Reading: John 20: 1-18
We went to a memorial service recently. On Waitangi Day actually. We were able to take some of our friend’s ashes and scatter them in the garden of the church in the city.
The interesting experience for me happened when we first arrived. We were walking around the grounds and I passed the gardener who was on his haunches digging away in one of the beds. Amazing – I thought – on a public holiday too. He had an old floppy hat on, and typical non-descript gardening gear. Not your Sunday best.
When I walked past him a second him he got up – and I discovered I knew him very well. And had done so for over ten years.
I couldn’t help at that moment thinking of Mary at the tomb.
“Thinking he was the gardener…” (v15) – she asks Jesus where his body was.
It raises questions for the curious mind. What was Jesus wearing?
His burial gear was in the tomb.
She doesn’t recognize him at all.
Did he look like a gardener?
Or is this the stuff that happens when you’ve lost a loved one and your mind plays tricks on you.
Grief does strange things. I remember a good friend who died at 19. I was his youth leader. Yes, I know you find that strange – I was young enough once to be a youth leader.
I’d seen Duncan after he died. I went with his parents to support them at the viewing.
So, I knew my mind was playing tricks when I thought I saw him a couple of times in a crowd. Or in public place.
It’s like a fog when you grieve.
The responses of all the disciples are understandable over that weekend.
They knew he was dead.
It would have torn their hearts in two.
Sometimes we live in that kind of fog – of protracted grief and sorrow – not only because we mourn our loved ones – because we have all kinds of losses we still mourn.
- For immigrants – the country of our birth.
- For those of us who feel the weariness of aging – we mourn our youth.
- For those whose marriage had died – there is mourning for lost love.
- For those who feel alone – there is grieving for the years when we really enjoyed intimate close friends.
- For those who suffer – we mourn the loss of those care free days when getting out of bed was pain free and worry free.
- For children changing school or moving home there are real losses too.
They all have their own kind of fog – those emotions.
Which makes the Easter story even more powerful. Even when people in their pain cry out that God is unfair and that if he were so loving he would understand our agony and do something about it – Easter tells us that he does and that he did.
He does understand, and he did do something.
Jesus took all this mess and agony on the cross.
He really does understand our pain.
And like Mary in the garden – our focus can be wrong.
Mary didn’t need to go to Specsavers.
You often see what you expect to see. Or you don’t see what you have ruled out as a possibility.
What changes this?
He calls her name.
Joh 20:16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).
It is one of the most beautiful moments in the whole of Scripture.
In her complicated life hearing Jesus speak her name before was a sacramental moment of grace – she was drawn into a new life and community by this amazing appealing attractive man who drew all kinds of people to himself – the ones needing healing, the ones who made holes in the roof – those Greeks who were wanting to see him – tax collectors, outcastes, rejects.
Many heard him speak their name.
“Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” (Luke 19:5)
She knew that voice. No wax in those ears.
This is that intimate voice and a personal address.
Not a distant cosmic Lord but a close, loving address from someone who knows our deepest needs, our histories, our dreams and our losses.
It sounds a bit like John 10 – that passage about the Good Shepherd:
“The sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (John 10:3). Thereafter the Good Shepherd says, “I know my own and my own know me” (John 10:14).
It’s not surprising that Mary recognizes the risen Christ when this Good Shepherd’s voice is heard calling her name.
Let Jesus call your own name, and the name of whoever you’ve brought with you, whoever needs his love and healing today.
Maybe for the first time – or maybe if it’s a long time since you heard his voice.
He really is alive and speaks today.
For Easter to be real we all need to hear the good shepherd speak our name.
We become part of this Easter community. That is what church really is.
A people of the resurrection who know Jesus now. And who know His voice.
A people whose grief is healed, whose fog is lifted, and who know what their purpose is – glorifying God, enjoying Him forever, and sharing the good news of Easter every day.
- That Christ has died.
- Christ is risen
- Christ will come again.
For now, we live in that waiting zone, living for him until he comes. –
READING: Matthew 2:1-23
I loved teaching boys, especially little ones. We used to sing this song with our year 1s and 2s – “you can be happy…” and there is a verse which goes “you can be friends with me, I can be friends with you…” where they used to shake hands. I usually had 40 little boys “being friends” in a rugby scrum on the floor. Probably not best health and safety policy, but no one ever suffocated.
Celebrations of joy for boys are often quite robust. They keep doing it until about age 25 when the brain is finally fully formed and adolescence ends.
It would not be unusual in my year 1s and 2s when we did colouring in of the nativity scene at Christmas for dinosaurs and volcanoes to appear behind baby Jesus, or soldiers with guns and tanks to trundle over the hill behind the stable.
Actually – they were onto something. With the guns and tanks I mean.
Hence the delight in the gory version of “Jingle Bells” so aptly sung in the play today.
Our idyllic Christmas with trees and gifts is not the norm for most of the world.
We were watching the interview “Hillary meets Oprah” this week where Oprah Winfrey talks about the day when she heard that this big fella who dominates the season with a “ho ho ho” apparently is a legend. She was 12, and probably should have worked it out by then.
The thought was that there would be no Christmas. They were poor. Dirt poor.
That night some nuns dropped off food and gifts. It changed her life.
She learnt to give later and went through African villages setting up a tent and giving clothes and toys to kids who never had Christmas.
Later on she found that the clothes were valued the most.
I remember one of my three children at about 5 wailing “I didn’t want a jersey” – which granny had lovingly knitted. Captured on video forever.
Oprah’s kids valued the clothes because they were an equalizer. Everything before had been hand me downs. These were new clothes. They empowered those kids. The toys were secondary.
Which they are mainly. They break or get upgraded these days.
The point of this?
Christmas is messy. Jesus ends up as a refugee. Hundreds of mums have their babies – little boys up to 2 year old – slaughtered by the aging Herod who had already bumped of a number of his own sons and many others in his paranoia. In fact, he gave instructions that when he died hundreds of Jewish nobles were to be killed – key people in every village whom he had rounded up and brought into the Hippodrome when he was dying – so that people would really mourn his passing and not throw a party. Thankfully they ignored that order.
He was a troubled man indeed. Mind you he had ten wives, two of whom shared the same name. Herod the great reigned for 33 years. The Jerusalem temple project he began took decades to complete, and was eventually finished in AD 63 only to be destroyed in AD 70 by the Romans.
Appropriately the only remaining part today is the wailing wall.
Jesus was a refugee. Suddenly the wisdom of the magi makes sense – they needed gold as a resource to finance their travels as a young family. They flee to Egypt on account of Herod – saved by the wise “wise men” who didn’t report back to the despotic king.
The passage is matter of fact as time progresses. God keeps in touch with Joseph through a dream:
Mat 2:19-21: After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.” So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel.
Then of course the backstory is known to us. Herod was dangerous as long as he lived, but when he died it was still interesting. They say that where there is a will, there are relatives. Herod had written six wills, the last only 5 days before he died. Augustus the Emperor has to sort out the mess as each son (who had not been killed by their nice dad) had a claim to something.
The Kingdom is divided into three between Archelaus, Antipas and Philip. Herod. Antipas we meet again in March next year at Easter. Evil men and their evil children are part of the Christmas story. Not very joyful.
The story today ends with this:
Mat 2:22-23: But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: “He will be called a Nazarene.”
Joseph was a smart man. Any member of Herod’s family and he needed to keep Jesus safe and well away.
Lessons for you kids?
- Be thankful for the dad you have. It’s not that bad you know. An attitude of gratitude makes you healthier and happier anyway. He’s not horrible Herod. Parents do say weird things sometimes. Like “if you get yourself killed doing something stupid, don’t come running to me”. And when they say that they feel like killing someone, it’s not true. They don’t really do it! Anger is sometimes an expression of love.
- And be joyful at Christmas. Joy comes from knowing that you are really loved, never mind what gifts you get. And – people who love you don’t always give you what you want. They know better because they usually know best. Trouble is our kids only figure that out when they have their own children one day. Spare a thought for those who get nothing at Christmas.
- Don’t miss the point of Christmas either. Even when things are horrible, God still sticks around. Jesus was born in a messy place to make it better. Part of our job until he returns is to make the world better – right where we are.
Ask Him to help you if things are messy in your life. He likes that.
The end. (aka Amen – we agree).
Readings: Lamentations 3:19-26; Luke 17: 1-10; 2 Timothy 1:1-14
I read this weekend that I should – well let me read it for you. This pastor wrote: I think the single most important thing a pastor can do is wake up each day and focus his energy on enjoying Jesus and having as much fun as possible. This is the only thing I know of that will protect you from the burnout most pastors experience from the relentless strain of preaching and leading a church. I don’t think there’s much power in preaching grace if you yourself are not revelling in grace. (30 September 2013 by Justin Buzzard)
But I thought today’s reading was about faith – you say.
Actually no. Both really!
All the readings today are also about God’s grace!
From the depressing state of Jeremiah lamenting over a destroyed city of Jerusalem – to the perplexed disciples who are told not to be a stumbling block to other Christians – and to keep forgiving others (together with all the other things Jesus told them to give up or hate as they learn to love him) to the young Timothy who learned like some of us about the love of God from His granny – all the characters, the speakers in these passages and those listening to Jesus’ words or hearing Paul’s letters – none of them – NOT ONE – could save themselves or work up enough faith to qualify for a Nobel Peace prize or the meekest of human trophies.
For Jeremiah – deep in the depths of despair and depression – listen to him again:
Lam 3:19 I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.
Lam 3:20 I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.
There is a word of Hope:
Lam 3:21 Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:
Lam 3:22 Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.
Lam 3:23 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
And the key word here? Chesed – meaning mercy or loving kindness. The LORD’s “great love” is the one to look out for in the NIV.
The loving kindness of God is at the heart of it all. Mercy is right there.
With that the endless forgiveness that Jesus talks about in Luke 17:
Luk 17:3 So watch yourselves. “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.
Luk 17:4 If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”
Of course the Lord’s prayer backs this up. There is only one line in the Lord’s prayer about what we do:
Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us!
It’s the heart of it all – it’s built into the loving kindness and mercy of God!
By the way – what do you think of the disciples response to this challenge? It follows hard on the heels of the warning against causing others t sin in verse 1: “Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come.”
Their response is simple: Luk 17:5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”
He replies: “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.
Jesus’ response has been interpreted in a couple of ways:
1. A rebuke – chiding them for not having enough faith. Can you think of other times when he did this?
(In the context of worry) (O Ye of little faith?) Mat_6:30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
(In the context – a storm) Mat_8:26 And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.
(In the context of Peter walking on the water) Mat_14:31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
(When they were discussing bread) Mat_16:8 But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread?
(In the context of a demon they could not cast out – although in an extra verse (textural variant) he adds prayer and fasting as a requirement for recalcitrant demons). Mat_17:20 He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”
So he says on this occasion: (In Luke 17:6) “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you. This could be a rebuke – if you had just a tiny particle of faith – if you only had that tiny speck of faith like a mustard seed).
2. Humorous – there is an amusing angle – in the piucture of this mulberry tree
Luke 17:6 He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you. There is an amusing angle to this too. The particular mulberry tree was known to have a very complex root system. It was a sycamine tree -a kind of mulberry, with a root system so intricate that it would take six hundred years to untangle it, according to the rabbis. The idea of it being planted in the sea is odd – almost a joke. It would look a bit strange.
3. The main focus is on the faithfulness of God in impossible situations!
In Matthew we read the mountain version of this. Mat_17:20 He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”
Some of our problems are like mountains. We say things are insurmountable. Basically that means impossible. Overwhelming.
Something like the destruction of Jerusalem – the wasted city of Lamentations. Think of any bombed-out city in the world. Everything gone. Think of hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes and the mess that you land with.
How do you find hope in that situation?
In your relationship with God, there are some key responses – prayer (pray the Bible) and worship (sing the Bible) especially – both of which build faith!
As an example we used to sing years back: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases – his mercies never come to an end – they are new every morning, new every morning, Great is they faithfulness Oh Lord! Great is Thy faithfulness!”
It is hard to find hope, though – especially in the face of wholesale destruction as Jeremiah had faced with the people of God. Those of you who have seen terribly traumatic things – or even have lost a loved on under less horrible situations – or those who battle with depression – understand how hard it is to find hope.
Consider this picture – a sculpture from 1894 by William Wetmore Story – carved for his wife’s tombstone and ultimately his. It is called the “Angel of Grief”. Have a look:
It’s the angel mourning on the tomb! It’s a picture for many of the darkest day of the year – linked by Christians to Holy Saturday – Easter Saturday – where Jesus himself is remembered as dead.
The gloomy mood of all of Lamentations captures these terrible feelings of loss. And yet there is hope in this passage!
The truth is we often have to grieve first – as did Jeremiah. His poetry is gloomy and sad. That must happen in bereavement and loss of all kinds.
There’s a great moment in the movie “Four weddings and a Funeral” – not at the weddings but at the funeral where the dead man’s friend recites W H Auden’s poem “Funeral Blues”. It will resonate with those of you who are grieving. It certainly does for me. It goes like this:
W. H. Auden (Wystan Hugh 21 February 1907 – 29 September 1973) Funeral Blues
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
Brilliant and real. And that kind of grieving is normal and important – as it shows the extent of love and loss in a powerful way.
Depressed people can get stuck in the desperation of hopelessness and persistent loss. People can get a kind of frozen grief. I have encountered that with the losses of immigration – you find it with refugees too.
In that kind of desperation another drum begins to beat out a different song:
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases…”
Or if you like:
“ Great is thy faithfulness oh God my father, there is no shadow of turning with thee….”
Morning by morning new mercies I see!
The morning prayer time seems significant as we tackle the day. Think of the beauty in the KJV of Psalm 5: Give ear to my words, O LORD, consider my meditation. Psa 5:2 Hearken unto the voice of my cry, my King, and my God: for unto thee will I pray. Psa 5:3 My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O LORD; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up.
It is important to start the day well like that – recognizing his mercies and looking up, because
“All I have needed they hand hath provided!”
The point is – the bottom line is – you can’t work up your faith.
You only need a tiny bit – like the size of a mustard seed – to move that mountain or cast the tree into the sea!
It’s about the greatness and faithfulness of God.
Let’s close by listening to this song – sing along as we declare these truths.
Song: Who alone could save themselves?
Have a listen and as you do ask God to birth new hope in your heart: we all need faith and grace!
Click on the link and listen:
Readings: Phil 4:4-7; Luke 3:7-18
Here we are in the middle of Advent – on the Sunday where the theme is JOY – and we have enjoyed an amazing modern yet traditional children’s pageant.They told the Christmas story using borrowed adults from the congregation as actors and had angels prompting four different parts of the audience to call out at key moments in the tale. What a wonderful time. Every time we heard the word “angel” our sector leapt up and cried out “glory to God”. You get the idea! Great to see everyone having so much fun in celebrating this old old story.
And then the story “Annie’s Treasure” followed – for our little ones and oldies to enjoy together. The Gospel of Jesus the baby in the nativity scene with scarred marked hands. Jesus the boy whose birth we celebrate with joy – who was Jesus the crucified suffering God.
The candle for this Sunday in Lent is pink – while all the others are purple. Pink represents joy and reminds of times when people were more austere during Lent and not very festive. The pink candle let them off the hook, if you like.
Tidings of comfort and joy are desperately needed by so many at this time. For the families of those tragically killed in Connecticut, the happiness of the season is horribly marred with terrible shock, horror and grief. Such depth of comfort is needed.
Of course each day tragedies unfold around the globe, especially where little ones and innocent mums suffer from the ravages of war and terror. Perhaps we are immune to the endless bad news that we see on TV each day.
One has to say again that JOY is a far cry from the Happy Christmas that so many seek. Joy and the biblical idea of rejoicing is really deeper, richer and wider. It is so profound that Paul captures some of this sense when he writes in Philippians 4:4-7:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
For those in the depths of despair and grief at this time, the Lord is at hand too and only He in time can help them to deal with their pain. They may, in time, find the peace of God through prayer and petition. So too we in our anxiety need to look to Him for peace. So many people face illness, loneliness through bereavement, and real need at Christmas. We continue to love them and pray for them. I encourage you to take some time to visit them or give them a call.
John the Baptizer features again in the Gospel today, in a continuation of last week’s reading. He continues to spell out the implications of his message calling for repentance in order to prepare the way for God to act. If people were to heed his message (in its practical applications of justice and sharing) there would be joy for many millions rather than the ongoing suffering we see. In verse 8 John bluntly declairs: Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.
And he continues in verses 10 and 11 of chapter 3: “What should we do then?” the crowd asked. John answered, “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.”
That would bring great joy to many if it were applied today. And John continues with clear instructions to tax collectors and soldiers that involve fair play and justice. For many that would bring great joy were such acts real in their lives.
Christian joy was something that came a lot later in the story. Yes there was rejoicing at His birth. But soon afterwards there was the “slaughter of the innocents” as the political ramifications of the birth of this King were played out by the paranoid King Herod the Great. There were weeping mothers on that day too. And years later after three years of powerful teaching with signs and wonders, Jesus’ confrontation of the truth in the lives of the rich and powerful culmunated in his execution on Calvary (the hill of the skull). And of course John – this powerful preacher and prophet – had been executed by another of those in the Herod dynasty – Herod Antipas.
It is some time later – after Jesus’ resurrection and Ascension – that this passage in Luke 3 begins to become a reality. In verses 15 and 16 we read these words: The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ. John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”
The ultimate source of transforming power was the outpouring of the Holy Spirit – God in action in people making the life of Jesus real to them. It is no coincidence that the fruits of the spirit listed by Paul in Galatians 5 read, “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control…” (5:22). Joy is something that God works in us by His transforming Spirit. It seems clear that we can’t “cook these things up” on our own. The fruit of the Spirit makes real transformation possible. A few of these fruits of character in the mix and the world again would be a better place.
Last year around this time I wrote these words on a related theme. I would like to revisit these thoughts as they take us further:
During the week ahead I would ask you to read Luke 1:1-25. It’s the story of the conception of John who features so much in these Advent readings as the one who prepares the way for Jesus. The anointing of the Holy Spirit on the infant John in his mother’s womb – before his birth – interests me. This man is anointed early on for his unique prophetic role in history. (Actually read the whole of Luke 1 as it explores the relationship between Elizabeth and Mary).
John lived a reclusive life and preached a tough message in a challenging context of an occupying force and religious leaders who had lost the plot. He was the last great prophet in that tradition. God raised him up in power and people repented of their sins.
Here’s a thought for you. You can sing the right songs – whatever that means for you – you can modernize or traditionalize your worship and church life. You can get it all right, so to speak, and have great sermons. You can run great programmes and do amazing things that bring delight to those who listen.
But there is no joy in what you do without the work of the Holy Spirit. The true joy is much wider and deeper – born out of a relationship of transformation by Jesus through the Spirit. It was through the Holy Spirit that John was empowered from the beginning. And despite his destiny he persistently pointed to Jesus the greater one. He made it clear that he was not the light – Jesus was. How much more we as ministers, elders, youth leaders, children’s workers, and members of the church and all its organisations. We are not here for our own pleasure. We are called to point to Jesus, and to minister to the world – showing the light of Jesus with joy and integrity. We are to reflect his light and shine in our world – in the power and joy of the Holy Spirit. Without His anointing we may miss God and miss the point of it all.
May the joy of Jesus become yours again! May we seek and experience the true anointing of the Holy Spirit in all we do.
Readings: Philippians 4:4-8; John 13:1-5; I Peter 5:7
We are so very connected in this generation. The trouble is that we get so much bad news so quickly. By text, phone, email, skype, facebook, twitter and plane old TV it comes our way. Too much bad news is discouraging and can be depressing as well. Think about the news that we do get. Here are some examples.
PERSONAL NEWS – one man put a bumper sticker on his car that said: “Eat Right, Exercise, Die Anyway.” The Bible seems to back this up as Proverbs 5:11 says, “At the end of your life you will groan, when your flesh and body are spent.” A body that doesn’t cooperate is certainly depressing. A lot of personal news we receive is about people who are suffering in various ways.
INCOME TAXES for some people are depressing. I read that in a survey that most Americans would rather be mugged than audited by the IRS. Jesus did say of course, “Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s.” (Matthew 22:21).
A story about taxes: A little boy wanted $100 badly for a new toy and prayed to the Lord for two weeks but nothing happened. Then he decided to write a letter to the Lord requesting the $100. When the postal authorities received the letter addressed to the Lord they decided to send it to President Bush. The President was so impressed, touched, and amused that he instructed his secretary to send the little boy a $5.00 bill. President Bush thought this would appear to be a lot of money to a little boy. The little boy was delighted with the $5.00 and sat down to write a thank‑you note to the Lord. It said: Dear Lord, Thank you very much for sending me the money. However, I noticed that for some reason you had to send it through Washington, DC and as usual, those jerks deducted $95.
FINANCIAL PROBLEMS create stress too. I often hear voice mails that go like this: “you know what to do”… One man put this message on his answering machine. “Hi. This is John: If you are the phone company, I already sent the money. If you are my parents, please send money. If you are my financial aid institution, you didn’t lend me enough money. If you are my friends, you owe me money. If you are a female, don’t worry I have plenty of money.”
Again the bible seems sympathetic. Proverbs 22:7 says, “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender.” It is depressing be enslaved by debt. One man commented, “If you think nobody cares if you’re alive, try missing a couple of car payments.”
The list goes on. And most of these things have been around for a long long time. Add to this PERSONAL FAILURE and BAD RELATIONSHIPS.
There are some challenges that are really disconcerting however in this generation. A LACK OF PURPOSE is a big one. In the movie Fight Club, Tyler Durden one of the characters played by Brad Pitt says this:
“We are the middle children of history, with no purpose or place. Our generation has had no Great Depression, no Great War. Our war is spiritual. Our depression is our lives.”
No purpose leads to depression. Purposeless in life is endemic. It’s a huge problem amongst our teenagers – New Zealand at present has the highest suicide rate amongst young men in the OECD countries. It’s no wonder we really area concerned about building good things into the lives of young men in this community.
The Bible reveals this kind of attitude too, as Solomon wrote, “Everything under the sun is meaningless, like chasing after the wind.” (Ecclesiastes 1:14). That’s a good reason not to use the bible as a kind of game of chance – opening it up randomly for help – you might land up at that verse! The truth is many Christians feel like life is like chasing the wind.
Strangely PERSONAL SUCCESS can be depressing. Elijah the prophet as an example had the greatest victory in his prophetic ministry, but a few days later was fleeing for his life. He then says: “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life, I am no better than my ancestors.” (1 Kings 19:4)
Legend has it that Alexander the Great wept after he had conquered the world, saying, “There are no more worlds to conquer.” When you finally reach your goal after working hard, you can experience depression. We are not as famous as Alexander the Great! But if the project or job we do becomes more important than who we are in Christ, we will be in trouble.
PESONAL SIN – of course also causes stress and anxiety. A personal struggle with SIN can be depressing. The Bible soberly reminds us in Titus 3:3 – “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures.”
Perhaps you are enslaved by an addiction and the struggle never seems to end and its discouraging to battle the same old behaviours. No need to list those – we are all familiar with them!
Here’s a story to lighten things up a bit: A little boy’s mother had just baked some fresh cookies and placed them on the counter to cool. The little boy made the comment to his mother about how good the cookies smelled. The mother told him he was not to eat any of the cookies. A few minutes passed and the mother walked back into the kitchen and caught the little boy eating one of the cookies. She asked for an explanation to which the little boy replied. ” I climbed up on the counter to smell the cookies and my teeth got caught on one.”
If you find yourself constantly sinking your teeth into sin don’t be surprised if you are feeling down or even depressed. The Bible again reflects this reality in the life of David in Psalm 38, “I am troubled by my sin. O Lord do not forsake me; be not far from me, O my God.” David’s sin had caused him to be depressed.
DEALING WITH DISCOURAGEMENT AND DEPRESSION
So what is to be done? So many people struggle with an overwhelming sense of discouragement and even depression. Here are some ways through it:
1. Remember who God is.
PRAYER, PRAISE AND WORSHIP IS THE KEY
We’ve seen already that Bible people got depressed: Even Jesus sounded pretty bad in the Garden of Gethsemane: “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.” (Mark 14:34). He prayed the most intense prayer and of course his disciples fell asleep!
David! Listen to him: Psalm 42:5. “Why so downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him my Saviour and my God.” David knew that the way out of his depths was to worship. Most people think being on their own helps and they isolate themselves. We know that being together with Christians is a better plan! Pray and worship!
Of course a greater example is Paul and Silas singing Hymns at midnight in jail! There is power in praise!
Prayer, praise and worship put things into context, reminding us to see things from God’s perspective. And of course Paul in our reading from Phillipans 4 tells us: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (v6)
2. Remember what God says!
SOAKING UP SCRIPTURE filling your life with the Bible is a brilliant solution. The Scripture are HUGELY encouraging as they affirm the faithfulness of God in the darkest situation. Even the most well known passages like Psalm 23 have secret keys that unlock our struggles:
23:4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. The valley of DEEP DARKNESS! Even in the darkness God has promised to be with me!
Soaking up scripture TRANSFORMS our thinking – as we see how faithful God is!
JUST THINK OF JESUS: The ultimate example is Jesus! Success is not necessarily a sign of being on the right track in life! Being on the CROSS in those days was the sign of a curse! The Bible reminds us: Heb 12:2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
But Jesus was on the right track. He was in the right place at the right time. Gethsemane. Before Pilate and Herod. Humiliation and rejection. All exactly right. Dying on the cross – crying out MY GOD WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME. All perfect obedience.
Again read Philippians and 1 Peter 5:7 to put things into perspective. The Peace of God is promised in Scripture, and also Peter tells us to “cast all our anxiety upon him” for he cares for us!
3. Remember who you are!
Our identity and destiny is in our being children of God and co-heirs with Christ. As children of God we are heirs of his promises. That makes us secure just as Jesus was secure as he faced his crucifixion. He knew exactly who he was and what he was about. Today’s gospel reading helps us to see this. Listen to John 13:1-4
It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love. The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.
4. Remember what He has done!
GET CONNECTED WITH THE PAST. Why do I say this? I have often been branded as a modernist, charismatic, anti-establishment kind of person! People love to brand you of course. I am a traditional person actually. I value the TRADITION handed down to us!
I value the so called “main line” church – which includes the Roman Catholic tradition. What Bible would we have today without the meticulous care of the church through the centuries preserving these sacred pages. I value the reformed tradition. That same mother church needed correction – and the Luthers, Calvins, and other great men of God heard God and spoke a corrective word pertinent for their generation. The Bible! Faith! Grace! These are our foundations! I value the Presbyterian tradition! It is a tradition which has ELDERS govern the church. It’s in joint discernment as a community of overseers that we discern The Lord’s will – it prevents us from being mislead by any one individual.
I value especially what Paul tells us about the tradition – that which he passed down to us: I Corinthians 11 tells us:
(v23) For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, (11:24) and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
The Communion service is the one connection we have with the past! It’s through his death – his blood shed – that we find cleansing, healing, restoration and healing.
More than that we meet with Him and he with us in this special communion. Let’s do that now! We do it together – because we are strengthened by one another – by our joint commitment to each other in community. There is one loaf – one body! We belong – and that gives us courage when we are struggling!
And as you take the bread – hand over to God whatever it is that you need to give to him today. The verse we need to focus on is this one – Phillipians 4:6-7 again:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
May you be free from anxiety and discouragement and may the peace of God guard your hearts and minds!