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Easter Sunday 16 April 2017: Eyes opened and hearts burning…

READING: Luke 24:1-12; 28-35.

MESSAGE

Friends of ours in Montana have new babies in the family. Seven in all. They are missionaries and have been for years – having once been part of the church family here.

Seven babies. Trying to catch up with a lady in our church who now has 16 great grandchildren? I think not. They are puppies.

I started off as a Methodist and became a Presbyterian along the road when my dad died. Years back I remember a joke about puppies that were born Presbyterian – and when their eyes opened they became Methodists. Or was it the other way around?

These days no-one cares what kind of Christian you are. As long as your eyes are opened – to the truth!

On the Emmaus road, the two followers of Jesus had listened to him explain what had happened in Jerusalem at that time. This is the bit we missed in the reading. It fits best here in the sermon:

15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.  (NRSV)

That’s where we picked it up in verse 28. It’s a powerful moment. It’s a moment that happens in our lives – or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t – then our eyes are still shut tight. Look at verse 28 and 29:

Luk 24:28  As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther.Luk 24:29  But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.

Why does he act as if he were going farther?

Come on – for an Easter egg – answer this one. It’s your test for the day. And that’s a hint for the answer. Yes – he’s testing them. How?

Think about it. What is their response when he pretends he is moving on into the night?

Yes! Hospitality! I think he was testing them to see if they had got the right idea from all his teachings and example. Listen again:

But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.

If our eyes are still shut, it may well me that Jesus has given us that opportunity too. He’s been right there. And we’ve not invited him into our lives to carry on the conversation.

You see you don’t have to understand it all. You’ve just got to open the door of your life – your family – your world. Not just your heart. We limit Jesus if we only talk about him coming into our hearts. It’s very individualistic.

In fact the only scripture that makes sense when it come to having Jesus in our hearts is this one. It’s part of a prayer:

I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. (Ephesians 2:16-19)

If your eyes are to be opened –  then it’s pretty close to having the eyes of your heart enlightened! The lights come on or at least shine brighter!

The one bible verse that people use when encouraging people to invite Jesus into their hearts is this one from Revelation 3 – written to the church in Laodicea who are being chastised for being lukewarm. Jesus says this to them:

Rev 3:19  Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Rev 3:20  Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.

 Open which door? Great question. It’s not their hearts – because when they open the door he says he will come in and eat with him and he with me.

That sounds like Jesus in the centre of their lives – at a meal table – like the two on the road to Emmaus who “strongly urge” Jesus to stay with them because of the approaching perils of the night.

The implications of the death and resurrection of Jesus for us far exceed our individual inner life – the matters of the heart.

Like Zacchaeus (in Luke 19:11-10) – he wants to get us off our tree branch (our perch if you like) and come talk with us about life.

The gift of Easter through the cross and resurrection of Jesus is not just a ticket into heaven or Jesus in my heart. It’s a new community of reconciliation and unity in Christ – even though we are so very different from one another (Jews, Gentiles and the rest).

It’s a new family and community seeking first the Kingdom – because Jesus is king – he has defeated the dark side, and rescued us from its consequences – bringing us into a kingdom of light. When you read the rest of Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 2 it suddenly makes sense:

I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. (Ephesians 1:18-21)

When our eyes are opened, we find ourselves in a new relationship and power source.

It’s like changing electricity supplier from one which fails most days to the most reliable and consistent one.

Resurrection life – like eternal life – begins now. (Remember Jesus’ prayer in John 17: 3 -“Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”)

Paul says this in Romans 8:

You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you. (Romans 8:9-11)

HAVE YOUR EYES BEEN OPENED THIS EASTER?

  • Yes – you saw the yummy Easter eggs on the shelves.
  • Yes you knew about Jesus dying on the cross, and what happened on the 3rd day.

What matters most is that you have discovered the reality of the cross and resurrection’s power in your life now.

I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,  and his incomparably great power for us who believe

For the two on the road- they recognised him when he broke the bread. This wasn’t the institutionalised communion service we celebrate today.

It was the evening meal – in the context of hospitality – when despite their own disappointment and confusion they still urged this stranger to stay with them at the end of that long day.

He did for a bit. And was gone. But they were not to be the same. They realised that He was the one who through word and spirit transformed lives. Listen to what they said afterwards:

…”Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

The reading today ends with this:

Luk 24:35  Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

May you recognise him and have your heart burning within you as speaks into your life.

Amen.

 

 

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Tuesday Church 14th April 2015 – Testifying to the resurrection

Readings: Acts 4:31-37; John 3:7-17

Message

In the time of Jesus people lived under the tyranny of the Roman Empire. They were taxed by Rome, ruled by Rome, controlled by Rome and Roman soldiers.

It would be like having an army from another country taking over control of our lives. Imagine Australian soldiers taking over here – watching us all at every moment. Perish the thought. Especially if they could make you carry their packs for a mile at random. And if they were crucifying people outside New World Shop as a warning to us to behave.

You can imagine that someone would want to overthrow those Aussies and send them packing. And there would probably be some group who would train in the hills somewhere and plot to overthrow the oppressive occupying army. Singing “God defend New Zealand” would be banned by the oppressors, but people would sing it in secret, and honour the kiwi flag.

In Jesus’ time there were all kinds of people who took on the Romans. Lots of them were arrested and crucified. Look at Barabbas as an example.

Most of those young Jews who were regarded as Messiahs died by crucifixion. They were actually expected to wage war or terrorism against the Roman army. When they died, one of their followers would probably have taken their place, or found another messianic leader prepared for battle. Judas Iscariot was possibly a member of a group of these zealots who carried daggers. They were called dagger-men or sicarii. They carried sicae or small daggers under their cloaks and bumped people off.

Jesus is the only young Jew who was hailed as a Messiah – who was resurrected after crucifixion. The resurrection sets him apart.

If you look at the Acts reading today, the early church was a completely different community – even sharing their wealth so that everyone was looked after. They shared everything and really cared for each other.

What was their message though? Act 4:33  With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all.

The resurrection of Jesus sets him apart from any other person claiming to be a Messiah.

And in addition, the reading from John shows us that Jesus is completely unique because of who he was:

Joh 3:16  “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Jesus was the Son of God. There is no other who had that position. And, uniquely, he defeated the evil of the Roman tyranny with love and sacrifice. His Kingdom is completely different from the powers of this world – as they were then and as they are today. We see this especially in his conversation with Pilate when he was arrested:

Joh 18:33  Then Pilate entered again into the governor’s residence and summoned Jesus and said to him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

Joh 18:34  Jesus replied, “Do you say this from yourself, or have others said this to you about me?”

Joh 18:35  Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your people and the chief priests handed you over to me! What have you done?”

Joh 18:36  Jesus replied, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews. But now my kingdom is not from here.”

Joh 18:37  Then Pilate said to him, “So then you are a king!” Jesus replied, “You say that I am a king. For this reason I was born, and for this reason I have come into the world: in order that I can testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.”

Joh 18:38  Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews and said to them, “I find no basis for an accusation against him.

Joh 18:39  But it is your custom that I release for you one prisoner at the Passover. So do you want me to release for you the king of the Jews?”

Joh 18:40  Then they shouted again, saying, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” (Now Barabbas was a revolutionary.)

Jesus stands alone as one who was resurrected – and one who claimed to be the Son of God. He makes the most unique claims – like this spoken to doubting Thomas:

Joh 14:6  Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  Joh 14:7  If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you know him and have seen him.”

And to Martha when Lazarus died: Joh 11:25  Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me, even if he dies, will live, Joh 11:26  and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die [forever]. Do you believe this?”

And only he speaks of eternal life. We have eternal life through him now: 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 most important thing I can tell you is this – you can know God through Jesus – you won’t perish – you will have this eternal life and relationship – you can have it!

Now. Because Jesus is raised – resurrected and lives forever. He is truth. As he says to Pilate: For this reason I was born, and for this reason I have come into the world: in order that I can testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.” (John 18:37)

Joh 8:31  To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Joh 8:32  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

We too can live forever. This is the truth. He is the truth.

He is alive and is here today. And if you allow him into your life – he will be with you always!

Amen.

Tuesday Church 13 May 2014 @ 10.00 – First called Christians

The first reading today is Acts 11:19-26

 Act 11:19  Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled 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.

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.

Act 11:25  Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul,

Act 11:26  and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.

The gospel reading today is  John 10:22-30

Joh 10:22  Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter,

Joh 10:23  and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon’s Colonnade.

Joh 10:24  The Jews gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”

Joh 10:25  Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me,

Joh 10:26  but you do not believe because you are not my sheep.

Joh 10:27  My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.

Joh 10:28  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.

Joh 10:29  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.

Joh 10:30  I and the Father are one.”

  

Message

I wonder if you would call yourself a Christian? I remember this debate years ago when I was about 15 – at school – in the classroom. I guess I started being a witness quite early. I tried to explain what it really meant to be a Christian. “But of course we’re Christian” said the teacher. “We’re not Jewish, Hindu or Muslim – we must be Christian!”

There is a big difference between being “Christian” in our views of life and being a “Christian”.

The first followers of Jesus were only called Christians in the city of Antioch in Turkey around 44 AD. Before this they were Jewish people who followed Jesus, and at one point called “people of the Way”.

The Antioch church was a Gentile church – made up of many different cultures.

Act 13:1  In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul.

The Lord had called into the fellowship and into leadership positions people from several nations. A fellowship from the then-known world could be led to the decision of wanting to reach the world. This could never have happened in the Jerusalem church.

The commentator Lloyd Ogilvie, A Presbyterian, writes of this church:

The Lord knew what He was doing! Note the magnificent mixture:

Barnabas, who had the rich background of the infant church in Jerusalem from Pentecost or shortly thereafter; Simeon, also called Niger, a Latin name showing two strong cultures in one person; Lucius of Cyrene, also a Latin name, clearly identified as coming from North Africa; Manaen, who had been raised (súntrophos) in the court of Herod the tetrarch (that is, the court of Herod Antipas, father of Agrippa); and Saul, the converted Pharisee. It was a world fellowship to start a world movement. Even Mark, brought from Jerusalem, would add his own contribution later.

Two Africans so early in the story. At least they were from North Africa – so that the South Africans aren’t in trouble again for showing up everywhere.

When you have gentiles from so many countries and parts of society together in a worshipping community – what would you call them?

Of course – Christians – because it is Christ who is their focus and centre. It is Christ who they are following – they are still a movement in some senses – “people of the Way”.

It is Jesus who tells us in next Sunday’s reading: “I am the way”. In today’s gospel passage from John 10, Jesus is speaking about shepherding again. And the key identifier of the sheep is clear in the debate which takes place. Listen again:

Joh 10:24  The Jews gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”

Joh 10:25  Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me,

Joh 10:26  but you do not believe because you are not my sheep.

Joh 10:27  My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.

Joh 10:27  My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.

Are you a follower of Jesus? Not just a Christian by association because you are not a Hindu or something else. A real follower?

If you are then the most exciting thing is learning to hear his voice and following in the way he shows you.

It does not necessarily mean travelling across the world on a mission. It means following his leading in terms of the kind of person you should be – and the way you see things in life in general.

He does guide us – through the Bible and the collective wisdom of others. Often through a small voice prompting – a nudge or an intuitive sense of knowing what to do.

Like the shepherd of Psalm 23 – he leads us to places that restore us – green pastures and quiet waters.

Learning to spend time in his presence is probably the most important challenge.

Prayer – that great gift to us – connects us to eternity – to God’s heart.

And so often we need to get up closer to God our Father – to be reminded how much he loves us!

Listen to how the passage ends today in the Gospel reading. It’s one of the most powerful statements from Jesus that makes it very clear that this is not just a wise man or a prophet as some people will try to tell you:

This is the one who gives us eternal life:

Joh 10:28  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.

Joh 10:29  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.

Joh 10:30  I and the Father are one.”

This is the One who is one with the Father.

We are His sheep and the people of His pasture.

May we learn to feed on the words he speaks.

Amen.

 

 

Sunday sermon 14 July – There’s more than one neighbour in the street

Reading: Luke 10:25-37

Message:

Okay this is an easy one today! Early tea – more time to chat and then go shopping.

I mean what’s to discuss – the guy got it right!

  • Love God
  • Love Neighbour
  • end of story!

The simplest explanation is the easiest – that everyone in need is in fact your neighbour.

Not that people – Christians – necessarily get involved in helping people in need. We do walk on by quite a bit. Like walking through a bazaar or market –or in a shopping centre – we dare not make eye contact with someone trying to sell us something. You can’t get away from a sales pitch that easily.

We easily look away from those in need.

So reminder number one today is simple. If you’re making notes:

1. Note to self – anyone in need is my neighbour.

Love God and love your neighbour go together.

Of course it’s a three way street!

God  <———->   Us    ————–>   Neighbour

Knowing the love of God – experiencing it – sharing Jesus compassion (read Tuesday’s sermon on line for those who didn’t make it) – having a message and commodity of peace with God to trade with (for that read last Sunday’s sermon on line!) means that we are actually empowered to do this!

2. Note to self – the Samaritan was an unexpected neighbour to the half-dead mugged neighbour.

God   ———————> Samaritan  —————————->    mugged man

3. Note to self – Jesus speaks about prejudice, anger, rage and things that separate us here.

Add another layer and it gets interesting:

God

Samaritan        ————————–>     mugged man/Jew

Samaritans    <———————–>    (not good)  < ———————->      Jews

Jews and Samaritans clearly did not get on!

I found this poem by a famous Israeli poet this week which really helped me on this one. Frederick Buechner posted this on his website – his articles and books are profound. Here it is:

The Place Where We Are Right

Yehuda Amichai

From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.

The place where we are right
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard.

But doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plow.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined
House once stood. 

It’s about hard hearts versus soft hearts really!

Something was happening in the Samaritan that smacked of a real faith and compassion – but the Jewish listeners would have hated the idea of a Samaritan being a hero – because their theology was wrong – their racial mix wrong – their temple wrong.

Sound familiar?

1. Note to self – anyone in need is my neighbour.

2. Note to self – the Samaritan was an unexpected neighbour to the half-dead mugged neighbour.

3. Note to self – Jesus speaks about prejudice, anger, rage and things that separate us here.

Of course the lawyer’s response is accurate – as you are when you deal with law. Listen again:

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise. (Luke 10:36-37)

How are we doing so far?

Will you remember this?

Oh of course – you know this already.

David Lose suggests and alternative reading to this text altogether.

This really spoke to me. Listen to what he says: But then Jesus goes and does something different, right at the end. He doesn’t ask who was the Samaritan’s neighbour; rather, he asks, who acted like a neighbour. The answer, of course, is obvious to the lawyer and to us: it is the Samaritan, the one who went out of his way to help another. But do you notice how this changes things? Suddenly the neighbour isn’t simply the one in need, but rather the one who provides for our need, the one who takes care of us.

He goes on. Listen carefully: Which raises an interesting – and often uncomfortable – question: who has been our neighbour by caring for us of late? This is uncomfortable because we spend so much of our time, energy, and money trying to be invulnerable, trying precisely to need as little as possible from those around us. Perhaps it’s a fear of being a burden, or a concern about “owing” others, or that we are just afraid of being vulnerable because if we show our need that need may not be met. Whatever the reason, however, so many of us are absolutely mortified by the idea of showing our deepest needs to others and have a hard time receiving a compliment let alone serious aid or help.

4. Note to self – I need to let people be a neighbour to me too

In my own life I have had to learn to let people be a neighbour to me as well. I am telling you this because I know that some of you are also like me. You don’t want to be vulnerable. You sometimes think that you have to manage – cope – be tough. I am learning to depend more on others.

Being dependent on others is not easy for most of us. And as we get older it gets harder.

Nothing is worse than feeling that it’s all out of control – when simple becomes impossible and normal a mystery.

I have learnt that I need to let people be a neighbour to me.

That does not mean I will deliberately make myself vulnerable.

Not at all.

But the point is – that we are created for community and we do need each other.

I am so grateful for the people who are supporting me at this time – especially Sheilagh, my wife, and our staff here.

Listen again to the extract from David Lose – the question is:

(Which raises an interesting – and often uncomfortable – question) –  who has been our neighbour by caring for us of late? This is uncomfortable because

  • we spend so much of our time, energy, and money trying to be invulnerable, trying precisely to need as little as possible from those around us.
  • Perhaps it’s a fear of being a burden, or a concern about “owing” others, or that we are just afraid of being vulnerable because if we show our need that need may not be met.
  • Whatever the reason, however, so many of us are absolutely mortified by the idea of showing our deepest needs to others and have a hard time receiving a compliment let alone serious aid or help.

 Paul – speaking about his thorn in the flesh – writes these words in 2 Corinthians 12:9 and 10

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Okay personally I think that he overstates things here. I am not really thrilled with “insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.” I am less than thrilled. Delight is a strong word here. Sometime when I have the energy I will investigate the root of the word “delight” here and hopefully it will make more sense. (If you were here on Tuesday you will remember that words studies can be fun – Jesus when moved with compassion – well the word is to do with a bowel sensation. Tricky but it makes the point of a deep feeling!)

So let’s go back to our diagram then. There are various directions that the arrows point.

What travels along those lines? Love, blessing, thanksgiving, encouragement, worship and praise – in a dynamic relationship. Compassion and help clearly apply along the human continuum.

God <———————————–>Us  <————————— >  Neighbour

There are various possibilities where hard hearts need to be softened so that life can appear. Look at the list:

Us                 <—————————>            Neighbour

Samaritan           <—————————>           Jew

Black             <—————————>                 white

Male                <—————————>               female

Old                      <—————————>              young

Friend                <—————————>             stranger

Pastor                   <—————————>           parishioner

The list goes on!

So to recap… Somewhere in this list something applies to each of us:

1. Note to self – anyone in need is my neighbour.

2. Note to self – the Samaritan was an unexpected neighbour to the half-dead mugged neighbour.

3. Note to self – Jesus speaks about prejudice, anger, rage and things that separate us here.

Clearly love here means wanting the best for them – not that we are in love with them or even like them! Jesus’ compassion for the world of people is our foundational principal here.

Cleary we have work to do about our attitudes!

But this last one is a word in season really:

4. Note to self – I need to let people be a neighbour to me too

Don’t be afraid of depending on others – asking for help – asking for prayer – asking for counselling – asking for a lift – asking for a friend.

Mentoring others – journeying with them is the most crucial thing.

Pride is a killer.

One of my struggles here – as a leader – is that a lot of people are proud. They’ve made up their mind on things that are really important – and they are not necessarily allowing the Lord to work in their lives.

I reckon it would be good to sit in on the conversation between the recovered Jewish victim and the compassionate and generous Samaritan – if you can use your imagination.

It’s the kind of inspiration that comes from the pictures of amazing people in our generation:

There are plenty of other examples.

And there are those of you who really do care for your neighbours in every possible way – here in this place and community.

So much happens behind the scenes – following Jesus’ recipe for giving in general: But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing (Matthew 6:3)

So a gentle reminder:

4. Note to self – I need to let people be a neighbour to me too

It’s okay to be vulnerable. We are cursed by self-help schemes. They don’t work in the same department as faith, trust, and dependence, all of which are Christian virtues and blessings.

The basic framework for all of this is GRACE – the undeserved gift of salvation, new life, the new creation, a new heart, a renewed mind –unmerited favour shown in Jesus.

And – to put in a word for what is in fact a foundational belief I have – we make ourselves vulnerable and receive the love of neighbours especially in our home groups – where we allow them to be places of life and not just theoretical knowledge. It requires honesty – integrity – and openness to grow as people. That is God’s will for us. Amen!

PS – here’s a great summary in a visual form. We need to be the solid citizens – doing the stuff that the solid line indicates!

good-samaritan-cartoon

Tuesday Church sermon 9 April – Born again

Reading: John 3: 7-15

I love to read about Nicodemus. He comes to Jesus at night – possibly because of privacy or secrecy (Jesus was a controversial person in the ruling Jewish Council) – possibly because he was a prayerful student who studied late at night – who knows really?

I also love the details about Jesus’ burial – in John 19:38 – Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away.  John 19:39 He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. So good to see that Nicodemus does become a disciple!

The idea that you can be born again is perplexing to him. But Jesus is clear: You should not be surprised at my saying, “You must be born again.”

When Nicodemus says: ‘How can this be?’  – Jesus is more direct: 10 ‘You are Israel’s teacher,’ said Jesus, ‘and do you not understand these things?

So are you? Born again?  Jesus says – You should not be surprised at my saying this!

It’s very clear that the Christian life is about a new beginning. Two things are very clear from today’s reading:

  1. It’s a work of the Holy Spirit – a spiritual rebirth!
  2. It involves the cross!

1. It’s a work of the Holy Spirit – a spiritual rebirth! We are born of the Holy Spirit – listen again to Jesus:

You should not be surprised at my saying, “You must be born again.” The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.’

The word for spirit and wind are the same in both bible languages.  In the NT it is pneuma – here are various English words that come from this. The point is – you can’t actually see the wind, but you can see its effect. So too the Holy Spirit.

We don’t talk about the Holy Spirit enough. It is through the Holy Spirit that we receive assurance of faith (Rom 8:16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.) We experience the love of God through the Spirit: Romans 5:5 – because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. We are told to be “filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18 – Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit,) which is about on ongoing relationship with God who is spirit (John 4:24 – God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” ) and who empowers us with his transforming presence.

And it all begins with the spiritual rebirth – we are to be born again (from above) and born of the spirit – a touch and regeneration by the spirit – a bringing to life of our spirits so that we begin to experience the things that are in a different realm – the realm of the spirit. That realm – using another word for realm – is the Kingdom of God.

The Christian life is a spiritual life!

2. The Christian life also involves the cross – there is no escaping Easter here!

John also records these words of Jesus: 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven – the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.’

This spiritual life – being born again by the spirit – also involves our being saved from a life of sin and death and being launched into a life in the spirit.

This is also referred to as “eternal life” and it is found in Jesus (verse 15  – “that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him”).

The reference to Moses is interesting here. The Israelites were in trouble – condemned to die because of their sin – which interestingly was not the breaking of the 10 commandments directly, but GRUMBLING. Listen to the account from Numbers 21:

Num 21:4  They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way;  Num 21:5 they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”

Num 21:6  Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died.  Num 21:7  The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

Num 21:8  The LORD said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.”  Num 21:9  So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.

Grumbling against God and against God’s leaders gets people into trouble! They looked to the bronze serpent – and they were saved from death!

The parallel is clear. The bronze snake was lifted up – just as Moses lifted that symbol up in the wilderness, so to the Son of Man was to be lifted up “15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

They confessed their sin and asked for prayer – and Moses prayed for them. “We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.  ” (Numbers 21:7.) We too look to the cross – and confess our sin! Well we should.

And of course this story is told to Nicodemus as a warning. One commentator, James Philip, puts it like this:

This was surely one element in Nicodemus’ situation: his was a willing blindness. He did not want to see the truth about the necessity for rebirth, because seeing it would have been at that point much too costly a thing for him. He resisted the truth because his heart was in rebellion against God, as much as the Israelites were. (James Philip was the minister of the Holyrood Abbey Church in Edinburgh, Scotland. He died in 2009. A great pastor-teacher)

That’s a warning to us when we say “oh we don’t need to be born again! We don’t need this Holy Spirit business. We’re just fine!

We need to really seek this fullness of life – the new birth – the fullness of the Spirit – a full understanding of what eternal life is – with our eyes firmly fixed on the cross.

Amen.