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Sunday Message 10 April, Easter 3 – Harvest Sunday

READINGS: Deuteronomy 8: 7-18;  2 Corinthians 9:6-15;  Luke 12:16-30

SERMON

Have you given anyone a gift recently? I wonder what the occasion was. Perhaps a birthday, Christmas, or the celebration of a new life – the birth of a baby. Perhaps a grandchild?

Think about the gifts you have received in the past year.

  • Do you remember who gave them to you?
  • Did you remember to thank them?
  • Do you think about them when you use that gift?

The overwhelming idea in the passage from the Old Testament today is a warning that we should not forget the gifts God gives us – the blessings he bestowed – the things he has done. And I would add the prayers he has answered.

Over the years I have had amazing conversations with people who have really considered believing in God – or have prayed to him (when they usually didn’t) – or have even come along to church for a while in a crisis. Who contact me in emergencies for spiritual help and prayer – and when things are going well they are suspiciously silent. We pray for people who have needs – are unemployed or unwell –  their prayers are answered and we don’t see them again for a long time.

Deuteronomy 8 reminds us of this amazing gift of life and creation (whether it’s the land promised to Israel or this beautiful country we enjoy) – that we should not forget and become proud about our achievements (v14) – and it also says that he gives us the ability to produce wealth! (v18).

It’s that old attitude of gratitude. We often realise too late when people are dead and gone what a blessing they were. And so too many other things we enjoy.

  1. DON’T FORGET THE LORD! This is the first point today. This generous God – we should not neglect to speak of his kindness and grace, and to praise him constantly for his gifts. Which leads to the second point worth remembering today: 

2. GENEROUSITY IS CONTAGEOUS

The reading from Corinthians picks up the harvest theme from a different angle.

Again it is God who “supplies seed to the sower and bread for food” (2 Corinthians 9:10).

The generosity of spirit in both practical and spiritual things – with cheerfulness – is the natural outflow of knowing we are blessed to be a blessing.

And so Paul says to the church in Corinth (in the context of their giving):

2Co 9:6  Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 2Co 9:7  Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

We are not always known to be cheerful givers. The offering time in many churches is not noted for excessive happiness and hilarity!

Paul was dependent upon peoples’ gifts to keep the work going – so that the gospel could reach all the places he travelled to on his missionary journeys. He says:

2Co 9:10  Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 2Co 9:11  You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. 2Co 9:12  This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. (As an aside we need to thank God regularly for those who serve with us here).

God has blessed us – we bless others and give to the work of the gospel as part of our thanksgiving and worship.

The riches we receive are not physical here. This is not a prosperity business – giving to be blessed – even though we are told we will be blessed!

We give to those in need to glorify God! We need to be generous kids of a generous Father. Generosity is contagious. Like love – its catchy!

And now to the third point today:

  1. SELFISHNESS IS RISKY AT BEST – FOOLISH AT LEAST

The gospel reading is a stark reminder of the power of sin – which focusses on me mine, what I will do for myself. It comes through clearly in the words of the barn man:

Luk 12:17  He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Luk 12:18  “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. Luk 12:19  And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”‘ Luk 12:20  “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ Luk 12:21  “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”

What is this guy really after? A nest egg and early retirement? God calls him a fool.

What matters when the plug is pulled and we are gone from all this stuff in a flash?

There’s nothing wrong with providing for oneself and family. But this man is totally obsessed with  himself. The context is greed. Look at the preceding verses Luke 12:13-15:

Luk 12:13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Luk 12:14 Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” Luk 12:15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.

What could he have done?

Probably being content with what he had would be a start. Paul says this on the matter:

1Ti 6:6  But godliness with contentment is great gain. 1Ti 6:7  For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 1Ti 6:8  But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 1Ti 6:9  People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. 1Ti 6:10  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

Following on from this warning is our last point:

4. TRUST HIM WHETHER IN WANT OR WELL PROVIDED FOR (aka DON’T WORRY BE HAPPY?)

The gospel passage today ends with that wonderful reminder about God the provider:

Luk 12:22  Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Luk 12:23  Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Luk 12:24  Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Luk 12:25  Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Luk 12:26  Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest? Luk 12:27  “Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. Luk 12:28  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! Luk 12:29  And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. Luk 12:30  For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them.  

He ends with this:

Luk 12:31  But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. Luk 12:32  “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 

Worry is an unprofitable emotion indeed. Remember last week how I said we have to fill our minds with scripture to offset all the other stuff we are fed.

My prescription for you today: Read this passage at least once a week. It reminds us that we are more valuable than the birds who are provided for. He will take care of us!

  • Guard your heart – that insidious love of money and stuff can destroy you.
  • Seek his Kingdom, little flock. He has been pleased to give us the kingdom! This means not storing up for heaven as a kind of investment, but living for different lasting values and priorities now.

To recap we should work on:

  • Not forgetting the Lord – being thankful!
  • Being like Him – generous.
  • Living lives in a mode opposite to greed and selfishness.
  • Trusting Him – he is our provider. The Kingdom kids have the King’s kindness to depend upon! Remember Luke 12:30 “Your Father knows that you need them”.

May His Kingdom come and His will be done on earth – as it is in heaven.

Amen.

 

Sunday message, 13 March 2016 (Lent 5) – Utter abandonment

READINGS: Psalm 126; John 12:1-8

SERMON

We had this conversation again this week about money. Cash flow. Paying the bills to keep the church running, so to speak. It’s been tricky again. (As an aside please consider signing up for automatic payments or the envelope system. It really helps. Especially when you can’t make it or are on holiday.)

It’s funny how it comes up every now and then – the conversation about finances –  just in that week when the reading set is about generosity. Extravagance. The poor. Or some related matter.

It can’t get any more challenging than this gospel reading.

I read about a pastor’s conference on stewardship – which is about how we look after God’s things, including money. Listen to the story:

One presenter spoke about offering a gift directly to God, and the clergy began to yawn. Then he pulled a $100 bill from his wallet, set it on fire in an ashtray, and prayed, “Lord, I offer this gift to you, and you alone.” The reaction was electric. Clergy began to fidget in their chairs, watching that greenback go up in smoke as if it were perfume. One whispered it was illegal to burn currency. Another was heard to murmur, “If he is giving money away, perhaps he has a few more.” There was nervous laughter around the room. “Do you not understand?” asked the speaker. “I am offering it to God, and that means it is going to cease to be useful for the rest of us.” It was an anxious moment. Bartlett, David L.; Barbara Brown Bartlett (2009-10-12). Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 2: Lent through Eastertide (Kindle Locations 5088-5094). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.

That’s the point of this gift. It’s about giving to the one who is worthy. (“Thou art worthy” is the song we used to sing during the offering – it challenges us for our afterthought gifts – when we are scratching around in our purses or wallets.)

“If you offer something to God” suggests the speaker, “it ceases to be useful to you. That’s a challenging idea. Especially since we often have strings attached to our gifts.

The extravagance here in Mary’s gift is not unparalleled in the gospel. The water into wine at the wedding in Cana of Galilee (how much? 180 gallons. 900 litres.)

The 12 baskets left over at the feeding of the 5000?

Jesus after his resurrection telling Peter to cast his net on the other side of the board. 153 fish! And he already had some on his barbeque.

Mind you this is Jesus of whom John 1:3 says casually:  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

Reminds me of the Psalms:

Psalm 24:1 The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it;

Psalm 50:10  For every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. (What I term the ‘hamburger and steak” Psalm.)

How are you with your generosity? Do you love Jesus sacrificially and give to Him extravagantly? With utter abandonment?

GOOD FRIDAY

Good Friday is lurking here though. In contrast to this generous sensual gift of love (the pouring of the perfume, the taboo of Mary wiping his feet with her hair – the same wiping word we find in the next chapter when Jesus washes his disciples’ feet and wipes them with a towel) there is money-bags Judas.

He’s not just out of relationship with Jesus but reacts badly to someone who is extravagantly worshipping and loving Jesus by his criticism. Sounds like Christians I know. Why do we seem to react to people who are in our view too zealous? Mary knew this Jesus – and his feet. She used to sit at his feet – remember? And listen to his teaching! (Luke 10).

Judas pretends to be concerned with the waste – hence his comment that the value of the gift – a year’s wages – could have been spent on the poor. Of course Jesus’ comment about the poor always being with us is no excuse not to help them. He is quoting Deuteronomy 15 – which says that because they will always be there you have to have an open hand.

It’s about Jesus. “You won’t always have me with you” says Jesus. It reminds me of that lovely worship song: “It’s all about you Jesus!”

And death is in the room you see.

Good Friday is near.

The nard – perfume – is a foretaste of his burial. That’s what they used because they didn’t have our modern embalming tricks – sucking out the dead person’s blood and replacing it with preservatives. So they stank quickly after death.

Like Lazarus did after being in the tomb a couple of days. There’s the classic line from the King James Bible when Jesus instructs them to open the tomb.

Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.

By this time he stinketh.

Lovely phrase. There are things in our lives that smell of death too. We stinketh me thinketh.

The perfume is for his burial – but won’t be needed after the 3rd day. It’s still not a waste –  because of who he is.

Death is in the room because Lazarus is in the room.

Lazarus is notoriously silent in this passage. He’s the man of the house. Why am I surprised though? When you’ve been dead and you’re alive again – it is a bit disconcerting. I wonder whether he talked about those couple of days in the tomb?

What is interesting and possibly disconcerting for Jesus at his meal is where Lazarus is positioned in the room. Did you notice?

Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honour. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him.

Reclining at the table – they didn’t sit on chairs – they almost leaned on each other and ate with one hand. I wonder how close death was to Jesus?

Lazarus was more than once described as “Lazarus whom Jesus had raised from the dead” (John 12:1; 12:9 12:17). An interesting way of introducing a person socially!

And then there is Judas. The thief – according to John.

Only on one other occasion (great sentence – five words beginning with o) – is a thief mentioned – in John’s gospel. It’s in chapter 10: 1 & 10 – the thief who climbs into the sheep pen another way, who comes only to kill and destroy – compared to the good shepherd who came that we may have life and have it to the full.

  • Satan – the ultimate thief – did not thwart the purposes of God in the temptations of Jesus.
  • Judas’ schemes did not stop the purpose of God.
  • Neither will we – with our meanness or self obsession.

We have no option to be like Lazarus. We will need to be raised one day. Although of course he will also be raised in the final resurrection like us! We are just as dependant on Jesus for life in the meantime too. I’ve come close to death – any rescue buys me time to make the next choice.

We do have an option to choose between Mary or Judas.

  • To give and love extravagantly. And end up with nothing, and yet everything.
  • Or to be a controlling thief. To end up with 30 pieces of silver, and yet nothing.

Both were equally loved by the “lover of our souls” –  to use Charles Wesley’s term.

You and me too are equally loved. Like the two sons of the extravagant Father last week who killed the best yummy fattened calf for the party.

The smell that is left is what counts. Listen again to verse 3:

John 12:3  Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

Our lives and gifts should be a beautiful fragrance too.

As is the case in Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 2: 14-16 – where he uses the illustration of a Roman victory procession, with the incense of the priests rising up. The aroma symbolized life given by the victors and death to the defeated ones.

Paul uses this image to describe Christians: But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task? Thankfully, says John  Wesley, we are by the power of the Holy Spirit.

May our lives leave a sweet aroma wherever we go.

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.