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14 April 2017 – Good Friday: Windows on the cross of Jesus.

READING: Luke 23:32-47

MESSAGE 

We’re going to carry that cross after we’re done here today. It’s a fair weight, but not full size.

We had a volunteer up on it last Friday. A young girl. It was about her size.

No nails. No ropes. She was just standing on the top of her chair with her hands in the right place and her feet where they would be resting on a platform – so that she could push herself up to breathe.

I asked her how she was feeling at the end of the reflection on the cross – and she said – “tired”.

Jesus’ cross would have been a bit bigger. About 7 to 9 feet tall (2,1m to 2,7m), and would have weighed up to 300 pounds (136kg)

  • It had to bear his full weight – which would pull on those nails. (And you thought a thorn in your foot was bad.)
  • His thorns were pressed down into his head.

What is your response to seeing Jesus on the cross?

  • We heard a creative narrative describing Jesus’ Mother’s response.
  • And the thoughts of the centurion.

What about us?

The cross was a horrible symbol of Roman power and control. if you had a relative or friend nailed on one, it would have acted as a warning to you and your family to behave and submit.

It would have been enough to give you nightmares and probably post-traumatic stress disorder.

  • That horrible symbol of torture – we wear in shiny gold or silver.
  • And as Christians we look at it with gratitude and hope, praise and thanksgiving.

Why? What happened with this one crucifixion amongst many thousands more – that made this possible? That this Friday should be called “Good”?

There are many ways to see the cross.

Like an orchestra with many parts, they all combine together in an amazing declaration of the love of God. Perhaps today a quintet is enough – just five of them:

  • Perhaps foremost in our thinking is punishment for our sins. That Jesus did this in our place. Although this is understood better in cultures that favour crime and punishment. We sing songs these days about the wrath of God being satisfied. Some people struggle with this – trying to balance it with His love in John 3:16 and 17. Believing that His son being sent motivated by love and not vengeance. That he was sent to save the world (which means the people), and not to condemn them. Of course, we should not be surprised at God’s righteous anger. We share some of that at times, although our motives are not always clear.

Related to that is the broader question of justice. The difference in our human justice system is that the people who have been wronged are often angry about the outcome and often want convicted criminals to pay more. Whereas the judges are not emotional at all. They are all about the balance and proportion of justice. Parents have to be careful here that they don’t punish children out of anger. Our emotional anger is very different from God’s righteous anger.

  • Shame and honour are another window on the cross. For some cultures, shame and honour are a bigger issue than punishment and wrath. When it comes to concepts like honour, many of us don’t understand honour cultures at all. Sin brings dishonour on us. And only Jesus can pay that debt. It’s an old theory of satisfaction for sin developed by an archbishop of Canterbury a thousand years ago. Jesus took our shame – it was a shameful business being pinned up there, and often naked too.

He was shamed for us – he takes our shame – and he removes our shame. The scripture speaks of our cleansing from sin and with that shame is removed.  For example 1Peter 2:6 – For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” 

  • Forgiveness is part of the package. It goes without saying. Our sins are dealt with because he dies for them. We are reconciled with God – the blood of Jesus cleansing us from our sins – and we experience this amazing mercy through faith in Jesus. We don’t have to feel guilty any longer. With forgiveness, we become friends of God. Paul reminds in his important summary in 1 Corinthians 15:

1Co 15:3  For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scripture…

What scripture is he referring to here? Not just some proof texts, but the huge expectation in the Old Testament of someone coming who would deal with sin and bring forgiveness once and for all. Isaiah 53 gives us a glimpse of this:

Isa 53:5  But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. Isa 53:6  We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

  •  Then there is simply the change that happenswe are transformed. Paul talks about this whole process in Romans – our sin has consequences – how Jesus has dealt with those – how we are justified by faith – how there is no condemnation for us who are in Christ Jesus– and then in chapter 12 he uses that important word “therefore”

Rom 12:1  Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Rom 12:2  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

We are transformed – changed to be like Jesus. And that is not just about us as individuals – it influences our community life.

  • And so amongst other benefits of the cross and resurrection of Jesus is the creation of a new people. Last but not least. This is about us being here together today.

 Most of us who are not Jewish, says Paul in Ephesians 2, were… 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.

He goes on:

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. 

When we live out all these benefits in a community of reconciliation, that community includes people that would have normally been separated from each other.

Paul also reminds us in Galatians 3:28 Gal 3:28  There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

And Jesus’ prayer for unity reinforces this: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message,  that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:2–21)

This is an essential part our witness today when we gather as one people.

OUR RESPONSE TODAY

There are many more consequences to this death on the cross. So many books written – so many aspects and angles. Like that huge pink diamond sold earlier this month in Hong Kong which took nearly two years to cut, it has many facets and surfaces.

Like Mary, the centurion, any other characters in that Easter event, and people through the ages – we all have to respond one way or the other.

There is no escaping the demands the cross of Christ makes on us – to take note and react – and to take action ourselves.

How amazing that this one death does all this.

What has made the difference?

Do we have to wait until Sunday to find out?

Well no. Had this been any other death, then we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Unless we were tracing our family tree and found a relative who had been crucified, or some DNA connection that would make us think about our forefathers.

This is different – because of Sunday. The third day. The empty tomb.

The many appearances of Jesus to people. His eating food.

The fish barbeque on the beach.

The appearance of Jesus in locked rooms.

The holes in his hands and feet.

This is different – because of His unique position as the very first person to genuinely be resurrected. Yes, Lazarus and others were raised from the dead. They would have died from natural causes – probably in old age.

This Jesus – the author and finisher of our faith – is the first in the family – and we will follow. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (1Co 15:20) 

  • We can’t speak about the cross without rejoicing in the resurrection.
  • And we can’t think of new life, resurrection life, without marveling at the amazing love of Christ – shown on the cross.

Paul’s words in Romans 5 help us end today:  Rom 5:7  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. Rom 5:8  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (NIV84)

We thank Him for the cross today. Words can barely express our gratitude for His love.

Amen.

 

Sunday sermon 4 December 2016 – Prince of Peace

Readings: Romans 15:4-13; Matthew 3:1-12;

MESSAGE

I wonder if you’ve figured out the difference between Lent and Advent?

Lent is a time of preparation in which we give up something to focus on our relationship with God (or more recently do something new that does the same thing). It involves cleansing I suppose – and purification. And doing things differently.

Lent ends at the cross.

Advent is about getting prepared for the arrival of someone very special and important. It also requires organisation of sorts – tidying up but in a more celebratory way. The outcome of Advent is not a death – but a birth.

Advent ends at a crib.

This explains the great choirs singing in Luke 2:14 – “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests.” It’s certainly worth singing about!

We were in Wellington this past week – staying with friends. And the debate between them was interesting, with the one saying that none of this is in the Bible – Lent or Advent – while the other persisted in the view that God has given us these things through the Church. You can imagine a person raised in the Church of the Nazarene married to an Anglo-Catholic. The conversations are interesting to say the least.

On Friday night, they invited friends around for a kind of a party and carol singing event. With me on the piano. We did this years ago, and the carol sheets were still in the piano stool from the last time.

And afterwards I played German carols reading the music off another guest’s Ipad as we tried to translate them into English. Her husband was raised in oppressive Romania – although an ethnic German. There was one Samoan. Two South Africans. A Scot and his kiwi wife. The nations were represented there, that’s for sure.

Whatever you believe about these traditions like Lent or Advent, or whether you want to get rid of Christmas completely like some Christians do today, because they believe it is an infected economic swindle where Jesus gets buried under profits and presents, when you sing those carols – there is something that comes alive in people.

People across the world of every nation and tongue. From all the nations. We were able to sing from the same page about the birth of Jesus.

The same thing happened at a visit to a rest home in Tauranga. A lady was sitting alone in the lounge waiting for tea. I asked her if she played the piano that was there. She replied that she used to – but not much these days. She asked if I played – of course I said a bit. She asked me to play – I asked her for her favourite carol – and off we went.

My back was towards her has I played, and slowly the singing got louder and better as residents wandered in. It sounded pretty good. And most of those folk who probably forget a lot of things at their stage in life, could remember all the verses of the carols we sang.

The story and the songs – they ignite something. We ended up with an impromptu carol service. It brings people alive – and research tells us that all kinds of positive chemicals kick into action in our bodies when we sing together anyway – even if we don’t sing well.

The simple hope of Christmas – the peace that Christ brings – to Jews and Gentiles alike, is something to celebrate. For Americans, Romanian born Germans, kiwis, South Africans, Scots, Samoans, English and any others you may think of – this is a time for revisiting what God has done through Jesus.

So it’s good to really reflect through Advent about what God has done. We have to ask – if you want to get organised –

  • as you prepare for the celebration of Jesus’ first coming,
  • and the certainty of his second coming,  (either because the end will come for us in death, or he will come back first)
  • what is really important?

For John the baptiser as we heard – preparing the way for Jesus – there was an expectation that people should clean up their lives. Sounds a bit like Lent.

Repentance here is not the change of direction that the Hebrew Old Testament word indicates – but a transformed mind. A changed mind.

A refocusing of our thoughts on God. So let’s do that. Reflect on:

  • Who He is.
  • His promises that he will send someone to save the world.
  • His coming in Christ.
  • His work in us.

THE PROMISE OF A SAVIOUR

There are many prophecies that speak of Jesus. The one in Isaiah chapter 9 is probably the most beautiful: Isa 9:6  For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

And then this one from Isa 7:14  Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. Immanuel – meaning God with us. This happens in the incarnation.

A child is born – a son is given. In the words of the Creed: Jesus was –

“… conceived by the Holy Spirit – born of the virgin Mary”

This really messes things up for us – especially if we are people who like to separate the spiritual from the physical and carnal world. Which the Bible does do – but not like we do. We are prone to thinking like Greeks of old who categorised this world as bad, and painted a picture of another spiritual perfect world as a standard or ideal.

God messes up that thinking by becoming a flesh person. In – car-nate. Carnivores? Carnivorous? Ring any bells?

  • Jesus who is our hope (for all nations as we see in Rom 15:12  And again, Isaiah says, “The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; the Gentiles will hope in him.”)
  • Jesus – who is also the prince of peace – He does this not by making war in his first coming – but by surrender on the cross.
  • This Jesus becomes a real human being. He brings both hope to the world and the promise of peace. He gets involved in a peace mission above all others.

Evangelicals are quick to point out that Jesus had to be a human being to pay the price for our sin – only a human could be a substitute for another human (in this case for all humans). We call that substitutionary atonement. The crib is made of wood – so is the cross. This prince of peace does makes peace through his blood on the cross. (Colossians 1:20).

The beauty of this first Advent is the way in which Jesus as a human being affirms our humanityWe see this God becoming human in a stable – in a feeding trough – with the feint or perhaps pungent smell of cattle dung.

The coming of Jesus as a real human being means God affirms the wonder of his creation. He pitches his tent with us (John 1:14). Through this incarnation he also affirms the wonder of creation and what it is to be human.

Have you noticed in the New Testament that Jesus was criticised for being a party enthusiast? Listen to this from Luke 7 to remind you: Luk 7:31  “To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? Luk 7:32  They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other: “‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not cry.’ Luk 7:33  For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ Luk 7:34  The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.”‘ Luk 7:35  But wisdom is proved right by all her children.”

It’s okay to celebrate his coming with a real party. He certainly celebrated life fully.

My friends in Wellington were bemoaning the fact that their pastor won’t have a Christmas tree in church. I’m glad we do. It’s good to have some colour and sparkle.

Jesus was born to rescue us – and bring peace. We have a gospel to proclaim about this prince of peace. We have much to celebrate about this promised peace.

We also need to trust in Him that he will keep his promises to us – and that we will really have His peace. That it won’t just be a symbolic candle we light.

While we should party and rejoice, this is a serious matter too. Jesus doesn’t die for nothing. Our sins are not to be celebrated.

There is a warning in the words of John the baptiser who says that while he baptises with water, Jesus will baptise us with the Holy Spirit and with fire. This symbolises purification and judgement.

When you meet this baby grown up to be the prince of peace – he pays the price for peace with his death.

And he gives us his purifying Holy Spirit – who is not only different in the extreme from our evil ways (we are always judged by holiness – see Isaiah 6:5 ) but also indwells us and will change us to be more like Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18).

The last verse of the reading from Romans today sums up my desire for you to know this purifying Jesus more. The outcomes are brilliant:

Rom 15:13  “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope”  – how? “…by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Advent blessings.

The pink candle of joy is thrown in by Paul as well.

For today: receive His peace.

Amen.

god-of-ope

Sunday story 20 March 2016 – Passion Sunday – The Day Jesus died

Family Service story – “The day Jesus died.” by Robin Palmer. (A story for children of all ages – with a kiwi flavour and idiom).

So they were having Passover supper – Jesus and his friends – remembering how Moses got their families way back in the day out of Egypt.
And they were eating away – and wondering when Jesus would become a real soldier kind of king and beat up the Romans who had just taken over their country…
And Jesus said – “this is the last time I will have this party with you – until the end of the world as we know it..”
“That’s no good” they said.
And then he told them that one of his friends would rat on him and get him arrested by those same horrible Romans.
“That’s no good” they said.
And they were looking at each other thinking: “I wonder who it is who is going to spill the beans and get Jesus into trouble…” What a rat.
The next thing they were arguing about who was more important in their group.
“That’s no good” he said.
“You have to be the ones who do the dirty work and slave away for others – not be their boss.” Said Jesus.
“That’s no good” they said.
And then Jesus had a little word with their leader, Peter – warning him to be strong – that things would be difficult – and that he would pretend not to know Jesus when he was arrested and locked up.
“That’s no good” said Peter. You know me. I’m not like that.
‘Yeah right” said Jesus. Let’s wait and see…

THE GARDEN
So they went out to the garden – because Jesus wanted to pray as he knew things were going to get tricky. “Please keep an eye out here” he said to them “and pray too that you will be strong”.
They fell asleep.
And when he came back and found them sleeping he said:
“That’s no good.”
Well then the one he said would rat on him came down the path leading a crowd of people – and kissed him like a brother.
Peter got mad and pulled out his sword and chopped off a man’s ear – actually he probably missed his head but you know Peter.
“That’s no good” said Jesus. And he fixed the man’s ear.
And they took Jesus away.
“That’s no good” they said.
And Peter was warming himself by a fire outside the jail – and some people said – “you’re with that Jesus in jail. You should be there too!”
“That’s no good” thought Peter.
“Jesus who?” he said to the people.
So they left him alone. Very alone. And a rooster crowed and he felt really bad. Extremely bad.
“That’s no good” said Peter.

PILATE
So they brought him before the Roman chief called Pilate. They lied about him, saying that he did heaps of bad things. And that he was a king. And that he was causing trouble. And trying to overthrow the government.
“That’s no good” said people who knew the truth. He’s actually a good guy who makes people better.
Pilate heard he was from the area called Galilee.
“That’s no good” he said.
Herod looks after those people. He’s the king there. I’ll send him there and see if Herod can make this go away.
He did. He sent Jesus to king Herod. Herod was pretty pleased about this as he’d wanted to see Jesus and find out more about what people said he could do. Like magic stuff.
Jesus said nothing when Herod asked him heaps of questions.
“That’s no good” said Herod in an angry voice. Who do you think you are?
The soldiers dressed Jesus in fancy dress like a king and teased him badly.
Herod sent Jesus back to Pilate.
Pilate was fed-up. He didn’t think Jesus deserved to be killed. But he knew that if he didn’t sort this out there would be riots as the people had turned ugly. He would then be in trouble with his boss in Italy.
The mob kept crying for Jesus’ blood.
“That’s no good” he said.
So he set another evil man free – Abbas’ boy – who was a terrorist – he set HIM free to please the crowds – which he liked to do at Passover.
And Pilate sent Jesus to be killed. And his friends and family said;
‘That’s no good!”

THE CROSS
So they made Jesus carry this heavy cross. He was already pretty messed up because they had whipped him till be bled.
And he stumbled and fell. And the Roman soldiers in charge said:
“That’s no good.” We’ll never get home for tea.
So they found a random bloke from Africa and made him carry the cross behind Jesus.
And they banged nails into his hands and feet and raised up his cross on the hill.
And it was hard for Jesus to breath – he had to push down on his feet to keep his lungs open.
And he looked at all those people he loved – the ones who nailed him, the one who ratted on him, the one who said “Jesus who?” and the ones who yelled out “kill Jesus!”
“That’s no good” He thought.
‘Father in heaven – forgive them because they have really lost it,” – he called out as he prayed.
He saw his mum there, tears streaming down her face. And his best friend he loved so much.
“That’s no good” he thought. This is terrible for them too.
“Mom” he called out “John can be your boy! John mate – look after mum like your mum! Please John!”
And the bad guys nailed up there on their crosses next to Jesus were wondering what this was all about. This was Jesus the good guy suffering and dying with them.
The one yelled at Jesus – “hey you could fix this mess!”
But the other said:
“That’s no good.”
He shouldn’t be here with us. Please remember me when you are a real king one day!
Righto – said Jesus. You’ll be there with me!
“Sweet as” said the man, wondering a bit how that would work – but pretty pleased to be included anyway. The other bad guy said: “that’s no good.”

THE DEATH
So it got dark at midday – which was strange since the sun was usually really bright by then. Pitch dark – dark dark – for three hours.
Pretty spooky really.
And Jesus called out: “Father, I place my life into your hands!”
And he died.
And the people who loved him so, so much cried loudly: “That’s no good!”
And a kind and generous man with his friend wondered what they would do with his cold limp body. So they got permission to bury him in a new grave in the meantime. It was the day of rest as the sun went down. They could not clean him up – but they did wrap him in cloths – like his mum did when he was a baby.
So they did their best and put him in the grave – which was like a cave.
His other friends – with sore hearts – watched and waited.
This big boulder – a huge stone – was rolled in front of the door of the tomb.
And when they went home for the Sabbath celebration, he was dead and alone.

(EASTER SUNDAY)
Until the Sunday morning.
God looked down on the cemetery and said to himself:
“That’s no good.”

Sunday message 28 February 2016 (Lent 3) – Choices

Readings: Isaiah 55:1-9; Luke 13:1-9

Sermon

There are some questions that have clear undisputed answers. Like who won last year’s FA cup. Whether we like the winning team or not, we can’t argue with the truth. And which flag will win the referendum? An open question now – but after the poll closes, it will be clear and certain.

There are some choices we make that are simple too. What to eat for breakfast? They’re not earth shattering life changing matters.Then there are those complex ones. Grey areas. Moral choices say in war.

And questions that involve faith – what we believe – like the one about loving your neighbour as yourself. As Christians we believe it’s true.

Jesus had difficult choices at his temptations. We looked at those the other day. They were real options – although judging by the looks on some of your faces, you weren’t convinced that they were. He really could have turned rocks into bread and was considering it. Think of the choices you make when you are hungry. In the fridge or at the takeaway.

His disciples had choices – like how to deal with people who did Jesus’ type things but weren’t part of their team. Remember how they wanted to be like Elijah – and call down fire from heaven on one lot who did not welcome Jesus? (Luke 9:54 – Samaritans less than thrilled he was going to Jerusalem).

Most of our challenging choices where we fail are to do with how we treat people – how we judge them.

The people in the two tragedies Jesus refers to today would have been judged by people. Surely if they were good people those things should not have happened. (In John 9:2 the debate about the blind man and sin is an example of the view of the day. Joh 9:1  As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth.  Joh 9:2  His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Interesting that that man was sent to wash in the pool of Siloam – where the tower fell.)

And then your attitude to authorities that do bad things – like Pilate. Or Herod whom we talked about last week. It’s easy to become enraged. Pilate murdered pilgrims from Galilee in the temple in Jerusalem. It would be like killing people in church. It happens a lot in parts of Africa where there are terrorist groups. It happened in South Africa in Cape Town – people were shot dead in church.

It’s easy to be enraged. And people were probably telling Jesus these stories about injustices by those in authority, and tragedies because of failed health and safety systems and building codes. (Did you hear about that Jesus?) Perhaps they were expecting him to judge the people too –  they must have been bad to deserve that.

  • How we respond a choice.
  • Forgiveness is also a choice.

Anything that depends on emotions – well we’re done for.

We do the same thing today as we judge categories of people. Well maybe you don’t… But some do.

  • To the unemployed (what’s wrong with them?)
  • Mentally ill (they should pull themselves together)
  • The sick (they’re weak or sinners – a classic bible view cf. John 9:2)
  • Prisoners (they’ve only got themselves to blame).

Jesus says to them:

Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? (Luke 13:2-4)

What are we to do? What’s the correct response?

Unless we repent – says Jesus – twice in vss. 3 and 5: Luk 13:5  I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

Be careful about the moral choices you make – the judgmental ones. You’re on shaky ground.Repentance is an ongoing turning away from self and sin. From self obsession.

The rest of the passage is equally challenging for us – about that fig tree. In a nutshell – you don’t want to be like a fruit tree that is a waste of space. In time you could be cut down. Be careful how you judge. Are you bearing fruit appropriate to being a Christ follower?

We’re not here except by God’s grace to bear good fruit for him. The fruits of the spirit are a great place to start.

Patience, kindness, goodness are a good place to begin when you see the plight of others. And always – love.

To go back to the people killed in the temple, or in churches today, or when the tower fell.

There’s a thing called survivor guilt in tragedies. Person number 19 under the tower that fell would have felt bad that he made it and the others did. Why me? To bear fruit of course. Anyone who survived Pilate’s massacre in the temple – survivor guilt.

It’s been suggested there is also a survivor’s arrogance or presumption.

  • Because I made it I must be good. Worth more. Righteous.
  • Because I am successful, healthy, free etc.

The Gospel requires repentance – change in thinking about what really matters and about how we are rescued from our mess.

  • It’s not because of us.
  • We are not more deserving.
  • It’s through him. Through Christ.
  • And we need to be useful. Fruitful.

The parable is in our face really. The tree has sat around for three years. It’s given one more year to do what it is supposed to, or it gets the chop.

Lent realities

If you take Lent seriously – self-examination is at the heart of things.

The Shrove Tuesday thing – all those words for repentance – being sorry, apologizing, shriving (cleansing), admitting, being pardoned, being acquitted, absolution, mercy. Remember the word chart we built on the white board?

They are part of the pruning – and the fertilizer is needed too – for growth to come. Digging and dung is involved. The gardener will “dig around it” or “throw dung at it”.

Augustine was clear on the symbolic importance of manure: “[It] is a sign of humility.” (DANIEL G. DEFFENBAUGH Bartlett, David L.; Barbara Brown Bartlett (2009-10-12). Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 2: Lent through Eastertide (Kindle Location 3438). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.)

The best story I heard was a talk on this passage where the speaker spoke about his father who was a pastor who in his retirement was often an interim pastor in churches. We call it “transitional ministries” today. You know when you need someone at the end of a ministry to help the church find its way for the future – often whether there is a future at all. He says this passage was one of his dad’s favourites.

He showed up at a church that was particularly difficult and conflicted (he was Lutheran I hasten to add) and told the congregation at his opening sermon:

“I’m going to be here for a little while and I’ll spread a little manure and see if you grow… and if you don’t….” An open ended statement.

It takes the issue seriously the mission of Jesus and our purpose as a church – and it’s all about growth. Our growth as individuals and as a family welcoming new people in to know Jesus better.

Bearing fruit. Changing. Making good choices like Jesus.

The fruit of repentance that John the Baptist was keen to see. He too said he had an axe.

To end – a reflection by a writer on repentance and manure. Smelly stuff that it can be.

Here we find the essence of repentance: the faithful affirmation that “while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). The manure around our roots is the very blood of the one who pleads for our justification before God, the one through whom we may offer up the fruits of the kingdom to our Creator. Lent is the season of metanoia, but our sanctifying acts of penance are nothing unless we are able to claim as our own the very humility of Christ, who “did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave,… [who] humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:6–8).  (DANIEL G. DEFFENBAUGH Bartlett, David L.; Barbara Brown Bartlett (2009-10-12). Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 2: Lent through Eastertide (Kindle Location 3438). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.)

Humility. Obedience. Surrender. Lifting our hands (“hands up!”) is a sign of surrender – and we do that in worship. Like Jesus did as recorded in Philippians 2. We are emptied too.

Amen.

Sunday sermon 10 May 2015 – Rejoicing in our sufferings?

Reading: Romans 5:1-11 (NRSV)

Rom 5:1  Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, Rom 5:2  through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. Rom 5:3  And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, Rom 5:4  and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, Rom 5:5  and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. Rom 5:6  For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Rom 5:7  Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. Rom 5:8  But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Rom 5:9  Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. Rom 5:10  For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. Rom 5:11  But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Sermon:

Rom 5:3  And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, Rom 5:4  and endurance produces character, and character produces hope… (New revised standard version)

Rom 5:3  Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; Rom 5:4  perseverance, character; and character, hope. (New International Version)

I recall when our first anniversary in ministry came along here in Browns Bay – it seems just the other day. We’ve just started our 5th year here. How time rolls along! Not the easiest years really. People we have grown to love have moved on – by choice, by transfer, and through death. The saddest times have been when dear people of the family here die. I still expect some of their faces to appear around the corner here on a Sunday morning. I struggle with that – such lovely men and women of God. And after nearly thirty years of ministry there are so many faces I remember – wonderful saints who taught me much – some through encouragement and others like sandpaper. I have a book actually called “the sandpaper people!” They are there to teach us. (And of course the Lord over the years has also sent many who are new brothers and sisters in the church family – who are an amazing source of encouragement and love as well.)

All this is to be expected – this dying. Some of you will die too.  Of course we all will. I remember a friend who was  a youth pastor when ministering in a retirement home decided to preach on heaven – and told the residents: “you’d better sort your life out – you’ll be getting there sooner than me!”. He’s now a missionary in a challenging nation – with his family – living a great life of faith and courage – and much more at risk than his hearers in the local retirement home.

And with the process of dying, of course, is the lack of dignity in a failing body – and the awful business of suffering. Somehow there seems to be more suffering than before. Not only in our lives, but on a greater scale around the world. Our sufferings seem to pale into insignificance when we see the persecuted church – including the images on television and the internet of people being lined up for execution (Christians and others) – being lined up to be murdered – which reminds me of Paul’s words later in Romans:  Rom 8:36  As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

Of course Paul understood suffering – listen to this from 2 Corinthians: 2 Cor 11:24  Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 2 Cor 11:25  Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 2 Cor 11:26  I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. 2 Cor 11:27  I have laboured and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 2 Cor 11:28  Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.  

So Paul is writing to the Roman church (believers who had to live out their faith in the face of persecution by ruthless Roman governors and soldiers), and much to our amazement he says this in Romans 5:3  Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings…

Wait a minute Paul – rejoice? Well we are at the mercy of translators here – this is not a cheerful rejoicing – as if we are happy when suffering. Neither do we seek suffering. Our testimonies in church should not sound like this – “ if you think you’re suffering, listen to my story this week!” like old soldiers talking about war wounds (of course most of them don’t as we have seen through this ANZAC time of remembrance).

What does Paul mean about “rejoicing” in our sufferings? (If we read the NIV rejoice is the word used.) It’s a difficult word he uses – it also means to “glory” or to “boast”. And all of them in English are tricky. He uses it in this famous passage in Ephesians 2:8-9

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.

 We feel uncomfortable with the idea of boasting in our sufferings too.  In another place in 2 Corinthians Paul uses the word a number of times. I know this sounds laborious but the last verse is helpful. The discussion is about competition between preachers – and itinerant preachers taking credit for Paul’s work and speaking badly of him – questioning his credentials in his work with the Corinthian church..

 2Co 10:13  We, however, will not boast beyond proper limits, but will confine our boasting to the field God has assigned to us, a field that reaches even to you.2Co 10:14  We are not going too far in our boasting, as would be the case if we had not come to you, for we did get as far as you with the gospel of Christ. 2Co 10:15  Neither do we go beyond our limits by boasting of work done by others. Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our area of activity among  you will greatly expand, 2Co 10:16  so that we can preach the gospel in the regions beyond you. For we do not want to boast about work already done in another man’s territory. 2Co 10:17  But, “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”

And in Galatians six he says this: Gal 6:14  May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

So back to our sufferings. What does it mean to rejoice in them – to glory – to boast in them?

I think it means to acknowledge, with gratitude, that God knows what He is doing – that He is a sovereign God (Lord=King) – and that we can trust him to use our sufferings to His great glory.

Which is the direction Romans 5 takes us when we read the next verses. Listen to the passage in the New Revised Standard version:

Rom 5:1  Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, Rom 5:2  through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. Rom 5:3  And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, Rom 5:4  and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, Rom 5:5  and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

It’s rich in its scope of outlining what Jesus has done for us.

  • We are Justified (made righteous – a legal acquittal) by faith.
  • He dies for us (Romans 5:6-8). Jesus died and received our death sentence. Like Maximilian Colbe,  the priest who gave his life for another in a Nazi concentration camp – offering to die in place of a man with a family when he had none.
  • We have peace with God. Our hostility is ended – and his wrath is appeased – so there is peace. The prince of peace has done this.
  • Access to this grace in which we stand. Access – like your pin number – gets you into the place where there is power to act – to draw your money, go into your house, do things that you don’t have access to without authority.  We have access into this grace IN WHICH WE STAND. It’s a position of grace – and an access to God himself in prayer, to his promises and his gifts. We also read about access in Ephesians 2:17-19: 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. It’s also like John 1:12 – a verse I often refer to about our rights in God through faith: Joh 1:12  Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—Joh 1:13  children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

We have a lot to talk about! A lot to rejoice in! A lot to boast about. Plus this verse (the end of verse 2):

  • and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.

This is the key verse. Our first boasting (or rejoicing) is in this – our hope of sharing the glory of God.

What is this then? One commentator puts it like this:

The basis of this pride in God, the hope of the glory of God, is almost certainly not the present glory of the believer (seen in Joh_17:22; Rom_8:30; 1Co_11:7; Heb_2:10; 1Pe_4:14) but the final glory that will be ours at the eschaton (Rom_8:17-18; Rom_8:21; Eph_1:18; Col_1:27). Our hope, as in verses Rom_5:4, Rom_5:5 and Rom_8:20, Rom_8:24 is a glorious trust in and anticipation of the promises God has given regarding the future. In light of this, Cranfield ([1975] p. 260) calls the glory of God “that illumination of man’s whole being by the radiance of the divine glory which is man’s true destiny but which was lost through sin, as it will be restored … when man’s redemption is finally consummated at the parousia of Jesus Christ.” The hope that every sacrifice will be rewarded is the basis for the Christian life with its mandate to live separately from the world; for every earthly glory surrendered, God will recompense an eternal glory (Mat_6:19-21; Mar_10:29-31). (Grant Osborne – IVP New Testament Commentary series). (Note: eschaton and parousia refer to the last day and Christ’s coming again.)

So when we get to verse 3, the boasting continues, logically, in the face of suffering – here it is in both translations:

NIV Rom 5:3  Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; Rom 5:4  perseverance, character; and character, hope. Rom 5:5  And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

 NKJV Rom 5:3  And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, Rom 5:4  and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, Rom 5:5  and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

This is really important: We are not saved by grace through faith, acquitted, reconciled, brought into a new position of peace with access to the Father and His resources, to sit back and wait for Jesus to come again or take us home in death. Tom Wright’s great question is relevant here: What do we do in the meantime?

I would say this: we are recruited into the army of God – with a mission to share the Good News of the Kingdom which has completely different values – and to which we commit ourselves.

The 100th anniversary of the outset of World War 1 is a stark reminder of the sacrifices we make in war. For Christians who really follow Jesus – all hell this thrown at us just as it was in Jesus’ ministry. Read Ephesians 6 again on the spiritual battle we face!

From his Baptism onward Jesus was under attack – the temptations were just the beginning.

Paul makes it clear: suffering produces endurance, Rom 5:4  and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, Rom 5:5  and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. 

In addition, Jesus’ life of compassion and love, healing and cleansing lives from the power of darkness, ended on a cross. He knew suffering, endurance producing character – and character producing hope, hope which does not disappoint. He knew the love of God through the spirit – affirming him as a beloved son – and he knew the reality of the cup of suffering – he prayed in the garden for it to be taken away – but still endured – “not my will but yours be done” shows amazing endurance and courage. The writer to the Hebrews describes Jesus suffering like this:

Heb 5:7  During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Heb 5:8  Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered Heb 5:9  and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him…

A story now to end about endurance – endurance is key in this process of character development and coping with (glorying in) our suffering.

Listen to a story of this man’s life: When he was seven years old, his family was forced out of their home on a legal technicality, and he had to work to help support them. At age nine, his mother died. At 22, he lost his job as a store clerk. He wanted to go to law school, but his education wasn’t good enough. At 23, he went into debt to become a partner in a small store. At 26, his business partner died, leaving him a huge debt that took years to repay. At 28, after courting a girl for four years, he asked her to marry him. She said no. Now endurance is endurance, but you’d think this guy would know when to give up. But he didn’t.

At 37, after two defeats, he was elected to Congress. Two years later, he tried for re-election and was defeated again. At 41, his four-year-old son died. At 45, he ran for the Senate and … he lost. At 47, he failed as candidate for vice-president of the United States. At 49, he ran for the Senate again, and lost. At 51, he was elected president of the United States. His name, of course, was Abraham Lincoln, a man many consider the greatest leader this country ever had.

Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us (vss 4-5).

Don’t be discouraged! Hope in God! Trust Him! Believe Him!

Rejoice – glory – boast in the Cross of Christ. He did all that for you!

Amen!

 

Sunday sermon 3 February 2013 – Cliffs and crosses

Sermon

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

Luke 4:21-30

1 Corinthians 13

13 If I speak in the tonguesof men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 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. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames,but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. 12 Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Luke 4:

21 and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.

23 Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself! Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’”

24 “I tell you the truth,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 25 I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27 And there were many in Israel with leprosy[a] in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”

28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff. 30 But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.

Message

It would be easy today to talk about love. That ‘nice’ type of reflection that you often hear at weddings about love – being patient and kind. It’s the soft reflective route and the outcome can be a warm fuzzy feeling. The truth is that soon after a wedding the gloves are off as people try to resolve their differences of opinion.

It is a strange combination – this passage on love and the gospel reading where the people of Jesus’ own home town try to murder him by throwing him off a cliff.

The bigger picture is a massive battle – which is reflected in the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness.

It’s a battle for truth.

Last week you would have heard the first part of the reading from Luke 4 – Jesus explaining that the prophetic word from Isaiah referred to him.

The story continues today as Jesus declares: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

They love it! Verse 22 tells us “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.”

After the people rave – why doesn’t he just take the complements and move on! No. He has to get stuck into them.  He has to bring truth out into the open. Listen to his sermon:

23 Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself! Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’”

24 “I tell you the truth,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 25 I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27 And there were many in Israel with leprosy[a] in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”

In short – you are not the most important people in the world. Even in Elijah’s and Elisha’s  time God reached those outside of the family! Outside of Israel! In that time he touched the lives of Gentiles! Those outside the family of God. That did not go down well!

Luke continues:

28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff. 30 But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.

Humanity’s self-righteousness perfectly displayed. And before any of the encounters of faith, the healings, the miracles and all his teachings still to come, Jesus was on the road to the cross.

The gloves were off. Satan tried to derail him from the beginning. And when he resisted the temptations thrown his way, Satan used religious people to try to kill him. Nothing subtle there.

I came back to work on Wednesday after some leave where I stepped out of the rush.

Let me tell you something about the ministry – it’s like a battle field. In fact the battles I face are on-going. In the depths of my toughest moments I am really just being a follower of Jesus. The moment you take him and his message seriously, your own sin and failure looms to the fore. And of course Satan – the accuser – uses people to tell you that you are hopeless and useless. If Satan is at work in the world – he is surely the father of lies (John 8:44) who through adults who should know better and through bullies of all ages tells children especially that they will never amount to anything. Lucky for me as an adult I don’t have to be shaped by what people say about me.

Before I make a claim to be a preacher and a pastor, with all the risks that involves, I am first and foremost just a a follower of Jesus. I’m on the road to the cross.

Are you really a follower of Jesus? The road to the cross is the only one. Jesus was on that road from his baptism – through the temptations in the wilderness, through the attempt to get rid of him by his own people at Nazareth, through every encounter of opposition and every demonic manifestation – every trick questions and the lies that people told about him at his trial – Jesus was always on the road to the cross.

And we are no different. When speak the truth people don’t particularly like it. And truth leads to all kinds of interesting reactions. If they try to throw Jesus – their own boy – off a cliff, anything is possible. There will always be risk and opposition.

Jesus had a temporary victory but they would try again. From a human point of view it was always going to end in disaster on Calvary. But Jesus – still empowered by the Holy Spirit – stands firm. Well it says this: 30 But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.

THE TRUTH TODAY ABOUT THE HEART OF GOD FOR THE LOST

People still don’t like the truth today. We all justify ourselves – defend themselves. We argue about things that challenge our presuppositions.

This truth today – that God is still more interested in people out there than us – is offensive to many! If it’s not true – why did Jesus say this:

Luk 15:4  “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?

Luk 15:5  And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders

Luk 15:6  and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbours together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’

Luk 15:7  I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

Yes you heard it. More rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than the 99 of us today.

Of course it may well be that some of us need to repent too! But you know what I mean! Luke records the words of Jesus elsewhere:

Luk_19:10  “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”

Our mission this year involves this concern – this passion – to find a way to reach out into this community.

There will always be those who say that we need to look after our own first. That’s pastoral care and it’s a very significant part of our work.

Our home groups are part of that strategy – and our pastoral concerns team works really hard to care for many people.

If love does anything – it will drive us to face the truth – and continue the work of Jesus. God’s love that we receive is here to share and give away.

We will not reach the whole world. We won’t reach the whole community.

But we will endeavour to find out where God wants us to work and do that as part of our Mission. That is God’s heart – for those who need His love who are not here in the church.

In the meantime – we too need the full power of the Holy Spirit to keep us from being derailed – or thrown off our own particular cliffs!

It is the Holy Spirit who touches our hearts to give us God’s heart – a heart for those who are like lost sheep today.

It is the Holy Spirit who brings us to that point where we count everything else as loss – where we die to self – where we walk this walk to the cross ourselves. In the words of the song we will close with:

Everything I once held dear, I count it all as loss

Lead me to the cross, where your Love poured out, bring me to my knees, Lord I lay me down, Rid me of myself, I belong to you, Oh lead me, lead me to the cross.

Amen.