Blog Archives

Easter Sunday Message – 21 April 2019: Their words seemed like rubbish…

Readings: Acts 10:34-43; Luke 24:1-12

Key verse: Luk 24:11  “But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.” (NIV)

“καὶ ἐφάνησαν ἐνώπιον αὐτῶν ὡσεὶ λῆρος τὰ ῥήματα αὐτῶν, καὶ ἠπίστουν αὐταῖς.” (GNT – TR)

“…but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” (ESV)

MESSAGE:

I wonder if you’ve ever been “dissed”? It’s an interesting word. It means to be treated with disrespect. I discovered it to be a popular word when working with teenagers. It’s crept into the English language since the 1980s – through hip hop music I am told. Back in the 1920s it meant you were disconnected – like a telephone not working. Something loose in the head. Either way it isn’t a very nice thing – to be disrespected – or dismissed. Or disempowered.

An amazing thing happens in this story of the life of Jesus – through his teachings, death and especially his resurrection. The people who were usually disempowered at the time were taken seriously – lifted above their status in life. Galatians 3:28 sums it up well:

Gal 3:26  You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, Gal 3:27  for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. Gal 3:28  There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Gal 3:29  If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

So – there are women in the group from the beginning. They would have been “dissed” by people in those days:

  • Disempowered mainly,
  • Dismissed if they had an opinion.
  • Discarded in divorce if a man got bored with them.

But they are there in Jesus’ team. From early on.

And on Easter Sunday in Luke’s account they are the first witnesses.

The “dissing” continues sadly. Even though there are at least three women named as witnesses.

The translators are kind to us – keeping things polite. In the NIV we read: Luk 24:11  But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Nonsense.

The word is LEYROS. It’s used once only in the New Testament. Here.

It’s translated as an idle tale, nonsense, foolishness, and a fairy tale. Its deeper meaning is more crass. Vulgar. “What a load of…”

And that’s the response you get today to when you tell people that a dead man got up again.

Telling the Christian story today in this generation will get you “dissed” too.

People will think you’re nuts. Loony. Weird. Strange. Daft.

But that is okay.

  • Seeing the impossible.
  • Believing the unlikely.
  • Having hope for the hopeless.
  • Courage in the face of death because you know that it’s not the last word – well let them think you’re mad.

It’s a mad but glad tale – that someone who was dead was raised up

  • That he appeared in locked rooms
  • That he cooked a barbeque of fish for them on the beach
  • That he restored a man who denied him three times and gave him an amazing and exciting job to do
  • That he showed up over 40 days to people – up to 500 at one time, meaning they weren’t all hallucinating
  • That he sent them with a message of good news to the world
  • That he promised never to leave them
  • That they were to wait to for the gift of His Spirit – who would empower them to do the work given

Other writers help us to make sense of the story. Luke records the words of Peter in Acts 10:

Act 10:39  “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, Act 10:40  but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. Act 10:41  He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. Act 10:42  He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. Act 10:43  All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Those who dismiss this story and your testimony of your love for Christ – this risen saviour – will discover that he is judge and the end of all things.

This resurrection account is central in the story of the New testament and the Christian life through the centuries – we speak to, worship, praise, and hear from this Jesus.

Paul writing to the Corinthians prioritises it like this writing to the Corinthians: 1 Co 15:3  For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 1Co 15:4  that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,

And later he says:1Co 15:42  So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 1Co 15:43  it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 1Co 15:44  it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.

What great news is this for us.

Death is not particularly attractive. We grow cold and begin to decompose quite quickly. Like Lazarus who had been dead four days, well quoting the King James Bible, – in John 11:39, one of those words only used once – the phrase is “he stinketh”

Being raised imperishable, in glory, in power as a spiritual body sounds wonderful.

Going back to Luke 24 – where the women are dismissed, Peter seems to have some redeeming factors. Luk 24:12  Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.

He went to look – and gave it some thought. The penny drops eventually. And Jesus appears to him with three questions about his love – as he restores his failed life – because he had dissed Jesus three times – disowned him. He does it over breakfast – that restorative chat.

Hopefully people today will investigate this amazing story as well. If you haven’t figured it out yet – I encourage you to have a closer look. You should while you can – it’s to late when you die and people will say of you if you hang around too long –  “he stinketh’.

Today is a good day to investigate this empty tomb, and to put your faith in Christ the risen Lord. Because the witness of those women was not an idle tale, but a brand new truth to change the world. Death was defeated!

Scripture often says this: now is the hour of salvation. Put your trust in  him today. It won’t only guarantee a new resurrection body in the future. It will mean a real relationship with the risen Jesus today. A friend and Saviour, a guide and provider for you to depend on.

Amen

 

A Christmas reflection: Immanuel – God with us

Readings:  Isaiah 7:10-15;  Matthew 1:18-25

CALLING PEOPLE NAMES

What were you called as a child? Yes I know you were named Larry, Peter or Susan.

But you must have had other names. Or called other people names. Children can be horrible. Ok forget the mean names. What about the nicknames?

I was called various names through my school years. They weren’t all nice, but some were a good description of me.

This passage from Matthew is really important when it come to names – and what people are called.

The angel makes it clear – speaking to Joseph about Mary:

Mat 1:21  She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

That in itself would be enough. What a powerful name. Meaning “God saves”.

Hallelujah – what a Saviour – is what we sing at Easter.

Jesus – Joshua – is about Jesus and his mission.

But Matthew goes on. He is writing to Jewish readers and wants them to understand how Jesus fits in to the bible they had – and the prophets’ predictions

So he says: Mat 1:22  All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:Mat 1:23  “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.”

Of course back in Isaiah’s time – they expected someone to come and help them.

But the prophecies often had multiple applications.

Jesus was the ultimate Immanuel.

This is Immanu – el in Hebrew.

El – is the word for God. Immanu – means with us.

You would have heard some of the other names for God in history.

Like Elohim.

El Shaddai.

El Elyon.

El Shammah.

Jesus – is what he would be named on his birth certificate. Immanu-el – is what they would call Jesus. A very powerful name. And “called” name. (You see it on forms today –  the name you like to be called by)

GOD WITH US.

That description changes everything for us.

The loneliness

The sadness

The rejection we face

GOD WITH US.

The sickness

Suffering

Sadness.

GOD WITH US.

Fear

Frustration

Fighting around us

GOD WITH US.

Never to leave us or forsake us – is what he says.

The moment Jesus comes into that manger – in fact from his conception – GOD WITH US.

The world is never the same.

We went to two concerts last Christmas.

  • The Bach Musica Concert in the City hall.
  • And the Morning Melodies at the Bruce Mason.

In both concerts they were singing about IMMANUEL. God with us.

The City Hall concert included Puccini’s Mass – with the whole of the Nicene Creed sung.

These lines got my attention. This amazing bass-baritone was singing in Latin of course;

Passus et sepultus est; Et reurrexit tertia die.

Died and was buried; And rose again on the third day.

But this was the line that got me before those \wo. I thought – if only I could talk to him afterwards – and say, ‘do you know the one of whom you were singing?”

Because it says; ET HOMO FACTUS EST – AND BECAME A MAN.

All those people were hearing about Jesus -Immanuel – God with us.

And at the Mason theatre – we sang another Charles Wesley hymn:

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, Hail the incarnate Deity

Pleased as man with man to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel

Those hundreds of people were signing about Emmanuel.

I was praying – Lord – show them who you are in reality.

Now we know this already.

And we know Him as God with us.

Or at least we are discovering Him as God with us.

My prayer for you this Advent and Christmas season is that you discover fully what it means to know Him RIGHT IN THE CENTRE of your life – whether things are tough or easy sailing – may you know Him and his hope, peace, joy and love.

Amen.

25 March 2018 message – Palm Sunday and the King

Reading: John 12:12-19

MESSAGE

So –  its Easter morning. You would have expected a service at sunrise. When you were small you might have had an Easter egg hunt in the garden.

You climb out of bed and go downstairs.

And you see a Christmas tree and Christmas presents, with Easter eggs hiding behind them.

You rub your eyes, scratch your head – and go back to bed thinking this is a dream.

Try again 10 minutes later – and yes, it’s true. Someone’s got Easter and Christmas muddled.

You wonder why. What does this mean? What are they trying to tell you?

That’s exactly what makes Jesus’ triumphal entry so interesting.

It was the spring – it was Passover time. There were things you did at Passover – remembering the rescue from slavery and the blood of the lamb on the doorpost which saved people from death – and you celebrate their rescue from bondage.

And Jesus rides into the city on a donkey and people are waving palms.

This is a mid-winter thing happening in the spring. Like Christmas and Easter together.

Although it’s the wrong time of the year, the symbols of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem go with Hanukkah– which John has already mentioned in 10.22. (Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter)

When Judas Maccabaeus defeated the pagan invaders and cleansed the Temple in 164 BC, his followers entered the city waving palm branches in celebration (1 Maccabees 13.51; 2 Maccabees 10.7). (Tom Wright)

We were talking about these extra books called the apocrypha just recently – a whole series of them you don’t find in the Protestant bible.

Here’s the passage from the second book of Maccabees chapter 10, reading from verse 7:

2Ma 10:7  Therefore, carrying ivy-wreathed wands and beautiful branches and also fronds of palm, they offered hymns of thanksgiving to him who had given success to the purifying of his own holy place. 2Ma 10:8  They decreed by public edict, ratified by vote, that the whole nation of the Jews should observe these days every year.

After the temple was cleansed in 164 BC, Judas Maccabeus and his family became kings of Israel.

Jesus and his followers were combining Hanukkah and Passover – declaring that Jesus was the true King coming to claim his throne AND at the same time he would really set people free. He is the new Passover lamb as well –  they just didn’t know it yet.

And the final sign that sealed the matter was the raising of Lazarus. He was set free from death!

That’s why the two verses before this passage and the last three verses of today’s passage are so important:

Joh 12:10  So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, Joh 12:11  for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in him.

And:

Joh 12:17  Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. Joh 12:18  Many people, because they had heard that he had given this miraculous sign, went out to meet him. Joh 12:19  So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!”

The raising of Lazarus was the last sign and the hour had come. We talked about that last week.

Palm Sunday seals the destiny of Jesus.

People connected the dots because of the palms. Not just the Jewish community who would have remembered Hanukkah, but the Romans and Greeks would have all recognised the significance of the Palms as a sign of a victory parade.

Like a flag raising parade when the battle is won – it has huge significance. The enemy’s flag is lowered, and the conquering army’s flag is raised.

It’s a powerful provocative statement. And on a donkey – not a huge white horse. They would have remembered the prophecy in Zechariah 9:

Zec 9:9  Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Palm Sunday is the triumph of the love the God – yes.

But the means of victory – we know looking back the way of achieving victory would be painful to say the least.

FOCAL POINT TODAY

I’d like us to focus on one verse today:

Joh 12:17  Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word.

Witnessing is a central part of discipleship – of following this amazing man called Jesus of Nazareth.

Giving testimony to what he has done.

Spreading the word.

  • Have you testified this week?
  • Given testimony?
  • Have you been a witness?

V17 – they bore witness to Lazarus’ raising –

Do we talk about the resurrection?

It is the separating point between us and other religions– the dividing line – the ultimate sign of Jesus’ power and authority, his divinity, his supremacy – and of course it leads to his ascension when he is enthroned again on high.

It’s the greatest story worth telling.

Because it brings the greatest sense of hope.

Are we ready always to give a reason for the hope we have?

HOPE?

Our Mission in the newsletter these past weeks has been this; “Always prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks us to give the reason for the hope that we have”

Hope – in the face of the greatest enemy – death.

WE DO THIS IN WORSHIP EACH WEEK

  • We wave Palms every week!
  • We cry Hosanna!
  • Worship is exactly that – celebrating King Jesus

–           Celebrating the triumph of the cross

–           Celebrating the power of the resurrection

–           Celebrating the glory of the ascension.

–         Celebrating the love of the Father

–           Celebrating the promises that apply to us – our inheritance that will outlast all the other shiny things that fascinate us.

Peter puts it like this (we shared this in our call to worship today):

1Pe 1:3  Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 1Pe 1:4  and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, 1Pe 1:5  who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.

Palm Sunday takes us into this week called holy week.

I’ve asked today how we can make this a different week.

I don’t know how you’re going to do that.

But you can’t ignore the power of the events.

I hope that you take the time to remember at the various opportunities we have to remember what God has done for us to establish this inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.

I pray that we can really discover for ourselves that he was and is the true king, the true rescuer, the bringer of true freedom.

As we watch his progression into Jerusalem, and on to meet his fate, we must ourselves be drawn into the action, and the passion, that awaits him.

And we must ourselves become part of the means by which his message goes out to the world. (Tom Wright)

The victory was won for us by a young man nearly 2000 years ago.

Our closing hymn captures the profound nature of this day.

1 Ride on, ride on in majesty
as all the crowds ‘Hosanna!’ cry:
through waving branches slowly ride,
O Saviour, to be crucified.

2 Ride on, ride on in majesty,
in lowly pomp ride on to die:
O Christ, your triumph now begin
with captured death, and conquered sin!

3 Ride on, ride on in majesty
the angel armies of the sky
look down with sad and wondering eyes
to see the approaching sacrifice.

4 Ride on, ride on in majesty,
the last and fiercest foe defy:
the Father on his sapphire throne
awaits his own anointed Son.

5 Ride on, ride on in majesty,
in lowly pomp ride on to die:
bow your meek head to mortal pain,
then take, O God, your power and reign!

Robin Mark has a song that helps us anticipate and appreciate what he has done as we close:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5PiH3Tv9gLY&feature=share

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.

 

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.