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11 June 2017 message – What we do in the name of the 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.’ Brunner 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.

 

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Sunday 28 May Ascension Sunday – the anxieties of the age

READINGS: 1 Peter 5:6-11;  Acts 4:1-14;  John 17:1-3

MESSAGE

I’ve been working on this for a couple of days now. That sense of wrestling with God – what do you REALLY want to say to us today Lord?

It’s easy to follow the texts for the day – and get enthusiastic about something that arises from those readings.

Or a theme – like today is Ascension Day Sunday. It’s the in-between period we remember – 40 days after Easter the resurrection appearances end – and He’s gone.

I think what also grabbed me is what I’ve written about already in the newsletter. It’s about waiting. They were told to wait. 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.

We’re not good at that really. The waiting.

And then there’s the constant prayer theme. That nibbled – asking for a bite. You know the verse I mean? Act 1:14  They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers. There have been plenty of sermons on the power of praying together. There’s also a redemptive line there too about his family – who though he was mad. Are these the actual brothers?

AND THEN OUR PERSONAL STORY SPEAKS

We had a great weekend away. There are some funny stories attached to the weekend. And the fact that I slept better when away speaks volumes. The truth is that a lot of people don’t sleep. In a world characterized by terror and fear, anxiety is a dominant power that controls or at least shapes our lives.

Peter’s line speaks to us today in the light of this human condition: 1Pe 5:7  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

How do we get that message across?

When Ascension day comes and goes, even though we would like it to be a public holiday like the good old days (and it was in parts of Europe and more close to us in Vanuatu – where they still call people to prayer at 4.00am during the week just in case you missed Sunday) – most people don’t have a clue who Jesus is anyway.

And if they have heard about him, they certainly find the idea of him taking off like the latest rocket that Rocket Lab has launched from Mahia Peninsula in Hawke’s Bay quite strange – as this cartoon shows us from the revised comic lectionary:

ascension RCOMICL

Although I have to say that my favourite cartoon on the Ascension is this one:

ascension

Those of us with experience of attention deficit disorder will immediately sympathize.

The point is – are we really noticing the real issues that people are facing? Or are we inattentive to what is happening.

I was reading something I wrote just over 30 years ago this week. When you go back you wonder if it really was you – it all seems so far away. It was a study of the thinking of Viktor Frankl, who developed logotherapy.  (If you are interested in reading about it see the link below).

The key question is about the meaning of our lives. What holds us together?

If you look at the things that dominate the news today – people’s lives are shaped by that search for meaning. And where do they find it? Often in unhelpful places or movements. Here are some possibilities:

Totalitarianism – people are becoming more nationalistic and following strong right-wing leaders. Political trends around the world bear this out. The group becomes more important than the individual. Frankl certainly experienced that in Nazy Germany, beinge a survivor of the holocaust. Nothing has changed.

Terrorism – the extreme violence of individuals and groups trying to force their world view or ideology on people through terror and threat and fear. Fanaticism makes the views of a cause more important than the value of the individual. The Manchester massacre this week is a clear example of this. The Queen said it was “wicked” – and good for her. It was.

And those who can afford to – although you can do this at home too –

To avoid Totalitarianism and Terrorism – and all the other kinds of troubles of the age – what’s the biggest source of foreign exchange income in our economy?

Tourism.

It’s a kind of escapism for the wealthy –  you can get away from it all. Although you have to check the travel advisories about countries where there is totalitarianism (some kind of nationalistic uprising) or terrorism. When you are on the way home you are planning the next trip!

Those who can’t afford to travel can watch it all on TV. It’s called armchair travel! It’s all an escape from the anxieties of the age.

Other trajectories.

And there are other routes people take in their quest for meaning or purpose in this generation.

  • The millennials and others say “whatever” in the face of too much authoritarianism or fanaticism – they bounce from job to job with a shruggy look if they find bosses that are too dictatorial.
  • The artists and creative people escape in the confusion of bizarre creativity (for us non-artistic mortals) – just look at what passes as modern art today. A classic case was just over a year ago when a teenager who clearly did go to Spec Savers left his specs on the floor in San Francisco’s Museum of Modern art as a prank with a friend. The oohs and aahs were prolific.

glasses art in gallery

On Twitter on 26 May last year one person tweeted: “it’s really just an exacerbated metaphor of society’s perpetual blindness to those cognitive of us #art”

People are looking for meaning in interesting places.

  • And then there are the Christians!

How do you and Ideal with the challenges of this age?

Jesus offers us a lot really. Today’s readings had some gems.

  • The power of His presence – the Holy Spirit 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.”

The permanent presence and power of God through his Spirit would be there for all.

  • The power of prayer – 1Pe 5:7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

There’s another brilliant passage on prayer (from the Message) here:

Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns.
Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. (Phil 4:7-8).

  • The power of a relationship that outlasts the chaos of this life – Joh 17:3  Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.

In our song before communion – which is the place where we find our identity (not in totalitarian nationalism) and our security (in the face of terror and fear) – we find the words of David in Psalm 23 which are expressed powerfully by Stuart Townend:

The Lord’s my shepherd, I’ll not want; He makes me lie in pastures green. He leads me by the still, still waters, His goodness restores my soul.

And I will trust in You alone, And I will trust in You alone, For Your endless mercy follows me, Your goodness will lead me home.

He guides my ways in righteousness, And He anoints my head with oil, And my cup, it overflows with joy, I feast on His pure delights.

And I will trust in You alone, And I will trust in You alone, For Your endless mercy follows me, Your goodness will lead me home.

And though I walk the darkest path, I will not fear the evil one, For You are with me, and Your rod and staff ,Are the comfort I need to know.

And I will trust in You alone, And I will trust in You alone, For Your endless mercy follows me, Your goodness will lead me home

Well do you trust in Him alone?

Can people see that you trust in Him alone through the week? At home? At work?

Great question to ponder on this week.

Amen.

Footnote: The link to my very old bit of research on Viktor Frankl is here:

http://researchspace.ukzn.ac.za/bitstream/handle/10413/6828/Palmer_Robin_Ernest_1987.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s sing that song now.

 

Sermon, 5 June 2016 – resurrection; then, and now, and then….

READINGS: 1 Kings 17:17-24; Luke 7:11-17

SERMON  

Last week it was the faith of the centurion we looked at – his faith led to the healing of his servant.

The very next story in Luke – and there is no faith to be seen.

  • It’s a funeral.
  • It’s grim.
  • There’s a widow and her only son has died.

The dead guy can’t have faith – and there is no expectation of faith at a funeral. Just pain and sorrow – deep grief.

The people around would have known about Elijah raising a widow’s son. Once word got out they would have joined the dots – here was another prophet empowered by God.

But put yourself in the story.

This is 5 miles away from Nazareth. 25 miles away from Capernaum where we were last week. Quite  a long walk really.

The death would have been very recent. They buried their dead within 24 hours. Not like our week’s mourning at most here. Or the Swedish custom of a couple of weeks between death and the funeral.

So the grief is still raw – this is a child – an only son of a widow – it’s a disaster from an economic survival point of view.

The professional mourners would have been there. Wailing.

Don’t think that’s a bizarre custom either. They cried loudly so that the real mourners would not be the centre of attention as they genuinely wept.

It was all healthy but raw.

And along comes this prophet like Elijah. Except things are different. Elijah knew the family and he was known to them. In this account Jesus didn’t.

  • Uninvited.
  • A stranger who walks in.
  • A crowd following him intersects with the funeral crowd.
  • Imagine someone doing that at a funeral you’re at. Unusual to say the least.

He touches the funeral bier. The coffin – which would have been an open kind of frame. It certainly brought the procession to a halt.

The key line is verse 13: Luk 7:13 When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”

What a strange thing to say. Of course she would be crying. Grief specialists would say to her: “let it out dear. It’s okay to cry!”

  • It comes from compassion. In fact, a better translation is probably this:

13 When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” (NRSV)

  • It also comes from hope – and knowledge of what was possible.

He knew he could reverse this. He knew his ultimate destiny. He knew that resurrection would ultimately change the way we see the world.

I remember Nicky Gumbel talking about how interesting a person Jesus would have been to have around.

  • At a wedding.
  • At a picnic.
  • When out fishing.
  • During a storm at sea.
  • At a funeral.

The text is very matter of fact. Remember also that only Luke tells us this story. It’s not in the other gospel accounts. Listen again:

Luk 7:14 Then he went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!”
Luk 7:15 The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.
Luk 7:16 They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.”
Luk 7:17 This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.

WHAT ABOUT US

What do you make of this?

At a factual and historical level, it’s Jesus showing his hand to the crowds. The word certainly would have got out, as was the case with the raising of Lazarus. In Lazarus’ case it was a nail in his own coffin as his enemies were provoked to plot his death.

There are two points to take home today really.

1. COMPASSION

For us today it is a reminder of His compassion – shown in so many other gospel accounts.

  • The hungry – he had compassion on them and fed them.
  • The sick – he healed them.
  • Blind beggars who called out to him – in compassion he healed them.
  • And two great stories in the bible – the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal son – are both about compassionate people – the Samaritan and the Father in the stories.

It has to speak to us about compassion – we at least have to be like that – from deep within. The word itself – compassion – in the original New Testament Language encompassed the bowels, heart, lungs, liver or kidneys – all seen in those days as the seat of human emotion.

It gets us here (point to gut).

Are we really compassionate? the Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria, said this: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”

Not a bad motto. To live by – not just to have on the wall or on your facebook page.

2. WOULD THAT JESUS SHOW UP IN ALL KINDS OF PLACES.

I bet no one afterwards at the funeral tea was resentful that this strange rabbi gate-crashed their ceremony.

“Who’s that bloke ‘ey stopping the procession?”

I’ve been watching too much British television I think.

Jesus is really keen to walk into the lives of our families and friends – he brings a whole new perspective on our sickness, pain, griefs and our dying. And our living!

And he really wants to walk into our mess too.

It’s ultimately about resurrection. Not about disembodied souls going to heaven. But about a whole new life at the end of it all.

And the same spirit that raised Jesus from the dead – the Holy Spirit – is at work in us. (Romans 8:11).

That resurrection life begins now – we are made alive spiritually. He still breaks through into our messy world by His Holy Spirit.

Nicky Gumble tells the great story about a man who got really carried away in a very dull staid church. He was lifting his hands and shouting “hallelujah”- whereupon the Church warden came up to him at tapped him on the shoulder saying “we don’t do that here!” The man said excitedly – “but I’ve found religion”. The warden replied – “you didn’t get it here”.

If Jesus can walk into a funeral procession and turn things around, he can surely walk into our situations and change things too – bring new life and hope.

Next week when our guests are here there will be opportunities for us to receive prayer and really hear from the Lord. I encourage you to bring a friend along.

God still shows up in our lives. He changes us to make us compassionate.

He fills us with hope too – which is an infectious and helpful force in a pretty hopeless world. In fact, hope is the basis for our witnessing. Peter writes this:

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…

Hopeful people are joyful! Happy! There would nothing gloomy at that moment when the dead boy was returned to his mother alive and well.

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!

 

15 March 2015 – Morning service at Rosedale Village – failure and success

Rosedale Village – Easter Message

The story is told of a learner policeman down in Wellington at the police college who was writing his final exam before graduation.

The last question in the paper described a horrific incident after a major fire caused by a road accident. A tanker had crashed into a house, and the whole thing had exploded. A crowd had gathered, and injured people were lying all over the place. While that was happening, some looters were smashing windows and burning couches in the street. There were bleeding people all over the place.

The question read – “you are the only policeman on duty at the time. What do you do?”

The man’s answer went like this: “you take off your uniform and mingle with the crowd”.

The story of Easter involves people who failed. They had been Jesus’ friends – and when he was captured, they ran away.

  • One – the leader of the group called Peter – told people three times that he didn’t know Jesus at all. He swore and cursed.
  • One – the man in the group who looked after their money called Judas – handed Jesus over to some soldiers – he got him arrested.
  • One – a young man called John Mark – ran away when the soldiers tried to arrest him – and left his clothes behind. Interesting way to become famous – running off naked.
  • Most of them – Jesus’ friends – disappeared. They “took off their uniforms” and mingled in the crowd. The men disappeared. Only the woman hung around. With the exception of the Apostle John, the disciple whom Jesus loved.

We spent a lot of time through life learning, studying, training, competing, and achieving things – especially at school. I am sure you’ve seen your children do this over the years. Or your grandchildren now. You may remember your school years too. Certificates, trophies, awards and reports abound, and a lot of effort is put into doing really well. In New Zealand much money and energy is spent on winning games – rugby, cricket and sailing for example.

The truth is that in the real world – not everyone wins. In fact, a lot of people do badly and fail.

It’s not winning or losing a game that matters. Or not getting good marks in a test. Those things are opportunities to try again and to solve problems or improve strategies. All real learning involves risks and making mistakes – correcting them and winning the battle!

The serious failures are failures in relationships. Where people let their friends and colleagues down, or family members. Where we are hurtful to others, or abuse them through anger or disrespect. Where we are destructive, wasteful, and uncaring. Where we abuse our positions of power and crush others or simple ignore their ideas or feelings. Or when leaders become despots, dictators or tyrants.

The hero in the Easter story is Jesus – who is killed by his enemies, and abandoned by his friends. He offers no violence, does not make apologies, or even try to clear his name.

The bad guys are his friends who take off their uniforms and mingle with the crowd. They lie, run away, and save their own skins.

In short – it’s a bit of a mess.

THE MAN ON THE BEACH

There is a lovely moment in the story where Peter – the leader of the group who denied Jesus three times – is trying to avoid everything by going back to his old job. Perhaps like us he was wishing for the good old days! There he is fishing – his whole life is a mess – and even the fish don’t bite. Jesus – alive again after being dead for three days – is standing on the beach. He tells them to throw their nets over on the other side of the boat. The fish bite like crazy.

They haul them in – and there is Jesus with a barbecue going, cooking fish and toasting bread. These failed depressed men – he feeds them. Fish oil is really good for depression I am told! Maybe it was as simple as that. Giving someone a cup of tea or coffee or something helpful to eat is a good thing in a crisis. He builds them up – strengthens them – models forgiveness – and they become even greater people again.

Over nearly thirty of working with people in crisis – I never lose hope. I’ve seen the worst of them – and lived through some of the worst of it.

Easter reminds me that the worst failures can be turned around. A dead friend is alive again and the world is changed. Men who took off their uniforms and mingled with the crowd – become heroes who go out and give their own lives for what they believe.

There is no darkness that is too dark. No failure too messy. The light will shine again on Easter Sunday and His light can chase your darkness away too.

We all can start again. Thanks be to God for His Word. And for the truth of the Gospel of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Amen.

 Here is the reading from John 21 for your reflection:

Joh 21:1  Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Tiberias. It happened this way:

Joh 21:2  Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together.

Joh 21:3  “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Joh 21:4  Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.

Joh 21:5  He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” “No,” they answered.

Joh 21:6  He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.

Joh 21:7  Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water.

Joh 21:8  The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards.

Joh 21:9  When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.

Joh 21:10  Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.”

Joh 21:11  Simon Peter climbed aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn.

Joh 21:12  Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord.

Joh 21:13  Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.

Joh 21:14  This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.

Joh 21:15  When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

Joh 21:16  Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

Joh 21:17  The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.

Thursday 29 May – Ascension Day – the eyes of your heart

Readings:   Ephesians 1: 15– 23; Luke 24: 44– 53; Acts 1: 1– 11

THE EYES OF YOUR HEART

There’s a great song we used to sing – open the eyes of my heart Lord, I want to see you.

We’ve shared about the hear in the last two weeks.

  • About where we hang our hearts – the God we trust in and have faith in.
  • About setting apart or sanctifying Christ as Lord in our hearts – out of which comes this ability to give a reason for the hope that we have

Paul’s prayer in the Ephesians reading is this:

  • He prays that we may know Jesus better
  • And he prays  this – 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 1:19  and his incomparably greatpower for us who believe

If the eyes of our hearts to be enlightened – then Paul prays these things will be real:

  •  the hope we’ve been called to – is the transformation of ourselves and our lives in Christ – becoming a new creation and participating in a new creation
  • our inheritance as the saints (the list is long – but when we get it we understand that we are the adopted sons of God with Jesus as our elder brother – the right to call God Father and be his children – the experience of forgiveness and eternal life – and all the privileges of his children seen as an example in the prodigal son and his brother – the younger prodigal is taken back – the older brother reminded that it was all his for the taking anyway.

What a wonderful inheritance. Co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17)

  • his incomparably great power for us who believe.

What’s the power like, asks Paul?

It’s the same as this – he says:

That power is like the working of his mighty strength,

Eph 1:20  which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms,

Eph 1:21  far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 

This power conquers death – raises Jesus to a place of great authority seated at the right hand of God.

The resurrection and ascension are one major event here for Paul. The one is the natural extension of the other.

And his prayer is that we may have the eyes of our hearts opened to know this power too.

We need that power!

Simon Ponsonby – an amazing vicar and Bible teacher puts it like this when talking about the surpassing greatness of his power – he asks:

Is there power in your life?

Power that breaks curses – turns back time and history – power to be a better man (like many who wish they could turn back time) 

Power of God – needed to control thoughts and speech – set you free from patterns of addiction –

There is something amazing about the power of God that rests on us and transforms us

Paul prays for more for the church!

As we come to the 10 days between Ascension and Pentecost in the church’s calendar – this is a reminder that we too need this power.

The Holy Spirit came in power – the logical extension of Jesus’ promise not to leave them as orphans, but to be with them always.

In Philippians 3:10 Paul says:

Php 3:10  I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection.

Actually it’s the only way to know him.

Ascension marks the beginning of this new time when the resurrection power becomes a reality for us.

We look to Jesus differently now:

He is no longer the man from Galilee.

He is the exalted Christ who is the giver of life.

He is the one to be worshipped every moment of our lives.

The Ephesians passage ends here:

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.

HE is the one!

And we are the extension of Him! The body – the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

It’s no wonder the Reformers made much of this day – Ascension Day.

Christ is Head of the church.

The church is the extension of his fullness!

It’s through his power that it’s possible for us to be Christ in the world!

  • 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 1:19  and his incomparably greatpower for us who believe

How tragic that many don’t actually appropriate the power at all!

May that not be so for us.

Amen.

Sunday sermon 25 May 2014 – The reason for the hope that you have

Readings:  Acts 17:22-31; 1 Peter 3:13-22; John 14:15-21

Message

Fifty years in church.

50 sermons a year.

A possible 2500 sermons.

What possible difference will this one make today?

That’s a fair question. It will make no difference to those who’re not here. It will make little difference to those who are asleep in the sermon slot.

It will make little difference to those who have pre-read the text and get frustrated because I don’t say the things they think I should say.

Well I’ve said this before. You don’t remember every meal you’ve had, but the food did keep you going somehow. God does use preaching as a way of reaching people with the Gospel.

Trouble is the people who need to hear the Gospel are not here either.

They’re out there in the community.

I love the passage from Acts set for today. The verse before (verse 21) says this:

Act 17:21  All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.

It’s a lovely comment. The point is Paul was there – and after walking around he speaks into their situation like this:

Act 17:23  For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.

And off he goes with his sermon.

I suppose the culture and context allowed that. Today the same thing happens when people are actually on the lookout for opportunities to engage the society we live in.

It’s in the pubs and clubs that the conversations take place. For some of you it’s in the dining halls of your retirement home – or in the supermarkets.

For some more IT savvy it’s on the internet on web pages and chat forums.

Paul talks to them of course about an altar to an UNKOWN GOD.

Now we could have a great theological debate about that today. We could talk about “other gods” and other faiths – whether there are really other gods- or just skewed views of them.

MIssiologists do this. They study Mission and how the gospel connects with other people’s faiths and world views.

We talked about Missional church too – and debated it in leadership – about how the church would reach this generation.

The truth is more than two years of debate about how relevant the church is to younger people has actually worn me out. So much blame was thrown around that what I offered here on Sundays was not relevant or modern enough.

Hours and hours I spent on power points which for some of you were merely a distraction.

Lucky for you I’m on the 40 hour famine of food and technology this weekend.

So you just get my voice today.

My point is this – in all this time how many people have we actually led to Christ?

How many people have we actually witnessed to?

Some of you are good witnesses – keep going. Well done!

But most of us are pretty average or less than average.

In the readings today Paul preached a great sermon. The gospel went out. It matters not how they responded. Some believed – others tried to kill the messenger on his preaching trips. Some said they wanted to talk to him again about the message he brought.

Paul’s missionary journeys were full of adventure risk and pain. In a discussion in 2 Corinthians he writes this:

2Co 11:24  Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.

2Co 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,

2Co 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.

2Co 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.

Last week we read of the martyrdom of Stephen. His was such a bad sermon that they stoned him. Perhaps you’ll want to throw something at me today. Go right ahead.

God used the people who were scattered after the persecution that followed Stephen’s death to plant one of the most important churches – the one in Antioch. If you came to Tuesday church this month you would have heard that message.

God honours his Word.

Stephen never saw the fruit of his labours. He saw rocks fall on his head. Then he saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God! Standing note! Not sitting. Chances are Jesus was putting in a word for this faithful spirit-filled deacon who also was a teaching elder.

SO WHAT ABOUT US?

A couple of essential things about our mission and witness jump out of the readings today. The first one does more than jump out. It screams at us.

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 behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

This only works if the first part applies.

Remember what we talked about last week? Where are you hanging yourheart? Remember my story of the hat and coat stand it took me two hours to assemble?

Your God is where your heart hangs – said Luther.

Peter says: But in your heart set apart Christ as Lord.(v 15)

Αγιασατεis the word. Honour Christ in your heart. Sanctify him as Lord. Set apart comes from the word for holy – which does not mean perfect but “set apart” or even dedicated.

If you haven’t done that – the rest won’t happen.

Here’s the outflow of this:

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

Listen to it again!

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

Well do you have hope?

Does it ooze from your lips and shine out of your eyes and roll of your tongue – hope – hope – hopeful –hopeful – hopefulness and more hopefulness!

Does it?

Are people saying to you? WHY WHY WHY can you be so positive when things are so bad! It’s soooooooooo bad after all. I’m soooooooo blue.

The church – the economy – my marriage – my spouse, you may say – if only you knew how blue it all makes me!

No – says Peter (writing to a persecuted church – I hasten to add).

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

AND OF COURSE:

But do this with gentleness and respect,

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

There’s no need to be arrogant. Or rough with people with different views. In fact we should respect them.

All we should do is be is:

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

Challenging isn’t it?

And if Jesus were speaking to us this morning – once Peter has unnerved us with his reminder of how we should be a witness to Christ – who is the reason for our hope, is He not?

Jesus would say – as He did in John 14:

Joh 14:15  “If you love me, you will obey what I command.

That creates a few problems does it not? No – it’s not another attempt to make us wither away in shame.

John 14 is the most amazing passage.

It started with “Do not let your hearts be troubled”.

And here it speaks words of such power and encouragement again:

Joh 14:16  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever—

Joh 14:17  the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.

Joh 14:18  I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.

It’s this last verse that gets to me.

It’s this last verse that gets to me. I was lying in bed the other night with tears in my eyes as I thought of children I know who have lost both parents – and the kids without parents because of AIDS and war – and so many other horrible things that happen – and this scripture was in my head:

Joh 14:18  I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.

Jesus’ promise to us that we will have the spirit of truth in us and with us is profound.

There’s no need to pray for God to be with us. He is!

We’re just not always with it. Our eyes and hearts are not always open.

Even in witnessing – especially in witnessing – He promises to lead us. Did Jesus not say in Luke 12:

Luk 12:11  “When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say,

Luk 12:12  for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”

As we are nearing the end of the Easter Season – the finality of Jesus’ departure becomes more pressing.

We’ll be here on Ascension Day on Thursday night – a very special day in our calendar – because Jesus leaves them to be the exalted King of kings and Lord of Lords.

That in itself speaks volumes about where we hang out hearts.

But of course the waiting follows – and His promise not to leave them as orphans is fulfilled at Pentecost.

Here’s the key. It’s the presence and power and person of the Holy Spirit working in us.

When He has his way – then there is no fretting “O dear I am not a good witness”. Rather there is a natural (supernatural) boldness in us.

Then we will need more than two services if people come in here seeking what we have – that which gives us hope.

I’m not sure that we actually believe it to be possible. It’s called revival.

If requires faith to walk down that road. And even Jesus was hamstrung by people in places where they had no faith.

So the challenge remains for us. When we come alive to these things by His Spirit – then the world is somehow changed as we walk out of the door! Not that people become victims of potential bible bashing.

But that the people of hope begin to shine – and these portable light houses cause a commotion as others say –“tell me why you’re so different?”

Amen.

Sunday sermon 1 December 2013 (Advent 1) – Hope

(The Word Isaiah saw – and hope today)

Readings:

Isaiah 2:1-5; Romans 13:11-14; Matt 24:36-44

Isa 2:1  This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem: Isa 2:2  In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Isa 2:3  Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. Isa 2:4  He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Isa 2:5  Come, O house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the LORD.

Rom 13:11  And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. Rom 13:12  The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light. Rom 13:13  Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rom 13:14  Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

Mat 24:36  “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Mat 24:37  As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Mat 24:38  For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; Mat 24:39  and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Mat 24:40  Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Mat 24:41  Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. Mat 24:42  “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. Mat 24:43  But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 

Sermon.

Mat 24:43  But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into.

We’ve been burgled twice in my life – that we know about. Who knows what else has walked out of our house over the years. During times when we’ve opened our home to waifs and strays – sadly other things have walked too. That has not changed our commitment to care.

When we were first married – 30 years ago next year – thieves got in to our place while we slept – and came into our bedroom and removed things. Thankfully we slept. In Wellington people got into the house in the middle of the day – and carried quantities of things out. No one questioned them somehow – or even noticed. The funny thing was that we didn’t notice either when we got home – we’d been sitting the lounge room for a while and then our children came in  – and wanted to know where the TV was.

The unexpected is exactly that. SURPRISE! And even if you plan a surprise party – someone lets the cat out of the bag. If you’re lucky – the person will not pick up on the signs. Hindsight though is a wonderful gift. You realise afterwards why people were behaving differently.

Advent is about waiting – about being prepared – it is a future looking time. It’s not a time of repentance like Lent. Lent is like spring cleaning – spiritually speaking.

Advent is about openness and anticipation.

And this week we focus on hope.

And we turn to the passage from Isaiah to get a sense of how powerful hope is.

Here it is again: Isa 2:4  He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.

What is even more powerful is how this prophecy is introduced: Isa 2:1  This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem: (NIV)

The NIV short changes us here. Listen to the more literal New Revised Standard Version: Isa 2:1 The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. (NRSV)

How do you “see” a word? There was no text message or twitter option – we can see words today more readily. In fact some people exist in a word of written conversation – and don’t actually know what a telephone is for. You have to remind kids that they can phone people for free!

Lots of images are visual words. The doves you have today. The Christmas tree that we will hang them on. The anticipation portrayed in the wrapping paper that hides our Christmas presents.

So too body language – it speaks.

But Isaiah sees a word. There is a visionary sense here. This is Isaiah 2.

When you read chapter one – it’s not a pretty picture. It begins like this: Isa 1:2  Hear, O heavens! Listen, O earth! For the LORD has spoken: “I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. Isa 1:3  The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.” Isa 1:4  Ah, sinful nation, a people loaded with guilt, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They have forsaken the LORD; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him.

Bribery, violence, unfaithfulness, wretchedness, terrible treatment of the poor. And the prophet says this: Isa 1:15  When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; Isa 1:16  wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, Isa 1:17  learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.

There are glimpses of redemption though. The very next verse says this: Isa 1:18  “Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.

But then you read these words: Isa 1:21  See how the faithful city has become a harlot! She once was full of justice; righteousness used to dwell in her— but now murderers! Isa 1:22  Your silver has become dross, your choice wine is diluted with water. Isa 1:23  Your rulers are rebels, companions of thieves; they all love bribes and chase after gifts. They do not defend the cause of the fatherless; the widow’s case does not come before them. Isa 1:24  Therefore the Lord, the LORD Almighty, the Mighty One of Israel, declares: “Ah, I will get relief from my foes and avenge myself on my enemies.

It’s much like today – people far from God – violence and rebellion.

But he says a new word: Isa 2:4  He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.

But who will believe this:

This word he sees – is on the wall to be seen today. Can you tell me where this is?

UN Isaiah wall reduced

Who can believe that? Isaiah’s words are carved into the wall across from the United Nations building. Who believes these words across the street in the General Assembly as they debate sanctions against Iran, as they wring their hands over 100,000 killed in Syria, and chastise the United States for inhumane treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo?  (Barbara Lundblad – commentary on Isaiah 2:1-15)

That’s the thing about hope. It’s not obvious – but you can still see it. In the Christian scriptures Hebrews put it like this when speaking of faith: Heb 11:1Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (KJV)

(NIV84)  Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

(NLT)  Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.

  • Hope today – is symbolised by the lighting of the first Advent candle.
  • It is a dream we have – that can become a reality
  • It can change how we cope with huge challenges and struggles – the knowledge that we too can see a Word – the Word Jesus coming into the world as a baby to bring hope
  • Hope galvanises us and strengthens us in the face of death itself. After all that is our scariest certainty – I was reminded of that again this week when we went to Rosedale. There were fewer in the hospital section than last month. Some were out, but the helper said to me: “we’ve lost a few since you were last here”. Makes going there even more significant really.

People in war torn Syria, and in every other conflict zone – have a greater need to see a word of hope.

Walter Brueggeman makes the connection:  in Texts for Preaching: The vision of Isaiah is “an act of imagination that looks beyond present dismay through the eyes of God, to see what will be that is not yet.  That is the function of promise (and therefore of Advent) in the life of faith.  Under promise, in Advent, faith sees what will be that is not yet.”  (A lectionary commentary based on the NRSV – Year A.)

So if this about hope – then where is the solution? Do we just hang in there until Jesus comes and sorts it all out?

No – our very life is found in the one who gives hope.

Even for Isaiah – 8 centuries before Jesus (and like Micah) they knew the source:

Isa 2:2  In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Isa 2:3  Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

Life comes from where God is – in their case it would be Zion. For us it is Christ – we turn to Him who is the living Word of God – light of the world – Good shepherd – bread of life – giving living water.

Isaiah says in verse 3:

He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

We have Jesus the Word of God – we have the Word of God in the Scriptures – He speaks through them to us.

We too are to walk in his paths. Living and walking are the same – remember the first Christians were called people of “The Way”.

While we wait – always ready in case like a thief in the night it all happens – we have a life to walk! Note that we don’t sit around. Listen to these New Testament verses:

Rom_6:4  Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

2Co_5:7  for we walk by faith, not by sight.

2Jn_1:6  And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment just as you have heard it from the beginning–you must walk in it.

And my favourite (from last week): 1Jn_1:7  but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

And hope is part of our walk. The most famous passage and one of my favourites is this one:

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.

The future hope as come to us already in Christ, and through His indwelling Holy Spirit. For this reason Peter writes these important words on our being “good news” or evangelists today: But in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give and answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for for the hope that you have! (1 Peter 3:15)

And of course Paul, talking of the mystery of the Gospel which he passionately lived for and eventually died for says this: “… the glorious riches of this mystery: Christ in you the hope of glory. (Col 1:27)

May we be living words – living letters, to use Paul’s term – words that people can see – as they see the living Word Christ in us – and as we extend His presence and hope in our world.

Amen!

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Sunday sermon 24 November 2013 – Christ the King

churchReadings:  Colossians 1: 11-20;   Luke 23:33-43

Sermon

All this church stuff. Meetings. Emails. Music and prayers. Discussions and disagreements. Questions and objections. A long hard year with all kinds of drama comes to an end this week. It’s had its joys and its tragedies. Its blessings and its pains.

The year has been interesting. Here’s a good visual aid to describe it:

plans and reality

Yes – it’s a new beginning – the start of the Christian year. It begins with Advent. The celebration of expectation and hope – looking forward to the coming of a solution – a rescuer – some come kind of hero to save the day.

·        For the people of the day – Israel – they expected a rescuer who would solve their political needs – and set them free from foreign powers.

·        For us today – well I’m not so sure what we are looking for.

Our preferred option is probably this:

reality of plan

New Year:

So at new year we usually focus on the most important things. The fundamentals

The fundamentals of the Christian life? The most important things that God has shown us:

You can guess I suppose:

Loving-God-With-All-Your-Heart-copy-1024x1024

·        Love the Lord your God with all your heart – would be one

work.1285554.4.flat550x550075f.seek-ye-first-the-kingdom-of-god

       Seek Ye first the Kingdom of God – has to be up the list too

The best prayers for the year – and every year:

Probably –

help me

·        Help me – and

your-kingdom-come-your-will-be-done

          Our father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. THY KINGDOM COME, THY WILL BE DONE ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN

This thing of the King – and the Kingdom – it’s always there.

THE GOOD NEWS/THE JOYS

 This must be one of them – those great gems in the Bible:

Have a look at verses 11 and 12 of Colossians 1:

11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.

13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

from-darkness-to-light04

This is a new place to be – a new existence – the Kingdom of light – and of his Son is way better than the dominion of darkness.

Good word – dominion. New Zealand is a dominion. It has heaps of darkness too – and I’m not talking about long winter nights.

As a church – we’re pretty good at celebrating this redemption and forgiveness theme. I don’t think a Sunday goes by when we don’t pray prayers of thanksgiving and recognition that we’ve been rescued and forgiven through the cross.

But there are implications greater than personal forgiveness. There is community forgiveness – there God is calling us to account in terms of relationships – respect – kindness – the fruits of the Spirit. We need to see those.

If you are a source of joy here – then well done. If you haven’t read James 3 yet and the power of the tongue (as we did at home group this week) – if you can’t translate God’s grace to you into grace and kindness to others here – then be warned. I am going to challenge you and take you on. In the name of Jesus I implore you to be kind!

You see if we pray this stuff we have to live it! We can’t stay in the dominion of darkness. Listen to what John writes:

1Jn 1:5  This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.

1Jn 1:6  If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.

1Jn 1:7  But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

We have to live as children of the light. The bible is very clear about the things done in the dark – they will be exposed.

Listen to Paul again: 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified youto share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.

13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

The Gospel reading today reminds us again of the price Jesus paid for our rescue and redemption. It’s just before Advent – and Easter lurks in the background.

Luke’s words are direct and stark:

33 When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

So who are the people that Jesus forgives?

They are listed quite quickly – they watch, mock and jeer. Listen again. It’s not a long passage today:

35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”

36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”                                                                                                                 

38 There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the jews.

39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence?

Jesus visual journey1

This terrible end to a wonderful life of service and healing is stark and horrible.

Yes the life was good – the years of affirmation, teaching, community, healing, reteaching – touching lives – preaching – fighting off of temptation

But look where it ends.

 Jesus outcome

It’s very easy to end up in a lament for the power of sin and it’s consequences for this innocent and well-loved eternally begotten son of God.

Listen again to this terrible account: About this King!

38 There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the jews.

39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence?

41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.[b]

43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

There is this voice of hope. “But this man has done nothing wrong”.

And his prayer for dummies (like my prayer earlier – “help me”):

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom…

Your Kingdom! Take me:

Where will your future take you?

our future

·        From the Kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of life.

·        From hopelessness to a future.

·        From pain to health

·        From isolation to community

·        From hell to heaven

·       From the cross –to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light”.

 Rescue me  from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son” – your Kingdom! 

Did he have a clue as to what he was asking?

Do we – really – when we trust in him and open our hearts to him? Really?

And Jesus’ gracious word to this man deserving of punishment – according to human justice.

“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Richard Swanson comments on this in a poignant way.

Everywhere you look in Luke’s gospel, Jesus finds himself surrounded by faithful, courageous Jews. At the Jordan when John is baptizing, even the tax collectors reveal themselves to be looking for God’s Kingdom and longing for Roman departure. Later in the story, Zacchaeus makes it clear that those tax collectors at the river were not alone in being faithful, and Luke’s Jesus calls him a “son of Abraham” in response.

And now on the hill of crucifixion, Jesus finds another faithful Jew, one who is crucified with him. To be sure, the other two victims are bandits, not messiahs, and to be sure, one of them taunts him with the same words used by Roman soldiers and hired collaborators: Messiah, King of the Jews. The other victim, however, knows that Jesus is a king and has a kingdom. These are things that, in Luke’s story, only faithful, expectant Jews know.

If the Romans are paying attention, they should commence worrying at this point. Crucifixion was torture intended to teach a political lesson: Rome can crush the humanity out of you. Remember that. But this crucifixion scene is loaded with Jews who cannot be crushed. This is trouble for oppressors. Rome should worry.  The centurion who observes the death seems to have figured this out.

 I think the Jesus – the King who speaks on the cross – is still speaking to us today. We have His invitation to enter into this Kingdom of a loving, serving and forgiving King who on the cross said: Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

May we invite Him – call on Him – believe in Him. This very different King.

 Amen.

Feel free to comment or ask questions below:

Sunday sermon 6 October – Matters of faith

Readings: Lamentations 3:19-26; Luke 17: 1-10; 2 Timothy 1:1-14

SERMON

I read this weekend that I should  – well let me read it for you. This pastor wrote: think the single most important thing a pastor can do is wake up each day and focus his energy on enjoying Jesus and having as much fun as possible. This is the only thing I know of that will protect you from the burnout most pastors experience from the relentless strain of preaching and leading a church. I don’t think there’s much power in preaching grace if you yourself are not revelling in grace. (30 September 2013 by Justin Buzzard)

But I thought today’s reading was about faith – you say.

Actually no. Both really!

All the readings today are also about God’s grace!

From the depressing state of Jeremiah lamenting over a destroyed city of Jerusalem – to the perplexed disciples who are told not to be a stumbling block to other Christians – and to keep forgiving others (together with all the other things Jesus told them to give up or hate as they learn to love him) to the young Timothy who learned like some of us about the love of God from His granny – all the characters, the speakers in these passages and those listening to Jesus’ words or hearing Paul’s letters – none of them – NOT ONE – could save themselves or work up enough faith to qualify for a Nobel Peace prize or the meekest of human trophies.

For Jeremiah – deep in the depths of despair and depression – listen to him again:

Lam 3:19  I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.

Lam 3:20  I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.

There is a word of Hope:

Lam 3:21  Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:

Lam 3:22  Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.

Lam 3:23  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

And the key word here? Chesed – meaning mercy or loving kindness. The LORD’s “great love” is the one to look out for in the NIV.

The loving kindness of God is at the heart of it all. Mercy is right there.

With that the endless forgiveness that Jesus talks about in Luke 17:

Luk 17:3  So watch yourselves. “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.

Luk 17:4  If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”

Of course the Lord’s prayer backs this up. There is only one line in the Lord’s prayer about what we do:

Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us!

It’s the heart of it all – it’s built into the loving kindness and mercy of God!

By the way – what do you think of the disciples response to this challenge? It follows hard on the heels of the warning against causing others t sin in verse 1: “Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come.”

Their response is simple: Luk 17:5  The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”  

He replies: “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.

Jesus’ response has been interpreted in a couple of ways:

1.       A rebuke – chiding them for not having enough faith. Can you think of other times when he did this?

(In the context of worry) (O Ye of little faith?)  Mat_6:30  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

(In the context – a storm) Mat_8:26  And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.

(In the context of Peter walking on the water) Mat_14:31  Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

(When they were discussing bread) Mat_16:8  But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread?

(In the context of a demon they could not cast out – although in an extra verse (textural variant) he adds prayer and fasting as a requirement for recalcitrant demons). Mat_17:20  He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”

So he says on this occasion: (In Luke 17:6) “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you. This could be a rebuke – if you had just a tiny particle of faith – if you only had that tiny speck of faith like a mustard seed).

2. Humorous – there is an amusing angle – in the piucture of this mulberry tree

Luke 17:6  He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you. There is an amusing angle to this too. The particular mulberry tree was known to have a very complex root system. It was a sycamine tree -a kind of mulberry, with a root system so intricate that it would take six hundred years to untangle it, according to the rabbis. The idea of it being planted in the sea is odd – almost a joke. It would look a bit strange.

3. The main focus is on the faithfulness of God in impossible situations!

In Matthew we read the mountain version of this.  Mat_17:20  He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” 

Some of our problems are like mountains. We say things are insurmountable. Basically that means impossible. Overwhelming.

Something like the destruction of Jerusalem – the wasted city of Lamentations. Think of any bombed-out city in the world. Everything gone. Think of hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes and the mess that you land with.

How do you find hope in that situation?

In your relationship with God, there are some key responses – prayer (pray the Bible) and worship (sing the Bible) especially – both of which build faith!

As an example we used to sing years back: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases – his mercies never come to an end –  they are new every morning, new every morning, Great is they faithfulness Oh Lord! Great is Thy faithfulness!”

It is hard to find hope, though – especially in the face of wholesale destruction as Jeremiah had faced with the people of God. Those of you who have seen terribly traumatic things – or even have lost a loved on under less horrible situations – or those who battle with depression – understand how hard it is to find hope.

Consider this picture – a sculpture from 1894 by William Wetmore Story – carved for his wife’s tombstone and ultimately his. It is called the “Angel of Grief”. Have  a look:

angel of grief

It’s the angel mourning on the tomb! It’s a picture for many of the darkest day of the year – linked by Christians to Holy Saturday – Easter Saturday – where Jesus himself is remembered as dead.

The gloomy mood of all of Lamentations captures these terrible feelings of loss. And yet there is hope in this passage!

The truth is we often have to grieve first – as did Jeremiah. His poetry is gloomy and sad. That must happen in bereavement and loss of all kinds.

There’s a great moment in the movie “Four weddings and a Funeral” – not at the weddings but at the funeral where the dead man’s friend recites W H Auden’s poem “Funeral Blues”.  It will resonate with those of you who are grieving. It certainly does for me. It goes like this:

W. H. Auden  (Wystan Hugh 21 February 1907 – 29 September 1973)                       Funeral Blues

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

Brilliant and real. And  that kind of grieving is normal and important – as it shows the extent of love and loss in a powerful way.

Depressed people can get stuck in the desperation of hopelessness and persistent loss. People can get a kind of frozen grief. I have encountered that with the losses of immigration – you find it with refugees too.

In that kind of desperation another drum begins to beat out a different song:

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases…”

Or if you like:

“ Great is thy faithfulness oh God my father, there is no shadow of turning with thee….”

Morning by morning new mercies I see!

The morning prayer time seems significant as we tackle the day. Think of the beauty in the KJV of Psalm 5: Give ear to my words, O LORD, consider my meditation.  Psa 5:2  Hearken unto the voice of my cry, my King, and my God: for unto thee will I pray.  Psa 5:3  My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O LORD; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up.

It is important to start the day well like that – recognizing his mercies and looking up, because

“All I have needed they hand hath provided!”

The point is – the bottom line is – you can’t work up your faith.

You only need a tiny bit – like the size of a mustard seed – to move that mountain or cast the tree into the sea!

It’s about the greatness and faithfulness of God.

Let’s close by listening to this song – sing along as we declare these truths.

Song: Who alone could save themselves?

Have a listen and as you do ask God to birth new hope in your heart: we all need faith and grace!

Click on the link and listen:

Who alone could save themselves?