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8 April 2018 Sunday Message – Behind that locked door.

Reading: John 20:19-31

Message

I was talking to someone about how short this week was.

It seemed shorter for me. Tuesday was a write-off. I did mindless things like fixing stuff.

I didn’t even have the energy to tidy my desk though. That seemed too much.

I’ve often wondered why they call this Sunday “low Sunday” – this and the one after Christmas I think. Maybe the preachers are just flat from being flat out.

So we had this conversation – what if you just put a video on and watched in instead of a sermon?

Or if the preacher got up and said – “nothing to say today”.

Which reminded me of this story.

In a small Catholic seminary, the dean asked a first year student to preach one day in chapel. This novice worked all night on a sermon, but still came up empty. At the appropriate time, he stood in the pulpit, looked out over his brothers and said “Do you know what I’m going to say?” They all shook their heads “no” and he said “neither do I, the service has ended, go in peace.”

Well, the dean was angry, and told the student, “You will preach again tomorrow, and you had better have a sermon.” Again, the novitiate stayed up all night, but still no sermon. When he stood in the pulpit, he asked “Do you know what I am going to say?” All the students nodded “yes” so the preacher said “Then there is no need for me to tell you. The service has ended, to in peace.”

Now, the dean was livid. “Son, you have one more chance. Preach the gospel tomorrow or you will be expelled from the seminary.” Again he worked all night, and the next morning stood before his classmates and asked “Do you know what I am going to say?” Half of them nodded “yes” while the other half shook their heads “no.” The novitiate said “Those who know, tell those who don’t know. The service has ended, go in peace.”

This time, the dean just smiled. He walked up to the novice preacher, put his arm around his shoulders and said “Hmmm…those who know, tell those who don’t know? Today, the gospel has been proclaimed. The service has ended, go in peace.”

So, another friend and I looked at this passage for today.

There are so many choices. Things we could look at.

  • Like why the door was still locked a week later. When most of them had seen Jesus the first week. And why does one translation say the door was locked the first week and shut the second? (NRSV). Is the same word. Do translators have too much power?
  • What was Jesus doing when he breathed on them? Was this John’s description of Pentecost? (Genesis 2:7)
  • Do we really have the power to forgive peoples’ sins or not to forgive them? Is this where the Catholic idea of absolution comes from?
  • Is this the actual birth of the church?
  • Was Thomas really a doubter? Or was he just someone with Sherlock Holmes kind of talents.
  • Did he have a twin? Was his twin like Thomas? Did he believe or doubt? Or she? Could his twin have been Lydia of Philippi who traded in purple cloth? (Acts 16:19)
  • Why did Jesus keep saying “Peace be with you”?
  • What about verse 30? What were those other signs that are not recorded?
  • Do we have life in his name? Is this the abundant life he spoke about before in John 10:10? Is it abundant – “life to the full?” Or are we actually riding on empty?

(I love the Bishops Bible that preceded the KJV –  “I am come, that they myght haue lyfe, and that they myght haue it more aboundauntly.” (1576)

SOME THOUGHTS THEN

Last week we saw how Jesus called Mary by name – and how that opened her eyes to see he wasn’t the gardener.

This passage records these two visits by Jesus in a locked room a week apart.

In the first visit he breathes on them symbolically. The word for WIND and SPIRIT are the same here.

This is worth looking at a bit more carefully.

It follows their commissioning –  As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.

Before his ascension and before the day of Pentecost – without a fuss – he turns the disciples into apostles – sent ones.

And empowers them.

If you are a reader of the whole of John’s gospel, you would join the dots.

From chapter 14:

Joh 14:15  “If you love me, you will obey what I command. Joh 14:16  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— Joh 14:17  the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. Joh 14:18  I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.

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

In chapter 15:

Joh 15:26  “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me.

And chapter 16:

Joh 16:13  But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.

All of these verses sound a bit more dramatic than just having Jesus breathe on you.

You can understand why some people think this is a first instalment of some sort. Because Pentecost is far more dramatic isn’t it. And life changing.

I mean if you carry on from our Messy Church talk on Friday about Peter – you would have to add that Peter preached that ONE big sermon in Acts 2 that was the launch of a new bold person in every possible way.

TWO OTHER THINGS TO FOCUS ON TODAY:

Firstly:

  1. “Doubting” Thomas.

Was he really a doubter?

Think about John 11. This is the first time Thomas is mentioned and we get some real insight into the kind of person he was.

This is the story of the raising of Lazarus. Mary and Martha had sent Jesus word that their brother Lazarus was close to death. They lived in the small village of Bethany very close to Jerusalem. Look at verse 7. Jesus tells his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”

Look at what the disciples think of this idea in verse 8. “Teacher,” the disciples answered, “just a short time ago the people there wanted to stone you and are you planning to go back?” (We can read about these stoning attempts in chapter 8 and 10 of John).

They thought he was crazy to even consider going back there. Perhaps they were on the verge of deserting Jesus. But then Thomas speaks out in verse 16:

Thomas (called the Twin) said to his fellow disciples, “Let us go along with the Teacher, so that we may die with him!”

Thomas rallied the wavering disciples here, convincing them to go with Jesus to Jerusalem.

Whatever else we may say about Thomas, he was not a coward. He was willing to go with Jesus to Jerusalem knowing full well that it just might cost him his own life

Apart from his track record of courage, one thing gets my attention today:

It’s this – that Jesus was deeply and personally interested in him so much that in the second appearance he speaks to him directly. He recognises Thomas’ need.

And I think translations which say “stop doubting and believe” get it wrong.

It literally means – “do not disbelieve but believe”. Don’t be an unbeliever. That makes him no different from the rest. The rest of the disciples. And us. We all have these journeys as we come to faith.

Secondly:

     2.  Peace be with you.

Do you need His peace?

We’ve talked before about the power of grief.

Jesus repeats this peace greeting because they would have been slow to recover from this terrible and unjust Good Friday death.

Watch the passion of the Christ again – the movie.

You don’t walk away from that kind of event feeling peaceful.

They needed some assurance.  And so do we.

He still speaks to us – don’t live in unbelief. Trust me.

Here – let my peace uphold you.

And we too are sent – commissioned – to go in His name and share his peace.

And at the heart of our mission IS forgiveness.

W receive it. We celebrate it. We model it. We extend it to others through grace.

And we don’t always dish it out too quickly because we have to remind each other that our sins as human beings are actually serious. Deadly serious. Serious enough for Jesus to die for them.

It’s no surprise that ‘repent’ was part of John’s preaching (the baptiser), Jesus’ message, and Peter’s and the other apostles.

We have to turn away from our old ways and turn back to God again and again.

He says to you too today:

Don’t stay in unbelief. Trust in me (Jesus).  

Peace be with you.

Amen.

 

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17 September 2017 Sunday Message: Triangles and forgiveness. (Romans series ctd.)

Readings:  Romans 13:8; Matthew 18:15-20

Message:

How were you with triangles? Not the musical instrument you played in the primary school orchestra. That usually meant you had limited musical skills. 😊

I was thinking geometry. Equilateral triangles are the only type I remember off hand.

And then there are the triangles you see in soap operas. They are usually more complicated.

Most of us avoid those.

School kids sometimes have friendship problems that involve triangles. Friend A likes you but then likes friend B more, and the poor kid who is friend C gets ditched by A.

So how are your friendships doing? Hopefully well. We do value friendships that are long-lasting and steadfast.

In this modern generation people have on-line friends too – because people are so mobile the internet helps us to keep connected.

On Facebook, you can unfriend them when you are fed up. Just a click of a button. Mind you, his generation of school kids break up by text anyway. Crazy world. No more Dear John letters.

In my generation, people are more likely to neglect people and just drift away. Or more move away. Usually to another continent.

Communities and families.

In close communities like a family or church there is a good chance that people can fall out over something rather trivial that grows and grows out of all proportion.

Or worse still, something really bad happens and it’s a painful separation or estrangement.

Jesus gives this method in Matt 18 to fix that. It obviously mattered to him when people wronged each other.

We fail in this most times. It’s the triangle that we often slip into.

  • We don’t go to the person directly when things have gone wrong.
  • We tell someone else.

If someone complains about someone, the first question we should ask is simply this: have you spoken to them directly? If not, its gossip.  (I’m sure you’ve NEVER had that happen to you.)

There’s a saying that goes – “don’t allow someone rest their gun on your shoulder.”

If you do:

  • Suddenly there are three people.
  • Your friend – their friend they are fed up with – and you.
  • And your friend drags you into something the two of them need to fix.

Of-course Jesus gives a way to sort it out if the person doesn’t respond.

The real challenge is for us not to get sucked into triangles.

Ironically – whether there are two or three who come together in His name – what does He say in verse 20? He is in the midst – with them. Where Christians are – Jesus is.

And if we took that seriously, we would watch what we said about people in general. We would certainly avoid gossip. Or scandal.

COMING TO THE TABLE

When we come to the Lord’s table it’s a good idea to reflect on relationships and perhaps resolve to make things right.

Paul in the reading from Roman 13 puts it like this:

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.(vs8).

And this is even more important:

Love does no harm to its neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (vs.10)

So what is the way forward? This is what Jesus says:

Mat 18:15  “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. Mat 18:16  But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ Mat 18:17  If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

There is a place for a triangle or a quadrilateral setup. If they don’t respond to you appeal to sort out something that is wrong, you can take one or two others along to show it is serious. If they are unrepentant, you tell the whole community – mainly I think so they can pray about it and realize that it matters. If that doesn’t help -you cut them off. Treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

The wonderful thing is that Jesus always kept the door open for tax collectors.

The hope was always reconciliation and restoration.

Like a family, you’d want the estranged member to come back so when you have those family meals they are at the table.

  • For most things, I reckon we can resolve things.
  • The little foxes that cause trouble are often things we can compromise on. Or at least forgive.

And so – if I hear you mutter about anyone, I will probably not say – “have you applied Matthew 18 sister?” That’s a bit too weird.

I might say “please don’t rest your gun on my shoulder” just to remind you of today.

Paul goes on to say:

Rom 13:11  And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.

Rom 13:12  The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light.

You might think – ah this is not so bad. Probably not considering what he deals with in the next verse: Rom 13:13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery…

Good point.

But he also adds at the end of verse 13: not in dissension and jealousy.

He ends this passage with this: Rom 13:14  Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

That’s quite good really. Jesus becomes our covering. It along with Colossians 3:12:  Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ. After all – whatever you do to the least of his brothers you do unto him (Matthew 25).

That includes taking pot shots at each other.

Best have the right kind of triangles or groups with the right focus: “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”  

Amen.

Sunday Message 3 April 2016, Easter 2 – Peace, Power, Purpose and Pardon

We watched “Risen” this week. Some of our home group managed to go along to the movies together.

I was quite intrigued and moved all at once.

The story is told from the point of view of a Roman soldier, played by Joseph Fiennes. His job is to find the body of Jesus which they are told has been stolen.

Ultimately he sees Jesus with the disciples – and realises that this is the same man he saw dead and buried.

It did make the idea of resurrection very real. Startling. Unnerving. And exciting.

You have to have some sympathy for Thomas who for some reason or another wasn’t there when Jesus appeared to most of them.

That Sunday night Jesus shows up – and Thomas is invited to check out those wounds.

He is response is a profession of faith: “My Lord and my God!”

Thomas’ life changes radically. We have it on good authority that he eventually takes the Gospel of Christ to India. Like the others (apart from John) he eventually gives his life as a martyr and witness to the gospel.

What’s more intriguing is Thomas’s name. He is called Didymus – the twin.

There’s a good chance his actual name is Judas Thomas (meaning Judas the twin). He can be forgiven for changing his name or sticking with Thomas. I had a conversation with someone this week who is changing their name for the sake of English speaking people who can’t pronounce a foreign name.

At breakfast this week we will be asking the question “what’s in a flag?”.

So what’s in a name then?

Not too many are given new names by Jesus. Simon the reed becomes Peter the solid rock.

Most keep their names.

But they become known by the name that is eventually given to followers of Christ.

“Christian”

Christian names traditionally given at Baptism are also symbolic of a new identity in Christ.

Scripture bears this out. These are key verse we should know:

2 Corinthians 5:17-21 (new creation)

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sinn for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

John 3 (born of God – from above)

12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God– 13 children born not of natural descent,n nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, `You must be born again.’

Ephesians (old self are replaced with new self)

21 Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

THESE ARE KEY QUESTIONS AT HIS EASTER TIME:

  • What are we known by?
  • How do people see us?
  • How are we really changed?
  • Are we really different?

TODAY’S READING FROM JOHN TELLS US MORE ABOUT THIS NEW LIFE.

  1. We receive His peace. (PEACE)

Paul tells us this too:  We are justified by faith – we have “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1)

Rom 5:1  Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 

The peace with God is foundational – and relational. And then there is inner peace:

We have a peace that passes human understanding (Philippians 4)

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.

He spoke about peace before his departure in John 14:27 and 16:33:

Joh_14:27  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Joh_16:33  “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

He speaks peace to them at each resurrection event. (I am sure he would have as when dead people show up it is very troubling).

Joh _20:19  On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

Joh_20:21  Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

Joh_20:26  A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

  1. He gives us his Spirit (POWER)

This word for breath – like the word for gardener last week – is very unique. It appears in Genesis when God breathes into Adam – and Ezekiel 37 – where life is breathed into the dry bones (dem bones dem bones…) ἐμφυσάω – emphusaō – means a puff literally. For those who have asthma – you will understand how vital that puff is. I don’t have too much trouble with my asthma. I did have a serious attack last year. Without being over-dramatic – it was one of those Psalm 31 moments – “my times are in your hands”.

Without that life – we are dry bones indeed. Dead. Without that power – we have no confidence or boldness to go out – which is what happens next. The power is immediately given for the task. The peace, the commission, and the power all belong together as we see in verses 21-22:

Joh 20:21  Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

Joh 20:22  And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

  1. He sends us out (PURPOSE)

This is a Trinitarian mission statement. “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (v21).

We still have some streets to cover in our task of handing out the “Hope” booklets. Have a look at the map in the foyer.

It’s easy to leave it to the pastor or elders. Or to support missionaries who go across borders.

The thing is – we are all sent.

That’s why we talk about “one holy, catholic (universal) and apostolic (sent) church.

Matthew 28’s great commission is just another way of looking at the passage today. “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you…”

Mat 28:18  Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Mat 28:19  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Mat 28:20  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

  1. He makes us a forgiving people (PARDON). We take on the Father’s nature, and the son’s (father forgive them – his words on the cross).

It fits with Jesus’ teaching on the Lord’s prayer:  Luke 11:4 “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.”  Or in the traditional Lord’s prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”. Do we? Often we don’t because we are angry or offended.

This is probably our weakest point. Christians have to be careful. Gossip and scandal are both unhelpful. We are often the ones who shoot our wounded.

Fortunately, we have a wonderfully merciful and loving God.

If only we could be more like Him. Actually we can – with his peace, power, purpose and pardon!

Forgiveness is not only our weakest point – it’s also a most misunderstood point. Listen again to this passage:

John 20:23  If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (NIV)

 What do you make of that? Listen to it in this translation: John 20:23  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (NRSV).

The church is God’s family – and some things just are not ok. You can’t tolerate evil. Or rebellion. Or deliberate or wilful sins. The health of the family is at stake. (Matthew 18 has a process for that reason – first confront the person, then take a couple of witnesses to confront them – and if that doesn’t work tell it to the whole church. Exclude them because some things are just not on.)

Tom Wright helps us here as he writes about this passage:  They are to pronounce, in God’s name and by his spirit, the message of forgiveness to all who believe in Jesus. They are also to ‘retain sins’: to warn the world that sin is a serious, deadly disease, and that to remain in it will bring death. They are to rebuke and warn– not because they don’t like people, or because they are seeking power or prestige for themselves, but because this is God’s message to a muddled, confused and still rebellious world. Wright, Tom (2002-10-18). John for Everyone Part 2: Chapters 11-21 Pt. 2 (New Testament for Everyone) (Kindle Locations 2436-2439). SPCK. Kindle Edition.

When there is genuine sorrow for sin and repentance and restitution – then you don’t have to retain those sins. Simple hey. It’s all about the body – the family – and the harm people can do. It’s not about our being unforgiving for personal wrongs people have committed to us. (And we always add this point – that forgiveness is a process – especially when there has been abuse. It may take a long time to reach there. And it does not mean we forget what people have done, or that we should not put up boundaries when people are toxic.)

Listen again to what Wright says of the commission to the apostles:  They are to rebuke and warn– not because they don’t like people, or because they are seeking power or prestige for themselves, but because this is God’s message to a muddled, confused and still rebellious world

What a challenge to be people of the resurrection and the cross.

Christ did not die for nothing. He died because the wages of sin is death. He died. The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ. We live.

How can we not be changed?

Amen.

Sunday sermon 25 October 2015 – Monuments or Footprints

Readings: 1 Corinthians 12:26-13:3; Ephesians 1:15-23; Matthew 16:13-19;

Message

Do you have your name on a monument somewhere?

There’s always a danger when it comes to monuments. Like memorials erected for great leaders or movements.

Ask Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, or Saddam Hussein. Personal monuments have a way of being toppled. (That’s not John Lennon by the way – the other one with one ‘n’. Vladimir. In time Vladimir Putin will also fall out of favour. Like Australian Prime ministers.) The best Vladimir Lenin can do here is a bar named after him on Auckland’s Princes Wharf. A vodka bar. 🙂

Some churches end up as monuments.

Not this one. If you show up on some days during the week – the church is not here at all.

You’ll find a building – but not the biblical church – the body of Christ.

And the building was never designed to be pretentious. More like a stable. Its beauty is in its people and their creative gifts – those that last on the walls and the thousands of words of prayer and worship, songs and musical notes that have floated off into space and eternity.

We’re not into monuments. God forbid that my photo be permanently on a wall at any of the churches where I have served.

Footprints are better – far superior. (William Faulkner said that – “monuments tell us we got so far and no further; footprints tell us we kept on moving”.)

A footprint means that people have passed this way on a bigger and greater journey. They leave their mark. But move on. In time we all do.

The movie sequel of Back to the Future had a day this week as the big day – 21 October 2015. It was great to see clips of the young Michael J Fox on TV this week – one of my most esteemed heroes.

That day – the back to the future day – has also come and gone.

And eventually we move on in a permanent sense – into eternity.

Eternity is a bigger concept. Some have moved on into God’s eternal presence.

Others who made life interesting for people here have also moved on – hopefully to happier places where they have been less conflicted with people and about things. (Together with footprints we sometimes leave dents. Sadly some have been badly dented too. Fortunately, we are in the forgiveness business. 🙂 )

Others – the far majority who have passed through these doors over these 50 years – have left a solid influence and foundation which we treasure and remember. Most have taken the good news of Jesus to other places where they have been led to live, work and worship.

We all move on in some way or another.

But we should all move forward.

The living body of Christ is the key.

The church – the body of Christ – is an organism first – and an organisation second.

It starts here – in Matthew 16 – with Peter’s confession:

Mat 16:18  And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

On what rock? Not on Peter himself, but on his faith and trust in Jesus the Christ. “Revealed by my father in heaven” because you can’t get to that conviction by argument or logic. Peter like you and me on our difficult days, would have been too stubborn to be convinced by mere reason.

“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”- that’s the rock of a good confession. Paul puts it this way:

Rom 10:8  But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: Rom 10:9  That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 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 savedRom 10:11  As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”

And to Timothy Paul writes:

1Ti 6:12  Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

The head of the church is not Peter or his successors. Paul again makes this clear when speaking of Jesus:

Eph 1:22  And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, Eph 1:23  which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

And here in Ephesians, like 1 Corinthians 12 – part of which we heard today, there are gifts for the building up of the church:

Eph 4:11  It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, Eph 4:12  to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up Eph 4:13  until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Eph 4:14  Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Eph 4:15  Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. Eph 4:16  From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

  • We are to be founded on the rock – Christ the solid rock – in our faith in him as Christ and Son of God.
  • We are to move forward in growth in our faith journey – becoming mature (Ephesians 4:13)
  • We are grow up into him who is the Head of the body – Christ.

It is from Christ the head that we as church find the life and growth – we grow and build ourselves up in love as each part of the body does its work (4:16)

There are no monuments to the pastors of the church who have served here – or the elders – or the members over these 50 years. We are all parts of this body – this living organism.

In our series on Philippians earlier this year we looked at two difficult women who had issues with each other. Clearly they weren’t part of our church – ha ha! But look at what Paul says in his pleading for unity: 

Php 4:2  I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. Php 4:3  Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

No monuments – only footprints – as we trudge or stride out boldly towards the end – where our names are recorded – as Jesus says to the 72 in Luke’s gospel:

Luk 10:17  The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” Luk 10:18  He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Luk 10:19  I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. Luk 10:20  However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

There’s only one list that matters. When the roll is called up yonder – that matters.

And that the legacy that we pass on in the next 50 years means that the next generation will need to hear the message about Jesus and come to know Him too.

WHAT IS REMEMBERED MOST

Here’s the irony. I learned this very quickly working in a school. I had issues with my colleagues often – especially when children were vilified and objectified – labelled and boxed. When it was all about statistics and conformity to the teacher’s way of thinking. I had to work hard towards better narrative counselling and restorative practices – sometimes it felt like we were dragging people along toward community.

Someone put it this way speaking to teachers (and headmasters): “People don’t remember everything you said or taught them. But they do remember how you made them feel.” 

Now I am not saying that all our sermons should be sugar or saccharine. The whole counsel of God must be proclaimed.

But the knowledge of the love of God and the power of his love (through the indwelling Holy Spirit) is the real deal (Romans 5:5). That’s how the forgiveness comes. That’s how we learn that there are some things that we can change, and some things we can’t. How we operate in grace rather than grumpiness.

That famous serenity prayer is still relevant:

 God grant me the serenity

To accept the things I cannot change;

Courage to change the things I can;

And wisdom to know the difference.

Of course the biblical version goes like this:

God grant me the serenity

To accept the things I cannot change;

Courage to change the things I can;

And wisdom to know it’s me.

Paul, talking about gifts in the church – the body of Christ which has the potential to suffer or rejoice as part of the one organic body – says this at the end of 1 Corinthians 12:

And now I will show you the most excellent way.

  •  1Co 13:1  If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. (Compare this to the humility of Jesus – Philippians 2:6)
  • 1Co 13:2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. (Compare this to Jesus’ emptying of himself – Philippians 2:7)
  • 1Co 13:3  If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. (Compare this to the real sacrifice of Jesus – Philippians 2:8)

You know the rest – which somehow gets reserved for weddings and these days – funerals – about love and what it is. Read it again in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. It’s a great passage.

Hopefully Paul would have prayed this about St Cuthberts – about us – in the past and in the future: Eph 1:15  For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saintsEph 1:16  I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. Eph 1:17  I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. (“Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you Simon…”)

You can’t do this church stuff by human strength and ingenuity. By God’s power – you can.

  • Knowing Jesus better – that’s moving forward.
  • Building up the living body of Christ in the power of His love, wherever we have landed up –  that’s moving forward.
  • Real forgiveness that leaves bold and courageous footprints giving others a reason to follow in our footprints – that’s moving forward.

It remains true: “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,” says the Lord Almighty. (Zechariah 4:6).

Amen.

Sunday sermon 17 May 2015 – Are you dead or not? The fight against sin continues…

Readings: Romans 6:1-14; Matthew 6:24

Message

C.H. Spurgeon, that famous preacher of the 19th Century, tells the story of a woman who claimed she had attained “sinless perfection” and had not sinned for years. Then he recalls that someone stood heavily on her toe (was it Spurgeon?) and “her sinless perfection departed her like the morning dew”.

Last week we referred to the Roman Road – Romans 1:16-17- about “the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…”; Romans 3:23 (all have sinned – in fact you need to read Romans chapters 1-3 to see the extent of the sin) – and in Romans 5 in particular, how sin is dealt with (justification, reconciliation, atonement and grace were considered).

The key verses in Romans 5 in this regard are verses 8 and 9: But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. (NRSV)

Romans 6 – today’s passage – is a favourite passage for people who are enthusiastic about baptism. Most lean towards believers’ or adult baptism, as the symbolic aspects are not lost to us – in Romans 6:3 and 4: Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

Those who support infant baptism hasten to refer us to Colossians 2:11-12: In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. (NRSV) The NIV translates the verse as follows:  In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.

The question is – whichever baptismal tradition you support – have you really died?

Simon Ponsonby gives us this account: George Müller, the 19th Century German (Prussian) saintly founder of orphanages and schools, was asked the secret of his success: There was a day when I died, utterly died; died to George Müller and his opinions, preferences, tastes and will – died to the world, its approval or censure – died to the approval or blame even of my brethren and friends – and since then I have studied only to show myself approved unto God.)  (2 Tim 2:15 Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. KJV)

In similar vein, Ponsonby speaks about the worldwide evangelist Billy Graham, who when asked how he coped being away from his wife with the temptations of travel and fame, commented: “I’m dead to every woman but my wife Ruth.” 

If we are dead to sin, then things have to be different. Romans 6:2 and 6:6 confirm this.

The big question Paul asks here, though, is about grace. This question starts here: 6:1 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 6:2 By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?

Because we have this grace that we are positioned in, to which we have gained access to by faith (Romans 5:2) – does that give us a license to sin more to achieve more grace?

Romans 5 ends with these verses (which we did not read last week) – which of course raises the very question we are looking at: Romans 5:20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, Romans 5:21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

You can see the logic. A little boy spills milk all over the kitchen floor – and mum cleans it up. “Never mind” she says, “look how shiny it is now”. He responds with a smile: “maybe I should spill milk more often then!” You can also see the absurdity in this logic. Tom Wright uses this story to illustrate this (my version or summary follows): Think of the prodigal son – who has been welcomed back in an act of grace by the father who breaks protocol when he runs down the road. Life is pretty normal again – dad is getting older, the older brother more tolerant of the prodigal, and things are rather ordinary in the home. Suddenly it crosses his mind again – as he thinks of that wonderful day of being welcomed by his dad – how great the party was – suddenly he begins to wonder if he should run away for a while again – and “play the penitent and come back again. Maybe I’ll get another party!”

Wright goes on to say: Absurd? Unthinkable? Don’t you believe it. It’s exactly what a great many people think. ‘God will forgive me; that’s his job!’ declared a famous philosopher two centuries ago.  (Christian Johann Heinrich Heine is the philosopher quoted here: December 13, 1797 – February 17, 1856. As an unrelated aside, Heine also said some more helpful things like this quote:  If the Romans had been obliged to learn Latin, they would never have found time to conquer the world.)

Twice in this passage Paul asks whether it’s ok to sin more to essentially get more grace. (It also appears in verse 15 which we didn’t read). Twice he answers – “by no means” – literally “may it never be” – or as in the KJV “God forbid!”

Sin should not be our master. (v14). So we can’t make excuses. Simon Ponsonby also tells the story of a speeding fine he got in the post (in the UK). Included in the letter were a list of excuses that they indicated would not be accepted: these included “I did not know the road; I did not see the signs; I have a clean licence; I was late; I didn’t know cameras were there; the road was clear; I was momentarily distracted; the car behind forced me to speed up.”

Ponsonby says this about this power of sin: Paul accepts no excuse for sinning. Though he says Adam influences us, ultimately we are accountable in Christ for our sin, and if we sin we do so volitionally. Shall we sin? No! It is possible not to sin. Does Paul believe we can be free from sin? Yes! Does Paul believe we can live a life, moment by moment, sinless? Yes! Was Paul sinless? No (as Romans 7 will lead us to acknowledge). Have I ever met a sinless person? No. Nevertheless, Paul refuses to take sin for granted – he refuses to resign to its power. 

 SO WHAT’S TO BE DONE? What are the implications of this?

Have you noticed at the traffic light up the road (by the dentist where we can park on Sunday without fear of a needle or drill) that there are a number of permutations – possible combinations of who goes where and when? It takes a while – you can do quite a lot of praying and thinking at that intersection while waiting. The most interesting one is when you go along Anzac and turn left into Beach road by the VINZ workshop. There are times when the lights go red for those going straight and a green arrow allows you to go left. The moment those two are on at the same time, my brain has a fit. It’s the incongruence. The two signals contradict. (I encountered a similar thing recently in Auckland when there were two arrows pointing left – one was green and the other red. Symptoms of complex roads in a city that probably grew without planning!)

Red and green are opposites. Which do you obey? I want to slam on the brakes and the accelerator at the same time. Apparently in the Cultural Revolution in China (1966-76) they tried to change the colours so red would mean go (and thus match Chairman Mao’s red book). It didn’t work. Chaos ensued. A couple of things in relation to this then:

  • We need to be clear about when to stop and when to go.
  • Clear about what is okay and what is not.
  • About what we are against and what we are for.
  • About who we ignore and who we obey.
  • About who we serve, and who we don’t. Listen again:

v13 Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.

The translations differ here. We are not to offer parts of ourselves, parts of our bodies, or our members to sin as instruments of wickedness. Rather we are to offer them to God (in other words consecrate them to God). The NRSV uses the word “present”. We read in Romans 6:13: “…but present yourselves to God… and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness.” Present – means to place yourselves at someone’s disposal. To stand beside someone. Ponsonby says this: Baptized believers are to present themselves to God – again we have the Greek word parastemi, “standing beside” God. 

He goes on to say: When Old Testament priests were ordained they were anointed with blood on the right ear lobe, right thumb, and right big toe, cleansing and devoting their extremities to God (Leviticus 8: 23). In Anglo-Catholic churches when the Gospel is read, the people often make the sign of the cross three times – on their forehead, mouth and over their heart – symbolizing that their mind, words and affections are consecrated before Christ. It is important to do this, if not physically then spiritually, throughout the day, presenting to Christ all our instruments, offered to righteousness, set apart for God.

We do need to present every part of ourselves to God. The mind, lips and heart actual cover a lot of areas where sin so often abounds in our lives – what we think, say, and feel. You can list the sins that you struggle with in each category!

And if they are persistent sins – we need to die to them. We are not to hang around (presenting our members, positioning ourselves to sin), but rather we are to present ourselves, or “stand” ourselves, or stand beside God.

And we need new habits that crowd out the old ones. Ponsonby says this: Sin is often a programmed habit, an auto-reflex of the flesh – body members and mind. Holiness can become a habit through habitually presenting yourself and your members to God.

The single Gospel verse today (Matthew 6:24) is also about who we serve, who we honour, who our master is:  6:24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

Money – wealth – mammon – you will find different words used in different translations. This struggle or choice we have to make is always there. Presenting ourselves before mammon, or wealth is probably a fertile ground for breeding sin! The persistent desire for more (shopping aka retail therapy) is a great example. If we die to sin, and live to God, presenting (positioning) ourselves before Him – we can change our habits.

Simon Ponsonby reminds us of that famous speech by Churchill at his old school Harrow: Never give in, never give in, never never never never, in nothing great or small, large or petty; never give in, never yield to force, never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.

And this is Paul’s approach to the problem of persistent sin. Never give in to sin. Never, never, never, never: in sins large or petty, never surrender.

May this be so.

Amen.

 

Footnote: I am indebted to Tom Wright and Simon Ponsonby for the great illustrations and arguments they provide on this passage: Tom Wright (2006): Paul for Everyone: Romans Part 1 (New Testament for Everyone) (Kindle Locations 1717-1719). SPCK. Kindle Edition.  Ponsonby, Simon (2013-05-24). God Is For Us (pp. 193-194). Monarch Books. Kindle Edition.

Sunday 22 February 2015 – forgiving from the heart?

Readings:

Psalm 32:1-2; Matthew 18:15-35

Message         

This is an amazing passage. If you thought the Sermon on the Mount had challenges, read Matthew 18!

  1. Excommunication

The first few lines where we pick up the narrative in verse 15 are used by some churches as a process of excommunication. Listen to the process. It’s quite simple really:

Mat 18:15  “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.

Mat 18:16  But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’

Mat 18:17  If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

And of course treating them like pagan or gentile or a tax collector is not the end of the road. These people were not beyond redemption. Ask Matthew about his career!

  1. Being forgiven and forgiving

The story of the unforgiving servant is like stand-up comedy really. When you consider the amounts of money involved. Jesus’ listeners would have had a good chuckle! 10 000 talents equals about 100 million days’ wages. It raises some questions thought – as all good stories do. Why did the master let that debt get so big, for example? *

And of course the Master catches up with this man who fails the requirement to forgive as he was forgiven. So the debt is reinstated – all 100 million days’ wages worth. He gets handed over. The idea of a debtors’ prison has always struck me as odd. How do you pay your debts when you are in jail?

Here’s the line that speaks of consequences:

Mat 18:34  In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

This would have got Jesus’ hearers in a tiz/tizzy too – Jews didn’t practice torture, but Romans did!

And of course, the original plan was this: Mat 18:24  As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him.

Mat 18:25  Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

The most expensive slave in those days was worth about 1 talent. Even if he had three kids, the guy would have recouped only 5 talents.

So the grace act begins with the man’s plea:

Mat 18:26  “The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’

Mat 18:27  The servant’s master took pity on him, cancelled the debt and let him go.

So he goes off and demands that the other man pay him. You know the rest of the story. People notice the injustice and tell on him!

The story is in response to Peter’s questioning of course! Who else?

It is told to illustrate the teaching on forgiveness that Jesus gives. It should not have been a surprise to Peter – who starts the conversation. We’ve talked about this before – how Peter thinks that forgiving your brother up to seven times is okay. No, says Jesus – 77 times. Or is it 70 times 7?

It would have been no surprise to them because they would have heard Jesus’ teaching in the Lord’s prayer: Mat 6:12  Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

So what do we do with this?

I think that the first passage from verse 15 is key to making things right. Accountability and truth telling are closely connected to forgiveness. And remember – follow this pattern and you won’t be using the old triangle method – You – person A – are mad with person B – so instead of going to sort things out – you tell person C. (Gossip and scandal – both serious sins). Listen again to the pattern:

Mat 18:15  “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.

Mat 18:16  But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’

Mat 18:17  If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

When we see “church” here we sometimes assume that this is the big organisation of today – and “telling it to the church” means standing up and announcing to the assembled people of God that the person is being kicked out, after due process of course.

That’s probably a mistaken view. Here’s why.

The context is a shepherding or pastoral one. Right before this discussion is this telling passage:

Mat 18:12  “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?

Mat 18:13  And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off.

Mat 18:14  In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.

Anything to do with sheep is what we call today a pastoral matter. And when people are excluded in some way for not responding to correction, the purpose is to bring them to their senses (or to bring them to repentance) so that they will admit that they have wronged and for the sake of the church’s witness and unity they should make right and return. Return to the fold!

And central to this is relationships. When “church” is mentioned in bible times the chances are it’s a small group probably meeting in a home. Not in a church building.

So relationships would matter a lot. You could not hide in a crowd in a small group.

And confronting people is not easy. We are also sinners. Tom Wright puts it beautifully:

Every time you accuse someone else, you accuse yourself. Every time you forgive someone else, though, you pass on a drop of water out of the bucketful that God has already given you. From God’s point of view, the distance between being ordinarily sinful (what we all are) and extremely sinful (what the people we don’t like seem to be) is like the distance between London and Paris seen from the point of view of the sun. And so on. We can all relate to that.

The key thing, as I have already said, is not that one should therefore swallow all resentment and ‘forgive and forget’ as though nothing had happened. The key thing is that one should never, ever give up making forgiveness and reconciliation one’s goal. If confrontation has to happen, as it often does, it must always be with forgiveness in mind, never revenge.

Forgiveness is fundamental to the fabric of who we are as a Christian community.

Wright says “forgiveness is like the air in your lungs.   There’s only room for you to inhale the next lungful when you’ve just breathed out the previous one. If you insist on withholding it, refusing to give someone else the kiss of life they may desperately need, you won’t be able to take any more in yourself, and you will suffocate very quickly.

Whatever the spiritual, moral and emotional equivalent of the lungs may be (we sometimes say ‘the heart’, but that of course is a metaphor as well), it’s either open or closed. If it’s open, able and willing to forgive others, it will also be open to receive God’s love and forgiveness. But if it’s locked up to the one, it will be locked up to the other. This is a hard lesson to learn.

Wright, Tom (2002-03-22). Matthew for Everyone Part 2: Pt. 2 (New Testament for Everyone) (pp. 39-40). SPCK. Kindle Edition.

THE COMMUNITY WE BUILD

So all of this is about community in the Kingdom of God – the kingdom that we pray to come on earth “as it is in heaven”.

Our church Mission statement is printed every week: “Building loving communities that help people find and follow Jesus”.

These communities are more likely to “find” Jesus (although I hasten to add that he is not lost – usually we are) – people are more likely to find and follow Jesus in a community that is open, honest, and walking in the light. (cf 1 John 1).

We put people on committees when in fact they are needing community.

And community is more likely to sort out relationships than a large crowd of people who don’t really know each other anyway.

Which is why the apparent harshness of the final verse is so important.

Mat 18:32  “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I cancelled all that debt of yours because you begged me to.

Mat 18:33  Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’

Mat 18:34  In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

Mat 18:35  “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”

There is a serious warning here. These are matters of the heart.

When someone apologises to you for doing wrong, you know when it’s not from the heart.

I’ve experienced that. And I saw it in action when boys who were fighting were forced to apologise without them actually understanding how damaging their behaviour was. Forcing kids to say sorry (usually to siblings or friends at school where there has been a scrap over something) usually involves body language that is the direct opposite of their words.

Without repentance – confession of sin can also be perfunctory. Unthinking, an obligation, a kind of a duty. Often self-focused – wriggling getting out of trouble without really feeling remorse.

Those kind of apologies usually say something like “if I have offended you or hurt you” when we all know that they did. And they follow with “it wasn’t personal” when you know it was totally!

Let’s learn to fix things!

Amen.

*  Jarvis, Cynthia A. (2013-12-09). Feasting on the Gospels–Matthew, Volume 2 (Kindle Location 3734). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.

Sermon at Tuesday Church 11 March 2014 – Daily bread to sustain

Readings:   Isaiah 55:10-11 and  Matthew 6: 7-15

Sermon:

What really sustains you? Is it your (singular) walk with God? Or is it the fellowship that you share in the family together?

We live in an age of independence – in thinking and living. We treasure our independence. We hold onto control as long as we can – our home, our car –the various options we have that have a “my freedom” attached to them. We have all these on-line identities too – where I tell my story and share my ideas – I facebook them, or a Tweet them on twitter. I email my friends. I sign my name to petitions and letters, and have my private bank account and ID.

The prayer that forms the basis of our Christian life – the one Jesus taught – was taught or given to US as a prayer and a pattern for prayer.

It begins as “Our” Father. Not my Father. And all the petitions are in the plural.

Give us

Forgive us

Lead us not…

We are in this together.

And we have the challenge of praying together- trusting together – forgiving together as we are forgiven together.

Mat 6:11  Give us today our daily bread. Is our common prayer for our needs to be met.  The “daily” bread is the sufficient bread – the bread that is enough for the day – like the mannah, you could not store it up but collected it each day (excepting the Sabbath).

What are you hungering for? What are you concerning yourself about when it comes to your needs/

Jesus teaches us to depend on him daily for that which is sufficient. (GNB)  Give us today the food we need.

This fits in so well with Jesus’ teaching from the sermon on the Mount. Don’t worry! God provides for the sparrows! He clothes the lilies of the field. Don’t fret so.

Seek First His kingdom – says Jesus in that sermon in Matthew 5.

So it makes sense that the opening petition of the Lord ’s Prayer is “your kingdom come, your will be done…” followed by that same dependency: ‘Give us this day our daily bread”.

It’s not “My Father – give me today my daily bread!”

Sharing and supporting each other is at the heart of the Christian Community.

Let’s trust Him for the day’s needs.

Let’s depend on Him for the practical food.

And especially the bread from heaven. Remember the heart of the temptation narrative from Sunday? Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 8 again: Deu 8:3  He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.

Mat 4:4  Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'”

As important as our physical nourishment is the open book of God’s word – letting Him speak to us each day from our Bibles.

May we learn to be sustained together by this wonderful Father.

As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10-11)

Amen,

 

Sunday sermon 24 November 2013 – Christ the King

churchReadings:  Colossians 1: 11-20;   Luke 23:33-43

Sermon

All this church stuff. Meetings. Emails. Music and prayers. Discussions and disagreements. Questions and objections. A long hard year with all kinds of drama comes to an end this week. It’s had its joys and its tragedies. Its blessings and its pains.

The year has been interesting. Here’s a good visual aid to describe it:

plans and reality

Yes – it’s a new beginning – the start of the Christian year. It begins with Advent. The celebration of expectation and hope – looking forward to the coming of a solution – a rescuer – some come kind of hero to save the day.

·        For the people of the day – Israel – they expected a rescuer who would solve their political needs – and set them free from foreign powers.

·        For us today – well I’m not so sure what we are looking for.

Our preferred option is probably this:

reality of plan

New Year:

So at new year we usually focus on the most important things. The fundamentals

The fundamentals of the Christian life? The most important things that God has shown us:

You can guess I suppose:

Loving-God-With-All-Your-Heart-copy-1024x1024

·        Love the Lord your God with all your heart – would be one

work.1285554.4.flat550x550075f.seek-ye-first-the-kingdom-of-god

       Seek Ye first the Kingdom of God – has to be up the list too

The best prayers for the year – and every year:

Probably –

help me

·        Help me – and

your-kingdom-come-your-will-be-done

          Our father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. THY KINGDOM COME, THY WILL BE DONE ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN

This thing of the King – and the Kingdom – it’s always there.

THE GOOD NEWS/THE JOYS

 This must be one of them – those great gems in the Bible:

Have a look at verses 11 and 12 of Colossians 1:

11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.

13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

from-darkness-to-light04

This is a new place to be – a new existence – the Kingdom of light – and of his Son is way better than the dominion of darkness.

Good word – dominion. New Zealand is a dominion. It has heaps of darkness too – and I’m not talking about long winter nights.

As a church – we’re pretty good at celebrating this redemption and forgiveness theme. I don’t think a Sunday goes by when we don’t pray prayers of thanksgiving and recognition that we’ve been rescued and forgiven through the cross.

But there are implications greater than personal forgiveness. There is community forgiveness – there God is calling us to account in terms of relationships – respect – kindness – the fruits of the Spirit. We need to see those.

If you are a source of joy here – then well done. If you haven’t read James 3 yet and the power of the tongue (as we did at home group this week) – if you can’t translate God’s grace to you into grace and kindness to others here – then be warned. I am going to challenge you and take you on. In the name of Jesus I implore you to be kind!

You see if we pray this stuff we have to live it! We can’t stay in the dominion of darkness. Listen to what John writes:

1Jn 1:5  This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.

1Jn 1:6  If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.

1Jn 1:7  But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

We have to live as children of the light. The bible is very clear about the things done in the dark – they will be exposed.

Listen to Paul again: 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified youto share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.

13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

The Gospel reading today reminds us again of the price Jesus paid for our rescue and redemption. It’s just before Advent – and Easter lurks in the background.

Luke’s words are direct and stark:

33 When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

So who are the people that Jesus forgives?

They are listed quite quickly – they watch, mock and jeer. Listen again. It’s not a long passage today:

35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”

36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”                                                                                                                 

38 There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the jews.

39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence?

Jesus visual journey1

This terrible end to a wonderful life of service and healing is stark and horrible.

Yes the life was good – the years of affirmation, teaching, community, healing, reteaching – touching lives – preaching – fighting off of temptation

But look where it ends.

 Jesus outcome

It’s very easy to end up in a lament for the power of sin and it’s consequences for this innocent and well-loved eternally begotten son of God.

Listen again to this terrible account: About this King!

38 There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the jews.

39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence?

41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.[b]

43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

There is this voice of hope. “But this man has done nothing wrong”.

And his prayer for dummies (like my prayer earlier – “help me”):

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom…

Your Kingdom! Take me:

Where will your future take you?

our future

·        From the Kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of life.

·        From hopelessness to a future.

·        From pain to health

·        From isolation to community

·        From hell to heaven

·       From the cross –to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light”.

 Rescue me  from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son” – your Kingdom! 

Did he have a clue as to what he was asking?

Do we – really – when we trust in him and open our hearts to him? Really?

And Jesus’ gracious word to this man deserving of punishment – according to human justice.

“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Richard Swanson comments on this in a poignant way.

Everywhere you look in Luke’s gospel, Jesus finds himself surrounded by faithful, courageous Jews. At the Jordan when John is baptizing, even the tax collectors reveal themselves to be looking for God’s Kingdom and longing for Roman departure. Later in the story, Zacchaeus makes it clear that those tax collectors at the river were not alone in being faithful, and Luke’s Jesus calls him a “son of Abraham” in response.

And now on the hill of crucifixion, Jesus finds another faithful Jew, one who is crucified with him. To be sure, the other two victims are bandits, not messiahs, and to be sure, one of them taunts him with the same words used by Roman soldiers and hired collaborators: Messiah, King of the Jews. The other victim, however, knows that Jesus is a king and has a kingdom. These are things that, in Luke’s story, only faithful, expectant Jews know.

If the Romans are paying attention, they should commence worrying at this point. Crucifixion was torture intended to teach a political lesson: Rome can crush the humanity out of you. Remember that. But this crucifixion scene is loaded with Jews who cannot be crushed. This is trouble for oppressors. Rome should worry.  The centurion who observes the death seems to have figured this out.

 I think the Jesus – the King who speaks on the cross – is still speaking to us today. We have His invitation to enter into this Kingdom of a loving, serving and forgiving King who on the cross said: Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

May we invite Him – call on Him – believe in Him. This very different King.

 Amen.

Feel free to comment or ask questions below:

Sunday Sermon 27 October – Always and only by grace, through faith, in love… (Reformation Sunday)

Luke 18:9-14

New International Version – UK (NIVUK)

The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collectoricon pharisee tax man

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”

13 ‘But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

14 ‘I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’

Reformation Sunday!

It’s Reformation Sunday! By all rights I should be speaking about FAITH ALONE, THE BIBLE ALONE, AND GRACE ALONE! The text could be Romans 3 – how all have sinned. And how we are saved by faith.

Instead we’re back to prayer!

In a sense prayer is everything – the outcome of all the issues that the reformers fought over – add up to this one thing. You and I have direct access to God.

And the conflict of Luther with the Catholic church of his day is neatly portrayed in these two characters:

  • The Pharisee
  • The Publican (or tax collector).

The one basis his relationship with God on his achievements. The other has nothing to offer – except to plead for mercy. The first is about salvation by works – the second salvation by faith, through grace.

Over the past couple of weeks we have looked at the loving kindness of God – his mercies that are new every morning. And we have looked at that persistent widow knock, knock, knocking on heaven’s door.

Today’s parable takes this further. We loved the story of the widow – because we like supporting the outsider, the underdog. Kiwis love this – they don’t like people who are too full of themselves – like the judge who didn’t care too hoots about God or people.

But we are stretched today.

Because the guy who walks away from the prayer time justified is a pretty bad guy really.

A publican. A tax collector. In a modern version of the story it would be like some terrible occupying army from Australia or the old Soviet Russia controlling our lives from day to day and taking our money. And one of our own working for the occupiers – and people from your own side would come knocking at your door to take your money – and extra for themselves.

This is a recipe for valid resentment, rejection, revolt, revision of your values – I mean why should you give these kinds of people time of day?

Think of other teachings of Jesus – like walking the extra mile. The contrast is equally radical! A Roman soldier had every right to make you carry his heavy pack for a mile. No more. And you would hate that – that sense of powerlessness and being trapped by other peoples’ rules.

Jesus says – carry the pack two miles! This is extending grace to an enemy and an occupier – one who threatened all you stand for and believe!

So the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican praying is also radical.

It’s a church goer who shows up and does the stuff – paying their 10 percent (we could do with more faithful people paying their ten percent here! ) and a rotten deceptive sneaky embezzler coming into church – like one of those guys who sold you a great investment – only for you to see your retirement money gone in a flash.

Everything in us wants to punish those horrible people.

REFORMATION SUNDAY

Lucky for us this is Reformation Sunday! All have sinned (Romans 3:23) – that’s the point. Romans 6:23 talks about the gift of God. Romans 8:1 declares those in Christ to be free from condemnation.

It’s actually about grace! Unmerited favour and lots of forgiveness.

How good to see our mayor in the local paper this week – saying that he has received real compassion from Christians in Auckland.

Oh we should be careful not to judge!

THE DETAILS OF THE CONTRAST

Look at Luke again:

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable

Well that’s a good warning – as self-righteousness is a serious problem. So too looking down on everyone else. I guess that’s pride or arrogance.

The prayer itself needs examination:

God, I thank you that I am not like other people – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”

We may think – gosh these Pharisees were bad – what a bad attitude?

And yet we are equally dismissive of the three categories

  • Robbers – creative bunch. We’ve opened our home to homeless people – and they’ve wandered off with our things! (Tell the story of the Smiths in Witbank – or the thief that came back after being prayed for… )
  • Evildoers – nice broad category really. We tut tut and the terrible things people do these days – forgetting that this is nothing new. Sometimes you read these historical quotes about bad people and you think it’s something written yesterday – only to find it came of some Pharaoh’s tomb or the writing was found on the wall of a cave dating back thousands of years!
  • Adulterers – gosh Auckland has been really in a tailspin about this one and our mayor.  Trouble is Jesus again – look at what he said:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’  But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:27-28).

Tricky one isn’t it?

And of course the Pharisee lists his strengths! And they show discipline and generosity don’t they.

But it’s this line that gives away the arrogance: God, I thank you that I am not like other people…

And that’s exactly how Luke introduces this story: To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable.

What we need to really examine is verse 13:

13 ‘But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

The heart of the matter is humility. I have real issues with this. Humility is the virtue, the attitude that enables people to follow leadership, to trust others’ judgement, and to be teachable.

Being teachable – just by the way – is the thing that I look for in people – especially leaders. You may remember the acronym FAT – I’m looking for Fat people. Faithful, available and teachable!

What can we say about humility?

Lack of humility – its antithesis – is probably pride. Its part of every marriage argument, every case of broken relationships. And its there in the hearts of people who can’t for the life of anyone see the need to have God in their lives.

Because they are self-sufficient!

The longer I serve Him – the more inadequate I feel in myself.

Sin is there because we are sinners by nature.

And the inner battle goes on until the day Jesus takes us home.

So how is your prayer life going?

Persistence (last week – from the story of the unjust judge who got a black eye from a  little old widow).

Be careful that persistence doesn’t come from a sense of entitlement and pride – that you think you actual deserve your prayers to be answered.

Luke 18:14  “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Too many of us get the words of the song confused – the one that goes like this…  I’m thinking of the Michael Smith Song – It’s all about you Jesus. It’s called “The heart of worship”. The chorus goes like this:

I’m coming back to the heart of worship
And it’s all about You,
It’s all about You, Jesus
I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I’ve made it
And it’s all about You,
It’s all about You, Jesus

Too many of us change the words and sing” And it’s all about me, it’s all about me Jesus…”

You get the point. Bruce Larson gives us this formula to help us get the humility thing right. We’ll end with this:

Being a new being in Christ means reversing our natural tendencies. Someone once said to me, “Larson, do you know what’s wrong with you? You judge other people by their actions and yourself by your intentions. If you could reverse that, it would change your life.” Since then I’ve been trying to judge others not by what they do, but by what they meant to do. Try judging yourself not by what you meant, but by what you did—which is how people perceive you. That’s a giant step on the way to humility.

And on this Reformation Sunday there is one extra thing – central concept – that is here:

The humble man went home justified before God”. (v14)

Justification is at the heart of Paul’s teaching in his letters, especially His letter to the Roman church.

He was made righteous because his sin was blotted out! Pardoned.

That’s the heart of it.

It’s a dangerous parable. I last preached on it on the Sunday I came here with a view to a call. I did a pretty bad job of the sermon. And some of the people rated me badly and voted against me coming!

You see you rated me and decide whether I was okay or not. Clearly that is the grace of God (if it was based on the rating of that sermon!) Most – almost all -voted to have me as pastor here! 🙂

We’re always rating each other.

And on that Sunday I preached I warned of the danger here.

That all too easily we might say – “I thank God that I am a repentant sinner and not like that arrogant Pharisee!”

Justification by faith – the heart of the reformation – is what it is. We don’t deserve God’s love – and it is bounteous. I once tried to quantify it in a children’s chapel. We had glasses, then buckets, then wheely bins to answer the question – how much love is there?

The answer is – it reaches to the heavens – and to the end of the universe – to the multiverses out there – and beyond – way beyond where the Star Ship Enterprise and Captain Kirk will ever go.

What a relief! Enjoy this love today and always!

God bless you as you seek Him.

Sunday March 10 – Prodigal sons

READING: Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

SERMON REFLECTION

So what do you feel when you hear this story?  Who do you relate to? Which character? I was thinking – I’m a man who has two sons. Hmm.

Take a moment to become one of the characters. What you would say if you were them? How would you tell the story from their point of view?

So what did you think?

The father – many could relate to him. How challenging parenting is and how different our children turn out to be.

The younger son – I guess many could relate to him too. We have many in our churches who have come home to the Father (God) – some after years of being away. Many who wasted their resources and opportunities. Remember that the word “prodigal” which we use to describe this parable means one who wastes and squandours their wealth and resources!

The older brother – there are plenty older brothers who can easily be resentful.

And there are other points of view in the story – think of the mother (perhaps saying to her husband: “I told you it wasn’t a good idea!”).

Or the servants in the household wondering how this could be.

Think of the neighbours – the local rabbi if there was one – family friends and of course the lawyers of the day who were guardians of the way estates were handled and retirement planned!

MY REACTION TODAY

As a father – I understand completely. As a counsellor and as a pastor – I see so many fascinating dynamics in families. There are so many interesting possibilities. This story resonates with many of our experiences does it not?

There are two issues I want to consider however – to stretch your thinking:

1.    Repentance

I would suggest that the younger brother didn’t repent when he was in the pig pen. Yes he was in a serious mess. People sometimes say that he did repent – but I think it’s more basic than that. Listen again:

17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!

They all come home when they’re hungry. I’m speaking of children of all ages.

And as an aside people come to church for all kinds of reasons too – they walk in here and discover while looking for a meal – a practical solution – support in their new language – songs for their children to learn at mainly music – skills for their boys to develop at ICONZ – while looking for these things they find the extravagant grace and love of God!

And by the way that begins in us – our being extravagantly gracious and generous!

This prodigal was driven by a famine! By circumstances! By his stomach! And he had some bridges to mend! The road to repentance begins here – but its not the whole explanation for what was happening.

What follows is a rehearsed speech – kids do this all the time – when they’ve crashed the car or messed up in some way. Here’s verse 18 again:

 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: And then there’s the speech. He would have had lots of time to practice it on the road: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’

Yes the speech includes “I have sinned against heaven and against you”. So people do argue that he repented. And following what I said last week – there is a change of direction and a change in mind here!

In the context of the other parables – remember the lost sheep and the lost coin before this parable in Luke 15? The shepherd found the lost sheep. Someone has noted that the lost sheep did not repent either!

In Romans 5:8 Paul reminds us: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

And God – way back in Genesis – went LOOKING for Adam who had become the first prodigal!

Luther said that repentance follows forgiveness. In fact the first of his 95 theses that he nailed to the wall so to speak and got the Reformation going reads like this:

When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.

The story of the prodigal son is a story if anything about forgiveness.

I mean the father didn’t even let the younger son finish his speech. And he didn’t do what dad’s do today: bread and water and to your bedroom! We’ll talk about this tomorrow!

He threw an amazing party! They celebrated with the very best! That’s an act of forgiveness. Welcoming him home is an act of forgiveness.

When you realise how generous God is, you repent! When you understand grace and the power of His love – you repent. The woman Jesus stopped from being stoned in John 8:11 would have repented when Jesus said – neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.

Christians who have walked the path a long time are more aware of their sins further down the track. And they repent. Pascal wrote this on the subject: “God is none other than the Saviour of our wretchedness. So we can only know God well by knowing our iniquities… Those who have known God without knowing their wretchedness have not glorified him, but have glorified themselves.” Blaise Pascal

And the fruit of repentance – the evidence of that repentance – for the prodigal son –  would have been seen in the sequel or next story– “The kindness of the prodigal son to his grumpy bitter brother” and then perhaps in the next movie or newspaper article:  “prodigal son puts in amazing hours on dad’s farm” followed by ” Prodigal’s lamb production puts large pig farm out of business”.

Forgiveness and grace – unmerited favour shown in love and kindness – lead us to full repentance as we realise how unworthy we are and that comes from the celebration of our return to God as well! Remember that in the previous parable where the shepherd find the lost sheep and brings them back, Jesus has this to say:  I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.(Luke 15:7)

2.  The other voice in the story.

There is another voice in the story. A second silent narrator if you like – perhaps outside of the story but commenting anyway.

It’s the voice of the accountant/retirement advisor.

It’s the voice of the one who looks at the Father’s high risk behaviour – foolishness – in giving the brother his inheritance in the face of the insult that he presents in the original request. After all, to ask for you money from dad before he dies is as good as saying he is dead. The dad takes the insult on the chin. And he gives the wealth away to his son who ends up squandering it – wasting it – spending it.

How similar that is to the very first story in the Bible that involves two brothers – yes the story of the parents of Cain and Abel. God in His grace gives their parents the right to name the animals and the responsibility to rule and care for the world on His behalf. They too are prodigal – wasting opportunity and resources as they turn to their own devices!

The voice of the account-cum- retirement advisor screams out – I told you so! You should not have done that! It was a bad idea.

But this Father is not into keeping up with the social standards of the day. His love is too extravagant.

He’s the dad that runs down the road! Bad bad bad! No self respecting dad would have done that in those days!

He’s the dad that kills the fatted calf! There’s no discussion about how the prodigal was to pay anything back. No restorative justice here.

One commentator, David Lose writes: Jesus paints a picture of this world in his story of a foolish son and even more foolish father. It is a world of unmerited grace. Counters won’t understand. Pulled down by the weight of their own claims, they can only sputter, “All these years….” “You never….” “This son of yours…”.

Yes the older brother is the spokesperson for the ones who want it to balance on paper – who want it to be fair.

David Lose also writes about this “other country” that the story describes like this: What I’m thinking of really is another country, another land, one that feels, smells, even tastes different. You know right when you’ve stumbled into it, even if you didn’t notice the boundary lines.

What makes this country different is that nobody counts things here. Do you know what I mean?  No tracking billable hours, no counting the days until school lets out, no ringing up debits on the balance sheet, no cries from the backseat of “are we there yet?”

Best yet, no counting old grievances and grudges, no dredging up past wrongs or unsettled scores. For some reason, people in this country have lost track of all that; in fact, they can’t remember why you’d keep count in the first place.

This is the Kingdom of God! The country of God, if you like.

This is Grace land – literally.

This is our place – God took a risk with the human race by putting us in charge here. And we too waste and squander. And he celebrates when we come home too!

So we too can fill in the blanks when we come back to our heavenly father: you can write your name in the spaces below:

______ was dead and is alive again;  _______  was lost and is found.

It’s never too late! He too waits for us to come home!

Amen! May it be so for you today.