And it said this: “We serve no sovereign here”.

Keller goes on to say that democracy – and American democracy has got to be the most fascinating type in the world – has been described by C S Lewis as medicine and not food.

In Britain and Europe – and indeed the dominions like New Zealand where we are, Australia – and Canada – people still understand what it means to serve to a sovereign. In Asia people would see the benefit of respecting authority.

But not in America. America has sold us the idea of individual freedom more than any other power or philosophy. We all believe we have the right to veto everything.

If democracy is medicine and not food – what really feeds us?

Jesus hints at what really satisfies: John 4:34 – “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.

C S Lewis suggests that we were made to be ruled. And if we don’t acknowledge Jesus as King (as Tim Keller puts it) we will serve somebody. Or something. Human nature is such that If it doesn’t get food it will gobble poison. Keller suggests simply:

  • Obey him – treat Him as King.
  • Trust him – faith means trust at a basic level.
  • Rely on Him – prayer if anything is talking to him about our need of his help and support and purpose. Don’t say you believe in Him and depend on your career – or your family – or your stuff – to give you worth and meaning in life.
  • Treat him as a king in prayer; expect much – John Newton has a hymn that captures this well: Thou art coming to a King, Large petitions with thee bring; For His grace and power are such, None can ever ask too much; None can ever ask too much.

In the light of this, Jesus’ departing words make sense. Listen again:

Luk 24:44  Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you–that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Luk 24:45  Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, Luk 24:46  and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, Luk 24:47  and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  

The whole Bible story – salvation history as we know it since the story of Adam and Eve where God is a missional God looking for Adam – is about Jesus the Messiah King. It all points to him and focusses on Him. And it will end with Him too when he comes again.

And the disciples clearly had their work cut out for them –  telling this story. So Jesus says:

Luk 24:48  You are witnesses of these things. Luk 24:49  And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” Luk 24:50  Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. Luk 24:51  While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. Luk 24:52  And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; Luk 24:53  and they were continually in the temple blessing God.  

The story of Luke goes on in volume 2 – what we know as the book of Acts. They are to wait those long ten days for the promised Holy Spirit. We’ll be here Tuesday and next Sunday to consider that.

But for today – take this home. The gospel ends with them worshipping Him – bowing to a Sovereign King. And this King who is so reliable and worth serving and obeying – is doing what He always does – we see him in verse 50 and 51 – blessing them.

Let Him bless you as you take Him anew as Messiah King.

Amen.

Advertisements

Sunday sermon 1 June 2014 – time waiting on God

nectamen

Readings:  Acts 1:6-14: 1 Peter 4:12 – 14;  5:6-11:  John 17:1-11:

MESSAGE: TIME WAITING ON GOD 

This is a challenging day. It’s the 1st of June. That in itself is not remarkable.

But it is that one Sunday – symbolically – when we are in-between Ascension Day and Pentecost.

As if we were in the upper room.

The in-between times of life are challenging generally.

The times between being a member and citizen of one country and having full rights and acceptance in another.

Immigrants know all about this. The in-between – ness of it all. Being born in one country and growing up in another can make you uncertain – betwixt and between as the English idiom says.

The times waiting in other horrid situations.

  • Between the ward and the hospital theatre.
  • Between life and death when the end comes.
  • Between a death and a funeral – for a family
  • Between jobs – for the unemployed.
  • Between doctors with half-suspected diagnoses – wanting yet not wanting the truth because of what it many mean for our lives.
  • Between homes – knowing we have to move out and down size – and not really knowing where we will land up.

You may know some of these times. As a church you will know this.

  • In a church – between ministers (the so-called vacancy)
  • In a church – between Session Clerk’s and Administrators. We seem to be in between them all at the moment.
  • In-between leaders in mainly music and messy church – no one stepping up. And mission support. And in time pastoral concerns.

These things can make you insecure. Scared. Uncertain. Worried. Vulnerable. Especially if you’re in my shoes – when you’re the minister.

They are times of waiting – and especially waiting on the Lord. What do you want us to do Lord?

We’re not good at that really. Even our “best at prayer” (Presbyterians – anagram) rush in with their requests each week in our prayer meetings – asking God to bless our busy lives and our many activities. And we sit a little worried by the silence – and tend to want to scurry off and do something practical.

When he calls us to be still and wait.

Not enough waiting. Not enough surrender.

I asked more than a year ago – in the context of our leadership (probably two years ago) whether we would be prepared to stop it all – and only do the things we really knew we should.

I don’t think anyone took me too seriously. And now we may have to let some of them go.

And now we have to seriously ask Him what we should do – and some things may end. We can’t do it all – we don’t have the resources – financial or people.

And the test is probably whether the things are getting the good news to people who need to hear it! Whether they are part of the great commission.

Well on this symbolic Sunday between the Ascension of Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit – almost a vacuum in history – let’s think about waiting on God some more.

Those disciples waited – and then the power came.

It was never their power of course – it was Jesus’ power (we sang that old song again – all power is given in Jesus’ name – and in Jesus’ name I come to you to share his power as he told me to – He said freely freely).

And so in the reading from Acts we heard today:

Act 1:6  So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

Act 1:7  He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.

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

It’s okay not to know. It’s okay to trust.

But in the in-between times – in the age in which we live between his ascension and his return – we are empowered to witness.

Not complicated. It’s not all about us! It’s about the mission we have.

Luke tells us after he left them – this is what happened in Jerusalem:

Act 1:14  They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

The lines we heard from the last chapters of 1 Peter – were written to a church that was waiting desperately for His return – as they were persecuted and suffering.

They are exhorted to stand firm in their suffering – to rejoice when suffering for doing good.

And to be discerning:

1Pe 5:8  Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

1Pe 5:9  Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

Of course the favourite passage is this one:

1Pe 5:6  Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.

1Pe 5:7  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

We listened to Simon Ponsonby again this week in home group – speaking about desert or wilderness experiences.

He starts with Jesus being led by the spirit into the desert to be tempted by the desert in Matthew 4. And of course we too have those desert times too.

In fact he quotes Selwyn Hughes who lists a number of experiences in life where we as Christians are tested: failure, suffering, humiliation, bereavement, estrangement, doubt and dereliction.

God allows these things because they are good for us – they make us really wait on him and depend on him – so that we don’t become self-sufficient.

On Ascension Day we stopped to say – you Lord Jesus are the Head of the church! And we are your body!

How scary that you should want to use us!

We’re so helpless and weak really. Vulnerable. And that is probably where we are meant to be.

So when we come to the Gospel reading today – we are still in the zone of suspension.

Left hanging.

It’s not an easy passage.

There is some clarity again about His authority:

Joh 17:2  For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him.

There is one clear-ish Johannine verse that I like to quote:

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

The passage – the prayer – goes on and is not easy to fathom.

But the simple bits jump out:

Joh 17:9  I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. 

And then another glimpse pf hope and encouragement:

Joh 17:11  I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name—the name you gave me—so that they may be one as we are one. 

What a huge relief – that the Father has given us to the Son – and that he prays for us.

He recognises we are still in this messed-up and complicated world.

Thankfully he prays that the Father will protect us by the power of His name!

What is the name that the Father gave Jesus – by which we are protected?? I’m not entirely sure what this means. Probably simply this: “I am who I am” – the name given to Moses at the burning bush, which by the way is still the principle logo of the Presbyterian Church – born in the fires of persecution – NEC TAMEN CONSUMEBATUR –  burned but not consumed. Our all sufficient One! Jesus was certainly comfortable using the “I am” part in in his various “I am” sayings.

Why should God protect us?

So that we may be one!

Why?

Because that’s how people will know that we are Jesus’ people.

As you read the rest of John 17 – twice more he prays for our unity.

Why?

Because it’s when we are united – sometimes with our backs to the wall – that we are the most effective witnesses.

It’s a testimony that we can actually be one – because the odds are stacked against us as human beings. Our default settings are I, me mine and myself. Narcissistic obsession – loving ourselves. Our default settings include a propensity to war and violence.

We’re so judgemental of the terrible things people do – especially when people are murdered in our safe little country – forgetting that we all have the same capacity. We are not just children of Adam. We are related to Cain who killed his own brother out of anger and jealousy – in a quarrel about what? Offerings! Religious matters!

When we’re in the in-between times – vulnerable and uncertain – we all too easily lash out, blame, and seek some reason outside of ourselves. When it fact both blame and sin crouch at our own door.

So what’s to be done?

  • Wait.
  • Watch and pray.
  • Seek his face.

Crying out to him in our desperation – that’s what he wants.

He wants to take away our self-sufficiency.

And he sometimes does that pre-eminently – through failure. It could besuffering, humiliation, bereavement, estrangement, doubt and dereliction.

But most commonly its failure.

  • Failure is followed by repentance
  • Repentance has with it new faith and absolute trust
  • And when we walk with a limp forever after that –as Simon Ponsonby rightly says – we limp so that we can’t run ahead of God on the journey.

Wait on him – let him reduce me and you to barely nothing – so that he can be everything.

It’s okay.

It’s not for any other reason than that He allows it to happen for our long term good. And for His glory!

At the end of the day – our FAITHFULNESS is tested more than anything else. Not unlike Job – who says: “though he slay me, yet will I trust him” (Job 13:15 KJV).

Amen.