READINGS: Exodus 20:1-6; Isaiah 6:1-5; Matthew 6:5-9;
We spoke last week about intimacy – that close relationship Jesus had with his Father so that he could call him “Abba” – and how the Holy Spirit works in us so that we too can say “Abba, Father”. We talked about prayer – how important it is – because relationships require communication.
You know my favourite story about communication. A couple before a divorce court – and the judge wanted to know what the problem was. She complained that he seldom told her that he loved her. “Why not” said the judge. “It seems to me you do love your wife”. “Oh I can explain that” said the old codger. “When we were married I told her that I loved her – and I said to her that if I ever changed my mind, I would let her know”.
Women need to hear these things – and men need to say them. That’s free marriage advice today.
Our relationship with God requires communication. But as we made it clear last week, it’s not all about our wants – our shopping list prayers. It is a relationship that involves communication about Him. We need to tell God how much we love Him. How we feel about Him – and praise Him.
- We are children of a Father.
- But he is also the Heavenly Holy God.
Matthew emphasizes that – probably because of his Jewish audience. That positioning of God high above us together with the next line of the prayer create the other side of the swinging pendulum – the contrast.
This is a loving intimate Father – yes – but he is a heavenly – distant – and holy God.
Remember that the first petition of the prayer is “hallowed be thy name”.
You may remember last week that passage from Isaiah where the prophet prays that God would tear open the heavens and come down. In next verse he prays that God would come down and make his name known to his enemies and the nations.
The name of God for people of the Old Testament was revered – as someone pointed out during our discussions on the Lord’s Prayer – it’s held in great esteem as holy.
In itself it was unpronounceable. Too Holy to come out of the human mouth.
That’s why to this day orthodox Judaism uses the term HASHEM for God – meaning “the name” instead of Yahweh or Jehovah, the “I am” name revealed to Moses at the burning bush. Or “Adonai” meaning Lord. (“Jehovah” of course is the result of putting the vowels for Adonai over the word YHWH – the I am name.)
So the Lord’s prayer is in line with Jewish thought. God is above all others and all else – in heaven – and his name is to be hallowed.
Like a human father, there is the contrast.
One the one side there is this love for a child – wanting the very best for them – and on the other there is this disciplinarian who holds up super high standards for the children, and draws lines in the sand – forbids things and warns of consequences. And punishes in the hope that behaviour will change.
- On the one hand our human father is the dad who says Yes and spoils us. That’s grace and love. He wants us to do well.
- On the other hand, he is the dad who says No and punishes us. That’s about consequences. Standards. Rules. Values. The family name.
The child who knows how much her dad loves her, knows how angry he will become if she makes bad decisions that damage her.
God the Father is also the Holy God of judgement who loves us but hates evil – it’s a similar contrast.
And so we are to “hallow” God’s name – to honour and revere it.
- It’s really about adoration and praise.
- To honour his name is to give him the credit for who he is and what he has done.
- To focus on God rather than all other things.
Here’s the test question: What preoccupies you when you are in thought – wrestling with the things of life?
Tim Keller suggests this: what is always on your mind – that’s usually what you adore – what you love the most.
I was listening to a Brazilian Olympic athlete last night talking about her passion for running. How she thinks about it all the time. How it’s on her mind at night when she lies awake. She came from a very poor part of Rio. This is her passion.
The big question to answer today is about your passion – Is it God?
To hallow God’s name is to treat it as sacred and ultimate. There is no other word in English. We still use a very old English word.
This is about the most important, crucial, central thing in your life.
Keller talks about the “supreme beauty” in your life. For me it would be your greatest love.
- If God is all that to you, then you will be thinking about Him and his glory in your prayer time in your inner chamber.
- And during your spare time during the day.
- And when you lie on your bed at night. Reminds me of Psalm 63.
You see it in the life of David – a man after God’s own heart. In Psalm 63 for example:
Psa 63:1 A psalm of David. When he was in the Desert of Judah. O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
Psa 63:2 I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. Psa 63:3 Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. Psa 63:4 I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands. Psa 63:5 My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you.
Psa 63:6 On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night. Psa 63:7 Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings.
- What you do in secret tells you who your God is. It was William Temple who wrote – your religion is what you do in solitude.
- The primacy of praising and honouring God frames everything we do.
- What we day-dream about also speaks about who our God is.
And this loving Father who is also Holy and just is everything to us.
- Our Father – so merciful – look how low he comes, look at his compassion and love, how he wants my best, and yearns for my happiness.
- Who art in heaven – look how high he is – look at his glory – his majesty and holiness – his power – and his wrath against evil.
Like a pendulum – it swings as much both ways – the more you see his love – the more you see his greatness!
Tim Keller also says this – listen carefully to this:
- His fatherliness makes his heavenliness non-intimidating.
- His heavenliness makes his fatherliness not just comforting but absolutely liberating – he is all powerful to keep his promises.
It puts it all into perspective: Exo 20:3 “You shall have no other gods before me.
And then the idols – those substitutes: Exo 20:4 “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. Exo 20:5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, Exo 20:6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
And then the honour of His name: Exo 20:7 “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
You can understand Isaiah then facing this vision of angels declaring, worshiping, honouring this holy, holy, holy God, declaring this in his prophecy:
Isa 6:5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”
His life is polluted by the rebellion of God’s people – compared to this holy God he is vile and polluted. But when you read on – he is cleansed and commissioned.
So are we. Not through a live coal but by the cross – the blood of Christ – his taking on himself as the lamb of God – our sins – and giving us the gift of righteousness and the right to be called his beloved children.
- Let’s really honour His name in our lives.
- Let’s give him the praise and glory and worship and honour that His due his wonderful name.
“Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name!”
Readings: Matthew 5:1-12 & Revelation 19:6-10
STORY: “For all the saints”
In our last congregation I used to preach occasionally (my main work was as a College Chaplain). Towards the end of the vacancy just before the new priest’s induction I spoke to the congregation and in my sermon suggested that a bad hymn to sing at the new person’s induction was “For all the saints who from their labours rest” – as it might send the wrong signal to the church members who had been involved in ministry through that time that once the new priest was installed they could all stop what they were doing and put their feet up. At his induction they did indeed sing that hymn which he chose (as the congregation was called “All Saints”.) Of course there were some giggles during the hymn. At least some of them had remembered my warning.
The traditional view of saints is great people of God who have now died and are with Him. – thus in some traditions they are seen as mediators – people pray through saints – and various ones are allocated to certain tasks.
Can you think of the most famous? Probably St Christopher – (his name means “bearer of Christ” – he carried the boy Christ as you can see on a St Christopher emblem). I don’t know of too many apart from him. St Andrew maybe – the patron Saint of Scotland. Think of all the Presbyterian churches called “St Andrews” – for those who don’t know most of our Presbyterian churches were started here in New Zealand by and for Scottish emigrants.
I think the fact that there are 10 000 catholic saints means people can be forgiven for not remembering them all. Luckily if you need to know each day there is an app for your Iphone – and the saint of the day will pop up for you.
I do know this – that for some reason there are three saints for Brewers! St. Luke, St. Nicholas and St. Augustine of Hippo.
And only one for Clergy – ministers like me, a saint ominously called St Gabriel of our Lady of sorrows (d. 27 Feb 1862). The poor guy died at age 24. Clearly there is a link to pastors and clergy being worn out entirely! Actually he died of TB and was known to be a nice guy – which is perhaps why they adopted him as the patron saint of clergy. We are told this of him: Ever popular and cheerful, Gabriel quickly was successful in his effort to be faithful in little things. His spirit of prayer, love for the poor, consideration of the feelings of others, exact observance of the Passionist Rule (1741) as well as his bodily penances—always subject to the will of his wise superiors— made a deep impression on everyone.
THE BIBLICAL VIEW:
We are saints – holy ones – justified (made righteous) by faith and holy (set apart) for God and his service, and sanctified in Christ.
We use the word “saints” as Paul does in 1 Corinthians 1:2: “to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (NRSV)
ALL ARE SAINTS THEN.
And curiously Paul says this in his greeting to the Corinthians – and then he outlines their terrible faults! Like getting drunk at communion and sexual sins, and abuse of spiritual gifts.
We are SAINTS in God’s sight – holy – because Jesus has died for us! And his gift of righteousness is given to us. (Romans 3:21-22).
We become children of God through faith in Jesus! And there is clearly an expectation that we should behave like God’s children!
We are therefore to be transformed into his likeness – and the Holy Spirit does this through the application of the Word of God. (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 Cor 3:18)
So when reading the Essential Jesus readings, we should not be fussing about whether we like the commentary that goes with it.
We should be asking God to apply the Word to our lives through His Spirit – so that we become more like Jesus.
That is the call of God on all the saints – on all of us who are Christ-followers.
MY PRIORITIES as a minister are worth a reminder.
How easily we get sidetracked. Meetings and minutes. Parking and preferences. Traditions and timetables – how long the service went over time and all the other issues we have.
All this church stuff!
My job is very simple – is to keep the church on track so that we become like Jesus and do the things Jesus wants us to do!
My job is not YOUR HAPPINESS! Or mine for that matter.
It’s getting us all to really do God’s will.
THE BEATITUDES which we have read often – the foundation of the Sermon on the Mount – describe lives that are different from the rest. They describe God’s will for us. Let’s have a look at what they are about.
There’s this old hymn about the saints in heaven and on earth that goes: O happy ones and holy! Lord, give us grace that we, Like them, the meek and lowly, on high may dwell with thee. (The church’s one foundation.)
Happiness and holiness? Do they go together?
The beatitudes are often translated using the word “happy”. So for example we have the Good News Bible:
Mat 5:3 “Happy are those who know they are spiritually poor; the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them!
Mat 5:4 “Happy are those who mourn; God will comfort them!
Mat 5:5 “Happy are those who are humble; they will receive what God has promised!
Mat 5:6 “Happy are those whose greatest desire is to do what God requires; God will satisfy them fully!
Mat 5:7 “Happy are those who are merciful to others; God will be merciful to them!
Mat 5:8 “Happy are the pure in heart; they will see God!
Mat 5:9 “Happy are those who work for peace; God will call them his children!
Mat 5:10 “Happy are those who are persecuted because they do what God requires; the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them!
Mat 5:11 “Happy are you when people insult you and persecute you and tell all kinds of evil lies against you because you are my followers.
When you read that you can’t help but think – surely that is NOT a happy situation!!
Perhaps blessed, fortunate, privileged would be better.
The word in Matthew 5 is MAKARIOS (blessed) and was used to describe the saints who were often martyed. As one commentator puts it, ‘It is hard to picture a smile on the face of Polycarp or Justin as they were being burned or beheaded. Yet, “blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,” Jesus declares.’
SO WHAT KIND OF SAINTS DO WE WANT TO BE?
Simply obedient ones. Like that nice young man who is the patron saint of clergy – St Gabriel.
What does this all mean for the saints gathered in this church this All Saints Sunday?
Not only do we remember those who faithfully served the Lord and influenced our lives – helping us on the right track – those who are gone before us.
In the words of a writer on this passage: “It also means that we should align ourselves today with the historic chorus of people who have been sanctified by Christ, people who in happiness or difficulty, found their hope in Jesus and made their way as part of the kingdom of God.”
Hebrews puts it this way:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith… (12:1-2a)
And let’s focus on two of Jesus’ Beatitudes and take them for ourselves today:
Many of them are about our lives – mourning, the earth, being peacemakers, being merciful and persecution. They are all good – and challenging.
Two of them stand out:
Mat 5:6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Mat 5:8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
They are matters of priority and our deepest desires, matters of the heart – and they relate to God.
We hunger and thirst for many things. But this is not about physical needs. It’s about our deepest needs and our fundamental orientation. And our hearts – the deepest emotional driver in us.
While we recognise that we are saints because our righteousness (in the legal sense of being made right with God – justified by faith – so that our sins are dealt with) – our orientation – our direction in life – has to be towards what is right and pure.
We spoke about forgiveness last week – and how we need to forgive.
The fact that we have to forgive so often is because our lives are so fettered by sin and disobedience – things that are the opposite of what God wants for us.
We need to be honest that we are often far from God and that our lives don’t really show God’s Kingdom values.
It’s no wonder that the first line of the Sermon on the Mount is this:
Mat 5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
When you know your need of God – then it all happens.
Conversely – when you are self-satisfied – you miss the bus entirely!
THE SAINTS ARE IN OUR MIDST IF WE LOOK HARD ENOUGH
God is at work in this place in ordinary people. If you look hard enough you will see.
And it’s not about all the things we DO for God or the church. We tend to say “what a saint – they DO so much” while we sit back like the saints “who from their labours rest” – a bit too early! The tasks at hand can be shared and should be.
If you look hard enough you see acts of grace and kindness – people of courage who have mourned and are being comforted as they find new ways to live as single people again – people who have been persecuted for righteousness sake – people who don’t try to defend themselves, but simply keep going doing what God shows them to do.
You see these saints in our midst when their hearts are broken when they see people suffer – and especially when they see people so far from God who need to receive his touch. They’d do anything to help them discover the Gospel. They use their time and resources to make things happen here because they know that the local church is where God can really work in a community to reach the lost.
These are signs of the Kingdom of God really – where people are manifestly different in the way they live and behave – not drawing attention to themselves and not harping on about their agendas and rights – but simply serving the Lord and others as they reach out with the love of Christ and good news and share it with others.
They show mercy. They exhibit meekness. But most of all it’s their hungering and thirsting after righteousness that makes them blessed and a blessing – and their purity of heart.
Not only do they see God in the sense of a real relationship they have with Him – you see the Lord in them too.
For these people who impact our lives we are immensely grateful.
May we be like them.
We can be like them.
We can get on the right track.
This orientation of our lives is more important than how long church is, whether the music is too loud, or we have to change the times of our meetings or can’t park in our favourite space. This orientation of our lives is more important than if the preacher lost his way in the sermon, the service was too long, or we didn’t know the songs on a particular Sunday.
It’s about becoming like Jesus. Once again:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith… (Hebrews 12:1-2a)
Your Kingdom come
Your will be done – in our lives, Lord Jesus.
Readings: Acts 8: 26-40 and John 15:1-8
I was never good at Maths! But I have come to understand the ideas of Paul Hiebert about sets – in relation to people and organisations! There are two kinds of sets – he suggests. Bounded sets – and centred sets. He wrote about this about 30 years ago! A bounded set is a group – an organisation that we belong to – because we’ve recognised that you have to cross some kind of line to get there. For example – if you join a club, you agree up front on the rules and expectations, including dress code and fees. Churches have traditionally been like this – you had to apply to be a member and read the expectations first (helpful) and then agree to abide by them.
I recently encountered a local church that has as a requirement of membership that you attend church twice on Sundays. By joining you agreed to that. No exceptions. And in the organisation all pastors have to offer two services every week. All churches have minimum expectations for members like this – and the basic one is Baptism which should come with a public profession of faith. And with this comes certain responsibilities and privileges.
A great example in Bible history of a bounded set is found in the reading from Acts today. The travelling treasurer – a eunuch from Ethiopia who went to Jerusalem – encounters Philip the evangelist on the road. This man had come to worship! (v27). It is not surprizing that an Ethiopian should do that. There had been Jews in Ethiopia since the time of King Solomon. (Isaiah 11:11 and 56:4-5 refer to Ethiopia and to eunuchs by the way).
The Jewish organisation of the day was a bounded set – as was seen in the structure of the temple – which had a series of areas that people were not allowed into. This temple had been developed by Herod the Great over 40 years – and was like a wonder of the ancient world! People travelled from all over the Mediterranean region and Asia to see it. It was like the Taj Mahal today – or Christchurch’s cathedral when it was standing. People marvelled at it.
But only Jews really belonged and had access. And the requirement for being a Jew (circumcision) was a serious business – plus adherence to many laws!
If you were a traveller and not Jewish you could get into the outer court (of the Gentiles). But no further. Odd really because when you read the Old Testament it was clear that what they had was to be for all the nations! The God they worshiped was the God of all the earth. Listen to Psalm 22 which is one of the readings for today: 27 All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, 28 for dominion belongs to the LORD and he rules over the nations.
So when this Eunuch comes in Acts 8 – all the way from African Ethiopia – a long way in his chariot – he would have had limited access. In fact Deuteronomy 23:1 specifically excluded men like him: No one who has been emasculated by crushing or cutting may enter the assembly of the LORD.
Others also had restrictions – look for example at the court of the women. Ritually pure Jewish women of course were allowed. There were specific exclusions for those who had menstruated or had had sexual intercourse and so forth.
Then there was the Court of Israel. The men only – and again ritually pure men! There are similar things that would have excluded men.
The real temple area – the Sanctuary – was for ritually pure priests and Levites. Nice music, prayer and sweet smelling incense for them only.
And then there was this enormous curtain at the rear of the Sanctuary where you found the Holy of Holies! The high priest went in there once a year on Yom Kippur – and sprinkled the blood on the mercy seat in the pre-Babylonian exile days. After the destruction of the first temple that space was empty.
Now do you remember what Jesus did – we looked at this before Easter? He went in there and messed up their tables in the courts of the temple. He would have been zealous for the temple because of its intended purpose – as a house of prayer! They had turned it into something else.
Jesus not only cleansed the temple – he broke ALL those rules all the time about sin and ritual purification. He was not keen on their bounded and exclusive set!
He also totally redrew this map of access to God!! He talked to and touched Gentiles – lepers – and bad people. And all kinds of ritually unclean people touched him!
Jesus connected with all kinds of people who were exluded from the temple. – people like the Ethiopian who would have wanted to worship but could not really have full access.
How exciting therefore when Jesus says: “When you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father in secret!” That’s radical and revolutionary stuff! There are no exclusions here at all. The holy place is redefined!
So back to Acts 8:
And when Philip starts talking to this man on his chariot – a physically deformed eunuch who had travelled SO FAR to just get to the outer court – this encounter is DYNAMIC! The eunuch is reading His Old Testament Bible out loud – which was common in those days (in Greek)– and needs someone to explain the words of Isaiah! Philip asks him a question – and the man invites him into his chariot!
There is something very moving about the conversation – because of the passage itself. There are two possible applications to the eunuch: “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.”
This man had been physically cut – castrated. Not by choice. Like a sheep to be slaughtered. And – “in his humiliation he was deprived of justice”. Being a castrated male was an in-between state and not a great position socially. Deprived of justice – I think so. And so the man asks: “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?”
In other words –“ could this apply to me?” A conversation follows and a conversion! And he gets baptised! Brilliant! The line that I love is this one: “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” (NRSV v 37)
I am sure there were lots of things that prevented him from progressing in his Jewish faith. And there would be churches today who would make it difficult for people to get to that point too! But not on this day! And he goes on his way rejoicing – which implies he had a story to tell.
How startling and radical has the Easter story not been? What happens when Jesus dies? That heavy duty curtain shutting us out of their view of the presence of God – that last barrier – is ripped! Yay and Hallelujah!
Here’s a thought. Are we not a bit like this too? We want people who show up to conform at least to our brand of thinking or worship!! Mandatory things from OUR POINT OF VIEW.
The BOUNDED SET is a very exclusive kind of thing.
CONTRAST THAT WITH A CENTRED SET.
A centred set is a bit different. This kind of organisation invites people to journey towards a common goal or set of values. It is not a closed group but more like a loose association of people moving in the same direction.
For Christians – the centre is not a belief or a tradition but a PERSON! The first Christians were called people of THE WAY!
I am beginning to wonder whether we should even use the word Christian at all! Follower of Christ – yes! Disciple of Jesus – yes! Jesus-follower – Oh Yes!
The set of the Christian faith is centred in JESUS.We look to him for life. For forgiveness. For healing and reconciliation (remember last week?). Even the buildings are meant to help people find Jesus! And yes we have a mission statement that says we are to “build loving communities that help people find and follow Jesus”. The focal point is Jesus! The building we meet in here is just a tool!
Go to some churches – and horror of horrors they are like that Jewish Temple! They have altars and altar rails – and while I enjoyed receiving communion at them when I was a temporary Anglican – they are expressions of bounded sets again.
The first Christians BROKE DOWN BARRIERS of all sorts. Listen to Galatians 3:28 – probably one of the most significant verses in the New Testament: Gal 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. One IN CHRIST JESUS!
And so when we come to the GOSPEL reading today – it seems to make more sense! 5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. Remain – abide – live in relationship with, connected to Jesus the vine – the true vine – through whom life pumps into us! Apart from me you can do nothing!
Being connected to Jesus – together – is the only way to do this! And our job is to get people moving in the right direction towards that centre! And it’s not necessarily organised! A vine is not very systematic or tidy. But the branches are plugged into the vine! The branches are centred in Jesus! And outside of that it’s pretty dead!
WHAT EXCITING MISSION OPPORTUNITIES EXIST FOR US TODAY
Like Philip – if you are led by the Holy Spirit – you might bump into someone with whom you can have the conversation that changes lives! Once they are connected – the life flows. It points to a relationship with Jesus as key!
A final comment: An Australian said this (amazing wisdom!) – There are two main methods for keeping cattle on the ranch. One is to build a fence around the perimeter. The other is to dig a well in the centre of the property.
To quote John Ortberg (Is the question for Christians “Out or In?” or “Farther or Closer?”) – If we focus on Jesus as the centre, then the key question becomes whether someone is oriented toward him or away from him. We realize that God is in a much better position than we are to know who’s in and who’s out. We also realize that everyone has something to learn, that everyone has a next step to take, and we don’t have to make ourselves seem more different than we really are. We embrace our common humanity.
We need to get people moving towards Jesus!
Phillip did that with a man from Ethiopia whose name we don’t even know! But the results were first class! A great outcome! A man connected to Jesus! Plugged into the vine!