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Sunday sermon 4 December 2016 – Prince of Peace

Readings: Romans 15:4-13; Matthew 3:1-12;

MESSAGE

I wonder if you’ve figured out the difference between Lent and Advent?

Lent is a time of preparation in which we give up something to focus on our relationship with God (or more recently do something new that does the same thing). It involves cleansing I suppose – and purification. And doing things differently.

Lent ends at the cross.

Advent is about getting prepared for the arrival of someone very special and important. It also requires organisation of sorts – tidying up but in a more celebratory way. The outcome of Advent is not a death – but a birth.

Advent ends at a crib.

This explains the great choirs singing in Luke 2:14 – “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests.” It’s certainly worth singing about!

We were in Wellington this past week – staying with friends. And the debate between them was interesting, with the one saying that none of this is in the Bible – Lent or Advent – while the other persisted in the view that God has given us these things through the Church. You can imagine a person raised in the Church of the Nazarene married to an Anglo-Catholic. The conversations are interesting to say the least.

On Friday night, they invited friends around for a kind of a party and carol singing event. With me on the piano. We did this years ago, and the carol sheets were still in the piano stool from the last time.

And afterwards I played German carols reading the music off another guest’s Ipad as we tried to translate them into English. Her husband was raised in oppressive Romania – although an ethnic German. There was one Samoan. Two South Africans. A Scot and his kiwi wife. The nations were represented there, that’s for sure.

Whatever you believe about these traditions like Lent or Advent, or whether you want to get rid of Christmas completely like some Christians do today, because they believe it is an infected economic swindle where Jesus gets buried under profits and presents, when you sing those carols – there is something that comes alive in people.

People across the world of every nation and tongue. From all the nations. We were able to sing from the same page about the birth of Jesus.

The same thing happened at a visit to a rest home in Tauranga. A lady was sitting alone in the lounge waiting for tea. I asked her if she played the piano that was there. She replied that she used to – but not much these days. She asked if I played – of course I said a bit. She asked me to play – I asked her for her favourite carol – and off we went.

My back was towards her has I played, and slowly the singing got louder and better as residents wandered in. It sounded pretty good. And most of those folk who probably forget a lot of things at their stage in life, could remember all the verses of the carols we sang.

The story and the songs – they ignite something. We ended up with an impromptu carol service. It brings people alive – and research tells us that all kinds of positive chemicals kick into action in our bodies when we sing together anyway – even if we don’t sing well.

The simple hope of Christmas – the peace that Christ brings – to Jews and Gentiles alike, is something to celebrate. For Americans, Romanian born Germans, kiwis, South Africans, Scots, Samoans, English and any others you may think of – this is a time for revisiting what God has done through Jesus.

So it’s good to really reflect through Advent about what God has done. We have to ask – if you want to get organised –

  • as you prepare for the celebration of Jesus’ first coming,
  • and the certainty of his second coming,  (either because the end will come for us in death, or he will come back first)
  • what is really important?

For John the baptiser as we heard – preparing the way for Jesus – there was an expectation that people should clean up their lives. Sounds a bit like Lent.

Repentance here is not the change of direction that the Hebrew Old Testament word indicates – but a transformed mind. A changed mind.

A refocusing of our thoughts on God. So let’s do that. Reflect on:

  • Who He is.
  • His promises that he will send someone to save the world.
  • His coming in Christ.
  • His work in us.

THE PROMISE OF A SAVIOUR

There are many prophecies that speak of Jesus. The one in Isaiah chapter 9 is probably the most beautiful: Isa 9:6  For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

And then this one from Isa 7:14  Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. Immanuel – meaning God with us. This happens in the incarnation.

A child is born – a son is given. In the words of the Creed: Jesus was –

“… conceived by the Holy Spirit – born of the virgin Mary”

This really messes things up for us – especially if we are people who like to separate the spiritual from the physical and carnal world. Which the Bible does do – but not like we do. We are prone to thinking like Greeks of old who categorised this world as bad, and painted a picture of another spiritual perfect world as a standard or ideal.

God messes up that thinking by becoming a flesh person. In – car-nate. Carnivores? Carnivorous? Ring any bells?

  • Jesus who is our hope (for all nations as we see in Rom 15:12  And again, Isaiah says, “The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; the Gentiles will hope in him.”)
  • Jesus – who is also the prince of peace – He does this not by making war in his first coming – but by surrender on the cross.
  • This Jesus becomes a real human being. He brings both hope to the world and the promise of peace. He gets involved in a peace mission above all others.

Evangelicals are quick to point out that Jesus had to be a human being to pay the price for our sin – only a human could be a substitute for another human (in this case for all humans). We call that substitutionary atonement. The crib is made of wood – so is the cross. This prince of peace does makes peace through his blood on the cross. (Colossians 1:20).

The beauty of this first Advent is the way in which Jesus as a human being affirms our humanityWe see this God becoming human in a stable – in a feeding trough – with the feint or perhaps pungent smell of cattle dung.

The coming of Jesus as a real human being means God affirms the wonder of his creation. He pitches his tent with us (John 1:14). Through this incarnation he also affirms the wonder of creation and what it is to be human.

Have you noticed in the New Testament that Jesus was criticised for being a party enthusiast? Listen to this from Luke 7 to remind you: Luk 7:31  “To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? Luk 7:32  They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other: “‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not cry.’ Luk 7:33  For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ Luk 7:34  The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.”‘ Luk 7:35  But wisdom is proved right by all her children.”

It’s okay to celebrate his coming with a real party. He certainly celebrated life fully.

My friends in Wellington were bemoaning the fact that their pastor won’t have a Christmas tree in church. I’m glad we do. It’s good to have some colour and sparkle.

Jesus was born to rescue us – and bring peace. We have a gospel to proclaim about this prince of peace. We have much to celebrate about this promised peace.

We also need to trust in Him that he will keep his promises to us – and that we will really have His peace. That it won’t just be a symbolic candle we light.

While we should party and rejoice, this is a serious matter too. Jesus doesn’t die for nothing. Our sins are not to be celebrated.

There is a warning in the words of John the baptiser who says that while he baptises with water, Jesus will baptise us with the Holy Spirit and with fire. This symbolises purification and judgement.

When you meet this baby grown up to be the prince of peace – he pays the price for peace with his death.

And he gives us his purifying Holy Spirit – who is not only different in the extreme from our evil ways (we are always judged by holiness – see Isaiah 6:5 ) but also indwells us and will change us to be more like Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18).

The last verse of the reading from Romans today sums up my desire for you to know this purifying Jesus more. The outcomes are brilliant:

Rom 15:13  “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope”  – how? “…by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Advent blessings.

The pink candle of joy is thrown in by Paul as well.

For today: receive His peace.

Amen.

god-of-ope

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Sermon, 29 May 2016 – Amazing Faith

Reading: Luke 7:1-10; Psalm 96

Message:

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:

Capernaum

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.”

TWO POINTS TO TAKE HOME

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.

WHAT ABOUT US

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?

Amen.

Sunday 15 May 2016, Pentecost Sunday: The inner witness and assurance

Readings: Romans 8:12-17; Acts 2: 1-4; & 14-21; John 14:23-27

Message.

How do you stop yourself on a day like this from trying to present a super bowl kind of grand sermon? The temptation is there – as some see this as the birthday of the church. It certainly was a key day launching the movement.

Others hope for a revival through the Spirit on this day. Some churches have services every day of the week leading up to this day.

The truth is some stay away on Pentecost Sunday – because they are terrified of the label “Pentecostal” and all its connotations. Which is odd really – as the word comes from the Greek word for 50. The real name of the day was the feast of weeks (7 times 7 weeks = 49 – then comes the 50th day). We are only afraid of the number 50 during our 49th year really. As we “age”.

This year I have decided to keep it very simple. A bit like Tuesday’s message and story – which was simply that I like spending time with my children. Quality time. So does God.

The story today is simple.
I heard it from Tim Keller. He heard it from the great Welsh preacher David Martin Lloyd- Jones. Lloyd-Jones heard it from a 17th century preacher named Thomas Goodwin. It’s got to be a good story. It’s been around a lot longer than the stories and gossip you can hear from your friends.

But first a brief overview of the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit’s role we know it is at least fourfold – 1. conviction of sin; 2. conversion; 3. assurance, and 4.sanctification. That should be normal – and revival is really the normal becoming more normal. We all need this renewed life.

It has been said that the average Christian is neither happy or sad. Kind of flat sometimes. That’s why preachers pray for revival. Revival’s story is encouraging for pastors and church leaders, because when revival comes (as suggested by Tim Keller) – sleepy Christians wake up, nominal Christians get converted and liven up, and hard to reach people (non-believers) show up – because they see the change in the sleepy and nominal Christians.

The key verse I want to focus on is this one: Romans 8:16 – The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.  We are looking at the third role of the Holy Spirit – assurance. It’s the assurance that we get and need.

And so to the story. This is  an account of Thomas Goodwin’s story to illustrate this – about what he saw one day. (Thomas Goodwin – 5 October 1600 – 23 February 1680):
A father and son were walking down the street together. They were clearly father and son and affectionate. But at one point the father picks up the son and hugs him and kisses him and loves him and says “I love you” and the son says to the father “I love you too”. In 17th century English I guess. And the Father puts the son down. You can’t live all your whole life in your father’s arms. On they walk.

Lloyd-Jones says this: Objectively the Father and son were legally father and son. When the boy was in his father’s arms he wasn’t legally more of a son. But he was experiencing the Father’s love – he was experiencing his sonship.

Look at Romans 8:16 again. You know it’s true objectively that you are a son or child of God. But when the Spirit bears witness with your spirit you really experience it. That’s what brings sleepy Christians awake. And nominal Christians come alive too – they get converted – they know it’s real and begin to talk about it. It’s the work of the spirit that brings that assurance of sonship – and the inheritance that goes with it by our adoption.

Churches grow when that happens – because the spiritual growth of the sleepy and nominal Christians means they share their story with enthusiasm and hard to reach people see the results – the change in peoples’ lives as they live out their new Kingdom inheritance as sons – and the gospel is shared. It starts with that inner assurance. Spirit (God’s Spirit) and spirit(our spirit) together in us.

Fanny Crosby’s hymn: Blessed assurance Jesus is mine is about this. That inner certainty and conviction empowers and energises us because it is grounded in love.

Read Romans 5:5 again:
Rom 5:5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

  • That’s the work of the Holy Spirit.
  • That’s how Jesus keeps his promise to be with us always. Through the Spirit.
  • And there is a boldness – which is evidenced in Acts 2 and spoken of in Acts 1:8.A passion.

They got up and told the story. They travelled across the known world to share it.
They had come to follow Jesus. They came to understand sin, their need of a Saviour and got converted, and received this assurance all from the same Holy Spirit. The sonship is key. They knew they were sons – Jesus taught them to pray “Abba Father”. But when they really felt it – for real – they became unstoppable and brave. And their embryonic faith grew.

If you have your bible open at Romans 8:16 look at the verse before:
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.”

Martin Lloyd Jones puts it like this:
“A little child has confidence. He does not analyze it… he knows that ‘Abba’ is his father. Grown-ups may be standing back at a distance and being very formal; but the little child comes running in, rushes right in, and holds on to his father’s legs. He has a right that no-one else has…”

Makes sense does it not? Didn’t Jesus talk about receiving the Kingdom of God like a little child? (Mark 10:14-15).

We don’t want to just hold on to his legs though. Hanging on is good for times in our life when our faith is clingy and desperate. The transformation of us to be more like Jesus is described by Paul like this: And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthian 3:18)

We used to sing a song based on this verse – “from glory to glory he’s changing me.” From the KJV. (All those songs were from the King James Bible!)

Well is He? Changing you?

One more story to make this point stick. Tim Keller tells it – about his early years in ministry when he was more idealistic in counselling:

He was counselling a 15-year-old girl who was discouraged and depressed. The conversation went something like this;
You’re a Christian? Many blessings? Yes. So you’re still depressed? Yes. The girl says:
“Yes – I know that Jesus loves me and I know he saved me and I know I will get to heaven. But what good is all that when not a single boy at school will even look at you. In other words – “I’m in 9th grade and not a single boy will ask me out.”
He says this – the great preacher Jonathan Edwards would say – “she had the opinion that God loved her but she had no real knowledge that God loved her.”

Why? Because the love of boys was more real to her heart than the love of God – or she wouldn’t have been that depressed. Edwards would say she needed to be shown the love of God in such a way that it began to get real to her heart and balance out how popular she was or wasn’t.

That’s assurance. Young people today need that real assurance through the reality of the Holy Spirit. We all need it – older ones too 🙂 Continually. I bet the boy liked being embraced again and again by his 17th century father over time.

That’s why Paul talks about being (continually) filled with the spirit. It’s not that the Spirit is like petrol and we run out. It’s that we need to be saturated in his love – because we are like a hardened sponge – or can become like one.

Eph 5:17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.
Eph 5:18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.
Eph 5:19 Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord,
Eph 5:20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

We need more and more pouring out as in Romans 5:5  And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

May you know His presence, power and love again today. Or even for the first time. Open your hearts.

Amen

 

 

 

Sunday sermon 1 May 2016, (archive) – Seeking the reality of the power, presence, and peace of God.

Reading: John 14:23 – 29

(Archive sermon – from Sunday 5 May 2013. We had a visitor today and our focus was on CAP – Christians against poverty. This sermon may be of interest to those who did not make it. Sermons from the archives are sometimes dated because of their context but the truths are still there.)

Message

It’s Pentecost in two weeks’ time. Pente is not just the name of a board game. It means 50 (Pentagon and Pentagram – you know all those words).

Fifty days after Passover was this Jewish Feast – also known as the feast of weeks. On that day the Holy Spirit was poured out on the church – and the disciples empowered to preach the gospel and heal the sick. Celebrated in some churches as Whitsunday. Why?

There’s a real danger that we mark the day in our calendars and say – WOW look at that – and nothing actually happens to make the experience real for us.

The truth is that the work of the Holy Spirit is not a one-off experience. A day on the calendar. It is a central part of our Christian lives.

Reminds me of the story Nicky Gumble tells of the Religious Education teacher at school who asked his class one day: “How many people believe in God the Father?” and most put up their hands. “And how many believe in God the Son?” Quite a lot responded. And then finally he asked: “How many people believe in God the Holy Spirit?” And there was silence. Eventually a child responded: “sir, the boy who believes in the Holy Spirit is absent today!”

The Holy Spirit has often been a side-lined person in the Trinity.

One can understand the fears of people who look at the word “Spirit” and think of strange and spooky things. But we must remember that all we have of God is only possible through the Spirit.

  • Our regeneration – we are born of the spirit (John 3 – the Nicodemus passage)
  • Our sanctification – we are transformed by the spirit (2Co 3:17  Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. 2Co 3:18  But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. KJV)
  • Our experience of the presence of God – Jesus is with us through the spirit  (Matt 28:20 – “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
  • Our development of Christian character – we have the fruits of the Spirit – which we should know by now – recite together…  (Gal 5:19  The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; Gal 5:20  idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions Gal 5:21  and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. Gal 5:22  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, Gal 5:23  gentleness and self-control.)
  • Our appropriation of the gifts of God – the charismata are the gifts of the spirit and include the gift of healing which is a gift of the spirit (and by the way the gifts are not for our benefit alone but are there to bless others). 1Co 12:3  Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. 1Co 12:4  There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. 1Co 12:5  There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 1Co 12:6  There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. 1Co 12:7  Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. And then they are listed…
  • The peace of God – which is made real by the Holy Spirit. This peace is more than just one of the fruits of the spirit. It is a special gift of Jesus as we see in today’s passage.

And so we come to our first verse of the reading today – a most remarkable line which should get our attention immediately:

Jesus replied (to Judas whose question arises in this different discussion): (John 14:19  Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. John 14:20  On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. John 14:21  Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”)

John 14:22  Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”

It’s quite a complicated discussion and one of the few references to the other Judas in the team (not Judas Iscariot). It’s a question about Jesus revealing himself to his followers and not to the general public or the greater world stage. The reply is interesting in that context. What do we need? Listen: John 14:23  Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.

The Father and the Son will make their home in those who love and obey. Love Jesus and take his teachings seriously.

They will MAKE THEIR HOME in those people who are committed to love and obedience.

Now I know you like the hymn “Trust and obey” but this is “love and obey.”

HOW?

By the Spirit who makes this possible!

To seal this Jesus continues in verse 24: John 14:24  He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.

This is serious business! This is Jesus transmitting the words of the Father to the disciples!

GETTING SERIOUS WITH GOD

Getting serious with God is the only way to really experience all he has for us!  And so we read on to understand more: John 14:25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. John 14:26  But the Counsellor, 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. John 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.

John 14:28  “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. John 14:29  I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe.

Not only do we have the presence of the Father and the Son who make their home in us through the Spirit (verse 26 re-enforces this – it is the counsellor – the Holy Spirit – who will become their on-going teacher, who will remind them of Jesus’ words), we have with this experience the PEACE OF GOD – NOT THE PEACE OF THIS WORLD.

So many people want the peace – but they don’t want a bit of this God business!

The world that Jesus speaks of is the world of people who are outside of God’s influence – by their own choice. In Jesus day they were around – in the crowds – in the towns where he visited. They would have heard but not believed.

Hence Judas’ question in verse 22 – John 14:22  Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”

Well God may have loved the world so much that he sent Jesus – but the truth is the world in general did not open its arms to the Gospel and still does not!  The world is made up of people who are spiritually dead in their sins. So they would not discern spiritual things. And today it seems that nothing has changed – in fact it seems that peoples’ hearts are more firmly set against the things of God!

If you go back in John 14 to earlier verses you will read this: John 14:15  “If you love me, you will obey what I command. John 14:16  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever— John 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.

SO WHAT DO WE DO WITH ALL THIS TODAY?

“Very interesting” you may say – or “very confusing” – yes John’s gospel is not simple because it records the words of Jesus who clearly saw the need to repeat some key things. Like preachers often have to. For years sometimes!

The words that keep coming to us are these:

  • Love
  • Obedience
  • A presence that gives us peace.

How serious are you about seeking the reality of the power of God?

While the presence and power of God is really a gift of grace – the bible constantly reminds us that we appropriate the fullness of the Lord’s power when we actively seek him!

Reminds me of one of my favourite passages from Jeremiah 29: Jer 29:11  For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jer 29:12  Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. Jer 29:13  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

So I ask again: How serious are you about seeking the reality of the power and presence of God?

And that begins with LOVE. Our love for Him! The greatest commandment is about loving God!  Jesus re-enforced the Deuteronomy 6 teaching of Moses in these words in Mark: Mark 12:30  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’

And when you really love someone – you want to please them – not out of duty – not to earn their love – but because you delight in the relationship!

Christians who are serious about God the Father and the Son making their home in us (through the Holy Spirit) – have some housekeeping to do! (read Psalm 24!  Psa 24:3  Who may ascend the hill of the LORD? Who may stand in his holy place? Psa 24:4  He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false. Psa 24:5  He will receive blessing from the LORD and vindication from God his Saviour. Psa 24:6  Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek your face, O God of Jacob )

Just like the old days when you tidied up when the pastor came to visit and got rid of the dodgy things lying around – perhaps you tidy your place when you have visitors in general – the idea of a Holy God making your life His dwelling is quite challenging. Or you clean up when the landlord is coming to check on the house! 🙂

I’m not sure if we can biblically call this place the house of God – because it isn’t according to the Bible. We probably need to get out of that habit. Let’s be biblical: Paul in Athens talking in the context of an altar built to an unknown God says this: Acts 17:24  “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. Acts 17:25  And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.

So back to –

  • Love
  • Obedience
  • A presence that gives us peace.

Too many people want to go straight to the peace! We want the feel good factor – our problems to end – the world to be a place of harmony – and cats and dogs to get on well. Sorry to pop the bubble – it’s not like that. You can’t get this happening in your life if you do it the world’s way. Let me try to explain.

PERSONAL REFLECTION

I’ve been here just over five years. Jesus ministered for three years. Paul was in Ephesus for two, and Corinth for 18 months. They seemed to get a lot more done in shorter amounts of time! It’s a lot harder today it seems – wherever you go ministering in the church.

I think this – this is my personal reflection – that the world has crept into the church.

When you bring the world into church you can easily quench the Holy Spirit – you can put out the light and stamp out the life.

We sometimes make it about us. And it is not about us. If you get caught up with trying to please people then we miss God. It’s a distraction.

It is – according to what we read about Jesus’ teaching to his disciples in John 14 – about love, obedience and God’s presence that gives us peace – not as the world gives! That changes us so that we can make a difference in our families, our places of work, and the world where we live.

John 14:15  “If you love me, you will obey what I command. John 14:16  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever—John 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.

We can be like the world when we focus on the wrong things, and then we can’t discern what God the Holy Spirit is saying or doing in our midst. Paul speaks about this again to the Corinthian church when talks about his preaching which was – in his words – “not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power” (1 Cor 2:4). He goes on to say in that most amazing passage in verses 9 and 10: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him”— 1Cor 2:10  but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. And then he says this: 1Cor 2:14  The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them..

All this church stuff we do – has no buying power, no currency – without the Spirit leading and directing. In fact – scary thing – churches can carry on doing the same thing for years – without necessarily being led by the Holy Spirit.

I read this amazing account about Judson Cornwall  (15 August 1924 – 11 February 2005) – a great preacher and prolific writer who started preaching at the age of 7 in the depression who went back to a church where he had ministered. Twenty years before he had taught them to seek more of God – and they had not listened. In fact he’d had a dream which he shared with them at the time – where the church members were in a large store and told to take anything they wanted – it was all free. They did – stuffing their pockets with cheap trinkets. Higher up were shelves with really valuable things for free too. Cornwall, in the dream, told them: “look up! look up!” But they didn’t. He resigned some time after that. (p94 – “More” by Simon Ponsonby). At the reunion dinner a lady said: “Oh pastor isn’t it wonderful? We still have all those gifts which God gave us in that renewal when you were here twenty years ago.” He excused himself from the party, returned to his hotel and fell on his bed weeping.

I wouldn’t mind if we shut up shop and just met for 6 months to really seek the face of God. No programs. Just prayer – Just cultivating a deep love for God, real obedience to God, and the presence, power and peace of God. Seeking to be the people of God who have Him with us and working through us. Fully. Totally. Completely.

Total surrender.

John 14:23  Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. John 14:24  He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.

May the Holy Spirit speak to us today. May He speak to you! Don’t be like the people in the department store getting the cheap trinkets. Imitation.

Look up! Look higher!

Amen.

 

 

Sunday sermon 25 October 2015 – Monuments or Footprints

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

Message

Do you have your name on a monument somewhere?

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

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

Some churches end up as monuments.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We all move on in some way or another.

But we should all move forward.

The living body of Christ is the key.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And to Timothy Paul writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT IS REMEMBERED MOST

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

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

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

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

That famous serenity prayer is still relevant:

 God grant me the serenity

To accept the things I cannot change;

Courage to change the things I can;

And wisdom to know the difference.

Of course the biblical version goes like this:

God grant me the serenity

To accept the things I cannot change;

Courage to change the things I can;

And wisdom to know it’s me.

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

And now I will show you the most excellent way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

Sunday sermon 27 September 2015 – Loyal Encourager

Readings: Acts 4:23-37; Romans 15:1-7; John 14:25-27;

MESSAGE

  1. Are you a son/daughter of encouragement? 

There are many Bible people – like Barnabus (Acts 4:36), Tychicus (Acts 13:15; 20:2) and others, who are very encouraging people. Barnabus gets our main attention today. Luke introduces him in the reading from Acts 4:

Act 4:36  Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), Act 4:37  sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.

Barnabus’ name means “son of prophecy” in Aramaic. In Luke’s Greek it becomes “son of encouragement”.

Lloyd Ogilvie, during his tenure as Senior Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, California (a church noted for more than half a century as a centre for biblical preaching and exposition) writes this in his commentary on Acts:

In two brief verses we are introduced to one of the most admirable personalities of the New Testament. If all we had to enable us to know this man’s character were these two verses, we’d still have enough to stand in admiration and then desire to be like him.

I think one of our home groups should be telling the story of Barnabus. They have been studying him in detail.

My attention to him is with mixed motives. I want us to be like him – yes. But I also would like us to understand the significance of groups that use his name – like the Barnabus Fund – as we approach our World Mission Sunday focussing on the persecuted church around the world.

This man is Joses – or Joseph. He is from Cyprus where there was a colony of Jews. A Levite. And a cousin of John Mark – so he had connections in the Jerusalem church. (Mark was mentored by Peter of course).

Ogilvie suggests that if Joses aka Joseph from Cyprus, names Barnabus by the apostles, would have been in Jerusalem at Pentecost, or at least after that when the Holy Spirit came in power. His life was changed. By the Holy Spirit – became committed in full to God’s work – hence his generosity. (Churches today that give, give fully in response to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and a passion for God’s work!).

Here’s the wonderful thing.

I wonder if you picked up on the link between the readings today?

Lurking beneath the words in English (and not beneath the surface of our murky dams that we spoke about last week) – are treasures and gems.

Encouragement is a key word in the reading from Acts and Romans. In Acts 4 we are introduced to Barnabus. In Romans 15 encouragement comes from God – with endurance – in Paul’s prayer for a spirit of unity amongst the Roman believers.

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

The Gospel passage is the one in which the word treasures are hidden!

Listen again:

Joh 14:25  “All this I have spoken while still with you. Joh 14:26  But the Counsellor, 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. 

So what is the link?

  • Yes – peace is encouraging.
  • Not letting your hearts be troubled is an encouragement to be steady in faith and feelings.
  • The power word?

Verse 26. the Counsellor.

Here’s the lovely truth. Ogilvie puts it best really:

The apostles, who spoke Aramaic, named him Barnabas. The name is power-packed, having the meaning “son of prophecy,” from bar, “son of,” combined with nebū‘ā, “prophecy.” Some scholars have given it a slightly different emphasis, “son of refreshment.” In Luke’s Greek, however, we have the reflection not just of translation into another language, but the intimate personal observation by the physician of Joses of Cyprus. In a powerful parenthesis, Luke uses huiòs paraklḗseōs, which can be rendered “son of consolation, exhortation, or encouragement.” It is exciting to understand that the same basic word was used to translate Jesus’ Aramaic promise of the ministry of the Holy Spirit:

“And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever—the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you” (Joh_14:16-18).

In this case the Greek word for “Helper,” or as it is in the RSV “Counselor,” paráklētos, means one who is called to one’s side to help who strengthens and helps us to stand. Joses had clearly displayed inherent inclination toward being that kind of person.

huiòs paraklḗseōs and paráklētos are the two key words.

Barnabus got his name because he was emulating the work of the Comforter – the helper – the Holy Spirit. He was empowered by the spirit! Clearly!

And of course it’s not a trick. Comfort and encourage are very close to each other in meaning.

  • Encourage from French into Middle English. It means to “make strong” or “hearten”. Or to put in courage! To spur on. To help.
  • Comfort is stolen from Latin. Com-forte means to strengthen much! Fortis is Latin for strong! Forte is the Italian term for loud or strong in music! (Piano means soft! Pianoforte means a soft loud – as it has a pedal I suppose!)

Encouraging people come along side you and sustain, strengthen and uplift you.

Is that you? Am I always like that? Great questions.

We will revisit Barnabus again. I encourage you (in the very ordinary sense of urge, prompt and suggest to you) that you look him up in your bibles through the week.

For today a couple of important matters.  Are you a son/daughter of encouragement – was our first question or point today.

The second is this – how do we become like this? Point 2 is simple – the Bible and encouragement.

  1. The bible and encouragement

Listen to Romans 15 again – in case you missed it. We focussed on verse 5. Listen to verse 4 again:

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.

You can’t be encouraging unless you know the truths of scripture. Like you can’t know God’s character without knowing your bible – and you can’t get to know and trust God without knowing his character!

The endurance and ENCOURAGEMENT of the Scriptures brings hope!

Barnabus’ name is close to the name of the Holy Spirit – and the two go hand in in hand – the Bible, the word of God, and the work of the Spirit!

Here’s a good biblical reason to illustrate that they are two sides of the same coin.

Letting the Word of God make its home in us, and being filled with the Spirit!

Two of Paul’s letters show this clearly. Colossians and Ephesians.

Col 3:16  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. Col 3:17  And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

 Eph 5:18  Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, Eph 5:19  speaking to one another with psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, Eph 5:20  always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The outcome of the input of both word and Spirit is worship, praise and thanksgiving and gratitude.

And people like that are very encouraging to have around.

A further thought today about people who are like God and speak God’s word to us in a prophetic sense. And so our third point:

  1. Prophecy

We saw that Barnabus in Aramaic meant “son of prophecy”.

It’s interesting that prophecy is the most desirable gift in 1 Corinthians 14. But this is not like the Old Testament prophets’ way. Paul writes this;

1 Corinthians 14:3 – But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.

God wants to speak into our lives  – through his word, his Spirit, and the proclamation of preaching and prophecy (or prophetic preaching) to build us up.

We need to be strong. The battle is tough!  How much more for the persecuted church!

But finally, our last point:

  1. God and Jesus encourage us.

If figures really. The Holy Spirit the comforter/encourager is just like them!

Listen to Paul in 2 Thessalonians: 2Th 2:16  May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, 2Th 2:17  encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.

What a lovely blessing!  

Lloyd Ogilvie shares about the Barnabus name again in this way. A good way to end our thoughts today: He talks about Luke – and suggests that Luke may have known Paul’s letter to the Ephesians or heard him dictate it and understood his desire for the church to be like Christ in chapter 4. He says this of this passage: “It is a charter and guide for a challenging Order of Saint Barnabas in any congregation today.”

I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamour, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you (Eph_4:1-3, Eph_4:30-32).

He concludes: “ Only the indwelling Lord could produce an affirmer and encourager like Barnabas. And it all was focused in his stable loyalty to the Lord, to his friends, and to new believers. What would we do without the Barnabases? And with the Paraklētos in us, can’t we go beyond just emulating Barnabas, and become the Lord’s own unique miracle of an encourager? Whatever our name is now, it can be loyal encourager.”

Amen.

Sunday Sermon 6 September 2015 – Heart, Mind and Wallet

Readings

Deuteronomy 6:4-9
Luke 11:1-13
2 Corinthians 8:1-7

Sunday Sermon

There are at least three conversions in the Christian faith and experience.

Here they are.

1.    Conversion of the heart.

The powerful reading from the Old Testament today is clear:

Deu 6:5  Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. Deu 6:6  These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.

New hearts  – changed and softened hearts, come up through the scriptures.For example here are some of these passages:

Jeremiah:
Jer_24:7  I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the LORD. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.
Jer_29:13  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
Ezekiel:
Eze_11:19  I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.
Epistles:
Rom_10:8  But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming:  Rom_10:9  That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
Eph_1:18  I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,
Eph_5:19  Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord,
Gospels:
Mar_12:30  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’
Mar_12:33  To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
Luk_6:45  The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.
Acts:
Acts_2:37  When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

We need our hearts changed!

2.    Conversion of the mind

A well known passage from Paul us this one:

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.

I loved the reminder at Alpha this week – from St Anselm – “I believe in order to understand.” Reformed tradition has often focussed on the mind first.

The Creeds begin with “I believe…” Not “I am passionate about” or “I love”…

And the Creed has a list of intellectual propositions:

  • Who God is (Father, Son Holy Spirit)
  • What he did (incarnation, death, resurrection, Ascension)
  • When he will come again
  • What he will do (judge)
  • Where we make sure that people understand these teachings (the church)

Those same passages about the heart also include the transformation of our minds, and our engaging of our thoughts and reasoning in our love and service of God.

Gospels:
Mat_22:37  Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’
Luk_10:27 
He answered: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.'”
Romans:
Rom_8:6  The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; Rom_8:7  the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.

The mind, not just the heart, is to be transformed by the Spirit.

Interestingly there is a third conversion to consider:

  1. The conversion of the purse, or wallet.

Greg Laurie writes this about our third reading 2 Corinthians 8:7 – about giving. here is the main verse: 2 Co 8:7  But just as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.

The story is told of Sam Houston, hero of Texas history, who gave his life to the Lord in the later years of life and asked to be baptized. He was taken down to a little country stream, and the pastor said, “General Houston, you should take your glasses off because I am going to immerse you in water.” There also were some papers in General Houston’s pocket, so he took those out as well.

Then, just as he was getting ready to go into the water, the pastor noticed that General Houston still had his wallet in his pants. He said, “Well, General, you might want to take that wallet out of your pants. It is going to get wet.”

Houston responded, “If there is any part of me that needs baptizing, it is my wallet.” So Houston was baptized, wallet and all.

Maybe some of us need our wallet or cheque book or credit cards baptized. As Martin Luther said, “There are three conversions necessary: the conversion of the heart, mind, and the purse.”

The Bible speaks a lot about money. Greatest hot topic. You can’t avoid it.

  • How’s your heart?
  • What is your mind focussed on?
  • And is God and his kingdom at the top of your list when you open your purse? Or log on your internet bank account, or get out your cheque book?

The Epistle reading (letters) about the church in Macedonia is one of many passages about giving.

Paul admonishes them to “excel in the this grace of giving” (verse 8)

What does grace mean? Gift! Excel in the gift of giving.

Jesus said, “Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over. . . . For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you” (Luke 6:38).

The Gospel of Luke continues in chapter 11 – reminding us that God is Father – with all the best connotations of that word and role for us as his children:

Luk 11:1  One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” Luk 11:2  He said to them, “When you pray, say: “‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come.

The best is yet to come from this generous giving God – after whom we model our lives. We take after him!

Luk 11:9  “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. Luk 11:10  For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
Luk 11:11  “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Luk 11:12  Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?
Luk 11:13  If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

The best gift – the gift of the Holy Spirit – is given by this Father. The gift of his presence and power to make a difference in the world.

The first chapter of Acts is worth hearing again: Act 1:4  On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. Act 1:5  For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Act 1:6  So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Act 1:7  He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. Act 1:8  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Are you fully converted?

Heart, mind, wallet – a life for the Father, the Kingdom, and the Good news!

Amen.

Sunday sermon 10 May 2015 – Rejoicing in our sufferings?

Reading: Romans 5:1-11 (NRSV)

Rom 5:1  Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, Rom 5:2  through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. Rom 5:3  And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, Rom 5:4  and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, Rom 5:5  and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. Rom 5:6  For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Rom 5:7  Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. Rom 5:8  But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Rom 5:9  Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. Rom 5:10  For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. Rom 5:11  But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Sermon:

Rom 5:3  And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, Rom 5:4  and endurance produces character, and character produces hope… (New revised standard version)

Rom 5:3  Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; Rom 5:4  perseverance, character; and character, hope. (New International Version)

I recall when our first anniversary in ministry came along here in Browns Bay – it seems just the other day. We’ve just started our 5th year here. How time rolls along! Not the easiest years really. People we have grown to love have moved on – by choice, by transfer, and through death. The saddest times have been when dear people of the family here die. I still expect some of their faces to appear around the corner here on a Sunday morning. I struggle with that – such lovely men and women of God. And after nearly thirty years of ministry there are so many faces I remember – wonderful saints who taught me much – some through encouragement and others like sandpaper. I have a book actually called “the sandpaper people!” They are there to teach us. (And of course the Lord over the years has also sent many who are new brothers and sisters in the church family – who are an amazing source of encouragement and love as well.)

All this is to be expected – this dying. Some of you will die too.  Of course we all will. I remember a friend who was  a youth pastor when ministering in a retirement home decided to preach on heaven – and told the residents: “you’d better sort your life out – you’ll be getting there sooner than me!”. He’s now a missionary in a challenging nation – with his family – living a great life of faith and courage – and much more at risk than his hearers in the local retirement home.

And with the process of dying, of course, is the lack of dignity in a failing body – and the awful business of suffering. Somehow there seems to be more suffering than before. Not only in our lives, but on a greater scale around the world. Our sufferings seem to pale into insignificance when we see the persecuted church – including the images on television and the internet of people being lined up for execution (Christians and others) – being lined up to be murdered – which reminds me of Paul’s words later in Romans:  Rom 8:36  As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

Of course Paul understood suffering – listen to this from 2 Corinthians: 2 Cor 11:24  Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 2 Cor 11:25  Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 2 Cor 11:26  I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. 2 Cor 11:27  I have laboured and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 2 Cor 11:28  Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.  

So Paul is writing to the Roman church (believers who had to live out their faith in the face of persecution by ruthless Roman governors and soldiers), and much to our amazement he says this in Romans 5:3  Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings…

Wait a minute Paul – rejoice? Well we are at the mercy of translators here – this is not a cheerful rejoicing – as if we are happy when suffering. Neither do we seek suffering. Our testimonies in church should not sound like this – “ if you think you’re suffering, listen to my story this week!” like old soldiers talking about war wounds (of course most of them don’t as we have seen through this ANZAC time of remembrance).

What does Paul mean about “rejoicing” in our sufferings? (If we read the NIV rejoice is the word used.) It’s a difficult word he uses – it also means to “glory” or to “boast”. And all of them in English are tricky. He uses it in this famous passage in Ephesians 2:8-9

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.

 We feel uncomfortable with the idea of boasting in our sufferings too.  In another place in 2 Corinthians Paul uses the word a number of times. I know this sounds laborious but the last verse is helpful. The discussion is about competition between preachers – and itinerant preachers taking credit for Paul’s work and speaking badly of him – questioning his credentials in his work with the Corinthian church..

 2Co 10:13  We, however, will not boast beyond proper limits, but will confine our boasting to the field God has assigned to us, a field that reaches even to you.2Co 10:14  We are not going too far in our boasting, as would be the case if we had not come to you, for we did get as far as you with the gospel of Christ. 2Co 10:15  Neither do we go beyond our limits by boasting of work done by others. Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our area of activity among  you will greatly expand, 2Co 10:16  so that we can preach the gospel in the regions beyond you. For we do not want to boast about work already done in another man’s territory. 2Co 10:17  But, “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”

And in Galatians six he says this: Gal 6:14  May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

So back to our sufferings. What does it mean to rejoice in them – to glory – to boast in them?

I think it means to acknowledge, with gratitude, that God knows what He is doing – that He is a sovereign God (Lord=King) – and that we can trust him to use our sufferings to His great glory.

Which is the direction Romans 5 takes us when we read the next verses. Listen to the passage in the New Revised Standard version:

Rom 5:1  Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, Rom 5:2  through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. Rom 5:3  And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, Rom 5:4  and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, Rom 5:5  and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

It’s rich in its scope of outlining what Jesus has done for us.

  • We are Justified (made righteous – a legal acquittal) by faith.
  • He dies for us (Romans 5:6-8). Jesus died and received our death sentence. Like Maximilian Colbe,  the priest who gave his life for another in a Nazi concentration camp – offering to die in place of a man with a family when he had none.
  • We have peace with God. Our hostility is ended – and his wrath is appeased – so there is peace. The prince of peace has done this.
  • Access to this grace in which we stand. Access – like your pin number – gets you into the place where there is power to act – to draw your money, go into your house, do things that you don’t have access to without authority.  We have access into this grace IN WHICH WE STAND. It’s a position of grace – and an access to God himself in prayer, to his promises and his gifts. We also read about access in Ephesians 2:17-19: Eph 2:17  He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. Eph 2:18  For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. It’s also like John 1:12 – a verse I often refer to about our rights in God through faith: Joh 1:12  Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—Joh 1:13  children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

We have a lot to talk about! A lot to rejoice in! A lot to boast about. Plus this verse (the end of verse 2):

  • and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.

This is the key verse. Our first boasting (or rejoicing) is in this – our hope of sharing the glory of God.

What is this then? One commentator puts it like this:

The basis of this pride in God, the hope of the glory of God, is almost certainly not the present glory of the believer (seen in Joh_17:22; Rom_8:30; 1Co_11:7; Heb_2:10; 1Pe_4:14) but the final glory that will be ours at the eschaton (Rom_8:17-18; Rom_8:21; Eph_1:18; Col_1:27). Our hope, as in verses Rom_5:4, Rom_5:5 and Rom_8:20, Rom_8:24 is a glorious trust in and anticipation of the promises God has given regarding the future. In light of this, Cranfield ([1975] p. 260) calls the glory of God “that illumination of man’s whole being by the radiance of the divine glory which is man’s true destiny but which was lost through sin, as it will be restored … when man’s redemption is finally consummated at the parousia of Jesus Christ.” The hope that every sacrifice will be rewarded is the basis for the Christian life with its mandate to live separately from the world; for every earthly glory surrendered, God will recompense an eternal glory (Mat_6:19-21; Mar_10:29-31). (Grant Osborne – IVP New Testament Commentary series). (Note: eschaton and parousia refer to the last day and Christ’s coming again.)

So when we get to verse 3, the boasting continues, logically, in the face of suffering – here it is in both translations:

NIV Rom 5:3  Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; Rom 5:4  perseverance, character; and character, hope. Rom 5:5  And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

 NKJV Rom 5:3  And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, Rom 5:4  and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, Rom 5:5  and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

This is really important: We are not saved by grace through faith, acquitted, reconciled, brought into a new position of peace with access to the Father and His resources, to sit back and wait for Jesus to come again or take us home in death. Tom Wright’s great question is relevant here: What do we do in the meantime?

I would say this: we are recruited into the army of God – with a mission to share the Good News of the Kingdom which has completely different values – and to which we commit ourselves.

The 100th anniversary of the outset of World War 1 is a stark reminder of the sacrifices we make in war. For Christians who really follow Jesus – all hell this thrown at us just as it was in Jesus’ ministry. Read Ephesians 6 again on the spiritual battle we face!

From his Baptism onward Jesus was under attack – the temptations were just the beginning.

Paul makes it clear: suffering produces endurance, Rom 5:4  and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, Rom 5:5  and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. 

In addition, Jesus’ life of compassion and love, healing and cleansing lives from the power of darkness, ended on a cross. He knew suffering, endurance producing character – and character producing hope, hope which does not disappoint. He knew the love of God through the spirit – affirming him as a beloved son – and he knew the reality of the cup of suffering – he prayed in the garden for it to be taken away – but still endured – “not my will but yours be done” shows amazing endurance and courage. The writer to the Hebrews describes Jesus suffering like this:

Heb 5:7  During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Heb 5:8  Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered Heb 5:9  and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him…

A story now to end about endurance – endurance is key in this process of character development and coping with (glorying in) our suffering.

Listen to a story of this man’s life: When he was seven years old, his family was forced out of their home on a legal technicality, and he had to work to help support them. At age nine, his mother died. At 22, he lost his job as a store clerk. He wanted to go to law school, but his education wasn’t good enough. At 23, he went into debt to become a partner in a small store. At 26, his business partner died, leaving him a huge debt that took years to repay. At 28, after courting a girl for four years, he asked her to marry him. She said no. Now endurance is endurance, but you’d think this guy would know when to give up. But he didn’t.

At 37, after two defeats, he was elected to Congress. Two years later, he tried for re-election and was defeated again. At 41, his four-year-old son died. At 45, he ran for the Senate and … he lost. At 47, he failed as candidate for vice-president of the United States. At 49, he ran for the Senate again, and lost. At 51, he was elected president of the United States. His name, of course, was Abraham Lincoln, a man many consider the greatest leader this country ever had.

Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us (vss 4-5).

Don’t be discouraged! Hope in God! Trust Him! Believe Him!

Rejoice – glory – boast in the Cross of Christ. He did all that for you!

Amen!

 

Sunday 15 June 2014 – What we do in the name of Trinity

READINGS: Acts 1:1-8; Matthew 28:16-20

 Act 1:1  In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach

Act 1:2  until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen.

Act 1:3  After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.

Act 1:4  On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.

Act 1:5  For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

Act 1:6  So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

Act 1:7  He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.

Act 1:8  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Mat 28:16  Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go.

Mat 28:17  When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.

Mat 28:18  Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

Mat 28:19  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

Mat 28:20  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

 

MESSAGE:

Last week was Pentecost Sunday. Today is Trinity Sunday. The church has these days on which we are reminded of the foundation of our faith.

The passages we heard this evening are both to do with the last instructions that Jesus gave to his followers.

A number of things strike you when you read them. Luke’s first words in Acts are a good place to begin. Listen again:

Act 1:1  In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach

Act 1:2  until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen.

And he records the direct words of Jesus too: 

Act 1:8  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

And then the words of Jesus in Matthew 28:

Mat 28:19  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

Mat 28:20  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Instructions and commands are not words we are used to. Except when you’ve been in the military – I know from experience that you simply act on instructions and commands when in the defence force. Or the police for example – or fire brigade.

But when it comes to church – we’re a bit more democratic. We love to debate and discuss things – to the extent that we sometimes miss our actual calling. We’re often too busy writing minutes and reports.

The key tasks remain. Pentecost Sunday and Trinity Sunday remind us of them again:

  • You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

It’s more like a statement of fact!  – the natural consequence of the power of the Holy Spirit.

Act 1:8  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

  • And of course Mathew 28:19 – about making disciples of all nations

Mat 28:19  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, (baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit).

The church is a missionary church – not only does it send people as missionaries to the ends of the earth – but in its Jerusalem – its home town – it is on a Mission:

One of the great theologians of the 20th century – Emil Brunner – had this to day about the mission of the church:

The Word and the World (1931)

The Word of God which was given in Jesus Christ is a unique historical fact, and everything Christian is dependent on it; hence every one who receives this Word, and by it salvation, receives along with it the duty of passing this Word on; just as a man who might have discovered a remedy for cancer which saved himself, would be in duty bound to make this remedy accessible to all. Mission work does not arise from any arrogance in the Christian Church; mission is its cause and its life. The Church exists by mission, just as a fire exists by burning. Where there is no mission, there is no Church; and where there is neither Church nor mission, there is no faith.

He goes on to talk about how this works:

It is a secondary question whether by that we mean Foreign Missions, or simply the preaching of the Gospel in the home Church. Mission, Gospel preaching, is the spreading out of the fire which Christ has thrown upon the earth. He who does not propagate this fire shows that he is not burning. He who burns propagates the fire. This ‘must’ is both things – an urge and a command. An urge, because living faith feels God’s purpose as its own.

And he reminds us about Paul who said: ‘Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel.’ runner goes on to say:  Necessity is laid upon him. But also he ought to preach; with the gift he receives the obligation. ‘Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel’. 

So how are our churches doing with these instructions from Jesus?

Here’s the truth. Most of our churches are more like clubs really. More energy is often spent on the places where we meet than the mission we’re on. Much more money too.

A story – a modern parable –  by Theodore Wedel illustrates our situation:

It was written in 1953 by the Rev. Dr. Theodore O. Wedel, a canon of the National Cathedral and one-time President of the House of Deputies of The Episcopal Church. Like all good parables, though fictional, it is entirely truth-filled:

“On a dangerous sea coast where shipwrecks often occur, there was once a crude little life-saving station. The building was just a hut, and there was only one boat, but the few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea, and with no thought for themselves, went out day and night tirelessly searching for the lost. Some of those who were saved and various others in the surrounding area wanted to become associated with the station and gave of their time and money and effort for the support of its work. New boats were bought and new crews trained. The little life-saving station grew.

“Some of the members of the life-saving station were unhappy that the building was so crude and poorly equipped. They felt that a more comfortable place should be provided as the first refuge of those saved from the sea. They replaced the emergency cots with beds and put better furniture in the enlarged building.

“Now the life-saving station became a popular gathering place for its members, and they decorated it beautifully because they used it as a sort of club. Fewer members were now interested in going to sea on life-saving missions, so they hired lifeboat crews to do this work. The life-saving motif still prevailed in the club’s decorations, and there was a liturgical life-boat in the room where the club’s initiations were held. About this time a large ship wrecked off the coast, and the hired crews brought in boat loads of cold, wet and half-drowned people. They were dirty and sick. The beautiful new club was in chaos. So the property committee immediately had a shower house built outside the club where victims of shipwrecks could be cleaned up before coming inside.

“At the next meeting, there was a split among the club membership. Most of the members wanted to stop the club’s life-saving activities as being unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal social life of the club. Some members insisted upon life-saving as their primary purpose and pointed out that they were still called a life-saving station. But they were finally voted down and told that if they wanted to save the lives of all the various kinds of people who were shipwrecked in those waters, they could begin their own life-saving station. So they did.

 “As the years went by, the new station experienced the same changes that had occurred in the old. It evolved into a club, and yet another life-saving station was founded. History continued to repeat itself, and if you visit that sea coast today, you will find a number of exclusive clubs along that shore. Shipwrecks are frequent in those waters, but most of the people drown.”

So what does that mean for us? For you and me?

It means that whoever we are and whatever stage of life we are at – we’re in Mission.

We are witnesses – one way or the other. Sometimes we are silent – which makes us rather poor bearers of the Good News. Sometimes we ourselves are bad news – which makes our testimony a little incongruous. We are bad witnesses.

I heard a great story at our Tuesday church last week of a woman who was stuck in traffic and got really mad at drivers cutting in in front of her – she was hooting her hooter and yelling and showing particular hand signals out the window. She did not notice the policeman in the car behind her who promptly arrested her. After some hours in jail the officer came and spoke to her apologetically. “Madam” he said, “with the stickers on your car that announced that Jesus is the way, and that God is love – and looking at your behaviour, I assumed you had stolen the car!”

Not a great witness!

If however we live in the fullness of the power of God – through the Father who pours out his gifts on us – through the Son who showed compassion and mercy and courage as He died for us – and through the Holy Spirit who transforms and empowers us – the natural outcome is that we are a witness.

  • We shine – we are portable lighthouses if you were – giving natural guidance.
  • God uses us to be a source of courage and faith to others – as we pray for them.
  • And most of all we are hopeful people – and hopeful people are very attractive.

Peter knew this – writing in His letter to a persecuted church:

1Pe 3:15  But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,

1Pe 3:16  keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

  • Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.
  • Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.
  • Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.

May this be true of us.

 Amen.

Sunday sermon 8 June – Pentecost

Readings: Acts 2:1-21; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13

 Act 2:1  When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.

Act 2:2  Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.

Act 2:3  They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.

Act 2:4  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

 

Act 2:12  Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

Act 2:13  Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

Act 2:14  Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say.

Act 2:15  These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning!

Act 2:16  No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

Act 2:17  “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.

Act 2:18  Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.

 

1Co 12:3  Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.

1Co 12:4  There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit.

1Co 12:5  There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.

1Co 12:6  There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.

1Co 12:7  Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

1Co 12:8  To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit,

1Co 12:9  to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit,

1Co 12:10  to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues.

1Co 12:11  All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.

 

D-day.

What an amazing couple of days we’ve had – the 70th anniversary of the landings at Normandy.

TV programmes have played hours of footage about that crucial day in history.

I wonder whether the day of Pentecost has the same impact on you as D-day has on those who remember those terrible years of war?

We celebrate all kinds of other days with gratitude. Wedding anniversaries, birthdays, and often the day of peoples’ deaths brings those reflective moments and immense sadness mixed with thanksgiving. We’ve had a couple of those anniversaries this week in our church family.

So what about Pentecost?

Like our Communion service – this is not a kind of Memorial Day thing.

Communion reminds us of more than Jesus’ death and resurrection – the reality is that there is a reality now – His presence with us.

So too Pentecost. The Holy Spirit is God present here now.

He is the foundation of our ability to believe. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 12: 3 – “no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.” 

He brings us to a knowledge and conviction of our sins – our need for forgiveness and a saviour – and our need for power to transform our lives.

And on that day they were waiting for = 120 of those believers – the church was launched if you like – catapulting from 120 to about 3120 after one powerful thrust shown by wind and fire and a great sermon, preached with boldness.

So today we could have a cake – celebrating the ancient birthday party of the church.

I could wear my crown of flames that Helen helped me make on Friday at Messy Church – to remind us of the tongues of fire – in Luke’s words:

Act 2:3  They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.

Or I could illustrate the power of the invisible – like the wind (balloon release for children).

Of course Luke reminds us that it was the sound that got their attention:

Act 2:2  Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.  

And then the flames of fire that did not burn their heads.

We could give some thought to those images – and then call it a day –  we could go to tea – as we do on a Sunday – pleased with ourselves that we have endured another sermon – and perhaps the quickest sermon of the year.

Or we could think a little more about the Giver and His gifts. 

The waiting was for the gift Jesus’ father had promised. Remember Acts 1:4 and 5:

Act 1:4  On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. Act 1:5  For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

In fact this is all about the Giver. God gives His Son:  

Joh 3:16  “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 

The gift of the Son brings the gift of salvation. As Paul reminds us in Ephesians 2:

Eph 2:8  For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—

Eph 2:9  not by works, so that no one can boast. 

And then we read: … wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 

And when the gift came – there was a commotion – so that Peter has this to say:

Act 2:15  These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning!

Act 2:16  No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

Act 2:17  “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.

Act 2:18  Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. 

And in Corinthians today we heard again about the gifts that the Holy Spirit in turn gives gifts to us.

Pentecost – looking back – always puts us on the spot. 

If we pretend that it’s all in the past – then we are dishonest with the bible text, and the reality of Christian history. If we take the view that the gifts of the Holy Spirit were only meant for the church’s launch – then we are probably quenching the spirit. Being the spiritual fire brigade – putting out the fire.

We can just give it some thought and move on – or we could wrestle with the text that tells us that the Holy Spirit actually wants to use us – give gifts to us as part of the body of Christ, the church – in Paul’s words:  1Co 12:4  There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit.

1Co 12:5  There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.

1Co 12:6  There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.

1Co 12:7  Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

Note – that all of this operating is for the “common good”.

If we’re open to the reality of the Spirit’s work in our lives now – we could find a whole new life that means real power and transformation now. If we are open to His leading and power.

I’m not sure that we have bought into this really. Perhaps that’s the wrong idiom.

It’s a gift – we probably don’t know the giver well enough to recognise the gifts that we havae – and to allow them to have their proper impact:

  • The gift of salvation
  • The gift of the Spirit Himself who brings power
  • The gifts of the Spirit too – all for the common good of the people of God – to strengthen the church in its witness.

It’s up to us really – to be the kind of receivers that put the gifts to work. If we do – it might break the paralysis we have in terms of people putting their gifts to work in the life of this church.

Amen.