Blog Archives

Sunday Sermon 1 November 2015 – As Each Part Does Its Work

Readings:  1Co 12:1-27; 1 Php 1:1-11; Mat 5:21-26; Eph 4:15-16

 

Message

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.

It’s been a hectic couple of months. When you make a commitment to something – like a major event, a 50th party, a wedding, a conference – there’s no telling how things will work. The risks are the same as a simpler event.

The most risky events are like concerts (we had a great one on Sunday night). There’s the great story of the award given by a choir to the pianist for her faithfulness through the year at every practice – this was the last one before the Christmas concert. The old dear was still a great pianist – but sometimes not with it at all. “Thanks so much” she said. “It was a great idea to give this to me tonight – I can’t make the concert after all! Something’s come up!”.

She might be one of those people with the headstone on her grave: “great life, but missed the point”. One has to end well – endure to the end! (Matthew 24:13 may apply in the broader sense.)

Have you missed the point of church life?

It was still very noticeable to me – despite the wonderful attendance of people over the Jubilee weekend (there were lots of options) – that some people were just not to be seen. Of course leaving the country is probably a valid reason. 🙂 And it was a long weekend.

Of course the same can be said of today. One colleague said to me this week that he will be very pleased when the World Cup is over. Maybe people will get back to church!

The good news is that the work goes on!

Paul – writing to the Ephesians in a seminal passage – a key descriptor of the Christian church which we looked at last week when considering how we grow to maturity as we move forward on our faith journey – how we grow to be like Christ and into Christ – writes this:

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.

Pardon me if I am losing the plot here – but those last 6 words seem rather succinct. Clear. Unconfused. Simple.

As each part does its work. You can almost count those words on one hand (you could if you were Jim Carey in the movie “Bruce Almighty!) As each part does its work!

The analogy of a human body – the extended metaphor Paul uses – appears in 1 Corinthians 12 as well as we heard today.

He hints of our participation in other ways of course. There are other analogies, metaphors or concepts used. Like the beginning of his letter to the Philippians:

Php 1:3  I thank my God every time I remember you. Php 1:4  In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy Php 1:5  because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, Php 1:6  being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Our partnership in the gospel.

It’s also an involving kind of idea.

Even “silent” partners put their money into the business, if I recall. They do something.

Paul rejoices because of the participation of the Philippians in the gospel – its teaching and proclamation through the world – and in their own lives – because this can never be a clinical kind of critique of everyone else who we believe needs to be changed by Jesus – when in fact it begins with us. (The classical line heard at church after a powerful sermon – “I wish Mrs Jones was here today – she really needed to hear that!”)

As we said last week – the biblical serenity prayer is this (for those who missed out):

God grant me the serenity

To accept the things I cannot change;

Courage to change the things I can;

And wisdom to know it’s me.

Paul writes:

I always pray with joy Php 1:5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, Php 1:6  being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

There’s work being done – work to be done.

After that brilliant passage – in the next chapter about Jesus’ humility (the “if any…” passage –  If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion,  then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose, (Phil 2:1-2) – Paul also says:

Php 2:12  Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, Php 2:13  for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

Fear and trembling? It sounds serious. It is!

If there was an alternative title to this sermon it could be something like “paralysis in the pew”.

Or alternatively, turning to 1 Corinthians 12,

“Body Life – the part you were called to be”.

Verse 27 says clearly:

1Co 12:27  Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

The context of the passage is the “spirituals” – literally the pneumatikoi

Here’s the verse at the beginning of chapter 12:

12:1 Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant. (Literally agnostic – without knowledge). Verse 3 continues:

1Co 12:3  Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. (Note: Of course they said that back then knowing it meant Caesar was not Lord and inviting trouble! For us it should be – society is NOT Lord. Money is NOT Lord. And the list goes on!)

1Co 12:4  There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit.

1Co 12:5  There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.

1Co 12:6  There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.

1Co 12:7  Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

What is clear then is this:

1. BODY LIFE IS SPIRIT-LED LIFE

There is something quite unique in the organism of the church (see last week’s sermon for the distinction between organism and organisation).

It is a Spirit-led and Spirit-empowered body. Last Sunday we talked about Peter’s declaration of faith as the foundation – revealed by the Father in heaven to him. (“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!)

Here Paul tells us that the 3rd person of the Trinity is part of this too. You can’t have one without the other two! (It reminds me of the Frank Sinatra song “love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage – you can’t have one without the other!)

And so, says Paul: ‘no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. ‘

He continues with this pattern of the Trinity spelt out in another way.

1Co 12:4  There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit.  (Holy Spirit)

1Co 12:5  There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. (Jesus)

1Co 12:6  There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. (The Father)

1Co 12:7  Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

It’s all God-works. Not ours. And its not for us. Verse 7 says – it’s for the common good. (Perhaps there’s nothing new about Bentham’s philosophy of what’s best for all – called Utilitarianism). Of course Paul would not have said that “it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong.” For Paul right and wrong is set by God.

But in the church people are there to serve for the common good – to build up the church – for the glory of God.

Body life is Spirit-led life. He goes on later in verse 12 and 13: 1Co 12:12  The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 1Co 12:13  For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. (Because this is the source of our life!)

Body life is Spirit-led life.

2. BODY LIFE IS GIFTED LIFE

1Co 12:8  To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 1Co 12:9  to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 1Co 12:10  to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. 1Co 12:11  All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.

He doesn’t want us to be agnostics-s – ignoramuses (ignorami?) about spirituals – spiritual gifts.

The lists vary between here and Ephesians 4, Romans 12.

Body life is gifted life. The great thing is that the gifts empower us to be a blessing to others. They are not for us but for the wider body of the Church. And this is not like a wedding where the bride makes a list and the guests select from the bride’s choices.

The bride of Christ does not choose. The Spirit chooses. The key phrase is “just as he determines” (in verse 11).

Lucky for us we can still desire spiritual gifts. More about that in two weeks’ time as we look at 1 Corinthians 14.

3. BODY LIFE HAS BODY PROBLEMS AND BODY SOLUTIONS

When you read the rest of the passage the analogy between the church as the Body of Christ and the human body has all kinds of implications.

1Co 12:14  Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. 1Co 12:15  If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 1Co 12:16  And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 1Co 12:17  If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? (Note: this means that “body sins” include one part of the body saying “I am most important” and therefore I am the whole and not a part of the body!)

1Co 12:18  But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 1Co 12:19  If they were all one part, where would the body be? 1Co 12:20  As it is, there are many parts, but one body. 1Co 12:21  The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”  (Note: A “body sin” here is when someone says “I don’t need you” to another in the body).

1Co 12:22  On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 1Co 12:23  and the parts that we think are less honourable we treat with special honour. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 1Co 12:24  while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honour to the parts that lacked it, 1Co 12:25  so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.

The passage reaches a climax here:

1Co 12:26  If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.

1Co 12:27  Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

If one part thinks it’s the only one that matters – well you get the message. It’s out of sync. It’s like a cancerous cell – a limb that grows way past is proper position and size. My mother would have said “don’t get too big for your boots!).

And of course if you are more important – then others become redundant or irrelevant.

“I don’t need you” is a very unhelpful thing to say in a family – and especially in the family of the church which is in fact a living organism.

Of course sometimes when there is sickness and healing is needed, the bad stuff has to be lanced like a boil – or cut off to stop the spread of gangrene.

  • The partnership in the gospel
  • The completing of the good work that God has begun (which He completes if we cooperate
  • The working out our salvation with fear and trembling (for it is God who works in us…)

All happens in this organism. You can’t just be a passive observer! It happens in body life – in Christian Community.

As we look at our Mission in this community today when we have our congregational meeting after the service – the first choice we have is to decide to be part of what God is doing in this part of his body – the Church.

Or not. Brother Mike spoke about the covenant at Shechem a few weeks ago. “Choose this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24).

How about you? In or out?

“As each part does its work.”

Amen.

Sunday sermon 25 October 2015 – Monuments or Footprints

Readings: 1 Corinthians 12:26-13:3; Ephesians 1:15-23; Matthew 16:13-19;

Message

Do you have your name on a monument somewhere?

There’s always a danger when it comes to monuments. Like memorials erected for great leaders or movements.

Ask Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, or Saddam Hussein. Personal monuments have a way of being toppled. (That’s not John Lennon by the way – the other one with one ‘n’. Vladimir. In time Vladimir Putin will also fall out of favour. Like Australian Prime ministers.) The best Vladimir Lenin can do here is a bar named after him on Auckland’s Princes Wharf. A vodka bar. 🙂

Some churches end up as monuments.

Not this one. If you show up on some days during the week – the church is not here at all.

You’ll find a building – but not the biblical church – the body of Christ.

And the building was never designed to be pretentious. More like a stable. Its beauty is in its people and their creative gifts – those that last on the walls and the thousands of words of prayer and worship, songs and musical notes that have floated off into space and eternity.

We’re not into monuments. God forbid that my photo be permanently on a wall at any of the churches where I have served.

Footprints are better – far superior. (William Faulkner said that – “monuments tell us we got so far and no further; footprints tell us we kept on moving”.)

A footprint means that people have passed this way on a bigger and greater journey. They leave their mark. But move on. In time we all do.

The movie sequel of Back to the Future had a day this week as the big day – 21 October 2015. It was great to see clips of the young Michael J Fox on TV this week – one of my most esteemed heroes.

That day – the back to the future day – has also come and gone.

And eventually we move on in a permanent sense – into eternity.

Eternity is a bigger concept. Some have moved on into God’s eternal presence.

Others who made life interesting for people here have also moved on – hopefully to happier places where they have been less conflicted with people and about things. (Together with footprints we sometimes leave dents. Sadly some have been badly dented too. Fortunately, we are in the forgiveness business. 🙂 )

Others – the far majority who have passed through these doors over these 50 years – have left a solid influence and foundation which we treasure and remember. Most have taken the good news of Jesus to other places where they have been led to live, work and worship.

We all move on in some way or another.

But we should all move forward.

The living body of Christ is the key.

The church – the body of Christ – is an organism first – and an organisation second.

It starts here – in Matthew 16 – with Peter’s confession:

Mat 16:18  And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

On what rock? Not on Peter himself, but on his faith and trust in Jesus the Christ. “Revealed by my father in heaven” because you can’t get to that conviction by argument or logic. Peter like you and me on our difficult days, would have been too stubborn to be convinced by mere reason.

“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”- that’s the rock of a good confession. Paul puts it this way:

Rom 10:8  But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: Rom 10:9  That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Rom 10:10  For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are savedRom 10:11  As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”

And to Timothy Paul writes:

1Ti 6:12  Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

The head of the church is not Peter or his successors. Paul again makes this clear when speaking of Jesus:

Eph 1:22  And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, Eph 1:23  which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

And here in Ephesians, like 1 Corinthians 12 – part of which we heard today, there are gifts for the building up of the church:

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, Eph 4:12  to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 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.

  • We are to be founded on the rock – Christ the solid rock – in our faith in him as Christ and Son of God.
  • We are to move forward in growth in our faith journey – becoming mature (Ephesians 4:13)
  • We are grow up into him who is the Head of the body – Christ.

It is from Christ the head that we as church find the life and growth – we grow and build ourselves up in love as each part of the body does its work (4:16)

There are no monuments to the pastors of the church who have served here – or the elders – or the members over these 50 years. We are all parts of this body – this living organism.

In our series on Philippians earlier this year we looked at two difficult women who had issues with each other. Clearly they weren’t part of our church – ha ha! But look at what Paul says in his pleading for unity: 

Php 4:2  I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. Php 4:3  Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

No monuments – only footprints – as we trudge or stride out boldly towards the end – where our names are recorded – as Jesus says to the 72 in Luke’s gospel:

Luk 10:17  The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” Luk 10:18  He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Luk 10:19  I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. Luk 10:20  However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

There’s only one list that matters. When the roll is called up yonder – that matters.

And that the legacy that we pass on in the next 50 years means that the next generation will need to hear the message about Jesus and come to know Him too.

WHAT IS REMEMBERED MOST

Here’s the irony. I learned this very quickly working in a school. I had issues with my colleagues often – especially when children were vilified and objectified – labelled and boxed. When it was all about statistics and conformity to the teacher’s way of thinking. I had to work hard towards better narrative counselling and restorative practices – sometimes it felt like we were dragging people along toward community.

Someone put it this way speaking to teachers (and headmasters): “People don’t remember everything you said or taught them. But they do remember how you made them feel.” 

Now I am not saying that all our sermons should be sugar or saccharine. The whole counsel of God must be proclaimed.

But the knowledge of the love of God and the power of his love (through the indwelling Holy Spirit) is the real deal (Romans 5:5). That’s how the forgiveness comes. That’s how we learn that there are some things that we can change, and some things we can’t. How we operate in grace rather than grumpiness.

That famous serenity prayer is still relevant:

 God grant me the serenity

To accept the things I cannot change;

Courage to change the things I can;

And wisdom to know the difference.

Of course the biblical version goes like this:

God grant me the serenity

To accept the things I cannot change;

Courage to change the things I can;

And wisdom to know it’s me.

Paul, talking about gifts in the church – the body of Christ which has the potential to suffer or rejoice as part of the one organic body – says this at the end of 1 Corinthians 12:

And now I will show you the most excellent way.

  •  1Co 13:1  If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. (Compare this to the humility of Jesus – Philippians 2:6)
  • 1Co 13:2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. (Compare this to Jesus’ emptying of himself – Philippians 2:7)
  • 1Co 13:3  If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. (Compare this to the real sacrifice of Jesus – Philippians 2:8)

You know the rest – which somehow gets reserved for weddings and these days – funerals – about love and what it is. Read it again in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. It’s a great passage.

Hopefully Paul would have prayed this about St Cuthberts – about us – in the past and in the future: Eph 1:15  For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saintsEph 1:16  I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. Eph 1:17  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. (“Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you Simon…”)

You can’t do this church stuff by human strength and ingenuity. By God’s power – you can.

  • Knowing Jesus better – that’s moving forward.
  • Building up the living body of Christ in the power of His love, wherever we have landed up –  that’s moving forward.
  • Real forgiveness that leaves bold and courageous footprints giving others a reason to follow in our footprints – that’s moving forward.

It remains true: “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,” says the Lord Almighty. (Zechariah 4:6).

Amen.

Sunday sermon 24 November 2013 – Christ the King

churchReadings:  Colossians 1: 11-20;   Luke 23:33-43

Sermon

All this church stuff. Meetings. Emails. Music and prayers. Discussions and disagreements. Questions and objections. A long hard year with all kinds of drama comes to an end this week. It’s had its joys and its tragedies. Its blessings and its pains.

The year has been interesting. Here’s a good visual aid to describe it:

plans and reality

Yes – it’s a new beginning – the start of the Christian year. It begins with Advent. The celebration of expectation and hope – looking forward to the coming of a solution – a rescuer – some come kind of hero to save the day.

·        For the people of the day – Israel – they expected a rescuer who would solve their political needs – and set them free from foreign powers.

·        For us today – well I’m not so sure what we are looking for.

Our preferred option is probably this:

reality of plan

New Year:

So at new year we usually focus on the most important things. The fundamentals

The fundamentals of the Christian life? The most important things that God has shown us:

You can guess I suppose:

Loving-God-With-All-Your-Heart-copy-1024x1024

·        Love the Lord your God with all your heart – would be one

work.1285554.4.flat550x550075f.seek-ye-first-the-kingdom-of-god

       Seek Ye first the Kingdom of God – has to be up the list too

The best prayers for the year – and every year:

Probably –

help me

·        Help me – and

your-kingdom-come-your-will-be-done

          Our father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. THY KINGDOM COME, THY WILL BE DONE ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN

This thing of the King – and the Kingdom – it’s always there.

THE GOOD NEWS/THE JOYS

 This must be one of them – those great gems in the Bible:

Have a look at verses 11 and 12 of Colossians 1:

11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.

13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

from-darkness-to-light04

This is a new place to be – a new existence – the Kingdom of light – and of his Son is way better than the dominion of darkness.

Good word – dominion. New Zealand is a dominion. It has heaps of darkness too – and I’m not talking about long winter nights.

As a church – we’re pretty good at celebrating this redemption and forgiveness theme. I don’t think a Sunday goes by when we don’t pray prayers of thanksgiving and recognition that we’ve been rescued and forgiven through the cross.

But there are implications greater than personal forgiveness. There is community forgiveness – there God is calling us to account in terms of relationships – respect – kindness – the fruits of the Spirit. We need to see those.

If you are a source of joy here – then well done. If you haven’t read James 3 yet and the power of the tongue (as we did at home group this week) – if you can’t translate God’s grace to you into grace and kindness to others here – then be warned. I am going to challenge you and take you on. In the name of Jesus I implore you to be kind!

You see if we pray this stuff we have to live it! We can’t stay in the dominion of darkness. Listen to what John writes:

1Jn 1:5  This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.

1Jn 1:6  If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.

1Jn 1:7  But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

We have to live as children of the light. The bible is very clear about the things done in the dark – they will be exposed.

Listen to Paul again: 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified youto share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.

13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

The Gospel reading today reminds us again of the price Jesus paid for our rescue and redemption. It’s just before Advent – and Easter lurks in the background.

Luke’s words are direct and stark:

33 When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

So who are the people that Jesus forgives?

They are listed quite quickly – they watch, mock and jeer. Listen again. It’s not a long passage today:

35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”

36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”                                                                                                                 

38 There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the jews.

39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence?

Jesus visual journey1

This terrible end to a wonderful life of service and healing is stark and horrible.

Yes the life was good – the years of affirmation, teaching, community, healing, reteaching – touching lives – preaching – fighting off of temptation

But look where it ends.

 Jesus outcome

It’s very easy to end up in a lament for the power of sin and it’s consequences for this innocent and well-loved eternally begotten son of God.

Listen again to this terrible account: About this King!

38 There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the jews.

39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence?

41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.[b]

43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

There is this voice of hope. “But this man has done nothing wrong”.

And his prayer for dummies (like my prayer earlier – “help me”):

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom…

Your Kingdom! Take me:

Where will your future take you?

our future

·        From the Kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of life.

·        From hopelessness to a future.

·        From pain to health

·        From isolation to community

·        From hell to heaven

·       From the cross –to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light”.

 Rescue me  from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son” – your Kingdom! 

Did he have a clue as to what he was asking?

Do we – really – when we trust in him and open our hearts to him? Really?

And Jesus’ gracious word to this man deserving of punishment – according to human justice.

“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Richard Swanson comments on this in a poignant way.

Everywhere you look in Luke’s gospel, Jesus finds himself surrounded by faithful, courageous Jews. At the Jordan when John is baptizing, even the tax collectors reveal themselves to be looking for God’s Kingdom and longing for Roman departure. Later in the story, Zacchaeus makes it clear that those tax collectors at the river were not alone in being faithful, and Luke’s Jesus calls him a “son of Abraham” in response.

And now on the hill of crucifixion, Jesus finds another faithful Jew, one who is crucified with him. To be sure, the other two victims are bandits, not messiahs, and to be sure, one of them taunts him with the same words used by Roman soldiers and hired collaborators: Messiah, King of the Jews. The other victim, however, knows that Jesus is a king and has a kingdom. These are things that, in Luke’s story, only faithful, expectant Jews know.

If the Romans are paying attention, they should commence worrying at this point. Crucifixion was torture intended to teach a political lesson: Rome can crush the humanity out of you. Remember that. But this crucifixion scene is loaded with Jews who cannot be crushed. This is trouble for oppressors. Rome should worry.  The centurion who observes the death seems to have figured this out.

 I think the Jesus – the King who speaks on the cross – is still speaking to us today. We have His invitation to enter into this Kingdom of a loving, serving and forgiving King who on the cross said: Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

May we invite Him – call on Him – believe in Him. This very different King.

 Amen.

Feel free to comment or ask questions below:

Sunday sermon 7 July – Ambassadors for Jesus

Readings:

2 Corinthians 9:5-12

Galatians 6:7-16

Luke 10:1-10; 16-20


Introduction

 

A story is told about a man who was on a luxury liner and suddenly he falls overboard. He can’t swim and in desperation he begins calling for help. Now it just so happens that there were several would be rescuers on deck who witnessed the incident.

 

·         The first man was a MORALIST. When he saw the man fall overboard he immediately reached into his briefcase and pulled out a book on how to swim. He now tossed it to him and he yelled: Now brother, you read that and just follow the instructions and you will be alright.

 

·         The man next to him happened to be an IDEALIST. When he saw the man fall overboard he immediately jumped into the water and began swimming all around the drowning man saying: Now just watch me swim. Do as I do and you will be alright.

 

·         The person next to him happened to be a member of the INSTITUTIONAL CHURCH. He looked upon the drowning man’s plight with deep concern. He yelled out: Now, just hold on friend. Help is on the way. We are going to establish a committee and dialogue your problem. And then, if we have come up with the proper financing, we will resolve your dilemma.

 

·         The next man on deck happened to be a representative of the school of POSITIVE THINKING. He yelled out to the drowning man: “Friend, this situation is not nearly as bad as you think. Think dry!”

 

·         The next man on board happened to be a REVIVALIST. By this time the drowning man was going down for the third time and desperately began waving his arm. Seeing that, the revivalist yelled out: Yes brother, I see that hand, is there another? Is there another?

 

·         And finally, the last man on deck, was a REALIST. He immediately plunged into the water, at the risk of his own life, and pulled the victim to safety.

 

 

Message

So what did you think of the readings today?

I wonder if you noticed what they had in common?

·         Yes they were in English

·         Yes they were both from the New Testament

·         They referred in one way or another to sowing, reaping and harvest. And harvest is, amongst other things in the bible, a metaphor, a picture or a way of understanding what we invest in – when we share the gospel and people come to faith.

Harvesting is about that critical time really – when the crops have to be collected. Whether by hand or huge combined harvesters – it is a critical time.

I recall seeing a brilliant video presentation on mission – using the harvest as the key image (as it is used in Scripture) when a family had lost their farming dad – and they felt paralysed when harvest time came – the job was too big. And early one morning – there was this roar of engines in the distance – before sunrise – they could hear the noise getting closer and closer. And there they were – the whole community of farmers came along with these huge machines – and reaped the harvest.

It was brilliant! It spoke about community, unity, and a common purpose. The Christian church in many places has none of those. Not community, not unity, and not a common purpose.

There are glimpses. There are moments. There are times when Christians seem to get it right. But often we are not like a mighty army, as the hymn declares, but like a mighty tortoise – plodding along. And when it gets too hard – we pull our heads in and hide in our shells.

God is calling the church in this generation to its true mission. We are a lifesaving station that is still to save lives. We are to jump into the water and rescue people.

We are called. We are called to follow Jesus and to help others find and follow him.

Frankly – we are so grumpy and selfish sometimes that we should not be surprised if people think we ourselves need saving from ourselves!

I watched this classic TV clip this week – a nice BBC weather presenter was caught after she had done the weather forecast – she thought the cameras were off and boy was she grumpy.

Let’s have a look at her…

http://video.au.msn.com/watch/video/9raw-weather-girls-eye-roll-goes-viral/xnd06zc?cpkey=d3bb0ec3-a7b3-42b0-b69f-24f34573c787%257c%257c%257c%257c

We can be like that too – our true colours eventually pop out under pressure.

Of course pastors can have a bad day too. Try this one as an example. You don’t have to watch the whole video – you get the idea of being grumpy!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PSJt-LHMNRY

Now if I have sounded like that – I humbly apologise! I probably have had some bad days! But Pastor Jim tops them all!

It seems to me that Jesus is calling us to a consistency in our behaviour – that whatever we do and are on Sunday should be who we are every day! When the cameras are off too! We can’t be one thing on a Sunday and than indifferent on a Monday when it comes to our witness and care for people.

Jesus seemed overly and enthusiastically interested in getting people to do what he did as he reached out to people with the good news of the Kingdom of God.

It was clearly more than the 12 original disciples.

In Luke 10 he sends out 70 – or 72.

Now I know that the issues were different. Clearly they had “superpowers” – healing the sick and casting out demons.

Some have suggested that this was a one-off thing.

It certainly was different – and it was before Pentecost.

We do pray for the sick – and there are those in this generation who cast out demons.

Put that aside for now – and ask yourself this question.

What did they talk about? What was the conversation about?

What captivated their imagination? Probably these factors:

  • Jesus. They were his followers. Consequently they were
  • Obedience. Or at least a willingness to have a go! He sent them out and they went!

  • Risk taking – they were to get up and go! Crossing boundaries of all sorts.
  • They were not to be individualists – rather they were to go two by two with little luggage.
  • They were to be dependent on the hospitality of others! That too is risky!
  • They acted out and talked about the Kingdom of God.

And as part of their arriving they had a commodity that they traded with. Anyone pick that up? What was it? Healing? Preaching? NO – peace!

‘When you enter a house, first say, “Peace to this house.” If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. 

How do we really understand this?

I think perhaps by comparing it with what they were instructed  to do if things failed:

10 But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, 11 “Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: the kingdom of God has come near.” 12 I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.

16 ‘Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.’

If you extend peace – and you find a similarly minded (peaceful) person there who also promotes peace – your peace will rest on them.

If not – it will bounce back like an email sent to the wrong address.

In the context of extending the Kingdom of God through our ministry – outreach – care in the community – it seems to be about building with people who are open to what we offer – the peace of God.

The peace of God is not just a nice feeling – or a Miss World wish “I’m working for world peace ALL OVER THE WORLD!” It’s the gospel of reconciliation in one word! Listen to these passages:

  • Joh_14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (Jesus’ gift of peace).
  • Act_10:36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. (Peter is preaching here).
  • Romans 5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Paul is speaking here).

The whole story (the kerygma or message) of Jesus is about a peace mission from heaven – about God reaching out to people who were estranged from him – in Jesus, and through Jesus’ followers today.

So really it’s about all of us and all of the gospel.

In the words of St. Teresa of Avila:

 Christ has no body on earth but yours; no hands but yours; no feet but yours. 
Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ looks out to the world. 
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good. 
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless others now.

 The harvesting image is really significant.

Sowing and reaping.

Paul uses that image to talk about giving in 2 Corinthians 9. What we give here counts towards the Kingdom – we are investing in the things that matter to Jesus – the reaching of those who need His gospel of peace.

Two quotes from writers illustrate this:

  1. This is not a hobby. Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.”  He was talking not about a hobby, but a life’s work.  You can see the kingdom come upif you’re willing to get your hands dirty–– and spend some time on your knees.” (Lawrence Wood)
  1. The church should be a community of dates instead of pumpkins.Pumpkins you can harvest in six months.Dates have to be planted and tended by people who will not live to harvest them.Dates are for future generations. (George Chauncey)

It is clear that we are messengers of Jesus – representatives. Paul speaks this kind of language when he talks about believers being a new creation in Christ. Do you remember the passage? I referred to it two weeks ago. Yes 2 Corinthians 5:17. Listen to it again and the verses that follow:

2Co 5:17  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

2Co 5:18  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:

2Co 5:19  that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.

2Co 5:20  We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.

2Co 5:21  God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

We are Christ’s ambassadors.

There are some pretty powerful images associated with that. Think of that nice Australian man Julian Assange. Been in an embassy in London for almost a year. Where is he? Actually he’s in Ecuador! In the Embassy.

Or that nice young American Mr Edward Snowden. Trying to find a bit of turf in an embassy to escape the wrath of America. Whistle blower, or spy? People have different views on this.

But like all fugitives embassies are useful places if they are friendly nations! (Think of the old Skp movies with the KGB or James Bond). Embassies are a piece of one country planted in another, and ambassadors speak with the authority of the country that sends them.

We are ambassadors of Christ – no wonder Jesus said in verse 16 of the Gospel reading today:

16 ‘Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.’

Man that’s good. We are citizens of a different Kingdom. Paul says in Philippians 3:20 that our citizenship is in heaven.

We are ambassadors of that Kingdom – God’s kingdom. No pressure. Really.

Yes there is – because we can be pretty bad ambassadors. Like silent witnesses. Not much help really.

It does take the pressure off though. Because if our mission is rejected – if we are rejected because of our beliefs and what we stand for and proclaim – those guys are rejecting Jesus – and by rejecting Jesus the missionary (the sent one) – they are rejecting the one who sent Jesus – God!

Of course the 70 get a bit carried away in their report back:

17 The seventy-two returned with joy and said, ‘Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.’

Cool hey Jesus! Pretty cool! Super followers! Way to go!

Listen to what he says:

20 However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’

Why? Is that not a bit selfish? Yay – I have a ticket to heaven! Woo hoo!

Actually no. It’s a profound thing that is being said by the Lord Jesus here. This is the beginning of a new people – a new family of faith – the people of God which would be made up by guys and girls from all around the globe – every tribe and nation – every language and colour – this is the people of God – the church – in it’s very first form.

You think you’ve been a member of the church for ever! Try these guys for vintage!

I don’t have the words for how profound this is. Paul writing to the Ephesians says it best. We’ll end with these words:

Eph 2:11  Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (that done in the body by the hands of men)—

Eph 2:12  remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, 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.

 

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.

 

Eph 2:17  He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.

 

Eph 2:18  For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

 

Eph 2:19  Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household,

Eph 2:20  built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.

 

Eph 2:21  In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.

Eph 2:22  And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

…rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’

So there is some harvesting to be done.

It may begin with you and I sowing the seeds right where we are at this point in our lives. That is our mission. That’s what we invest in through our tithes and offerings – the work of making this place an outpost of the Kingdom, a kind of embassy where his ambassadors gather to be briefed, to report back, and to be sent out in His name.

Amen.

Sunday Sermon 15 April – finding and following Jesus

Readings: Acts 4:32-35; John 20:19-31

Act 4:32  All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.

Act 4:33  With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all

Act 4:34  that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales

Act 4:35  and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.

Joh 20:19  On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

Joh 20:20  After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

Joh 20:21  Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

Joh 20:22  And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

Joh 20:23  If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Joh 20:24  Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.

Joh 20:25  So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

Joh 20:26  A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

Joh 20:27  Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Joh 20:28  Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

Joh 20:29  Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Joh 20:30  Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.

Joh 20:31  But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

MESSAGE

So we’re building loving communities that help people find and follow Jesus!

We saw a “Where’s Wally” puzzle this week. I’m glad I didn’t have to attempt it – or to find Wally!

Finding Jesus is an interesting idea. It assumes one of two things (or both I guess)

  • People are looking for Jesus
  • Jesus is lost!

Are people really on a search today? For fame maybe – or fortune. Money or meaning in life. Or meaning in money or mammon (the Bible’s term for worldly wealth) – the power of consumerism is still a major challenge. I suspect they are looking for something really – although many are not cognitively searching but rather surviving. Most families should not be vilified, though – they are working hard and providing for their children in an admirable way. Making ends meet, is the common term used.

The early church is sometimes set up as a model or paradigm for us today – on the assumption that there are enough similarities between people then and this generation to cause us to aim to be like the early church in every way.

Whether we aspire to be like the early church or not – we are very different. For example:

  • Few of us are Jewish (as in Acts 4)
  •  – verse 32 is challenging: “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.”
  •  We are not there yet. Put a bunch of Presbyterians together and it’s more like a fruit salad – often in the same bowl but not much agreement!
  • Few of us liquidate our assets and lay the funds at the feet of their spiritual leaders. There were no needs in the community because of this giving
  • Few of us can have this said of us: “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all.”

The story of Easter and the resurrection had clearly galvanised them into a powerful little group who were counter-cultural in a lot of ways. I think we are challenged by this passage from Acts – if we want community we need to broaden our thinking.

The Gospel reading today gives us a clue about how people connect to Jesus and Jesus to people. There are two things that spoke to me as I read this passage again:

  • Jesus offered peace to the people he encountered. As the Prince of peace that makes sense. I’m not sure that we reflect that – we are often like people on the warpath with our opinions and views.  Jesus declares “peace be with you” and shows them his hands and side. Why? He’s pointing them to the reality of the resurrection.  It was to this startling fact that the early church in the book of Acts pointed too. Listen again to what we heard: Act 4:33  With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all.
  •  Jesus offered a personal relationship to those who struggled to believe. Like Thomas – who unfortunately is remembered as “doubting Thomas” rather than “Honest Thomas”.

So what was Thomas battling with? The resurrection I should think. He wanted evidence – he wanted to see for himself and touch those wounds.

Thomas wasn’t there the first time. A week later Jesus does one of those Houdini acts – not escaping from a locked room but getting into one again. And he speaks to Thomas:

“Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Even the men on the A team had things they had to work through!

I wonder if it’s too big a step to take to say that Jesus still wants to speak peace into our lives and to speak to our individual needs and doubts – and our fears.

We may well be in some locked rooms too – and we may be surprised that Jesus might want to join us and engage us in a conversation. Make a connection.

I don’t think faith comes easily for some people. It’s possible that more of us are like Thomas than we are honest enough to admit. So we hide our thoughts and feelings – afraid of our own authorities – our leaders perhaps who we think will pounce on us if we are uncertain – or at least if we don’t exhibit their great faith.

That’s why it’s really important that we don’t preach at each other – forcing our particular way of seeing things on others. There’s nothing more discouraging than a simplistic “well if you would only obey Jesus – He will sort it all out and everything will be fine”.

“Trust and obey” is a lot easier to sing than to do when things are tough.

If I was going to sing a song in times of trouble – I would rather see Jesus as a “bridge over troubled waters” or I would prefer “what a friend we have in Jesus” praying – “bear my griefs Lord”.  Or I would sing “Still” which is one of my favourites right now:

Hide me now
Under Your wings
Cover me
Within Your mighty hand

When the oceans rise and thunders roar
I will soar with You above the storm
Father you are King over the flood
I will be still and know You are God

Find rest my soul
In Christ alone
Know His power
In quietness and trust

When the oceans rise and thunders roar
I will soar with You above the storm
Father You are king over the flood
I will be still and know You are God

The Jesus we present to the world – and the Jesus that should be seen in our communities (and I am thinking of small groups mostly where community really works – someone once said there is no such thing as a congregation – it’s just a collection of small groups) – the Jesus we present and should see:

  • IS the Jesus who causes there to be no needs – where people liquidate assets to make sure others have what they need – because of compassion and kindness and sacrificial living – and of course the clear idea from His teaching that treasure on earth is not the main thing – rather eternal treasure in heaven!

The Jesus we present and should see:

  • IS the Jesus therefore that makes it possible for our communities to be truly loving – honest – sorting out things – caring enough to face the truths of our messy lives in a safe place. How do you think they managed to get to that place where there were no needs among them? Simple – they talked about their needs! SO different from us who put our private use of money in a “private” basket.  Funny thing is that Jesus spoke of what we do with our money a lot!

The Jesus we present and should see:

  •  IS the Jesus who shows up in the rooms we try to hide in and says PEACE BE WITH YOU. You can’t really open your life to this peace unless you acknowledge the storm! The moment people say to me (of something really messy) – Ah it’s all sorted – then I know they’re probably hiding it away – that pride is probably winning the war!

The Jesus we present and should see:

  • IS the Jesus who knows exactly what your doubts and fears are and will meet you at your point of need.
  •  IS the Jesus who is so fascinating and attractive – so intriguing and so loving – that people will be drawn to Him when they see Him in us!

What an enormous challenge! Are we remotely like Jesus?

Are you? Do want to be? Is it worth the cost?

And is the Jesus we present this Jesus? Or some other kind of person cut out from a few verses of the Bible?

What amazing love – what sacrifice – the Son – the One Son of God – given for me! Taking my deepest pains and fears and anxieties to himself!

So that I can be free!

When we break the bread today – when you take some bread – if you dare to take it – you may well be taking the risk of becoming like that body – broken!

This Lord of all says he calls us friends.

The Creator of all becomes a servant – and calls us to serve too.

This greatest Lover of the world – calls us to love others too – no matter what we think about their theology or worship – their faith or lack of faith – their beliefs or their doubts.

When they find and follow Jesus – the most amazing things can happen.

When we find this Jesus – and discover what He is really like – and follow Him – who knows how exciting that can be!

And so:

Joh 20:19  On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”  Joh 20:20  After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.  Joh 20:21  Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”