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Sunday message,14 February 2016 (Lent 1) -Valentine’s Day and faithfulness

READINGS: Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Romans 10:8b-13; Luke 4:1-13

SERMON

God has sent this card to us. It’s much richer than a Valentine’s Day card. It doesn’t say “be my valentine”. It does invite us to a relationship though!

A love relationship.

What kills off a love relationship? (Apart from not working on your relationship as you get older – not dating – not saying you love her – withholding favours – not taking showers – bad financial habits – all that mundane helpful or unhelpful stuff depending where you are here?) Unfaithfulness is sure to kill it off!

Having your heart in other places – whether it be things or people or inappropriate individuals! Idolatry – is to substitute something else for the one you love. If the greatest commandment is about loving God with all your heart, mind, strength – Jesus clearly had to model that too! The trinity is key – God is love and Father, Son and Holy Spirit are fully united and connected in love!

Jesus’ testing – these temptations – (there’s a debate about which word is best) – imagine what it would have done to his Father’s heart had he succumbed to the deception!!

We can’t think like that because we have this superhero view of Jesus – forgetting that he was fully man. These were real temptations.So we should not see them as a cartoon scene – devil with horns and Jesus like Captain America with a shield – or Thor with his hammer! This is real temptation! Nope. I can see you don’t really believe me.

In all the readings today – the tragedy is that people who knew better turned away from God (who was utterly faithful) and whored after other things.

It’s not my language. It’s bible language. Read the prophets. It’s called harlotry if you want a politer sounding word. A best unfaithfulness. In Deuteronomy 26 the people who were given the promised land were told to bring the first fruits of that land as an offering to the Lord.

More than that they were to declare who they were. They were to declare what God had done to rescue them. And together the community were to celebrate the giving of the offering of the first fruits of the land. And the process culminated in this wonderful line:

 Deu 26:9  He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; 

And the declaration: Deu 26:10  and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, O LORD, have given me.” Place the basket before the LORD your God and bow down before him.

Deu 26:11  And you and the Levites and the aliens among you shall rejoice in all the good things the LORD your God has given to you and your household.

The “milk and honey” phrase is not about a perfect utopia. Milk means there were cows or sheep or goats – and that meant grass – and rain – and nurture. Honey meant bees, and flowers, and colour, and germination – and pollination! It’s a great declaration of a beautiful gift which mirrors the whole gift of creation.

How can you declare these things in worship and then walk out ungrateful, behave like a cad, (a rogue or scoundrel if you don’t know what a cad is) and be unfaithful to God by letting the side down?

That’s unfaithfulness. That’s idolatry. That’s succumbing to the temptation to make yourself more important than God and his faithful love.

The four verses from Romans 10 in the lectionary this week might also seem odd.

What are they doing here in Lent?

How do they relate?

Remember where they are in Romans – in the middle of Paul agonising over the Jewish people and their place – and the overall message of Romans that all have sinned.

Rom 10:10  For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.

Rom 10:11  As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”

Rom 10:12  For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him,

Rom 10:13  for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

  • We won’t be put to shame if we trust in Him (Jews or Gentiles)
  • He richly blesses all who call on him (Jews or Gentiles)
  • How can you be unfaithful to this God?

And so we come to Luke 4 – the temptations of Jesus.

He has to be a real human being to be tempted like this. In the words of Tom Wright: “There is a sense in this story of a deep wrestling, a heart-searching, a personal struggle with the powerful pull of bodily appetites, ambition and prestige. Most of us know only a little of that struggle, because we tend to give up and give in, early on in the process. Jesus went all the way through the tests and still didn’t break.”

But he made it. Like us, he two depended on God’s grace and strength. It is only Luke who says this: Luke 4:1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert,

He had to get through these tests on the mountain of temptation – so that on that grubby little hill called Golgotha (the place of the scull) he would see it through, knowing that he would be vindicated. How could He be unfaithful to the Father who loved him so? He was the beloved son! The chosen one. The only son. The voices from heaven had reminded him so clearly.

And he did it all for you. And for me. He was victorious here and on the cross – winning the battle for us. Because we don’t last the distance. Thankfully it’s all called Amazing Grace. Amen.

 

 

Sunday sermon 13 September 2015 – How good is the God we adore

Readings: Psalm 37:1-6   Mark 10:17-31  1 Thessalonians 5:12-24

SERMON

We had some fun figuring out the words of Lynda’s song she asked us to sing today.

The two versions are really saying the same thing – but it helps to sing the same thing on the same day. We talk about “being on the same page”! Here they are:

 Verse 1

How good is the God we adore
Our faithful unchangeable Friend
His love is as great as His power
And knows neither measure nor end

Verse 2

For Christ is the First and the Last
His Spirit will guide us safe home
We’ll praise Him for all that is past
And trust Him for all that’s to come

Verse 1 (the second version)

This, this is the God we adore

Our faithful unchangeable Friend;

Whose love is as great as His power,

And neither knows measure nor end.

Verse 2

‘Tis Jesus, the First and the Last

Whose Spirit shall guide us safe home;

We’ll praise Him for all that is past,

And trust Him for all that’s to come.

The one version starts like this:

How good is the God we adore
Our faithful unchangeable Friend
His love is as great as His power
And knows neither measure nor end

It got me thinking (yes I do think… ) about Jesus’ comment to the Rich Young Ruler in Mark 10:

Mar 10:17  As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Mar 10:18  “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. What an amazing statement – the Son deferring to the Father.

WHAT’S HE LIKE THEN?

Do you remember when you met someone and fell in love? It was probably a while back! And you told you best friend about him or her. And you got this response – “so what’s he like then?” (Of course if you told your dad and mum, they would also ask “what’s he do then? (For a living I suppose)”. These days they would be asking all kinds of other questions as well.

What God is like is fundamental to who we say we are as Christians and how we share this story – this Gospel or good News.

Our faith is stronger – our witness is more powerful – in fact the Holy Spirit can work more powerfully in us- when we know what God is like! The Holy Spirit brings things to our remembrance (John 14:26).

I chose some other passages today for the readings to illustrate this – of course the whole Bible is filled with stuff about the character of God!

When we know what he’s like – it is also reflected in our prayers! And we have things to say, truths to share with people as we pray for them – we can say as in the first line of the song:

“This, this is the God we adore!”

Psalm 37 is one of them – one of our passages for today. It’s a great Psalm:

Listen again to the juxtaposition of these three verses. That’s a fancy way of saying – look how these three verses hang together:

Psa 37:3  Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.

Psa 37:4  Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Psa 37:5  Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this:

  • Trust (in the Lord) and do good
  • Delight (yourself in the Lord) – and he will give you the desires of your heart.
  • Commit (your way to the Lord) – trust in him and he will do this

Psa 37:5  Put your life in the hands of the Lord; have faith in him and he will do it

Psa 37:5  Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this:

Psa 37:6  He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.

Sounds good to me!

He is a God who calls us into a relationship of faith – trust – relationship in which we delight ourselves in him – he is known and experienced as a reality who not only knows the desires of our hearts but seeks to bless us by meeting those desires.

We are to commit our ways to him and again TRUST HIM. Verse 5 in the Bible in Basic English says this: “Put your life in the hands of the Lord; have faith in him and he will do it.” (BBE)

You get this idea of the faithfulness of God – of one who acts- who does it! Who hears our prayers, who acts for our cause.

It comes up in the reading from 1 Thessalonians which we shared in our Alpha group this week. We were actually talking about the work of the Holy Spirit – through whom God acts, and works in power in our lives.

There are a whole list of injunctions, or strong suggestions, given by Paul to the Christians in Thessalonica. The truth is they are not new commands – but just the natural outcome of this relationship of trust.

1Th 5:16  Be joyful always; (delighting ourselves in Him)

1Th 5:17  pray continually; (trusting Him)

1Th 5:18  give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (rejoicing in Him – always grateful rather than grumpy)

1Th 5:19  Do not put out the Spirit’s fire;

1Th 5:20  do not treat prophecies with contempt.  (He speaks truth!)

1Th 5:21  Test everything. Hold on to the good. (Because God is good!)

1Th 5:22  Avoid every kind of evil. (Because God is good! All the time!)

Paul goes on in these beautiful verses:

1Th 5:23  May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1Th 5:24  The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.

You can see where this takes us. It’s about endurance. About trusting Him through thick and thin. (The context of so many passages in the New Testament is challenging to say the least.) Paul – writing about rejoicing in the Lord always (Tuesday’s discussion from Philippians) – was in prison.  In that same letter he writes in the first chapter:.

Php 1:2  Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Php 1:3  I thank my God every time I remember you.

Php 1:4  In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy

Php 1:5  because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now,

Php 1:6  being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Because God is good!

Later in the letter there is this favourite passage:

Php 4:4  Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!   (Again – delight yourselves in the Lord!)

Php 4:5  Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.

Php 4:6  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

Php 4:7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

On Tuesday I shared this reflection: John Henry Jowett (b1863 – 1923) shares his experience regarding Christian joy:

Christian joy is a mood independent of our immediate circumstances. If it were dependent on our surroundings, then, indeed, it would be as uncertain as an unprotected candle burning on a gusty night. One moment the candle burns clear and steady, the next moment the blaze leaps to the very edge of the wick, and affords little or no light. But Christian joy has no relationship to the transient setting of the life, and therefore it is not the victim of the passing day. At one time my conditions arrange themselves like a sunny day in June (December here, or January!); a little later they rearrange themselves like a gloomy day in November (June in the Southern Hemisphere!). One day I am at the wedding; the next day I stand by an open grave. One day, in my ministry, I win ten converts for the Lord; and then, for a long stretch of days, I never win one. Yes, the days are as changeable as the weather, and yet the Christian joy can be persistent. Where lies the secret of its glorious persistency?

Here is the secret. “Lo! I am with you all the days.” In all the changing days, “He changeth not, neither is weary.” He is no fairweather Companion, leaving me when the year grows dark and cold. He does not choose my days of prosperous festival, though not to be found in my days of impoverishment and defeat.

It’s all about this faithful and good God who does not change! (James 1:17; Hebrews 13:8)

This, this is the faithful God we adore –

This, this is the God we adore

Our faithful unchangeable Friend;

‘Tis Jesus, the First and the Last

Whose Spirit shall guide us safe home;

We’ll praise Him for all that is past,

And trust Him for all that’s to come.

One final thing about this faithful God in whom we trust so fully and rejoice always.

The Gospel reading where we started – where Jesus makes it clear that God is so good! God alone!

Mar 10:25  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.”

Mar 10:26  The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”

Mar 10:27  Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

Mar 10:28  Peter said to him, “We have left everything to follow you!”

Mar 10:29  “I tell you the truth,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel

Mar 10:30  will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.

“With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” (v27)

What a good reminder. Peter of course seems to be having one of his moments – a pity party of some sort about the price they paid to follow Jesus. Jesus reminds him of the blessings and rewards now (in the church family as in Acts 2:45) and in the age to come. Of course there is always a warning: “and persecutions”. We get the same troubles as Jesus, but in the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:

2Co 4:16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.
2Co 4:17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.
2Co 4:18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 

The great benefit is there – of serving Him – to the end. Here it is again::

Mar 10:28  Peter said to him, “We have left everything to follow you!” Mar 10:29  “I tell you the truth,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel Mar 10:30  will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.

We’ll praise Him for all that is past,

And trust Him for all that’s to come.

Amen.

Sunday Sermon 21 June 2015 – Paul to the Galatians (3)

Readings: Acts 11:19-26,  Acts 13:1-3; Galatians 2:11-21

Sermon

I once went to two mental asylums in one day. No –  I was not looking for a bed or room. I was completing a Masters in Pastoral Counselling and Psychology, and it made sense to visit the places where people were locked away for their safety and ours. There were all kinds of people who thought they were prime ministers or famous heroes – one lady claimed to be Margaret Thatcher.

Which reminds me of the story of Margaret Thatcher visiting a retirement home – and introducing herself as the British Prime Minister. Thatcher spoke to one of the inmates and asked him: “do you know who I am?” The patient replied: “No, dear, but I should ask the nurse if I were you. She usually knows.”

I don’t think any of us really would know what it must be like to learn again from scratch who you are – say after an accident where you lose your memory. Amnesia is the word.

These lines from Paul’s letter to the Galatians are actually quite difficult to understand – precisely because they involve losing one identity and gaining another.

Refugees have to work on that don’t they – and oh my there are a lot of them trying to get to new countries at the moment. (Just by the way, Saturday was international refugees’ day – and the numbers are higher than they have ever been.) Emigrants also have to find a new identity. This many of us know.

Paul’s conflict in this letter is not just about other missionaries with a different point of view. Or a different interpretation of the gospel. It’s about fundamental Christian identity – who you are in the Messiah Jesus.

Paul’s conflict with Peter is over the same issue – and his conflict with the churches in Galatia.

Peter had had a vision – if you remember – a sheet coming down from heaven loaded with forbidden un-kosher food. He was convinced about the need to break out of that Jewish mould. He associated with gentiles and ate with them.

But here he changes his tune – and refuses to eat with non-Jews.

In short, Paul accused Peter of hypocrisy. The word means wearing a mask. And much to Paul’s horror, his partner Barnabus, known as the son of encouragement, went along with this. For some reason they were concerned about what the Jewish contingency would think about eating with non-Jews.

The point is – the church in Antioch we read about in Acts 11 and 13 – where Paul and Barnabus were sent out from – was a multicultural church, and they certainly weren’t all Jewish. This was where the disciples were first called Christians (Acts 11:26). The moment you identify with this label – and call yourself a Christian – your identity shifts from being a Torah-keeping Jew or a “Gentile sinner” excluded from God’s family – into the family of the New Covenant – your identity is in the Messiah Jesus.

We used to sing a song years back about this shift. “It’s no longer I that liveth – but Christ that liveth in me.” (Galatians 2:20 from the KJV).

I’m not sure that I understood back then. The key verse is Galatians 2:20, which lines up exactly with Paul’s teaching on baptism in Romans 6.

Gal 2:20 – I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. He goes on to say: Gal 2:21- I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”

If we have died to our old selves, then our new identity is “in Christ”. In fact that phrase “in Christ” is key to all of this. Listen to Paul elsewhere:

  • Rom 8:1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus
  • Rom 16:7 Greet Andronicus and Junias, my relatives who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.
  • 1Co 1:30 It is because of him (God) that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.

And probably my favourite:

  • 2Co 5:17 – Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

Those who are “in Christ” – Christians – are part of a new fellowship, a new covenant and a new family.

Tom Wright reminds us that the identity marker for Jews was circumcision. The identity marker for Christians is faith. He continues:

And if we are ‘in’ the crucified Jesus, that means that our previous identities are irrelevant. They are to be forgotten. We are no longer defined by possession of the law, or by its detailed requirements that set Jew over against Gentile. ‘I died to the law, that I might live to God.’ We must now learn who we are in a whole new way. Who then are we? We are the Messiah’s people, with his life now at work in us. And, since the central thing about him is his loving faithfulness, the central thing about us, the only thing in fact that defines us, is our own loving faithfulness, the glad response of faith to the God who has sent his son to die for us. This is the very heart of Christian identity. Wright, Tom (2002-03-22). Paul for Everyone: Galatians and Thessalonians (New Testament for Everyone) (p. 26). SPCK. Kindle Edition.

And one of the sure signs of being together in this New Covenant is to eat together. Tom Wright put it this way: To have separate tables within the church is to spurn the generous love of the Messiah. One of the marks of Jesus’ public career was open table-fellowship. God intends it to be a mark of Jesus’ people from that day to this. Wright, Tom (p. 27).

Communion is one of the special meals with profound significance. Every meal together is an intimate sharing amongst those who are family in Christ. And like the church in Antioch – our background is irrelevant!

It’s a new identity that comes with being rescued from the evil age which we spoke about two weeks back: Gal 1:3  “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, Gal 1:4  who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age …” reaches a climax in Galatians 2:20 – “And the life I do still live in the flesh, I live within the faithfulness of the son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Kingdom New Testament).

Amen.

Sunday sermon 9 November – Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly with your God

Readings:  Micah 5:2-4;  6:6-8 Matthew 9:3 (Following the Narrative Lectionary)

Sermon.

There are two things I’d like to share with you today. Nothing complicated. Very simple. But also challenging! You know the saying about preachers – we are tasked to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

ONE

We are reading prophets today. Even the New Testament verse refers back to Hosea the prophet (prophesying in the northern kingdom).

Mat 9:13  But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.

(Hos 6:4  “What can I do with you, Ephraim? What can I do with you, Judah? Your love is like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears.

Hos 6:5  Therefore I cut you in pieces with my prophets, I killed you with the words of my mouth; my judgments flashed like lightning upon you.

Hos 6:6  For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.

You can’t really read the prophets at all without getting a sense of when these words were spoken – context is everything.

I spoke about David, if you recall, who ruled for 40 years, as did Saul before him. Actually Saul reigned for 42 years.

And then Solomon – daughter of David and Bathsheba – reigned 40 years too.

So some 122 years of kingship. Unity ends in 931 BC.

And of course the kingdom divides in two after that. Israel (10 tribes) in the north and Judah (two tribes in the south). Israel – the northern kingdom – has 19 kings through this period ending in 722 with the fall of Samaria to the Assyrians.

And in Judah in the south 20 kings through to 586 BC when the Babylonians conquer the southern kingdom.

So Micah is a prophet in the southern kingdom, and a contemporary of Isaiah.

And his prophecy about Bethlehem is profound. Bethlehem is David’s city by birth (an overstatement in the Christmas carol – it’s a village or small town). We get all gooey when we read about Bethlehem as “O little town of Bethlehem” leaps out of our musical memories.

The issue is that Bethlehem is rather insignificant as a town. The Messiah comes from this small place – this little “house of bread!”  Listen to verse 2 again:

Mic 5:2  “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”

Oh by the way Ephrathah means fruitfulness.

Hold onto this thought – Christmas is just around the corner – and these verses whet our appetites if we have a penchant for Christmas.

Verse 4 is also lovely:

Mic 5:4 He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth.

There is a sense of something great – someone great – who will come from this insignificant town.

Small does not mean insignificant in the eyes of God. And the same applies to you – if you think you are insignificant in the greater scheme of things – stick around and see how God can use you as well! To be fruitful.

Just as Bethlehem was chosen to be the place – our small church in this smallish suburb is part of God’s plan to be fruitful.

That’s enough about

TWO

The real treat this week is Micah 6:8. It’s one of those famous verses that people love. In fact – apart from the reference to the Messianic ruler coming out of Bethlehem, Micah 6:8 is the only really famous verse in the book. I listened to a discussion of this passage between a New Testament professor and an Old Testament professor. The Old Testament man referred to the book of the prophet Micah, to which the NT guy responded – “Oh yes – that’s a nice yerse!”

What is the context here?

Pretty much the same as today – listen to the first 5 verses of Micah 6:

Mic 6:1  Listen to what the LORD says: “Stand up, plead your case before the mountains; let the hills hear what you have to say.

Mic 6:2  Hear, O mountains, the LORD’s accusation; listen, you everlasting foundations of the earth. For the LORD has a case against his people; he is lodging a charge against Israel.

Mic 6:3  “My people, what have I done to you? How have I burdened you? Answer me.

Mic 6:4  I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam.

In other words – God is reminding them through the prophet – of how he had led them in the past! There is almost a mocking tone:

Mic 6:6  With what shall I come before the LORD and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?

Mic 6:7  Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

It’s pretty direct really. What’s real worship? What really matters? Is it sacrifices (for us would it mean more offerings?).

Someone quipped that we don’t really have the problem of over-generosity today. It is hyperbole after all. Imagine ten thousand rivers of oil? There’s even an oblique reference to offering of one’s first born. “Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”

Trouble is people did offer their children. Of course we would be aghast at that idea. Mind you – I recall a faithful and generous woman in our church years back who had a lot of kids – who told us once that when they were small she wished she could hang them up on a coat-hanger for a while.

Of course – Jesus is exactly that – if we become squeamish. Micah continues:

Mic 6:8  He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God

What’s it all about? Not whether you exceedingly generous with your sacrifices – as if you could impress God or buy his favour like a politician in many places around the world.

No – it’s simple. Micah 6:8 it is:

  • Act justly
  • Love mercy
  • Walk humbly with your God.

I loved the humility of Frank who spoke last week. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve heard of him before. There is a big world out there of course! You’re not meant to understand the intricacies of South African history and life.

What I liked was his honesty – how he felt that he had ticked all the boxes on God’s list – church, giving etc. and somehow he felt that God owed him something!

Someone penned this thought: “Moral indignation has never led anyone to Christ, but mercy has.”  Mixed with acting justly and walking humbly before God.

I want that in my life! At Messy Church Friday we talked about being saintly – which actually means holy. Of course we talked about the fruits of the spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. Catholic tradition lists 12 fruits: charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, chastity. There’s a thought – adding generosity, modesty and chastity.

Micah gives us – Act justly, Love mercy, Walk humbly with your God. Good start if you are interested in being the light of Christ in this generation. This too is part of God’s plan for us as a church – to be fruitful.

Sunday sermon 6 October – Matters of faith

Readings: Lamentations 3:19-26; Luke 17: 1-10; 2 Timothy 1:1-14

SERMON

I read this weekend that I should  – well let me read it for you. This pastor wrote: think the single most important thing a pastor can do is wake up each day and focus his energy on enjoying Jesus and having as much fun as possible. This is the only thing I know of that will protect you from the burnout most pastors experience from the relentless strain of preaching and leading a church. I don’t think there’s much power in preaching grace if you yourself are not revelling in grace. (30 September 2013 by Justin Buzzard)

But I thought today’s reading was about faith – you say.

Actually no. Both really!

All the readings today are also about God’s grace!

From the depressing state of Jeremiah lamenting over a destroyed city of Jerusalem – to the perplexed disciples who are told not to be a stumbling block to other Christians – and to keep forgiving others (together with all the other things Jesus told them to give up or hate as they learn to love him) to the young Timothy who learned like some of us about the love of God from His granny – all the characters, the speakers in these passages and those listening to Jesus’ words or hearing Paul’s letters – none of them – NOT ONE – could save themselves or work up enough faith to qualify for a Nobel Peace prize or the meekest of human trophies.

For Jeremiah – deep in the depths of despair and depression – listen to him again:

Lam 3:19  I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.

Lam 3:20  I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.

There is a word of Hope:

Lam 3:21  Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:

Lam 3:22  Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.

Lam 3:23  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

And the key word here? Chesed – meaning mercy or loving kindness. The LORD’s “great love” is the one to look out for in the NIV.

The loving kindness of God is at the heart of it all. Mercy is right there.

With that the endless forgiveness that Jesus talks about in Luke 17:

Luk 17:3  So watch yourselves. “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.

Luk 17:4  If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”

Of course the Lord’s prayer backs this up. There is only one line in the Lord’s prayer about what we do:

Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us!

It’s the heart of it all – it’s built into the loving kindness and mercy of God!

By the way – what do you think of the disciples response to this challenge? It follows hard on the heels of the warning against causing others t sin in verse 1: “Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come.”

Their response is simple: Luk 17:5  The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”  

He replies: “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.

Jesus’ response has been interpreted in a couple of ways:

1.       A rebuke – chiding them for not having enough faith. Can you think of other times when he did this?

(In the context of worry) (O Ye of little faith?)  Mat_6:30  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

(In the context – a storm) Mat_8:26  And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.

(In the context of Peter walking on the water) Mat_14:31  Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

(When they were discussing bread) Mat_16:8  But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread?

(In the context of a demon they could not cast out – although in an extra verse (textural variant) he adds prayer and fasting as a requirement for recalcitrant demons). Mat_17:20  He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”

So he says on this occasion: (In Luke 17:6) “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you. This could be a rebuke – if you had just a tiny particle of faith – if you only had that tiny speck of faith like a mustard seed).

2. Humorous – there is an amusing angle – in the piucture of this mulberry tree

Luke 17:6  He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you. There is an amusing angle to this too. The particular mulberry tree was known to have a very complex root system. It was a sycamine tree -a kind of mulberry, with a root system so intricate that it would take six hundred years to untangle it, according to the rabbis. The idea of it being planted in the sea is odd – almost a joke. It would look a bit strange.

3. The main focus is on the faithfulness of God in impossible situations!

In Matthew we read the mountain version of this.  Mat_17:20  He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” 

Some of our problems are like mountains. We say things are insurmountable. Basically that means impossible. Overwhelming.

Something like the destruction of Jerusalem – the wasted city of Lamentations. Think of any bombed-out city in the world. Everything gone. Think of hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes and the mess that you land with.

How do you find hope in that situation?

In your relationship with God, there are some key responses – prayer (pray the Bible) and worship (sing the Bible) especially – both of which build faith!

As an example we used to sing years back: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases – his mercies never come to an end –  they are new every morning, new every morning, Great is they faithfulness Oh Lord! Great is Thy faithfulness!”

It is hard to find hope, though – especially in the face of wholesale destruction as Jeremiah had faced with the people of God. Those of you who have seen terribly traumatic things – or even have lost a loved on under less horrible situations – or those who battle with depression – understand how hard it is to find hope.

Consider this picture – a sculpture from 1894 by William Wetmore Story – carved for his wife’s tombstone and ultimately his. It is called the “Angel of Grief”. Have  a look:

angel of grief

It’s the angel mourning on the tomb! It’s a picture for many of the darkest day of the year – linked by Christians to Holy Saturday – Easter Saturday – where Jesus himself is remembered as dead.

The gloomy mood of all of Lamentations captures these terrible feelings of loss. And yet there is hope in this passage!

The truth is we often have to grieve first – as did Jeremiah. His poetry is gloomy and sad. That must happen in bereavement and loss of all kinds.

There’s a great moment in the movie “Four weddings and a Funeral” – not at the weddings but at the funeral where the dead man’s friend recites W H Auden’s poem “Funeral Blues”.  It will resonate with those of you who are grieving. It certainly does for me. It goes like this:

W. H. Auden  (Wystan Hugh 21 February 1907 – 29 September 1973)                       Funeral Blues

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

Brilliant and real. And  that kind of grieving is normal and important – as it shows the extent of love and loss in a powerful way.

Depressed people can get stuck in the desperation of hopelessness and persistent loss. People can get a kind of frozen grief. I have encountered that with the losses of immigration – you find it with refugees too.

In that kind of desperation another drum begins to beat out a different song:

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases…”

Or if you like:

“ Great is thy faithfulness oh God my father, there is no shadow of turning with thee….”

Morning by morning new mercies I see!

The morning prayer time seems significant as we tackle the day. Think of the beauty in the KJV of Psalm 5: Give ear to my words, O LORD, consider my meditation.  Psa 5:2  Hearken unto the voice of my cry, my King, and my God: for unto thee will I pray.  Psa 5:3  My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O LORD; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up.

It is important to start the day well like that – recognizing his mercies and looking up, because

“All I have needed they hand hath provided!”

The point is – the bottom line is – you can’t work up your faith.

You only need a tiny bit – like the size of a mustard seed – to move that mountain or cast the tree into the sea!

It’s about the greatness and faithfulness of God.

Let’s close by listening to this song – sing along as we declare these truths.

Song: Who alone could save themselves?

Have a listen and as you do ask God to birth new hope in your heart: we all need faith and grace!

Click on the link and listen:

Who alone could save themselves?