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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 13 July – the parable of the Sower

READINGS:

Isaiah 55: 10-13; Matthew 13: 1-9, 18-23

SERMON

So another of those parables – nice stories that Jesus told – here we go again, you may say. I’ve heard it all before.

Watch this VIDEO and you will remember I think:

We know all this. We preach the good news – share the story – and so many people just don’t stay the distance!

Here’s a scarier video which our kids watched in church:

When I asked them about the lesson from this version of the parable one bright lad said: “Don’t be a seed!” I love kids!

Either way, the interpretation provides an excellent sermon outline, of several points:

1) Seed that falls on the path — when the word is heard, but not really understood.

2) Seed that falls on rocky ground — when the word is received with initial enthusiasm, but without the putting-down of roots through regular devotional practice.

3) Seed that falls among weeds — when temptations choke out faith.

4) Seed that falls on good soil and thrives.

Isn’t this the parable of the sower? We know all this!

Can’t we learn a lesson about agriculture here? Or at least apply the principles to the Christian life or the church? In fact – if we see it as a parable about the success and failure of the church – then it can be a useful way of explaining why we are not always successful. The early church would have found it useful in understanding what was happening when people turned away.

  • The preacher is the sower
  • His sermons are good or bad seeds? Well one has to assume they are Kingdom seeds…
  • And if he fails – well is it not something to do with the people who listen. It must be their fault, surely?

You can see where that goes. It can be used to justify why people don’t believe. The modern world is very bad and “the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it (the message or word of the preacher), making it unfruitful.” Of course all of that is partly true.

Parables are interesting though. Most parables are not simple stories – as if Jesus were speaking to poor illiterate Galileans or rural folk with stories because they’re easy. They’re actually quite challenging – most are not explained at all. The word “parable” literally means that which is thrown alongside other things – thus creating the possibility of a comparison. The listeners had to come to their own conclusions usually.

And that’s probably a good description about preaching generally – the individual takes something from it and hopefully takes it to heart. It’s not just the exchange of information. Its God speaking – amazingly even through me – into other lives. And like a hose pipe over a bunch of people – different people get wet from different drops of water.

SO WHAT ABOUT THIS ONE?

What’s it mean? What’s it really about? Is there something we are missing here?

  • It’s a story – a parable about soils! Yet it is still called the parable of the sower!
  • And of course it’s also a very funny story! It’s a classic TUI advert. A farmer would say at the end when Jesus says: “He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown” – Yeah right! A good return would have been five fold. Or it could be a Specsavers ad – did he count right? – did he not mean 10, 6 or 3 times what was sown?
  • The story has a strange and almost unbelievable abundance thrown in to this account – when this works it really does work! Yay farmer! Yay sower! Yay soil!
  • But there is also a recklessness about the sower. If it is really about the sower – and the sower is actually God – then surely he lacks some insight into agriculture. He seems to chuck the seed in strange places – why the path for example? Why amongst thorns? Why waste precious seed?There is a strange risk-taking and almost wastage of the seed that perhaps speaks to us of the Sower’s character?

IF IT’S JUST ABOUT SOIL Then we could all simply thank God for the seed and praise ourselves for being good soil. Reminds me of another story about a self-righteous man praying at the temple. But it’s more complicated than that too. Even if you have good soil – and the seed – there are other things required – water, nurture, provision of fertilizer and resilience in a storm. It’s not just about the soil.

You can see how a parable can cause you to wrestle with the possibilities. The LISTENERS would have only heard the story – and would be scratching their heads too. The disciples privately get the explanation or interpretation which gives us the broader view:

The path – if it does not take root the evil one snatches the seed away

Now another person is included – the Devil

Rocky ground – the ground is shallow and the plant doesn’t take root, and it fails when trouble and persecution come along

This would have made sense to the early church

The thorns – well that’s about the man who hears the message but worries of this life and particularly the deceitfulness of wealth make it unfruitful

This especially makes sense to us – but the desire for wealth is not new!

  • Jesus – speaking 2000 years ago – also told his listeners “you cannot love God and a wealth” (or mammon).
  • Paul – to Timothy –reminds him that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10)

The good soil. Well nothing is said about resisting the evil one, persevering in troubled times and when persecuted – and not worrying about life’s troubles or not being tempted by wealth. It simply says – the good soil is about this – well let me quote verse 23: But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it.

He or she hears the word and understands it! The penny drops. Why?

Well it’s all to do with who the sower is.  Where your inner life comes from. And the sower is Jesus – or God. Because it’s a parable about the Kingdom. And that means a completely different understanding of the point of life altogether!

It’s not about the church. Like the pastors’ sermon title joke which goes like this: “Be good soil, and give us your money” and she’ll be right!

It’s about listening to the parable the way you should – without the interpretation in the second part. Remember that the disciples only got the details afterwards.

Michael Green in his book “Matthew for today” suggests that listening to the parable is like looking at yourself in a mirror and asking – what is happening in my life? Is God’s Word bouncing off me like the seeds on the path? And so on… You get the point.

If it is a mirror – then what are you seeing when you hear this – is the word of God been eaten by birds in your life? Or is it growing in you? How do you cope with what people say about this Kingdom word that is changing the way you see things? Has your life become too wordly? Have you compromised for the sake of reputation too?

And what about the temptation to obsess over the things of this life – and especially wealth? Remember it’s the deceitfulness of wealth that’s the issue? It tricks you into letting it grow in your heart?

Or do you get it? Do you understand?  Is the Kingdom of God coming alive in your life?

You’ll suddenly find a new appreciation for a different kind of fruitfulness.

And as I said to a colleague yesterday while we were mopping up water after our flood here –  and the meditation group was trying a new kind of bible meditation (while working) –

What if we are really all of those soils? That they represent different times of our lives? And that we are at risk of becoming hard ground – like a path, or shallow ground – like the rocky soil. I certainly know that we veer towards the soil with weeds that choke us – temptation for accumulating worldly wealth can come along at any stage in life.

Another friend and I were talking about this on Friday morning. You know you can set out in life with the wrong priorities – wanting to accumulate worldly wealth – or you can get obsessed with it later when you are running out of working years and the pressure to have a retirement plan builds.

“… but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it (the seed), making it unfruitful.”

Are you and I really fruitful in God’s Kingdom? Great question.

Let this parable challenge you too!

Amen!

 

Prayer For The Day 

Prepare our hearts, O God, to accept your word.
Fertilize the soil with your Spirit.
Cultivate it with your presence.
Water it with your love.
But, more than that, help us accept responsibility
to be active listeners,
opening our hearts before you. Amen.

 

 

Sunday sermon 17 February – The temptations of Jesus

The Temptations of Jesus

Luke 4:1-13

4 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.

The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone.’[a]

The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’[b]

The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. 10 For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you
to guard you carefully;
11 they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’[
c]

12 Jesus answered, “It says: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’[d]

13 When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.

Footnotes:

  1. Luke 4:4 Deut. 8:3
  2. Luke 4:8 Deut. 6:13
  3. Luke 4:11 Psalm 91:11,12
  4. Luke 4:12 Deut. 6:16

 

Sunday Message

There are two Adams in the Bible. And the comparison between the two is a very helpful way of looking at the story of God’s rescue plan of the world. The Christian story.

In Luke’s gospel – in the previous chapter – there is a fascinating verse which gets us thinking again today about the two Adams. Luke outlines the genealogy of Jesus – his family tree – after the account of his baptism, and ends with this verse, verse 38: 38 the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.

  • Adam – the first Adam – the son of God.
  • Jesus – the second or last Adam – the son of God.  (1 Corinthians 15:54)

It doesn’t take much to figure out what the main difference is between these two! It’s in how they respond to the devil’s temptation.

THE TEMPTATIONS

Funny that we don’t always take them seriously – in the sense that we are NOT the son of God so we assume that the temptations Jesus faced were unique to him.

Good news, or bad news if you like – we are sons of Adam by birth and nature. The same stuff comes at us, but in different ways. So let’s look at the passage today.

Temptation 1 – Serving Self.

Luke 4:  Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”

This is very close to home. The first temptation involves food. That pretty much settles things doesn’t it? Standing before the fridge at odd hours we have a new incentive to lock the door (of the fridge I mean). In the country where I came from you could lock your fridge which is not a bad thing if you have midnight raiders!

This temptation comes to Jesus at a time of extreme hunger. And one has to be sympathetic.

On Tuesday at our morning worship (See http://wp.me/p2bTnS-7f ) I shared about the three assumptions Jesus made when he spoke to his followers in Matthew 6 – when you give, when you pray and when you fast! We did not do a survey about who actually fasts as the congregation believes me usually – and the passage told us not to tell anyone!

But I know it’s not common! We hardly skip meals. Can you imagine what Jesus went through?

But this is about more than the food. The temptation to make food from rocks is only a symptom.

At his first day at work, in a sense, Jesus is tempted to use his power to serve his own needs.

Later on the cross he would be tempted in a similar way by the voices who taunted him by saying:   “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.” (Luke 23:35).

Of course it didn’t stop there. The soldiers:  “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” (Luke 25:36). And one of the criminals hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39).

It’s about using your power to serve your own needs.

We have different power available in our lives. Resources, time, money are all forms of empowerment. Perhaps the temptation of Greed is related to this problem that we have – we could easily use our resources not to please ourselves but to be a blessing to the needy and poor.

We have power in the organisations we work in or serve in. The classic adult bully abuses that power in a self- serving way. Positive influence on the other hand is a blessing to others!

Many things we influence in the church are actually not about others but about ourselves. That’s the truth. The temptation is to serve ourselves.

The dialogue in the text today goes like this:

The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone.’[a] 

Of course he was quoting Deuteronomy 8:3

He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

Jesus resists this temptation because he knows his bible – which teaches that life comes from God in the fullest sense. Only the real life we have in God makes us fully alive! (song from NW)

We are fooled in thinking that getting our own way satisfies.

The story continues in the second temptation:

Temptation 2 –  The temptation to take control through compromising true worship.

For Jesus is was a stark choice:

The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendour, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours.”

It would have been so easy to embrace the expectations of the people and become a political Messiah. Military and civil power – the power to rule and control the nations – is a great temptation. It could be achieved by a brief moment of worshipping Satan.

Like the turning of stones into bread – it’s another short cut option.

I’ve already talked a little about our abuse use of power.

So many of our temptations are about short cuts bringing instant gratification.

And of course the Kingdom Jesus was ushering in was quite different from political hopes the locals had. It was about a long hard obedience to a new set of truths and assumptions about life.

  • Is this a real temptation?
  • Was Jesus REALLY tempted to worship the Devil?
  • And are we?

I’m not going to try to answer those questions. I’d rather point you to a key verse in the Bible:

Hebrews 4:15  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.

And behind this saga in the narrative is the same command that applies to all human beings:

Exodus 20:3  “You shall have no other gods before me.

Power and worship are close allies. It’s about the things that capture our hearts! We are dealing here with Jesus who became fully human.

We need to be so very careful here, because we know that the stuff of this world doesn’t really satisfy. Two illustrations help here. The first is by the 17th century French Philosopher Blaise Pascal:

“What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in humanity a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This we try in vain to fill with everything around us, seeking in things that are not there the help we cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God alone.”
Blaise Pascal, Pensee 10.148.

And then more well-known perhaps from Augustine the 4th century African bishop of Hippo, the modern city of Annaba, in Algeria:

“You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you.”
St. Augustine, Confessions 1.1.1

It’s the on-going temptation to seek fulfillment in things and from other sources.

Worship is about what we give worth too – what captures our hearts and imaginations. And we are very vulnerable to this idolatry.

Temptation 3 – The third but not final temptation – a cross-avoiding spectacle

And so we come to the third one. It would have been much easier to perform a stunt. Listen again:

The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. 10 For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you
to guard you carefully;
11 they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’[
c]

12 Jesus answered, “It says: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’[d]

A couple of things come to mind here. The misuse of the Bible – how easy it is to abuse scripture.

  • Again the short cuts of wanting instant results.
  • But especially the avoidance of the cross.

Most real achievement comes with long hard commitment and courage. The cross required that in the extreme.

We too should not test God (I am not sure if we do take huge risks though). It’s probably the most difficult temptation to get our heads around and to apply to our lives.

SOME CONCLUSIONS AND SOLUTIONS

I think in all of them there is a FAITH as TRUST issue here. Jesus had to trust His Father fully. So what about us?

  • Do we really believe that God’s way is best for us?
  • Do WE want to force His hand?
  • Are there things we don’t really trust Him for?

LET’S WATCH THIS PRESENTATION OF THE TEMPTATIONS BY CHILDREN – it will give us some insights into the problem and some solutions. It may make this sermon more memorable.

WATCH VIDEO:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ntnvr5sbl04

I loved the hamburger thrown in. Typical kids. But the “on my knees” theme is the key! The song grabbed my attention – as did the Lord’s prayer reminder.

The chorus in the song: On my knees! I am on my knees! I’m on my knees!

  • Prayer is at the heart of our victory against temptation.
  • We pray better when we know our Bibles!
  • When we’ve been on our knees (literally or not – it means devoting time to prayer) then the decisions when on our feet through the day become so much simpler. The power of the Holy Spirit applying the Word of God to our lives means that like Paul we can say: “But we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 2:16 )

So for your encouragement, read this passage which helps press on and not give up:

Hebrews 4:14-16:  Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Amen.