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Sunday 23 July 2017 – The Word of God on Bible Sunday

Readings: Col 3:12-17; Matt 13:1-9; 18-23

MESSAGE

So how many bibles do you have in your house?

And how many do you actually read?

If you’re a preacher like me it’s useful to have various translations.

But the truth is we only need one – one that we read and that we can easily understand.

Otherwise we’re just decorating our bookcases.

Back in the day when I visited people at home they used to bring out a large family bible and leave it in a conspicuous place.

There are two readings today.

The one in Colossians by Paul suggests that we need to let the Word of Christ “dwell in us richly” as we teach and admonish one another with all wisdom.

This incorporates the Gospel about Jesus, the teaching of Jesus, and the same principle applies to the whole of Scripture which is our source of faith, life, truth, values and wisdom.

We need to use all of this for our teaching which includes “admonition”. What do you think that means?  Words like correct, exhort, instruct, counsel come to mind. Note that it involves admonishing EACH OTHER. It means that there is a responsibility for all to know the word.

The Bible reading challenge we are taking up today is a great opportunity for ONE ANOTHER conversations – as we check on each other as the weeks go by, and as we share our thoughts on what we have read as we read through the New Testament in six months.

In the booklet which gives your daily passages, you will also find a helpful guide for your reading:

PRAY – ask God to help you understand what you’re about to read.

READ AND LISTEN – read the passage slowly and carefully. Think about the parts that stand out for you. Read those verses again.

THINK / REFLECT – ask yourself some questions:

  • What’s the main point of the passage?
  • What does it say about God? Does it say anything about what God wants for me?
  • Is there something I need to learn? Is there an example to follow, or a warning? Is God giving me a promise?
  • How does God want me to respond in my thoughts, words and actions?

WRITE / JOURNAL – it’s also good to write down your thoughts and the verses that really stood out for you in a journal so you can look back on what you’ve learned.

PRAISE – thank God for his Word and what you’ve learned today.

If you want the Word of Christ to make its home in you richly – I think that means a kind of saturation.

Sheilagh was telling me about a cake the kids made this week where she works. It was a pineapple cake – but despite reminders the children forgot to pour out the pineapple juice.

So they got pineapple pudding – yummy because that juice soaked right through the ingredients. Gooey – sticky – and very pineapply.

We need that kind of drenching of the word – of the truth – of Jesus’ teachings – of all the wisdom of the writers – to soak right in – as we let the Holy Spirit fill us too. Word and Spirit always work together.

THE SECOND READING YOU KNOW

The parable of the sower – well Jesus’ explains it well.

The sower is God really – and he is reckless and generous with the seed – even though there are risks. I think poor farmers listening would have been amazed and shocked all at once.

The real point of the parable is the soil.

Sowing on the path shows extensive generosity.

The rocky ground – well there is a bit of soil and there is life there. The trouble and persecution that comes and destroys the plants was real for them in those days, and is real for many around the world today.

And faith is snuffed out in our country too.  The Bible Society’s 2017 New Zealand research found that 34% of 15-18 year olds identified as Christian, but just 15% of 19-24 year olds did. The trend was repeated for measures of church attendance, Bible reading, discussing the Bible with others, and allowing the Bible to influence your life.

So there is work to do to add some soil in the lives of those who are at risk of falling away. There is a challenge – give some thought to it. They are falling away at university and in the work place. Social pressure, different world views – all these factors mean we need more support for our young people to help build a faith that lasts.

THE THORNS – Well that is closer to home for adults. “… the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.”

There is life there – but it is unfruitful. (In fact, the next parable that Jesus teaches indicates that the plants and the weeds actually can live together until judgement when they are weeded out and burnt.)

Backsliding – complacency – whatever you call it, people are distracted and the life is drained from them. They are choked by the thorns. They don’t grow – in faith, prayer, worship and witness.

That is a worry – and we need to be on our guard. And using Paul’s words we need to admonish them – correct, warn, remind, encourage. Point them back to the word.

THE GOOD SOIL – well there is a softness, and openness in the heart for the word to take root. It can soak in richly – like that pineapple cake. (FAT people – my preference).

The farmers listening would have been amazed by the results –  they were far greater than you would get even in a good harvest. You might get a harvest of 20 or 30 grains from a wheat seed. But not 60 or 100.

Jesus explains that these are people who hear and understand the word. The fruit bearing is not just the fruit of a changed life and character, but more seed – the word sown by them into the lives of others. They pass the life on (see 2 Timothy 2:2).

There is life in New Zealand – sometimes we get discouraged when we look at the big picture.

The Bible society’s research indicates that “seventeen percent of kiwis aged 13 or over and 30% of all 15 to 18 year olds attend church monthly or more often. Fourteen percent of all kiwis aged 13 or over read the Bible at least monthly, most of those weekly or daily.”

We need to share the story to that we can add to that number those who follow Jesus and read the Bible in this nation.

We need a simple recipe really:

  1. Love and nurture the fruit-bearers amongst us… building one another up in faith.
  2. Examine ourselves to see we are not getting the life choked out of us by worries and the lure of wealth or just stuff. Things. We need to disentangle ourselves if this is the case, and help others to do so as well.
  3. We can build resilience in the lives of those who have no roots – putting soil on the rocks of hardship and resistance. We need to nurture our young people especially and prepare them well for life after school.
  4. And where the path is hard and the word bounces off, we need to pray for wisdom as we are always ready to give a reason for the hope that we have  (Remember this key verse:  1Pe 3:15  But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…)  – as we are light and salt along those paths, bearing witness to the truth of Jesus. We should be showing that the Kingdom of God has come through Jesus, and that it is a better option for all. And if there is no understanding on the part of those we speak to – bring them along to an Alpha course where they can find out more!

Amen.

Sources: New Zealand Bible Society.

https://biblesociety.org.nz/discover-the-bible/the-bible-good-for-life/bible-challenge/

 

Sunday sermon @ 9.30am Combined Service – A Kingdom that cannot be shaken

Readings: Hebrews 12:18-29

Matthew 6:24-34

Focus verses (NRSV): Mat 6:33  But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Mat 6:34  “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

I wonder what your idea of the Kingdom of God is.

Do you think we really seek the Kingdom first – as we used to sing in that song “seek ye first the Kingdom of God! With all those Hallelujahs? Hallelujah (x6).

Today is a day on which we do the formal stuff as church – we have regulations which keep us honest and accountable – hence our meeting later today.

I worshipped in the local church where my niece was married on the last two Sundays. And they’re no different from us really – a bunch of Christians doing church together.

It was all very familiar – songs, musicians, pray-ers and preachers. Doing Church.

But striving first for the Kingdom of God (quoting the NRSV) is another matter.

We like the passage in Matthew 6 because we are a bunch of worry-pots. And it gives us perspective – especially in verse 34 – don’t worry about tomorrow. “Don’t worry be happy” comes to mind.

And the context allows for that focus.  Context is everything in our Bible reading. Remember – whenever you see a “therefore” you need to ask what it is there for!

After all Matthew 6:31-32 say this: Mat 6:31  Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’

Mat 6:32  For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.

We don’t particularly want to be categorised as Gentiles – although I suspect we do spend a lot of time on what we eat drink and wear, perhaps more so the ladies when it comes to clothes! J

Striving first for His Kingdom and His righteousness is a life-changing route to take. We need to be steeped in Jesus’ view of the Father of lights – the one who does not change like the shifting shadows (James 1) and who is is the source of every good and perfect gift!

It’s about the real focus of our lives. And WORSHIP is at the heart of this.

The letter to the Hebrews records these words: Heb 12:28  Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; Heb 12:29  for indeed our God is a consuming fire.

I won’t go into the details of the passage we heard today from Hebrews. It’s an interesting comparison between Mount Sinai and Mount Zion – and it is a sobering passage with a warning about putting God first in our lives.

The crunch is – do we put God and His kingdom first? DO we? And what are the signs?

  • It manifests in our worship – we would be here at every opportunity – to worship God – without our pickiness and issues over how we do it – we should be so obsessed with the Kingdom and the King that there would never be a missed Sunday!
  • It manifests in our knowledge of God and his character and ways – our knowledge of the Bible is at the heart of this. We would be digging for Gold – in a kind of a spiritual gold rush – wanting to know more about God and His righteousness – his better way of loving, forgiving, and reconciling. The Gold rushes are an interesting picture to hold up as a parable – people went to extremes to find Gold! How much more should we not be passionate about Seeking God’s Kingdom, His presence, His truth, and His way of doing things in life!
  • And it manifests in our giving. If our lives depended upon generous giving – we would never be short in the work of the Lord. Just as we must pay the electricity bill to keep the lights on – so too churches would not be juggling funds and battling to do great things for God – if people were striving for the Kingdom. We’d be wanting to be sure that we care for people well – nurture them and disciple them – and find the best ways to reach this generation with the Good News!

That makes our Annual Congregational meeting a very spiritual thing – as we take up the challenge of approving a budget that requires a huge increase in giving.

The budget says – this is what we believe about the Kingdom of God!

To close this reflection about our striving for the Kingdom of God – which manifests in commitment to worship – commitment to knowing our Bibles – and commitment to supporting the work of the Kingdom in this place – I want to refer to Paul.

In his letter to the Philippians we read these powerful words of St Paul:

Php 3:7  But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.

Php 3:8  What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ

Php 3:9  and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.

Php 3:10  I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,

Php 3:11  and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Php 3:12  Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.

Php 3:13  Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,

Php 3:14  I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Php 3:15  All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.

In other words -says Paul – God will help you get on board with the right agenda!

The key verse is verse 8: Php 3:8  What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ

It is a stark comparison of his old life without Christ and the new life he came to receive.

“The surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” is the issue.

Do we regard this as THE ISSUE – the main priority in our lives?

Are we – like Paul – willing to lose all things – considering them as rubbish in comparison?

There it is. You know that I can’t answer that – only you can. And God knows your heart.

This is about God first – Kingdom first – His righteousness first. What a powerful challenge. What a wonderful privilege. What an awesome responsibility. Gold!

The rest will be shaken – as the earthquakes jolt our cities and as the very foundations of what we used to hold dear in life – from a moral and ethical perspective – are shaken – we must hear these words again:

Heb 12:28  Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe;

Heb 12:29  for indeed our God is a consuming fire.

Amen.