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Sunday Sermon 11 October 2015 — Sons and daughters of encouragement

Readings

Heb 10:19- 36; Acts 11: 19- 30  Matthew 13: 18-23

Message

Stephen – the first Christian martyr – is killed (Acts 7:54-60) .Stoned to death. And the young man called Saul (not yet called Paul) is there approving of his murder. (v 60).

And persecution follows on a wider scale (Acts 8:1-3) We pick this up in Luke’s account in Acts 11:

  • Act 11:19  Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen travelled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews.
  • Act 11:20  Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus.

Antioch is the place where the disciples are first called Christians (Acts 11:26) It’s where the good news is shared with Greeks.

And the news is really great. People come to faith – non-Jews. Listen again:

  • Act 11:21  The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.
  • Act 11:22  News of this reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch.
  • Act 11:23  When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.
  • Act 11:24  He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord

Who do they send? Barnabus – the son of encouragement. What a good person to have doing a Presbytery visit. We find out more about Barnabus – key things that are a lesson for us.

Remember a couple of weeks ago when we talked about Barnabus selling his field and bringing the money to the apostles to help those in need in the church? The reference was Acts 4:36-37, and I quoted a preacher and commentator Lloyd Ogilvie who said this:

In two brief verses we are introduced to one of the most admirable personalities of the New Testament. If all we had to enable us to know this man’s character were these two verses, we’d still have enough to stand in admiration and then desire to be like him.

Well I promised more about Barnabus – today’s the day:-)

Barnabus is thrilled with what he sees in Antioch. What does he do? He fetches Saul (whom we know as Paul) from Tarsus.

What you may know is that this son of encouragement had encountered Saul earlier.

After Saul’s conversion on the road to Damascus, he shows up in the Christian community. (Acts 9)

You can imagine their suspicions of him – Saul persecuted them and is now a Christian preacher. Here’s the story from Acts 9:20 when Paul arrives in Damascus and after Ananias prays for him and the scales fall off his eyes (he was temporarily blinded on the road) and he is baptised:

  • Act 9:20  At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God.
  • Act 9:21  All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?”
  • Act 9:22  Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ.

The story is hectic. Some Jews plot to kill him. But he is smuggled out of the city in a basket through an opening in the wall (Acts 9:25). You can see the early Ian Fleming novels beginning here (the author of James Bond!).

He goes to Jerusalem. There too the Christians are less than thrilled to have him around. (Trust issues don’t you think? You get this in all organisations and in families.)

Guess who shows up and rescues his reputation – saving the day for the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom principles of truth and grace? Barnabus of course. We read in Acts 9:27 and 28:

  • Act 9:27  But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus.
  • Act 9:28  So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord.

Barnabus the encourager – filled with the spirit of truth – stands for truth – advocating for Saul (or Paul as he becomes known).

It doesn’t last long though. We read in Acts 9:29 – He talked and debated with the Grecian Jews, but they tried to kill him. So they get him out of there and off to Tarsus his home town.

So here it is – in overview. Barnabus, the son of encouragement:

  • Barnabus the one who listens to the Holy Spirit and liquidates an asset to help the church – so that there are no needy people among them.
  • Barnabus who advocates for Paul the converted persecutor.
  • Barnabus who is sent to Antioch to check out this new multicultural church – and who fetches Saul from Tarsus to come and teach the new church – because he knows Saul has more to offer as a teacher.

What an encouraging man!

So when there is a famine as we read in the last part of our reading from Acts 11 – who do they get to help?

Listen again:

  • Act 11:27  During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch.
  • Act 11:28  One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.)
  • Act 11:29  The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea.
  • Act 11:30  This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.

Here’s the key verse: Act 11:29  The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea.

And Barnabus and Saul take the gifts to the elders of the church in Judea.

The modern Barnabus Fund encourages the church throughout the world, especially those who are persecuted. If figures that when the church is persecuted physical needs are part of the equation. Our gifts – according to our abilities – with our prayers – will help our brothers wherever the need is.

Persecution is not an exception or a modern scourge alone. It’s been there since the beginning. Did you pick up the links in the readings?

The Gospel reading speaks volumes. We’re all at risk of falling away.

  • Mat 13:18  “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means:
  • Mat 13:19  When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path.
  • Mat 13:20  The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy.
  • Mat 13:21  But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away.
  • Mat 13:22  The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.
  • Mat 13:23  But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

Are you a field – or ground or soil that is rocky, or beset with thorns? It’s about the word (v 21).

If the word of God is not planted and rooted well in you and me, we too could fall away when we face trouble or persecution, says Jesus. (Verse 21).

And of course the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. (Verse 22).

Choke what? The life of the word of God which is planted in our lives.

The parable of the sower is actually the parable of the soils. It’s about us!

How much more should we not pray for those whose lives are threatened because they are Christians and help them according to our ability!

We need to be encouragers!

  • Generous here at BBP so that no one in our midst is in need.
  • Truthful – sticking up for others who are maligned because of their reputation like Saul of Tarsus.
  • Willing to see the good in every new situation like Barnabus visiting the church in Antioch.
  • Honest – when we need help and invite others to support us in our work because of their gifts that are stronger than ours – like Barnabus who fetched Saul to help the church.
  • And willing to go the extra mile – like Barnabus and Saul – to take our gifts to those in need like the Christians who were suffering because of the famine.
  • And of course to give according to our ability as they all did for Christians in need. Paul of course emphasises this in his letter to the Galatians in chapter 6: Gal 6:9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Gal 6:10  Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

Our other reading today from Hebrews 10 is one of the most powerful and inspiring passages of Scripture. And when it comes to encouraging one another there’s not much that beats Hebrews 10:23-26:

  • Exhortations: Heb 10:23  Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.
  • Heb 10:24  And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.
  • Heb 10:25  Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

These are the great ‘Let us…” and “Let us not…” lines – about holding on to the hope we profess – about spurring one other on towards love and good deeds – and especially the one trap that we fall into when things are hard – we stop meeting together.

Story – 19th century Baptist — Spurgeon once visited a man who had stopped coming to worship. He tried to explain the need to hang in there to the man, but words didn’t work. So he said: “it’s like this”. He took a red-hot coal from the fire and placed it on the side of the hearth. It grew cold and black. Then he took the tongs and placed the piece of coal back in the fire – and it grew hot and glowed red again.

We need to encourage each other in all these things!

And let’s face it – our reasons for giving up are often not really as bad as having a gun at our heads with our lives threatened if we are Christ’s followers. Or being buried up to our heads and then stoned to death like a Pastor’s daughter Monica we read about in the Barnabus Fund magazine.

Listen again to the last lines of the reading from Hebrews 10:

  • Heb 10:32  Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering.
  • Heb 10:33  Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated.
  • Heb 10:34  You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.
  • Heb 10:35  So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.
  • Heb 10:36  You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.

Let’s help the persecuted Church persevere. And let’s not give up on our journey either.

Amen.

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Sunday sermon 27 September 2015 – Loyal Encourager

Readings: Acts 4:23-37; Romans 15:1-7; John 14:25-27;

MESSAGE

  1. Are you a son/daughter of encouragement? 

There are many Bible people – like Barnabus (Acts 4:36), Tychicus (Acts 13:15; 20:2) and others, who are very encouraging people. Barnabus gets our main attention today. Luke introduces him in the reading from Acts 4:

Act 4:36  Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), Act 4:37  sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.

Barnabus’ name means “son of prophecy” in Aramaic. In Luke’s Greek it becomes “son of encouragement”.

Lloyd Ogilvie, during his tenure as Senior Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, California (a church noted for more than half a century as a centre for biblical preaching and exposition) writes this in his commentary on Acts:

In two brief verses we are introduced to one of the most admirable personalities of the New Testament. If all we had to enable us to know this man’s character were these two verses, we’d still have enough to stand in admiration and then desire to be like him.

I think one of our home groups should be telling the story of Barnabus. They have been studying him in detail.

My attention to him is with mixed motives. I want us to be like him – yes. But I also would like us to understand the significance of groups that use his name – like the Barnabus Fund – as we approach our World Mission Sunday focussing on the persecuted church around the world.

This man is Joses – or Joseph. He is from Cyprus where there was a colony of Jews. A Levite. And a cousin of John Mark – so he had connections in the Jerusalem church. (Mark was mentored by Peter of course).

Ogilvie suggests that if Joses aka Joseph from Cyprus, names Barnabus by the apostles, would have been in Jerusalem at Pentecost, or at least after that when the Holy Spirit came in power. His life was changed. By the Holy Spirit – became committed in full to God’s work – hence his generosity. (Churches today that give, give fully in response to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and a passion for God’s work!).

Here’s the wonderful thing.

I wonder if you picked up on the link between the readings today?

Lurking beneath the words in English (and not beneath the surface of our murky dams that we spoke about last week) – are treasures and gems.

Encouragement is a key word in the reading from Acts and Romans. In Acts 4 we are introduced to Barnabus. In Romans 15 encouragement comes from God – with endurance – in Paul’s prayer for a spirit of unity amongst the Roman believers.

Rom 15:4  For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. Rom 15:5  May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus

The Gospel passage is the one in which the word treasures are hidden!

Listen again:

Joh 14:25  “All this I have spoken while still with you. Joh 14:26  But the Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Joh 14:27  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. 

So what is the link?

  • Yes – peace is encouraging.
  • Not letting your hearts be troubled is an encouragement to be steady in faith and feelings.
  • The power word?

Verse 26. the Counsellor.

Here’s the lovely truth. Ogilvie puts it best really:

The apostles, who spoke Aramaic, named him Barnabas. The name is power-packed, having the meaning “son of prophecy,” from bar, “son of,” combined with nebū‘ā, “prophecy.” Some scholars have given it a slightly different emphasis, “son of refreshment.” In Luke’s Greek, however, we have the reflection not just of translation into another language, but the intimate personal observation by the physician of Joses of Cyprus. In a powerful parenthesis, Luke uses huiòs paraklḗseōs, which can be rendered “son of consolation, exhortation, or encouragement.” It is exciting to understand that the same basic word was used to translate Jesus’ Aramaic promise of the ministry of the Holy Spirit:

“And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever—the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you” (Joh_14:16-18).

In this case the Greek word for “Helper,” or as it is in the RSV “Counselor,” paráklētos, means one who is called to one’s side to help who strengthens and helps us to stand. Joses had clearly displayed inherent inclination toward being that kind of person.

huiòs paraklḗseōs and paráklētos are the two key words.

Barnabus got his name because he was emulating the work of the Comforter – the helper – the Holy Spirit. He was empowered by the spirit! Clearly!

And of course it’s not a trick. Comfort and encourage are very close to each other in meaning.

  • Encourage from French into Middle English. It means to “make strong” or “hearten”. Or to put in courage! To spur on. To help.
  • Comfort is stolen from Latin. Com-forte means to strengthen much! Fortis is Latin for strong! Forte is the Italian term for loud or strong in music! (Piano means soft! Pianoforte means a soft loud – as it has a pedal I suppose!)

Encouraging people come along side you and sustain, strengthen and uplift you.

Is that you? Am I always like that? Great questions.

We will revisit Barnabus again. I encourage you (in the very ordinary sense of urge, prompt and suggest to you) that you look him up in your bibles through the week.

For today a couple of important matters.  Are you a son/daughter of encouragement – was our first question or point today.

The second is this – how do we become like this? Point 2 is simple – the Bible and encouragement.

  1. The bible and encouragement

Listen to Romans 15 again – in case you missed it. We focussed on verse 5. Listen to verse 4 again:

Rom 15:4  For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

Rom 15:5  May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus.

You can’t be encouraging unless you know the truths of scripture. Like you can’t know God’s character without knowing your bible – and you can’t get to know and trust God without knowing his character!

The endurance and ENCOURAGEMENT of the Scriptures brings hope!

Barnabus’ name is close to the name of the Holy Spirit – and the two go hand in in hand – the Bible, the word of God, and the work of the Spirit!

Here’s a good biblical reason to illustrate that they are two sides of the same coin.

Letting the Word of God make its home in us, and being filled with the Spirit!

Two of Paul’s letters show this clearly. Colossians and Ephesians.

Col 3:16  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. Col 3:17  And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

 Eph 5:18  Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, Eph 5:19  speaking to one another with psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, Eph 5:20  always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The outcome of the input of both word and Spirit is worship, praise and thanksgiving and gratitude.

And people like that are very encouraging to have around.

A further thought today about people who are like God and speak God’s word to us in a prophetic sense. And so our third point:

  1. Prophecy

We saw that Barnabus in Aramaic meant “son of prophecy”.

It’s interesting that prophecy is the most desirable gift in 1 Corinthians 14. But this is not like the Old Testament prophets’ way. Paul writes this;

1 Corinthians 14:3 – But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.

God wants to speak into our lives  – through his word, his Spirit, and the proclamation of preaching and prophecy (or prophetic preaching) to build us up.

We need to be strong. The battle is tough!  How much more for the persecuted church!

But finally, our last point:

  1. God and Jesus encourage us.

If figures really. The Holy Spirit the comforter/encourager is just like them!

Listen to Paul in 2 Thessalonians: 2Th 2:16  May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, 2Th 2:17  encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.

What a lovely blessing!  

Lloyd Ogilvie shares about the Barnabus name again in this way. A good way to end our thoughts today: He talks about Luke – and suggests that Luke may have known Paul’s letter to the Ephesians or heard him dictate it and understood his desire for the church to be like Christ in chapter 4. He says this of this passage: “It is a charter and guide for a challenging Order of Saint Barnabas in any congregation today.”

I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamour, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you (Eph_4:1-3, Eph_4:30-32).

He concludes: “ Only the indwelling Lord could produce an affirmer and encourager like Barnabas. And it all was focused in his stable loyalty to the Lord, to his friends, and to new believers. What would we do without the Barnabases? And with the Paraklētos in us, can’t we go beyond just emulating Barnabas, and become the Lord’s own unique miracle of an encourager? Whatever our name is now, it can be loyal encourager.”

Amen.

Sunday sermon 1 June 2014 – time waiting on God

nectamen

Readings:  Acts 1:6-14: 1 Peter 4:12 – 14;  5:6-11:  John 17:1-11:

MESSAGE: TIME WAITING ON GOD 

This is a challenging day. It’s the 1st of June. That in itself is not remarkable.

But it is that one Sunday – symbolically – when we are in-between Ascension Day and Pentecost.

As if we were in the upper room.

The in-between times of life are challenging generally.

The times between being a member and citizen of one country and having full rights and acceptance in another.

Immigrants know all about this. The in-between – ness of it all. Being born in one country and growing up in another can make you uncertain – betwixt and between as the English idiom says.

The times waiting in other horrid situations.

  • Between the ward and the hospital theatre.
  • Between life and death when the end comes.
  • Between a death and a funeral – for a family
  • Between jobs – for the unemployed.
  • Between doctors with half-suspected diagnoses – wanting yet not wanting the truth because of what it many mean for our lives.
  • Between homes – knowing we have to move out and down size – and not really knowing where we will land up.

You may know some of these times. As a church you will know this.

  • In a church – between ministers (the so-called vacancy)
  • In a church – between Session Clerk’s and Administrators. We seem to be in between them all at the moment.
  • In-between leaders in mainly music and messy church – no one stepping up. And mission support. And in time pastoral concerns.

These things can make you insecure. Scared. Uncertain. Worried. Vulnerable. Especially if you’re in my shoes – when you’re the minister.

They are times of waiting – and especially waiting on the Lord. What do you want us to do Lord?

We’re not good at that really. Even our “best at prayer” (Presbyterians – anagram) rush in with their requests each week in our prayer meetings – asking God to bless our busy lives and our many activities. And we sit a little worried by the silence – and tend to want to scurry off and do something practical.

When he calls us to be still and wait.

Not enough waiting. Not enough surrender.

I asked more than a year ago – in the context of our leadership (probably two years ago) whether we would be prepared to stop it all – and only do the things we really knew we should.

I don’t think anyone took me too seriously. And now we may have to let some of them go.

And now we have to seriously ask Him what we should do – and some things may end. We can’t do it all – we don’t have the resources – financial or people.

And the test is probably whether the things are getting the good news to people who need to hear it! Whether they are part of the great commission.

Well on this symbolic Sunday between the Ascension of Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit – almost a vacuum in history – let’s think about waiting on God some more.

Those disciples waited – and then the power came.

It was never their power of course – it was Jesus’ power (we sang that old song again – all power is given in Jesus’ name – and in Jesus’ name I come to you to share his power as he told me to – He said freely freely).

And so in the reading from Acts we heard today:

Act 1:6  So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

Act 1:7  He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.

Act 1:8  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

It’s okay not to know. It’s okay to trust.

But in the in-between times – in the age in which we live between his ascension and his return – we are empowered to witness.

Not complicated. It’s not all about us! It’s about the mission we have.

Luke tells us after he left them – this is what happened in Jerusalem:

Act 1:14  They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

The lines we heard from the last chapters of 1 Peter – were written to a church that was waiting desperately for His return – as they were persecuted and suffering.

They are exhorted to stand firm in their suffering – to rejoice when suffering for doing good.

And to be discerning:

1Pe 5:8  Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

1Pe 5:9  Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

Of course the favourite passage is this one:

1Pe 5:6  Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.

1Pe 5:7  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

We listened to Simon Ponsonby again this week in home group – speaking about desert or wilderness experiences.

He starts with Jesus being led by the spirit into the desert to be tempted by the desert in Matthew 4. And of course we too have those desert times too.

In fact he quotes Selwyn Hughes who lists a number of experiences in life where we as Christians are tested: failure, suffering, humiliation, bereavement, estrangement, doubt and dereliction.

God allows these things because they are good for us – they make us really wait on him and depend on him – so that we don’t become self-sufficient.

On Ascension Day we stopped to say – you Lord Jesus are the Head of the church! And we are your body!

How scary that you should want to use us!

We’re so helpless and weak really. Vulnerable. And that is probably where we are meant to be.

So when we come to the Gospel reading today – we are still in the zone of suspension.

Left hanging.

It’s not an easy passage.

There is some clarity again about His authority:

Joh 17:2  For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him.

There is one clear-ish Johannine verse that I like to quote:

Joh 17:3  Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.

The passage – the prayer – goes on and is not easy to fathom.

But the simple bits jump out:

Joh 17:9  I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. 

And then another glimpse pf hope and encouragement:

Joh 17:11  I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name—the name you gave me—so that they may be one as we are one. 

What a huge relief – that the Father has given us to the Son – and that he prays for us.

He recognises we are still in this messed-up and complicated world.

Thankfully he prays that the Father will protect us by the power of His name!

What is the name that the Father gave Jesus – by which we are protected?? I’m not entirely sure what this means. Probably simply this: “I am who I am” – the name given to Moses at the burning bush, which by the way is still the principle logo of the Presbyterian Church – born in the fires of persecution – NEC TAMEN CONSUMEBATUR –  burned but not consumed. Our all sufficient One! Jesus was certainly comfortable using the “I am” part in in his various “I am” sayings.

Why should God protect us?

So that we may be one!

Why?

Because that’s how people will know that we are Jesus’ people.

As you read the rest of John 17 – twice more he prays for our unity.

Why?

Because it’s when we are united – sometimes with our backs to the wall – that we are the most effective witnesses.

It’s a testimony that we can actually be one – because the odds are stacked against us as human beings. Our default settings are I, me mine and myself. Narcissistic obsession – loving ourselves. Our default settings include a propensity to war and violence.

We’re so judgemental of the terrible things people do – especially when people are murdered in our safe little country – forgetting that we all have the same capacity. We are not just children of Adam. We are related to Cain who killed his own brother out of anger and jealousy – in a quarrel about what? Offerings! Religious matters!

When we’re in the in-between times – vulnerable and uncertain – we all too easily lash out, blame, and seek some reason outside of ourselves. When it fact both blame and sin crouch at our own door.

So what’s to be done?

  • Wait.
  • Watch and pray.
  • Seek his face.

Crying out to him in our desperation – that’s what he wants.

He wants to take away our self-sufficiency.

And he sometimes does that pre-eminently – through failure. It could besuffering, humiliation, bereavement, estrangement, doubt and dereliction.

But most commonly its failure.

  • Failure is followed by repentance
  • Repentance has with it new faith and absolute trust
  • And when we walk with a limp forever after that –as Simon Ponsonby rightly says – we limp so that we can’t run ahead of God on the journey.

Wait on him – let him reduce me and you to barely nothing – so that he can be everything.

It’s okay.

It’s not for any other reason than that He allows it to happen for our long term good. And for His glory!

At the end of the day – our FAITHFULNESS is tested more than anything else. Not unlike Job – who says: “though he slay me, yet will I trust him” (Job 13:15 KJV).

Amen.

 

Sunday Sermon 2 December – Be alert and ready

Readings: Jer 33:14 – 16   1 Thess 3:9-13 Luke 21:25-36

Message

So it’s the beginning of Advent. The season of silliness for some – but for Christians a time of serious reflection and preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. Advent means “arrival”.

Today we look at the second coming of Jesus as we prepare for the celebration of his first coming.

The reading today from Luke 21 is scary apolcalyptic stuff. Followed by

  • A parable
  • Some warnings
  • Some great encouragement.

THE PARABLE

The bonus parable of the fig tree is not very exciting or profound like other parables which are rich in meaning.

It’s really a warning.  Jesus really is telling his listeners in this Luke passage to read the signs. They were signs of the Kingdom. He goes on in verse 31:  Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.

Remember last week – Christ the King Sunday? The Kingdom concept his central again. The Kingdom had come and was still coming

The Gospel reading is full of interesting bits today of course: Like the next verses.

Luk 21:32  “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.

Some of this is fulfilled already. Some things did happen in that generation – like the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple by the Romans. (See verses 20-21). Most Bible scholars believe that these passages have prophetic parts that are already fulfilled and major apocalyptic parts that point us to the future.

For both the people of that day and for us and followers in the future there is encouragement and hope.  Take for example that most encouraging and Presbyterian verse focusing on the words of Jesus (Presbyterians place the Bible at the centre of life and faith):

Luk 21:33  Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

The power of the word of God – the word of Christ – its unchanging nature and truth. This in itself is a sermon brewing away. For now – what Jesus says remains true forever! So don’t give up on him! Trust and believe!

THE WARNINGS

And especially for today and our generation – with patience and watchfulness, I think that God does have a word for us. It’s verse 34. Listen and look carefully:

Luk 21:34  “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap.

We always think of Lent as a solemn time of reflection as we prepare to face the terrible truth that it was for our miserable skins and sins that Jesus died.

Advent is also a time of reflection and a stark reminder that people were supposed to get ready when Jesus came. In fact the Eastern Orthodox Church treats it just like Lent. Very seriously and not in the Christmassy kind of tinselly way that we do.

Of course at that first Christmas there were people who were ready and open to God and did respond – the Marys and Josephs listen to the Spirit speaking through dreams and the clear voice of angels, the shepherds who had heaps of singing angels getting their attention, and later the wise men who were carefully studying signs as well.

We could be enjoying those nice stories today but no – we are faced with the prospect of his second coming – and the piercing question about our lack of readiness.

Listen again to verse 34:  “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap”.

This is another one of those sermons where we think “if only so and so were here to listen to this!).

Warning 1: Don’t let your hearts be weighed down with Dissipation (gluttony, self-indulgence and wastefulness).

Our hearts may not be weighed down with dissipation (which is self-indulgence and wasteful living) but there is something for all here – ESPECIALLY at Christmas where people do overdo things. And of course in the wealthy parts of the world we do waste so much!

Warning 2: Don’t let your hearts be weighed down by drunkenness. That needs little explanation.

There is a local problem in our nation of too much alcohol – and especially binge drinking. It’s a scourge – an affliction.

If this does not really involve us – look at Petersen’s translation The Message here which goes like this: “But be on your guard. Don’t let the sharp edge of your expectation get dulled by parties and drinking and shopping.”

Sound familiar?

The third one is for the purists and tea totallers here who are not often gluttonous and don’t drink:

Warning 3: Don’t let your hearts be weighed down by the the anxieties of life.

The anxieties of life do weigh down our hearts.

Anxious about so much, we forget Paul’s injunction in Philippians 4:6-7:  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

So again: Luke 21:34  “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap.

You will be caught unawares. The day will come.

AVOID SPECULATION

Here’s the thing. I don’t believe in speculating about when the day will come. After all Mark in a similar passage adds this reminder to stop speculation:  “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Mark 13:32)

It seems to me, however, that if it does not come in our lifetime, there’s this amazing leveller called death that will come. Remember John 14 from the funeral this week (for those who were here)? I go to prepare a place for you…

We need to be just as ready. We never know when our lives will end in any case.

Jesus carries on in verses 35 and 36: For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth.

It’s about being ready

About the right perspective: Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”

IT IS A SERIOUS MATTER.

I remember well one of the brothers  in our lives – from years ago –  who was so excited about the return of Jesus that he would jump for joy at the announcement on the news of every earthquake. His wife was far more pastoral, and prayed for the poor souls stuck under the rubble. He just wanted Jesus to come back!

For the early church – ravaged by persecution and destruction – the coming was also longed for. MARANATHA was their prayer. Come Lord! (1 Cor 16:22)

The word to them was really about patience. They needed courage. Verse 28 was for them a great verse:  When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

O my. What a powerful verse – and how good for us too! Stand up and lift up your heads – for your redemption is drawing near!

Redemption is at the heart of this whole story. Like Christ the King ushering in his Kingdom, it’s a word that crops up a lot.

This is not “redemption” as in the letters of Paul – a theology of the cross.

This redemption means rescue. And rescue from the mess they would find themselves in.

Holding on for God to come

He is coming

Maranatha!

For us today – we can combine verse 28 and verse 36 in a simple recipe for life:

Stand up and lift your heads – and watch and pray.

For us this also means:

  • He is our redeemer It’s about perspective and confidence – that God is the one who makes our lives different and that he will come through for us.
  • He will do it! (Psalm 37:5-6) – whatever it is we are hoping for him to do he will come through for us.
  • Don’t be distracted and weighed down! And for most of us it’s the anxieties of life (v34) that can weigh our hearts down! Be careful, says Jesus! “That day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap.”
  • Be alert and ready! The trap imagery is a little different from the other simile “like a thief in the night” which we find in Paul’s writings in 1 Thessalonians 5:2
  • Trust Him even if your world is shaken. You get the idea. It’s about watchfulness and readiness. However our lives are shaken – we are to be alert.

But mainly it’s about Hope!

The first candle of Advent which we lit today is the candle of Hope.

As we Stand up and lift (y)our heads – and watch and pray – we will be  focussed on the King who came in Jesus and who will come again.

May the glory always go to him!

Amen.