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Sunday 23 January 2022 at BBP – Now you are the body of Christ

Readings: 1 Corinthians 12:12-30a; Luke 4:14-30

MESSAGE: “You are the body of Christ.”

1Co 12:27 “ Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

So we’re back. Welcome back.  It’s good to be together.

The wonderful thing is that being together physically in a bigger group is only one aspect of being the body of Christ – this New Testament term for the church.

There are quite a number of churches who haven’t yet got together on Sundays.

But the work goes on.

The body is networked and meets in small groups or one on one to encourage one another. Or like our Friday Zoom coffee group meeting online – where they are just there for each other in different ways.

It’s the relationships that matter I suspect. Think of the families that remain separated after these two years. Not at all easy.

This whole MIQ story has created great pain. And more pain when people who live here abuse these terrible kiwis who are trying to come home.

What does it mean to be a Christ-follower – a disciple – in this situation?

And how do we respond to all the complex issues and divided opinions?

There are a couple of things that stand out in the readings today.

The Corinthians are getting a little bit of revving or chastising on this matter of gifts and status only because they were a disunited bunch where people were really badly behaved. The letter doesn’t reach a climax in chapter 13 on love (which Sean will unwrap for us next week) for nothing, Chapter 12 ends with this: “And now I will show you a better way:”

They were getting told off by Paul because people were treating others as inferior – pointing to themselves as superior really. Hence the extended metaphor of the body’s members or parts all being important. Those of you with a troublesome toe or like me an ankle will know how important those individual parts are. (No I can’t blame the ankle for weight gains over lockdown and Christmas! Its those mince pies I think!)

Paul therefore says that “…there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.” (Verse 25).

The theological reason for this appeal is earlier in verse 13: 

1 Co 12:13  For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

Ring any bells? Galatians 3:28? My favourite verse on unity. Especially no male or female. We are all one. (Gal 3:26  You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, Gal 3:27  for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. Gal 3:28  There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.)

Or more recently when I spoke from Colossians 3:11:  Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. (He  goes on of course: Col 3:12  Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Col 3:13  Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

Or in Ephesians 4 –  so key to church life:

Eph 4:4  There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; Eph 4:5  one Lord, one faith, one baptism; Eph 4:6  one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

  • When Jesus started his ministry in Luke 4, he reads from the prophet Isaiah in his hometown synagogue:

Luk 4:18  “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed,

Luk 4:19  to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

As much as we try to spiritualize these groups of recipients of the good news, there are implications for the marginalized and excluded or badly treated by people of power (the oppressed) – or those in prison. Jesus is interested in them.

  • In Luke 4 – when the people hear about him at first, Jesus’ reputation has preceded him as they are amazed at his teachings.
  • When he says that the scripture is fulfilled in their hearing, they get a bit more concerned. (Who is this guy then? )
  • When he tells them that a prophet is not welcome in his own hometown, reminding them of God’s blessing on non-Jews in the Old Testament – blessing that widow of Sidon in a famine and the healing of Namaan the Syrian leper  –  well let’s say they’re less than thrilled.

They try to throw him off a cliff. What  a lovely way to end a synagogue service.

Pull these two together – the conflicted Corinthians who had to learn that the least were just as important – and Jesus’ extended circle in his hometown Nazareth who needed to hear about God loving and blessing people whom they had written off and despised (I guess like the Samaritans too – Jesus sorts that out doesn’t he in the parable of that name) – and we discover that the Jesus’ way is somewhat inconvenient.

He kind of wraps this up in his teaching elsewhere that we should love our enemy and pray for those who persecute us.

It’s easy to vilify people and cast aspersions on them, playing the blame game or the indignant kind of scandalous conversations we have about people who are different. Or whose views make us angry. Or whose decisions and attitudes rile us. Like our government. I have to be humbled regularly by the reminder that we are to pray for those in authority.

Yes we can disagree or even walk away from people who are really toxic  – we can put up barriers and boundaries to protect ourselves from dangerous people. But we have to love them like Jesus loved us – at least committed to praying for them to be blessed and to be changed by his love.

Jesus loved us first. Remember these words in 1 John 4?

 1Jn 4:9  This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 1Jn 4:10  This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

And Romans 8?

Rom 5:8  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

He loved us with the desire to bring us to our senses and to repentance and wholeness and ultimately inclusion in the body of Christ, so that we could love others as he loved us.

The wonderful thing about grace is that we are welcomed just as we are.  I come just as I am.

We can find a sense of belonging when a local church family welcomes us – we can then grow in faith and believe – and in time we behave differently.

This pandemic has raised the level of blame and rage against people with different views.

We have to be different. Above that.

Because we are the body of Christ.

Yes, they may be nutters in our view who cause us to mutter under our breath but the really do matter.

No matter how important they think they are or how insignificant they may feel. We can’t say “I don’t need you” says Paul.

Because we are the body of Christ, and especially in the body of Christ.

We are the voice and the feet and the hands of Christ – the example – those who show forth grace and love – and simple human kindness.

Who when the Holy Spirit anoints our lives become more compassionate like Jesus – who wept over the crowds in the cities and towns where he went because people were helpless and harassed – like sheep without a shepherd.

This communion meal we share involves eating symbols of sacrificial love.

We eat and drink things that are symbols of a death born out of hatred and blame, condemnation and rage – and receive new love and life, with power to love.

It’s a radical position to take because we die to ourselves in doing so.

We declare we are a new people who are different.

Paul in Romans 15, puts it like this:

Rom 15:1  We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Rom 15:2  Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. Rom 15:3  For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” Rom 15:4  For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. Rom 15:5  May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, Rom 15:6  so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Rom 15:7  Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.


8 April 2018 Sunday Message – Behind that locked door.

Reading: John 20:19-31


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)


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.



  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.


     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.



Sermon, 29 May 2016 – Amazing Faith

Reading: Luke 7:1-10; Psalm 96


Do you remember the first place Jesus preached at? That great sermon quoting from Isaiah – “the spirit of the Lord is upon me”

Quiz question 1: Where was that?

Nazareth – where he had been brought up.

Quiz question 2: What happened next?

They chased him out. Like modern hearers of sermons they were less than thrilled. In Luke 4:29 (another reminder on 29th May) – they tried to throw him off a cliff.

I always find that comforting when people are less than thrilled by my sermons. It’s never got as bad as Luke 4:29.

In this case Jesus walks through the crowds and goes on his way.

Quiz question 3: where did he go next?

Capernaum of course. Everybody should know that. Here’s a more recent picture of Capernaum than the ones Jesus took on his Kodak bible-matic camera of the day:


Can you see the Octagonal church there? It’s built over the site of an older church which in turn was built over the site of whose house?

Quiz question 4: whose house? Which disciple and first pope? Why Peter of course. We all know that.

Stuff happened in Capernaum. It was a town of about 1500 and the fishing village where Jesus called Peter, James, John and Andrew to leave their nets and follow him. And it was also the village of Matthew the tax collector.

The man in Luke 4:35 who is cleansed of an evil spirit is set free in the synagogue in Capernaum. That got peoples’ attention. It wasn’t your average Saturday synagogue session.

In 4:36 we read this:
Luk 4:36 All the people were amazed and said to each other, “What is this teaching? With authority and power he gives orders to evil spirits and they come out!” Luk 4:37 And the news about him spread throughout the surrounding area. 

Jesus goes to Peter’s house after this – and heals his mum in law. That got them talking I’m sure. Rebuking fevers and what have you.

It gets so frenetic – well just listen to Luke: Luk 4:40 When the sun was setting, the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying his hands on each one, he healed them.  Luk 4:41 Moreover, demons came out of many people, shouting, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew he was the Christ.
Luk 4:42 At daybreak Jesus went out to a solitary place. The people were looking for him and when they came to where he was, they tried to keep him from leaving them.  Luk 4:43 But he said, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.”

In Luke 5 there’s another commotion. Such a crowd – that these people carrying a paralysed friend break a hole in the roof of a house to let him down so that Jesus can heal him.

Here’s the line that sets a cat among the theological pigeons: Luk 5:20 When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”

The Pharisees are less than thrilled. Knowing what they are thinking, he says:

Luk 5:23 Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?
Luk 5:24 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…” He said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.”
Luk 5:25 Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God.

Now you may wonder – why all these details about Capernaum.

Well – it’s because when we get to Luke 7 which is today’s reading – he’s back in Capernaum. We’ve seen quite a bit of faith in Capernaum. Point well made.

But in Luke 7 – this is not a Jewish setting or a synagogue gathering.

Suddenly out of nowhere there’s a Roman centurion in the mix.

Weird. Fascinating. A man from an oppressive foreign power.

With all those Jews less than thrilled about Jesus forgiving sins and healing on the Sabbath – some Jewish elders come with a request on behalf of a gentile occupier from a foreign army.

There’s a bit of sending going on here.

The centurion sends the Jewish elders to ask for Jesus’ help with this sick servant.

The reason they give is fascinating too: “This man deserves to have you do this, Luk 7:5 because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.”

So Jesus goes along. Game? Curious? Compassionate?

On the way the centurion sends others – this time friends – with a message.

“Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.
Luk 7:7 That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed.
Luk 7:8 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

Up to now people were amazed at Jesus and his works.

This time its Jesus who is amazed. Listen again: Luk 7:9 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.”

We’ve heard and sung about Amazing Grace. This is amazing faith.

At this point – let’s stop for a while and consider this picture. Ask yourself – is this funny? Is it fair? Where are you in this situation? Are we like Eugene?

Eugene Cartoon

DISCUSSION (in small groups or with the person next to you).

Talk about Eugene and his faith in the cartoon on screen. Here are some questions to discuss about our prayer life and our faith:

1. Are there things I am still asking for after 47 years?
2. Should I give up?
3. What are the big things I am trusting Jesus for?
4. How amazing is my faith?
5. How does it compare with the faith of the centurion?
6. What do you find amazing about his faith?

(group time).

SHARING TIME: So what “ponies” are you still praying for? Do you still have amazing faith for some things – for a break through – for a prayer to be answered.

Go back to Luke 7:

Luk 7:9 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.”
Remarkable that Jesus should say this.

The man’s words are remarkable: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.
Luk 7:7 That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed.
Luk 7:8 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”


1. “I am not worthy” – it’s so like the prayer of humble access in the Communion liturgy of some churches:

We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy:

It’s so like the Canaanite woman of Matthew 15:

Mat 15:25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.
Mat 15:26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”
Mat 15:27 “Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”
Mat 15:28 Then Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.

Sometimes our prayers make us sound presumptuous.

2. It speaks of who Jesus really is. The real stunner is this – that he says that Jesus did not even have to be there physically for the healing to take place.

This cuts across everything people believed and experienced about faith healers. Just say the word. He’s saying something about who Jesus is – as the God who speaks and things come into being – like creation. Remember John 1 – nothing has been made that was not made through Jesus, the Word of God.


The troubling things about this whole story is where we fit in.

How amazing is our faith?

Are we a bit like the Jewish people who wanted to debate things? Who had preconceived ideas? Cherished notions we don’t let go of?

Especially on healing and whether God really speaks. In two weeks’ time we will have Tony and Sue Kerr and their team here. Will we really expect God to speak and act?

Are we open to learning how to minister like they do? Because they are willing to come along and equip us to be used to bring God’s restoring power and love into other peoples’ lives.

(Are we on another level? Do we think – I wish we had a centurion who would sponsor our synagogue/church?)

Have we given up? – like Eugene’s friends who tell him – “we’re tired of hearing your prayer request. Go and buy a pony!” in other words – solve it yourself.

As we travel through Luke’s gospel we will find other amazing things that God does.

This one is about Amazing faith.

Maybe we need to ask for “amazing faith” ourselves.

Luk 7:9 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.”

What’s he saying to the angels now about the faith he finds here in Browns Bay?


Sunday Message 10 April, Easter 3 – Harvest Sunday

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  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: 


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:


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:


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.



Sunday Sermon 5 July 2015 – Paul to the Galatians (5)

Father God

Readings: Hebrews 1:1-5; Galatians 4:4-7; Matthew 6:7-15

Story: A group of first graders was asked to draw a picture of God in their Sunday School class. Their finished products contained some interesting theology. One child depicted God in the form of a brightly coloured rainbow. Another presented him as an old man coming out of the clouds. One little boy drew God with a remarkable resemblance to Superman. The best snapshot, though, came from a little girl. She said, “I didn’t know what God looked like, so I just drew a picture of my daddy.”

It would be great if every boy and girl could see God in his or her father. Sadly – it’s not so. The statistics are frightening. In Britain for example, I read this week about the statistics regarding absent fathers:

85% of children exhibiting behavioural disorders come from fatherless homes

90% of all homeless and runaway children come from fatherless homes

80% of all rapists motivated by displaced anger come from fatherless homes

70% of juveniles in state-operated institutions come from fatherless homes

85% of all youths sitting in prisons grew up in fatherless homes.

The writer continues: “We live in a fatherless generation. We need to point them to God’s paternal, compassionate, restoring, gracious desire, and offer to make up that which is missing.” Ponsonby, Simon (2013-05-24). God Is For Us (p. 229). Monarch Books. Kindle Edition.

Here’s a question for you.

Which Bible story illustrates the Fatherly love of God the most? In your view?

My favourite (again I have many favourites) is Luke 15:11 ff – which is the story of the Prodigal Son.

There’s a good argument to suggest that it’s also a story of a prodigal Father – if we take prodigal to be excessively wasteful. Simon Ponsonby puts it like this:

And here is where we see what God is like: the father is waiting and watching, scanning the horizon on the edge of his land, looking longingly as he clearly has done every day since his son left. When he catches the silhouette of his boy, knowing intimately how he carried himself and walked, the old man begins to run and run, and when he gets to his son, breathless, wet with perspiration and tears, he pauses, then crushes his pig-stinking, bag-of-bones boy in his arms of love. Ponsonby, Simon (2013-05-24). God Is For Us (p. 230). Monarch Books. Kindle Edition.

A party is thrown, because the dead son is alive, the lost son is found, and a son is with his dad! This is the most amazing good news – because this is what God is like.

David knew this when he wrote in Psalm 68:

Psa 68:5  A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. Psa 68:6  God sets the lonely in families, he leads forth the prisoners with singing; but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.

In our series about Galatians – God is the giver. We know from other passages like John 3:16 that God the Father gives his only son. In Galatians Paul shows that the son gives himself to rescue us.  You may remember from Galatians 1: 3-4 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father

We come to him by faith (Galatians 3:26-27) – becoming sons:  Gal 3:26  You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, Gal 3:27  for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 

  • And then the focal verse in Galatians 4:6 Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father. The spirit is given to the sons of God – so that we can become all we were meant to be.

And – interestingly enough – in this early epistle you can see the formation of a doctrine of the Trinity, even though the term is not used. God the Father of our Lord Jesus is at work. The son is given to rescue us, and the Spirit is given to transform us.


In simple terms, three points!

  1. It’s all about grace.

We don’t have the issues that the Galatians had – whether we need to become Jews in order to become Christians, or whether we are overloaded with burdens from trying to keep the law as they did. The church today is in no immediate danger of over- keeping the laws of the Old Testament in every detail. Too many ham sandwiches in church pot luck suppers? Men’s breakfast would never be the same here without that amazing bacon!

Whatever the law we follow, we will certainly not keep it on our own. We’re not able to. If it is by our doing, then we are setting aside the grace of God. As Paul says in Galatians 2:21:  I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”

  1. It’s all about the truth of the gospel

What we do have from our travels through the letter to the Galatians is a real sense of the truth of the Gospel as something to be treasured and guarded against wrong teachings. There are no substitutes or additions that can be made. The gospel came at the right time in every way.

The gospel, like the exodus from Egypt, is a rescue mission so that we can be set free from our enslavement to the power and consequences of sin. It is initiated by God. At the right time.

Listen to Galatians 4:4 again: Gal 4:4  But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law

And listen to Hebrews 1 again: Heb 1:1  In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, Heb 1:2  but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.

God initiates this rescue. We who are not Jews – in other words Gentiles (to whom Paul is specifically sent with the Gospel message) – are equally bound and captive. Our wrestling is with sin, the devil, and his minions.

We equally need to be set free. And only God can do this. We are enslaved, and need to be liberated.  We too worship other gods – create our own idols of every sort.

The fact that the Galatian gentiles choose to remain slaves by going back to circumcision and thus the pre-Messianic faith is helpful for us as a warning. We have to hold on to the truth of the gospel.

  1. It’s all about our relationship with God

We do have this – this is the most important thing today: we have a model for prayer and living in an intimate relationship with Abba, Father.  (And of course the Lord’s prayer begins: ‘Our Father’”)

The word Abba is an Aramaic word and is only used three times in Scripture. Galatians 4:6, Romans 8:15. Guess what the other verse is? Yes it’s in the garden of Gethsemane when the firstborn only begotten son wrestles in prayer with his looming execution.

Mar 14:36  – “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

And then these two from Paul: Gal 4:6  Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.”

He unpacks this in his later letter to the Romans in chapter 8: Rom 8:14  because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. Rom 8:15  For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” Rom 8:16  The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.

What a privilege that we can pray like Jesus did. The Holy Spirit cries “Abba” though us. (Galatians) And we can cry “Abba!” (Romans) Simon Ponsonby, who you recall came out from the UK for New Wine Festival again last year – puts it like this:

This passage unveils to us perhaps the most beautiful and glorious insights into the work of the Spirit in the life of the believer. Through faith, the believer has been justified (Romans 3– 5; Galatians 2: 16; 3: 6) and simultaneously has received the Spirit (Romans 5: 5; Galatians 3: 2). They have moved from being slaves, living in fear and servitude before the Law and the devil, to being free sons of God.

Ponsonby, Simon (2013-05-24). God Is For Us (p. 231). Monarch Books. Kindle Edition.

Free sons of God – with Jesus as the elder brother in the family. What a privilege to be his children. (We have to learn about freedom in the light of all this. More about freedom later as we go through this letter together.)

This new status of adoption is rich with historical cultural baggage – adoption under Roman law conferred full rights to inherit on the adopted child.

He adopts us. We can’t choose Him. Most of all is the simple fact that He chooses us. (John 15:16  You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last…)

We can’t earn it or buy our way in to the family. He has redeemed us. He pays the price for our freedom.

This is the gospel – that we are saved into an intimate relationship with the Father. And we have the inner witness of God’s spirit – that blessed assurance – as Paul says in Romans 8: 8:16  The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.

Conclusion (Quoting Simon Ponsonby)

We have been made sons of God; a party has been thrown in our honour, with status, dignity, inheritance, and authority conferred on us. We can live like sons in the Spirit or like slaves – it’s up to us. The Galatian Christians chose to live like slaves. The second son in the parable of the prodigal chose to live like a slave, bemoaning “all these years I’ve slaved for you” while in fact “all the father had was his”. Such a revelation of our position before God, on the basis of the decree of the Father, the death of the Son, and the deposit of the Spirit, should revolutionize our lives. God is Abba – our Father. I am his son, not his slave. I serve him freely and without fear – I relax in my sonship: security, identity, inheritance, and freedom from anxiety and fear.

Being God’s own sons should cause us to wonder and worship with all our heart. It should cause us to walk with our head held high, that such dignity has been conferred upon us, sons who perpetuate God’s name and inherit his estate. It should compel our passionate witness to this broken, lost, fatherless generation. Ponsonby, Simon (2013-05-24). God Is For Us (pp. 234-235). Monarch Books. Kindle Edition.

It also means that this Abba, Father, is one in whom we need to rest.

He knows our needs before we ask! (Mat 6:8  Do not be like them (the pagans), for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.)

And if we go astray – he is always longing for us to return. Like the prodigal Father and his prodigal son. It’s interesting that in Luke’s gospel when the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son are recorded, there is this wonderful verse:

Luk 15:10  In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.


IF you feel astray – lost – if you don’t have that intimate relationship with God through Christ and His spirit, there is always today!

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And probably my favourite:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday Sermon 7 June 2015 – Paul to the Galatians (1)

Readings: Galatians 1:1-10;  6:11-18


We begin this week with a series on Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Most of us know a little about the book – our favourite verses are those about the fruit of the spirit. At least we know about love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

What we don’t know is that this little book is possibly the oldest Christian document we have. It certainly is full of passion and energy – Paul gets very stressed and worked up in it – and for good reason. There are big issues at stake.

The renowned preacher John Piper says of this letter: You can’t read Galatians and think, “Well this is an interesting piece of religious reflection”—any more than you can examine a live coal with your bare hands.

Introductory remarks                                                                          

  1. We read the beginning and the end of the letter today – to get a sense of what it is – a letter with a real context. Unlike our letters, the name of the writer comes first.

But note that it is ALSO from the brothers “with him”. He is not really a lone ranger.

  1. We need to know who it is written to, and sometimes we gloss over this. Listen again: “To the churches in Galatia:” There is more than one church that has got in a muddle here, and these churches are probably situated in what is today southern central Turkey. Troubles were brewing in a number of churches that he had planted.
  1. The authority of Paul is spelled out from the beginning:

Gal 1:1  Paul, an apostlesent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— Gal 1:2  and all the brothers with me, To the churches in Galatia:

In case you think that the letters of Paul have less of Jesus than the four gospels, Paul makes it clear that what he has to say and teach is from Jesus himself.

  1. And then the salutation:

Gal 1:3  Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, Gal 1:4  who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, Gal 1:5  to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

We often gloss over these greetings too – but here we have some key markers – boundary lines – about the gospel and the cross. “Grace and peace from the Lord Jesus Christ who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father.” There is an immediate flagging of the broader issue than our individual salvation – it’s more than us – he gave himself for our sins “to rescue us from this present evil age

At that time followers of Judaism believed world history was divided in two ages – the present age (of wickedness and gloom), and the age to come (when God would intervene and fix things).

It’s the new age that we live in – the Messianic age which began with Jesus’ death and resurrection, that is at stake here. What is it meant to be like? Paul is clearly irked by what is happening in these Galatian churches. They had somehow changed the basics, and he was pretty cross with them.

The word “age” is sometimes translated as “world”. Sometimes it is referred to as the “age to come”. For example:

Heb 6:4  It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, Heb 6:5  who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, Heb 6:6  if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.

Rom 12:2  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

2Co 4:3  And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 2Co 4:4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.  


Let me illustrate the problem here with an analogy.

How many of you have built a house? Imagine you hire an architect to draw up the plans, and you get consent, and the foundations are laid. It’s a family home – and even though your family is quite diverse, the home is designed for all to live in community together.

And while you’re away on holiday, someone else comes along and changes the whole thing. You come back to your building site and it’s a mess. Nothing like what you planned. And the different and diverse members of your family are cut off from each other in different sections of the house. They can’t get together at all – not even for meals or to watch a bit of TV.

And the builders tell you – “that architect of yours had it all wrong.  He had some funny ideas, but we are the real authorities. This is how it’s meant to be.”

I can imagine heads would roll. You would be less than thrilled. I haven’t built a house, but I know from those who have that they like to keep an eye on the whole process for good reason.

Paul was less than thrilled in this instance too.

He’d planted churches in the area of Galatia. This was his ministry – starting churches, training and appointing leaders, and then moving on.

Tom Wright puts it like this: Paul’s project is, he often says, building: but he’s building with people, not with bricks and mortar. He lays foundations for this building by telling people some news which is so good it’s shocking. (Wright, Tom (2002-03-22). Paul for Everyone: Galatians and Thessalonians (New Testament for Everyone) (p. 4). SPCK. Kindle Edition.)

There are other building analogies he uses. For example when writing to the Corinthian church where there were people who supported him, and others supporting Apollos (a conflict therefore) he says this:

1Co 3:9  For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. 1Co 3:10  By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. 1Co 3:11  For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 1Co 3:12  If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 1Co 3:13  his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. 1Co 3:14  If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. 1Co 3:15  If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.

To get back to the news he proclaimed when building the foundations of the churches in Galatia. This news – the “gospel” was quite shocking.

We sometimes think about the “gospel” in terms of the four spiritual laws, or a formula to come to faith though repentance, or a reformed faith or post-reformation way of thinking following Luther for example. Or for that matter a Methodist one where Wesley had his “heart strangely warmed” when he met Jesus at a meeting on Aldersgate street in 1738. All of these are fine.

At the very least we have personalised the gospel message – Jesus died for our sins and we are justified (made righteous in God’s sight) by faith and we have peace with God (we looked at all those themes in Paul’s letter to the Romans).

The news is shocking because it has wider ramifications than our personal faith and getting to heaven. Tom Wright puts it like this:

According to Paul, there is one God, the world’s creator (standard stuff for the Jews, that), and this one God has now unveiled his long-awaited plan for the world. The unveiling took place in a Jew called Jesus; Paul says this Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, a kind of king-to-end-all-kings (sounds like a challenge to Emperor Claudius). Jesus was executed by the Romans; that’s what they did, often enough, to other people’s kings. But Paul says that the true God raised Jesus from the dead. That’s the beginning of the good news, but it doesn’t stop there.

According to Paul, Jesus’ death and resurrection mean that this God is now building a new family, a single family, a family with no divisions, no separate races, no one-table-for-Jews-and-another-for-Gentiles nonsense. Jews believed that when the Messiah came he would be Lord of all the world; so, Paul argues, he’d have to have just one family. And, though this family is the fulfilment of what this God had promised to the Jews, the remarkable thing is that, because of Jesus, you don’t have to be a Jew to belong. The God of Israel wants to be known as ‘father’ by the whole world. So, with this good news, Paul has laid the foundation of a people-building in central south Turkey. Then he has moved on.

And then he hears the bad news. Other people-builders have come in. Oh, they’ve said, Paul didn’t really know what he was doing. You could get into trouble for that kind of thing. In any case, Paul just got his funny ideas by muddling up things that other people had said to him. We’ve got it from the real authorities. This people-building has to have two sections. Yes, we all believe that Jesus is the Messiah; but we can’t have Jewish believers and Gentile believers living as though they were part of the same family. If the Gentile believers want to be part of the real inner circle, the family God promised to Abraham, they will have to become Jews. The men must be circumcised. All must keep the law, must do the things that keep Jews and Gentiles neatly separated. That’s the real good news, they said: you’re welcome into God’s family if you follow the law of Moses.

Think about that scenario, and you’ll see why, in this opening paragraph of his letter to Galatia, Paul sounds as though he’s trying to say several things at once, all of them pretty sharp. The key things he’s talking about are apostleship and gospel. Grasp these, and the rest of the letter will start to make sense.

Wright, Tom (2002-03-22). Paul for Everyone: Galatians and Thessalonians (New Testament for Everyone) (pp. 4-5). SPCK. Kindle Edition.


For now – in this small beginning – some key thoughts

  1. If you only had Galatians, and not the longer letter to the Romans, most key aspects of the gospel message would be covered or referred to one way or the other.
  1. This very short introduction asks this question of you: Have you been rescued or delivered from the present evil age? It’s still at work – despite the evil one’s defeat on the cross – the war is still on. You can’t deliver or rescue yourselves. For Paul this is the new exodus from slavery to sin and liberation into God. And remember that Jesus prayed this in John 17:15 – My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.
  1. Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

John Piper in a sermon on this passage write this: The experience of deliverance from the present evil age enables us to bear witness with our lives that we belong to another King and another kingdom and another age. And it begins with a changed heart and a changed mind. He calls his sermon To Deliver Us from the Present Evil Age but the alternate title he was going to use is this:  “Grace to You and Glory to God.”

  1. Are we building our lives and our church on the right foundation? Always a great question. Are we really committed to the gospel of transformation?

Is there a change from this old age to the Kingdom of God in us?

There’s this fascinating and sad passage in Paul’s first letter to Timothy: (NIV) 2Ti 4:9  Do your best to come to me quickly, 2Ti 4:10 for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica.(NRSV)  2Ti 4:9  Do your best to come to me soon, for Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica

It’s the same word for “age” and “world” that crops up.  Aeon. Eon in English.

I have this deep concern that what actually happens here – and is happening – is that too many of us are in love with this present world.

Demas deserted Paul – because he loved the present world or age too much. That happens here too. Ultimately Demas deserted God and His Kingdom. Romans 12:2 applies – like him we are conforming to the world’s standards rather than being transformed!

Amen. Enough for today.

Acknowledgements: Tom Wright’s thoughts have shaped this reflection:

  • Wright, Tom (2002-03-22). Paul for Everyone: Galatians and Thessalonians (New Testament for Everyone). SPCK. Kindle Edition.
  • Here I have been influenced by Wright’s lectures “Paul and his letter to the Galatians”. This is from the course  NTWRIGHT ON LINE through the Wisconsin Centre for Christian studies.

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

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


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.



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 sermon 8 March 2015 – Invitations, weddings, banquets and burning cities

Reading: Matthew 22:1-14

Mat 22:1 Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying:

Mat 22:2 “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son.
Mat 22:3 He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.
Mat 22:4 “Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’
Mat 22:5 “But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business.
Mat 22:6 The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them.
Mat 22:7 The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.
Mat 22:8 “Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come.
Mat 22:9 Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’
Mat 22:10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.
Mat 22:11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes.
Mat 22:12 “Friend,’ he asked, ‘how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ The man was speechless.
Mat 22:13 “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
Mat 22:14 “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”
Sermon – Invitations, weddings, banquets and burning cities

It’s a long time since we were in that process of planning our wedding. For some of you your wedding invitations are part of the dim and distance past. I had to ask my dear wife this morning about ours – I couldn’t remember how many people were at the reception – our banquet!

I remember the day – what a wonderful bride! And I sang for her! It was 31 years ago…

Very few people turned us down. The one exception was a friend whom I asked to conduct the wedding ceremony.

He wasn’t available on 19 May 1984 as there was an important football game he wanted to watch.

I’m not sure whether my friend remembers that FA cup final. The 1984 FA Cup Final was contested by Everton and Watford at Wembley. Everton won 2–0, with one goal by Graeme Sharp and a particularly memorable goal from Andy Gray. (Maybe that was the link – my friend was James Gray!). Another friend not watching the FA cup was the officiant – and I do remember him talking about marriage and comparing it to baking a chocolate cake!

The excuses people give in this parable for not showing up at the prince’s wedding (the King’s son) are interesting. (Would you have passed up an invitation to Chares and Diana’s wedding, or William and Kate’s?)

It seems that they already knew about the wedding, as the message was “ok we’re ready for you”.

Look at verse 3:

Mat 22:3 He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.

So he has another go.

Mat 22:4 “Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’

Mat 22:5 “But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business.

In Luke’s similar parable (I tell stories and they often turn out different) the excuses were even more interesting. I remember them from the song we sang as kids in church (and adults actually) –

“I cannot come”

Here are the words:

I cannot come,
I cannot come to the banquet,
Don’t trouble me now,
I have married a wife,
I have bought me a cow,
I have fields and commitments,
That cost a pretty sum,
Pray hold me excused

I cannot come.

1- A certain man held a feast
On his fine estate in town.
He laid a festive table,
He wore a wedding gown,
He sent out invitations
To his neighbours far and wide,
But when the meal was ready
Each of them replied:

I cannot come…
2- The master rose up in anger
Called his servants by name, said
Go into town, fetch the blind and the lame
Fetch the peasant and the pauper
For this I have willed:
My banquet must be crowded,
And my table must be filled.

I cannot come…

3- When all the poor had assembled
There was still room to spare,
So the master demanded:
Go search everywhere.
Search the highways and the by ways,
And tell them to come in
My table must be filled
Before the banquet can begin.

I cannot come…

4- Now God has written a lesson
For the rest of mankind:
If we are slow in responding
He may leave us behind.
He is preparing a banquet
For that great and glorious day,
When the Lord and Master calls
Us be certain not to say:

The details of the wife and the cow are from the Luke story. Here is the whole passage, for comparison:

Luk 14:12  Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbours; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. Luk 14:13  But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, Luk 14:14  and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Luk 14:15  When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.” Luk 14:16  Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. Luk 14:17  At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ Luk 14:18  “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’ Luk 14:19  “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’ Luk 14:20  “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.‘ Luk 14:21  “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’   Luk 14:22  “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’ Luk 14:23  “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full. Luk 14:24  I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.'”

Back to Matthew… 

To return to Matthew 22: Mat 22:5 “But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business.”
In fact the NRSV translates this verse like this: But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business…

And Eugene Peterson (The Message paraphrase) translates it like this: “They only shrugged their shoulders and went off, one to weed his garden, another to work in his shop.

The parables from Matthew that precede this one focus mainly on the Jewish leaders and authorities, and the unfruitfulness of the Jewish nation. A similar thread is seen here – because the first lot that refuse and that make light of the invitation is a reference to the Jewish rejection of Jesus again.  Remember that this series of parables are taught after Jesus had entered Jerusalem before that fatal Friday. We’re not talking about teaching the disciples or correcting Peter here – rather this is in the face of the Jewish authorities.

We are reminded of the tenants in the Parable of the vineyard (Matthew 21:33) when in verse 6 we read: The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them.

This has the added angle of consequences here as the judgement in this story is swift. We assume that Matthew would have been aware of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans if the gospel was written after AD 72. If not, we certainly are aware of it now, and those who read this gospel after Jerusalem was destroyed would have made the connection.

Listen to verse 7: Mat 22:7 The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.


We are pretty sure that the category of people that are found in the streets and brought in refers to us. Unless you have a Jewish lineage you are a Gentile or an outsider from God’s original plan. We are part of the “anyone you can find” intake.

In this parable the King says this: Mat 22:9 Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ Mat 22:10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.

So it’s all good then. “Sweet as” is what young kiwis and their mates say. “Free party and we weren’t even on the original list of guests.” But no.

There is further judgement – this time of one of the people who are brought in as undeserved attendees is in trouble:

Mat 22:11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes.
Mat 22:12 “Friend,’ he asked, ‘how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ The man was speechless.
Mat 22:13 “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
Mat 22:14 “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

There are suggestions that this is a separate parable. Even if it was, it is part of the whole story line here.

It’s a bit odd really – these people were dragged off the streets. Why would they be expected to be in wedding garments? How could they? There is the suggestion that wedding garments would have been provided in those days by the host. But there is little evidence for such a practice.


Maybe this man was so caught up with the benefits of the banquet that he forgets that he is undeserving – a recipient of grace – and as a bit of a glutton focuses on what he can take rather than on his need for gratitude and respect of the king.

I like what a preacher wrote about this (a lady called Sharon Ring- it has a nice ring about it)”

Eschatological insight (vision again! – see last week’s message about the evil eye!)

For Matthew those purposes centre on the issue of the “worthiness” of the guests (verse 8). The criterion apparently is not an ethical one (for both “good and bad” are brought in), but rather a matter of eschatological insight–the ability to recognize the urgency of the invitation and to respond. The real issue is not whether you are of Jewish or Gentile pedigree, or whether you are a deserving Jew or Gentile ethically or morally.

I think our Sharon is onto something here – it’s about discernment of the importance of the event! The Will and Kate wedding was THE wedding of the century –surpassing that of Charles and Diana no doubt. (Am I being unfair to dear Charles?).

I guess if you are a parent with a daughter – then that wedding will be the wedding of the century for you! It’s a matter of who and what matters to you.

The image of a banquet and a wedding has eschatological connotations! Big word which means it is to do with ultimate and end time matters!

Listen to verse 12 again: Mat 22:12 “Friend,’ he asked, ‘how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ The man was speechless.

The man was speechless! The point is that when you stand before the judge of all the earth I suspect you will be speechless!

And so the speechless man gets sorted in verse 13: Mat 22:13 “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

And the parable ends with these fascinating and challenging words: Mat 22:14 “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

Now let me be honest – I’m not sure here. Some of you want everything very clear and black and white, when the Bible is challenging and slippery at times.

For many are called, but few chosen – is a reasonable translation. The invitation – the call – comes to us to be at this wedding banquet – to be part of a great celebration – pointing to a banquet at the end of time – but in the meantime as we experience this grace now – invited or called to be in this new community – by grace alone (dragged off the messy streets of our lives) – the warning is that there is more!

Accountability? Yes. Obedience? Yes. Gratitude and humility? O yes.

What, then, is the symbol of the wedding garment?

John Calvin in his commentary asks whether the wedding garment refers to faith or a holy life?

He goes on to say:

This is a useless controversy; for faith cannot be separated from good works, nor do good works proceed from any other source than from faith. But Christ intended only to state, that the Lord calls us on the express condition of our being renewed by the Spirit after his image; and that, in order to our remaining permanently in his house, we must put off the old man with his pollutions, (Col_3:9; Eph_4:22) and lead a new life, that the garment may correspond to so honourable a calling.

The verses Calvin refers to help us here:

Col 3:9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices
Col 3:10 and have put on the new self
, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.

Eph 4:22 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;

Eph 4:23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds;
Eph 4:24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Calvin goes on to say:

We know also, that there is no other way in which we are formed anew after the image of God, but by putting on Christ, (Rom_13:14; Gal_3:27) It is not, therefore, the declaration of Christ, that the sentence of casting them into outer darkness will be executed on wretched men who did not bring a costly garment taken from their own wardrobe, but on those who shall be found in their pollution, when God shall come to make a scrutiny of his guests.

The verses he refers to are these:

Rom 13:14 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Gal 3:27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

There is an invitation to come to the wedding banquet. There are clothes to be worn. We are to respond. How do we respond today?

Oh it’s just a story, you may say. Don’t take it too literally. The problem is that our biblical literacy is poor and we want easy solutions.

This invitation to put on Christ as your wedding garment is radical – counter-cultural – and morally and ethically challenging. Like the man who said to the preacher: “I don’t like the Bible – it interferes with my work”. It turns out he was a pick pocket.

If you think that once a week will transform your life in this Christian journey – then think again. If you think a cursory daily prayer muttered on the bus will do it – think again.

We don’t put on a wedding garment that is fashionable and expensive. We put on Christ – who died to get us into this relationship and journey with God. There is no cheap grace! It is a radical transformation of our minds, hearts and lives.

Going back to our commentator Sharon Ring again – we find this perspective on this passage: He affirms the boundless generosity and inclusive reach of God’s grace, but he also affirms that for us to be “worthy” of God’s gift requires nothing less than our whole life. There are songs that try to capture that today. But one hymn wins the prize – When I survey the wondrous cross. We’ll sing this one on Tuesday at Tuesday Church.

Listen to this verse of response in the hymn:
Were the whole realm of nature mine, That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine, Demands my soul, my life, my all.

I don’t lie the modern version – it used to say “That were an offering far too small”. Better, don you think?

But look at these verses of the hymn we don’t see often: His dying crimson, like a robe, Spreads o’er His body on the tree; Then I am dead to all the globe, And all the globe is dead to me. Are we dead to the globe – the world?

And our response: To Christ, who won for sinners grace, By bitter grief and anguish sore, Be praise from all the ransomed race, Forever and forevermore.

Sunday sermon 1 March 2015 – The upside down Kingdom…

Reading: Matthew 20:1-16


It’s no surprise that the parable today is in direct response to our main character through the story. I wonder who that could be, you may be thinking. Why Peter, of course.

In the previous chapter is that challenging saying about the young man who turned away. The rich young ruler. Remember him? Listen again: Mat 19:23  Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Mat 19:24  Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Mat 19:25  When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?” Mat 19:26  Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Mat 19:27  Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”

The bit at the end of Matthew 19 is for you to read at home. Especially verse 28 – I bet you’re surprised by that one.

At the end of Matthew 19 Jesus says to Peter:  Mat 19:29  And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. Mat 19:30  But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.

And then Chapter 20 begins with the word “for”. Remember that there were no chapters at the beginning when the bible was written. Not even spaces between the letters of the early bible. So here we go then:

Mat 20:1  “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard.

It’s addressed to people who have left everything to follow Jesus, and applies to every generation. Things are upside down in terms of this Kingdom. This is a unique parable about the Kingdom and God’s grace in the kingdom. It ends again with Mat 20:16  “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

So let’s consider firstly what’s the parable is not about!

  • It’s not about trade unions and fair wages. Elsewhere in scripture it’s very clear that workers are to be paid properly.
  • It’s not about lazy people. There’s a temptation by those who have never been without anything, especially a job, to look at those standing around doing nothing and say “lazy bunch – why don’t they get a job?”

I don’t know if you’ve lived anywhere where people stand around near a work and income/person power or labour office hoping that someone will hire them for the day. It’s a hand-to-mouth existence. And it’s terribly discouraging. It’s common in big cities.

Looking after workers and the needy is part of the biblical standard given to us. If you want a biblical reference for this read Leviticus 19:

Lev 19:9  “‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Lev 19:10  Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God. Lev 19:11  “‘Do not steal. “‘Do not lie. “‘Do not deceive one another. Lev 19:12  “‘Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the LORD. Lev 19:13  “‘Do not defraud your neighbour or rob him. “‘Do not hold back the wages of a hired man overnight.

And of course Deuteronomy:  Deu 24:14 Do not take advantage of a hired man who is poor and needy, whether he is a brother Israelite or an alien living in one of your towns. Deu 24:15 Pay him his wages each day before sunset, because he is poor and is counting on it. Otherwise he may cry to the LORD against you, and you will be guilty of sin. 


Verse 15 gives us a clue: Mat 20:15  Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

If the Landowner in the extended simile is God – then he is both generous and sovereign.

And it’s the labourers who were hired at the beginning of the day that the landowner has issues with. Or the ones that had issues with the Landowner.

And this verse 15 is a fascinating one – which actually says this: (BBE)  Have I not the right to do as seems good to me in my house? or is your eye evil, because I am good? 

The idea of a bad or evil eye takes us back to Matthew 6. Mat 6:22  “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light.Mat 6:23  But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

And of course in this passage the concept of the evil eye is translated  with words like “jealous” or “envious”. And jealousy and envy are aspects or manifestations of the breaking of the last commandment – do not covet. It’s all about what and how you see things. And what we want for ourselves.

A comment in the Life Application Study Bible says this: Spiritual vision is our capacity to see clearly what God wants us to do and to see the world from his point of view. But this spiritual insight can be easily clouded. Self-serving desires, interests, and goals block that vision. Serving God is the best way to restore it. A “good” eye is one that is fixed on God.

It’s about how you see things and how you judge them. About whether you have an eye for the things of the Kingdom or whether your shades have dollar signs on them – or “me, me, me” as a filter – whether you think of your own reward first like Peter. It puts his complaint in context:

Mat 19:27  Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”

His complaint does rather sound like a whining petulant child now. It has this “unfair” kind of feeling implied. Like the people hired at the beginning of the day for a fair wage who are resentful of the Johnny-come-lately people whom the Landowner gets in at the last minute – and pays the same rate for the day.

The Landowner is totally fair and keeps his agreed deal with the workers who worked all day. What they don’t get is how the 11.00th hour people also get that same wage.

This is grace revealed. Generous grace. It’s about the character of the Landowner, who represents God in the parable.


  • Like the penitent thief on the cross. No baptism – no catechism – no chance to serve in endless duties at church. Just grace.

Can you think of others?

  • Perhaps the elder brother in the Prodigal Son story comes to mind – whining that his dad was throwing a party for the prodigal who was so selfish and who squandered everything. One commentator reflecting on this says the words of the elder brother might be like this: There are the sounds of a party in progress. “My brother is receiving a celebration? What is going on here? This is certainly not fair.” Jarvis, Cynthia A. (2013-12-09). Feasting on the Gospels–Matthew, Volume 2 (Kindle Locations 4518-4519). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.


In every church (certainly in the 6 or more I have served in over the years), you get the workers who have served there for many years, some of whom believe they are entitled to more reward because of years of service. A meritorious kind of status.

The Kingdom of God is not like that. There is no ladder of importance really – we all are recipients of gifts from God. But the moment we treat the church as our club, then there will be a pecking order of some sort.

So is this about the church today? In fact Tom Wright’s thoughts are helpful – he writes with church people in mind – doing church stuff:

God’s grace, in short, is not the sort of thing you can bargain with or try to store up. It isn’t the sort of thing that one person can have a lot of and someone else only a little. The point of the story is that what people get from having served God and his kingdom is not, actually, a ‘wage’ at all. It’s not, strictly, a reward for work done. God doesn’t make contracts with us, as if we could bargain or negotiate for a better deal. He makes covenants, in which he promises us everything and asks of us everything in return. When he keeps his promises, he is not rewarding us for effort, but doing what comes naturally to his overflowingly generous nature.

There is always a danger that we get cross with God over this. People who work in church circles can easily assume that they are the special ones, God’s inner circle. In reality, God is out in the marketplace, looking for the people everybody else tried to ignore, welcoming them on the same terms, surprising them (and everybody else) with his generous grace. The earliest church clearly needed to learn that lesson. Is there anywhere in today’s church that doesn’t need to be reminded of it as well?  Wright, Tom (2002-03-22). Matthew for Everyone Part 2: Pt. 2 (New Testament for Everyone) (pp. 57-58). SPCK. Kindle Edition.

Amazing and generous grace is revealed in the character who portrays the nature of God.

Do you know this God? May you come to discover his amazing grace.

And like the shepherd who leaves the 99 to look for the lost sheep, the Landowner (God) is out in the marketplace seeking those in need and inviting them to participate in a different vineyard in his upside down Kingdom.