Readings: Exodus 17:1-7; John 4:5-10; 39-42
MESSAGE – where is your bucket?
If Nicodemus struggled to understand the new birth, even though he was a teacher and trained in his faith, its not surprising that a Samaritan woman with a fairly muddled life couldn’t get around Jesus’ offer of living water.
Jesus starts the conversation by asking for a drink at this well.
The woman is perplexed, to say the least.
Joh 4:9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) Joh 4:10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” Joh 4:11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water?
- Where’s your bucket?
- How do you get this water out of a deep well?
- But she is keen at least – even if to save on the daily chore.
Joh 4:15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”
Jesus must have been an interesting person to have a casual conversation with. He always managed to take people in another direction.
If you don’t know the story, well Jesus reply is certainly not what she would have expected. He gives her a curious instruction.
Joh 4:16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.” Joh 4:17 “I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. Joh 4:18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.” Joh 4:19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet.
You’d think this woman was a contemporary Christian. When it gets personal, talk theology. Have a debate. She avoids the discussion about here failed love life or relationships.
Aa a Samaritan she would have been familiar with the differences between her people and the Jewish religious traditions. They had their own Bible in their script. Their own temple. And they didn’t get on.
Which makes the whole encounter quite unique. In addition as we see when the disciples come back from their shopping trip, they are surprised to find him talking to a woman. It just wasn’t done.
It’s to this woman – who comes alone at the heat of the day – probably avoiding the critical eyes of others because of her failures – to who Jesus reveals the most profound truths. Especially this statement: Joh 4:24 God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth.”
She responds with some insight here: Joh 4:25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” Joh 4:26
But Jesus responds: “I who speak to you am he.” What an amazing revelation.
The disciples come back from the shops at this point. The woman is so challenged and perplexed by this that she leaves here water jar and goes back to her people. We read on: Joh 4:28 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, Joh 4:29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?”
The result is startling in the next verse: Joh 4:30 They came out of the town and made their way toward him. A whole entourage of Samaritans come out to meet this man.
There’s another message within this passage that follows as we see the conversation between Jesus as his disciples. This time it’s about food. Listen to this: Joh 4:31 Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.” Joh 4:32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” Joh 4:33 Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?” Joh 4:34 “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.
Like the new birth – the water in the well – the food – another teaching session flows out of this about their work reaping the harvest. And again – it’s not about agriculture, but about reaching people.
I love the outcome of this story: Joh 4:39 Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” Joh 4:40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days.
She models our responsibility doesn’ t she – tell people about Jesus – and let them come and see. These Samaritans persuade Jesus to stay for couple of days. And despite the fact his was just a stop over, he agrees.
It ends really well: Joh 4:41 And because of his words many more became believers. Joh 4:42 They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”
Isn’t that our desire too? To help people get to that point?
We can do it.
If we share our story about how Jesus has touched our lives. “Come and see” remains a key part of the Christian’s witness in the world.
Readings: Exodus 3:1-15; Mark 8:27 – 9:8
What does it take for God to get your attention?
How are you with hearing voices?
We had this interesting conversation in home group this week as we looked at the boy Samuel in the temple hearing a voice but not knowing who it was calling him. You remember the story in 1 Sam 3? Three times he goes to the priest Eli thinking that he was the one calling.
- Do we need a quiet time to hear God?
- A retreat?
- Do you need to be in a temple or church like Samuel?
- Or at a conference (like yesterday’s?)
- A mountain top experience?
In both readings today the voice of God is heard when they are up on a mountain.
- In Moses’ case he hears a voice from a bush that appears to be on fire but doesn’t burn up. (Here in this church the congregation looks at a picture of that burning bush every week when they look at the person reading and speaking from here. It’s the visual motto or logo of the Presbyterian Church – here on this lectern.)
- For Peter, James and John, the mountain top experience is pretty unique. They see dead guys talking to Jesus and he looks like he’s been plugged into a power source. Whiter than white he is.
The old KJV in Mark 9:3 has this fascinating language:
- And his raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them. The fuller there of course is a launderer.
- The ESV has: and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. This is the “whiter than white” washing powder advert kind of thinking.
- The NIV has: His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them.
It’s not surprising they were terrified.
Seeing dead people does that anyway. I’ve only had that happen once – and it was prescription medication that caused the hallucination. I wasn’t fun.
- The voice on Mount Horeb to Moses becomes a conversation as he is commissioned to liberate his people from slavery.
- The voice on the mountain of transfiguration – is a one liner that should have helped assure the three key disciples.
“This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him.”
It must have been quite amazing. A real high. But they came down to earth pretty quickly.
YOU CAN’T LIVE ON A HIGH
Life is full of contrasts.
- You can have a brilliant day and it can end badly.
- Terrible circumstances can still have good outcomes.
If you follow the characters we have been looking at so far – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and sons, Joseph, Moses and today Peter, James and John – you get enormous contrasts – great successes and serious failures.
One would hope that when certainty is reached in the way that we would sometimes like it – a voice from heaven telling us what’s going on (e.g. Peter) or a voice telling us what to do (e.g. Moses) – that things would be steady and stable.
But no – there’s always a shaking. Something that brings you down to earth.
Take the various scenarios where there are voices from heaven in the Bible:
- At Jesus baptism where he is anointed by the spirit and his ministry is launched – where a voice from heaven affirms him. In the next verse he is propelled into the desert to be tested by the devil. (from baptism to battle ground)
- Moses – From the encounter with God in the burning bush to the conflict with a stubborn hard hearted king. (from bush to battle ground)
- Peter – Confession that he is Messiah (revelation) to rebuke of his devil like behaviour – it’s like going from saint to Satanist. (from revelation to rebuke)
- Peter James and John – Mountain top camping to a real life-threatening road to the cross (glory to gory if you like.)
The danger of wanting to stay on a high – spiritually emotionally or “conferencially” – is that it can be disappointing. And while you are on the mountain top is not always easy to think straight anyway.
Peter may well have been so overwhelmed to make sense of the vision of seeing Moses and Elijah talking to Jesus that he wanted them to camp out there – what else could he have thought of?
Most of us would have probably wanted to capture the moment. Stay with that buzz of affirmation. (Think of your childhood holidays, when you had to leave a regular holiday destination to go back home – and you may get a glimpse of the feeling.)
But as a good colleague and friend pointed out in our discussion on Friday – self-gratification – our sinful nature – sometimes leads to sensual selfish spiritual experiences – wanting a high all the time. We are at risk of depending on those highs – it can become all about me – about us. Like those who at the end of a conference say “when’s the next one?” Feelings can drive our train, rather than facts and faith. We need another spiritual fix!
It’s no coincidence that Transfiguration is followed by Lent in the Church Calendar – a sobering 40 days.
And when Peter is less than thrilled by the idea of Jesus being killed, it’s not really surprising that he would try to stop it.
- This is Jesus the Messiah who has been revealed. There was an expectation of success from messianic figures – they are supposed to win the battle and overthrow the bad guys!
- Jesus lights up whiter than white on the mountain. Moses and Elijah are seen – the representatives of the key sections of the Hebrew Scriptures, the law and the prophets.
- And then this: Mar 9:9 As they came down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has risen from death.”
I am sure they felt – death should not be on this list. Imagine a presidential candidate or political leader saying to his or her followers – vote for me. I’ll be killed and you’ll all run away. It was less than thrilling.
During Lent there is time for us to reflect on the challenges. Jesus calls people to a cross.
Great expectations – followed by this amazing declaration: the voice of clarity: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him.”
And this gloomy prediction: Mar 9:30 Jesus and his disciples left that place and went on through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where he was, Mar 9:31 because he was teaching his disciples: “The Son of Man will be handed over to those who will kill him. Three days later, however, he will rise to life.” Mar 9:32 But they did not understand what this teaching meant, and they were afraid to ask him.
How do you stay in the centre? I don’t mean like the grand old Duke of York and his 10 000 men where the song goes “and when they were only half way up they were neither up or down.”
I mean not like an emotional yo-yo. Crazy highs and lows.
Mind you. it’s not that easy if you get flicked from one thing to another like a ball in a pin ball machine. We will have highs and lows.
- We need the highs, like the conference we went on yesterday. They embolden us for the lows and the long slow obedience of level ground.
- We need the lows – the challenges – because they strengthen us in a different way. Building resilience and character and faith. Resistance is required to build core strength (just look in on a Gym).
- MOST IMPORTANTLY – we need the relationship – all of these people sought God’s direction or adopted it in the context of a daily relationship of some sort with God.
- We also need the sense of calling and purpose. Without that we will not really want to get out of bed in the morning.
- And like them we need to be seekers. Again and again in the bible is the ones who diligently and seriously seek God that are rewarded. (See Deut 4:29; 1 Chron 16:10-11; 2 Chron 7:14; Psalm 9:10; Psalm 27:8; Psalm 63:1; Psalm 105:4; Prov 8:17; Isaiah 55:6; Jeremiah 29:13. Hebrews 11:6;)
When Jesus rebukes Peter he lays it out clearly to the crowds. this was for all who were listening too, not just his close disciples:
Mar 8:34 – 38. Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
It is a call to risk and faith after all.
- And at the end, Jesus would have remembered those affirming voices at his baptism and on the mountain of transfiguration – when hanging in agony on the cross.
- Peter would have remembered his great confession of faith at Caesarea Philippi when he hung upside down on his cross. That confession made at a place named after a Roman Emperor – he confessed his faith in the Christ – for whom he would die too. Peter didn’t falter then.
- God willing, on our deathbeds I pray that his words of affirmation to us will be in our minds and on our lips. After all we are brother and sisters of Christ our elder brother the beloved. We too are dearly loved children of God (See John 1:12; 2 Cor 5:17; Romans 8:16: John 3:16).
Readings: Exodus 1:8; 2:1-4; Hebrews 11:22-29
In my Jewish studies module years ago, we had a lovely Rabbi who taught us. He’s the one who gave me a lift home once and offered me a job. There was a shortage of rabbis at the time. His words were something like this: “it only requires a small operation”. As you can see I stayed with the Presbyterians.
I remember him very distinctly referring to this line in Exodus 1 as a key shift in the story and drama of his people. I’ll say it the way he said it because it’s much more authentic. And to see if you can pick it up. I’ll give you a clue – list for the last word which is a name.
וַיָּ֥קָם מֶֽלֶךְ־חָדָ֖שׁ עַל־מִצְרָ֑יִם אֲשֶׁ֥ר לֹֽא־יָדַ֖ע אֶת־יוֹסֵֽף
“There arose a new king over Egypt who did not know Joseph.”
Genesis 50 ends with Joseph being embalmed in Egypt. Surely people would remember the one who saved them from famine in such an amazing way. The one who dreamed a dream.
The one who was at Pharaoh’s right hand and had all that power. They must have told the story in Egypt. That cup bearer surely remembered Joseph, or did he forget again like he did the first-time causing Joseph to spend an extra two years in prison?
That’s if you take the word “know” as “know about”. There are people who have no idea about their history – or the history of a nation and its heritage. It happens here – the Christian heritage is blotted out from peoples’ memories because the stories are not passed down. It makes it all the more urgent to tell them – teach them – remind people – giving them reasons for the hope that we have – because God is still at work in this country. And of course families have to pass on the story of faith to children and grandchildren.
But there’s another possible layer to that word “know”. It can also mean that he did not look with approval, or did not want to acknowledge his contribution. You know how we say that someone just doesn’t want to know something.
Either way this is about change. This is life. You have agreements – the next generation disregards them. You have a boss and a new one comes and everything changes.
Change is constant everywhere. That’s why the essence of the Christian faith is trust, and hope and not certainty or predictability.
You get changes at work, or move from work to no work. Changes in life when someone dies. Changes in health. Changes in marital status, things that shake your world and can shatter your confidence or self-esteem.
We have to hold on to God’s promises, just has Joseph did when he was dying held to the promises – remember from last week? Gen 50:24 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”
Things can change suddenly – our white island volcano may erupt any day when we’re not expecting it. And especially when change happens, God raises up a new way through the wilderness or the flood or the fire – whatever the challenge is.
He always steps in.
This new king has a plan to kill the Hebrews babies. God raises up brave midwives who save so many of them.
We can’t read this whole story in one day. I just know that losing babies for any reason is one of the most appalling traumas and engenders huge deep grinding grief.
In the midst of terrible treatment of the slaves and this treacherous plan to kill babies, you get these verses of hope at the end of Exodus 1.
Listen as the story continues:
Exo 1:15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, Exo 1:16 “When you help the Hebrew women in childbirth and observe them on the delivery stool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.” Exo 1:17 The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. Exo 1:18 Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?” Exo 1:19 The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.” Exo 1:20 So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous. Exo 1:21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.
Of course, there have to be more than two midwives. Otherwise it would be a bit hectic like places in New Zealand where there aren’t enough of them. But this story records these two specifically. I love their answer about the Hebrew women being more vigorous than the Egyptian ones.
I love that they fear God and take risks in the face of tyranny.
But it gets worse in verse 22 as all people are ordered to kill these baby boys:
Exo 1:22 Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: “Every boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.”
You can imagine families listening to this being read to them as Jewish families passed on the story. How awful to imagine such cruelty.
But as the kids take a breather and go for a quick drink of water, they can come back to listen to the ongoing story.
Chapter 2: (says the reader/dad)
Exo 2:1 Now a man of the house of Levi married a Levite woman, Exo 2:2 and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months. Exo 2:3 But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. Exo 2:4 His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.
This unnamed couple have a son. Of course he was a fine child. Every baby is beautiful! This is their third baby, and he must have looked really special.
The writer to the Hebrews backs this up in 11:23: (ESV) Heb 11:23 By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.
The NIV has this: Heb_11:23 By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.
The child was exceptional, elegant, well formed (in the Latin).
I love this passage. There is a sense of expectancy in the midst of their crisis here:
- There is this unusual child, as some of the translations say.
- Jochebed – the mother whose name we hear of later, hides him for three months. How do you do that. Did he never bleep?
- Miriam – the sister, well listen to the message’s version:
The baby’s older sister found herself a vantage point a little way off and watched to see what would happen to him. She was probably about 15.
Such anticipation. Mum sticks your brother in a basket in a river probably with crocodiles in it and you cross your fingers.
They would have no idea what the outcome would be. Or did they?
Sometimes things can be overwhelming and we wonder – what difference can I really make? It’s all too much. This world has crazy things happening right now.
There are heroes in this story who would have also felt their world was going nuts.
- Midwives are not supposed to kill babies.
- Mums are not supposed to put your baby in a basket in a river and let him float away.
- Men are not supposed to be treated so ruthlessly as those Hebrew slaves were treated.
Let’s hear the end of this chapter of the story as we end today and come to the table which symbolizes God saving people in hopeless situations through the cross of Christ.
This is the point of it all. God does work in impossible situations.
The outcome is neat. Precious really. Listen. Here’s the last reading for today:
Miriam is watching on tippy toes (v4). Imagine dad reading this to the kids before bed. They might have said “what happened next?”
Here it is.
Exo 2:5 The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her attendants walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to bring it. Exo 2:6 When she opened it, she saw the child. He was crying, and she took pity on him. “This must be one of the Hebrews’ children,” she said. Exo 2:7 Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” Exo 2:8 Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Yes.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. Exo 2:9 Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed it. Exo 2:10 When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and she took him as her son. She named him Moses, “because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.”
Perfect. What a great ending.
The baby killer’s daughter takes him out the river.
Young Miriam bravely offers to get a nurse for him – Moses’ mother– and there it is. The baby killer’s daughter even pays Moses’ mum a wage to nurse him. By about the end of his second year or maybe even the third she would give her son back to a princess.
God was at work. Using whoever he chooses for his purposes.
There’s a South African saying that goes like this: “Moenie worry nie, watch net.” Don’t worry, just watch this.
Be like Miriam at the river side watching on tip does to see what will happen to a three month old boy in a river at a time when he had a death sentence on him.
We used to sing this song by “Living Sound” years ago: “God can do it again and again and again, He’s he same God today as he ever has been, yesterday and today, now forever ever the same, God can do it again and again and again.”
What did I say earlier? There is no certainty in life that we can depend on – only faith. The centre of the Christian faith is not certainty or predictability, but faith – trust and hope. As Hebrews 11:1 reminds us: “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not yet seen” (KJV) or “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (NIV)
- Kings that don’t “know Joseph” are always rising up in the land.
- People in power will always manipulate the truth to get what they want (the Hebrews weren’t really getting to be more numerous than the Egyptians. It’s almost as if they become reclassified by today’s political standards as terrorists.
- Change is certain, and what does that call us to? It calls us to trust, to trust the Lord of the covenant who is constant in His love and in His self-giving in the midst of change.
- And the people in this story must speak to us about our capacity to make a difference whoever we are and however humble our position in life. There are five great women in this account who have no great power but yet have great influence (our Famous Five if you like).
Moses’ mother Jochebed, (named later in Exo 6:20) Shiphrah and Puah the midwives. Miriam the 15-year-old big sister. And The Egyptian princess.
it’s been described been described as a “cross-cultural intergenerational alliance of these women”. Shiphrah and Puah, Jochebed, Miriam and the Pharaoh’s daughter who all disobey the king. Our famous five live out faith with genius and courage.
A commentator writes this: “God uses what the patriarchal and power-hungry Pharaohs of the world consider as low and despised in their eyes (Hebrew women) as instruments to shame and overthrow the arrogant and the strong.” (Dennis Olson)
You get a similar theme of the lowly over throwing the strong in the prayers of two other famous women – Hannah and Mary. (Our famous five become the super seven!)
Hannah (1 Sam 2:1-10) – 1Sa 2:7 The LORD sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts. 1Sa 2:8 He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor. “For the foundations of the earth are the LORD’s; upon them he has set the world. 1Sa 2:9 He will guard the feet of his saints, but the wicked will be silenced in darkness. “It is not by strength that one prevails;
Mary – Luk 1:46 And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord Luk 1:47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, Luk 1:48 for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, Luk 1:52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.
Paul continues along the same lines in 1 Corinthians 1. – 1Co 1:26 Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 1Co 1:27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 1Co 1:28 He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 1Co 1:29 so that no one may boast before him.
And there’s this lovely connection with the bigger story. The word for boat/basket for baby Moses is only used one other time – and it’s the word for the ark (Noah’s ark).
And Moses’ is named by the princess (traditionally his parent name for him is said to have been Joachim.) And Moses (Mashah – Moshe) – means “one who draws out” – pointing forward as he will draw them out of Egypt. The Exodus story is that rescue.
More about Moses next time. The plot will thicken!
For today let’s remind ourselves of the one greater than Moses who is our rescuer as we come to the Lord’s table. We meet here with Jesus who also modelled humility before victory is totally trustworthy and he empowers us too.
Watch and see what God can do in our generation.
Through ordinary people like us.
Readings: 1 Corinthians 15:16-28; Matthew 6:9-10; 31-33
Praying for the Kingdom to come.
We’ve talked about God as Father – this heavenly Father – and what it means to make his name holy in our lives.
The focus of the prayer we call the “Lord’s Prayer” thus far is about honouring and adoring this amazing God.
So close to us – yet so different and perfect – holy is the word we use.
The transition to the next concept may seem all too familiar to us. After all we can pray this prayer blindfolded and without really thinking about the words and their meaning.
- A Father, loving and faithful
- A holy God before whom we cry like Isaiah “woe is me” because we are unholy
- And now a KING.
Images of royalty – singing “God save our gracious Queen” – the idea of a King Charles verses a King William – all these come to mind.
And on Wednesday the world will think again of the tragic death of Princess Diana – and at the same time thinking people will wonder why people made so much fuss, when one considers aspects of her lifestyle.
The current Queen has a much greater sense of duty and decorum – of being worthy of the role she has faithfully carried out.
But what about God as King?
- If it’s his Kingdom we are to pray for – then he is the King.
- How do you feel about that?
When you wander into this place on Sunday (whether on time or not) – in the presence of the King – do you think our approach is worthy of his Kingly honour?
Or are we more like people in a shopping mall or a market? Just a thought.
And so three thoughts on how we respond to this:
PRAYING FOR THE KINGDOM TO COME –
- positions us differently as his subjects.
John the Baptist, and Jesus, spoke about the Kingdom being near. For John the preparation required that people clean up their act. The axe was at the root of the tree – a symbol of judgement.
For Jesus – his ministry ushered in the Kingdom – which was effectively a declaration of war on the powers of darkness – sin, sickness, and sedition if you like. Sedition or revolution – the usurping of power – symbolised by Satan himself who rebelled and was cast out of heaven because his behaviour was not fitting for that holy place.
And Jesus spoke endlessly about this Kingdom – near us, within us, and described in the many parables as a new force with upside down qualities like the first being last, the last being first, and the greatest being servants of all.
If his Kingdom came in Christ – and we are to pray for it to come – we suddenly find ourselves with a different agenda – to line up our lives with the values and standards of this King.
And since the death and resurrection of Christ – and His exaltation – Jesus is the King – the one with the name that is above every other name – whom we worship and obey.(Philippians 2).
Praying for the Kingdom to come as Christians positions us differently – we are no longer self-serving. We serve Him. We obey Him.
And we do this until the end – whatever generation of Christians is around at the end. Paul gives us a glimpse of how this Kingdom will be wrapped up. Just as there is a succession process in the House of Windsor – there is one in heaven too.
Listen again: 1Co 15:22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 1Co 15:23 But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 1Co 15:24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.
1Co 15:28 When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.
PRAYING FOR THE KINGDOM TO COME –
- positions us differently in the community of the Church
You have to read Paul’s letters to the Ephesians and the Colossians to understand the implications of Christ being King and head of the church.
We talk about his often – how we are members of His body – that each part matters – that all gifts are valuable – that we are to build each other up in love.
All we do here – the things we reflect on today in the AGM reports and plans for the future – are actually not about a club having a meeting to pat ourselves on the back each year – they are actually because we want to glorify the King, obey Him, and see his Kingdom touch the lives of others.
As we have said before – the church is the only organisation that exists for an invisible head and for it’s not-yet-members – whom we want to see enter into the life of the Kingdom of God.
And Christ is the head of the church. We have to be connected to Him. (And not like a headless chicken running around – they eventually fall over.)
All we do together and for each other – is to the glory of the King.
- Our first priority is always WORSHIP. As the shorter Westminster confession says in its very first question:
What is the chief end of man? (What is the main purpose of people?)
Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
- And we have to listen to what he says. King Jesus commissioned his followers to proclaim the gospel to everyone – here at home and beyond to every nation. PROCLAMATION.
- King Jesus commissioned us to make disciples and teach them to live by his teachings. DISCIPLESHIP.
- King Jesus gave us the new commandment to love each other – declaring that people would know we are his followers by our love. That’s what drives our pastoral care in our FELLOWSHIP. It’s not keeping members happy like a club. It’s care that is linked to DIAKONIA – ministry or service of those in need in the community too, the hungry, homeless, lonely and depressed.
PRAYING FOR THE KINGDOM TO COME –
- positions us differently in terms of our priorities in life.
At a basic level – He says
- “…seek first his kingdom and his righteousness” (Matt 6:33)
- When you pray say: “Your Kingdom come” (Matt 6:10)
And then we have the rest of our lives revisiting his teaching on the Kingdom.
He didn’t speak so much about the Kingdom for fun.
Just a couple of his declarations about the Kingdom for today:
- Joh_3:3 In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” IT’S A SPIRITUAL KINGDOM TRANSCENDING ALL BARRIERS.
- Mat_18:3 And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. IT’S A KINGDOM THAT IS ENTERED THROUGH FAITH AND TRUST – LIKE THE TRUST OF A CHILD.
- Mat_19:24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” IT REQUIRES PAYING A PRICE WITH NEW VALUES – WE HAVE TO DECIDE WHETHER STUFF MATTERS OR THESE SPIRITUAL TRUTHS AND VALUES.
- Luk_9:62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” IT REQUIRES COMMITMENT AND ENDURANCE.
If we get out our bibles each week – and look for one parable or teaching on the Kingdom – perhaps we may begin to grasp the depth and width of what it’s all about.
We will surely see the difference. So will others.
For now – are we really seeking the Kingdom first?
Readings: Isaiah 64:1-8; Galatians 4:6-7; Matthew 6:5-9;
How are you when it comes to intimacy? I’ve been reflecting on the word, and how different people see things differently when it comes to matchmaking. You get these programs on TV where people who don’t know each other are married off – and you wait to see whether the marriage will survive. There’s another program where they try to find the farmer a wife. Reminds me of the kids’ song we used to sing?
“The farmer in the dell.” It has a second verse: “The farmer takes a wife (x2) – Hey-ho the derry-o the farmer takes a wife.” You may remember the verses. Farmer – wife- child – nurse – cow- dog – cat – mouse – cheese – the cheese stands alone at the end. It originated in Germany for what it’s worth.
It reminds me of the classic story about a farmer who was single and wanted a wife. The farmer put an ad in a newspaper that read: “Man, 35, wants woman about 25 with tractor. Send picture of tractor.”
Problem with intimacy it seems? Rather business like. Cerebral perhaps – all about thinking and planning and rationalising things. If I could just get a new tractor… Let me think…
Presbyterians are historically a rather cerebral lot. Intellect is really important. That’s why ministers are often trained to a level that defies common sense. University faculties sometimes get people thinking right out of their faith. But you can understand the commitment to training and knowledge. And nobody wants to base their faith on feelings.
You can’t base your marriage on feelings either. Yes I’m married, no I’m not… Best get the marriage certificate out as it states a fact!
Feelings and emotions change too much.
Intimacy is a little different though. It’s not necessarily driven by emotion – there is emotion involved but at its heart – I think – there is certainty and trust. A sense of safety and warm connection.
It’s right there in Jesus’ prayer life – in the calling of God “Father” or “Abba” which is almost like daddy. Most of the time its “Father”. Especially in John’s gospel where he uses the phrase repetitively.
And “Abba” – which twice is referred to in relationship to the Holy Spirit by Paul (in Galatians 4:6 which we read and the well-known Romans 8:15) – is used specifically by Jesus in Mark 14:36 when he prays in Gethsemane. At the toughest time of trial – he calls on Abba.
That has to be one of the most intimate prayer moments – facing the cup of suffering.You need to be close to God in a crisis!
When Jesus teaches his disciples to pray – it begins with “Father” or “Our Father”. You saw the differences between Luke and Matthew’s record of this two weeks ago when we looked at the Lord’s prayer.
The idea of God as Father is not entirely new in the New Testament.
It does crop up in the Old Testament occasionally.
Isaiah 64 is a great example which we heard today.
It’s a famous passage used in prayers for revival and sermons about revival. That desire for God to really move in power to stir people up to repentance, faith and spiritual fervour and commitment.
Listen again: Isa 64:1 Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you! Isa 64:2 As when fire sets twigs ablaze and causes water to boil, come down to make your name known to your enemies and cause the nations to quake before you!
What is the prophet seeking? The presence and power of God. He prays that God would tear open the heavens and come down and shake things up on earth.
In verse two he prays that God would come down and make his name known to enemies and nations.
And while Isaiah wrestles with this desire for God to tear open the heavens and make his presence and his name known, he recognises that it had happened before. Look at verse 3:
Isa 64:3 For when you did awesome things that we did not expect, you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.
And then there’s this wonderful expression of faith and hope: Isa 64:4 Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.
Ring any bells? Paul quotes and expands this amazing passage in 1 Corinthians 2 where he writes in verses 9 and 10: 1Co 2:9 However, as it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him”—1Co 2:10 but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.
Again it’s the work of the Holy Spirit who makes these things known to us.
There is a beauty and an intimacy in this expression of God’s love and promise for those who love him. What he has in store for us is beyond expectation entirely.
Paul captures some of this expectation in his doxology in Ephesians 3:
Eph 3:20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, Eph 3:21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
The stumbling block in Isaiah’s time is the sin that separates people from God. He continues to wrestle with this in the next three verses:
Isa 64:5 You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways. But when we continued to sin against them, you were angry. How then can we be saved? Isa 64:6 All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. Isa 64:7 No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and made us waste away because of our sins.
A brother of mine walked into my office the other day – concerned that we might become over-confident in our own righteousness – rather than the imputed righteousness of Christ – and dumped a gift on my desk. Guess what it was? A really filthy rag. I think he had Isaiah 64:6 in mind.
HERE’S A QUESTION:
Are you not troubled today by the excess of sin and shameful behaviour in the world, the flagrant disregard for truth and justice?
Of course the difference is that Isaiah is praying about the people of God – who should have known better. There was a remnant seeking Him of course.
So – there is always hope. The passage ends with this beautiful line:
Isa 64:8 Yet, O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.
So God as Father is not a new idea that Jesus invents.
But he does own it. And particularly in John’s gospel where there are more than a hundred occurrences.
SO WHAT DO WE DO WITH THIS?
Following Jesus, knowing God as Father is really fundamental to our faith.
Some helpful suggestions.
- Don’t get your idea or picture of God muddied by any bad experience you may have had of a human father.
It’s a different thing. This is the Holy Father who is just, and has our best interests at heart.
When we let our image of a failed earthly father cloud our view of our Heavenly Father’s love and faithfulness, it can be a deception of the devil to blind us to the reality of this heavenly Father’s love and care for us. The devil is the father of lies remember. (John 8:44)
- Focus on your communication with this Father. Prayer is everything.
The context of Jesus’ teaching on this prayer pattern – which is not really the Lord’s prayer but the believers’ prayer – people praying out loud in the synagogue, and later pagans and their long-winded prayers.
Listen again: Mat 6:5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.Mat 6:6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
This room – or closet – is really an inner room. The point is that intimacy is not meant for the public eye. And there is a huge difference between public prayer and private prayer. When you lead people in prayer – you take them into the presence of God and help them with key points to focus on.It’s not about you – but it’s all about all of us.
When you pray on your own – while you can’t avoid praying for everyone else – you can spill your guts – open your heart – and really tell your Father how you feel.
- You can ask God all the hard questions.
- You can say it like it is.
- And you can balance the hard questions with counting your blessings and thanksgiving and gratitude.
But don’t stay there – focusing only on the hard questions. Because your loving heavenly Father really wants to embrace you. Wait on God. Be still in His presence.
Let God speak to you. Through intuitive thoughts – through ideas he pops in your mind – and especially through the bible.
And look at the second part of verse 6 again: Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
What an interesting line. We kind of avoid the notion of reward. We are allergic to any idea that suggests we earn salvation or God’s love.
That truth remains. We don’t earn salvation. You can’t buy it through years of service.
But it is God’s nature to want to bless us as His children. He rewards us with a greater sense of faith and certainty, confidence and courage – and an overwhelming sense of being loved and safe in His hands.
Those private times of prayer are important. It has been suggested that you find a place – and have a notebook with your bible. The notebook is to write down thoughts and ideas you get – but also you need a separate column for when you have distractions – like things to do – jot them down separately and put them aside.
Focus on God’s presence. And a prayer book is helpful too. The NZ Anglican prayer book has daily prayers for each morning and evening.
These help us focus. There are other prayer aids. And listening to hymns and worship songs helps us focus on the Lord too.
In Matthew 6 Jesus continues: Mat 6:7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.
Mat 6:8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
You don’t need to go on and on. Don’t babble like pagans! That’s pretty direct isn’t it?
Don’t be like them.
This is your Father who knows what you need before you ask Him.
Watch out for the long shopping list. He knows.
In a close relationship you can also sit in silence.
Sometimes all you have to do is groan. Do you remember that passage from Romans 8 – a few verses after the Abba Father verse (v15)? Listen to it again:
Rom 8:22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Rom 8:23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
We groan in despair at fallen world and long for the new creation – we experience the firstfruits and long for the completion of the new creation. We have this taste of the perfection to come.
We have our new status now – but the full inheritance as sons is yet to come.
I want to end with an old story – forgive me if you’ve heard it before – but it really is helpful to explain what is yet to come. It’s called “The Fork”.
There was a Christian lady who was diagnosed with a terminal illness and had been given three months to live. So as she was getting her things “in order,” she contacted her pastor and had him come to her house to discuss certain aspects of her final wishes. She told him which songs she wanted sung at the service, what scriptures she would like read, and what outfit she wanted to be buried in. The woman also requested to be buried with her favourite Bible. Everything was in order and the pastor was preparing to leave when the woman suddenly remembered something very important to her.
“There’s one more thing,” she said excitedly.
“What’s that?” came the pastor’s reply.
“This is very important,” the woman continued. “I want to be buried with a fork in my right hand.”
The pastor stood looking at the woman, not knowing quite what to say. “That surprises you, doesn’t it?”, the woman asked.
“Well, to be honest, I’m puzzled by the request,” said the pastor.
The woman explained, “In all my years of attending church socials and potluck dinners, I always remember that when the dishes of the main courses were being cleared, someone would inevitably lean over and say, “Keep your fork.” It was my favourite part because I knew that something better was coming…like velvety chocolate cake or deep-dish apple pie. Something wonderful, and with substance! So, I just want people to see me there in that casket with a fork in my hand and I want them to wonder, “What’s with the fork?” Then I want you to tell them: “Keep your fork. The best is yet to come.”
The pastor’s eyes welled up with tears of joy as he hugged the woman good-bye. He knew this would be one of the last times he would see her before her death. But he also knew that the woman had a better grasp of Heaven than most Christians did.
She KNEW that something better was coming.
At her funeral people were walking by the woman’s casket and they saw the pretty dress she was wearing, her favourite Bible, and the fork placed in her right hand.
Over and over, the pastor heard the question “What’s with the fork?”
And over and over he smiled.
During his message, the pastor told the people of the conversation he had with the woman shortly before she died. He also told them about the fork and about what it symbolized to her. The pastor told the people how he could not stop thinking about the fork and told them that they probably would not be able to stop thinking about it either. He was right.
So the next time you reach down for your fork, let it remind you ever so gently, that the best is yet to come.
IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT NOW
Remember John 14 J Jesus speaking to them before his death: Joh 14:1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. Joh 14:2 In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.
We can be really intimate with the Father now – and the place where we will end up is the Father’s house.
When you pray – start with “Father” or “our Father”. And stay with Him. Remain with Him.As a child is safe in His father’s presence.
Hold onto that truth every moment of the day. It defines who we are and what we will become.
Thank you Father.
Readings: Luke 8:26-39
Luk 8:27 When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. Luk 8:28 When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!”
I wonder how you would have felt doing some pastoral visiting at this man’s place.
It’s not exactly welcoming.
The average church pastoral team would rather call a medical emergency line. Or simply dial 111. Or 999, depending where you live.
It’s a cemetery for one thing.
My first church posting as a pastor alone was in a town where the church met in a national monument made of stone strategically placed between two cemeteries. There was no power – the organ ran on a petrol generator.
In time we moved out to a local school, and after I moved on they built a church building.
We never did have evening services between those two cemeteries.
This man –
• He lived amongst the dead
• He was in chains
• He was naked
And I’m sure people were comfortable that he stayed there – that he didn’t wander into town at night.
Trust Jesus to show up there. He’s had a nap on the boat ride over. Just by the way – the sea of Galilee is an inland lake 166 square kms (for kiwis, Taupo is 616 square kms.) It was a bumpy ride in a fierce storm.
He’s had his followers accusing him of not caring that they might drown.
He’s calmed the squall – we love that story because we’d all like our storms in life stilled – we all want peace.
And now he encounters this! With all its potential for violence and plenty of drama.
This was not Jewish territory. The pigs give that away.
The man was unwell by any standards – and there were no psychiatrists back in the day. In today’s medical terms he would probably be classified as mentally ill. And institutionalized because he was a risk to others and himself. Possibly Psychotic at the least. Not to speak of the terrible loneliness and isolation. And self-harm and ferocity.
The encounter with Jesus is also intriguing. Why is he so afraid of Jesus tormenting him? Okay perhaps it’s the demon voices speaking – if you are a strict literalist. On the other hand, it could also be symptomatic of a real desire of this sick man not to face reality. Perhaps it’s all too hard for him.
Someone has suggested that strangers would be kinder to us if we are seriously ill – because they would have no special concern for us and would try to make us feel good.
Those who love us, on the other hand, would ask the hard questions and want us to face real change.
I take the demonic in scripture very seriously – but not all the people Jesus healed were demonized. It’s more complex than that.
Whatever the cause of this man’s oppression, he would have been terrified of change. His home among the dead was at least predicable in some way. And he would hardly have been welcome in so called normal society. The prejudice is just as real today if we are off the spectrum in terms of our mental health.
The truth is that most of us are at best ambivalent about dealing with radical change in our lives.
Jesus addresses these demons – the Legion. They don’t want to go into the Abyss – a unique word in Luke it seems – the place of the dead perhaps, the deep (Psalm 107:26 cf. Romans 10:7) – or an equivalent of hell or hades (Luke 16:23). (cf. Rev 9:11 and Jude 1:6).
It’s a troubling thing for the locals that the demons ask for permission to go into the pigs.
2000 pigs according to Mark. At $50 each conservatively that’s $100 000 worth of disruption for the locals.
What a story to share with your neighbours. The grapevine would have been red hot.
WHAT ABOUT US?
• There are degrees of brokenness. But we are all broken.
• There are degrees of sickness.
• But we are all vulnerable.
No matter who we are – we are part of this broken world.
And there are plenty of people out there tormented by oppression, mental illnesses, addictions, loneliness and despair.
At a very basic level this story gives hope – and disturbs people all at once.
Luk 8:34 When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, Luk 8:35 and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid.
The naked mad one is doing what we all need to do – sitting at Jesus’ feet. Doing the Mary thing (which Martha struggled with if you remember).
And he’s dressed.
And in his right mind.
And the people are afraid! And rightly so – if Jesus can do this – perhaps they thought – what then could he do in my life? Do I want that?
Do you want that? Radical transformation? or would you prefer respectable Christianity – tamed religion.
The locals didn’t want it. Look at verse 37: Luk 8:37 Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left.
But the story does end with such a positive statement:
Luk 8:38 The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, Luk 8:39 “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him. Note the shift from God to Jesus.
When we meet with Jesus ourselves – we too can’t stay on a high as it were. On the mountain top – or in the boat after the storm.
We have to go home and tell others about it.
He does it: So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.
We missed verse 36: Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured.
There’s the key. The word cured also means healed and saved, liberated. We need that too. How much Jesus had done indeed.
Marvelous. Brilliant. Wonderful. Stunning. Fantastic. Miraculous.
Praise God for His grace. He still sets people free today.
Readings: Psalm 55:1-8; Luke 8:22-25
Have you ever wanted to fly?
I don’t mean on an aeroplane. I mean if you could just grow wings and go wherever you want.
In Psalm 55 David is having troubles with a whole lot of things and people. Crazy scary emotions. His heart is in anguish – probably racing – he is experiencing fear and trembling and horror – and he prays this prayer which has been sung for many years around the world since written in 1844 by Felix Mendelssohn the German composer:
Psa 55:6 I said, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest—
Psa 55:7 I would flee far away and stay in the desert; Selah
Psa 55:8 I would hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and storm.
Here it is to listen to:
Of course you wouldn’t really want to be a dove – there are horrible cats out there and birds of prey that can nab you.
But there are times when we feel like escaping the storms of life. The troubles out there and our fears and concerns in our hearts.
It does feel like we are in a storm tossed boat.
The bible reading from Luke today is about a scene like that.
A number of Jesus’ followers were fishermen and they did travel by boat at times – Jesus was quite busy around Lake Galilee. Which actually is quite big – 166 square kilometres. Not as big as Taupo though – which is 616 square kilometres.
I’s not surprising Jesus is asleep in the boat. He would have been ministering to many people and large crowds tended to follow him.
His followers are really stressed by this storm. It’s described here as a squall – by Mark as a furious squall, and by Matthew as a furious storm. Maybe Matthew the tax collector didn’t have sea legs and it felt much worse.
So they wake Jesus up – don’t you care we are going to drown?
Sounds like our prayer lives. Save us! Don’t you care? It’s all a bit much in the storms of our lives.
Amazingly he speaks peace – and the storm is stilled.
And of course he tells them off – you of little faith! (Matthew). Do you still have no faith? (Mark). Where is your faith? (Luke).
If you are in a storm today in your life.
If your boat is been overwhelmed by the waves and you feel you may sink.
And it feels like He is not hearing your cries for help – that he is sleeping – be of good cheer and have faith! Trust him!
Listen to Psalm 121 – which is one of the Psalms they would pray as they went up to Jerusalem to worship. Let it speak to you.
Psa 121:1 A song of ascents. I lift up my eyes to the hills— where does my help come from?
Psa 121:2 My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.
Psa 121:3 He will not let your foot slip— he who watches over you will not slumber;
Psa 121:4 indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
Psa 121:5 The LORD watches over you— the LORD is your shade at your right hand;
Psa 121:6 the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.
Psa 121:7 The LORD will keep you from all harm— he will watch over your life;
Psa 121:8 the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.
He is not asleep. He’s right here with us.
Receive His peace today.
Reading: Luke 7:1-10; Psalm 96
Do you remember the first place Jesus preached at? That great sermon quoting from Isaiah – “the spirit of the Lord is upon me”
Quiz question 1: Where was that?
Nazareth – where he had been brought up.
Quiz question 2: What happened next?
They chased him out. Like modern hearers of sermons they were less than thrilled. In Luke 4:29 (another reminder on 29th May) – they tried to throw him off a cliff.
I always find that comforting when people are less than thrilled by my sermons. It’s never got as bad as Luke 4:29.
In this case Jesus walks through the crowds and goes on his way.
Quiz question 3: where did he go next?
Capernaum of course. Everybody should know that. Here’s a more recent picture of Capernaum than the ones Jesus took on his Kodak bible-matic camera of the day:
Can you see the Octagonal church there? It’s built over the site of an older church which in turn was built over the site of whose house?
Quiz question 4: whose house? Which disciple and first pope? Why Peter of course. We all know that.
Stuff happened in Capernaum. It was a town of about 1500 and the fishing village where Jesus called Peter, James, John and Andrew to leave their nets and follow him. And it was also the village of Matthew the tax collector.
The man in Luke 4:35 who is cleansed of an evil spirit is set free in the synagogue in Capernaum. That got peoples’ attention. It wasn’t your average Saturday synagogue session.
In 4:36 we read this:
Luk 4:36 All the people were amazed and said to each other, “What is this teaching? With authority and power he gives orders to evil spirits and they come out!” Luk 4:37 And the news about him spread throughout the surrounding area.
Jesus goes to Peter’s house after this – and heals his mum in law. That got them talking I’m sure. Rebuking fevers and what have you.
It gets so frenetic – well just listen to Luke: Luk 4:40 When the sun was setting, the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying his hands on each one, he healed them. Luk 4:41 Moreover, demons came out of many people, shouting, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew he was the Christ.
Luk 4:42 At daybreak Jesus went out to a solitary place. The people were looking for him and when they came to where he was, they tried to keep him from leaving them. Luk 4:43 But he said, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.”
In Luke 5 there’s another commotion. Such a crowd – that these people carrying a paralysed friend break a hole in the roof of a house to let him down so that Jesus can heal him.
Here’s the line that sets a cat among the theological pigeons: Luk 5:20 When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”
The Pharisees are less than thrilled. Knowing what they are thinking, he says:
Luk 5:23 Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?
Luk 5:24 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…” He said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.”
Luk 5:25 Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God.
Now you may wonder – why all these details about Capernaum.
Well – it’s because when we get to Luke 7 which is today’s reading – he’s back in Capernaum. We’ve seen quite a bit of faith in Capernaum. Point well made.
But in Luke 7 – this is not a Jewish setting or a synagogue gathering.
Suddenly out of nowhere there’s a Roman centurion in the mix.
Weird. Fascinating. A man from an oppressive foreign power.
With all those Jews less than thrilled about Jesus forgiving sins and healing on the Sabbath – some Jewish elders come with a request on behalf of a gentile occupier from a foreign army.
There’s a bit of sending going on here.
The centurion sends the Jewish elders to ask for Jesus’ help with this sick servant.
The reason they give is fascinating too: “This man deserves to have you do this, Luk 7:5 because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.”
So Jesus goes along. Game? Curious? Compassionate?
On the way the centurion sends others – this time friends – with a message.
“Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.
Luk 7:7 That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed.
Luk 7:8 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
Up to now people were amazed at Jesus and his works.
This time its Jesus who is amazed. Listen again: Luk 7:9 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.”
We’ve heard and sung about Amazing Grace. This is amazing faith.
At this point – let’s stop for a while and consider this picture. Ask yourself – is this funny? Is it fair? Where are you in this situation? Are we like Eugene?
DISCUSSION (in small groups or with the person next to you).
Talk about Eugene and his faith in the cartoon on screen. Here are some questions to discuss about our prayer life and our faith:
1. Are there things I am still asking for after 47 years?
2. Should I give up?
3. What are the big things I am trusting Jesus for?
4. How amazing is my faith?
5. How does it compare with the faith of the centurion?
6. What do you find amazing about his faith?
SHARING TIME: So what “ponies” are you still praying for? Do you still have amazing faith for some things – for a break through – for a prayer to be answered.
Go back to Luke 7:
Luk 7:9 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.”
Remarkable that Jesus should say this.
The man’s words are remarkable: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.
Luk 7:7 That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed.
Luk 7:8 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
TWO POINTS TO TAKE HOME
1. “I am not worthy” – it’s so like the prayer of humble access in the Communion liturgy of some churches:
We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy:
It’s so like the Canaanite woman of Matthew 15:
Mat 15:25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.
Mat 15:26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”
Mat 15:27 “Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”
Mat 15:28 Then Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.
Sometimes our prayers make us sound presumptuous.
2. It speaks of who Jesus really is. The real stunner is this – that he says that Jesus did not even have to be there physically for the healing to take place.
This cuts across everything people believed and experienced about faith healers. Just say the word. He’s saying something about who Jesus is – as the God who speaks and things come into being – like creation. Remember John 1 – nothing has been made that was not made through Jesus, the Word of God.
WHAT ABOUT US
The troubling things about this whole story is where we fit in.
How amazing is our faith?
Are we a bit like the Jewish people who wanted to debate things? Who had preconceived ideas? Cherished notions we don’t let go of?
Especially on healing and whether God really speaks. In two weeks’ time we will have Tony and Sue Kerr and their team here. Will we really expect God to speak and act?
Are we open to learning how to minister like they do? Because they are willing to come along and equip us to be used to bring God’s restoring power and love into other peoples’ lives.
(Are we on another level? Do we think – I wish we had a centurion who would sponsor our synagogue/church?)
Have we given up? – like Eugene’s friends who tell him – “we’re tired of hearing your prayer request. Go and buy a pony!” in other words – solve it yourself.
As we travel through Luke’s gospel we will find other amazing things that God does.
This one is about Amazing faith.
Maybe we need to ask for “amazing faith” ourselves.
Luk 7:9 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.”
What’s he saying to the angels now about the faith he finds here in Browns Bay?
READINGS: Deuteronomy 8: 7-18; 2 Corinthians 9:6-15; Luke 12:16-30
Have you given anyone a gift recently? I wonder what the occasion was. Perhaps a birthday, Christmas, or the celebration of a new life – the birth of a baby. Perhaps a grandchild?
Think about the gifts you have received in the past year.
- Do you remember who gave them to you?
- Did you remember to thank them?
- Do you think about them when you use that gift?
The overwhelming idea in the passage from the Old Testament today is a warning that we should not forget the gifts God gives us – the blessings he bestowed – the things he has done. And I would add the prayers he has answered.
Over the years I have had amazing conversations with people who have really considered believing in God – or have prayed to him (when they usually didn’t) – or have even come along to church for a while in a crisis. Who contact me in emergencies for spiritual help and prayer – and when things are going well they are suspiciously silent. We pray for people who have needs – are unemployed or unwell – their prayers are answered and we don’t see them again for a long time.
Deuteronomy 8 reminds us of this amazing gift of life and creation (whether it’s the land promised to Israel or this beautiful country we enjoy) – that we should not forget and become proud about our achievements (v14) – and it also says that he gives us the ability to produce wealth! (v18).
It’s that old attitude of gratitude. We often realise too late when people are dead and gone what a blessing they were. And so too many other things we enjoy.
- DON’T FORGET THE LORD! This is the first point today. This generous God – we should not neglect to speak of his kindness and grace, and to praise him constantly for his gifts. Which leads to the second point worth remembering today:
2. GENEROUSITY IS CONTAGEOUS
The reading from Corinthians picks up the harvest theme from a different angle.
Again it is God who “supplies seed to the sower and bread for food” (2 Corinthians 9:10).
The generosity of spirit in both practical and spiritual things – with cheerfulness – is the natural outflow of knowing we are blessed to be a blessing.
And so Paul says to the church in Corinth (in the context of their giving):
2Co 9:6 Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 2Co 9:7 Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
We are not always known to be cheerful givers. The offering time in many churches is not noted for excessive happiness and hilarity!
Paul was dependent upon peoples’ gifts to keep the work going – so that the gospel could reach all the places he travelled to on his missionary journeys. He says:
2Co 9:10 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 2Co 9:11 You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. 2Co 9:12 This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. (As an aside we need to thank God regularly for those who serve with us here).
God has blessed us – we bless others and give to the work of the gospel as part of our thanksgiving and worship.
The riches we receive are not physical here. This is not a prosperity business – giving to be blessed – even though we are told we will be blessed!
We give to those in need to glorify God! We need to be generous kids of a generous Father. Generosity is contagious. Like love – its catchy!
And now to the third point today:
- SELFISHNESS IS RISKY AT BEST – FOOLISH AT LEAST
The gospel reading is a stark reminder of the power of sin – which focusses on me mine, what I will do for myself. It comes through clearly in the words of the barn man:
Luk 12:17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Luk 12:18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. Luk 12:19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”‘ Luk 12:20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ Luk 12:21 “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”
What is this guy really after? A nest egg and early retirement? God calls him a fool.
What matters when the plug is pulled and we are gone from all this stuff in a flash?
There’s nothing wrong with providing for oneself and family. But this man is totally obsessed with himself. The context is greed. Look at the preceding verses Luke 12:13-15:
Luk 12:13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Luk 12:14 Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” Luk 12:15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.
What could he have done?
Probably being content with what he had would be a start. Paul says this on the matter:
1Ti 6:6 But godliness with contentment is great gain. 1Ti 6:7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 1Ti 6:8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 1Ti 6:9 People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. 1Ti 6:10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
Following on from this warning is our last point:
4. TRUST HIM WHETHER IN WANT OR WELL PROVIDED FOR (aka DON’T WORRY BE HAPPY?)
The gospel passage today ends with that wonderful reminder about God the provider:
Luk 12:22 Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Luk 12:23 Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Luk 12:24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Luk 12:25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Luk 12:26 Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest? Luk 12:27 “Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. Luk 12:28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! Luk 12:29 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. Luk 12:30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them.
He ends with this:
Luk 12:31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. Luk 12:32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.
Worry is an unprofitable emotion indeed. Remember last week how I said we have to fill our minds with scripture to offset all the other stuff we are fed.
My prescription for you today: Read this passage at least once a week. It reminds us that we are more valuable than the birds who are provided for. He will take care of us!
- Guard your heart – that insidious love of money and stuff can destroy you.
- Seek his Kingdom, little flock. He has been pleased to give us the kingdom! This means not storing up for heaven as a kind of investment, but living for different lasting values and priorities now.
To recap we should work on:
- Not forgetting the Lord – being thankful!
- Being like Him – generous.
- Living lives in a mode opposite to greed and selfishness.
- Trusting Him – he is our provider. The Kingdom kids have the King’s kindness to depend upon! Remember Luke 12:30 “Your Father knows that you need them”.
May His Kingdom come and His will be done on earth – as it is in heaven.