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17 March 2019 Sunday message: Our citizenship is in heaven.

Reading: Philippians 3:17-4:1

Overview: In the reading today Paul talks about citizenship. Earlier in chapter 3 and in other epistles he shares the complexities of his many identities. Paul was a Jew, a Pharisee and a Roman citizen. He values these identities. But he finds a new one IN CHRIST.

Message:

There is a great story of a wealthy businessman who went tramping and got lost. While making his way through the thick growth of the forest he came across a local man who was quite protective of his patch. The local man called out to him: “who are you and where are you going?”. After getting help from this man, and reaching the end of the clearing he said, “would you like to come and live in the city?” The man replied – “no thanks I’m fine here. In any case how would I live there? I have no work.” The wealthy man replied: “I’ll give you a job. I’ll put you in an office next to mine.” The local was surprised at that. “What would I do there?” he asked.

“Every day” said the wealthy man “your job will be to come into my office and ask me that question: ‘who are you, and where are you going?’”

It’s a great question. It’s about identity and it’s about destiny.

In our reading today we see the shaping of Paul’s new identity. The Christian identity is firstly:

  1. A CLEAR IDENTITY

Who are you? asks the woodsman, the local in the story. It helps to be sure. Certain.

The Christian identity is described in a number of foundational ways including the new birth (John 3) and adoption by God as children (Romans 815; Ephesians 1:5). A key one is this:

  • 2 Cor 5:17: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
  • Rom_8:1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,

It’s a significant term because “in Christ” we participate in his act of salvation. We die with him (he dies in our place) and we are raised with him (the same spirit that raised Jesus from the dead dwells in us).

With this in mind, let’s look at what Paul writes in the first verse of our reading from Philippians today:

Php 3:17  Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.

If we are copy or imitate Paul’s example here as he suggests, everything else becomes secondary to this one thing of being “in Christ” and of knowing this Jesus.

“in Christ” we find ourselves safe too in our Christian identity.

Paul’s other identities are surrendered to this single identity as a Christian. We see this as  we read earlier in chapter 3: Php 3:7  “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.” Includes his Jewish pedigree. And then there’s the next verse: 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

The Philippian context us useful here. The people who lived in Philippi were Roman citizens. They valued that but did not want to go back to Rome. They stayed in the colony called Philippi -and wanted it to be like Rome. They liked the security and stability, the infrastructure etc.  There were SAFE in Caesar’s province. He was in charge of their world and they were safe in that knowledge.

But now the Philippians were becoming believers. Just as the peace of Rome and its privileges extended to the Roman citizens in Philippi (many of whom were the equivalent of today’s army veterans) God’s Kingdom on earth is the peace – the shalom of God on earth lining us up with the perfection of heaven.

This is supported by the Lord’s prayer where this realignment is reflected in the key part of the prayer: Mat 6:9  “This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, Mat 6:10  your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Paul’s new and clear Christian identity is such an all-consuming thing that he describes it like this: We are in Christ, and Christ is in us (Colossians 1:27).

So to summarise: Heaven sends Christ – Christ calls us and commissions us to work on his behalf. We are as his body an extension of Jesus who ushered in the Kingdom.  It happens through us when we are  in him and he in us as the will of God becomes a reality on earth. Elsewhere in 1 Corinthians 5 where we are “in Christ” and therefore a new creation we are also called his “ambassadors.”

All of this is part of our identity.

We know who we are and where we are going. Our identity and our destiny.

  1. A CLEAR DESTINY

It’s clear from the whole of his letter to the Philippians that Paul had a passion for doing Jesus’ will on earth AND a desire to be with the Lord.

After writing that for Him to live was Christ and to die gain, he has more to say. Look at  the whole passage:

Php 1:21  For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. Php 1:22  If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! Php 1:23  I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; Php 1:24  but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.

Also remember what he says in 2 Corinthians 5: 2Co 5:6  Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. 2Co 5:7  We live by faith, not by sight. 2Co 5:8  We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.

Clearly Paul understands his identity and his ultimate destiny. In fact there is a tension between the present and the better future to come in all these passages. There is a longing for what is better.

But it is dangerous to have our priorities reversed. When Paul admonishes those who don’t follow his example, he is quite concerned about this failure. If we return to Philippians 3 we read:

Php 3:18  For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.

Php 3:19  Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things.

He shares this often and with tears, mourning the fact that these people are missing the boat as it were. Instead of a longing for a better destiny, seeking God’s kingdom, being ambassadors of this new creation in Christ, some of his readers are like this:

  • They are enemies of the cross of Christ.
  • Their god is the stomach, or their belly
  • Their glory is in their shame (GNB …proud of what they should be ashamed of)
  • Their mind is on earthly (or worldly) things.

The description Paul gives here is that of pagan behaviour focusing on physical pleasure and appetites. This is a warning to the Philippians of the day and to us that our lives should not be conditioned by the world of the senses. These are people who seem self obsessed and whose priorities are inverted.

More than that, to live as an “enemy of the cross” is to deny God’s sacrificial way of rescuing his people. The cross involves self-denial as Philippians 2 reminds us.  We too should be like  Jesus who gives up power. Terror and violence and the use of power to prove  a point is the exact opposite of jesus’ way.

The consequence of living like this is clear in verse 19:

Php 3:19  Their destiny is destruction

It’s a sober warning. But for those who don’t go that route, there are great benefits.

They have a clear identity and a clear destiny.

And we like them live in this in-between time and state where we shouldn’t want to escape the world because we are called to be ambassadors in it, extending his will and his Kingdom.

Our destiny does of course includes the certain hope of eternal life.

  1. A CERTAIN DESTINY (A CERTAIN HOPE ON EARTH AND IN “HEAVEN”)

Returning to the passage in Philippians 3 we read: Php 3:20  But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, Php 3:21  who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

This is not an escapist approach wanting to get to heaven ASAP. For now, we pray and act to bring God’s Kingdom into reality on earth. With the hope of the future in mind – the hope of the new heaven and new earth – the recreation of all things, we work NOW to bring God’s love to bear on the world.

As we do this it follows naturally that we have a solidarity and bond with our earthly citizens like the people of those mosques in Christchurch who were so tragically gunned down this week –  not only because we abhor violence and hatred, but because love and compassion are essential to our Christian DNA. They are signs of God’s Kingdom coming on earth. And the Christian community is and was from its inception a multinational family, which goes against views that make any particularly ethnicity better than another. I love it that the followers of jesus were first called Christians in the very multi-ethnic church in Antioch (Acts 13:1).

(See previous post on bbpsermons about the Chistchurch shootings on 15 February 2019) https://bbpsermons.wordpress.com/2019/03/16/reflections-on-the-christchurch-shootings-15-february-2019/?fbclid=IwAR2ig1yzAF4So7eQdKSTkV788sMiPI6vo9no03T04-C2VRSx6QJzjSI0Eno 

In fact being the body of Christ – his hands and feet and voice who are his ambassadors urging people to be reconciled with God, we show compassion and care as an expression of his Kingdom and God’s character seen in Jesus and duplicated in us as his followers. After all Jesus’ new commandment is this: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. (John 13:34).

But what about this heavenly citizenship? What do we make of this? Is Paul wanting to get out of here to a better place? A kind of Christian “beam me up Scotty”  if you remember the Star Trek transporter.

No – he is IN CHRIST. His desire is also to be WITH THE LORD fully. Remember: Php 1:23  I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; Php 1:24  but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.

He recognises that he is needed for ministry to them and others.

In the meantime – like us –  he is Heaven’s citizen living on earth. The only really important dual citizenship.

He is like the Roman colonists in Philippi who remain Roman citizens but stay in the colony rather than going back to Rome.

And so are we. We are like colonials from heaven.

So he can declare:  But our citizenship is in heaven

And I love the promise of what that means that follows in these verses

And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, Php 3:21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

What a glorious day it will be! For the frail, the infirm, the amputee and the disabled. More than that, it will be glorious for the able-bodied too. I am so looking forward to my body being transformed! And being with the Lord.

In the meantime, we are citizens of heaven representing the Kingdom coming on earth. There is much work to be done:

Showing compassion in the face of terror and tragic deaths, modelling Jesus’ way by imitating Paul as he imitates Christ; praying that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven, and modelling his will and way of life for others to witness.

This is our identity and our destiny.

As a lovely end to this passage, Phil 4:1 records why Paul tells them these things: – they need this certainty to stand firm in difficult times:

Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!

Our identity and destiny certainly keep us steady in troubled times too.

Amen.

Sunday Sermon, 10 July 2016 – The Good Samaritan

Reading: Luke 10: 25-37

Sermon

Nearly 20 years ago – on a Saturday night – a car crashed in a tunnel in Paris. The occupants were severely injured. But the photographers who recorded the scene for the world press did nothing to help. Three out of four people died, including Princess Diana.

Ironically, France is one of the few countries which had a law – a Good Samarian Law – that makes it a crime not to help people in need.

Since that accident, the law has been revisited around the world. One state in Australia – the Northern Territory – has such a law. Very few people have been prosecuted under it – so it seems. Some US states have a similar law – but the argument against it, amongst many arguments is that it infringes on individual liberties. And of course people don’t want to be sued if their help harms people inadvertently.

Although in one survey it was found that more people would help someone in need because they were legally obligated than for moral or ethical reasons.

The issue has become much more prominent since then. It turns up in interesting places. For example – have a look at this scene from the final in the series of the American series Seinfeld – which I hasten to add I never did watch. The humour is unpalatable – and as you will see the background knowledge of the writers dodgy. I think it makes the point though.

Have a look.

If you think that’s bad, you should read some of the comments made about this. One person wrote this:

MegaSoldier64 1 month ago – The good Samaritan law is modeled after great Britain’s good Samaritan law, it became law when the queen of England had a heart attack and all those paparazzi just stood there and took pictures instead of helping her…

This lawyer in Luke’s gospel is also an interesting character. “What must I do?” is a great question about obligations. In this case its “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” that gets Jesus into “teaching by story” mode. Jesus’ response is straightforward – it’s one of those “haven’t you read your Bible” kind of responses:

Luk 10:26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

Luk 10:27 He answered: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.'”

Luk 10:28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

The legal eagle is not satisfied. Maybe he wanted controversy – more of a debate – maybe he was trying to trick Jesus.

He certainly opened up a new can of worms for those of us who like to be passive observers along the road of life.

Luke says he wanted to justify himself. I’m glad he did – as we get one of the two greatest stories of the bible – as a result of his probing. The other more famous one they say is the prodigal son. You can decide which is the top one.

It’s not unusual for stories to have three characters. Dig deep into your literary knowledge and you will find some – Goldilocks and the three bears, the three little pigs. I am sure you know what I mean. It’s all about story technique.

Jesus’ listeners would be listening out for the third character in the tale.

They would have wanted the hero to be one of them. Not a fancy Levite or indifferent priest. They are the bad guys in the tale.

They would have been waiting for the third person – a good guy who shows up the others – one of them – ordinary folk with some moral backbone.

They listen carefully – here it comes. “a Samaritan…”

  • “What?”
  • Gasp!
  • “no way Jesus! One of the enemy???”

He’s not mentioned as a “good” Samaritan. That has become a title added on by us.

  • He’s more than good though.
  • He’s extravagant! Remarkably generous.
  • It’s an absurd story.
  • It’s not about who is our neighbour.
  • It’s about who we are neighbours to. It’s about action.

It’s another variant of “love your enemies.” The wounded man is bound to be Jewish. And the hatred was mutual.

LET’S DO THE PLAY NOW

Let’s choose characters to play based on who you identify with the most.

When you ask kids to do this – and probably adults – not many people want to be the half dead guy.

The boys love being the robbers!

Perhaps we don’t want to think about what it’s like to be needy.

I don’t think we can get into those shoes very easily. Unless you’ve been attacked and beaten up perhaps.

How would you do as the lawyer?

Note that he can’t even say the word “Samaritan”. Jesus asks him this question at the end: “Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

He can only say this: “The one who had mercy on him.”

“Go and do likewise” says Jesus.

WHAT IS THE IMPORTANT THING TO TAKE HOME?

This is not a moral or legal story primarily. It’s not that we are to decide to be “good Samaritans” either because it’s the right thing to do or because we might be prosecuted.

It’s really about what motivated the Samaritan in the tale.

What did he have? Pity – is the word in the NIV in verse 33. Most better translations use the word “compassion” – that word we talked about a couple of weeks ago – that involves the inner parts, heart, stomach, the lot. It was the feeling Jesus had in Luke 7 towards the widow of Nain that caused him to stop the funeral procession – and raise the woman’s only son.

It’s the word in Luke 15:20 we are still to get to, that the Father has for the Prodigal son.

Its appears in passages referring to Jesus and God the Father.

And there is a strong argument that the Samaritan here is functioning as God’s agent.

After all, the lawyer identifies the man as showing “mercy” – another word which throughout Luke is associated either with an act of God or God’s agent (Luke 1:47-50, 54, 72, 78; 17:13; 18:38-39; the only exception is when Father Abraham refuses to show the rich man “mercy” [16:24], an exception which ultimately proves the rule that in Luke’s Gospel only God and Jesus show mercy).

That makes the story more startling.

Jesus is seen in the Samaritan. The Samaritan is a Christ figure.

Who is it that stops to help – that binds up our wounds and anoints us with the oil of gladness – that pays for our safe haven – if not Jesus?

This is not an “example” story that we are to be Good Samaritans.

We are younger siblings of our elder brother Jesus in God’s family.

We are the body of Christ – we are Jesus in the world – stopping to help out of compassion and because of his mercy.

MUCH OF THE WORLD MAY WELL BE HALF DEAD AND IN A DITCH

We can relish our own security and purity if we like – or take the chance – the risk – of showing mercy at a cost of our time and money – to reach the broken ones of this generation.

And if we don’t have compassion – then we need some loving ourselves to soften our hearts.

In any case – it was the Samaritans that did not welcome Jesus, that James and John wanted to turn into toast by calling fire down from heaven.

It was one of them who got it right – the enemy models love. Must have been a son of peace – I would say.

Amen.

Sermon, 5 June 2016 – resurrection; then, and now, and then….

READINGS: 1 Kings 17:17-24; Luke 7:11-17

SERMON  

Last week it was the faith of the centurion we looked at – his faith led to the healing of his servant.

The very next story in Luke – and there is no faith to be seen.

  • It’s a funeral.
  • It’s grim.
  • There’s a widow and her only son has died.

The dead guy can’t have faith – and there is no expectation of faith at a funeral. Just pain and sorrow – deep grief.

The people around would have known about Elijah raising a widow’s son. Once word got out they would have joined the dots – here was another prophet empowered by God.

But put yourself in the story.

This is 5 miles away from Nazareth. 25 miles away from Capernaum where we were last week. Quite  a long walk really.

The death would have been very recent. They buried their dead within 24 hours. Not like our week’s mourning at most here. Or the Swedish custom of a couple of weeks between death and the funeral.

So the grief is still raw – this is a child – an only son of a widow – it’s a disaster from an economic survival point of view.

The professional mourners would have been there. Wailing.

Don’t think that’s a bizarre custom either. They cried loudly so that the real mourners would not be the centre of attention as they genuinely wept.

It was all healthy but raw.

And along comes this prophet like Elijah. Except things are different. Elijah knew the family and he was known to them. In this account Jesus didn’t.

  • Uninvited.
  • A stranger who walks in.
  • A crowd following him intersects with the funeral crowd.
  • Imagine someone doing that at a funeral you’re at. Unusual to say the least.

He touches the funeral bier. The coffin – which would have been an open kind of frame. It certainly brought the procession to a halt.

The key line is verse 13: Luk 7:13 When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”

What a strange thing to say. Of course she would be crying. Grief specialists would say to her: “let it out dear. It’s okay to cry!”

  • It comes from compassion. In fact, a better translation is probably this:

13 When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” (NRSV)

  • It also comes from hope – and knowledge of what was possible.

He knew he could reverse this. He knew his ultimate destiny. He knew that resurrection would ultimately change the way we see the world.

I remember Nicky Gumbel talking about how interesting a person Jesus would have been to have around.

  • At a wedding.
  • At a picnic.
  • When out fishing.
  • During a storm at sea.
  • At a funeral.

The text is very matter of fact. Remember also that only Luke tells us this story. It’s not in the other gospel accounts. Listen again:

Luk 7:14 Then he went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!”
Luk 7:15 The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.
Luk 7:16 They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.”
Luk 7:17 This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.

WHAT ABOUT US

What do you make of this?

At a factual and historical level, it’s Jesus showing his hand to the crowds. The word certainly would have got out, as was the case with the raising of Lazarus. In Lazarus’ case it was a nail in his own coffin as his enemies were provoked to plot his death.

There are two points to take home today really.

1. COMPASSION

For us today it is a reminder of His compassion – shown in so many other gospel accounts.

  • The hungry – he had compassion on them and fed them.
  • The sick – he healed them.
  • Blind beggars who called out to him – in compassion he healed them.
  • And two great stories in the bible – the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal son – are both about compassionate people – the Samaritan and the Father in the stories.

It has to speak to us about compassion – we at least have to be like that – from deep within. The word itself – compassion – in the original New Testament Language encompassed the bowels, heart, lungs, liver or kidneys – all seen in those days as the seat of human emotion.

It gets us here (point to gut).

Are we really compassionate? the Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria, said this: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”

Not a bad motto. To live by – not just to have on the wall or on your facebook page.

2. WOULD THAT JESUS SHOW UP IN ALL KINDS OF PLACES.

I bet no one afterwards at the funeral tea was resentful that this strange rabbi gate-crashed their ceremony.

“Who’s that bloke ‘ey stopping the procession?”

I’ve been watching too much British television I think.

Jesus is really keen to walk into the lives of our families and friends – he brings a whole new perspective on our sickness, pain, griefs and our dying. And our living!

And he really wants to walk into our mess too.

It’s ultimately about resurrection. Not about disembodied souls going to heaven. But about a whole new life at the end of it all.

And the same spirit that raised Jesus from the dead – the Holy Spirit – is at work in us. (Romans 8:11).

That resurrection life begins now – we are made alive spiritually. He still breaks through into our messy world by His Holy Spirit.

Nicky Gumble tells the great story about a man who got really carried away in a very dull staid church. He was lifting his hands and shouting “hallelujah”- whereupon the Church warden came up to him at tapped him on the shoulder saying “we don’t do that here!” The man said excitedly – “but I’ve found religion”. The warden replied – “you didn’t get it here”.

If Jesus can walk into a funeral procession and turn things around, he can surely walk into our situations and change things too – bring new life and hope.

Next week when our guests are here there will be opportunities for us to receive prayer and really hear from the Lord. I encourage you to bring a friend along.

God still shows up in our lives. He changes us to make us compassionate.

He fills us with hope too – which is an infectious and helpful force in a pretty hopeless world. In fact, hope is the basis for our witnessing. Peter writes this:

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…

Hopeful people are joyful! Happy! There would nothing gloomy at that moment when the dead boy was returned to his mother alive and well.

Amen.

Sunday sermon 20 December 2015 (Advent 4) – Mary

Sermon                                                                 Advent 4      20 December 2015

REFLECTIVE VIDEO (Mary’s song)

Who was Time magazine’s woman of the year? Angela Merkel of course. The daughter of a pastor who believes that Germany can not say to refugees “no room in the inn”.

How about National Geographic’s most influential person? Mary of Galilee. The Virgin Mary.

The headline goes like this:

MAGAZINE  |  DECEMBER 2015

How the Virgin Mary Became the World’s Most Powerful Woman

Mary barely speaks in the New Testament, but her image and legacy are found and celebrated around the world.

I loved watching the current Pope on his recent tour to America. I was comfortable up to the point when he led a prayer involving the virgin Mary.

The line that features uses the words of Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptiser.

Luk 1:42  In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!

You don’t pick it up as well in the NIV – listen to the KJV and NRSV:

(KJV)  And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.

Add “Jesus” to the end of this and you’ve almost got a Hail May.

Hail Mary, full of grace. Our Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.
Amen.

Okay you have to add verse 42, the greeting of the angel:

(KJV)  And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. 

I’d like to know the virgin Mary a little more. Now that sounds scary I know. I’m not talking about having a visitation from her.

One of the reasons why National Geographic in its December article talks about her influence is because of those appearances. Have a look:

Have a look at this:

If I were to have anyone appear to me, I’d prefer it to be Jesus – which he is doing in middle eastern countries.

But truthfully – would you like Jesus walking into your living room? And talking to you about your life?

Mary was God’s chosen teenager. I wouldn’t mind hearing from her.

SO WHAT DO WE MAKE OF THIS?

  1. Mary’s voice and message speaks to women because a lot of our Christian stuff, whether we like it or not, is dominated by men.
  1. Mary’s faith and trust is inspirational.

No need to say more. Just go home and read her response in the magnificat.

  1. It can’t have been easy for her as a teenage mother. A young mother pregnant and potentially shamed. We have seen how unhelpful it is to have “truths” unmatched with compassion.

I wrote my version of a Christmas letter this year. I’ve always been a bit allergic to them as people overstate the virtues and successes of their children. I mean come on – they didn’t just sail through their studies without major family issues and conflicts.

Here’s what I wrote after my story:

The greatest challenge and blessing – developing a more disciplined and reflective prayer life. Part of this is resting in the Lord, especially when we have absolutely no control over things. Which you discover in the second half of life is basically all the time. Richard Rohr’s “Falling Upward, a spirituality for the two halves of life”, is proving a slow and grinding yet rewarding read. He quotes Desmond Tutu: “We are only the light bulbs, Richard, and our job is just to remain screwed in!” Rohr, Richard (2011-02-11). Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life . Wiley. Kindle Edition. 

May you have a blessed Christmas. For those who never write – bless you! For those who do – bless you especially! A thought for you to close my bit – then you can read Sheilagh’s epistle.

A comment by a Christmas shopper checking his list…

I almost forgot the most important thing of all – compassion. If I see some – no matter what the colour, size or shape – I’m going to stock up heavily regardless of the price. I have run out of it so many times and I always feel ashamed when it happens.

It’s just as well angels did speak back in the day when Mary fell pregnant. There might have been a kind of honour killing.

  1. It could not have been any easier for Mary at that first Easter crucifixion.

Sheilagh shared with me her thoughts last week when I spoke about Zachariah and Elizabeth and the conception of John. She was sitting at the back (probably wondering when I would finish) and thinking: “I hope that john’s mom and dad were dead when Herod Antipas had his head chopped off”.

Parenting never ends. You know the story of the 100-year-old lady who said the best year of her life was when she turned 90. In that year all her children were safely retired in rest homes.

  1. I would like to ask Mary lots of questions.

About Jesus as a child. Did he walk on water then in the bath? Probably not. 🙂

I guess his cousin may have had an interesting childhood too:

john baptist

If we knew more from Mary about being a mother – and more about Jesus as a child, maybe we would relax more about parenting. Jesus has been through it all.

Amen.

Sunday sermon 22 November 2015 – Christ the King

READINGS:

Ephesians 2: 6-10; Matthew 25:31-46;

SERMON

I was reading the sermon I preached on this day 4 years ago. Not bad really – even if I say so myself. It was a solid and challenging message.

But did it get across? Did the message make a difference? Or do we have constant miscommunication in this modern age.

Take this cartoon for example. It’s speaks volumes:

texting

So what is the heart of the message? What do you take away each week? What will you take home today?

This is CHRIST THE KING Sunday. Also known as the “Reign of Christ”. Whether you are a royalist or a republican you can’t avoid the titles of Jesus.

The Gospel text (the reading today – not an sms received on your phone in code) starts very directly with these words: Mat 25:31  “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory.

Sit on his throne. Then in verse 34 we read:  “Then the King will say…

The last judgement scene has been portrayed in all kinds of creative ways. It is quite graphic really. Verse 41 speaks volumes really: “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

We may miss the point however. We obsess about future judgement sometimes. Jesus seemed to say elsewhere that judgement is also now.

Take this for example: John 3:18  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. A fascinating verse.

But beyond that – the Christian life is not really about doing good and ethics. They are part of it – but not the essence of it.

People do see it like this however. A conversation with a parishioner from a previous church is a good example. I asked her this question – here was the conversation: are you still at church? Her response: No I don’t go to church anymore. Just try to live a good life quietly on my own.

I wonder if her good life includes the kind of care Jesus talks about in Matthew 25.

Mat 25:35  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, Mat 25:36  I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

Don’t you see? Once you make it about what you do – it gets tricky. And we get picky. That’s why the questions about what we must “do” are a distraction.

Commentator Dirk Lang puts it like this: “Like the person who came to Jesus and asked “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16-24), so we too wonder on what side we will find ourselves — the right or the left? The question, however, is simply an excuse for doing nothing, as Bonhoeffer has pointed out.

The person attempts to engage Jesus in an endless ethical discussion about works or good deeds. In this parable, the question resurfaces but in an importantly different way: “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” (25:44).

Those at the left hand of the Son of Man seek an excuse and almost put the blame on the Son of Man himself as if to say, ‘You didn’t reveal yourself; how could we see you?’ ” (Workingpreacher.org)

In other words – if I’d known it was you Jesus when that poor person asked for help, then I would have Jesus! You can see how daft that is.

SO: What’s it all about?

Here’s the clue – the people in the sheep and goats account who get the prize – who are rewarded – actually had no idea they were doing it to Jesus (or to someone who represents Jesus).

Their response is this: Mat 25:38  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?Mat 25:39  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’  

The implication is – they were doing what they were doing because that’s who they were. It flowed out of them without the analysis.

And it fits well with Jesus’ teaching elsewhere does it not. And with Matthew as a whole starting with John the Baptiser:

Mat 3:7  But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Mat 3:8  Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. Mat 3:9  And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. Mat 3:10  The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

And Jesus takes this theme further: Mat 7:16  By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Mat 7:17  Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. Mat 7:18  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Mat 7:19  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Mat 7:20  Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

The implication is that this is gardening again – not philosophy or logic or ethics classes. It’s an organic growth in character if we are connected to Jesus the Head, and the rest of the body.

That’s why holiness and unity are really hard to keep together in tension. People will be happy families (united) until you confront behaviour (go for holiness). They get mad at you. Sulk. Boycott church.

Jesus keeps going at this theme in Matthew: Mat 12:31  And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Mat 12:32  Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. Mat 12:33  “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. Mat 12:34  You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. Mat 12:35  The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. Mat 12:36  But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.

 The king in this Kingdom is a King of compassion. The fruit of behaviour in transformed connected people (connected to the vine if you like as in John 15) is people who have compassion like Jesus did.

Compassion on the woman at the well. The prostitute caught in adultery. The tax collector up a tree. The untouchable lepers. Do I need to go on? When they meet Jesus – he changes them through grace.

We try to change the world through condemnation and threats.

So the good-fruit disciples who have no idea helping people is like helping Jesus – feed the poor, visit the prisoners. (Hey – do you want to come with me in the week before Christmas? I’m looking for some singers who can come with me and I will bring my guitar. To the maximum security prison.)

And they help the hungry, thirsty, strangers and naked. They do it and are surprised that it is the same has helping Jesus.

The sheep are good fruit. Fabulous mixed metaphor.

The goats are fruitless. And they are the debaters – they love discussing things. “Really – I would have done something if I’d known it was for you Jesus!”

MODERN DEBATERS

Modern debaters discuss whether the “least of these” means gentiles or Christians – who do we help. Refugees? Which ones?

The sheep just do it. Nike sheep. Fabulous mixed metaphor.

YOU ARE THIS – SO DO IT

I know there are passages about obedience – and we have to figure out what this means. But the bulk of the evidence (we ponder scripture – we weigh things up) is about doing what we are already.

Indicative: you are the salt of the earth, the light of the world.

Imperative: be yourselves – salt and light.

PAUL TO THE EPHESIANS

So a final comment from Ephesians 2. It is always grace and not works. A gift – not earned by our deeds. Paul says it like this:

Eph 2:8  For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— Eph 2:9  not by works, so that no one can boast. Eph 2:10  For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.  

Legalists agonise here too – “am I doing the right good works?” “I’m sure my good works don’t including visiting prisons. Helping Muslims. Being generous to people who are DIFFERENT!?”

Maybe this will help to make the point:

romans

Tom Wright picks up on a subtlety in the Greek in verse 10 which you see in other translations: 8 How has this all come about? You have been saved by grace, through faith! This doesn’t happen on your own initiative; it’s God’s gift. 9 It isn’t on the basis of works, so no one is able to boast. 10 This is the explanation: God has made us what we are. God has created us in King Jesus for the good works that he prepared, ahead of time, as the road we must travel 

Other translations pick this up too: (NRSV)  For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.   

(ESV)  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

(CEV)  God planned for us to do good things and to live as he has always wanted us to live. That’s why he sent Christ to make us what we are.

He prepared good works as the road we must travel. To be our way of life (NRSV). That we should walk in them (ESV) – the word is peripatetic. Περιπατέω – it means to live or walk.

That’s no token – no selective good works. It’s all of life.

It’s the fruit. You can’t have it half the time or selectively. We become fruitful.

We do it because we are this.

Amen.

 

Tuesday church sermon 9 July – Compassion

Reading:  Matthew 9:32-38  

Sermon                                                              

I was intrigued a while back by a conversation I heard – when a member of our local church here at BBP spoke about “strangers” coming to church on a Sunday – how they didn’t know these strangers.

We can be a bit clubby sometimes.

Years ago – in 1996 – I was privileged to go to Argentina for an international conference run by “Harvest Evangelism”.

There was a revival going on the cities of Argentina at that time – through church unity and cooperation and intense prayer and intercession, local churches were getting together to reach every street in their towns with a prayer cell – and connecting with their neighbours in mission.

I recall the main speaker – the head of Harvest Evangelism – speak on this text from Matthew 9.

It’s the gospel reading for today and it follows on quite well from Sunday – where we read the Luke account of this business of the harvest being great and the workers few.

Ed Silvoso said this – or words to this effect:  When you are in a crowd – say in a shopping centre – and you see the masses or encounter their shopping trolleys – or get stuck behind them when you are in a hurry and they seem to have all day – what do you feel?

Are you like Jesus?

The key verse is of course this one:

Mat 9:36  When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

 

Σπλαγχνίζομαι –  splagchnizomai is the word. It’s one of the richest Greek words in the Bible. Literally it is something like a bowel movement – oops. That sounds wrong. Thayer’s Greek dictionary explains it like this:


Thayer Definition:

1) to be moved as to one’s bowels, hence to be moved with compassion, have compassion (for the bowels were thought to be the seat of love and pity)’

One 18th century commentator put it like this:

(John Gill) … he was moved with compassion on them: his bowels yearned for them, he was touched with a feeling of their infirmities, as the merciful high priest, the good shepherd, and faithful prophet; being heartily concerned for the souls of men, their comfort here, and everlasting happiness hereafter…

It’s about something that churns inside of you.

Compassion is the key. Is that the feeling you have? What Jesus felt?

It is such an interesting verse – in fact all the words are rich – so rich that the various translations sound like this:

(AOV)  En toe Hy die skare sien, het Hy innig jammer gevoel vir hulle, omdat hulle moeg en uitgeput was, soos skape wat geen herder het nie.

(ESV)  When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

(MSG)  When he looked out over the crowds, his heart broke. So confused and aimless they were, like sheep with no shepherd.

          (KJV)  But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on           them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having   no shepherd.

Jesus is moved by the masses. We sometimes avoid them – as the world is so different from what we grew up with.

The best sense of this that I have experienced was not at a shopping centre – but going with the crowds to watch the Springboks play the All Blacks one night at the Cake tin – the Westpac stadium in Wellington. They came in their droves – and it was so gloomy. OK they were all wearing black – but there were thousands. Streaming towards the stadium – emerging out of the station, off buses, or along the sidewalks. I had a real sense that day – that this is what Jesus is interested in. All those people.  Okay that particular group was a bit obsessed with the religion of rugby, so we have to be especially compassionate towards them.

The heart of Jesus is for those who are harassed and helpless.

Back to Matthew 9:37 – Jesus he tells them to pray to the Lord of the harvest:

Mat 9:37  Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Mat 9:38  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

In Mark we read this:

Mar 6:34  When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.

And in that passage he goes on to feed them – with five loaves and two fish.

Dear friends – there is work to be done.

It begins with compassion. And compassion goes together with love. Paul said this of his passion to reach people in his first letter to the Corinthians:

1Co_9:16  Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! And then in 2 Corinthians he says this: 2Co 5:14  For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.

Of course that verse precedes the one we have mentioned on a couple of Sundays: 2 Corinthians 5:17

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

May you and I find a new compassion for the masses. This city is a reflection of the world we live in. All shapes, sizes, ethnicities (nations literally) and many, many people who are so different from us.

Yet they are the same us us. Without Christ the good shepherd – harassed and helpless, confused and aimless, in short – LOST.

We are called to be part of this plan to introduce them to Jesus the good shepherd. Amen.